The extreme right is getting closer and closer to power, election after election, in many countries. The first round of the presidential elections in Argentina last Sunday, where the ultra-conservative Javier Milei slipped into the runoff, or the parliamentary elections of October 15 in Poland, where the Law and Justice party came out on top with 35.4% of the vote, are just two of the most recent examples. In these cases and in 12 other recent elections analyzed by EL PAÍS based on polls, women’s suffrage has emerged as a key barrier against the far-right wave.
There is a pattern that is repeated in the countries analyzed: women vote less than men for extreme right-wing parties and candidates. The following graph shows the direct voting intention in the surveys conducted before the elections in each country.
At a glance it can be seen that, in most countries, more men report voting for populist or extreme right-wing parties and candidates. In some countries, such as Brazil or Austria, the differences are up to 16 points. In the recent Argentine elections the gap was 12 points, according to the pollster CB Consultora. Conversely, presidential candidate and current Minister of Economy Sergio Massa told EL PAÍS in a press conference with foreign journalists that among women he reached 45% of support, against less than 25% for Milei.
In European countries such as Italy or France the differences seem smaller, but one or two points between parties with many supporters at the polls can mean hundreds of thousands of votes. In Spain, if Vox had had the same support among men and women at the July 23 elections, it could have grown by about half a million votes, a very important variable considering how close the result was.
The far-right advance in Europe and Latin America
In Europe, after years of steady growth, extreme right-wing parties have exceeded 30% of the vote in Poland, Italy, and Hungary. They also lead some governments: in Hungary, Viktor Orbán has been Prime Minister since 2010; in Italy, Giorgia Meloni came to power last year thanks to a coalition between her party, Brothers of Italy, the Northern League (also far-right) and the conservatives of Forza Italia, led by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi until his recent death.
In Latin America there has been a clear advance of right-wing parties. In Argentina, Milei, who during the election campaign denied the wage gap between men and women in the labor market (which stands at 26%, according to the official statistics agency) and expressed his opposition to abortion, obtained 30% of the vote in the presidential election. In Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro had been president from 2019 until the beginning of this year, when he lost an election in which he came within two points of victory against the current president, the leftist Luiz Inácio Lula Da Silva.
In Chile, the ultra-conservative José Antonio Kast, leader of the Republican Party, won 44% of the support in the second round of the presidential election in December 2021, where he was defeated by the leftist Gabriel Boric. In Peru, the ultra-right is not in government, but in the most recent elections (2021) it managed to reach the second round with Keiko Fujimori, who won 49% of the ballot.
It is likely that not all voters for the above candidates and parties are extreme right-wing themselves: among those ballots there may be protest votes. To verify how much of this electorate considers itself extreme right-wing, one can turn to a recurring question in the surveys: “On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 means ‘farthest left’ and 10 ‘farthest right’, where would you place yourself?” In the following graph we show the results in each country according to Eurobarometer (one of the largest opinion polls in Europe).
More men rank between eight and 10 on the scale, the positions furthest to the right. Although the strength of this conviction varies between countries and there are some exceptions, such as Bulgaria and Romania, the pattern seems clear. This question also has limitations for making comparisons between countries, as the ideology each person assigns themselves is conditioned by the partisan context of each country. It is possible that voters in a country where there is no clear radical party tend more to extremity than similar voters in countries where there are clearly defined extreme right-wing parties.
Why do women vote less for the extreme right?
In the weeks leading up to the election, the Argentine feminist movement called for a vote against the ultra-liberal economist. “Don’t vote for Milei,” was message spread by the collective Ni Una Menos, the origin of the great popular tide against femicides in 2015.
But gender differences in voting have been documented in academic studies since the 1990s and have no clear, single origin. Women tend to express themselves more moderately than men, even when they value issues in the same way. And this is also true when it comes to voting, according to research by Eelco Arteveld and Elisabeth Ivarsflaten of the departments of political science at the universities of Amsterdam and Bergen. Similarly, men are more likely to express their extreme positions by voting for radical parties.
Other research suggests that in some Western countries voting for extreme right-wing parties is associated with a certain stigma that has a greater impact on women. In general, women are more hesitant to vote for parties that garner less social acceptance.
Greater risk aversion among women could also be among the causes of this gap: on the one hand, they shy away from the risk of being exposed to stigma. On the other hand, the recent creation of these formations means that they are more reluctant to vote for them, in case their vote is not useful and because of the lack of experience of these parties.
Extreme right-wing groupings are no strangers to this disadvantage. Juliana Chueri and Anna Damerow, researchers at the universities of Lausanne and Leiden, point to a “conscious strategy” of these parties to attract the female electorate: the adoption of more flexible positions on gender issues and the inclusion of more women among their leaders.
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