Last week’s Heywood and Middleton by-election saw 58% of women but only 38% of men saying they’d vote Labour, providing more proof that men are more right wing and women are more left wing. So why are women more left wing than men?
The Labour Party’s claim that the Conservatives are anti-women has been a common political theme since the last general election. In reality, to paraphrase the pollster Lord Ashcroft, the Conservatives aren’t unpopular with women, they’re unpopular with everyone and seem to be attracting equally low numbers of male and female voters.
The Labour Party, in contrast, does have a gender imbalance in its supporter base. It attracted just 28% of male voters at the last general election and lost to UKIP amongst male voters in the recent Heywood and Middleton by-election (41% to 38%), though it held onto the seat by attracting far more female voters than UKIP (58% to 21%).
British women, it seems, are now more left wing than men. So why is this? Here we provide eight possible reasons.
1. Young women are more idealistic
Both men and women seem to get more right wing the older we become. According to YouGov, 38% of young men and 34% of young women support UKIP or the Conservatives compared with 56% of men over 60 and 57% of women over 60.
Meanwhile on the left of politics, 48% of young men and 54% of young women support Labour or the Lib Dems, compared with only 39% of men and 39% of women over 60.
So women’s greater leaning to the left seems to be limited to the younger generation.
2. Women care more about health services
When asked about specific issues, men and women have similar concerns such as the economy and immigration. One area that a higher proportion of women consistently highlight as a concern is the health service. One poll found that 35% of women name “improving the NHS” as one of their top three political priorities, compared with 26% of men.
Another survey found that men were twice as likely to support a 5% cut in NHS spending. As the NHS is traditionally seen as being a greater priority to the left than the right, women’s leftward leaning could be the linked to their concern for the NHS.
3. Women don’t support war
Another area of policy where there is a significant gap between men and women is in support for British troops engaging in war. According to Peter Kellner of YouGov: “there seems to be something close to a cast-iron rule, when it comes to military action, there is a persistent gender gap of around 20 points”.
|March 2003: % supporting British participation in Iraq war
|March 2011: % supporting British military action in Libya
|Jan 2013: % supporting help for France in Mali
|Jan 2013: % saying Prince William should serve Afghanistan
As the doves on the left of politics are generally considered to be less willing to engage in warfare that the hawks on the right, women’s reluctance to support military action may also shape their left-wing politics.
We should remember, however, what George Galloway, MP, had to say on the matter:
“[We were told]…for years in the Labour Party, if only we could get more women into parliament there’d be fewer wars, less aggression and all of that. There was 101 ‘Blair babes’ elected in 1997 and all but three of them voted for every war that Tony Blair took us into.”
4. Women think about family more
According to Dr Rosie Campbell, women are more inclined to view politics through the lens of family life. In one set of focus groups, Campbell recorded 77 mentions of family from women, compared with 11 men. Lord Ashcroft Polls also found that only women mentioned “family” in their top 20 words when asked to describe the characters of Cameron, Clegg and Milliband.
Could it be that women are more left wing because the left is seen as having more family friendly policies in relation to issues like childcare and parental leave?
5. Women are more censorious
Dr Rosie Campbell’s work has also highlighted that women tend to be more authoritarian than men. For example when asked if the censorship of films and magazines is necessary to uphold moral values; women are twice as likely to strongly agree while men are more than twice as likely to disagree.
Could the left’s greater interest in censoring lads mags and Page 3 be drawing more women to the left of politics?
6. Women prefer the public sector
The majority of public sector workers are women and the majority of private sector workers are men. On this basis, it’s perhaps not surprising to learn that men are nearly three times more likely to strongly agree with the statement: “private enterprise is the best way to solve Britain’s economic problems”.
As the political left which is historically seen to favour the public sector over the private sector, maybe this is why women are more likely to be left wing?
7. Women are more unionised
Men have traditionally dominated the trade union movement. Ten years ago this was still the case with 3,752.000 men being a member of a trade union in 2004, compared with 3,587,000 women. In the intervening decade, women have begun to outnumber men, with the figures for 2012 showing 3,142,000 male union members and 3,613,000 female members.
Could women’s increased involvement in the trade union movement be at the heart of women’s greater tendency towards the left of politics?
8. Women are more reliant on state benefits
Women are more likely to be reliant on welfare benefits than men, according to the Fawcett Society, who estimated that around 20% of women’s income is made up of welfare payments and tax credits compared to 10% for men.
Maybe this is why more women than men oppose freezing welfare benefits and reducing child tax benefit. One benefit that women are more supportive of cutting than men is unemployment benefit. This may be explained by the fact that it is one benefit that more men rely on than women.
As the left is generally seen as being more generous with welfare payments, this may be one reason why more women vote for parties on the left.
For more on this subject, see our article men are more right wing and women are more left wing.
Article by Glen Poole author of the book Equality For Men
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