Governments are always subject to flux in the opinion polls and this month it’s the Conservatives who have suffered from a drop in support shortly after their party conference. According to a discussion on Wednesday’s Woman’s Hour part of this fall in support is due to a shift in the number of women voters, as found in a recent YouGov polling report.
I was surprised to hear that, had it not been for female voters, the Labour Party would have won every election since the Second World War. So, it seems, despite the impression that Labour (or, should I say, the left wing of the spectrum) is generally more forward-thinking in those areas typically associated with ‘women’s policy’ such as childcare, working flexibility and government-controlled measures to ensure pay is more fairly distributed (to varying degrees of success I might add) women vote for the Conservatives in larger proportions.
The Conservatives fall in popularity amongst women is also seen by many as a direct response to the public’s general impression of David Cameron as well as his ‘Calm down dear’ put-down towards Angela Eagle in the Commons, amongst other gaffs. This is also coupled with some high-profile attacks on the government’s strategy of cuts, which are seen as disproportionately affecting women.
The Woman’s Hour discussion then moved on to the way in which parties can attract/make women aware of their policies more effectively. One respondent commented that many women are unaware of policy directly and that parties need to get this information into the hands of OK readers.
I am sure this ignorance and unavailability of political discourse is a problem. But this perception that women necessarily need politics in their gossip mags for them to be informed is also, on first glance, a patronising one. An image of an upper-middle class man with a monocle studying The Telegraph and guffawing about the Tory’s newest childcare strategy whilst his down-trodden but servile wife serves him a cup of tea before settling down to her copy of Closer, because she doesn’t care a thing about real politics being a woman and all, springs immediately to mind.
It cannot be the case that men read serious news whilst women read gossip mags and so therefore have no idea about policy, can it? Or, if there is ignorance it’s not just confined to one of the sexes. I would have thought it’s just as patronising to say that for women to know more about politics we need to get it into OK as it is to say that men would be more aware if Nuts regularly discussed the worldwide increase in the cost of cotton which was thereby having an implication for the Page 3 girls’ ability to stock up on lacy underwear, and what was the government going to do about it?
But, to be on the safe side, I thought I’d look at the numbers a bit more closely. A rough, and albeit not entirely scientific, search of divide in readership of a range of newspapers, from the serious to the questionable, came up with the following proportions:
Male – 47%
Female – 53%
Male – 57%
Female – 43%
Male – 53%
Female – 47%
Male – 59%
Female – 41%
Male – 56%
Female – 44%
Male – 53%
Female – 47%
Although this is not the most scientific or strictly accurate way of establishing how information about politics is disseminated, I was surprised (and slightly disappointed) to find that things are not as 50/50 as they should be. However, the differences between the sexes are not as different as some comment makes out and I think it does show that getting information on policy to women is possibly just as big a problem as it is getting it to men. I agree that policy and the current cuts affect the sexes very differently but is the perception that women need politics in their gossip mags really helpful? Perhaps this is one aspect of political spin for which gender should be left to one side.