At the end of another post on demographic shifts in voting patterns against the Coalition, Pollytics blogger Scott Steel says:
Think of the vast generation gap that exists between the youngest and oldest cohorts of the electoral roll on climate change, same sex marriage, censorship laws, asylum seekers, immigration policy and general technology issues – how will the Libs pivot towards Gen Y when on any of these issues the views of the party’s older membership base is incompatible with the majority view of Gen Y..
But is there a vast generaton gap on all these issues? I was particularly curious about immigration, as opinion on this issue appears to be cyclical, though this does not rule out generational effects as well.
On looking at the 2007 Australian Election Survey’s question on migration by Scott’s categories (Pre-WW2 born up to 1945, boomers born 1946 to 1964, Gen X born 1965 to 1980, and Gen Y born 1981 onwards) it does have the pattern he expects, but it does not show fundamental differences. Gen Y had a significantly larger majority in favour of saying that the current intake was about right or not large enough than the pre-WW2 generation, but they are both on the same side of the then seemingly cyclical pro-migration view.
Similarly, on other issues the pattern of opinion is in the general direction Scott expects, but the gaps are not putting majorities in the generations on different sides of the issue.
On climate change, in this Newspoll on a carbon reduction scheme last year younger voters were about 20 percentage points more likely than the 50+ to be in favour, but there was still a 61% majority in the older group backing the scheme.
I’m not sure what polls measure political opinion on technology – surely the oldies are simply baffled by it rather than politically opposed?
Only sex really divides the generations. On gay marriage older groups have minority support while younger generations have majorities in favour. And a majority of the older generations believe that displays of nudity and sex in films and magazines have gone too far, while the younger generations believe levels are about right or want even more (not quite a censorship question, though presumably on these answers younger generations would not favour it).
The demographic shifts in voting patterns are real, but I think we are short on compelling and big explanations. After all, on these issues the differences between the parties aren’t large or consistent. At this stage, the Rudd government is moderately softer on asylum seekers, moderately tougher on other migrants, moderately more in favour of censorship (Conroy’s dreaded internet filter), and proposes a moderately tougher ETS. But neither have done anything we couldn’t imagine the other party doing.
I think one of the problems for the Liberal Party is that I suspect its decline in younger groups isn’t fundamentally policy driven, but by much vaguer (and not necessarily accurate) perceptions of who the Liberals are and what they stand for. Unfortunately for the Liberal Party, once established party stereotypes are highly resistant to empirical disproof.