CANBERRA: Australians appear to be split over Prime Minister Julia Gillard's judgment that her main political rival is sexist.
In a fiery speech to Parliament on Oct. 9, Gillard branded opposition leader Tony Abbott a misogynist for a string of allegedly sexist comments. Her commentary has been lauded by feminists around the world, but a poll published Tuesday showed Australians are divided.
Abbott apologized last week for suggesting that Gillard's government was inexperienced in family policy — a criticism some saw as a cheap shot at Gillard, who has no children.
The poll by Sydney market researcher Newspoll published in The Australian newspaper found that 45 percent of respondents said Abbott had behaved in a sexist way toward Gillard recently and 39 percent said he had not. There was no clear majority view, with 16 percent of respondents undecided.
How Abbott was judged on the sexism charge closely correlated with how respondents intend to vote at general elections next year.
Of those who said Abbott is sexist, 66 percent support Gillard's center-left Labor Party. Of those who said he is not, 76 percent back his conservative coalition.
Women were more likely than men to condemn Abbott for sexism.
Of those who said he was sexist, 43 percent were women and 35 percent were men. Of those who responded that he was not sexist, 48 percent were men and 41 percent were women.
Despite the divide, Gillard's public stance against sexism has gained solid support.
Gillard has said she stands by every word of her blistering attack on Abbott and has vowed to speak out against sexism in the future whenever she sees it.
More than three in four respondents (78 percent) said Gillard's response to the sexism issue had been "about right," including 83 percent of women and 72 percent of men.
Another 16 percent accused her of overreacting (22 percent of men and 12 percent of women), while 5 percent said she had underreacted (5 percent of men and 4 percent of women).
The poll was based on a random telephone survey of 1,218 voters nationwide at the weekend. It had a 3 percentage point margin of error.