VOXTER - Brexit: Women are the key

Voxter Brexit Report No. 3

Why women's votes will decide the EU referendum


Brexit: The votes of women are key, and the key to women’s votes.

With polls suggesting the Brexit vote will be very close, the key to victory will be persuading the undecided, and getting people to vote. Our research* reveals fundamental divisions between the sexes on Brexit that mean that how women make up their minds, and whether they vote, could drastically affect the outcome.

Firstly, men appear to be more decided on how they will vote. In our survey, 52% of men said they would definitely vote leave or remain, whereas only 43% of women claimed to have decided their vote.**

Voting intention

Women (in red) are less decided about how they will vote. Men (in blue) claim to be more decisive and polarised.

Furthermore, women consider themselves less knowledgeable about the debate. Only 4% of women think they are very knowledgeable about the EU debate compared with 12% of men (see graph). There is more room for women to feel more informed and educated on the issues than there is for men.

Perceptions of knowledge

Women (in red) consider themselves considerably less knowledgeable about the debate. Very few men (in blue) admit to being not knowledgeable at all.

These figures may be dampened a little by women’s lesser certainty as to whether they will vote - only 67% of women say they will definitely vote in the referendum, compared with 76% of men. Despite this, the sheer numbers of people involved, and the closeness of the race, mean that there is an enormous amount at stake in gaining women’s votes.

Our research was conducted to show much more than these basic figures though, it was designed to reveal how people change their minds, and what influences them. We got a nationally representative sample of 843 UK adults to conduct an online debate, and observed their behaviour.

We asked them how they might vote at the start of the discussion, and asked them again after they had spent ten minutes trading opinions with their peers.

21% of women changed their voting intention during our debate, compared with 16% of men.

These are significant numbers, and show that people are open to persuasion on key issues.

So what is the key to women’s votes?

Wordcloud shows different language popular with men and women

Wordclouds formed from top 100 statements read by more than 20 people, from average rating by each gender.

We found that arguments about immigration and sovereignty appealed to women, and that women responded to the thread that runs through both these topics, of collective identity, control and self-determination. Words like we, country, and people were often used. Moreover, these arguments were popular when they were more balanced and considered, rather than simple and rhetorical. The top 20 rated statements among women were on average 35% longer than the top 20 rated by men.

Two such examples of statements popular with women are:

“I think it very important that people look at the facts for both sides before making up their minds. There is a lot of misinformation and propaganda floating about, and it would be awful if people made such an important decision - it will affect this country for a very long time especially if we leave - based on biased information, ignorance or prejudice”

“the issue is no longer about economics and commerce, as in the original version. It is dominated by those countries wanting a European state. We have lost too much independence and democracy.”

Although complexity and nuance was appreciated more by women, there was one strong point powerfully and succintly made that really resonated with both sexes:

“I like to elect my representatives!”

“I do not like being ruled by unelected bureauprats!”

“Control of our own destiny”

“We must be allowed to decide for ourselves”

What we can learn

Our research gives a unique insight into the opinions held and valued by different groups, which arguments are persuasive to these groups, and how they should be articulated.

These are just some of our key findings for the Brexit debate:

  • Women are more open to persuasion than men
  • Discussion has a demonstrable effect on women’s votes
  • Women favour arguments on control, sovereignty, and immigration
  • Women favour more nuanced and longer arguments than men

Both sides of the campaign could benefit enormously by considering the gender divide and trying to build nuanced, considered arguments that will appeal to the large numbers of undecided women who are open to persuasion in this debate.

*This piece is part of a series of articles based on Voxter’s quantitative deliberative research into the EU referendum. Read more in our other articles, The Voice, and The Choice.

**Our survey was carried out with a nationally representative sample of 843 UK adults on 23 / 24 Feburary 2016.


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