How does your demographic theory work with the “battlers” phenomenon? Was it merely transitory?
– asks commenter Leon Di Stefano.
I don’t think anyone has quite worked out how to define ‘battler’ in an easily defensible way. Peter Brent wrote a paper (pdf) a few years ago showing that Labor had always held on to its traditional seats in low income areas. But people much further up the income scale may still think of themselves as ‘battling’. Even in the top 20% of income earners, the General Social Survey finds a small percentage of people who have been unable to pay bills on time.
But claims that blue collar workers have swung to the Coalition have been easier to test. In the Australian Election Survey, data collated (pdf) by Murray Goot and Ian Watson shows that the Liberals did do better among blue collar voters 1996-2004 than they did 1987-1993, picking up 5% on average (Labor lost twice that, with blue collar voters going to minor parties as well as the Liberals). But except for 1996 Labor still had more blue collar voters than the Liberals.
While there are some trends among blue collar workers that may make them more inclined to vote Liberal, such as increased self-employment, there is little reason to believe that overall they will be a reliable constituency for the Coalition. The improved average is due to strong support in 1996 and 2004; 1998 and 2001 were little different from the blue collar Liberal vote under Hawke and Keating.
Many commentators predicted that WorkChoices would send blue collar Liberal support tumbling. Another Ian Watson report, published earlier this month, suggests that for 2007 Liberal support among blue collar workers was indeed down, at least among male Newspoll respondents. For this group, Coalition support fell heavily in Victoria, Brisbane, NSW except for Sydney, Perth and Tasmania. It increased in the rest of WA and the rest of Queensland, perhaps reflecting the positive impact of the mining boom.
Even if this was a positive trend for the Coalition, census data shows that blue collar jobs are declining as a percentage of all employment.
We can say that blue collar voters are less rusted on to Labor than they used to be. But I would be very sceptical of claims of any significant permanent move to the Liberals. These are voters who have to be won over afresh each election.