With less than 24 hours till the polls open for General Election 2015 Francesca Gains looks at the role undecided women voters could have on the outcome.
Whilst the three female leaders, of the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Green Party, have sometimes grabbed the headlines, it is undecided women voters who will be key to the outcome of #GE2015.
There has been little movement in the polls throughout the short campaign and the outcome is hard to predict particularly given the still sizeable number of voters who are undecided. Of this group, women outnumber men, and one of the features which differentiate men and women voters is that women are more likely to make their minds up closer to polling day. Winning over undecided women voters will be critical in such a tight electoral contest.
All the parties have been paying attention to winning women’s votes throughout this campaign with very clearly signalled policies on issues affecting women voters. For example the Labour Party’s longstanding (and costed) policy promises on an extension to free childcare for 3 and 4 year olds childcare from fifteen to twenty five hours have been matched and even trumped by last minute and unfunded pledges from the Conservatives to also boost the number of hours free childcare.
In many ways the concerns of women voters are no different to men. However in this election there are three pertinent factors relating to women voters which could prove to be influential to the outcome on Thursday 7th May.
Firstly women are more protective of public services like health and education, even Conservative women. Both the main parties are promising to protect health and education spending, however the NHS is an issue that the Labour is more trusted on and features very strongly in their campaign messages in the run up to polling day.
The Conservatives meanwhile are keen to build on their strong approval ratings for management of the economy with a message that economic recovery is in sight and could be jeopardized by a change of Government. However whether this message of economic optimism is shared is questionable. Signs of the green shoots of recovery, or a sense that ‘things are getting better for me and my family’ may not be uniformly felt especially amongst women who have borne the brunt of tax rises and benefit cuts over the last electoral cycle.
Finally there are age differences in how likely different groups of women turnout and vote. Older women voters are more likely to head to the polling station (or post their ballot), and more likely to vote Conservative. This tendency may be beneficial for the Conservatives. The votes of older women were said to be an important factor in ensuring John Major’s re-election in 1992. However the success of the Labour Party in attracting younger women voters in 1997 was key to New Labour’s election victory. Each of the two main parties will be keen to mobilise undecided women from these target age groups. Labour have the harder job here to boost turnout although their stronger ‘get out the vote’ operation will help.
So as the last frantic two days of campaigning get underway, the women to watch will be those undecided women voters in the key marginal constituencies. And as the exit polls and turnout data emerge in the days that follow it is how these voters turnout, and respond in the polling booth to the main party messages on the future of the health service and the expectation of economic growth that will be crucial to understanding the outcome.