NDP MPs are surprised that a recent study suggests queer support for the NDP fell significantly between the last two federal election campaigns.
Three political science professors at Wilfrid Laurier University — Andrea Perrella, Steven Brown and Barry Kay — came to this conclusion after analyzing the results of two Ipsos Reid surveys conducted after the federal elections in 2006 and 2008. The surveys, on which the study is based, asked respondents whether or not they were members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered community. More than 1,300 voters answered affirmatively in both polls.
The online polls provided voter samples that were much larger than most surveys, and researchers say it allowed them to draw stronger conclusions about queer voting patterns than had previously been possible.
The data suggest that queer support for the Liberals held steady at 44 percent in both elections, but support for the NDP dropped by nine percentage points between the two elections — from 40 percent in 2006 to 31 percent in 2008.
Bill Siksay and Libby Davies — both NDP MPs — told Xtra that the queer community’s support for the party has always been substantial and consistent.
“There’s always a dialogue on issues, but nobody has called to say ‘You’re not doing your job,'” said Siksay, who pointed to several areas where the queer community is represented by the NDP. “We’re the only party with a queer issues critic, and we also have an LGBT committee on the federal level, dedicated to queer issues.”
Siksay was surprised that the numbers suggested a dip in the queer vote for the NDP. He pointed to the work the party has done on trans rights as proof of queer advocacy. Early last year, Siksay introduced a bill in the House that would add gender identity and gender expression to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination in the Canadian Human Rights Act. It aims to give trans-identified Canadians access to human rights protections.
Davies was also intrigued by the study’s findings. She said that, for decades, the NDP has been a tireless supporter of the queer community in the House of Commons. She conceded that it’s not surprising queer voters are thinking about other issues at the ballot box but indicated she thinks the Liberal claim that it is Canada’s queer-friendly party is just a mirage.
“Liberals might hide behind the Charter,” she said, “but sometimes people forget that, on individual issues, the Liberals aren’t queer-friendly. When Paul Martin allowed a free vote on same-sex marriage, there were huge splits in that caucus.”
Liberal MP Rob Oliphant, one of three openly gay MPs in his caucus, said that his party has been “pretty rock solid” on human rights issues. He added, though, that the party can only take so much credit for capturing such a large chunk of the gay vote in the last two campaigns because external factors are at play.
“I’d suggest there is increasing affluence among the gay population, and it tends to move not to the right wing, but to the centre,” he said. “And, especially in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, the gay population is increasingly multicultural — a demographic that, traditionally, has an affinity for the Liberals.”
Oliphant added that Liberals are also working internationally to oppose anti-gay regimes around the world.
Ian Capstick, an Ottawa consultant who was, for several years, Jack Layton’s press secretary, said that if the numbers are reliable — and he doubts they are because of the small sample groups used in the study — it can be attributed mostly to perception.
“The Liberals have been very good at managing the perception that they are queer-friendly,” he said, adding that the Liberals have done a great job positioning themselves as the party that can get things done for the queer community on Parliament Hill.
But he disputes the conclusions of the Wilfrid Laurier study. He says the data aren’t reliable because it’s nearly impossible to know whether such a small sample is representative of the total queer population in Canada. In the report, the authors do note the “need for additional validating surveys using a variety of sampling frames and survey methodologies” to bolster the legitimacy of their findings.
Nevertheless, Capstick says that the study does make it clear the NDP can’t depend solely on queer voters.
“The queer community is not indentured to any one political party.”