A new trope has emerged in the Australian media: “Something something, out of touch, post-something, post-something, Trump, Brexit, Hanson.”
The most confronting example I’ve seen to date was back in November when the headline editors at The Guardian asked “First Brexit, now Trump: can Australia be spared a similar voter backlash?” Spared? And while Lenore Taylor provided one of the more readable takes in this new genre, she was unable to shake the self-doubt from such a stultifying headline.
The Trump-Brexit-Hanson narrative within Australian political journalism, occupying a grey area somewhere amongst opinion, analysis and news, has exploded over the past eight weeks. There are already 24,500 results for “Trump Brexit Hanson” in Google News. Combining these three words as the foundation stone for content has become a crutch spanning the political spectrum and outgrowing any one type of social network. Take your pick:
Warren Mundine (Daily Telegraph)
“Trump, Brexit and One Nation’s resurgence deliver two key lessons.
“First, politicians who speak directly to voters about what voters care about can prevail, regardless of the media and commentariat.
“Second, if centrists are unwilling or afraid to embrace commonsense views, voters will turn to extremists and populists, however offensive.”
David Lipson (ABC)
“The election of Donald Trump and Britain’s exit from the European Union are the hallmarks of a tectonic shift in Western politics, fuelled by rural and regional revolt. As a consequence, the long-forgotten people in the regions of Australia are now at the forefront of every politician’s mind.”
Jennifer Hewitt (AFR)
For all the surprise in Australia about the election of Donald Trump, for example, he says the complete disdain and disgruntlement among swinging voters towards establishment politicians here is not that different to the US or to the sentiment that drove Brexit in the UK.
James Massola (SMH)
“In the election of Donald Trump, the triumph of the Brexit campaign and, in Australia, the election of four Pauline Hanson One Nation senators, three Nick Xenophon senators and a phalanx of disparate crossbenchers, voters have sent a clear message: ‘the system is not working for us, and we are dissatisfied with our elected representatives’.”
My festive hot take is here in Australia, we shouldn’t lump Hanson in with Brexit and Trump.
Anyone who is concerned about Pauline Hanson should be aware of where her support comes from and what this may say about the political and social landscape of Australia. The people who voted for Hanson are not chumps or dullards, and deserve their say as much as everyone else. Combine this with the journalistic imperative to find a way to explain complicated stories confined by tight word limits and the rationale for why journalists lump together Trump, Brexit and Hanson becomes clear. Everyone knows Trump, most people know Brexit and Hanson is a divisive figure with a long history in Australian politics. We also need to know about how Hanson is shaping the debate and what this may mean for the future.
But before the end of 2016 — and as a primer for your Christmas day dinner conversation — I urge anyone thinking that Trump, Brexit and Hanson are even somewhat equivalent, to reconsider. When your uncle repeats some version of the accepted wisdom derived from the above quotes, you can counter with the following:
Grouping them together is dangerous, misplaced and bestows an additional sense of undeserved legitimacy on Hanson. It’s also wrong. Removing this crutch from Australian political analysis in 2017 would be a welcome addition to the media landscape. Early 2017 will mark a test as the legitimacy for Hanson will grow with the inevitable One Nation gains at the Western Australian state election coinciding around the same time with Article 50 for Brexit and Trump becoming President. Luckily for you, there is ample evidence demonstrating why Hanson is a disparate political movement compared to Trump and Brexit.
The first exhibit is straightforward: examine overall support. Over 95% of Australians did not vote for Hanson while about half of all American and British voters selected Trump and Brexit respectively (of course, noting Clinton’s victory in the popular vote). Much more should be made of this and even if the Hanson vote increases to one in 10 or one in five nationally, which would represent stark political failure by the major parties, there would remain a deep gulf in terms of comparative voting outcomes. Why does Hanson get the benefit of the doubt from less than 5% of the national vote and a few profile stories of One Nation voters? Compared to Trump and Brexit, she failed miserably.
Trump was able to attract ~40% of the GOP primary vote on a platform containing not much more than anti-migrant rhetoric. This transformed into a broader coalition at the general election. He captured one of two party institutions in the United States with little resistance. Brexit attracted a majority — more than one in every two votes — in a high-turnout UK election. In contrast, Hanson attracted 1.8% of the primary vote in the House of Representatives and 4.3% of the primary vote in the Senate. She peaked at 9.2% of the Senate vote in Queensland.
The comparative figures are stark yet always overlooked when explaining the link between the three political movements. Trump co-opted a mainstream political institution in the GOP and Brexit was a take-it-or-leave-it option. One Nation is neither of these. Instead it is a renegade party akin to UKIP in the United Kingdom but without the opportunity of an up-or-down referendum of generational importance. As will occur in the future, One Nation was forced to compete in a crowded field of candidates across the country and the overall level of support Hanson attracted can help explain an important yet relatively small story about the political landscape in Australia.
*Read the rest at Henry Sherrell’s blog On the Move