EKOS poll of May 6. ((EKOS))

Voters rate social issues and the economy as their most pivotal concerns in the next federal election, though men and women differ significantly on their electoral priorities, a  new poll suggests.

The poll, conducted by research firm EKOS and released Thursday exclusively to the CBC, found that overall, 32 per cent of respondents put social issues like health and education at the top of their list, while 33 per cent said the economy, jobs and growth were most important.

As well, 51 per cent of Canadians think that if there were more women leaders in federal politics, it would have a positive effect and 48 per cent said honesty was the most important attribute in a leader.

The survey asked three questions:

  • Which issue (from a list ) should be the most important for the next federal election?
  • What is the most important attribute (from a list ) that you would look for in a leader of the country?
  • If there were more women leaders in federal politics, would this have a positive, negative, or no effect on the quality of government?

Women are much more likely to say that social issues are at the top of their list for the next election 41 per cent, but they didn't put much emphasis on fiscal issues like taxes and debt (13 per cent).

By contrast, men placed the heaviest priority on the economy (37 per cent), and rank fiscal issues (22 per cent) about equally with social issues (23 per cent).

Neither men nor women rank government ethics and accountability high among their election priorities at 12 per cent and nine per cent respectively.

Conservatives and residents of Ontario were more likely than other party supporters to rank economic and fiscal issues as most important, while people in B.C. and Quebec were more likely than other residents of other provinces to rank social issues as most important.

As for having more women leaders in politics, 10 per cent of Canadians think it would have a negative effect, while a third said it would have no effect.

Women (60 per cent) were more likely than men (40 per cent) to feel that having more women leaders would have a positive effect. Forty-one per cent of men thought it would have no effect.

Conservative supporters were split on whether more women leaders would have "no effect" (43 per cent) or a "positive effect" (38 per cent). Conservative supporters also had a higher-than-average propensity to say that women leaders would have a negative effect (14 per cent).

Honesty before intelligence

The supporters of all the other parties were decidedly favourable toward the effect of women leaders. There were no notable differences by region.

When it comes to qualities that Canadians look for in a leader, after honesty, intelligence ranks a distant second at 19 per cent, while decisiveness is third with 15 per cent, and compassion rounds out the list with nine per cent.

Honesty is more important for women, at 53 per cent, than men, at 44 per cent. Men, however, put a slightly greater emphasis on intelligence (23 per cent) and decisiveness (18 per cent) than women.

Conservative supporters are more likely than other supporters to rank intelligence and decisiveness as the most important attributes of a leader with 23 per cent each.

Honesty ranks highest among Bloc Quebecois supporters at 61 per cent, while NDP supporters are most likely to rank compassion as the most important attribute at 15 per cent.

The survey of 2,192 people was conducted by telephone between April 28 and May 4, and has an error margin of plus or minus 2.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.