Sep 7, 2015

Poll Bludger: why the ageing population is about to decimate the Coalition

As baby boomers get older, they tend to keep their political beliefs. And that is bad news for conservatives.

William Bowe — Editor of The Poll Bludger

William Bowe

Editor of The Poll Bludger

Fresh from cementing his reputation as a rising figure in the ALP through his election to the party's national presidency, opposition environment spokesman Mark Butler has further enhanced his credentials as a policy heavyweight with the publication of a new book on the myriad challenges posed by Australia's greying population. Not the least of the concerns canvassed by Butler in Advanced Australia: The Politics of Ageing, published last week by the Melbourne University Press, is "The Electoral Politics of Ageing" -- tactfully relegated to the back end of the chapter ordering though it may be. In turning his mind to a subject close to any politician's heart, Butler considers the biggest imponderable about structural voting patterns in the years ahead, namely the passing of the generation born during and before World War II. At the heart of the matter are two alternative viewpoints on electoral behaviour, of which one posits that conservatism is a natural function of advancing years (the "life cycle" theory), while the other proposes that political attitudes are formed at a young age and largely maintained through life (the "cohort" theory). The first of these notions underscores what Butler dismissively describes as "gerontocracy theory", which anticipates a political system increasingly geared towards to the concerns of the elderly due to a decline in participation among the young. This seems particularly relevant to Europe, whose democracies are grappling with declining voter turnout, and to a lesser extent the United States, notwithstanding that age seems to play a lesser role there than race and gender. Despite compulsory voting, its effects can be discerned in Australia from the fact that more than 20% of those aged from 18 to 25 were not on the electoral roll as of 2013, compared with less than 8% of the total adult population. This bespeaks a growing sense of alienation that was highlighted by a Lowy Institute survey last year, which found only 42% of respondents under 30 were willing to allow that democracy was, in all circumstances, "preferable to any other kind of government". However, the alternative viewpoint suggests this picture is complicated by the generation gap between the baby boomers and their parents -- who, having been at the heart of so many political and cultural phenomena from the 1960s onwards, have one last hurrah in store. If the boomers carry their characteristically more liberal mindset into old age, the Australian electorate could be set to undergo a historic realignment to the left -- particularly if the newly emerging generation at the other end of the scale maintains its enthusiasm for the Greens. This development has been foreseen by Australian electoral observers for some time, among them erstwhile Crikey blogger Possum Comitatus (a.k.a. Scott Steel), who wrote of "the Coalition's demographic train wreck" when the Rudd government was dominating the opinion polls in 2009. Survey data supports the underlying contention that a durable distinction exists between the voting behaviour of boomers and the war generation, which has failed to narrow over time. Using results from the regular post-election surveys conducted by the Australian National University, the charts below show how party support has differed from the overall totals for the war generation (born up to 1945), the baby boomers (up to 1964), Generation X (up to 1980) and Generation Y (henceforth).

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10 thoughts on “Poll Bludger: why the ageing population is about to decimate the Coalition

  1. Jaybuoy

    Surely you mean the electoral gods may have done Bill Shorten a favour with the over sixty fives likely to retain the status quo and elect Hastie..The deceased incumbent was no fan of Abbotts and maybe the electors of Canning will take the opportunity to give Don Randall a real send off by voting Tony down.

  2. Dogs breakfast

    I suspect that both the life-cycle and the cohort theory carry some weight. I doubt very much that boomers aren’t gradually slipping into a more conservative mindset. They seemed to be quick to shed any anarchist and free love ideologies, although perhaps they never really existed in any real majority of that age group.

    The charts seem to suggest, to my reading, that the boomers were much closer to a 50/50 split historically, meaning that they won’t count for much either way in polling.

    Certainly the skew of the older folk were, in my mind, a reflection of a nostalgia for an uncomplicated world without too many foreigners, or concerns about what the rest of the world does. Very much coalition voters.

    Perhaps the ‘new’ will be a two party system, with Labor on the right and the greens as the party of the left, with the coalition a rump of a party, like its adherents, waiting for the final curtain.

    And in that, perhaps there is hope for Australia and the world.

  3. Norman Hanscombe

    Sitting in a medical centre today listening to elderly patients discussing the medications and the overseas holidays they’ve been on / are about to have / plan for the future, I’m not surprised they won’t be supporting The Coalition
    What their excesses are doing to Australia’s future, however, shouldn’t cause any thinking Australian much joy unless he/she also has a snout in the numerous available troughs.

  4. mikehilliard

    We are witnessing the inevitable demise of the LNP with it’s current leader the most adept of undertakers.

  5. AR

    Wot Jaybouy said – “..the electoral gods may have done Tony Abbott a good turn ” which, thereby, is good news for Shorterm.
    Pity about two once relevant Parties.
    And… that nation thingy.
    Vote Green or Independent, D/D Now!

  6. ken svay

    I am within a year of the pension as are many of my friends.I hope to jump through the hoops and draw the pension overseas, a win win for governments seeing as I am chronically ill and this will save Medicare shitloads.
    The pensioners have been targeted by this government in order to balance budgets and no doubt this will continue under any government. But I believe now that pensioners have great power, there are many of us and we all vote,unlike young people.And I believe that we have the power to get the benefits that we deserve, political parties look out.

  7. Norman Hanscombe

    ken svay, yours is the typically selfish attitude of those who forget pensions were begun to help citizens genuinely in need, but despite these benefits never having been funded fully by our Taxes, they have long been extended to affluent recipients such as yourself. Current Governments face the problems associated with once something has been granted, no matter how indefensible it is, while withdrawing it for the common good is necessary, the emotive screams from lucky recipients outweighs the voices of more rational elements in society.
    As you say, your ilk certainly show they’re willing to “use the (voting) power to get the benefits” you want; but your actual understanding of the word “deserve” is in inverse proportion to your very genuine greed.

    1. Venise Alstergren

      Oh George, George don’t you ever get sick of backing the wrong horse?

  8. Eric Vigo

    @ken svay

    “And I believe that we have the power to get the benefits that we deserve”

    OK, and if Abbott just gives you this, will you vote him in? (I believe your answer is “why, of course, yes! its a no brainer) even if Abbott – say – suspends democracy (but gives you increased benefits, whether it can be afforded); or makes everyone carry ID and get stopped on the road regardless of their skin colour (but, again, you get goodies from them) etc etc.
    Oh by the way, this is very typical of how dictatorships live and breathe. Nothing ‘special’ about Australia in this regard, if we head that way *for real*

    This isn’t aimed at you personally, but at all those voters who think of government as a distributor of funds to their personal budget.

    Then we have no society that is worth being in. Abbott gives each 75 year old $100,000 just for being you, but then there is no education, health, functioning law system (and always overreaching police and private security systems). And your family start hating you. But you’re rich! in a sea of chaos (formerly known as ‘society’)

  9. zoidlord

    Wonder whos going to help him..

    Sky News Australia
    Sky News Australia‏ @SkyNewsAust
    [email protected] says @TurnbullMalcolm has indicated he will still bring the ABCC bill to parliament #ausvotes (link: http://snpy.tv/29w2diO) snpy.tv/29w2diO

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