Abbott and women

According to this week’s Nielsen poll, women (38%) were slightly more likely to support than Coalition than men (36%). Newspoll doesn’t routinely report by gender, but a pooling of polls between April and September this year found identical rates of male and female Coalition support.

The conventional wisdom is that this is set to change:

He [Abbott] has a serious problem with women voters

Paul Kelly in The Australian

Abbott, who is deeply unpopular with female voters due to his hardline and aggressive Catholicism…

Bernard Keane in Crikey

…his conservative social views make him divisive among voters, particularly women.

Katharine Murphy in The Age

He’s taken a stand on a number of issues that would certainly alienate, has the potential to alienate, especially female voters.

Nick Economou on The 7.30 Report

The only attempt to argue this with data that I have seen is by Lena Bell in today’s Crikey, though she does not show that there are gender differences in party support, just that female support is low, particularly in the younger age groups (though my own past analysis of the AES suggests that young women are more left wing than young men).

The basic theory seems to be that Abbott is conservative on some feminist issues, but I don’t think we should assume that these are major issues at all in federal politics, or vote changers for the women who might consider voting Liberal or National. The alternative theory is that women, like men, vote on an extended bundle of issues that affect their interests and the broader national interest.

Given regular polling in Australia, the pundit conventional wisdom is empirically testable. I’ll report on whether the pundits are right.

41 thoughts on “Abbott and women

  1. It comes from party polling and focus groups on both sides of politics that showed Abbott was weak with metropolitan women – though (and this is from memory) pretty strong with rural/regional women.

    The big phone pollster results probably wont enable us to track this phenomenon even if it exists, but Essential Report might. Abbott even admitted it somewhere once I think – if I can find out where I’ll let you know.


  2. Whatever views Abbott may have which cause weaker support in women will likely be counteracted by the Abbott women sexytime factor which is invoked every time a picture of Abbott in Speedos is posted in the papers or on TV.


  3. Speculation time is over. Polls over the next few weeks will be interesting. Does Australia support climate change denial, anti abortion, anti gay, the culture wars and just about every other right wing talking point? We are about to find out.


  4. Possum – Any on-the-record evidence would be appreciated. So far the problem has frequently been repeated as fact, but I’m yet to find any substantiation.


  5. Is there any reason to think that the women who really can’t stand Abbot would have voted Liberal anyway??

    I can see how women of the left would dislike him even more than Turnbull or Hockey, but I’m not sure how many swinging female voters care about his conservatism. He basically said he doesn’t plan to change any laws on abortion, gay marriage, IVF, etc..


  6. As a female swinging voter I can assure you that I would never vote for a party led by Abbott. I couldn’t possibly vote for someone who thinks climate change is a farce and who was crude enough to ridicule the late Bernie Bantam on his death bed.


  7. There could be huge numbers of potentially Liberal voting women who would be put off by Abbott; anybody who might be a little bit suspicious that he might try to change laws on abortion, IVF, etc. Only the extremely naive would take him at his word for today on this. After all, last week he said he supported Malcolm Turnbull as leader. And he’s already said (what will be interpreted as) that he will bring back Workchoices, which was a particular vote loser among women last time around. The Labor Party will be spoilt for choice when it comes to running a scare campaign against Tony Abbott. Of course not all women will be put off by Abbott. As Miranda Devine reminds us, his mum, wife and daughters all adore him.


  8. Has anyone thought to look at Krudd’s views on abortion, IVF etc. He is also a church-going religious type. Where exactly are differences between Krudd and Abbott?


  9. Andrew, the relentless focus on Abbott’s alleged problem with women voters has the whiff of a political strategy rather than a real problem.

    Catholicism has more support among women than men, so I find it hard to see Abbott’s religious beliefs deterring women voters, despite what the abortion groupies would have us believe.


  10. “As a female swinging voter I can assure you that I would never vote for a party led by Abbott. I couldn’t possibly vote for someone who thinks climate change is a farce and who was crude enough to ridicule the late Bernie Bantam on his death bed.”

    This is my point – these issues have nothing to do with being male or female, and we have no strong reason to expect gender differences in opinion on them.


  11. As a female swinging voter I can assure you that I would never vote for a party led by Abbott. I couldn’t possibly vote for someone who thinks climate change is a farce and who was crude enough to ridicule the late Bernie Bantam on his death bed.

    As against Keating referring the Tony Staley as a deformed stunt after his car accident, right? I would guess you have lots of respect for Keating though.


  12. There could be huge numbers of potentially Liberal voting women who would be put off by Abbott; anybody who might be a little bit suspicious that he might try to change laws on abortion, IVF, etc.

    Believe it or not, there are still plenty of women around who share Abbott’s views on Abortion. Not all women are inner-city progressives who sip lattes while tut-tutting about climate change.


  13. Yobbo, it’s true that not all women etc. But what matters is what will swing votes. Educated professional women – the power suit types – could easily be Liberal voters as a bloc, but not with Abbott as leader.

    JC, Abbott and Keating have a lot in common. What turned people off Keating (and Latham) will turn people off Abbott. The voters don’t like bully boys.


  14. Yep, he has a problem with women but its not his – ahem – “traditional” views so much that are a problem for the Libs. M is right that few women who are offended by these views would vote tory anyway.

    It’s his bully-boy persona and the faint air of sleaze in his body language. The last is, of course, unfair – he’s not to my knowledge any more sleazy than other religious conservatives – but it is a real factor nonetheless. Subliminal impressions are a fact of life, and swinging voters tend to be the most disengaged part of the population who are most likely to be swayed by the trivial.


  15. When it comes down to it social conservative issues do not appear to be live in Australia. No one actually expects a lurch back to the 50s on any of those issues regardless of who is leader. John Howard had the numbers and didn’t touch any of them. He encouraged stay at home mums. Opposition to gay marriage is still a bi-partisan position.

    Outer Urban marginal electorates full of Howard Battlers are a very different demographic to university educated professionals who are obsessed with policy. They tend to be less suspicious of faith (unlike most bloggers and commenters).


  16. Derider :

    Is your prejudice more to do with knee-jerk anti-Catholicism than anything else? I’m honestly not saying that to offend you, as it seems to me that Catholic bashing is a national sport in Australia especially with lapsed protos.

    I really don’t see people having a huge problem with another church going conservative who happens to be Kevin Rudd and pound for pound he’s been more of a moralizer and sermonizer than Abbott.

    As for women: what exactly is so scary about Abbott as I don’t really understand it.


  17. Ratpak>

    I don’t see Keating and Abbott having anything in common. For one thing Abbott is a Rhodes Scholar while Keating was barely toilet trained education wise.


  18. Abbott and Keating both have a nasty streak that appeals to some people but is mostly a turn off. I didn’t know or had forgotten that Abbott was a Rhodes Scholar. So of course was Kim Beazley.


  19. People forget Malcolm Turnbull is a Catholic too and not only that but Catholic by choice! I think it’s a stretch to conclude that latte liberals have a kneejerk reaction against Abbott because of his Catholicism. I think the odour that still hangs around him for these demographic (and me too) is that he banned the RU486 pill, in fact even went out of his way to pressure the pharma sector first not to release it in Australia before banning it, so passionate was he about this.


  20. I think there’s obvious material there for a strong anti-Abbott campaign. His vocal doubts about abortion laws, many of his decisions made while health minister, his somewhat macho sexuality, the suggestions of sleaze, the occasional sweariness in public – which seem to be associated particularly with women politicians (why is that?) Maybe he’ll be able to distance himself from them. In a strange way it’s his willingness to be forward, to take the fight up to his enemies, and to be honest and open about his positions that enrage the left.

    And as JC says there is a bit of knee-jerk anti-Catholicism, too, which seems to have been encountering a resurgence amongst the atheistically-inclined.

    Abbott’s probably neither more nor less sexist than anyone else in parliament, but he’s much more open than others (Rudd, for instance…) and so places himself open to attack and criticism.


  21. TimT:

    He said “bullshit” one time to Nicola Roxon? The heavens are breaking. He created a paradox and the universe is about to end. LOl

    Contrast that with Rudd yelling at a airline attendant for the simple reason that the oaf couldn’t get his choice salad in a private jet.


  22. I think derrida got it right when he pointed to the potential problem of a “bully-boy” vibe. I don’t think the religion & conservative values are much of a problem for outer-metro & regional seats. It’s possible to leverage “bully-boy” up to “strong leader”… but it’s also possible to be downgraded to a “prick”. Time will tell.


  23. Going much further than TimT and his comment on his willigness to be forward, one of the reasons I support Abbott is his views on abortion.

    Abortion on demand is a bed-rock article of faith for me However women are in fact a little more complex than the media classes allow.

    I loathe his views on abortion but respect the man because, one he doesn’t mislead, so if he says he won’t move to enforce his beliefs on Australian society, having laid them out, why should I choose to consider him to be lying about the second while believing him on the fact of his opposition to abortion. I feel safer with his declared beliefs than I do with the fellow who likes to claim to be a secularist but ensures that we get to see many a picture of him leaving church hand in hand with his wife wearing that beatific smile so irritatingly common amongst Christians. One agenda I can see and object to, the other’s agenda is hidden and can be inflicted silently and camouflaged. I am an atheist, not agnostic, as well.

    So that he holds his views is not a problem because he holds them with honesty and integrity and reason and I would suggest that he is also a man who can be persuaded by reason. His position on abortion is paradoxically a plus for me . And I don’t dream of a Leader who is a reflection of all that I believe in.

    I expressed these views elsewhere earlier on and I did generate a response who said that he was surprised by his wife for whom abortion was also a matter of faith, but who felt the same way as I did about Abbott and reasoned along the same lines. Maybe other women too like an intelligent up front man who holds to his views with integrity and honesty.

    The sneers disguised as jokes about bathers, (so Rudd would have lifesavers in boardies would he, so Rudd would volunteer for his community, huh) the promotion of the bully boy notion when Rudd is clearly a world class bully, etc, it all smacks of a media class that is bereft of insight or integrity.


  24. Reflecting on the “bully-boy” jibes, strugggling to become a mantra about Abbott. It is interesting that occasionally the media feels it has no choice but to report on the extreme bullying of Rudd, but for him it is just presnted as discrete moments of behaviour. Abbott with no where near his credentials in this field becomes the “bully-boy” which has the added advantage of subtly disparing his intelligence and maturity as well.


  25. Abbott isn’t helped by his lap dogs in the media proudly proclaiming him as a “muscular Christian”. We’ve seen photos of him in the boxing ring; we’ve heard how he punched out Joe Hockey on the rugby field. Then there was the bullying of Nicola Roxon during the last campaign (which was a joke – she can and does give as good as she gets) and the Banton comment. It’s going to be a hard image to shake.


  26. Good point JC, the sweary exchange with Roxon was almost endearing, though his description of Julia Gillard’s ‘shit-eating grin’ – and the clear deliberation with which he said it – might be a bit harder to shake. The image is just so visceral. He got a hard time from the commercial radio presenters about that one.


  27. His behaviour on RU486, the cervical cancer vaccine, the whole love-child business…well it suggests a view of women not far removed from the C19th cleric who thought women should not have anaesthetics during childbirth, because the Bible said they must suffer during travail. Queen Victoria soon shut him up, by doing just that for child number x. And the man was an Anglican. They have girls in their clergy, these days.

    And as for finding Abbott attractive in his cossie! I’d sooner have sex with Gollum. Now there’s a comparison. ‘My precioussss, my preciousss leadership!’

    I write science fiction and I’m a girl. I subscribe to THE NEW SCIENTIST. On the evidence available, the majority of Liberals do not respect science. And I’m waiting to see if Abbott respects women.



  28. But Lucy I suspect you would sooner have sex with Gollum than vote Liberal. Certainly the sisterhood, which tolerates no dissent, is outraged by Abbott. But this isn’t very interesting or important for the issue in question, which is Abbott’s electoral appeal. 40% of the electorate is irrelevant to this question, since they won’t vote Liberal no matter who the leader is. It’s current Coalition and swinging voters that interest us. Perhaps Abbott will be a particular negative for women in this group. But my point in the post is that pundits are rushing to this judgment on to date no publicly available empirical evidence. Possum suggested some might exist, but I am yet to see it.


  29. ‘Certainly the sisterhood, which tolerates no dissent …’

    Ah but Andrew, that’s just an assertion. Where are your statistics? Where’s your empirical evidence?

    Your rhetorical attempts to marginalise and belittle feminist views are certainly more skilful that Miranda Devine’s, but that’s not saying much, and I hope you don’t really think that column of hers is good or logical or unfudged argument, much less ‘the female case for Abbott’. It’s a not very good female case against the female case against Abbott, and it’s full of clumsy weasel rhetoric, faulty logic, and misleading and/or irrelevant statistics.


  30. another datapoint – NSW just got a strongly Catholic Premier today. She met her husband at World Youth Day and has worked in a variety of Catholic organisations and has a degree in religious studies. The media have not gone beserk against her for being Catholic. There is no anti-Catholic bias as such, simply against Abbott’s past policy positions.


  31. Echoing Andrew’s post at 31, the most recent Newspoll appears to invalidate the theory that women, more than men, are hostile to Abbott (at least quantitatively – the strength of and reasons for a person’s preference would of course be influenced by Abbott’s brand of conservatism). It will be interesting to see how support for and opposition to Abbott may change now that voters can see him as the leader of the opposition and as the lead opponent of the CPRS.

    Anyway, Newspoll isolated the support for Hockey, Turnbull and Abbott by sex in its poll conducted last weekend.

    In a three-cornered contest (H/T/A), Abbott actually received *more* support from female respondents (19%) than he did from males (18%). Turnbull received more support from men (32%) than from women (28%), as did Hockey (34-33).

    In the same poll, removing Hockey, a direct Turnbull-Abbott contest, the sex divide closes for Abbott: 41% support from each. Turnbull receives more support from male respondents (44%) than from female respondents (39%).


  32. Your rhetorical attempts to marginalise and belittle feminist views are certainly more skilful that Miranda Devine’s

    No need PC, they marginalise themself plenty without anyone’s help. You only need to read the drivel written by Greer or any of the Womenysts on LP to realise how deranged they really are.

    They actually do believe that every single woman in Australia shares their views on Abbott too, which is the scary thing. They cannot even conceive of someone of their gender disagreeing with them on anything, and when they find someone who does, they are dismissed as whatever the feminist equivalent of an uncle tom is (stepford wife?).


  33. Although…

    From Hugo at comment 37:

    “In the same poll, removing Hockey, a direct Turnbull-Abbott contest, the sex divide closes for Abbott: 41% support from each. Turnbull receives more support from male respondents (44%) than from female respondents (39%).”

    And from the column by Miranda Devine (mentioned by Matt C in comment 5):

    “And when it came down to a choice between Abbott and his predecessor Malcolm Turnbull, whose appeal to women went unquestioned, guess who was the clear front runner, especially among young females? Abbott was more popular with women at 41 per cent, compared with Turnbull’s 39 per cent. For women aged 18 to 34, Abbott picked up 43 per cent, compared with Turnbull’s 35 per cent.”

    These comments seem to misinterpret the final table presented in the Newspoll results. The question “And if you had to choose between Mr Malcolm Turnbull and Mr Tony Abbott, which do you think would be the best candidate to lead the liberal party?” was not asked of all respondents – it was only asked of those who thought Joe Hockey would be the best candidate to lead the Liberal Party.


  34. I was caught in the earlier post on Abbott not reading the Newspoll fine print carefully enough. Yesterday there were reports of a Galaxy poll suggesting limited traction for the Labor talking point of Abbott as an
    ‘extremist’, with 42% of women saying that they did not know much about him.

    But it will be gender differences in the 2PP trends that settle this issue.


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