Austria, the country in which we are based, asks its citizens for the third time this year to vote in the presidential election on Sunday, 04.12.2016. In the following days we will publish a series of comments tacking different angles on who and what might affect the election outcome this time. Here comes the first. Feel free to share.


The Austrian Presidential Elections Part I:

Why Women Could Make a Difference


On 4th of December all of Austria will – for the second time – anxiously await the results for the final run-off of the presidential election. This rerun of the second round is anticipated to be as close as the first time in May 2016, when the left-wing candidate, Alexander Van der Bellen, won by roughly 30,000 votes against the populist right-wing candidate, Norbert Hofer.


While most polls predict an equally close race for the upcoming election, one large group of voters might turn out to be decisive for the outcome. The results of both, the first and second (although annulled) round reveal a considerable gender gap in the electorate: while women clearly preferred the independent candidate Irmgard Griss, followed by Van der Bellen, Hofer was particularly unpopular among this group of voters in the first round.[i] The gap is even more evident for the result of the annulled run-off, where 60 percent of all female voters cast their ballot for Alexander Van der Bellen, whereas Norbert Hofer only received 40 percent of women’s votes.[ii]


The recent US election further underscores the relevance of gender differences in voting, since Clinton – albeit her overall defeat – won by 12 percent among women overall, and by even 32 percent among young women (under 29).[iii] This gendered pattern of voting behavior however arises not only in presidential, but also in parliamentary elections and persists over time. In the Austrian lower house elections in 2013, to name only one example, the difference between men and women voting for the Freedom Party was twelve percentage points.[iv]


Comparable gender gaps are evident in most Western European countries. Overall women are more likely to vote for left-wing parties and they are particularly more reluctant than men to vote for populist (radical) right-wing parties. Besides Austria, also Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Belgium, and the Netherlands display similar differences in the voting behavior of men and women with regard to the populist right. It is thus not unusual that populist contenders, such as Norbert Hofer, suffer from a lack of support among women. Only in France, where Marine Le Pen’s Front National is expected to break all records in the 2017 presidential elections, the gap has started to close up and might have disappeared entirely.


Changes in the gender gap are however likely to have a wide-ranging impact, since the group of female voters bears the biggest potential for electoral increases for populist right-wing parties. It remains to be seen whether the populist right-wing candidate Norbert Hofer will be able to attract more female voters than in the last run-off, and if Alexander Van der Bellen will succeed in mobilizing women’s support once again. Women’s vote will in any case be a crucial factor in this tense race.

Author: Vanessa Marent, University of Salzburg, in November 2016

[i] SORA/ISA (2016) Wahlanalyse  Bundespräsidentschaftswahl  2016 (accessed 2016/11/17).

[ii] SORA/ISA (2016) Bundespräsidentschaftswahl 2016: Stichwahl (accessed 2016/11/17).

[iii] Clare Malone (2016/11/09) Clinton Couldn’t Win Over White Women (accessed 2016/11/17).

[iv] SORA/ISA (2013) Nationalratswahl 2013 (accessed 2016/11/17).


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