Pollytics blog today reports on an Essential Research survey on religion and party affiliation. It finds that the religious divide in Australian politics, with Catholics tending to favour Labor, and Protestants tending to favour the Coalition, remains alive. According to this survey, 50% of Catholics support Labor and only 29% support the Coalition.
Other surveys, however, find that among Catholics the Coalition has been catching up on Labor. The chart below tracks 40 years of data using the party id (”think of yourself as Labor, Liberal…etc”) question rather than which party the respondent supports at the current time. Pollytics says that Essential’s question was which party the respondent felt “closest to”, but perhaps this is building in too much of the Rudd bubble.
Realignment of Catholic support towards the Coalition is what I would expect given other social and political trends. Religion was a major fault line in Australian society when the two-party system was formed, and this was reflected in party support. I haven’t re-read it recently, but Judy Brett’s history of the Liberals has a very good account of this.
Brett argues that anti-Catholicism amongst Protestant Liberals limited their party’s appeal to Catholics. This faded with the decline of the religious divide in Australia, but party loyalties are often formed early and experiences of early adulthood can influence voting for many decades.
These days, many younger people don’t even know that there was a major Catholic-Protestant split in Australian society, or regard it as an irrelvant historical fact, so their religion is likely to affect their politics in other ways. As the Labor Party these days is probably more distant from the cultural-moral teachings of the Catholic Church than the Coalition, it would not be surprising if there was a Catholic drift away from Labor.
*In 1967, Labor had 44.3% support among Catholics, and the Democratic Labor Party 9.9%. Combining the two is problematic electorally, given DLP preference flows, but I think reflects the underlying Catholic allegiance to Labor parties.