Conservative and ‘progressive’ Liberals may disagree on much, but it seems they share at least one attribute – confusing their hopes with our reality. Last December Senator Judith Troeth called for a ‘progressive liberalism’ to restore the party’s electoral fortunes. As I pointed out at the time, the polling does not support Troeth’s conclusions.
The evidence for this is rather thin, as McCoy effectively admits. That in 2004 the Australia Election Study found more young people voting Liberal than Labor ‘for the first time’. So the AES surveys in 1996, 1998 and 2001 (and no doubt 2007) are aberrations, and we should rely on the 2004 survey? McCoy is drawing on Clive Bean’s research, but Bean was relying on a sample of 121 persons aged 25 and under (see his chapter in Mortgage Nation). Ian Watson’s analysis of a much bigger sample of Newspoll respondents found the Coalition’s worst-ever result among the 18-24 year olds in 2004.
McCoy relies on an advertising agency report to claim that young people are more conservative than their parents. Apparently today’s young people are more likely to marry – though if the ABS is to be believed not any time soon, as the median age at first marriage fails to decline from its historic peaks. Apparently today’s young people ‘plan to have children earlier’ . Well perhaps they do plan to have children early, but again the ABS cannot find any evidence that they are implementing their plans. The ABS is a bearer of bad news again on McCoy’s claim that young people are more likely to volunteer. Only the elderly are less likely to volunteer than the 18-24 year olds (and the 25-34 year olds are little better).
On only one of McCoy’s claims, that young people are more likely to go to church than their parents (people I assume to be most likely aged 45 to 54), could I find any substantiating evidence in the Giving Australia survey (43% vs 32% once a month or more). But like the AES, the low number of young people in the sample makes this result doubtful.
I don’t think there is any strong evidence that young people are more socially conservative than their parents, though there are a range of issues on which the population generally takes a fairly conservative view. This is one of the Liberal Party’s long-term problems. It will be hard to out-conservative a conservative Labor leader like Kevin Rudd without appearing out of touch with younger voters.