The left-wing contender for the leadership of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, is heading for a surprise victory according to the pollster YouGov, with 53% of those eligible to vote saying he’s the candidate they’ll back.
More interesting than that—for those of us who view the world through the filter of gender politics at least—is the fact that the same poll reveals that Corbyn is a hit with the ladies. So while 48% of the male selectorate back the Islington MP, a whopping 63% of females polled want the anti-monarchist, lefty to lead Her Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition.
This left-right gender gap at the heart of Labour’s internecine succession contest seems to reflect a wider tendency in politics for women to be more left wing on average and men to be more right wing.
This has certainly been true in American politics where men and women have been voting for the “masculine” Republicans and the “feminine” Democrats along gender lines for 50 years now. Obama won the 2008 election by one percentage point amongst men and 12 points amongst women, while Clinton’s lead amongst women in 1996 was event bigger at 18 per cent.
And in the run up to the UK’s most recent general election, a stark gender divide in the nation’s political beliefs was revealed when a poll taken prior to the Heywood and Middleton by-election found that 20% more men would vote UKIP than Labour (41% v 21%) while 20% more women would vote Labour than UKIP (58% v 38%). As a result, the female electorate won the seat for the Labour Party.
This “right-wingers are from Mars and left-wingers are from Venus” divide which is found across the wider political spectrum is clearly being replicated in Labour’s narrow slice of the political salami.
Of the four leadership contenders, Liz Kendall is the most right-wing and is backed by nearly three times as many men than women (11% to 4%).
In the centre of the pack it’s a slightly different story. Both Burham and Cooper stand to the right of Corbyn and the left of Kendall, but Burnham is probably a bit more left wing than Cooper.
According to YouGov, 68% of Kendall’s right-wing backers make Cooper their second choice (compared to 24% preferring Cooper and 8% Corbyn)—suggesting Cooper is closer to the Blairite right of the party than Burham.
Similarly, 32% of Burnham’s backers make Corbyn their number two choice compared to 24% of Coopers backers, suggesting Burnham has a slightly more left-wing leaning than Cooper.
On this basis, we might expect to see more women backing Burham and more men backing Cooper, but the reverse is true. It could be that good old fashioned gender politics is playing a greater role here than standard left-right politics.
Burnham, who has been attacked for running a “very macho” and “very male” campaign has the backing of 24% of the men eligible to vote and just 17% of the women.
Meanwhile, Cooper, has played the gender card, attacking Burnham’s campaign for “suggesting that somehow women aren’t strong enough to do the top jobs” and calling on the party to “elect a Labour women leader of the party” to “shake up the old boys’ network at Westminster”.
This approach may have made her slightly more popular amongst women than Burham, with 19% of the female selectorate backing Cooper compared with 17% of the male vote.
What’s interesting here, is women’s greater tendency to put idealism over pragmatism. When asked which candidates they thought had the potential to win the next general election, 51% said Burnham would be likely to win; 44% said the same for Cooper and 46% said Corbyn was a winner in waiting. Yet, while women think Burnham has the best bet of becoming Prime Minister, they’d rather vote for Corbyn or Cooper.
Men also have an idealist tendency, particular left-wing men. When asked which candidates could win the next general election, 53% said Burnham would be likely to win; 46% said the same for Cooper and 39% said Corbyn.
So for men, the gap between those who think Corbyn can become PM (39%) and those who back him as the next party leader (48%), is 9 percent. For women, the gap between premiership potential (46%) and leadership support (61%) is two-thirds bigger at 15 percent.
Corbyn, it seems, is currently a runaway success with both the gents and the ladies, but is notably more successful at politically seducing women.
One final note of worth, the YouGov poll once again nails the myth (spread by the likes of BBC Woman’s Hour) that the reason there aren’t as many women leaders is because men won’t support them. In total, 28% of men who are eligible say they’ll vote for one of the two female candidates compared with 23% of women. On the other hand, 78% of the female voters back one of the two men who are running for office, compared with 72% of male voters.
All of which goes to prove that party politics—like gender politics—is a funny old game.