The results of Australian Electoral Survey, a survey of political attitudes and voting patterns at last year’s federal election, were released yesterday. It turns out that young Australians, especially men, are voting conservative more than ever. In last year’s election, 49 per cent of men under 25 voted for the Liberals, compared with 28 per cent Labor. It’s even more evident in the 25 to 30 age groups, where 62 per cent voted Liberal and 27 per cent Labor. The figures are a bit more evenly spread among women, with 36 per cent of under 25s voting Labor and 34 per cent Liberal. QUT Professor Clive Bean has a possible explanation for the different voting patterns between men and women:
“Women tend to have a more peace-oriented line and the hard line that the Government took on both refugees and asylum seekers and also on terrorism may well have appealed to young men, but perhaps pushed young women away a little bit,”
Perhaps, but with the exception of Iraq, there is very little difference between Liberal and Labor policies on asylum seekers and terrorism. Mandatory detention after all was introduced by a Labor Government and continued under John Howard. The waves of new anti-terrorism laws which came about after September 11 were passed through the Senate with the support of Labor. Labor also took the hard line on asylum seekers, and supported the Government’s post-Tampa legislations making it harder for illegal immigrants to enter the country. The ones who were genuinely concerned about the Government’s hardline stance on these issues voted for the minor parties, with the Greens picking up 20 per cent of the under 25s vote. The obvious conclusion you can draw from these figures is that Labor no longer the party for young people. It used to be that the older you get, the more you’re likely to vote conservative, but now the young are also voting conservative more than ever before. My only guess for an explanation is that people don’t know what kind of party Labor are anymore. The Labor Party of the 80s and 90s introduced a wide range of free-market oriented reforms which Australia’s current economic prosperity is built upon. To John Howard’s credit, as opposition leader, he let these reforms through the Senate without much fuss. In opposition however, Labor has been opportunistic, reactionist, populist, and downright silly on occasions. Kim Beazley’s reaction to the perceived lack of action by the Government in the wake of Katrina and the back flip on VSU typifies this. Labor tries to please the peaceniks and lefties with rhetoric on Iraq and Kyoto, yet they also want to look tough on security by supporting the Government in increasing the powers of ASIO. They try to please typical Liberal voters by offering tax cuts for the rich, but won’t support small businesses in getting rid of unfair dismissal laws. And let’s not forget Mark Latham. Of course, for a party which has had five leadership changes since losing power, and where the factions hate each other more than the real enemy, it perhaps isn’t very surprising that traditional Labor voters are turning away from them in droves.