Justin Trudeau's Liberals lead among women, Stephen Harper's Conservatives among men

An article in Chatelaine last year asked, "Is Justin Trudeau the candidate women have been waiting for?" Polls suggest that, for a plurality of women, he just might be. Stephen Harper leads among men. Polls analyst Éric Grenier breaks down the federal polls by gender.

Liberals pick up support among both sexes - but Conservatives holding their own

Gender split among voters

9 years ago
Duration 3:14
Poll analyst Éric Grenier looks at which party is winning the coveted women's vote

An article in Chatelaine magazine last year asked, "Is Justin Trudeau the candidate women have been waiting for?" The polls suggest that, for a plurality of women, he just might be.

But does that make Stephen Harper the candidate for men?

Women are an important electoral demographic not just because they make up a little over half of the Canadian population — they're also more likely to vote.

An Elections Canada study estimated that turnout among women in the 2011 federal election was more than two percentage points higher than it was among men. Turnout among women was higher than among men in battleground provinces like Ontario, Quebec, and British Columbia.

Polls have consistently shown that Trudeau's Liberals hold a distinct advantage over the Conservatives among female voters. In federal polls conducted since early December that included breakdowns of support by gender, the Liberals have averaged 37 per cent among women. The Conservatives, by comparison, have averaged just 28 per cent support. The New Democrats trailed in third with an average of 22 per cent support among women.

The Conservative Party led by Stephen Harper, left, has the edge among male voters while Justin Trudeau's Liberals lead among women. (Canadian Press)

But if the Liberals are the first choice of Canadian women voters, the Conservatives are the first choice of men. The party has averaged 36 per cent support among men in these same polls, with the Liberals placing in second with 34 per cent. The New Democrats averaged 18 per cent support among men.

The Conservative imbalance between the sexes is greater than either of their two main rivals, both in absolute terms and relative to their overall support. It follows, then, that Harper would be well-served if he could improve his support levels among women.

Liberals gain among women at NDP's expense

However, the Conservatives have not disproportionately lost more support among women than they have among men. If we look at polling conducted by Abacus Data just before and shortly after the 2011 federal election, we can estimate that the Conservatives took about 45 per cent of the vote among men and 35 per cent among women. This means that, based on current polling levels, the party has retained four-fifths of its support among both sexes.

The Liberals, on the other hand, have disproportionately increased their support among women, suggesting that the Chatelaine headline may not have been too far off the mark. But Trudeau has taken that extra support away from women who voted for the NDP in 2011, rather than the Conservatives. Whereas the New Democrats have retained about 69 per cent of their support among men, they have kept just 61 per cent of it among women.

This is especially problematic for NDP Leader Tom Mulcair. Based on those Abacus polls from around the 2011 election, it could very well be the case that the NDP under Jack Layton had narrowly won the women vote, taking a similarly disproportionate share as the Conservatives did among men. Under former leader Michael Ignatieff, the Liberals had roughly the same level of support among both men and women.

To have electoral success this fall, the Liberal leader will have to hold on to the new support he has drawn from women. But with the Conservatives still leading among male voters, Trudeau will need to show that he is also the candidate men have been waiting for in order to win. 

This article uses averages derived from dozens of polls carried out over the last two years, all of which differ in terms of methodology, sample size, and field dates. These surveys have not been individually verified by the CBC.


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.