Today, The Guardian’s astute political correspondent, Allegra Stratton, has an interesting article about the coalition’s new attempts to reposition itself with women voters. The need is clear. Last month, an Ipsos MORI poll found that men were more dissatisfied than satisfied with the government, by a margin of 21%. Among women, the figure was 33%.
But what to do about it? Allegra Stratton picks up on the distinction between a narrative based mostly on ‘values’ and one based more on ‘policy’ and suggests that the government wants to try a bit of both, but without backtracking on the debt reduction strategy – the heart of its programme.
[There] will be a process of reintroducing the PM to women. In Downing Street they like a story about Bill Clinton reaching out to soccer moms – in this case he banned tobacco advertising next to schools. Tobacco advertising is already banned in the UK but you get the point. One option here is to ban cynical advertising aggressively targeted at children.
Watch out for these and other issues: expect Cameron to criminalise forced marriages sometime soon. That's also why you will hear the prime minister close the conference by talking about something his coalition partners, the Lib Dems, opened their conference with: that gay couples would be able to marry, not just enter civil partnerships. Cameron will remind the country why the policy is important to him, and what social mores are important to him.
Some of his own female MPs think this doesn't cut the mustard and hanker for more substantial overtures. No 10 aides will point out that the theme of the autumn – a clampdown on the something for nothing culture – is something women want. They caution that the debate about scrapping the 50p tax rate must also be seen in the light of how it will play with women – again, badly. "It matters to women that the top 10% are paying a heavy chunk of tax. We have to really underline 'we're all in it together'," one adviser said.
There’s more. Opinion polls show that women are more downbeat than men about the economy and focus groups suggest that they are more likely to be worried about cuts in government spending. The government’s problems with women are more fundamental than the strategists seem to acknowledge. (For further analysis and comment, click here and here. But note also this backgrounder from Ipsos MORI.)
Allegra Stratton concludes:
The great face-off between Cameron and women is uncharted politics: a strategy testing heavily the personality and personality of the prime minister himself.
I’d go even further than that. The government is trying to ‘change the subject’ with women, and invite them to look past its core narrative, that above all, the deficit must be all but wiped out during the life of this parliament.
I doubt that any government in modern times has pulled off such a political feat. If his emerging "gender gap" strategy succeeds, David Cameron will be one of the greatest political communicators this country has ever seen. The coalition’s efforts to woo back women voters provide a narrative case study that is going to be well worth watching.