Early last year I wrote a post on common ground between classical liberals and conservatives. The Australian political identity survey helps me test my argument, though given the relatively low conservative response rate I have combined the answers of those who described themselves as ‘conservatives’ (69 respondents) and those who described themselves as ‘social conservatives and economic liberals’ (94 respondents). Because of this, I have not analysed responses to economic questions, as the economic liberal responses would dominate. The comparison charts can be found here.
As I thought, conservatives and classical liberals hold similar views on schools – neither gives majority support to monopoly curriculum, and larger numbers agree rather than disagree that while the government should help fund school education, it should not deliver it. Both groups disagree that the trend away from federalism is a positive development (both groups, though much more so conservatives, are Coalition voters – the Howard government was way out of line with its ideological supporters on national curriculum and other forms of centralisation).
I thought conservatives and classical liberals would hold similar views on anti-discrimination law. Conservatives are considerably more likely to think that it should be repealed altogether. However, on the current debate – whether or not the exceptions to anti-discrimination law should be preserved – conservatives and classical liberals are both firmly on the side of exceptions.
I thought both groups were welfare sceptics, and this is certainly true. Both very much oppose further redistribution of income and tax-funded maternity leave. Conservatives are also more sceptical of family benefits than I would have thought, though not as sceptical as classical liberals.
Inevitably, however, there are differences, particularly on some social issues – though these are not as large as expected.
While a surprisingly large number of conservatives are willing to give up the legal fight against marijuana, 50% say it should be illegal, while 50% of classical liberals say it should be fully legalised. This is not the only social issue in which conservative respondents were more liberal than expected. While there was a plurality in favour of banning sexually explicit materials beyond what can be now depicted in R-rated films and magazines, more conservatives chose either no censorship or censorship only where children or violence are depicted.
On gay relationships, about a quarter of conservatives were against any legal recognition, but nearly half were in favour of civil unions. Though my immigration question was in hindsight not well worded, conservatives were noticeably less likely than classical liberals to say there should be no discrimination based on cultural or religious background.
Conservative views on climate change are more sceptical than classical liberals. Less than 20% think it is happening and is due to human causes. A clear majority think that nothing should be done about it.
On constitutional issues, classical liberals and conservatives were divided on a republic, but each group was most likely to support the democratic system as the protector of individual freedoms.
As expected, conservatives are more religious than classical liberals, though a third are agnostics or atheists.
Though the views of conservative respondents in this survey conform to the expected pattern, of the results reported so far these most need checking with a bigger sample. The large numbers of self-described conservatives giving quite liberal answers to some questions supports my claim, against the rather wild imaginations of some left-wing academics, that by international standards Australia barely has a conservative movement, and that our ‘conservatives’ are really pragmatic liberal conservatives. The numbers in this survey aren’t large enough to say anything more than that this hypothesis is still standing.