Listen: Andrea Carson in conversation with Stephen O’Doherty.
New research from the University of Melbourne has found that conservative voters generally fail to see how being female can impede political success. That’s in sharp contrast to left-of-centre voters, who list gender as the main obstacle to success.
No incentive for gender quota
According to researcher, Dr Andrea Carson, the study (which she wrote about in detail for The Conversation) suggests the Coalition parties have little incentive to introduce gender quotas when their voters do not see any reason for them.
Women a fraction of the parliament
Dr Carson is an incoming Associate Professor at LaTrobe University. She is a former lecturer, Political Science, School of Social and Political Sciences; Honorary Research Fellow, Centre for Advancing Journalism, University of Melbourne. With University of Melbourne colleagues Leah Ruppanner and Jenny Lewis Dr Carson undertook a survey of 2,100 voting-age Australians in June this year.
Conservative voters don’t like gender quota
Women make up 50.7% of the Australian population, yet just under a third of the federal parliament. About one in five federal Coalition MPs is female. Despite this, Dr Carson’s research shows there is little public appetite on the conservative side of Australian politics for embracing gender quotas.
To test voters’ attitudes about female politicians, the study used identical vignettes about a hypothetical politician, then invited a representative sample of Australians to rate that politician’s likelihood for success.
Bias against female politicians
The only differences in the vignettes was that half the respondents (1,050) answered questions about a male politician, while the other half responded to questions about a female. As the survey unfolded, additional identical information was posed about the hypothetical politician’s professional and personal traits, but not their party identity.
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Overall, the study found Australians on all sides of politics supported the idea of more women in parliament. But, through the hypothetical scenarios, the study found strong political party divides in internalised attitudes towards female politicians.
Meritocracy favours males
“The results indicate that conservative voters reflect the Coalition’s support for meritocratic or individualistic principles, a common argument used against quotas.” says Dr Carson.
“Yet they fail to see how “meritocracy” is heavily skewed towards men, ignoring structural impediments that hinder women such as equal access to political networks, financial participation, a lack of mentors, and behind-the-scenes practices of political parties and preselections.” she says.
Morrison cabinet three quarters male
“While new Prime Minister Scott Morrison has notionally increased the number of women in his ministry from five (under Turnbull) to six, three-quarters of his full ministry is male. This suggests a significant problem for conservative women entering politics. The sudden removal of Bishop as deputy Liberal leader adds damage to the Coalition’s image of having a problem with women.” explains Dr Carson.
Solutions to female underrepresentation
Dr Carson believes there are solutions to the underrepresentation of women. “Non-partisan, philanthropically supported programs such as the University of Melbourne’s Pathways to Politics program attempt to address the pipeline issue by teaching women from all sides of politics the skills to become politicians.”
“Our study suggests the representation gap is unlikely to narrow unless the Liberal Party shows leadership to its voters, or vice versa, and heeds Julie Bishop’s advice that “there’s a lot to be done” beyond reliance on the flawed and failed argument of “merit”.” says Dr Carson
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