The question is this: would a female NDP leader, all else being equal, provided a net boost, net harm, or make no difference over a male leader? I believe the effect of this is certainly constrained, but it is quite possible that it would make a small benefit in the order of a few percentage points.
A female NDP leader would not be quite as historic as Obama's case in the US. Canada has had a female Prime Minister (Kim Campbell) before, but only briefly and not elected. The NDP specifically has had female leaders before such as Alexa McDonough before. Prominent Premiers accross different parties and provinces like Alison Redford and Christie Clark are female. 40% of NDP seats are held by females. So the perception of a glass ceiling for women is not quite as high in Canada as it is for blacks in the US. Nonetheless, it would still be historic and an excellent reflection of Canada's culture of gender equality and there will be some subset of the population that finds this an influencing factor in their electoral decision.
The mechanism that this is going to be most influential on is by giving one more reason or excuse for past Liberal voters to come into the NDP camp. I suspect many would like the idea of being part of the first elected female Prime Minister of Canada, and particularly for those who don't have clear ideas on preferences between the parties, this could push them over the edge.
Gaining support is not just about the binary ability to flip a small percentage of votes from Liberal to NDP due solely to gender. It is also about the increase in enthusiasm that people may feel for her, and the way this builds momentum and support much the way the enthusiasm for Barack Obama's historic candidacy helped gain support even if there were relatively few that voted for him exclusively because he was black and would not have otherwise. It is these soft factors that are probably most important in gender considerations.
The black mark on society is that, unfortunately, there are still people who will not vote for someone because they are female. This is relatively rare. What is more common is people who - often unconsciously - are somewhat less likely to vote for a female or would be less enthusiastic about it as an aggregate. Certainly such people exist in all parties, but there are measurable statistical differences between them.
Take the question of whether people think it would be a good thing for there to be more females in politics. Most, from all parties, think this is either a positive effect or has no effect with only a few (more among Conservatives) willing to tell a pollster they think it is a negative effect. However, people were significantly more likely to say it was a positive effect opposed to no effect if they were a member of the NDP or a member of the Liberals than a member of the Conservatives. I would submit that there would be a genuine advantage then for a female NDP leader in attracting the 56% of Liberals who think there would be a benefit of having more women in politics.
Or take the issue of the balancing of priorities. In Canada, there is a very strong correspondence between how females in general rank various issues (Ethics, Economy, Social, Fiscal) and how NDP voters rank them. Females and NDP voters both rank social issues as the top priority at 41% and 42% respectively, for instance. Bring females into the NDP fold seems like a very natural fit and is perhaps best able to be done by a female leader.
When given a specific case, it is hard to objectively say that a person's decision is because of race or gender. Most don't openly or even consciously acknowledge the influence that race or gender plays for them, doubly so if it is being used as a reason to not vote for somebody. However, social science has repeatedly showed that in large numbers there are aggregate differences in peoples behavior based on these kinds of factors and as we have seem, there are legitimate differences in male vs female responses to polling questions.
All of this is good in general, but given how an NDP leadership contest is ongoing, the question must be more specifically targeted at the two female candidates: Peggy Nash and Niki Ashton. Ashton is at or near the bottom of the pack in terms of endorsements and polling numbers so we can discredit her chances of winning the nomination. Peggy Nash, however, is among the frontrunners (3rd in endorsements, 2nd in polling). The question is thus this: does the fact that Peggy Nash is female help or hurt her in terms of electability in the general election? Note that in terms of her chances of winning the nomination itself, how people perceive her chances in the general is crucial.
I think this does, albeit only slightly, increase her chances. It provides a legitimate avenue for which to poach Liberal voters, particularly females, who think there should be more women in politics, who would like the idea of being part of a historic vote for female Prime Minister, and are statistically more receptive to the NDP's balancing of priorities which may be more easily identified with a female leader.
Thoughts on this post? Comment below!
Share this post: