Are parties more likely to have female candidates in no-hope ridings?

Every election, after the final list of candidates is published, there’s some analysis of how many of a particular group (usually women, because they’re the easiest to count) running for office overall or for each political party.

This election, those numbers show either how we’ve made significant progress over the years (in 1980, we had only five female MPs) or how far we still have to go because women make up half the population and no party has women making up more than half its candidates.

The increase in the number of female candidates is encouraging, but I had this nagging doubt in the back of my head: Not all candidates are the same. An NDP candidate in rural Alberta has much less of a chance to get elected as one in Toronto or Vancouver. Ditto a Conservative candidate in downtown Toronto, or a Liberal in Quebec City, or a Bloc candidate in the West Island.

What if the parties were padding their numbers by putting women as candidate-poteaux in ridings they knew were hopeless?

To find out, I did some number-crunching. I took all 338 ridings and used the projections from to separate the candidates into “winnable” and hopeless based on a simple criterion: If the candidate was 15 points or less behind the leading candidate in that riding projection. (This includes candidates who are leading.) Then I counted what percentage of those candidates were women.

Here’s what I came up with:

  • Bloc Québécois: 33% (13/40) vs. 28.2% (22/78) overall
  • Conservative Party: 18% (32/178) vs. 19.5% (66/338) overall
  • Forces et Démocratie: 0% (0/1)
  • Green party: 100% (2/2) vs. 39.8% (134/336) overall
  • Independent: 0% (0/2)
  • Liberal Party: 31% (64/206) vs. 30.7% (104/338) overall
  • NDP: 38% (45/120) vs. 43.2% (146/338) overall


Among parties with more than two winnable seats, the difference between the number of women in winnable ridings and those running overall is at most 5.2 percentage points. And in two of the four cases the percentage of women in winnable ridings is higher.

Now, there are a lot of caveats in this calculation. The 308 projections are an incomplete science, and the numbers I used come from after the deadline for candidacies — the number of winnable races for the Liberals has greatly increased since then, and decreased for the NDP. A lot of candidates are considered unwinnable according to the calculation that pundits think could have a shot (Maria Mourani, Anne Lagacé Dowson, Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe, Allison Turner, Pascale Déry). And it doesn’t account for other factors like incumbency (you can’t take as much credit when you’re running a female MP for re-election), or how contested the nomination race was.

The NDP, for example, shows 43% female candidates overall, and 38% in winnable ridings. But if you exclude Quebec, where a bunch of women were elected in 2011 by surprise and are now incumbents (names like Ruth Ellen Brosseau, Charmaine Borg and Laurin Liu), only 27% of the winnable ridings in the rest of the country have female candidates.

That raises a bit of an eyebrow. Maybe it’s just chance, or maybe it’s subconscious. But overall, as a rough guide, these numbers are enough to convince me that women aren’t being systematically dumped in unwinnable ridings.

It makes for a less interesting blog post, but at least my curiosity is satiated.

(By the way, you should read that CBC story about women in politics. It includes some interesting statistics and comments from female MPs.)

4 thoughts on “Are parties more likely to have female candidates in no-hope ridings?

  1. Frank Schwimmer

    You can say so…in my riding Laurier Sainte Marie the Libs have a woman who have no hopes whatsoever, I actually like her but she spent the entire campaign months with a pregnancy and just about a month ago delivered her baby. She did not campaigned that much and I do not expect her to win the seat, instead it will go to the NDP, which I prefer to having Duceppe in Ottawa

  2. Michel

    Of course political parties pad their numbers. They do the same with cultural communities and young people. And why not throw in a couple of disabled candidates while you’re at it. The same thing happens when forming a cabinet except that you also have to throw regional representation into the mix. Politics is not always but very often about window dressing.

  3. Mario D

    I would not be surprised if that strategy was proven to be used at times but i still remain naïve ant think that the idea is a bit far fetched. Although it`s a well known way of doing things to place in a sure shot riding a political figure that we would like to become minister i tend to think that any conclusion being made according to the gender of the candidate must be seen as a fact that women are more and more present in the political leadership. It may not be a done deal yet but they are seen as suitable and sometimes better persons than men to occupy the role of political rep. It is even more remarkable that these days with all the… dirt surrounding politics and politicians one has to be real commited to get involved.


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