Tom MTom Mludzinski is Deputy Head of Politics for Ipsos MORI. This is the text of the talk he gave to ConHome's Victory 2015 Conference on 9th March. Follow Tom on Twitter.

For much
of the time that Ipsos MORI (and formerly MORI) has been polling the public,
dating back to the October 1974 General Election, the Conservative Party has
enjoyed a greater lead over Labour among women than men. However, that
dominance has been in long term decline. The Conservatives’ so called “problem
with women” is not a new phenomenon and is certainly not purely David Cameron's
problem. Nevertheless women’s experiences of the recession and their more
personal concerns about the effects of economic hardship give clues as to how
to appeal to women when searching for their votes.

looking at the polling data on “women” it is important to set out an obvious
caveat from the start: women are not a homogenous group who all think the same
way – no one would dream of saying that men only vote on “men’s issues”. There
are of course rich women, poor women, old women, young women, women from the
north, south, midlands etc. and these differences are just as likely to have an
impact on voting intentions and political attitudes. However, for the purpose
of this analysis we are looking broadly at “women” to identify some clear
patterns and any differences with men.

In October
1974 the Conservative Party performed had a one point lead over Labour among
women but were 11 points behind Labour among men. This exemplifies just how
important the female vote was to the Conservative party. However, ever since
then that relative gap has gradually declined, election by election the
Conservative dominance among women has been waning. Eventually it was the 2005
General Election when, for the first time since our records began, the
Conservatives did better among men than women. The 2010 General Election
produced a continuation of that pattern as once again the Conservative lead
over Labour was bigger among men than women.

In fact, since
the 2010 election, up until the end of 2012, the Conservative Party lost as
many male supporters as female. Among men support for the Conservatives fell
from 38% at the election to 34% at the end of 2012, among women it fell from
36% to 32% – ie. a fall of four points among both gneders. However, while the
Tories have lost as many men as women, Labour’s lead is far higher among women
than men. To answer how this can be true, you have to look at the other
parties. Labour’s gains are mostly from the Liberal Democrats, indeed the
Liberal Democrats have fallen 12 points among men compared to a fall of 18
points among women. Men meanwhile are more likely to be switching to UKIP, as
my recent post for Conservative Home explained, around two-thirds of UKIP
supporters are male and just under half (43%) had voted for the Conservatives
in 2010.

Much has
been said and written in the media about David Cameron’s “women problem”. As
explained earlier the decline in the Conservatives’ support among women is a
long term trend and therefore not applicable simply to David Cameron. Further
evidence of it not being purely Mr Cameron’s problem is that women (and men)
say they like David Cameron more than they like the Conservative Party.

However, there
is also some evidence to suggest that the Prime Minister is personally doing
worse among women than men. While men and women equally like Mr Cameron, women
are more likely than men to like Ed Miliband. A look at the two men’s approval
ratings shows a similar story. The March Ipsos MORI Political Monitor had both leaders with similar net
satisfaction (% satisfaction minus % dissatisfied) scores among men (-25 for
both) though Mr Cameron does worse among women with a net rating of -35
compared to -15 for Mr Miliband. This pattern is backed up when looking at the
aggregate data across all our polling in 2012.

evidence of the perceived problem the Conservative Party has on women is that
Labour is seen as the party “best at looking after the interests of women” and
the Liberal Democrats come in second (34% Labour, 17% Liberal Democrats, 12%
Conservatives). But what are the interests of women? In 2012 the top two issues
facing Britain as identified by women were exactly the same as those mentioned
by men: the economy and unemployment. However, women were slightly more likely
to say the NHS and education are important issues, and this is reflected in
other research which shows women tend to be more worried about issues more
likely to affect families. Incidentally, it is worth highlighting that these
two areas (health and education) are Labour strongholds in terms of being seen
as the best party.

While the
economy and unemployment are the most important issues for both men and women,
a deeper look reveals where women have greater, more personal concerns around
the impact of the economic downturn on them and their family. Women are slightly
more likely than men to think their own personal financial circumstances are
going to get worse (46% and 40% respectively). They are also more likely to
worry about: being able to pay the bills, their children’s job prospects, their
ability to buy the things they are used to and being able to retire as planned.
It is on this, more personal economic territory that a level of empathy and understanding
and of course solutions could prove to be popular among women voters. Although,
at the moment when asked which party has the best policies on the economy 28%
of women say Labour and 22% chose the Conservatives – while men are more likely
to pick the Conservatives (32%) over Labour (24%).

Finally, a
line on how men and women differ in their approach to politics. While men are
more likely to say they are interested in “politics” women are more likely to
be interested in the social policy side of politics – their interest is likely
to peak when it directly affects them and their family, for example around
health and education. This will not only come from being a woman but other roles
they hold such as mothers or carers. Women also engage in politics differently,
being more likely to help on fundraising drives, signing petitions, doing
voluntary work and urging people to get in touch with councillors or MPs. Men
on the other hand are more likely to express a political opinion online, write
a letter to an editor and discuss politics. Indeed, research by the academics Rosie
Campbell and Kristi Winters

suggests that men comment on political developments “as one might watch and
comment upon a sports match” while women were less focussed on the “politics”
of politics and are more interested in the domestic aspect and how things
affect them and those around them.

The Conservatives have been
losing the support of women, but it is by no means a new problem. In order to
better engage with women then it is important to understand not only what
aspects of politics concern them most but also how it is presented to them.