During the 2006 general election, a survey of voters on election day found that gays and lesbians overwhelmingly voted against Stephen Harper.
A study, conducted by the Laurier Institute for the Study of Public Opinion and Policy (LISPOP), found that a mere 7.3 percent of gay men and 10.7 percent of lesbians voted for the Conservative party.
What is most interesting is the fact that gay men disproportionately voted Liberal and lesbians disproportionately voted NDP, at a rate of 40 percent and 41 percent respectively.
“I don’t think it surprises anyone that the NDP and the Liberals are the parties of choice for this community,” says LISPOP Director Steven Brown. “But we frankly didn’t have very strong data to support what most of us believed anyway.”
This was the first time that they had data on this demographic, thanks to Ipsos Reid data donated to LISPOP that included a sample size large enough (36,000) to get meaningful results. However, because the data came from an online survey, the questions tended to be short so the data available was more limited.
Given that same-sex marriage was made an election issue by the Conservatives in the 2006 election, the overwhelming vote against the Conservatives does follow through in the data available.
“A large proportion of this community cited the ‘social issues,’ and what they’re really talking about is gay marriage and abortion,” Brown confirms. “But I think that gay marriage is really the one that they’re focussing on, so I think sure, there’s a factor there that may very well have accentuated what was a common practice anyway.”
The gender disparity in voting preferences is an interesting phenomenon for pollsters, but without more data as to voting motivations, they remain hesitant to speculate on the reasoning for it.
Helen Kennedy, executive director of queer lobby group Egale Canada, believes that there are economic considerations for the voting differences.
“I think community activists, on-the-ground activists — the groups are more inclined to be led by women,” Kennedy says. “The gay male is predominantly more affluent, fits into that middle ground more than lesbians. Lesbians don’t have the same discretionary income as gay men do.”
“Women would identify with the philosophies of the NDP because the NDP talk about those issues with respect to advancing women’s rights, [and are] more grassroots for example,” adds Kennedy, a former NDP staffer. “Liberals are much more middle of the road, they’re upwardly mobile, it’s that whole kind of disparity between the patriarchy and women.”
Brown isn’t so sure about this particular factor.
“The socio-demographics fails to explain the relationship,” Brown says. “On virtually all of the demographics I looked at — income, recent employment loss, age — the initial relationship persists. Gay men tilt toward the Liberals vis-à-vis the NDP and lesbian women tilt the other way almost invariantly through all values of the variables above.”
“The explanation that makes sense to me — but I cannot test [it] here — is that the NDP has traditionally been the home of feminists, and lesbian women are likely to be self-identified feminists, and to be more sensitive to this affinity.”
Brown plans to follow up with a scholarly piece about the feminist-NDP link using other sources.
It has not always been the case that the queer community has been hostile to the Conservatives. In the 2000 election, it was the queer community in Calgary Centre that assured the victory of then-Progressive Conservative leader Joe Clark.
“Joe Clark was not exactly a traditional Conservative,” Brown points out. “His Red Tory-ness was perhaps what made him distinct within that community and this is very much a Reform-Alliance party. There have been moments when the Progressive Conservatives may not have been anathema to this community but I suspect that those conditions have changed.”