The media have taken to the narrative that the Conservative party are struggling amongst women with gusto. A lot of this points, as evidence, to some analysis of aggregated MORI data from January to July for Resolution. Far less attention has been paid to this latest article by MORI themselves providing a more recent version of the data, also including data from August and September, which no longer shows the Conservatives strugging against women. Since the election now MORI now have Tory down down 1 point amongst women and 3 points amongst men.
Before the Conservative party pull themselves into a swift reverse and start worrying about the male vote, I should add that the evidence of the Conservatives doing badly amongst women hasn’t vanished entirely. A few months ago I put up a graph here showing the gender split in YouGov’s Sunday Times polls. I’ve updated that below, and with the YouGov polling the pattern remains.
It’s worth being crystal clear about the position. The problem is not that the Conservatives have less support amongst women than men – both MORI and YouGov are showing very little gender difference. The problem is that the Conservatives have lost their previous advantage amongst women. Up until Christmas YouGov had the Conservatives doing better amongst women, a difference that has since vanished – for some reason, the Conservatives have been losing more support amongst women than men.
It’s not easy to determine why – certainly I’ve seen a lot of speculation as to reasons, but not much of it has the benefit of evidence to support it. It needs to be an issue that has arisen relatively recently (ruling out things like a comparative lack of female representation in the cabinet, though solving that would probably help!) and has too be something that alienates women more than men. For example, in the YouGov/Sunday Times poll at the weekend there were questions about whether people perceived the government’s policies on the economy, education, etc as being good or bad for women… which is fine in itself, but doesn’t tell us much about whether these things are factors in the different trends in support amongst men and women unless you have the same questions in regard of men (e.g. it showed people thought the government’s policies on the NHS were bad for women… but we can’t tell if that is just recording a general unhappiness with the government’s NHS policies – people may have given an identical or worse answer if asked about NHS policies for men!)
Polling evidence finds some difference of opinions or attitudes on political issues between men and women – for example, women are more negative about the earlier equalisation of pension ages, more negative about intervention in Libya, more supportive of tightening restrictions on sexualised music videos and adverts, slightly less likely to support the Nadine Dorries abortion amendment. This does not, however, tell us anything about the salience of these issues. Equally don’t read this list of differences and go away with the view that men and women have wildly different viewpoints on political subjects – they really don’t! On most topics like health,education, crime, etc, there is little obvious or consistent difference in male and female viewpoints.
My best guess remains that it is the economy, based mainly upon the timings – the Conservative advantage amongst women disappeared at around the same point that the economy went back into negative growth and economic optimism dropped. There is some evidence to back this up from YouGov’s regular battery of questions on attitudes towards cuts, which show women are less likely than men to think that the cuts are good for the economy, necessary or fair.