Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Party support by age and gender

The polls currently suggest that the Liberals enjoy a small lead over the Conservatives nationwide, with the New Democrats running in third place. But when the Canadian population is broken down by age and gender, a different story can be told - including how the political mood has shifted since 2011.

During the Kickstarter campaign at the end of 2013, one of the backer rewards was the option to choose a topic of analysis I would look at here. The first request I received, from Keith Neuman of the Environics Institute, was to take a look at federal support broken down by demographics. This is that analysis.

Before getting to it, a few words about the project behind this analysis. Tapping into the Pulse: Political public opinion polling in Canada, 2013 was published as an ebook earlier this year, and is a retrospective look at politics and polling in 2013. The ebook is listed at $4.99, and can be downloaded directly from GumroadAmazon (for your Kindle) and Kobo (for your Kobo eReader).

To give this exercise some context, it would be useful to know how Canadians voted in 2011 by their demographic profile. There are ways to estimate this, such as exit polling or post-election polling, but it is impossible to know with certainty how exactly Canadian demographic groups voted in the last election.

I decided to look at the post-election polling conducted by Abacus Data. From May 2011, just after the election had been held, to August 2011, Abacus Data conducted three polls on federal voting intentions. The numbers matched up quite closely to the 2011 federal election result: an average of 39.6% for the Conservatives (exactly on the mark), 32.2% for the NDP (+1.6), 17.2% for the Liberals (-1.7), and 5.3% for the Greens (+1.4).

Using these three polls, and adjusting for the discrepancy between the election results and the polling numbers, we can get a good idea of how Canadians voted in the last election according to their age and gender.

Not all pollsters release full demographic information, and few use the same age brackets. So to compare voting intentions today to the last election, I've again focused on three polls from Abacus Data (in order to get a large enough sample with which to work). These polls were conducted between January and July 2014. That is a long period of time, but the numbers in Abacus's polling were consistent and, overall, there has been little movement in the polls in 2014.

The Liberals averaged 34% in those three polls, against 29% for the Conservatives, 23.3% for the NDP, and 6.3% for the Greens.

Now that we have these baselines, let's look at the demographic breakdowns.

Though the Conservatives won 40% of the vote overall, beating the NDP by nine points in 2011, the New Democrats might have taken more of the female vote than did the Tories, at 36% to 35%. The Liberals captured just 19%, with 4% of it going to the Greens.

The Liberals have made huge inroads among women, up 15 points. This came from both the NDP (12 points) and the Conservatives (7 points).

Interestingly, men and women's support is now rather uniform. The Liberals have 34% support among men, with 30% supporting the Conservatives and 23% the NDP. But in 2011, the Conservatives had an enormous advantage among male voters, with 45% support to just 26% for the NDP and 19% for the Liberals.

The Liberals have again picked up 15 points here, but most of that came from the Conservatives, who are down 15 points. The NDP has slipped three points.

Looking at the numbers this way gives us an indication of where support is coming from for the Liberals. They have improved their position equally among both men and women, but that female vote came from the NDP and the male vote came from the Conservatives. The effect has been to level the playing field, with each party garnering roughly half of their supporters from each gender. An interesting shift.

It should come as no surprise that the NDP won the youngest cohort of voters in 2011, with 38% support against 28% for the Conservatives and 20% for the Liberals. Today, however, the Liberals lead in this group with 34%, up 14 points. The NDP has dropped 11 points to 27% while the Conservatives have fallen seven points to 21%. The Greens are up four points to 10% among 18- to 29-year-old Canadians.

In 2011, 30- to 44-year-olds were somewhat representative of the population as a whole: 39% voted Conservative, 33% voted NDP, and 17% voted for the Liberals. They are still broadly representative, with 35% now supporting the Liberals, 27% the Conservatives, and 23% the NDP.

The Conservatives have suffered most among this group, dropping 12 points. The NDP has also fallen, by 10 points, while the Liberals have picked up 18 points - more than doubling their support among these voters.

This is a target group for all parties, considering the preponderance of family-friendly language used and family-focused policies proposed. It would appear that the Conservatives did a good job attracting these voters in 2011, but the Liberals are now managing it best.

The next group, who may be nearing retirement and have children heading to university, voted solidly Conservative in 2011: 41% to 30% for the NDP and 18% for the Liberals.

Now, this group is mostly split between the Liberals (33%) and the Conservatives (30%), with 22% supporting the NDP. The Liberals have picked up 15 points among these voters, with the Conservatives down 11 and the NDP down eight.

Finally, there is the oldest cohort of Canadians, an important demographic as they can be most counted upon to cast a ballot. They overwhelmingly supported the Conservatives in 2011, with 50% backing the party. The NDP took just 23% of the vote among this group, while the Liberals took 20%.

The NDP has held firm at 23%, but the Liberals have gained 15 points to move into a tie with the Conservatives, down 15 points, at 35%. If the Tories cannot win this voting block, they will not win the election.

When we break it down by age, we can see where the parties have suffered losses. The Conservatives have generally lost in uniform proportions, though perhaps took a bit more of a hit among older Canadians. The New Democrats have lost primarily younger voters, who have gone over to the Liberals, while older Canadians who backed the New Democrats in 2011 are mostly sticking with the party. The Liberals have generally gained in similar proportions across all demographic groups, but may have gotten their biggest uptick among Canadians who, coincidentally or not, are about the same age as Justin Trudeau.

All of this is relatively intuitive. The Conservatives are traditionally the party of older male voters, while the NDP would be expected to be the party of younger, primarily female Canadians. The Liberals enjoy uniform support levels among both genders and all age demographics, which seems to align with the broad appeal the party is seeking and is best placed to capture as the party in the centre. The Liberals remain in the best position one year before the next election. These numbers make it clear which demographic groups the NDP and Conservatives need to re-capture if they hope to win in 2015.


  1. The real trick with this demographic analysis is figuring out how it applies to any given riding. You can sort of reasonably apply on a national basis but when it gets down to ridings it's a bit more difficult.

  2. Great work here! We don't see enough of these demographic breakdowns in Canadian polling.

    Completely unrelated question: When are you going to change your URL to %-)

    1. Thanks - I won't be changing the name of the site or the URL.

  3. Eric did Abacus break these numbers down by regional area or only nationally ?

    Regional breakdown could be fascinating.

    1. Only nationally, sample sizes would be too small for these sub-groupings at the regional level.

    2. Damn !! Would have been fascinating

  4. I think the rural/urban numbers would be far more interesting.

  5. Interesting analysis Eric.

    I knew there was a gender gap in Canadian politics, but I am surprised at the margins in 2011. If only women voted, the NDP would have won the popular vote. If only men voted, the Tories would have a massive landslide.

    Also, interesting to see that the Liberals have uniform support with both genders and all age groups - both during the 2011 election and now.

  6. It's interesting that the gender gap has closed since the last election for all parties. That would suggest that the party campaigns targeting genders had an effect.

  7. This sheds new light on Conservative attempts to discourage students from voting.

    1. John,

      Students have always had a very poor turnout rate, the Conservative don't need to attempt anything when students won't do it for themselves!

    2. Do you have any evidence to back up your claim: "Conservative attempts to discourage students from voting"?

      Student and young people have long had a low turnout why would the Conservatives try and "fix" a problem that doesn't exist for them?

      Instead of blaming others you should ask yourself, the Greens, Liberals and NDP why they have thus far been unsuccessful in boosting the student-young person turnout!

    3. There was the incident in Guelph in which university students were effectively prevented from voting thanks to the efforts of the Conservatives.

    4. chimurenga,

      I can find no news article on the Conservatives attempting to prevent students from voting. A special election booth did descend into farce on the U of G campus and the Conservative did make a complaint (later withdrawn) regarding voting irregularities. The special poll was not pre-authorised by the Chief Electoral Officer. It appears however well intentioned Elections Canada was with the special booth in at least some way it did not conform with the rules and procedures of Elections Canada. This was further hampered by a flash mob of some 700 students who tried to vote at once.
      The student votes were counted .

      In any case that incident is a long way from either; (students) "effectively prevented from voting" or "Conservative attempts to discourage students from voting".

    5. Voter identification requirements in the new Elections Act are aimed at more mobile voters. Nobody ever showed that voter fraud (as opposed to candidate fraud) is a problem in Canada. Harper is learning from observation of voter fraud abroad.

    6. Candidate fraud? What pray tell is that? Never heard of it.

      Every election voter fraud occurs it is rarely a problem because it is so infrequent. In BC a number of years ago some poor guy was charged because he voted in the riding where he had a cabin not his primary residence.

  8. I'm not disinclined to vote for the Trudeau Liberals but definitely want to see some meat on the bones. For the most part I support Harper's economic policies but I'm tired of the hyper partisan approach to every little thing. I think people expected this government to "grow up" and act like adults once they got their majority. That hasn't happened.

    So basically I'm saying I want a change in tone from the government but not basic policy changes. If Trudeau can deliver that he will have my vote. I have real trouble with the way the Harper government has treated veterans. One of the reasons my vote is in doubt. Harper's government is without grace.

    1. And Earl let's not forget the Senate scandal which is almost completely Harper's work. Today's development has to push more people away from the Harper Cons ??

    2. Anybody east of Saskatchewan has been crushed by Harper's economic policies.

      In particular, any party that wants my vote is going to have to promise to abolish the Temporary Foreign Workers Program. Bringing back indentured servitude to suppress wages in low-paying sectors of the economy has got to be the most regressive the Canadian economy has encountered since the Depression.

    3. For those Sask and West brace yourselves !! As the USA becomes more and more an oil exporter your production will get cut and cut. As to Keystone forget it and Northern Gateway will never fly.

    4. Guy,

      You mean the economic policies that gave Nova Scotia $25 billion plus in ship building contracts? The economic policies that encourage oil and gas extraction in the Atlantic and Quebec provinces creating thousands of jobs?

      The problem with the Eastern economy is simple; when Martin-Chretien imposed their low dollar policy of the 1990's businesses in Eastern Canada failed to invest their profits, built on the back of the low dollar, into productivity improvements; new equipment, better technology etc...When the competitive advantage of the low dollar ended these companies found they were unable to compete with Americans and East Asian manufacturers. Subsequent Ontario and Quebec governments have not helped the situation with their high tax high spending policies. Of course the policy or problem that really hurts Quebec's economy is separation its presence scares foreign and domestic investment. Nobody is willing to build a new factory or plant ion Quebec if they think regime change will occur in the near future.

      Temporary foreign workers are truly un-Canadian no surprise then that the program began under the Liberal government of Jean Chretien in 2002. It was an extension of another ill-thought anti-Canadian worker Liberal program meant to give low-paying jobs to foreigners called the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program instituted by the Liberal government of Lester Pearson no doubt with NDP acquiescence in 1966.

      Liberal governments-the most regressive Canadians have encountered since the seigneurial system of New France!

    5. Earl,

      If Trudeau runs as Harper-lite, he will lose. The Liberals are a little light on policy right now. But when (or if) they do start talking more about policy, they need to distinguish themselves clearly from the Conservatives and be a progressive alternative.

      The Liberals are likely to bring in environmental regulations on resource development, support civil service and go back to pre-2006 foreign policy. The Liberals are likely to invest money on government policy rather than minor tax cuts when the country goes into a surplus next year.

      On major economic policy issues, both parties have more similarities than differences. Harper did not change much from policies endorsed and enacted by Mulroney, Chretien and Martin.

      If you want the same government policies but for the partisanship to be toned down. Your best hope will be for Harper to resign and a "kinder, gentler" version of him to take over.

    6. The Liberal party is a small "c" conservative party. People are still very concerned about the economy and Canadians are still heavily taxed.

      The lack of success for the NDP is proof enough that Trudeau should not run a "progressive campaign" the road to success leads down a small "c" path because that is the road that creates jobs and prosperity.

    7. And guess what Earl ?? Yet more Duffy scandal !! He was billing the Senate for attending the funerals of friends apparently, at least the RCMP have charged him with this !!

    8. How can one take these poll results seriously, when the pollster claims that NDP support among both men and women decreased from the 2011 election to the 2014 election, but the NDP share of vote went up? Ditto for the age group polling data. Is there not a place for questioning poll results rather than simply repeating them?

    9. Doubter,

      The NDP garnered 30.6% at the 2011 election. Today they poll in the range of 20-28% and currently average 24% on aggregate according to this website.

      The NDP share of the vote has decreased since 2011. I think you are confusing the 2011 and 2014 Ontario elections with federal polling and results.

  9. The NDP share of the vote did not go up ... all the polls (I assume that's what you mean by "2014 election", since there is no federal election in 2014) put the NDP well below Orange Wave levels.


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