Election post-mortems concentrate, reasonably enough, on how the electorate actually behaved - which class, which region or which sex swung most. In 1987 the most striking finding was surely the highly differential way in which the sexes behaved. Among men the pro-Labour swing from the Tories was a mere 0.5 per cent, but among women it was nine times greater, at 4.5 per cent. (All figures here are based on the vast MORI sample of 23,396 voters interviewed in the course of the campaign, weighted to the actual outcome.) Further analysis of that swing shows a peculiar age distribution among women: among the 35-54 age-group women moved only 2 per cent towards Labour; the 25-34s swung 6.5 per cent; and the 18-24s a massive 11 per cent. (The shift among men aged 18-24 was only 1.5 per cent to Labour.) The real peculiarity is that women aged 55-65 also moved 4.5 per cent to Labour and women over 65 showed a 7 per cent Labour swing. That is to say, it was the middle-aged who were the odd women out: not only did far more younger women swing to Labour, but so did many more older women. Without doubt, most of these middle-aged women who stuck with the Tories lived in the South: Southern women showed a pro-Labour swing only one-third as great as that of Northern women. Even so, women in the South did show a pro-Labour swing, while the men swung clearly towards the Tories.
LRB 23 July 1987 | PDF Download