The big reason the female vote will be crucial at the next [Australian] election


Jenna Price - The move to dump Tony Abbott was meant to rescue the women's vote for the Liberal Party. Women hated Abbott. With a vengeance.  If there was one politician destined to drive women voters to the Labor Party it was definitely the member for Warringah, the former Prime Minister. Women of calibre deserted him in droves. Now two new polls show the gender vote gap still exists. Both the ReachTEL and Essential polls, conducted in February as the threat of an early poll loomed, reveal women voters are not persuaded by Liberal leaders. More, they fear that the issues which matter most to them – health and education – are not priorities for the government.


The results of internal ACTU polling, conducted by ReachTEL in WA and NSW over the month of February, show almost a third of women consider Medicare or education spending as their top priority for the election. Men were much more likely to single out economic management.

Voters in general expressed concern that "Malcolm Turnbull is out of touch with ordinary voters", that he favours big business and he won't change Tony Abbott's policies. Women were more likely (59 per cent) to nominate one of these three central worries than men (52 per cent). 

Yes, women like Malcolm Turnbull more than they liked Tony Abbott. However, in the Essential polling, just over a third of women prefer Malcolm Turnbull as the Liberal leader compared to 43 per cent of men. That's a significant gender vote gap right there.

The ReachTEL poll, conducted in February, is even more explicit. It found a substantial gender gap has persisted in voting patterns, with the two-party vote for the Coalition more than 10 per cent lower among women in some marginal seats.

And while all close elections play out in the marginals, the effect of this gender vote gap may prove to be magnified and a challenge for this tight campaign because of another gap – the gap between the number of male and female voters in marginal seats across Australia.

Of the top 21 most marginal seats held by the government, the gender split is not the same as for the general Australian population (which is about 99.1 men for every 100 women according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics).

Take Petrie, Australia's most marginal seat. It has nearly 6000 more women eligible to vote than men, according to the Australian Electoral Commission's Elector Count as at December 2015. That's a hell of a lot more than in Capricornia, number two on the marginal list and held by the Liberals, which has 700 more women enrolled to vote. Lyons at number three has 900 more women. Solomon has 2,500 more blokes than women. But, in the entire list of 21, that's the only seat with more male voters. The remainder of the most marginal seats seats have somewhere between 2000 and 5000 more women voters in each and every electorate. And that's somewhere between 2000 and 5000 women who think Medicare is the most important political issue of the moment.

In marginals, where it's only a handful of votes which make the difference, the double gender vote gap could well hurt the Liberal Party if the polling by ReachTEL and Essential holds true all the way to the election. David Denemark, the professor of political Science and international relations at the University of Western Australia, says that the gender gap disappeared in the 2013 national poll, the  Australian election.

"The seven per cent gender gap had effectively evaporated back to zero."

He said these new figures mean the gender gap may well have resurfaced, despite the Prime Minister's attempt to recast both the ministry and the approach in general.

"There were all sorts of signals about the need to change the way the party appealed to women and to dispense with what was perceived as [the Abbott approach]," he said.

"If there are issues that are not being addressed in key marginal seats, it does not take much to swing a seat away from the Coalition to Labor. If there is a gender gap and there are marginal seats, there is a relatively small gap which makes a seat change hands."

He says the Coalition's focus on unions does not play to the concerns of women in the electorate.

"If these polls are right and there are still niggling differences of Mr Turnbull's ability to deliver for women, then we should expect to see some of those issues [such as Medicare, paid parental leave and childcare] in the run-up to the election."

Twitter @jennaprice