“Rarely can there have been a group of voters who swung so far so fast. Polls suggest the drop in women’s support for the Conservative party has been dramatic since the election.”
Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper, writing in The Guardian, 26 September 2011
Cathy Newman checks it out
To hear Labour speak, you’d think there was a veritable stampede of women desperate to escape the clutches of David Cameron in exchange for the warm embrace of Ed Miliband.
Women, so the Labour party’s argument goes, have fallen out of love with the Conservatives because they’re being punished by a series of government policies.
That’s because cuts to things like tax credits impact on lone parents, who by and large are female. But just because coalition policies are punishing women, are women – yet – punishing the coalition? Over to the team, with a little help from the pollsters.
Launching a major play for the female vote today, Ed Miliband hit the airwaves summing up Tuesday’s Autumn Statement as “the biggest attack on women in a generation”.
Brandishing new House of Commons Library research, he said that of the £2.37bn raised from tax credits and public sector pay changes, three quarters of the cash will be coming from women.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) however said this is nothing new. It told FactCheck: “We have already shown that the coalition’s measures before Tuesday would hit single women harder than single men, on average. This is because many more single women are lone parents, and the measures hit lone parents, on average.”
The IFS told us it gets much more complicated when you look at couples, because although women typically receive tax credits in a couple, “to get a real idea about who suffers from this one would need to know how income is shared within a household”.
The Conservative Party meanwhile told FactCheck that Labour’s analysis was “selective and partial”, deliberately ignoring the positive steps the government has taken and focusing on the cuts.
But does the economic misery have women deserting the Tories in droves?
Not according to pollsters Ipsos-Mori. The most up-to-date data, that covers Reuters polls between January and September, shows that women’s support for the Conservatives over the course of the year has dipped just 1 per cent since the General Election, to 35 per cent.
Over the same period, Conservative support among men has fallen by 3 per cent, also to 35 per cent.
In fact, Ms Cooper’s group of ‘fast-swinging voters’ is not Tory women, but Liberal Democrats – of all sexes.
Anthony Wells from pollster YouGov told FactCheck: “The simple fact is that after the general election the Lib Dems lost their left leaning support in one wholesale sweep. Since then, voting intentions have really been quite static.
“If there is a gender skew in the comparatively small group of people moving from Conservative to Labour, it would be swamped by the swathe of people moving from Lib Dem to Labour”.
What women want
Ms Cooper makes further claims that women “will get angrier and angrier and louder and louder” about the government cuts.
And polls aside, there is evidence that many women are angry. FactCheck spoke to Mumsnet founder Justine Roberts, who said: “There is a definite strand of women (that feel) they are bearing the brunt and who think the government doesn’t get women.”
But is there evidence of women getting louder? When will they start voting with their feet?
We spoke to Ms Roberts as Ed Miliband was sitting beside her answering questions from Mumsnet readers on a live webchat.
She said the Tories faced “potentially a big fallout” in women voters. But do her readers feel Labour understands them any better?
“Labour is trying to persuade them – he (Miliband) is in the process,” Ms Roberts said, as Miliband frantically typed out answers. “They want to know what he really stands for and what his position is on the strikes,” she said.
Is Ed Miliband being opportunistic in his push to get women onside? “Yes I think he is, but who wouldn’t be? That’s politics,” Ms Roberts said.
Cathy Newman’s verdict
It’s certainly true that the coalition cuts are hitting women harder than men. But, surprisingly perhaps, female voters are not – yet – taking revenge in the way they intend to vote.
So unless Yvette Cooper can show us some private polling to the contrary, she and her colleagues are wrong to argue the Conservatives are haemorrhaging support among women.
Having said that, it’s a no-brainer for Labour to target women. Because if they’re not voting with their feet now, by the time they’ve felt the full force of the coalition’s policies in their pocket, they may well be doing so come the next election.
The analysis by Emma Thelwell