Battle of the Sexes

December 14th 2018 will mark a double anniversary in electoral history. It will be exactly one hundred years since the 1918 general election, which was an historic poll for at least two reasons.

First, the December 1918 election was the last time anyone came first in Wales – in either votes or seats – other than the Labour party. Since then, in the last 26 successive general elections, Labour have always got more votes and seats than any other party.

But December 1918 was most of all an historic general election because it was the first one where any women in the UK were allowed to vote. Voting rights were still restricted – there was far from universal female suffrage in 1918. But the dam had been breached, and most of the remaining restrictions were eliminated within a few years.

That historic anniversary was in my mind when my friend Matt Singh (who runs the excellent Number Cruncher Politics website: see ncpolitics.uk, and @NCPoliticsUK on Twitter), pointed out to me recently that the latest Welsh Political Barometer poll contains huge differences in voting intention by sex. The direction of the differences was typical of what we have seen in most polling in recent years: men were more likely to favour Leave than women in the 2016 referendum; women have been more supportive of Labour (in Wales and across Britain as a whole) for some years as well. But the extent of the gaps in the latest poll was very striking.

The simplest way to present these differences is in the following tables, which show the figures for the entire sample, and then the male and female sub-samples, for Westminster and National Assembly voting intentions, and also on our standard Brexit referendum question.

Westminster:

Party Whole Sample Women Men

Labour 42% 48% 37%

Conservatives 33% 31% 36%

Plaid Cymru 10% 11% 10%

Lib-Dems 7% 6% 8%

UKIP 4% 2% 6%

Others 3% 3% 5%

National Assembly (Constituency Vote):

Party Whole Sample Women Men

Labour 38% 43% 32%

Conservatives 28% 25% 30%

Plaid Cymru 19% 20% 19%

Lib-Dems 6% 5% 7%

UKIP 6% 4% 8%

Others 3% 3% 3%

National Assembly (List Vote):

Party Whole Sample Women Men

Labour 37% 42% 32%

Conservatives 26% 24% 28%

Plaid Cymru 18% 19% 17%

Lib-Dems 6% 4% 7%

UKIP 5% 3% 8%

Others 9% 8% 8%

Brexit Referendum:

Whole Sample Women Men

Remain 45% 49% 42%

Leave 41% 35% 47%

Wouldn’t Vote/ Don’t Know 14% 17% 12%

As is self-evident, these are substantial differences between the women and men sampled. They become all the more striking, though, if we project the election voting intention figures onto possible outcomes in terms of seats. Using the standard method of uniform national swings, I’ll present here again the projected results for the whole sample, as well as those for the female and male sub-samples:

Westminster

Party Whole Sample Women Men

Labour 26 seats 29 seats 18 seats

Conservative 10 seats 7 seats 18 seats

Plaid Cymru 3 seats 3 seats 3 seats

Lib-Dems 1 seat 1 seat 1 seat

For the whole sample, the Conservatives were projected to gain two seats from Labour (Vale of Clwyd and Wrexham), and the Lib-Dems to gain Ceredigion from Plaid Cymru. The latter seat projection remains the same for both male and female sub-samples; otherwise things are very different.

For our female sub-sample, we have Labour projected to gain a further seat – snatching Preseli Pembrokeshire from the Conservatives. By the sharpest of contrasts, our male sub-sample projects a series of Conservative gains from Labour: Alyn and Deeside, Bridgend, Cardiff North, Clwyd South, Delyn, Gower, Newport West, Vale of Clwyd, Wrexham, and Ynys Môn.

We see similar differences, if not quite as stark, in the seat projections for the National Assembly:

National Assembly

Party Whole Sample Women Men

Labour 29 seats 31 seats 25 seats

Conservative 18 seats 16 seats 19 seats

Plaid Cymru 11 seats 11 seats 10 seats

Lib-Dems 1 seat 1 seat 2 seats

UKIP 1 seat 1 seat 4 seats

Across the whole sample, two constituency seats were projected to change hands from the 2016 Assembly election, with the Conservatives winning Vale of Clwyd and Vale of Glamorgan from Labour. But for the female sub-sample, no constituency seats were projected to change at all, and Labour was furthermore projected to gain two additional regional list seats (one in North Wales and an additional one in Mid and West Wales). With the male sub-sample, the Conservatives were projected to gain all of the following constituencies from Labour: Cardiff North, Gower, Vale of Clwyd, Vale of Glamorgan, and Wrexham. Gower. The male sub-sample also projects UKIP to be rather more successful at holding some of the list seats that they won in 2016.

What should we make of these huge political differences between men and women in our most recent poll? One friend with whom I shared these results suggested to me starting a campaign to take votes away from men. (She was joking. I think). Some caution is warranted. We will need to see if future polls show such huge differences; moreover, the ‘margins of error’ for such sub-samples are larger than they are for a 1000+ person sample as a whole. That said, in a broader context where Wales and the UK are deeply politically divided, we need to understand the nature of these divisions. As well as splits along lines of age, education levels, geography and social class, one of the most salient lines of political difference at present is the oldest human dividing line of all.