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07 October 2019

No political party can afford to ignore female voters

Professor Rosie Campbell, Director of the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership, told the Making Sense of Society event how women make up the majority of voters.

Cathy Newman, Julia Gillard and Professor Rosie Campbell at the Making Sense of Society event on women in politics.
Cathy Newman, Julia Gillard and Professor Rosie Campbell

Within politics, women’s and men’s voices should have equal weight and no party can afford to ignore female voters, Professor Rosie Campbell told a Making Sense of Society event last week.

At the event, entitled “How woman always mattered in politics, but not everyone noticed”, Professor Campbell said women make up 51 percent of the adult population, and a slightly higher proportion of the eligible electorate. They are also just as likely as men to turn out to vote.

When you imagine the average voter, you should be equally likely to think of a woman as a man, and when we are talking about politics and thinking about political issues, we should be equally likely to give weight to women’s voices as men’s. It makes no sense whatsoever to think of women as some minority sub-group. No party can afford to ignore women voters in the forthcoming election.

Professor Rosie Campbell

She said that men and women’s attitudes to politics are more similar than they are different, however, there are some variations between the genders, probably linked to socialisation and lived experiences. Compared to men, women are less likely to support spending cuts, are more interested in health and education and are less concerned about Brexit and the EU. They also make up their minds later in a campaign about who will secure their vote.

Professor Campbell shared polls showing women were much less likely than men to like Nigel Farage. Also, when asked who would make the best prime minster more women voted “not sure” than for either Boris Johnson or Jeremy Corbyn.

She highlighted how over the past century, there has been incredibly slow progress on increasing the proportion of MPs who are women. Numbers rose in 1997 with Labour all-women shortlists and David Cameron also said he wanted to get female MPs on the Conservative benches. However, today women still only make up just under one third of those sitting in the House of Commons.

The event held on 3 October at Bush House, also featured Channel 4 News presenter and journalist Cathy Newman and Former Australian Prime Minster Julia Gillard.

Cathy spoke about the many women who played a role in politics over the years, but have not had the recognition they deserved, as revealed in her book Bloody Brilliant Women. In response to questions from the audience, Cathy, Julia and Rosie also spoke a wide range of issues including the challenges of being a woman in politics today including online abuse experienced by female politicians and how to handle misogyny.

Introducing the event, Professor Frans Berkhout, Executive Dean of the Faculty of Social Science & Public Policy, explained the Making Sense of Society series has been created by the Faculty to provide a space and opportunity for people to come together to discuss challenging issues of the day.