Women abandon Coalition, with fewer than one in three backing it, Essential poll shows

After months of damaging revelations, the female primary vote falls to 31%

Women are abandoning the Morrison government in the wake of parliament’s #MeToo moment, with the latest Guardian Essential poll showing fewer than one in three giving their primary vote to the Coalition.

In mid-January the female primary vote peaked at 37% for the Coalition compared with 33% for Labor but, after months of damaging revelations about the government’s attitude towards women triggered by the mishandling of Brittany Higgins’ rape allegation, this has now collapsed to 31%. Labor’s primary vote among women is now 37%.

On a two-party-preferred “plus” basis, this gives the Coalition just 38% of the female vote, compared with 50% to Labor. Twelve per cent of women remain unsure. In mid-January the gap between the two parties was just three percentage points, with the Coalition marginally ahead of Labor among women, 47% to 44%.

The quarterly figures calculated by Essential express the metric as two-party-preferred “plus”, which highlights the proportion of undecided voters, giving people a more accurate read on the limits of any prediction.

The latest survey of 1,090 people taken at the weekend and the release of quarterly polling data reveals a stark contrast with the male vote, with the Coalition maintaining the strong support of men.

The government’s primary vote among men is 47%, giving it a two-party-preferred plus preference of 55% compared with 42% for Labor. This is its highest level of support for the government among men since November, and since the two parties were on an equal footing of 47% each at the end of January.

The figures reflect voter mood over the past three months, during which time the government has been grappling with the trouble-plagued Covid-19 vaccination rollout while also confronting a string of revelations regarding the alleged mistreatment of women.

In an attempt to cauterise the fallout among female voters, the prime minister, Scott Morrison, announced a cabinet reshuffle that sought to elevate the female “lens”, and ordered a review into parliamentary culture by the sex discrimination commissioner, Kate Jenkins.

The government is also putting the final touches on a budget that is expected to include a focus on women, with funding for domestic violence services and support for female-dominated industries expected.

On Friday Morrison will meet Higgins in Sydney to discuss the cultural overhaul she wants to see in parliament after she alleged she had been raped by a colleague in the ministerial wing while working as a Coalition staffer.

Brittany Higgins is set to meet with the prime minister on Friday in Sydney.
Brittany Higgins is set to meet with the prime minister on Friday in Sydney. Photograph: Mike Bowers/The Guardian

As the government struggles to restore its standing among women, the Guardian Essential poll gender breakdown also reveals that Labor is struggling to gain ground with men, with the party securing 31% of the male primary vote, the lowest level since November.

The poll shows that across all voters, 39% of people would vote for the Liberal and National parties if an election were held today, compared with 34% for Labor.

On a two-party-preferred plus basis, this translates to an effective tie between the major parties, with both Labor and the Coalition recording a two-party-preferred vote of 46%, with undecided voters sitting unchanged at 7%.

At the height of the political crisis engulfing the government over its attitudes to women at the beginning of March, Labor’s two-party-preferred vote enjoyed a brief boost to 48%, leading the Coalition’s 45%. Seven per cent were undecided.

The poll shows support for the Coalition has ranged between 37% and 39% since the beginning of February, while for Labor it has ranged between 34% and 36%.

At the last election, the Coalition recorded a primary vote of 41.4% while Labor’s primary vote was 33.3%.

An earlier Essential poll found that Morrison’s personal standing among women had also taken a hit during the course of this year, with his approval rating down from 62% to 57%.

Essential has changed the way preferences are allocated to the major parties, asking participants who vote for a minor party to indicate a preferred major party rather than making assumptions based on the last election. Only when they do not provide a preference does Essential allocate preferences based on previous flows.

Essential is releasing the polling figures on a quarterly basis in place of a “real-time political scoreboard” after readjusting its methodology in the wake of the 2019 election result.

Despite its one-seat majority in the House of Representatives, Morrison has described a possible path to victory at the next election – expected within the next 12 months – as possible by walking a “narrow track”.

Labor, which is confident of unseating the Coalition after eight years in power, needs to win seven seats to form government in its own right.

“We’ve been on narrow paths before, colleagues, and we’ve walked them together,” Morrison told the Coalition party room last month.

“Sometimes the path is wide and the walking is gentle, but the path is now narrow so we must watch out for each other and we must support each other.”


Sarah Martin Chief political correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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