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.
— CBC News (@CBCNews) October 15, 2015
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 ThreeHundredEight.com 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.)