If just women voted, the Liberals would win the election - not by much, but enough to form a minority government.

If just men voted, the Conservatives would win the election - likely with a minority, but perhaps with a majority.

Gender counts in contemporary Canadian politics. It's one of those underlying factors that explains the pattern of politics - much more than the Who's up?/Who's down? tidbits that pass for analysis in much of the contemporary media.

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What's been striking about politics since Prime Minister Stephen Harper's election more than two years ago is how little has changed. Despite enormous efforts by the government, and a new leader for the Liberals - and despite the daily, even hourly, analysis from the commentariat trying to breathe significance into this or that event - nothing much has happened.

One reason among many is found in Nanos Research data.

According to this data, the Conservatives had a "gender gap" of 9.5 percentage points in the January, 2006, election. The gap is simply a way of explaining the difference between a party's share of male and female voters. As of early this month, the Conservatives were supported by 35.3 per cent of men but 26 per cent of women - a 9.3-point difference.

The Liberals, by contrast, ran at 32.2 per cent among women and 32.9 per cent of men, according to Nanos Research. New Democratic voters were heavily tilted toward women, with 23 per cent of women and 14.7 per cent of men.

Look a bit more closely at the challenge for the Conservatives. According to Harris/Decima data, the party's long-standing problem is among single women, who tend to be younger than married ones.

Among single women, the Conservatives trail the Liberals by a whopping 19 points (36 to 17 per cent), whereas the Conservatives are seven points ahead among married women (37 to 30 per cent). The Conservatives lead by nine points among rural women (37 to 28 per cent) but trail by four among urban ones (33 to 29 per cent).

Women under 34 favour the Liberals by 11 points (38 to 27 per cent); women over 50 prefer the Conservatives by eight points (36 to 28 per cent).

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As part of their strategy of slicing and dicing the electorate, the Conservatives have very specifically targeted married women.

Their so-called "child care policy" was really a new version of the old family allowance approach: a cheque in the mail for families with kids. Their "tough on crime" policies were intended to be popular with older women and those with children. Their itsy-bitsy tax credits for children's athletic programs had young families in the bull's eye.

Notwithstanding these efforts, the overall gender gap remains, and is apparently intractable. It's a bit like the U.S. situation, where Democrats are the preferred party of the majority of women, while Republicans dominate among men.

Women, it is believed, are more interested than men in social policy issues, personal security and "soft" power overseas; men are more interested in fiscal policy (tax, deficits, debt) and defence. These are huge generalizations, with major exceptions.

The public face of the Harper government certainly won't help it among women, insofar as women are influenced by the number of their own they see having influence in a political party.

The Harper cabinet lacks even one woman in a prominent portfolio. A young one with long-term promise, Rona Ambrose, was thrown to the wolves after she botched the climate-change file, a failure more related to the government's lack of policy than to her lack of experience.

Very few appointments to senior government positions have gone to women. Indeed, this is the most male-dominated government Canadians have seen since women began to inch onto the political scene.

The Conservatives have focused hard on parts of the electorate to find their coveted majority: Francophone Quebeckers are at the head of the list, but ethnic groups who usually vote Liberal have also been targeted.

They've tried to consolidate their position among married women in rural and suburban areas. Beyond that, they haven't tried, and it shows. It's one of the underlying reasons why a Conservative majority has proven so elusive.