Jun 05, 2018
Wooing Women: How Millennial Women May Decide the Fate of Ontario
As election day nears and the parties make their final appeal to voters, women are a key target. There is a keen awareness of the role the female electorate will play on election day in deciding what the next government will look like.
Female voters have been the target of the Liberal Party long before the drop of the writ. During Patrick Brown’s tenure as leader of the PC's, the Liberal Party often questioned his commitment to women's issues, targeting his voting record on funding for women's health and a woman’s right to choose. Third party advertiser "Working Ontario Women" ran a major targeted social media campaign specifically on this issue, with the tag line "We don't matter to Patrick Brown". If you are a millennial woman in this province, you’ve likely seen these ads on your Facebook page over the last year.
This anti-women narrative didn't need much adjusting to fit new PC leader Doug Ford, especially after the Conservative brand took some hits through Brown’s scandal. With comparisons to Donald Trump being drawn before his candidacy was even announced, the stigma was attached to Ford from the beginning. Kathleen Wynne has attacked Ford, the only male party leader, during debates for "misogynist" comments, and both Liberal and NPD leaders publicly condemned shouts of "lock her up" which were heard from the crowd at a PC campaign event. Female voters were being primed long before the writ dropped, and it's hard to argue that messaging hasn't had an effect, even if it didn't do much to benefit the Wynne Liberals.
While the Liberal Party put a lot of effort into painting change as a "risky" choice for female voters considering supporting the Conservatives, their strategy may only have served to sway voters towards the NDP. Up against a female leader and party with 56% female candidates in their slate, the "risk" message wasn't as easy to apply to the NDP, who are focused on issues historically more important to women including health care, childcare and other social services.
The NDP currently lead with women in nearly every category, but most dramatically with those under the age of 45. They lead with women of all ages, all education levels and all income levels. They lead with urban, suburban and rural dwelling women. One of the only categories where the NDP doesn’t hold the lead is amongst female homeowners. While they lead in almost every category, the lead is greatest amongst those urban women, under 45, who have lower incomes, no post-secondary education and don't own a home. Age is the most dramatic differentiating factor, with the NDP leading by 19 points over the PCs amongst women under 45. While not a monolith, it's clear the majority of women are aligned on their choice in this election and that the strategy of painting Ford as “risky for women” has likely had some effect.
So what does this lead amongst women mean for election day? The PCs likely don't need a plurality of women to win, but they surely won't be able to win without a percentage of them. While voting is anonymous, societal group pressure is extremely powerful. Women feeling embarrassed to vote PC is a problem for the party, and they know it. In recent days the party has increasingly put female leadership runner-ups, Christine Elliot and Caroline Mulroney, front and center in photo ops and ads. Their personal brands are strong and much more likely to appeal to women, but it might be too little, too late. The Progressive Conservatives haven't targeted female voters to this point, especially millennial ones, likely because they deemed them too difficult to reach. With the race now too close to call, this change in approach may indicate a tinge of regret.
The impact that female voters will have on this election will also depend on how many of them show up on election day. While women are more likely to vote, young people are not known for their reliability at the polls. If enough young people of both genders are put off by the election as a whole, the NDP lead in this area might not make a difference.
Depending on which party is victorious on Thursday, the support of women may also have a large impact on the reaction to the results. If the PCs form government, there will probably be a significant outcry that centers around women's issues, likely lead by some of the third parties that have driven the messaging on these issues throughout the campaign. It wouldn't be surprising to see demonstrations similar to the women's march in the U.S. after the election of Donald Trump. Based on the rhetoric deployed during the campaign, many women may see the rejection of the NDP as a rejection of female issues in general.
If the Conservatives are only able to win a minority government, it is likely that women's issues will play out front and center. The NDP will likely try to exploit the PC unpopularity amongst female voters and make it a pain point for them while in government. A PC government will be exposed and sensitive to this issue, and they may try to proactively get ahead of this problem by placing female MPPs in prominent cabinet positions and keeping them in the spotlight.
If the NDP are to form government, their agenda will likely reflect the key issues for female voters. That will make issues like healthcare and childcare priorities, as they have been during the campaign. I also wouldn't be surprised to see the implementation of gender based analysis come in to play, as it already has federally. For interest groups and key stakeholders liaising with either a PC or NDP government, understanding these dynamics is will help with both asks and issues. Corporate diversity and narratives that appeal to women will be well received.
Whatever the outcome of June 7th, women will be a decisive factor. In 2018, it’s worth paying attention to what they’re saying.
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