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Childless females are voting for themselves

By Malcolm King - posted Wednesday, 23 July 2008


Can you remember an election in the last 15 years that didn't have at its core the slogan “working families”? On both sides of the political divide it has been “working families deserve a fair go”, “working families are the nation's backbone” or “we're working for working families”.

It's an old trick right out of Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes by Jacques Ellul who said if you repeat a slogan often enough, people will believe it's veracity.

Ellul’s title is out of date. The ALP needs to focus more on the many women and childless couples (there are about four million in total), because the slogan “working families” runs off their backs like water off wax.

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As a former ALP Senator and now Chief Executive of Australian Development Strategies, John Black said in The Australian recently, while Rudd won the votes of many of the median income earners, there was also movement back to the Coalition on preferences from the "rich, the well educated and internationally qualified younger adults who tend to be clustered in the inner suburbs of capital cities".

Many of these were women in there 30s and 40s who voted Green first and Liberal second. That's a major change and semaphores a new constituency building.

For the last 20 years the nation has built a strong service sector economy staffed mainly by women. There is also a small but vocal group of young women who have treated the glass ceiling as a mirage and who have punched their way to the top of the corporate towers.

Increasing educational success by young women in the 1990s and more recently has produced a socio-economic cohort who are independently wealthy and politically savvy. Many of these were educated at private schools both here and abroad.

At the same time there has been a strong urban push, especially to groovy suburbs such as Newtown, Fitzroy and Norwood, by these women who also subscribe not only to post materialistic values (stop the whaling) but to further deregulation of the economy.  "For the first time since we started profiling elections in 1966, we saw what seemed to be a divergence between parents and non parents of the same age," Black said.

This was especially true of women in their 30s without kids. They did not vote as expected for Rudd's childcare policies. They voted for the Coalition. These are classic swinging voters and they voted against the trend.

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Women are not only having children later but some have settled for not having children at all. As stated, others are climbing the corporate ladder and are more immediately concerned about issues such as salary, tax cuts and mortgages. Young single males (20-30) have never placed much emphasis on “working families” until they join the nappy club.

For too long spin doctors and party machine men have relied on the trend in the sisterhood that budgets and electoral promises aimed at “working families” will also pull votes from women without children. Yet these women are clearly not voting emotionally but are employing rational self-interest.

Why should they vote pro-family if they have no intention of starting a family? Even if they planned to start a family in the future, do they necessarily believe that the Commonwealth Government is the best place to control who gets what?

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About the Author

Malcolm King works in generational workforce change. He was an associate director at DEEWR Labour Market Strategy in Canberra and the senior communications strategist at Carnegie Mellon University. He also runs a professional writing business called Republic.

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