It is rare to see such a clear gender split on a political issueby Peter Kellner / August 15, 2014 / Leave a comment
Two YouGov polls this week on very different issues detected big differences between the views of men and women.
In Scotland, our latest survey (for The Sun) shows that men divide 51-42 per cent against independence, while women divide far more decisively, 58-28 per cent, against. This is no aberration: most polls by YouGov and other companies also find a big gender gap.
On Iraq, our poll for the Times finds that men divide 53-29 per cent in favour of the RAF taking part in air strikes against the Islamic State/ISIS forces, while women divide 42-28 per cent against. Again, this fits a pattern. Not only did we obtain similar figures in an earlier poll for the Sun, we have found similar gender gaps in the past on questions concerning military action in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria.
What is going on? We can dismiss the notion that men and women always display such differences on political issues. They don’t. On the whole, they worry about the same problems, have similar views about parties and their leaders, and vote the same way. Differences exist, but the similarities are far greater. Our Scotland and Iraq findings stand out because the gender gaps are exceptional.
Here is my tentative explanation. Most political controversies divide people in terms of such things as Left versus Right, or rich versus poor, or nationalist versus internationalist, or perceptions of competence. Men and women generally arrange themselves along these axes in broadly similar ways.
However, some issues are perceived, at least partly, in terms of risk versus security; and when they do, a gender gap tends to open up. Thus Scottish independence and military action tend to be supported more by risk-takers, and opposed by those who are wary of a leap into the unknown.
One explanation for this that I have come across is that some of us carry bits of the mental wiring of our cave-dwelling ancestors, when men needed to take risks if they were to be successful hunter-gatherers, while women were ever alert to the need to ward off danger in order to…