15 APRIL 2016

With less than three months to go until polling day, the EU referendum campaigns are increasingly trying to win over female voters. In their latest research, ICM and the Fawcett Society explore women’s views on the referendum campaign.

In any election, a successful campaign needs to go beyond their core supporter base, and mobilise support across the wider electorate. In recent elections – including both the 2014 Scottish indyref and last year’s General Election – many have seen women voters as a key group to target. There are clear reasons behind this: women not only comprise over half of the voting population, but are also often more likely to be undecided about which way to vote.

The problem, however, is the execution of these campaigns – many of which seem to treat women as a niche group with minority concerns. On many occasions, campaigns targeted at female voters have been described as patronising or sexist, failing to engage with women in a serious and thoughtful way. Who could forget Better Together’s much-criticised campaign advert “The woman who made up her mind”?

For the upcoming EU referendum, targeting female voters would appear to be a strong strategy. Over the last six months, EU polling has consistently shown that women are less likely to have made up their mind which way to vote.

In ICM’s latest poll, women are nearly twice as likely to be undecided: even excluding those who aren’t registered to vote, as well as those who say they are certain not to vote, 16% of women remain undecided compared to just 9% of men.

ICM statistic on undecided votes, 16% for women and 9% for men

No wonder, then, that both sides have tried to target women’s votes. At the end of January, Britain Stronger in Europe launched ‘Women IN’ – a network of women professionals campaigning for the UK to remain in the EU. The Leave camp has followed suit, with employment minister Priti Patel launching Women for Britain in early March.

But our research suggests that arguments presented by both sides are failing to resonate with the majority of women voters. Just 28% of women say the Remain campaign has addressed issues they are personally concerned about, while 25% say the Leave campaigns have addressed issues of concern to them.

Indeed, nearly a quarter of women (23%) say they don’t know whether the campaigns have addressed issues they are concerned about. Overall, only one in five (19%) feel that the arguments presented by the campaigns have helped them make up their mind.

Statistic showing women are more likely to feel that remain campaigners are addressing their issues while men are more likely to feel leave campaigners are addressing their issues.

This failure to engage a female audience may well have real consequences on polling day: currently, just 56% of women say they are absolutely certain to vote compared to 69% of men, which indicates that many may be unlikely to turn out at all. All this suggests that both sides will do well to revisit their strategy if they want to mobilise female voters for their cause.

The full data is available on ICM’s website. ICM interviewed a nationally representative sample of 2,030 GB adults aged 18+. Fieldwork was conducted online on 8-10 April 2016.

jennifer bottomley,  Senior Research Executive at research agency ICM Unlimited.ABOUT AUTHOR 

Jennifer is a Senior Research Executive at research agency ICM Unlimited.