How can marketing tactics help politicians re-engage female voters?

Magemta VanLow voter turnout is a concern for any democracy. Turnout is a particular issue amongst women with only 64% of women voting compared to 66% of men. A seemingly small difference but in absolute terms 2% represents 500,000 women.  Attempts by the political parties to re-engage women haven’t been successful. Harriet Harman has made it her mission to re-engage the “missing millions”, but her first attempt, touring a pink bus round the country, was met with derision. So how could marketers help? If an agency was given this dream brief what should they do?  Here are five suggestions: Read more >>

1. Segment the target audience

There are 25m women over 18 in the UK – too large a group to say anything meaningful about.  What insights can you really draw about a group that straddles 18 and 80 year olds; bankers and those on the breadline? Instead it makes more sense to identify the most important variables. Turnout is influenced by: social class, with only 57% of DEs voting; and ethnicity, with just 51% of non-whites participating, according to IPSOS.

However, the most important variable is age. A mere 39% of women aged 18-24 voted.  So efforts should be focussed on young women in particular. One interesting technological solution to boost youth participation would be to introduce online voting as Estonia did in 2005. Online voting was particularly popular amongst young voters and a report for the Council of Europe in 2010 estimated that online voting boosted turnout by 2.6%.

2. Address the key barriers to voting

Whatever Harriet Harman might think, an absence of pink is far from the most pressing issue. According to the Electoral Commission one of the main reasons for not voting is that citizens think the parties are too similar. But this year there’s broader choice than ever before – it’s hard to imagine parties more different than UKIP and the Greens. Therefore, advertising the range of policies these parties have, particularly in the core areas that women find particularly motivating, should boost participation. According to ZenithOptimedia’s own research amongst 733 nationally representative adults, the most important issue for men was immigration whilst it was the NHS for women.

3. Use the Hawthorne effect

Another approach would be to tap into the behavioural insights that so often boost marketing effectiveness. One relevant psychological bias is the Hawthorne effect which suggests that people become more engaged if they feel involved in decisions. Brands who employ crowdsourcing, like Walkers with their Do Us a Flavour competition, are tapping into this phenomenon. The potential for politicians is far greater. The Finnish government, for example, has begun crowdsourcing legislation – if the Open Ministry receives any petition with more than 50,000 signatures then parliament must vote on the topic. Introducing this to the UK would surely boost participation – although it might also lead to MPs debating whether David Beckham should become minister for the Department of Culture, Media & Sport.

4. Use social proof

Another relevant behavioural tactic is to tap into the power of social proof. This is the idea that our behaviour is influenced, consciously or subconsciously, by how we see others behaving. Any brands that publicises its popularity, like Whiskas famous claim, about eight out of ten cats, is harnessing this bias. The government should stress that most women vote. Or, more motivationally, they could advertise that the overwhelming majority of women believe that it’s important to vote.  According to our research 89% of women think it’s important to vote. Slightly worryingly, Harman’s campaign, which stresses the millions of women who don’t vote, is liable to exacerbate not voting.

5. Legislate

And finally if all of these suggestions seem too risky, or frankly expensive, why not focus on what governments do best and legislate. Make voting compulsory. Australia’s legal obligation to vote means that 93% of the population vote. Problem solved.

Richard Shotton is head of insight at ZenithOptimedia