In my Quadrant Online piece on the left sensibility, I argued that the Australian left sensibility had accommodated contradictory ideas over time, including:
protection and free trade, nationalisation and privatisation, empire and republicanism, White Australia Policy and anti-discrimination law.
But I should also have noted that if my political identity survey is a guide, current-day social democrats show a high degree of policy consensus. In the latest issue of Policy, I have an article that collates the survey responses of the three varieties of economic liberal (classical liberal, libertarian, and social conservative and economic liberal) and compares their views with those of social democrats:
On the questions asked, there is more diversity of opinion among those who self-described with pro-market labels than among social democrats. On five issues discussed in this article—fiscal policy, minimum wage, unfair dismissal, national curriculum, and school funding—there is not a clear economic liberal majority for the ‘neoliberal’ position. By contrast, there were no social democratic responses inconsistent with their general ideological perspective.
Looking at the full list of social democratic responses, only on two policy issues do social democrats have substantial numbers on both sides of a debate. These are between an ETS and a carbon tax and whether anti-discrimination law should have exceptions or not. The climate change disagreement is over a policy method rather than a policy goal, and is invisible in public debate. Only anti-discrimination law – probably not a major issue to most people – is causing public disagreement.
My survey was primarily designed to assess centre-right opinion, so different questions may reveal more diversity of social democratic view. But it did ask questions across a wide range of policy areas, so in future research I would start with the hypothesis that there is a high degree of policy consensus among social democrats, and that in this case an ideological label can be used to infer positions on many issues.