What The 'Jeremy Corbyn Effect' Can Teach Us About Young Women And Politics
The Debrief: A not insignificant proportion of Jeremy Corbyn's Support comes from young women - so what does that mean for how we view politics?
To Mumsnet, he’s a 'sexy sea dog,' as dozens of middle-aged women fire off salty paeans to their older crush, the Labour leadership frontrunner, Jeremy Corbyn. But for many younger women, Corbyn’s their choice too, albeit on political principle, rather than lust. But why has a 66-year old man captured the hearts and minds of so many women, when two women are running in the race?
The stats are quite stark - a YouGov survey in July, the first to reveal exactly how far ahead Corbyn was, showed that 47% of women surveyed were planning to vote for Jeremy Corbyn - almost equal to the number voting for all other candidates combined. In contrast, 38% of men stated they were voting Corbyn.
An Ipsos Mori poll post-election showed that overall, more women than men voted for Conservative: but, when you break it down by age and social class, younger women were more likely to be steadfast Labour supporters. The problem, for Labour, was that they were also far less likely to actually vote. Only 44% of 18-24-year old women and 55% of the 25-34-year old age bracket voted, against a national average of 66% for all women.
YouGov’s profiling of leadership candidate supporters are also revealing, with regards to Corbyn: 57% of Corbyn supporters use social media as their main source of news, 74% have a household income below £40,000 per year (compared to 54% of Liz Kendall supporters) and 18% voted Lib Dem in 2015, double the number of former Clegg voters for other candidates. Young people are constantly told they’re self-obsessed and solipsistic, but young Corbyn voters are anything but - 85% of Corbyn supporters want more redistribution of wealth, compared to 29% overall.
57% of Corbyn supporters use social media as their main source of news, 74% have a household income below £40,000 per year and 18% voted Lib Dem in 2015
So Corbyn’s supporters are young, not affluent and have previously been seduced then betrayed by a politician offering a lot for young people before reneging on those promises for a shot at power. Asking around on Facebook, 14 female friends between the ages of 23 and 42 had joined the Labour party as £3 supporters, specifically to vote for Corbyn. Reasons they gave ranged from 'he’s actually got principles,' to 'he supports everything I’ve supported”' and 'it’ll upset the Blairites.' Others told me if they weren’t already Green Party members, they’d want to vote for him, having abandoned Labour years ago.
But there are two spectres in particular that the Labour party assume are in their past, when they’re anything but: the Iraq war and tuition fees. Over a decade ago now, but speak to many young people, especially left wing people who should be traditional Labour voters, and the issues come up again and again. Within the space of a year, Labour voted to take the country to war in Iraq, and to hike tuition fees massively.
For hundreds of thousands of young people, myself included, demonstrations against the Iraq war were their first political action: travelling to London as a 15-year old and feeling strength in numbers as you felt sure a million people marching couldn’t be ignored, you felt empowered by the political process. The vote to go to war regardless swiftly quashed that feeling, and 10 months later, the vote to introduce top up fees felt like being kicked when you’re down for many young people.
Nick Clegg won the hearts and minds of young people by promising something different to the status quo, and scrapping tuition fees was the biggest draw for disenfranchised young people, so much so Clegg and co were happy to sign and be photographed with pledges. This backfired quickly, as the Lib Dems jumped into bed with the Conservatives and relinquished all plans to help young people.
Women are complex and intelligent political creatures - being a woman doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll act in the interest of all women
Jeremy Corbyn, on the other hand, comes with a far longer voting history to scrutinise than Clegg, or any other leadership candidate. On Iraq and tuition fees, he rebelled and voted against war and a more expensive higher education system. Burnham and Cooper voted in favour of both. Corbyn’s promises have resonated because they’re based on principles rather than soundbites and opinion poll chasing - that this is unusual is a sad indictment of modern politics. It’s no wonder young women feel disenfranchised when even after losing an election, most candidates are still pursuing an almost identical agenda.
For women in particular, one point from Corbyn’s policies on street harassment reveal why he’s perhaps so popular with this demographic - the fact that, as well as taking street harassment extremely seriously, he impresses the importance of listening to women, and having policies on women led by women. The women-only carriage suggestion has been met with criticism this week - but it was suggested by some women at a policy group: Corbyn himself said he wasn’t keen, but would be happy to carry out a consultation to see if women wanted it.
Perhaps that’s key: women are complex and intelligent political creatures - being a woman doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll act in the interest of all women. But being listened to in this political climate, and having trustworthy politicians, are surefire vote winners.
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