Nearly a fifth of voters would be unlikely to vote in a same-sex marriage plebiscite if it were voluntary — and opponents are significantly more likely to stay home than supporters, Essential Report finds.

With parliamentary opposition looking likely to derail the Liberal Party’s plan for a national vote on whether same-sex couples should be allowed the same rights as heterosexual couples, 19% of voters say they probably (13%) or definitely (6%) would not vote if the plebiscite were not compulsory. Willingness to vote increases with age — 44% of under-35s say they would “definitely vote”, compared to 58% of people 55 and over — but opponents of same-sex marriage are significantly less likely to vote: 15% of people who support same-sex marriage say they probably or definitely would not vote, compared to 25% of opponents of same-sex marriage, including 11% who say they definitely would not.

When asked the question that has been leaked from within the government as that being considered for the referendum, “Do you approve of a law to permit people of the same sex to marry?”, the results are little different to responses to the more general question that has been polled repeatedly: 57% say yes, 28% say no — compared to 62% support and 27% opposition in the more general question asked last week.

57% would vote yes on marriage equality

The results confirm the significant gender divide on the question, with women leading men by eight points in support and men leading by nine points in opposition; younger voters are also more likely to support same-sex marriage than over-55s, while Coalition and “other” voters are less likely to support it. However, only 47% of voters think the plebiscite will pass, compared to 24% who think it will fail and 30% who aren’t sure, with opponents of same-sex marriage convinced it will fail supporters sure it will succeed.

And once-strong voter support for the plebiscite has faded a little — when the plebiscite was first floated last year 67% of voters supported it; in July that had fallen to 60% and it now stands at 59%; a quarter of voters say the matter should be decided by Parliament, with Greens voters (40%) most likely to prefer politicians to do the job compared to just 21% of Coalition voters, who strongly prefer a plebiscite.

And if women differ noticeably from men in their willingness to allow same-sex couples the same rights as other couples, they might take comfort from the fact that the majority of men believe sexism has been overcome. Asked if “obstacles that made it harder for women to get ahead are largely gone”, 53% of men agree, compared to 31% who agree “significant obstacles still make it harder for women to get ahead than men”.


Women, i.e. the ones who actually experience sexism and systemic hurdles to success, feel differently — 60% say significant obstacles remain. Younger voters are slightly more likely to agree with that, but the difference with older voters isn’t large, but Coalition voters are the one voting group that on balance thinks sexism has been conquered, 47%-41%. Overall, the results from Australia mirror those of the same question asked in the US by Pew Research recently, which showed 56% of American men thought sexism had been overcome.

On voting intention, the Coalition and Labor are both up a point to 40% and 37% respectively; the Greens and NXT remain on 10% and 4% respectively, for an unchanged two-party preferred outcome of 51%-49% in Labor’s favour.