Those bloody women: Could they shift the vote?

11:52 pm on 21 September 2017

Analysis - A sharp shift to the left in the UK election was down to the young vote - and young women in particular. Kim Griggs asks if the same thing could happen in New Zealand this Saturday.

There's been a lot said about a youthquake, a generational shift: millennials make up about 31 percent of the electorate now, baby boomers 27 percent.

Washington Womens March

Up to 500,000 people took part in the Women's March on Washington, a day after Donald Trump was inaugurated as US president. Photo: .

The gap's even bigger if you consider those who have student loans and those who don't. Student loan generations - millenials and Gen Xers - amount to 47 percent of the electorate.

But a different set of voters could be the key to this election - and that's young women.

Younger women voters tend to vote more for left-wing parties and there are more of them now. There's no specific data on this for New Zealand, but it's certainly been the experience in Britain and the US.

In the recent election in the United Kingdom, according to the research company YouGov, two thirds of those aged 18 to 24 voted for Labour - and of that group, young women were the most likely to do so.

YouGov noted that in electoral terms, age seems to be the new dividing line in British politics - among first-time voters, Labour was 47 percentage points ahead, while the Conservatives had a fifty-point lead among those aged 70 and over.

In the American presidential election, according to the 2016 American National Election Study, if only those under 55 had voted, Hillary Clinton would be in the White House. Among 18 to 29-year-olds, 55 percent chose Clinton, 37 percent chose the Republican candidate Donald Trump.

V is for Vote stamp featuring Kate Sheppard

Photo: Public domain

Harvard University's Pippa Norris, who looked at what attracted young voters to Labour in this year's British general election, argues millennials and Gen X in the UK were motivated to vote for Jeremy Corbyn more by their social liberalism than a preference for his left-wing economics.

Research along these lines for New Zealand is from the World Values Survey, which shows that support for National tends to increase as people get older, while support for Labour tends to decline.

That New Zealand survey was last done in 2011. Local educator and Mind Lab founder Frances Valintine has a more recent - and anecdotal - take on the attitudes of the young.

She says being able to drill down online into a topic they're passionate about means millennials are unafraid to slough off the ideas of their parents. "They soak it all up with people like them, who can then motivate them to go and do something about it."

Whatever the issue is, she says, "the word I hear a lot is fairness".

The numbers of women - and young women in particular - who marched around the world the day after President Trump's inauguration is a sign of a reignited political awareness. Here, Jacinda Ardern's sudden elevation has been the accelerant.

The crucial question is: will this group get out to vote?

Last election 76 percent of women voted and 74 percent of men, research by Professor Jack Vowles of Victoria University and his colleagues shows. And in the 18 to 26 age range, more women voted than men.

This election the strong numbers voting early seem to bode well for turnout. On Suffrage Day on Tuesday, more than 122,000 people voted early, twice as many as the same day last election.

But the number of young voters enrolled is still lagging behind 2014. Just 69 percent of eligible 18 to 24-year-olds, and 77 percent of 25 to 29-years old, have enrolled. In the 2014 election those numbers were 77 percent and 82 percent respectively.

If the young voters don't turn out, it won't be for want of many groups trying to engage them in voting. The Electoral Commission even teamed up with YouTube star, New Zealander Jamie Curry, to carry the voting message to her 9.5 million followers.

And in the lead-up to the vote on Saturday, social media has been full of suffragist leader Kate Sheppard's exhortation: "Do not think your single vote does not matter much. The rain that refreshes the parched ground is made up of single drops."

Come Saturday we'll know if the young women of New Zealand have heeded her call.

Kim Griggs is Morning Report's deputy editor and has been interested in women's rights since, it feels like, about 1893. On her summer holidays this year, she was involved in organising the Women's March in New Zealand.

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