Essential Report

Julia, Blokes and the Bradley Effect

Nov 23, 2010

First Published on The Drum 23/11/2010

As if dealing with four independent blokes, a Green bloke and a blokey bloke in charge of the Opposition is not enough, now Julia Gillard is developing a problem with blokes outside the Parliament.

Having politely indicated that they were happy with a female Prime Minister in the lead-up to the federal election, this week’s Essential Report picks up sharp moves in the attitudes of the brotherhood.

In the absence of any compelling policy development to explain the surge, we are left with the Bradley Effect, the theory created to explain why an African-American candidate lost the 1982 race for Governor of California despite having a massive lead in the polls.

The details of the Bradley Effect later, first some numbers from this week’s Essential Report.

Bloke Voters
Oct-10 Nov-10 Change
Gillard Approval 45% 39% -6%
Gillard Disapproval 41% 44% +3%
Gillard Net +4 -5 -9
Abbott Approval 40% 46% +6%
Abbot Disapproval 47% 38% -9%
Abbott Net -7 +8 +15
Preferred PM (Gillard) 50% 41% -9%
Preferred PM (Abbott) 33% 40% +7%

On every indicator the blokes are turning away from Gillard in significant numbers and at a rate of knots.

So here’s the theory: For the past 20 years the most difficult elections to predict in the United States have been races involving a white candidate and an African-American candidate.

Invariably polls will show the vote strongly supporting the black candidate; even exit polls can predict decisive figures; but when the votes are tallied up, the white candidate comes out ahead.

In Tom Bradley’s case he had led the entire race, exit polls were decisive, media widely predicted a victory and yet when the final votes came in, he fell short of a majority.

Subsequent analysis indicated two big factors in the result – fewer white voters supported Bradley than had been predicted in the polls and undecided voters strongly supported the white candidate.

Attempting to make sense of this (and possibly to protect their own backsides) pollsters constructed a theory to explain a shift and called it after the failed candidate.

The Bradley Effect holds that people will tell researchers what they think they should say (ie that they are colourblind) but once they enter the privacy of the ballot box, they allow their prejudices to run loose.

Over the years the Bradley Effect has been reinforced in other races – although with decreasing intensity. But the theory holds that when it comes to candidates with different racial breakdowns, pre-poll opinion should be taken with a grain of salt.

How does the Bradley Effect apply to Julia?

Well Gillard became Australia’s first female PM with an election literally weeks away.

While we picked up stronger support for her from female voters, male voters basically held with party identification. That is, male voters backed Gillard in line with voting intention, while Liberal women were slightly more likely to support her.

Post-election, it seems that men are drifting away from the PM in larger numbers but not linked to any particular event or policy.

One reason for this could be that outside the electoral cycle, men are not feeling as constrained to declare that they are gender-blind. In other words, the numbers are slipping because the Bradley Effect is fading.
The theory relies on a number of open questions that probably require further debate.

  • • Could Australian blokes be so superficial and challenged by female authority for this effect to be real?
  • • Alongside a female Prime Minister, are Australian blokes comfortable with a female Governor-General and in NSW and in Queensland’s case a female Premier and female Governor?
  • • Feeling threatened, would Australian blokes have any inhibition in saying so?
  • • And finally, given the chance, would they rather support a bloke who bounces around in Speedos?

Whether the Bradley Effect holds or is just a case of post-vote self-justification, it seems that gender is the new variable entering Australia’s political debate.

Peter Lewis, Director, EMC


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