A significant gender gap divides Australian voters in their attitudes toward Tony Abbott and Julia Gillard, a major polling project by Crikey and Essential Research has found.

In polling conducted immediately before and after gender issues roiled federal politics last week, Essential Research has captured the attitude of over 2000 voters on gender and personal characteristics, including how both women and men reacted to the Prime Minister’s ferocious attack on the Opposition Leader over misogyny.

Voters were asked about a series of attributes around temperament and the attitude of Gillard and Abbott on gender issues. The result was a clear dividing line between male and female voters. It’s been known for some time that Abbott polls poorly with female voters — thus his wife’s recent intervention to try to improve his reputation — but the nature of his reputational problem is now becoming clearer.

On the key issue of the extent to which each leader is “someone that understands the challenges facing Australian women”, the Opposition Leader badly trails the Prime Minister among both male and female voters: 39% of all voters agreed Abbott did, compared to 62% of voters who said Gillard did. But 42% of men thought Abbott understood the challenges facing women, compared to 36% of women.

There was less of a gender divide on this issue for the Prime Minister: 63% of women believed Gillard understood the challenges women faced, compared to 60% of men, within the margin of error which for a sample of this size is around 4 points.

Despite taking considerable flak within his party for his commitment to a paid parental leave scheme more generous than Labor’s, Abbott also trails the PM on that issue: 54% of women and 52% of men think Gillard has good parental leave polices, compared to 42% of women who thought the same of Abbott’s paid parental leave policy and 45% of men.

But men are consistently more likely to positively view Abbott and negatively view Gillard across a range of issues, while women are the opposite. On “right temperament to be Prime Minister”, Abbott trails among women voters — 39% to 44% for men — whereas Gillard is much higher overall (presumably because she is already PM) and leads strongly with women: 62% of women think she has the temperament to be PM, compared to 54% of men. Interestingly, however, more men still think Gillard has the temperament to be PM than think Abbott does.

On whether Abbott and Gillard are “the best person to lead their party”, neither fared well: 36% believed Gillard was; 33% said Abbott. But only 30% of women thought Abbott was the best person to lead his party, compared to 36% of men; there was a similar divide over Gillard, with 39% of women believing she was the best person to lead her party compared to 33% of men.

And more men think Gillard is an embarrassment as Prime Minister — although not as many men think Abbott would be an embarrassment.

 

Gillard

Men

Women

Abbott

Men

Women

Has the right temperament to be Prime Minister

58%

54%

62%

42%

44%

39%

Is embarrassing as Prime Minister of Australia

43%

46%

40%

50%

49%

50%

Is someone that can effectively represent Australia’s interests

46%

45%

46%

43%

45%

40%

Serves my interests as Prime Minister

36%

35%

37%

39%

42%

37%

Is too influenced by their religious beliefs

16%

18%

14%

40%

43%

38%

Is the best person to lead their party

36%

33%

39%

33%

36%

30%

Is someone that understands the challenges facing Australian women

62%

60%

63%

39%

42%

36%

Has good parental leave policies

53%

52%

54%

44%

45%

42%

Has difficulty controlling their aggression

25%

29%

22%

44%

45%

44%

The genders occasionally unite on an issue: both men and women are much more likely to think Abbott has a problem with controlling his aggression than Gillard. Neither leader polled well on “serves my interest as Prime Minister”. And, contrary to the narrative that Abbott’s Catholicism is a turn-off for female voters over reproductive choice, women are actually less concerned about the Liberal leader’s religious beliefs than men, 38% to 43%.

Last week’s speech by the Prime Minister and the ensuing media focus on gender issues doesn’t appear to have shifted voters’ views, except in one key area. Gillard’s rating on “understands the challenges facing Australian women” rose 3 points, but that’s within the margin of error; the perception that Abbott would be embarrassing as PM rose 2 points (entirely among women), but again it’s a negligible shift. The one big change before and after the speech came among men — the proportion of men who thought Gillard “has difficulty controlling her aggression” leapt 10 points from 24% to 34%; women who thought that increased from 19% to 25%. There was no change at all for Abbott.

And let’s not forget the broader context for these results: women may think Abbott doesn’t understand them, doesn’t have as good a paid parental leave policy as the government and shouldn’t be leading his party … but like men they’re still more inclined to vote for the Coalition than for Labor.

*Tomorrow in Crikey: the generation gap over Abbott and Gillard

Peter Fray

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