Canadians feel men have easier time in politics, but women have the chops, poll suggests

Canadians feel that women have a harder time getting elected than men, a new poll suggests. But the survey also shows significant differences in views among men and women on why there aren't more female candidates running for office — and whether being a woman has been an asset or a liability in Hillary Clinton's presidential bid.

Views were significantly different depending on gender, age of respondents

More Canadian men think Hillary Clinton's gender has helped her presidential campaign. Women aren't so sure. (Andrew Harnik/Associated Press )

As the Democratic Party is set this week to officially nominate a woman for the U.S. presidency — a first for a major party in America — a newly published poll shows that Canadians agree that men have an easier time getting elected to public office than women, though men are less likely to see obstacles to the election of female candidates. 

And in addition to differences in views by gender, younger women tend to see their potential political futures differently than older women — namely, that the system is stacked more unfairly against them.

The poll, released Monday, was conducted by the Angus Reid Institute between June 8 and 13, interviewing 1,515 adult members of an online panel. The survey found that 59 per cent of respondents agreed that it was "easier for men to get elected to high political office," while just three per cent thought it was easier for women.

But while two-thirds of women felt men had an easier time at the polls, only one-half of men felt the same way.

Age was another factor differentiating the views of Canadians: the older respondents were, the less likely they were to agree that men had an easier time getting elected. Young women were the most likely to feel this way.

Parties, leaders not providing support

Asked why fewer women run for office, 40 per cent of Canadians said that "political parties don't do enough to encourage women candidates" was a major reason, while another 38 per cent identified family commitments as a major reason, as well.

About one-quarter also agreed that issues like a reluctance for Canadians to elect women, a lack of support from party leaders, higher standards for women than men and a dislike for the mud-slinging of politics were major reasons for women staying out of the political arena.

But here again, women and men viewed these obstacles differently. While 49 per cent of women (and 57 per cent of young women) said political parties weren't doing enough to encourage female candidates, just 31 per cent of men identified this as a major reason for a lack of women in politics.

Women were also twice as likely as men to identify a lack of support from party leaders and the higher standards placed on women as major reasons. Younger women were the most likely to highlight these systemic issues as major obstacles, whereas older women were the most likely to see things like family commitments and mud-slinging as the biggest problems.

Gender advantages

The vast majority of Canadians (over 80 per cent among men and women) felt that both sexes make equally good political leaders. Only slightly more (10 per cent compared to six per cent) felt that men generally make better leaders than women, but responses to this question were largely gendered: women were more likely to think women made better leaders, while men were more likely to see their own sex as the better leaders.

But while respondents' views were for the most part egalitarian, they did not feel the same way about Canadians as a whole. Fully 85 per cent said that most or some people believed men make better leaders than women.

However, on individual leadership traits, Canadians were much more likely to see women as being better equipped than men. By large margins, Canadians felt female leaders were better at "working to improve the quality of life for Canadians" as well as being honest and ethical and working out compromises.

Only on "being persuasive" did men edge out women, and by a narrow margin.

Hillary Clinton and the "woman card"

In April, Donald Trump said that "the only thing [Hillary Clinton's] got is the woman card" and that "if Hillary Clinton were a man, I don't think she'd get five per cent of the vote."

It appears that Canadian men may agree with some of Trump's sentiment.

The poll found that 41 per cent of men thought that being a woman has helped Clinton, while just 19 per cent thought it has hurt her. Canadian women, however, were split evenly on the question.

Roughly two-fifths of respondents of both genders felt it made no difference.

But on this question, younger women were more positive about the impact of gender on politics. While just 27 per cent of women over the age of 34 felt that her gender had helped Hillary Clinton, that rose to 38 per cent of women under the age of 34. In fact, young women were almost as likely as older men — a group Donald Trump would find himself in — to feel this way.

Could this suggest that young women feel that their gender can be a political asset if they can get past the political obstacles that exist? If so, could the example of a victory by Hillary Clinton in the fall have a positive impact on the number of female candidates running for office in the future — or might a defeat only confirm to young women that the system is stacked against them?

The poll by the Angus Reid Institute was conducted between June 8 and 13, 2016, interviewing via the Internet 1,515 Canadian adults who are members of the Angus Reid Forum. A probabilistic sample of this size would yield a margin of error of +/- 2.5 per cent, 19 times out of 20.


Éric Grenier

Politics and polls

Éric Grenier is a senior writer and the CBC's polls analyst. He was the founder of ThreeHundredEight.com and has written for The Globe and Mail, Huffington Post Canada, The Hill Times, Le Devoir, and L’actualité.