One of the emerging political challenges of the 2020’s in Australia is the contest for the votes of renters.
This contest has changed the political complexion of previously safe conservative seats and led to a major policy confrontation between the Greens and the Labor Party.
Some interesting research has emerged which suggests, contrary to the prevailing orthodoxy, that the Greens may be losing votes as a result of their cooperation with the Liberals, Nationals and One Nation to block increased government funding for affordable housing.
Long-time political analyst, and former Senator, John Black, has made an assessment of the lessons to be drawn from the Fadden by-election results. What distinguishes Black’s analysis is his focus on polling booth level statistics and associated demographic data.
It is difficult to do this at a by-election because it is impossible to get data about those who did not vote. The turn-out in Fadden was only 72% compared to 86% at the general election.
Nevertheless, Black draws some interesting insights from the data.
Some of his conclusions are obvious. For example, he asserts that the Prime Minister’s honeymoon is over. I think even Anthony Albanese would agree with that. He is now facing all the benefits and risks of incumbency. The polling is still very strong for the PM but he is no longer exempt from the voters’ assessments merely because he is not Scott Morrison.
What is most interesting to me, because I have seen nothing comparable in more general analyses of the current political situation, is Black’s assessment that the Greens are losing the votes of renters.
Black puts it colourfully, but if his statistics are correct the underlying analysis seems valid.
As reported in the Financial Review, Black asserts the Greens have been led into a “demographic cul de sac” by their housing spokesperson, Max Chandler-Mather.
His data shows that “The green strategy of voting with the coalition against Labor’s housing reforms almost halved their primary vote in Fadden…” and “ The supposed beneficiaries of the strategy renters swung to the coalition candidate…”
It is almost impossible to assess the national significance of these trends as by-elections are by their very nature different from general elections.
However, in the normal course of events by-elections tend to be good for independent and minor party candidates as vehicles for relatively safe protest.
Therefore, if Black’s analysis is correct, it may be even worse for the Greens than it seems.
John Black is an experienced analyst and his assessments should be taken seriously. If I were responsible for the Greens party strategy I would certainly be considering whether their research validates the Black analysis, and if not why not.
The national polling does not show any significant trend in support for the Greens. At the 2022 election they received 12.25% of the national vote . They did even better in Queensland with 12.94%. This makes support for the Greens dropping to 6.18% a cause for concern for them.
It is important to remember that voting at a ballot box tends to be more meaningful than merely responding to a question from a pollster.
What we can reasonably conclude from the polling and by-election data is that the Greens are not making any gains overall from their blocking strategy and may even be losing the votes they are targeting.
Time will tell but it makes for some interesting dynamics in the parliament and in the public debate about housing policy over the next few months.