What happens to the Liberal Party if it loses? (Part 1)

In the last week, the prophets of Liberal doom have been out making their predictions. Kim Beazley – who knows all too well what happens inside parties when they lose elections – was first:

If Mr Howard lost, “there is a serious question mark over the future of the Liberal Party”. Labor would win the NSW election in March and Mr Howard would remain the only governing Liberal. “After some years of Labor state governments, Liberal oppositions are still struggling to get a third of the seats in state parliaments.”

Mr Beazley noted the state Liberal branches were already in poor shape and if Mr Howard lost the election, the Liberals would not govern anywhere. “They lose the election, they lose Howard and people are going to question the survivability of the Liberal Party,” he said. “They haven’t got much of an organisation. They are very vulnerable to being out of office and all sorts of lunatics and crazies can take over the Liberal Party, and they will.”

On Friday, Norman Abjorensen gave hope to Age readers:

It is by no means inconceivable that the party that under John Howard has so dominated the political stage for more than a decade and through four election wins could simply fall apart in the event of a loss at this year’s federal election.

How could this happen? Just as the former Soviet Union simply collapsed because there was nothing holding it together, so too will the Liberal Party if it loses the only asset it has – federal office. The party, as a whole, is in a parlous state; the state branches are weak and demoralised, and true power resides in the federal secretariat in Canberra and the Prime Minister’s office.

He went on to draw parallels with implosions of non-Labor forces prior to the modern Liberal Party’s formation in the mid-1940s, and suggests a possible re-alignment in Australian politics in the Liberal Party’s wake.

Though the detail changes, this is an argument that has been around since the 1980s, and has three inter-related components: philosophy, organisation, and electoral base. These are hard to separate entirely: what the party stands for affects who votes for it, who its activists will be, and whether there is any common purpose keeping it together and focused. On the other hand, parties seeking office need to work within the electoral status quo, which means adapting to the views voters hold, even if these are not favoured by activists. In this post, I will focus on organisational issues.
Continue reading “What happens to the Liberal Party if it loses? (Part 1)”

‘Moderate’ left and right

Fred Argy wants me to look at ‘moderate’ lefties and ‘moderate’ right-wingers instead of just the psycho types who want to brawl with the cops. To take (I hope) some of the heat out of comments, I will not discuss the issue of whether one group is less civil than the other, but will look at them on the same questions that I used to examine the extremes of the left-right spectrum.

The AES has a 0-10 left-right spectrum. Last time I used 0-1 for the left and 9-10 for the right. This time I will use 2-3 for the left and 7-8 for the right. This leaves out the great Australian middle, 4-6, which contains 58% of respondents to the AES.

For the strong feelings about parties and party leaders I will also relax assumptions. This is also on a 0-10 scale. Last time I used only 0 (labelled ‘strongly dislike’). This time I will use 0 and 1.

For ‘moderate’ lefties, 39% dislike the Liberal Party a lot. On the other side, 15% of ‘moderate’ right-wingers dislike the Labor Party a lot. On party leaders, 49% of ‘moderate’ lefties dislike Howard a lot, while 19% of ‘moderate’ right-wingers dislike Latham a lot. These are, I think, still pretty big differences. But I also checked to see what ‘moderate’ right-wingers thought of Bob Brown. 47% dislike Brown a lot, making him nearly as unpopular on the right as Howard is on the left. It shows that the moderate right is capable of as much dislike as the left.

On activism, there is one very big difference between the moderate right and left. 44% of the lefties had been to a protest in the previous 5 years, compared to 6% of the right-wingers. The lefties were also more likely to have worked with others to express their views, 39% compared to 22%. They were most alike on contacting officials, 38% on the left, 35% on the right. The left is more into collective action than the right.

What do middle Australians think about the leaders? 18% dislike Howard a lot. 12% disliked Latham a lot. Brown is the most unpopular, with 23.5% disliking him a lot.

Is the uni admissions system in ‘crisis’?

According to today’s lead story in the SMH:

THE universities admissions index system is in crisis, with many fee-paying students qualifying for places with HSC scores well below official cut-off marks. ….

Until now the UAI was regarded as a national standard to determine university entry,

This is fanciful. The newspapers obsess over the school leavers, but less than half of commencing students are admitted based on their Year 12 results. The latest published figures are 2003, when 43.24% of bachelor degree commencing students entered based on their school results. A quarter started their course based on previous university results, about 8% based on ‘mature age or other special provisions’, and 6.5% on tests prescribed by the university (such as the test the ANU is now using).

This is nothing novel; I have a table (in a pre-Internet publication, sorry) showing school leavers were a minority of commencing students in the late 1970s. So obviously universities have had to use many different ways of assessing who should be admitted. The great virtue of the UAI (or ENTER, as it is called elsewhere), from the universities’ perspective, is not that it creates a ‘standard’ (let alone a ‘national’ one) but that it is cheap, outsourcing most of the costs to the schools and enabling selection by computer.

The correlation between Year 12 results and first-year university results is, in the few published studies, around .3 or .4, making it only a moderately good predictor of how well an applicant will do in his or her university studies. Apparently, the correlation between previous university results and future university results is much higher, which would explain why so many applicants are accepted on this basis (especially now that the government is penalising universities for not hitting ther enrolment targets there is an incentive to take people with more predictable success rates).
Continue reading “Is the uni admissions system in ‘crisis’?”

Dob in a Trot

Clearly my hypothesis that the left is ruder than right has not won universal support. But I am sure the Victorian Police would agree with me. They have already charged 26 people with offences relating to the G20 protest that I linked to, and yesterday set up a Dob-in-a-Trot program by releasing photographs of 28 further persons of interest. I had been hoping to provide a name or two, but alas I don’t recognise any of them. But perhaps some student readers can help make life miserable for their campus foes?

The cops reckon they have enough, from one protest, to convict 26 lefties of criminal offences. I doubt that many names could be produced from a decade of Australian right-wing misbehaviour. On violence at least, in Australia the left is far more uncivil than the right.

Fees and the poor, again

And a further update: Theory saved! If I take out the private providers that have been added to the statistics, low SES commencing students go up from 15.16% in 2004 to 15.20% in 2005. Of the total student population, they increase from 14.62% to 14.67%. These are extremely small differences, but in the direction I predicted.


The trouble with using evidence is that sometimes you have to admit that you could be wrong. In making the argument below, I compared the 2005 Higher Education Report with the 2004 version (pdf). The 2005 report said that low SES students were 14.5% of the total in 2005 and the 2004 version said 14.1% in 2004, so I concluded that the proportion of low SES students had increased between the two years.

But now the equity group spreadsheets are available. It says that the 2004 figure is 14.62%, not 14.1%. The fine print of the 2004 report says the numbers are not affected by changes of scope to enrolments – which they don’t explain, but which I think is a reference to a change in the way students are counted that was implemented a few years ago. Essentially, the earlier system was a snapshot in time at 31 March each year. But as more students enrolled mid-year, concern increased that this was inaccurate and the system was changed. The spreadsheet data, which I presume uses the now standard method of counting students, records 2,000 more low SES students than what I presume is a 31 March snapshot in the 2004 report. So I was not comparing like with like – though I will have to think about why you would get a higher percentage later in the year than earlier.

The next issue is commencing students. In absolute numbers, commencing low SES students are up by 2%. But in percentage terms, they are down 15.16% to 15.12%, contrary to my theory. However, the 2005 data includes private higher education providers that were not in the 2004 count. As they mostly charge full fees, perhaps they are less attractive to low SES students. It will take me a while to do a same institution 2004-2005 comparison, but I was almost certainly over-confident in my analysis yesterday.

Yesterday’s post:

I know evidence is but a flea on the elephant of intuition and ideology. But one aspect of the DEST Higher Education Report 2005, quietly put on the web late yesterday, is worth noting. This is the annual calculation of the proportion of domestic university students from a low socioeconomic background. The measure is, it should be pointed out, only a proxy. It is a postcode analysis, with anyone whose permanent home address is in a postcode in the lowest 25% as determined by the ABS Index of Education and Occupationdefined as ‘low SES’. Obviously, there are poor people in well-off areas and well-off people in poor areas. This limits it as an absolute measure of SES background of university students, but it is probably a reasonable trend measure, especially over the short term.
Continue reading “Fees and the poor, again”

Rude lefties

As he reports on his blog, Andrew Leigh went to Sydney recently to appear on a pilot of a possible new ABC political chat show, Difference of Opinion. But it seems the studio audience didn’t want as much different opinion as he was offering:

For me, the most interesting moment was to see the negative reaction of the audience when I suggested that we should trial merit pay to see whether it can work (several audience members hissed)…

Now obviously not all lefties are so rude in the face of contrary views. Many are civility personified. Andrew himself, a man of the centre-left I think it is fair to say, is so nice that when I had a go at his Dialogue article he thanked me for my ‘most thoughtful post’. But I think there is a nasty edge to leftist culture. It is hard to imagine a Liberal coming up with the rhetoric of hate that came from Mark Latham:

“I’m a hater,” he told The Bulletin in 2002. “Part of the tribalness of politics is to really dislike the other side with intensity. And the more I see of them the more I hate them. I hate their negativity. I hate their narrowness.”

He also said, on radio 2GB: “Everyone’s got hate in their lives … it’s just part of life. I hope my little boy hates a Liberal prime minister who sells out our national interests. I grew up in a family that used to hate Bob Menzies.”

It is hard to imagine right-wingers organising protests that everyone knows will turn violent, despite the ritual claims by organisers that they want to protest peacefully.
Continue reading “Rude lefties”

The rise of a factoid

Early this month, Labor MP Craig Emerson released some ABS data collated by the Parliamentary Library, using it to argue that

two-thirds of the jobs created under the Howard government have needed a university degree as a prerequisite.

Blogger Tim Dunlop was quick to describe it as a ‘telling statistic’. Victorian Skills Minister Jacinta Allan thinks it is telling too, using it in her complaints that Victoria gets too few university places to match demand for graduates in the labour market, a line repeated in today’s front-page lead story in The Age and on page three of the AFR. (Update: And it replicates itself again in Tuesday’s Age editorial.)

But how good is this number? The Parliamentary Library used these assumptions in arriving at their figure:

Level of qualification has been derived on the basis of the occupations in which people are employed. Hence, persons with degree qualifications or higher are assumed to be either ‘managers and administrators’, ‘professionals’ or ‘associate professionals’; persons with other tertiary qualifications are assumed to be either ‘tradespersons and related workers’ or ‘advanced clerical and service workers’; and persons with school level qualifications are assumed to be persons employed in any of the other occupations.

But when we look at the definitions of these ‘degree qualification’ occupations in the ABS classification of occupations this assumption does not look so sound. For ‘managers and administrators’ the ABS states that most occupations in this group

have a level of skill commensurate with a bachelor degree or higher qualification or at least five years relevant experience (my emphasis)

For professionals, too, the emphasis is on skills commensurate with holding a bachelor degree or above. But for ‘associate professionals’ the assumption is weakest:

have a level of skill commensurate with an AQF [Australian Qualifications Framework, usually taught in the vocational education sector] Diploma or higher qualification or at least 3 years relevant experience.

Indeed, this ‘associate professional’ category isn’t very satisfactory and the new system of occupational classifications developed with the NZ statistics people is discontinuing it, with those previously in it being dispersed to other categories including ‘Technicians and trade workers’, ‘Clerical and administrative workers’ and ‘Community and personal service workers’.

The weakness of the assumption can be seen if we examine the actual qualifications of people in these occupations, which we can do through the annual supplement to the ABS labour market survey reported in Education and Work.

In 2006, nearly 80% of workers classified as ‘associate professional’ did not have a university degree. Among managers, over 60% did not have a degree. Only the professions were principally the preserve of degree-holders, with 70% having a university qualification. Even the overall trend is quite modest. 42% of all workers in these occupations were degree-holders in 1996, and 49% in 2006. So many of the jobs for which we supposedly need degree-holders are in fact filled by people who don’t have one, and probably most of the ‘associate professionals’ and some of the other groups would not necessarily benefit greatly from having one.

I don’t expect my pedantry will do much good in the face of a politically-convenient factoid. You will hear this statistic again and again – but do some mental discounting when it happens. On my calculations, just under half of jobs created in that decade were for degree-holders. As I argued last month working out how many graduates we need is a very complex task, but on my analysis our main problem is the wrong mix of graduates, rather than too few overall.

The political case against big-government conservatism

I’ve posted regularly on the Howard government’s big spending habits. While I think much of this spending is unwarranted on policy grounds, it’s going to be hard to resist while Liberals still believe that it works politically. In this morning’s Weekend Australian I outline an argument as to why big-government conservatism isn’t a viable long-term strategy for the centre-right (there’s more detail in my Policy article).

The argument has parallels with the mummy party/daddy party thesis. Voters view political parties in stereotypical terms, seeing Labor as stronger on ‘welfare’ issues such as health, education and social security, and the Liberals as stronger on tax, defence and immigration (Newspoll’s list is the most accessible). Like most stereotyped views they are not completely immune to reality, but as the general public often has a poor grasp of actual trends they tend to form judgments based on their general perceptions of the parties, rather than their real record or (for Oppositions) their alternative policies.

This is one reason why despite increasing spending more quickly than the Keating government on education, health and social security over the last few years, and at a considerable rate by any standard, the Coalition still trails Labor as the better party on these issues. Using the Australian Election Study measure, the Coalition has recovered some of the ground lost as they cut the Budget deficit in the mid-1990s, but they are not back to their 1996 position. And as I say in the Weekend Oz:

Continue reading “The political case against big-government conservatism”

Does diversity affect what we think about the welfare state?

As part of his well-deserved early career award from the Academy of the Social Sciences, Andrew Leigh was asked to write a paper for their journal Dialogue. As he explains on his blog, he chose to write on something a ‘bit provocative’, the possible negative effects of ethnic and linguistic diversity. One of these possible negative (sic) effects is reduced support for the welfare state.

For this hypothesis, he draws on the work of Alberto Alesina and Ed Glaeser, who argue that one of the major reasons for the much smaller welfare state in the US compared to Europe is that the US is more racially diverse. Or to put it more bluntly, the wealthy white majority isn’t too keen on giving money to the poor black minority. Extrapolating from this, Andrew notes that Australia’s welfare state is small compared to Europe’s, and that our linguistic diversity is higher than either the US or Europe, and therefore ‘our high level of linguistic diversity helps explain Australia’s relatively small social welfare sector’.

I doubt it. Indeed, you only need to keep reading Andrew’s paper to find at least one reason for doubt. Using answers to a question in the Australian Election Survey about whether people agree or disagree with the proposition that ‘income and wealth should be redistributed’ he finds that only in Queensland is there are a statistical relationship between disagreeing with the proposition and levels of local ethnic diversity. This he puts down to the relative success of ‘racially-driven politics’ in that state, with One Nation its most public manifestation. But what about all the other states? They, after all, contain the vast majority of seats in the Australian Parliament.

My CIS colleague Peter Saunders has argued that this analysis of the comparative welfare states misses important cultural differences between the ‘Anglo’ countries and Europe. The Anglosphere countries have much older and more powerful traditions of individualism than Europe. Alan Macfarlane wrote a well-known book on this, The Origins of English Individualism, tracing it back many hundreds of years. In particular, the Anglo countries have a much greater belief in self-reliance. Continue reading “Does diversity affect what we think about the welfare state?”