Women’s world: No Populism, No Trump, No Bolsonaro

Women’s world: No Populism, No Trump, No Bolsonaro

International Women’s Day, which seems to have gained momentum this year, got me thinking: what would the world look like if women were making all the key decisions? Would it be the same, different, better or worse? At AKAS we have decided to explore this topic through the lens of facts and figures. In a series of articles, we will be exploring what politics, culture, the environment and management would look like if women were in charge. In this first article we are zooming in on politics, and more specifically – the different voting behaviours of women and men.

Having examined these behaviours in a number of democracies between 2013 and 2018, we have concluded that if women’s votes alone determined the rise and fall of politicians, there would not have been a resurgence of populism around the world. Extrapolating this insight and applying it to the future has led us to the conclusion that if non-populist political parties want to win future elections, including the impending European Parliament elections, their focus should be on targeting women. Not only are women significantly less supportive of populist candidates, but a higher proportion of them are also undecided voters, whose hearts and minds are open to messages that appeal to their core values. Even more reassuringly (in case anyone worries whether women are a big enough target group when it comes to voting), the European Parliamentary Research Service’s (EPRS’) ‘Women in politics in the EU’ report states that while the under-representation of women is an issue in many areas of politics, this does not apply in the case of voting:  their research indicates that over the last couple of decades women in EU countries have been just as likely to vote as men.

Having examined the evidence from elections in Germany, France, Brazil, Spain and the US between 2013 and 2018, we have found a strong case for the argument that women are significantly less likely to support populist candidates than men. While this is newsworthy in itself, we wanted to delve deeper by hypothesising why this might be the case.

Women are much less likely to support populist presidential candidates than men

The figures show that neither Donald Trump in the US nor Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil would have come to power if women decided the outcome of the Presidential elections: only 41% of female US voters voted for Trump vs 52% of male voters; while in Brazil, again 41% of women voted for Bolsonaro vs the higher figure of 55% of male voters. On the opposing sides, 42% of women vs. 37% of men supported the left-wing Brazilian presidential candidate Haddad while 54% of women in the US supported Hillary Clinton vs. 41% of men.

In Germany and Spain, men are 1.5 - 3 times more likely than women to support far-right populist parties

In the last general election held in Germany in 2017, 16% of German men voted for the far-right party AfD vs. 9% of women. According to the latest voting intentions survey in Spain, 6% of men support VOX (the far-right party) vs. 2% of women.

In France, 38% of men vs. 32% of women voted for Le Pen in the 2017 Presidential elections.

Women in the US, France, Germany and Andalucía (in Spain) are more likely than men to support centrist or left-of-centre parties

The US 2018 mid-term elections saw 59% of women vote for the Democrats vs. 47% of men. Whilst in Europe, 68% of women vs. 62% of men voted for Macron in the 2017 French Presidential elections. In Germany, 37% of women cast their vote for Angela Merkel’s CDU/CSU party in the 2017 general election vs. 30% of men (as compared with 44% vs. 39% in 2013). Similarly, in the recent local elections in December 2018 in Andalucía, 28% of women voted for PSOE (Spanish Socialist Workers Party) vs. 25% of men. This was the only (and the biggest) party which attracted a higher proportion of female voters than male.

So why is it that women are less likely to support populist parties and more likely to support centrist and left-of-centre parties than men?

The values that individuals embrace are significant drivers of their voting behaviours. Unlike other choices, such as what to eat or drink, whether to exercise, what to buy now vs. what later, or what to invest in for the future, all of which are much more prone to being influenced by our immediate context, voting activates and is deeply influenced by our core identity. Our identity is powered by values from which we derive the guiding principles for how we think we should live our lives.

Shalom Schwartz (the godfather of research into universal human values) developed a universal values model which identified 10 basic values that underpin the motivational goals that drive behaviours. These are: 1. Power: seeking social status and prestige, control or dominance; 2. Achievement: personal success through demonstrating competence; 3. Hedonism: pleasure, sensuous gratification; 4. Stimulation: excitement and challenge in life; 5. Self-direction: independent thought and exploration; 6. Universalism: understanding and care for welfare of all people and nature; 7. Benevolence: preservation and care of people to whom one is close; 8. Tradition: respect for customs and traditional ideas; 9. Conformity: resistance to actions which challenge social norms; 10. Security: safety, harmony and stability of society, loved ones and self.

Schwartz and Rubel-Lifschitz values research shows that the two key values of benevolence and universalism are embraced more strongly by women than by men across different cultures. Men, on the other hand, are more likely than women to embrace the values of power, achievement and stimulation. Perhaps it is precisely this misalignment of values that lies at the heart of the difference between women’s and men’s voting behaviours.  Could it be the greater importance that men place on power that is driving them to vote for populist parties more?

Evolutionary psychology theories offer an explanation for women assigning greater importance to benevolence (kindness to members of our family/group) and universalism (extended kindness to other groups/the world) through women’s historical role as primary nurturers of their offspring, intent on ensuring that their children reached reproductive age. Men’s inherited higher affinity towards power is explained through their historical need to enhance their success in competing for mates which led to strength and status-seeking becoming central psychological male goals.  [One might argue that these evolutionary psychological goals play out in the portfolios assigned to female and male Cabinet ministers: according to the EPRS’ ‘Women in politics in the EU’ report, high profile portfolios such as foreign and internal affairs are mostly assigned to male Cabinet members in EU countries, while female Ministers are most frequently allocated socio-cultural portfolios such as health, education or social affairs.]

Populist rhetoric activates the values of power, tradition and security over and above any of the remaining seven values. For example, when Donald Trump talks about the need to strengthen national security and emphasises its importance to men and women alike, he seeks to evoke precisely those values. However, academic research conducted by Struch, Schwartz and Kloot has unearthed that in many cultures, men and women understand national security in different ways: men associate national security more with power, whereas women in fact associate national security more with benevolence and conformity. In other words, men perceive national security more in the context of strength and competition while women view it in the context of co-operation and shared norms. It follows that Trump’s interpretation of what needs to be done to enhance national security will be out of kilter with that of many women.

Populist rhetoric typically identifies a clear enemy of the ordinary people, be it the media, other nations and/or self-serving elites seeking to dominate over the individual’s or nation’s freedom. This narrative is more activating for men who put a high value on power and dominance but less activating for women who place more importance on co-operation, understanding and tolerance towards all people. Given the greater likelihood of women being activated more by universalism and benevolence than men, they are less likely to see the world in terms of enemies and more in terms of allies. Centre-left or centre-right parties by their very centrist nature are more likely to adopt a more moderate and inclusive narrative which is less likely to alienate women voters. They do not tend to base their narrative on confrontation and enemies, and thus attract more women.   

So, we can safely conclude that women are indispensable for functioning democracies, not only because their vote is an important expression of their century-old right, but also because they are less likely to vote in populist governments which, as history has shown, undermine democracies around the world. According to the EPRS’s report into women, research evidence from US congress shows that women bring a more collaborative and less confrontational, as well as less partisan leadership style to politics. Targeting women in election campaigns through messengers who can resonate with women on a deep level through their values, would be a winning strategy for non-populist parties, which would help preserve democracies around the world.

If you are interested in understanding more about these issues and about targeting women or any other target audience effectively, please contact AKAS on luba@addykassova.com or richard@addykassova.com

If you would like to follow up on the topics discussed in this article, please contact Luba Kassova or Richard Addy on contact@akas.london



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