Pierre Poilievre must do more to attract women voters to win a majority in the next election, including “hitting the anger button” less often, say observers, including a senior adviser to former Tory prime ministers.
The Conservative Leader is trailing Justin Trudeau when it comes to support from women, with a recent Nanos poll for The Globe and Mail showing that only 22 per cent think the Tories should hang onto Mr. Poilievre until the next election.
Political commentators say to win a clear majority, Mr. Poilievre must gain the backing of women, including “soccer mums” who may not warm to his “attack dog” rhetoric.
Marjory LeBreton, former Conservative government leader in the Senate, who worked with four party leaders, Joe Clark and Brian Mulroney among them, said Mr. Poilievre’s aggressive stand in debates risks alienating women who want to see practical solutions, rather than point-scoring.
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She said Mr. Poilievre is “a very hard worker” and, personally, behind the scenes, doesn’t “come across as quite so shrill and angry,” but in public, he cannot resist “hitting the anger button.”
She urged the Conservative Leader, who took the helm of the party in September, to adopt a “change of tone” if he wants to win an electoral majority.
“I think people generally, but women in particular, are so tired of the vitriol and the anger,” she said in an interview. “They are not looking for someone to hype up the rhetoric and point out all that is wrong. They want solutions.”
Nik Nanos, chairman of Nanos Research, said the Conservative Leader “needs to be more competitive among women voters” to beat Mr. Trudeau. The December Nanos poll for The Globe surveyed 1,021 people and had a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
“The research shows that Pierre Poilievre tracks well among men who are voters but he is significantly vulnerable among women,” he said.
Mr. Nanos said women are “less likely to see politics as a blood sport.”
Once the country gets closer to an election, he said, Mr. Poilievre will need to roll out policies that appeal to more women voters.
He said Stephen Harper won the 2011 election with the help of the “soccer mom” vote, which he won over with a package of tax credits aimed at families, although he did not poll particularly favourably as a leader with women. It included a “Family Tax Cut” allowing an eligible taxpayer to transfer up to $50,000 of income to his or her spouse.
Melissa Lantsman, deputy leader of the Conservative Party, said Mr. Poilievre was effectively highlighting issues of concern to all voters, including the cost of living, inflation and public safety, and said the policy platform is “in progress.”
She said, in an interview, that Mr. Poilievre had “plenty of women at the leadership table” and had appointed Raquel Dancho as public safety critic, saying that crime and safety was a “top concern of women in the suburbs.”
“There’s more to come and we will have a platform that supports every single Canadian,” she said.
Conservative allies of Mr. Poilievre say that as a father with young children, he understands the pressures facing Canadian families.
Quito Maggi, of MainStreet Research, said Mr. Poilievre has a smaller share of the female vote than previous Tory leaders, though he has firm support from men, particularly younger men.
A poll he conducted in December showed that the Liberals had 42-per-cent support among women, compared with 30 per cent for Conservatives. The poll surveyed 1,267 adults and had a margin of error of 2.8 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
“The divide between male and female voters has not been this wide before,” he said, adding it was “most stark” among 18- to 34-year-olds, with a 40-point gap.
“He may not need the female vote [to win], but he is going to have to get a much greater share of male voters to compensate,” he said.
Karl Bélanger, president of Traxxion Stratégies and a former NDP adviser, said previous Tory leaders who had won outright had the support of female voters in the Greater Toronto Area, and “to a lesser extent” around Vancouver and Montreal.
“In 20 years in politics, I have never seen a gender gap like the one we have now,” he said.
Without that support, he said Mr. Poilievre would have to persuade a lot of Liberal voters to stay at home and, even then, may gain only enough seats for a minority government.
“For him to win a majority, he needs the soccer moms to show up for him and to flip those seats in the GTA from red to blue,” he said.