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Oct 21, 2011

Guarding the Left flank: gay unions and Labor’s primary vote

A new poll shows supporting same-sex marriage would boost Labor's vote -- but mainly at the expense of the Greens.

With speculation the prime minister will declare her support for a conscience vote on same-sex marriage ahead of Labor’s December national conference, a new poll suggests the issue could enable Labor to attract support from Greens voters.

Sources close to the PM have long hinted that there’d be a shift by Julia Gillard on the issue either before or at the conference, although not all the way in favour of same-sex unions. These have been strengthened by reports in News Ltd papers today that the PM is preparing to back a conscience vote, a compromise tactic designed to head off a damaging fight over the issue between social progressives and conservatives while shifting Labor to a more liberal stance than its current “man and woman” policy.

The pro-same-sex union group Australian Marriage Equality today released polling done by Galaxy looking at the impact on voting intention of a full Labor shift to supporting same-sex unions. The poll was undertaken last weekend with a sample size of just over 1000 respondents.

The poll showed 17% of people said they’d be more likely to vote for Labor if it supported same-sex unions and 19% less likely to support Labor, with 64% saying it would not affect their vote.

However, the distribution of those who say the issue would change their vote is significant. Coalition voters are more likely to be less inclined to vote Labor — 28% — than others, while Greens voters are much more likely to be more inclined to vote Labor — 47%. That is, Labor wouldn’t lose many votes from the issue, because Coalition supporters are most likely to be negatively disposed to support for same-sex marriage, but the votes it would pick up would be from the Greens. It would also strengthen Labor’s hold on its own voters, with 23% of Labor voters saying they’d be more likely to vote Labor, compared to 10% who would be less likely.

Galaxy calculates that overall, a switch to outright support for same-sex marriage by Labor might increase its primary vote by anything up to four points. That would primarily come from the Greens, to whom Labor has bled votes over the past two years, in effect representing a recovery of lost voters. It wouldn’t help on a two-party preferred basis, however.

There are some other interesting breakdowns in the polling results. Women are far more likely to respond positively to a Labor shift on the issue than men: 22% of women were more likely to vote Labor compared to 11% of men; 25% of men were less likely to vote Labor, compared to 14% of women. Younger voters were three times more likely to respond positively — 33% of 18-24-year-olds would be more likely to vote Labor compared to 10% of over-50s (and the figure falls linearly with age).

Queensland voters are more likely than others to respond negatively — 11% would be more likely to vote Labor and 25% less likely. High income and more educated voters are also more likely to shift their support to Labor than others on the issue. However, contrary to expectations, the differences between urban and regional voters are limited: 17% of capital city voters would be more likely to support Labor compared to 15% outside capital cities; 18% in capitals would be less likely and 21% outside capitals less likely.

While the results aren’t unexpected, they provide some context for the debate within Labor about how to fight the threat of the Greens to its Left flank. Some social conservatives in the party seem happy for the Greens to poach progressive ALP members and voters. Party powerbroker and Catholic reactionary Joe De Bruyn, who has claimed gay marriage will destroy civilisation, believes supporting same-sex marriage will wreck Labor.

Hardline Catholic MP John Murphy specifically urged advocates of marriage equality to leave the party and join the Greens earlier this year. Such an exodus would obviously strengthen the control of the conservative Right within the party, but accelerate Labor’s already dire problem of shrinking membership and boost the electoral clout of the Greens, who are serious opponents for Labor in inner-urban electorates.

Labor hard-heads less interested in improving their faction’s position and more interested in a long-term future for the party, however, understand that Labor must find a way to shore up its Left flank and fight off the Greens. This is done most effectively by co-opting what Green positions it can — a strategy that worked successfully for John Howard in confronting the threat to his conservative base from One Nation.

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76 thoughts on “Guarding the Left flank: gay unions and Labor’s primary vote

  1. Simon Mansfield

    A conscience vote on this issue is the surest way to defeat this policy and leave Labor looking even stupid than ever when the catholic right vote it down along with the LNP.

    The only way to bring marriage equality to all Australians is for the Labor Party to make it a centrepiece of it national policy platform at the next National Conference and compel all its MPs to vote for it or risk expulsion.

    The only reason a conscience vote is being considered is that the Labor Catholic Right is using it as a spoiler tactic to ensure it’s defeated.

    Moreover, the Prince of Machiavellian Politics – Senator Bob Brown – is most keen to see it go down at the hands of the Labor Catholic Right as he knows it will drive even more votes from the Labor Left to the Greens and cement The Greens into the Senate for a decade of righteous opposition.

    Kevin Rudd needs to embrace Gay Marriage as part of his political makeover and kick the Shoppie’s poodle out of the Lodge and take Labor back to a victory winning lead.

    Labor has only one chance at a leadership change and it must occur before the Libs dump Abbott for Turnbull. The clock is ticking and its time for Lady Jane Grey to be happy with the minor cabinet position of Minister for Work Place Relations.

  2. GocomSys

    A new POLL suggests …………….
    Reports in NEWS LTD PAPERS today………………
    Australian Marriage Equality today released POLLING done by GALAXY …………………….
    Party powerbroker and Catholic reactionary………………………
    Enough, thank you very much.

  3. Russell

    Yes – a move to embrace a conservative, bourgeoisie and personally restrictive institution is seems as “progressive.” Anyway, anyone who would change their vote over this issue has does so already, a long time ago. Labor won’t get them back.

  4. Modus Ponens

    What tosh – does Galaxy truly believe that the Greens vote would go from 12% to 6% if the ALP embraced their policy?


    If it goes to a conscience vote and inevitably fails, all it will do is tip more people towards the Greens.

  5. Milan Ovich

    Makes me a little nauseous that a “Catholic reactionary” is a powerbroker in the party. Sociology is a fairly developed science that governments should be encouraged to draw their sociological policies from… instead we’re still influenced by people who think: contraception, abortion, and legal contracts between adults, need to be approved by their celibate, unwed male Pope. Note they’re not denying that same-s x couples exist, it’s just their legal entitlements that the church folks are opposed to… ?

    I could care less which religion any government official holds to in their private life… Sharia, Talmudic Law, Scientology, Mormon, Charismatic, etcetera… there simply isn’t room for baseless archaic notions on an overcrowded and starving planet that’s speeding towards crisis and needs intelligent answers for new problems as soon as possible.

  6. StrewthAlmighty

    Is it Friday?

    Must be time for the ALP to change it’s mind on policy.

    Problem is that the polling relates to a shift to a “pro” policy whereas this would be a shift to “no policy at all”. Whilst the ALP diehards may be comforted that another topic has been added to the list of policies on which they can’t make up their minds, it is hard to see Greens voters switching to a party whose representatives vote down a policy on which the party has no official view.

    On the other hand it is possible to see them losing a few more votes just for being so utterly gutless and pathetic.

  7. Simon Mansfield

    Just remember folks it is currently the agreed policy of the Greens for there to be a conscience vote. Even though it will go in flames. So one has to ask why would the Greens be pushing Labor to adopt a policy that is doomed to failure.

  8. SusieQ

    Firstly, Russell – the thing is that all of us, except for gay people, can choose whether we to follow this ‘conservative, bourgeoisie and personally restrictive institution’ – thats what this is whole issue is about. If Julia and Tim can exercise their right not to get married, why can’t a gay couple?
    Second, the SDA – surely one of the few trade unions (and pardon the sweeping generalisation here) that would have many, many gay members, so why is it not supporting its membership?

    I am a voter who has moved from ALP to Greens recently, but not only because of this issue. I don’t care if Labour becomes a stooge of the Catholic right – they will only have themselves to blame.

  9. Fran Barlow

    While I’d certainly like the ALP to adopt marriage equality as policy I’d actually prefer a conscience vote on the matter. It’s a useful thing to be able to identify and distinguish those who attitutdes to this matter are out of step with contemporary attitudes.

    It’s also a valuable thing to be able to say that the parliament as a whole approved the matter rather than people trolling the decision as having been “rammed through by party bosses based on political correctness”. If that means that the proposal fails, that’s still the lesser evil because the case can continue to be made against those who voted it down.

    On balance I think it more likely to succeed than fail with a conscience vote. Those opposing the concept are going to have to defend their position, and that will entail repeatedly asserting offensive nonsense on stilts. Few people in public life like the idea of being ridiculed or seen as bigots, especially when people on their own side are on the other side of the argument.

    I suspect many of the antis will choose abstention as the safer course.

    It’s much easier to hide behind party discipline, so if a conscience vote is not allowed, they can simply invited people to suppose that they had no choice and work both sides of the political street.

    I also think that given that the party didn’t run for office on the proposed policy, and indeed declared the opposite, you couldn’t really get reform this side of new elections in which you did run on it. A conscience vote sidestaeps this problem.

    Finally, debate is a good thing. Regardless of the state of the law, the state of the public mind is an indispensible factor in changing public attitudes in areas of policy like this. It is important that a thorough discussion be had — so thorough that people come to say — just get on with it so we can move on. That’s why even a defeat, while a setback in the campaign would nevertheless ensure that when the measure was adopted, as it surely will be in the near term future, the measure would be a product of an unimpeachable consensus.

  10. Scott

    The problem with these surveys is while they gauge the approval for gay marriage, they don’t often rate the importance the punters place on it.
    And for gay marriage, while people might be for it, in most of the surveys that do rate importance, same sex marriage doesn’t rate as a vote changer compared to other issues that most people do care about…i.e the economy, immigration, education, environment, health etc.

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