The Conservative Party managed to woo a few more queer voters in the last federal election than it did in 2006, according to a new study released by researchers at Wilfrid Laurier University.
Both in Quebec and the rest of Canada, the Tories increased their share of the queer vote by about four percentage points — but numbers suggest that the Tories still lag behind the other major parties, by double-digit spreads, among gay voters.
Three political science professors — Andrea Perrella, Steven Brown and Barry Kay — analyzed the results of two Election Day polls conducted by Ipsos-Reid in 2006 and 2008. 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 voters than had previously been possible.
The two Ipsos-Reid 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.
In 2008, the Liberals attracted the most queer votes at 44 percent, with the NDP following at 31 percent and the Conservatives at 13 percent. The Liberals basically maintained the support they received in 2006 — only losing half a point — while the NDP lost nearly nine percentage points from its 2006 support.
In Quebec, the Bloc (54 percent in 2006 and 43 percent in 2008) was most popular, followed by the Liberals and the NDP. The Tories doubled their queer vote in 2008, almost reaching double digits in Quebec.
Scott Matthews is a political science professor at Queen’s University, who has written about the role that political institutions played in the legalization of same-sex marriage. He says that queer voters might have looked more favourably at the Tories in 2008 compared to 2006.
“Conservatives looked quite a lot different than the other parties in 2006,” Matthews says. “But, by 2008, even if Conservatives still were generally less amenable to gay rights claims, it just wasn’t at the forefront of people’s minds in 2008 in the way that it had been in 2006 and in 2004.”
Perrella says that after looking at the raw data, he and his colleagues wanted to find out whether or not there is a “gay vote” — in other words, a pattern that suggests queer voters support certain parties based on their sexuality instead of their location, education, age or income.
Even though urban voters are less likely to vote Conservative than rural voters, neither urban nor rural queer voters cast ballots for the Tories in huge numbers. Perrella says the same trend held true for other factors, including education, age and income.
“What we speculate is that when someone becomes aware of their sexuality, they may begin to question the values to which they’ve been exposed in their families and in their communities,” he says. “They’re raised with a certain set of values — an imposed identity — and when they begin to question that, they may replace…or reject some of those views or values or interpretations of politics and replace them with others.”
University of Toronto political science professor David Rayside — the director of the school’s Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies and a long-time gay rights activist — is wary of the survey’s results because it was conducted online, but he doesn’t reject its conclusions.
“There is a problem, overall, with the survey but, on the other hand, there is not a lot out there that taps into this population, so it’s not that I would suggest tossing everything out,” he said.
Specifically, Rayside has issues with the over-representation of certain demographics in the survey. Nearly 85 percent of queer respondents had at least some post-secondary education — a proportion that he suggests is unrepresentative.
Meanwhile Matthews says that the wording of the poll’s question about queerness might attract a skewed demographic, in that respondents were asked to identify as members of a community, which he says would attract a more politicized — and decidedly unconservative — group of respondents.
“My hunch is if we had a more benign measure of sexual orientation or identification, we would see smaller differences between the [queer] and the non-[queer] electorate,” he says. “All that being said, we might nevertheless be interested in how it is that people who identify as members of the community vote and think.”