TORONTO - A new poll indicates a dramatic gender divide in how Ontarians plan to vote in the spring election, with the Progressive Conservatives significantly more popular with men than the other two major parties.
A phone survey conducted by Ekos Research Associates found just over 50 per cent of men said they would vote for the Tories "if the election was held tomorrow," or were leaning towards voting for them.
That's compared with roughly 27 per cent of men who said they would support or were leaning towards supporting the governing Liberals, and almost 16 per cent who said they would choose or were leaning towards choosing the New Democrats.
Among the women voters polled, around 35 per cent said they would vote for or were leaning towards the Tories, compared with nearly 32 per cent for the Liberals and about 26 per cent for the NDP.
"(Gender gaps) are a common faultline in Canadian politics but I'm not sure I've ever seen one this large ever," said Ekos's president, Frank Graves.
"If the election was just held with men, (Tory Leader Doug Ford) would get over half the votes and win pretty well almost every seat in parliament. Not every one, but he'd win a huge majority," Graves said.
"But if the vote today were held with only women, it's a highly competitive race — the parties are only a few points apart."
There are other key faultlines, however, Graves said.
The survey found the Tories, led by Ford, draw strong support from a demographic that "mirrors the populist constituency that propelled Donald Trump to victory in the United States."
It shows the party is very popular with middle-class voters and has a large lead with working-class voters, as well as a small lead with low-income voters. The Tories also do much better with voters who have a college or high school education.
Voters with a university education, meanwhile, are more solidly aligned with the Liberals, the survey shows.
"There has been a tendency, including in the recently concluded (Tory) leadership campaign but elsewhere for the Conservatives, the institutional establishment has a blind spot to the depth of the emotional resonance of populism right now," he said.
"This is the most important new divide and it really isn't the traditional left-right, it seems to be more this ordered versus open outlook."
Overall, the poll shows the Progressive Conservatives in the lead with 43 per cent of respondents saying they would vote for them or were leaning towards voting for them, compared with about 29 per cent for the Liberals and roughly 21 per cent for the NDP.
The numbers show the New Democrats are not benefiting from Liberal fatigue as many expected, and are instead stuck at roughly the same level of support as they were after the last election, Graves said. This suggests they could split the centre-left vote in June, he said.
The Tories' apparent lead does not guarantee them the win, Graves said, noting the Liberals have staged dramatic comebacks to emerge victorious in the last three elections.
But if they want to stay in power, the Liberals "have to make progress with males," he said. "You can't surrender that kind of difference and win the election."
The survey was conducted between March 20 and April 5 with a sample of more than 1,000 Ontario residents 18 and older.
It included households with landlines, cellphones or both and has a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points, 19 times out of 20.