More undecided voters are women than men - but in a thoughtful way

Allegra Stratton

Former National Editor

There is a particular type of voter parties are monomaniacal about right now with eight days to go. She is a she; and she is undecided.

The reason the parties may have a sort of Posy Simmonds style caricature of women voters on a white board in campaign HQ or in an algorithm on a laptop is that in 2017 she was more likely to be undecided for a longer time into the campaign and then when she settled, she swung in behind Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour. If there were a similar dynamic this time around, it could - potentially - be transformative for one or other party.

For our penultimate battlegrounds piece we have been looking at how women vote differently from men (yes they do, standby for graphs and stats and stuff) and how they make their decision later.

Women are more likely to be undecided voters, but not because they're dithering.

Our Brain’s Trust at the British Election Study after the 2017 election were the first to reveal the finding that far more women remained undecided for longer... and that they then backed Labour. It is based on their combing of the British election study 30,000 database of interviews with real people.

Professor Jane Green and Chris Prosser show in their blog here that it is partly because in 2017 women came back to Labour from Lib Dems and Greens; on the other side men went back to the Conservatives from the collapse of UKIP.

Elsewhere professor Rosie Campbell has also shown that 2017 was the first time since the 1945 election that women were more likely to go Labour than Tory. This is a familiar break down to people who follow US politics but did not use to be the case in the UK. Until 2017.

Now this wasn’t the easiest of pieces to make. You try charging up to women and positing that they are more likely to be undecided than their male counterparts. No one wants to go on national TV saying “I don’t know”. And indeed we spent Monday in the ultra Tory-Lib Dem marginal of Cheltenham where it is so tight the election genuinely felt like the talk of the town. I saw the most number of placards and signage for both parties there that I have seen anywhere. The women here were certain of their choices.

But there are as much as about one fifth of the electorate not so sure - so we looked for a different, less certain, type of seat. What about a swing seat less dominated by Brexit and where Labour and the Tories are evenly matched and opinion swings between them from one election to the next? We went to Tory held Milton Keynes South. We wanted to find women, but we wanted to avoid mother and baby groups - and at Bletchley’s Big Rock Bond indoor climbing walls we found two decisively undecided female voters.

Ellie speaks to Allegra Stratton about how seriously she takes her vote.

I found it illuminating. Ellie had been Tory in 2017 but since then has had baby Olivia (only 11 months) and now feels more anxious about the vote. That she has more “responsibility”. She told me she watched all the TV debates and this campaign had been changing her mind frequently from Labour to Tory and back again.

She was undecided but she was sweating the decision making that went into her vote possibly more seriously than some who decided weeks ago. The Tories hold the seat by a slender majority - I didn’t sense it was about to go Labour, but Ellie seemed very tempted.

Former secondary school teacher Annette feels torn on who to vote for.

Equally articulate about her certain uncertainty was former secondary school teacher Annette who belayed for me as I did a couple of climbs. Originally from Sheffield, she described herself as a socialist who wanted a party to spend on the NHS; schools and care. There was no way she was voting Boris though she did respect, what she claimed, his “straight-talking”. Jeremy Corbyn sounds like her dream politician, I said. Not a bit of it. She told me she was unsure and wavering. Annette *wanted* to support him and Labour but just felt very torn: “I’m now going to use a northern word. He is “wappy”. There, I’ve said it. It means he is “shallow”, “flakey”. He needs to show balls.” Pro-Remain, she would quite like to vote Lib Dem.

So there we have it. A sort of Rumseldian version of Don’t Know. These women were undecided but in a very thoughtful way. It wasn’t dither - far from it - they brutally dissected their own decision making. But they will be glad that a week tomorrow they will have, to adapt the cliche of our times, got their vote done.

Read more from Allegra's Battleground series: