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Study Notes

General Election 1997 - Gender, Age, Ethnicity and Region

AS, A-Level
AQA, Edexcel

Last updated 20 Nov 2017

Let's explore key aspects of gender, age, ethnicity and region in so far as they relate to the General Election of 1997.


The exit poll data provides further information about voting behaviour by a range of other demographic characteristics. There are interesting features of voting behaviour by gender, age, ethnicity and region from the 1997 election.

There was, unsurprisingly, a swing to Labour in both genders and there was little difference in the final result (Men: 45% Lab, 31% Con; Women: 44% Lab, 32% Con). However, the larger increase in the Labour vote was among women, increasing by 10 points rather than 8. This was partly because there had been a trend in the past for women to vote Conservative more than men. 

There are a number of theories as to why women swung to Labour in 97. One is the increase of women working, and particularly working in the public sector. Another (slightly controversial!) one is that Tony Blair was more attractive than John Major. Another was that one factor in the Conservative lead among women was Margaret Thatcher and, as more time passed since her premiership, her impact lessened. Whatever the reason, the Conservative’s advantage with women voters was cancelled out.


The Labour vote increased among all age groups (as might be expected in an election with such a significant swing) but there was a much larger increase among younger voters than older voters. While the Labour vote increased by 12 points for 25-34 year olds and 35-44 year olds, it only increased by 4 points for 55-64 year olds. The 45-54 age bracket saw the biggest collapse of the conservative vote (down 16 points).  While Labour were ahead in every age bracket (an unusual result indeed!) this was by a relatively narrow margin for 55-64 and 65+ voters, while all other age brackets had differences in double figures, and the lead for those under 45 was over 20 points. Very nearly half of 18-44 year olds voted Labour, compared with 44% overall (according to the exit poll).

Putting some of this data together, the largest increase for Labour appears to be among young women on low incomes and the largest collapse for the Conservatives among middle-aged, middle-class men and women.


Again, Labour led in all ethnicity categories in the published exit poll, but while this was only a 10 point lead for white voters, it was much larger among minority-ethnic groups. 82% of black voters voted Labour, for instance (compared with 12% for the conservatives). We do not have the data to compare this with 1992, but certainly Labour scoring highly with minority-ethnic voters is a long-term trend rather than a quirk of the 1997 election. There are many reasons for this, including the socio-economic background of some minority-ethnic groups, parties’ historic attitudes to race, immigration and race equality legislation, etc. The data probably disguises some trends, with Asian voters preferring Labour (66%) to Conservative (22%) but breaking the data down further into Indian, Pakistani, etc. or by religion could reveal some further differences.


Traditionally Labour had been strong in Scotland and Wales and the north of England with the Conservatives getting significant support in the south of England, in particular (with some exceptions, such as Labour strength in London and Conservative strength in very rural areas of the north). At first glance, the 1997 election appears to continue that pattern. Labour’s strongest performances came in the North, Wales, the North West and Yorkshire and the Humber, closely followed by London, the West and East Midlands and Scotland. The Conservatives’ worst performances were in Scotland and Wales and they performed most strongly in the South East, East Anglia and the South West. In East Anglia, the South West and the South East the Conservatives got more votes than Labour (although this was only by 1 point in East Anglia).

However, these quite predictable results disguise some interesting regional trends. First, Labour gained and the Conservative vote fell in every UK region. The biggest Conservative collapse was in London where they dropped 14 points. The next biggest, despite their lead, was in the South East with a 13-point drop. These (alongside the northern region) were also the sites of Labour’s biggest vote increases. There were much less dramatic changes in Wales, where Labour was already very strong and the Conservatives relatively weak. Other factors that influenced the results were the strength of third parties, particularly in the South West (the Liberal Democrats) and Scotland (the SNP). In both cases the “third” party came second, with the Liberal Democrats getting more votes than Labour in the South West and the SNP getting more votes than the Conservatives in Scotland.

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