23 January 2006

Women voters

The candidate who better recognized and responded to issue-based appeals that speak to the concerns of women, especially career orientated women will win this election.

Over the course of this campaign, I've had a few e-mail exchanges with the guy who blogs under the name Warbicycle. His post on women voters is an interesting one since it reflects his experience of campaigning on behalf of a woman candidate and noting, albeit anecdotally, the response of women in the riding.

His post on women voters is an interesting one since it points to some observable differences between male and female voters. Rather than respond to an e-mail he just sent, I thought I'd toss in a few comments of my own.

There is a sex difference in vote intention: women tend to vote for a party other than Conservative

Most public opinion polls released during this campaign didn't report demographic data, even though every poll collects some information on reported or apparent sex, age and so forth. This is unusual since there is often useful information to be gleaned from doing what is called a cross-tabulation, that is of comparing vote preference by certain fixed characteristics like age and sex.

Ekos' most recent poll, released on 21 January, reports that 34% of women respondents are report their intention to vote Conservative, compared to 28.6% for Liberals and 20.8% for New Democrats.

A poll of Atlantic Canadians by Bristol/Omnifacts, a Halifax-based research firm, showed that 50% of decided females respondents favoured Paul Martin as prime minister, compared to 29% of decided females who felt Mr. Harper would be the best prime minister.

On the face of it, both these polls, one national and one regional, show a fairly clear difference between males and females in vote choice. An assessment by Simon Fraser University showed comparable differences in vote intention between males and females although, as the SFU assessment notes:
[b]y the end of the campaign period, however, the gender differences became much more muted as some shifts occurred. The differences in support for the Liberals had largely disappeared, but a new one emerged for the NDP. In the Ipsos poll conducted between January 17 to 19, even the gender differences in support for the Conservative Party had greatly narrowed; 36% of women and 40% of men said they would likely vote Conservative. 21% of women said they would vote NDP, compared to 16% of men; 27% of women were willing to support the Liberals, and 25% of men said the same. These results indicate a net movement of 8% of women away from the Liberals, with 3% going to the Conservatives and 5% to the NDP.
Possible explanations of the sex gap

Differences in vote intention between males and females has been the subject of considerable academic research.

One study concluded that :
Despite the change in the economic context and the advent of budget surpluses, women clearly remain more skeptical of the virtues of free enterprise, more supportive of the welfare system, and more reluctant to endorse market solutions than men in the 2000 federal election. The fact that these gender gaps could not be explained in terms of differences in women'’s and men'’s material interests lends weight to the socio-psychological argument that women tend to be less individualistic than men. The gender gap in views about crime and punishment also provides support for a socio-psychological interpretation of the gender gap phenomenon.
There are other studies that generally confirm the conclusions of the one cited here.

Whether or not one accepts any or all of the possible explanations for the difference, there's no question a difference exists.

So, the simple answer, Warbicycle is that your anonymous commenter would be correct if you actually said all women think alike. You didn't. You simply reported a phenomenon that has been reported for some time: women vote to the left of the political spectrum.

Anecdotally, I can add that some older males in one campaign found the male/female difference in vote intention difficult to comprehend or difficult to acknowledge. They dismissed the idea that Liberal media buys should be skewed toward 35+ females. It has been generally accepted for some time that women tend to vote to the left of the political spectrum and that they have considerable influence on household consumer decisions, including political decisions.

This admittedly small group of older males dismissed the idea out of hand. Go figure.

Another local Liberal candidate attracted some critical comment for his radio spot that focused on this very issue. Criticism of him came primarily from Conservative callers to local radio call-in shows. Too bad he didn't more argue forcefully in favour of his position: the facts were with him.

Will the male/female difference in voter intention make a difference in the final outcome, as Warbicycle contends?

Potentially. Women outnumber males in a number of ridings across the country, including my riding of St. John's South-Mount Pearl. The current election will depend very heavily on how many people are motivated enough to get out to vote.

Sadly, some of the local campaigns in the metro St. John's area on the political centre-left dismissed simple, factual arguments and/or failed to properly capitalize on the issues involved.

The fruits of those decisions may well be seen tomorrow evening.