Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 26 July 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Do males and females vote differently?

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Women are from Venus and men are from Mars, or is it the other way round? This is the age-old argument that men and women see things differently in all aspects of life.

But does this extend to elections and do males and females approach the decision as to who to vote for in different ways? Certainly the evidence shows that males and females do show different voting patterns at elections.

Barack Obama’s re-election for US President last November was built on two crucial building blocks.

Taking into account he was always going to get a substantial majority of the Black and Hispanic vote, he still had to gain a large part of the white vote in order to achieve re-election. He did this by targeting and winning a majority in two crucial sectors within the white US voter base – white females and 18-25 year-old white males.

Why did Obama win the white female vote, while losing the white male vote? In fact, in the end, he won a substantial majority of the female vote across all ethnic groups? First of all Obama was always way ahead of his opponent Mitt Romney in the ‘likeability’ polls, and particularly with females.

Forgetting policies and other factors, these are polls which ask which of the candidates you would like to meet, have a coffee or a beer with, sit beside on plane etc.

Women more than men tend to have to ‘like’ a candidate first before they consider voting for them and this is where Obama built his win with female voters – get liked first, and then present the policies and other stuff later to gain their vote.

Of course this is all done sub-consciously, women (and also men) don’t think ‘I must like this person first, then I will look at the policies’, it all happens as an overall process and very much on an individual basis.

Is there any lesson in all this for our local political parties? Well interestingly the male vs female vote pattern is most skewed within Sinn Fein’s voting base.

Opinion polling shows an interesting fact about the make-up of Sinn Fein’s vote particularly in the South of Ireland where over 70% of Sinn Fein’s vote is male. In particular Sinn Fein has a particular problem with the young working female vote in the major urban areas e.g. Cork and particularly Dublin ( Dublin and Cork constituencies make up about 40% of TDs in the Dail).

This is a problem for Sinn Fein, but also an opportunity. If Sinn Fein can balance this vote to match the overall male/female demographic in Ireland as a whole, then they would be well on their way to doubling their representation in the Dail.

This unbalanced male/female demographic in Sinn Fein’s vote also appears in the Northern Ireland Sinn Fein vote, but not to the same extent. In terms of other NI political parties, the DUP tends to have a proportionally higher male vote, though not to the same extent as Sinn Fein in the South.

The UUP also has a proportionally higher male vote, though the male/female balance in their voter base is more balanced than the DUP. The SDLP, Alliance, and Green parties all have a proportionally higher female vote, though the effect here is small. This is all compared to the demographic of the total NI population which is approximately 51% female 49% male.

Why is this? What can political parties do to get their voter base maximised, and ensure they get the maximum number of votes from both males and females?

Well, maybe Sinn Fein and the DUP should consider the likeability factors more for elections both in the North, and also as far as Sinn Fein is concerned in the South? Maybe getting new candidates - younger, and perhaps female, could assist.

As mentioned above, it’s in the urban areas that this male/female effect is most pronounced. If the DUP and Sinn Fein are going to increase their representation in South and East Belfast which are two of the Alliance party’s strongest seats, then perhaps they should consider running more centrist type candidates who can appeal to the urban, working, young professional type female.

Bill White is Managing Director of Belfast-based polling and market research company LucidTalk - polling partners to the Belfast Telegraph

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