The blue-rinse brigade begins to lose the faith

Worcester woman secured victory for them in 1992, and the blue-rinse brigade has always been stalwart. But now middle-class and older female voters are abandoning the Conservatives in droves.

According to a report by the Fawcett Society, which campaigns for equality between men and women, the Tories are losing support among these core groups of women.

Using research commissioned from Mori, the study found that when the Tories won the 1992 election, 44 per cent of women had voted for them. But now only 28 per cent back them. And nearly a third of this 16-point drop in support has taken place since 2001, when Iain Duncan Smith took over as leader.

Since 1992, the Tories have enjoyed their highest share of the vote from women aged 55 and above. But since 2001, there has been a three-point loss of support in that group.

Women over 55 make up a fifth of the adult population and are more likely to vote than any other group of women. The Fawcett study found that the Liberal Democrats are the only party to have gained support from this key group of voters. The director of the Fawcett Society, Dr Katherine Rake, said: "The party needs to do more to enhance its appeal among women. Developing proposals - for example a pensions system with women's needs in mind - would be a step in this direction."

The Tories are also losing support among younger women. In 1997, 32 per cent of women aged between 35 and 54 backed the party. But the Fawcett study shows that has dropped six points to 26 per cent.

The second core group of voters drifting away from the Tories is middle-class women. Even in 1997, the Conservatives had the highest share of the vote among middle-class women - 43 per cent. That slipped to 41 per cent in the 2001 poll, and it now stands at 34 per cent. These women appear to have switched allegiance to Labour.

The only good news for the Tories is that their women supporters do not seem to be as unimpressed as men with the party leader.

While 32 per cent of male Tory voters said they were satisfied with the job Mr Duncan Smith was doing, 39 per cent of women said they were happy with him.

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