Recently commenter Robert asked about my views on Scott Steel’s demographic political analysis. Using 2007 polling data, Steel finds what several others – including me, Andrew Leigh, and Ian Watson – have found before: that the Coalition relies heavily on older voters.
While I agree with the broad thrust of Steel’s analysis, I have a slightly different way of looking at it. The 2007 polling results he reports are for me the combination of three different dynamics – long-term trends in party identification, medium-term trends in the issue cycle which affect what those with weak or no party affiliation want out of the political system (which I have discussed before), and shorter-term factors that may affect particular polls and elections but don’t necessarily in themselves affect long-term perceptions of parties (for examples, pick any newspaper from any day at random).
On party ID, as can be seen below the trends are very much against the Coalition, making elections increasingly difficult to win because base support is too low. On the other hand, the arguments that the Greens would emerge as the new third party don’t seem likely either. Even in the most indoctrinated and fashion-prone age group, the 18-30s, the Coalition has nearly three times the base support of the Greens. Labor’s security as the natural party of government comes not from an increase in its base, which apart from the Labor-leaning forty-somethings is consistent across age groups, but from its two major rivals hating each other more than they hate Labor.
reform their political ideology to be more reflective of the views and values of people currently under 60
There is an interesting question here about how far apart these ‘ideologies’ really are (‘worldviews’ might be a better term), but for this post I will assume a significant gap. But regardless of what the Liberals actually think, say or do, it is going to be very difficult to change the stereotypes voters use as a substitute for analysing actual policies.
For example, no matter how much money the Liberals spend on social welfare issues – and the Howard government spent staggering amounts of money, increasing spending on health, education, and social security at a faster per capita rate than under Keating – they could not win these issues in the Newspoll series asking which part is best to handle them. If you can’t change perceptions with all the government’s media power and zillions of dollars of taxpayers’ cash, I very doubt that they can be changed with the meagre resources of opposition.
It suggests that other than the occasional electoral win after dismally failed Labor governments cause big swings from unaffiliated voters and weak Labor supporters, the Liberals can in the long term only win regularly if there are some big social, economic or other changes that restructure politics in ways which favour them. The Depression and World War II possibly helped set up the period of post-WW2 Liberal strength, while the Vietnam War, the rise of middle class professionals and a massive welfare class both dependent on tax dollars, and control of education systems (among other things) favoured the left of politics over the last few decades.