The global political gender divide

Peter Dutton is heading down a political path – belligerent and scare-mongering – which many other political leaders around the world are following.

His problem, like his counterparts around the world, is that it is having a significant impact on how women around the world vote and opening up a significant gender gap in voting behaviour.

In Australia it became obvious when the tone-deaf Scott Morrison was Prime Minister and re-assured women demonstrators that it was lucky they were not shot as some women in other countries were.

In the 2022 Australian election Liberal support among women was at a record low. The party is now part of a trend which is apparent around the world.

For instance, the British Social Attitudes (BSA) Study 2023 data suggests that a modern gender gap has emerged in British voting behaviour since 2005 with women now supporting the Labour Party compared with men to produce a gender gap of 6%.

The data also shows that there was there is little evidence of any difference in the gender gap in the 1960s – so much for the Swinging Sixties – but since the 2000s there has been a gender gap of up to 15% among generations born between 1960-1979 whereas generations born before 1960 voted consistent with earlier times.

The Financial Times (26/1) analysed data from surveys in the US, Korea, Germany and Britain which demonstrated how widespread this gap was becoming. John Burn-Murdoch wrote that “In countries on every continent, an ideological gap has opened up between young men and women. Tens of millions of people who occupy the same cities, workplaces, classroom and even homes no longer see eye to eye.”

He writes that Germany has a 30% gap between increasingly conservative young men and progressive young females; Poland’s hard right party was supported by half of men aged 18-21 compared to a sixth of young women of the same age; and South Korea and Tunisia showed the same pattern. A far-right party in Portugal in their March election won most of its votes among young, male and less educated voters.

South Korea elected an overtly anti-feminist president as more than 58% of men in their 20s voted for him and 58% of women in their 20s voted for his rival. Ironically almost 80% of South Korean young men think they are discriminated against according to The Economist. A third of young British men think the same.

The Economist (6/3) also said that studies have shown that more women in political leadership leads to a greater emphasis on women’s rights and family policies. “In Iceland, Sweden, Norway and Finland – which top the Economist index of women in political leadership hold at least 45% of parliamentary seats compared to South Korea and Japan where the share is less than 20%.”

This divide is also reflected in policy support. In the US, UK and Germany young people take more liberal positions on immigration and racial justice although young men in Germany are also more likely to support the far right AfD party.

While in Australia abortion is a settled issue it is a combustible one in the US. The surprise 2022 House of Representatives outcome which produced a swing to the Democrats after the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v Wade can be explained by the fact that 72% of young American women who voted in the House elections in 2022 backed the Democratic candidate compared with 54% of men.

The recent bizarre Alabama ruling on IVF may drive even more young women away from Republican although even Trump and many Senators drew the line at that decision.

As Phillip Bump wrote in The Washington Post (27/7/23), based on the US General Social Survey (GSS), “Among women, those with adult kids are about 10 points more likely to be Democrats than Republicans. Among men, those with adult kids are nine points more likely to be Republican.”

It is some consolation that in Australia females and males are closer together, according to the Australian Social Survey, at a midpoint on the ideological scale. Yet it is clear the Liberal Party is not heeding this and demonstrating its attitudes through its continued failure to achieve anything like a remotely gender balanced Parliamentary representation either in Canberra or the States.

This gap is reflected in female Parliamentary representation in the Liberal Party in Australia. Men, like Scott Morrison’s successor, get preselection in safe seats while everyone is talking about the need for more Liberal Party women in Parliament. In the Dunkley by-election Labor preselected a female candidate to replace a female member while the Liberals selected a bloke who made a crude joke about the origin of his wife’s pregnancy at the post-election Liberal Party gathering.

In 2013 17 Liberal women won House of Representatives seats but by 2024 that number has been reduced to nine. Parker McKenzie at the New Daily (14/3) says that only 31% – 71 out of 288 Liberal parliamentarians across state and federal politics are women according to an Australia Institute study.

Now Senator Ann Ruston – a senior Shadow Minister – is facing a fight for pre-selection for a winnable spot with yet another bloke possibly making the situation even worse.

Indeed, The Guardian (9/3) reported that the “Liberals now have fewer women in parliament than they did when they set their gender parity target by 2025, nine years ago.”

The Guardian also said: “And despite the tactic of crowding women behind the dispatch box where they will be seen for question time, there is no hiding that there are just nine women sitting with the Liberal party in the lower house. To help recent car-obsessed Coalition MPs understand, you could fit them all in two Ford Rangers, or one VW Caravelle.”

Meanwhile, while all these megatrends are going on, Peter Dutton is placing all of his bets on tough guy stuff and some Parliamentary sitting window dressing.