Flat White

Beware claims of a gender electoral apocalypse

15 April 2021

2:06 PM

15 April 2021

2:06 PM

Women abandon Coalition in droves“, a headline says in The Australian today.

The story covers data from the Australian Leadership Index, a project of Swinburne University, home to one of the few politics departments in the country with a vague idea of how politics actually works in the real world.

At first glance, the figures look concerning — but one very important factor is missing:

Australian women’s perception of federal leaders took a steep dive from the end of 2020 to the first quarter of 2021 amid a slew of Parliament House scandals, including the alleged rape of former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins and revelations that male escorts had been brought into parliament for MPs.

New research from Swinburne University shows Australian women’s support for the government dropped from 44 per cent in the final quarter of 2020 to 29 per cent in the first quarter of 2021.

In contrast, men’s ratings remained stable at 47 per cent.

Then we get this paragraph:

The Australian Leadership Index (ALI) shows receding levels of public trust for the federal government and found the “demonstration of high ethical standards” as being central to women’s perceptions of government leadership.

Then this:

“Over the course of the ALI (2018-present), women have consistently rated the Australian federal government slightly more poorly than men in terms of leading for the greater good,” [Researcher Melissa Wheeler] said. “But in the first quarter of 2021, we recorded the largest gap in perceptions between women and men.”

Anyone spot the missing words? Let’s unpack the story. You’ll work it out soon enough.

A survey that measures trust in institutions such as government over the past three years (only since the dying days of Malcolm Turnbull’s prime ministership) that has always shown women trust the federal government less than men has seen that trust gap suddenly widen.

Trust gap. But nothing about “voting intention”.

Sure, it’s easy to draw a correlation between trust and voting intention, but it’s also lazy. There’s a lot of truth in the old line “hold your nose and vote”.

Polls internationally have understated conservative votes in Britain, the United States and here over recent years. Some of our pollsters are too embarrassed to produce two party preferred results after their work was discreted by the Coalition’s win at the 2019 election.

The ALI might fit the current narrative that the Prime Minister and government have a problem with women, but that’s about it.

Scott Morrison’s personal approval ratings might be dropping, as the fortnightly Essential poll confirmed on Tuesday, but he remains miles ahead in the preferred prime minister stakes while Anthony Albanese ranks as mediocre at best.

Labor — and the green-left generally, their media included — is currently doing its best to create enough noise over gender issues to prevent the PM from going to a poll at the end of the year.

They recall all too well how John Howard turned the “trust” issue against them at the 2004 election.

They also know how voters will respond to a “We’re emerging strongly from the Covid recession. Who do you trust with the economy to see the job done?” message from the Coalition at the next election, particularly if good economic news like today’s employment figures keeps coming.

Pollsters and survey-takers — from those blessed groves of academe in particular — might like noble concepts such as “trust”. Perhaps they should listen to the veterans of the political trenches who will tell them “always back the horse called self-interest”.


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