ROBIN CAVALIER: Age distinctions increasingly influencing political outcomes

Jun 15, 2022

Thanks to the Australian Electoral Commission’s age profile for each electorate it is possible to analyse how younger and older voters across the nation appear to have taken different paths.

The success of the Greens in seats heavily skewed to younger voters has received much commentary and is easily understood. Green candidates won outright in three of the four seats with the highest proportion of younger voters and won on preferences in one other.

Exploring this further offers useful insights especially if we cut the deck both ways and look also at how older Australians voted.

The Australian Electoral Commission classifies the age structure of every electorate breaking each into 12 age groupings. Across 17.2million voters, there are 4.5 million younger voters (defined here as those groups between 18 to 34) and 4.2 million older voters (defined as those aged 65 and over).

Electorates can be ranked according to the ratios of younger to older electors. With 151 seats, ranking and then arranging them into four groupings, three with 38 seats and one with 37, makes for some interesting comparisons. Quartile 1 has a higher proportion of younger voters compared to older voters, where Quartile 4 has the highest proportion of older voters compared to younger voters. In the middle two quartiles, the proportions are roughly similar.

Each end of this ranking tells a different story. For the most part, Quartile 4 was decidedly conservative with 27 of the 38 seats favouring the coalition parties; 7 supported Labor and the Independents secured 4 seats. The Greens managed only 9.4% of the overall vote and their vote share actually declined in nine of these 38 electorates.

One can cite many reasons for this. To touch on a few. Older voters are more likely to have well entrenched political loyalties harking back to the days of orderly government when the ‘good chaps,’ male and female ran for political office. They are more prominent as newspaper readers, both digitally and in print, and thus open to the political messaging contained. They have less at stake in the future direction of climate change.

In Quartile 1, with its higher proportion of younger voters, Labor dominated, winning 30 of the 38 seats. The Coalition won only four seats, and the Independents (in all their variety), none. The Greens vote in this quartile, with a 3.0% swing, was 16.9% and won them four seats. Unlike in Quartile 4, there was no swing against the Greens in any of these seats.

The dichotomy in voting preferences between young and old voters may offer some useful insights. Labor has secured a little over half the seats. What appears to be an increasing political engagement by younger voters has the capacity to determine the future balance. Political dominance going forward will require stronger national leadership particularly on Climate Change. Here the conservative side of politics is not well placed. Equally the Labor primary vote at 32.8% is lower by 10 percentile points than that recorded when Labor lost office after the Whitlam era. This side of the equation also has a big task ahead.

A proper resolve on the challenges of climate change may be the key to all this. Global fossil fuel emissions have doubled in the last thirty years relative to pre-industrial levels. Labor will need to strengthen its standing with young and old by communicating and establishing bold directions on climate change through global as well as national leadership. The termination of Australia’s thermal coal exports would be a good place to start.

For Labor to make greater inroads into the conservative vote, they need to consider the voting patterns of all voters – this means upping their climate credentials and promoting greater understanding about climate facts and challenges.

Robin Cavalier: Now based in rural NSW, after a long career notably in financial markets both a macro and an enterprise level. Have concluded that analysis and all its refinements are only half done until fresh insights emerge and these often come sparingly. Life is forever an education at any age.

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