The gender gap

Much was written last week about a Populus poll for the Times that suggested women are increasingly drawn to Cameron’s Conservatives. The Times claimed its poll shows “the Tories doing much better among women then men” and the Guardian headlined their story “Female voters backing Cameron”. The gist was that the Tories are building up a lead among women voters and that when Brown takes over the lead shoots up even further. Polly Toynbee jumped in with the claim that “Cameron owes his lead in the polls entirely to women’s votes” and she was joined on the bandwagon by various bloggers.

It was then with some interest that we read the internals released by Populus over the weekend. A quick look at the breakdown for the Brown v Cameron “hypothetical” question shows Cameron at 23% among men and, erm, 24% among women – a statistical tie.

The gender difference is actually in the Labour vote, where men have a seven-point lead over women, and the Don’t Knows, where women have a seven-point lead over men.

In short, women are not flocking to Cameron at all, they just haven’t made their mind up yet. Furthermore, given the size of the data sub-sets it is hard to say that even this is statistically sound.

Looking back at the previous Populus-Times tracker polls there are considerable variations – in July, for example, Cameron’s lead relied entirely on the male vote. It would probably be necessary to dust off our abacus and undertake aggregation or exponential smoothing over a number of months’ polls to get a meaningful result, but you’ll forgive us for not being bothered with that – and you can be sure that the even lazier political correspondents on Britain’s daily papers won’t.

It is also worth noting that in general, women are more likely to say they don’t know to any given polling question than men are; another factor is that pollsters usually remove the Don’t Knows from their headline voting intention figures, but leave them in on the Brown v Cameron hypotheticals, which makes direct comparison a little tricky.

Nonetheless, women are crucial to a Labour victory and it is interesting to look at the polling evidence of what they think on the key issues if we are to work out how to appeal to them based on slightly more concrete evidence than the whim of Polly Toynbee, so a post on that is coming up next.

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