Coali­tion’s prob­lem with young and old

Turn­bull tar­gets baby boomers and mil­len­ni­als

The Weekend Australian - - FRONT PAGE - DENNIS SHANA­HAN

The 90,000 peo­ple who joined the elec­toral roll to vote in the same-sex mar­riage postal sur­vey have de­liv­ered a golden op­por­tu­nity for politi­cians to reen­gage young peo­ple in the po­lit­i­cal process — but they rep­re­sent a huge chal­lenge for Mal­colm Turn­bull.

The 90,000 peo­ple who joined the elec­toral roll to vote in the same­sex mar­riage postal sur­vey have de­liv­ered a golden op­por­tu­nity for politi­cians to re-en­gage young peo­ple in the po­lit­i­cal process and fix “our bro­ken democ­racy” — but they rep­re­sent a huge chal­lenge for Mal­colm Turn­bull.

The Prime Min­is­ter faces a con­flict­ing task of se­cur­ing older Coali­tion vot­ers, those 55 and over, and younger vot­ers un­der 35, par­tic­u­larly women, who de­serted the gov­ern­ment at last year’s elec­tion. New Lib­eral re­search shows the next elec­tion will be de­cided by the bal­ance of older vot­ers, “boomers”, against younger vot­ers, “mil­lenials”, in mar­ginal seats and seats the Coali­tion lost last year.

Aware of the col­lapse of the younger vote at the 2016 elec­tion, Mr Turn­bull has changed his re­cent me­dia strat­egy by ap­pear­ing more in chatty FM ra­dio in­ter­views talk­ing about Game of Thrones and his sup­port for same­sex mar­riage.

Pre­lim­i­nary re­search for the Men­zies Re­search Cen­tre, a Lib­eral think tank, has found there was a col­lapse of fe­male votes for the Coali­tion last year, Mr Turn­bull at­tracted fewer mil­len­nial votes last year than Tony Ab­bott did in 2010 and 2013, and 12 of the 17 seats lost by the Lib­er­als were in “boomer con­stituen­cies”.

The re­search paper, ob­tained by The Week­end Aus­tralian, notes: “Lib­er­als are rightly con­cerned about our fall­ing sup­port base among mil­len­ni­als, but are in dan­ger of for­get­ting that our sup­port at the last elec­tion also fell sig­nif­i­cantly in the age co­horts strad­dling re­tire­ment, par­tic­u­larly women. Stark gen­er­a­tion dif­fer­ences in val­ues and ex­pec­ta­tions will make it in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult to strad­dle the po­lit­i­cal di­vide be­tween mil­len­ni­als and boomers for the fore­see­able fu­ture.”

The paper makes clear the cur­rent ge­o­graphic and pol­icy sep­a­ra­tion of the two age co­horts favours the Coali­tion be­cause of the ris­ing num­ber of boomers, who now out­num­ber younger vot­ers for the first time and will in­crease their lead as the pop­u­la­tion ages.

“The Coali­tion holds twothirds of the 93 elec­torates in which baby boomer vot­ers out­num­ber or equal mil­len­nial vot­ers. Of the 57 elec­torates in which mil­len­ni­als out­num­ber baby boomers, three out of four are held by La­bor,” the paper says. “While the Coali­tion re­tains a dom­i­nant mar­ket share in boomer elec­torates, it is un­der con­sid­er­able threat.”

The seats with more boomers than mil­lenials that the Lib­er­als lost last year were: Mayo and Hind­marsh in South Aus­tralia; Brad­don, Bass and Lyons in Tas­ma­nia; Eden-Monaro, Do­bell, Paterson, Mac­quarie and Bar­ton in NSW; and Long­man in Queens­land. The Lib­er­als also lost Mur­ray to the Na­tion­als. The only seat won from La­bor, Chisholm in Vic­to­ria, was a “boomer” elec­torate.

The Lib­eral mar­ginal seats now un­der threat where mil­lenials out­num­ber boomers in­clude Dick­son in Queens­land, the seat of Im­mi­gra­tion Min­is­ter Peter Dut­ton, now the lead­ing con­ser­va­tive in the cabi­net, which is held by only a 1.6 per cent mar­gin. Adding to that threat is the ar­rival on the elec­toral roll of 90,000 new vot­ers for the same-sex sur­vey, who are be­lieved to be over­whelm­ing young and most likely to vote ALP or Greens.

While the new vot­ers are a threat to the Coali­tion, Lib­eral se­na­tor Linda Reynolds, chair­woman of the joint stand­ing com­mit­tee of elec­toral mat­ters, sees the newly en­rolled vot­ers as a “light at the end of the tun­nel”.

“For our democ­racy to con­tinue to func­tion ef­fec­tively, we have to find a way to re-en­gage Aus­tralians in the big dis­cus­sions and de­bates in our com­mu­nity, and to en­sure their voices are heard and trans­form the na­ture of democ­racy to meet pub­lic ex­pec­ta­tions,” Se­na­tor Reynolds said.

“I do be­lieve there is light at the end of the tun­nel, and I see it in the postal sur­vey on mar­riage equal­ity. The pub­lic de­bate sur­round­ing the vote shows that while younger Aus­tralians may be dis­en­gaged from tra­di­tional po­lit­i­cal pro­cesses and have scant re­gard for democ­racy, they are still en­gaged with and care about po­lit­i­cal is­sues.”

The Men­zies Re­search Cen­tre be­lieves the po­lit­i­cal chal­lenge for the Coali­tion is to re­view its poli­cies “to mea­sure the im­pact on boomer vot­ers”. “The key point is this: the most im­por­tant bat­tles of the next elec­tions will be fought in boomer elec­torates, not mil­len­nial elec­torates,” the paper says. “The vot­ers the Lib­eral Party needs to con­vince are more likely to be Rolling Stones fans than hip­sters.”

The re­search found sub­urbs in in­ner cities with large im­mi­grant pop­u­la­tions had large pop­u­la­tions of mil­len­ni­als, while outer sub­ur­ban, ru­ral and re­gion ar­eas were “boomer ter­ri­tory”.

“In Chip­pen­dale and Red­fern (Syd­ney), mil­len­ni­als out­num­ber boomers by five to one; in Lith­gow (Blue Moun­tains out­side Syd­ney), there are twice as many boomers as mil­len­ni­als,” the cen­tre found.

In the past 30 years, the high point for young vot­ers sup­port­ing the Coali­tion was the elec­tion of John Howard in 1996, with 59 per cent of males and 47 per cent of fe­males un­der 24 vot­ing for the Coali­tion. At the same elec­tion 57 per cent of males and 65 per cent of fe­males over 65 voted for the Coali­tion. Last year, the Turn­bul­lled Coali­tion got 35 per cent and 26 per cent of males and fe­males re­spec­tively un­der 24. This was steady for males com­pared with the Ab­bott Coali­tion vic­tory in 2013 but down 10 per cent for fe­males. For women be­tween 25 and 34, the Coali­tion vote fell 16 per cent and for women aged be­tween 45 and 54 it fell 15 per cent.

Last week­end at the Syd­ney Swans Aus­tralian foot­ball match at the Syd­ney Cricket Ground, Mal­colm Turn­bull caused a mi­nor so­cial me­dia storm by be­ing pho­tographed hold­ing his grand­daugh­ter Alice in one hand and a beer in the other, while kiss­ing her on the head.

Some “crazy trolls” crit­i­cised him, but Pauline Han­son and Greens se­na­tor Sarah Han­sonYoung de­fended him, and the lat­ter noted: “If any­thing, this has made the Prime Min­is­ter look a bit more per­son­able to the pub­lic.”

Dur­ing the week, as Turn­bull ap­peared more fre­quently in in­ter­views on FM ra­dio with var­i­ous tag teams with nick­names, the “crazy trolls” were lam­basted as the Lib­eral leader ex­pounded again on Game of Thrones and demon­strated he had a more ac­cu­rate grasp of the char­ac­ters and ti­tles than Bill Shorten.

Ap­pear­ances on morn­ing tele­vi­sion pro­grams re­volved around sim­i­lar dis­cus­sions and ob­ser­va­tions, with ex­ten­sive talk about his (and his wife Lucy Turn­bull’s) sup­port for same-sex mar­riage.

In par­lia­ment, how­ever, Turn­bull wanted to talk about lit­tle other than en­ergy pol­icy and keep­ing down fam­ily power bills un­til the fi­nal ques­tion time of the week, which was ex­tended so that min­is­ters could talk about vac­ci­na­tions — no jab, no pay — and cash­less wel­fare cards, de­port­ing bikie crim­i­nals and drug busts.

It was a Jekyll-and-Hyde per­for­mance de­pend­ing on whether he was talk­ing to young mums at home on TV and mil­len­ni­als on ra­dio, bru­tal­is­ing “Black­out Bill” Shorten on en­ergy, or lis­ten­ing to wor­ried Coali­tion MPs re­flect­ing fam­ily con­cerns.

But it was not hap­haz­ard, none of it. The Prime Min­is­ter’s ad­vis­ers are alarmed at the loss of the fe­male vote at the elec­tion last year com­pared with 2013; they are alarmed at the huge loss of sup­port from the mil­len­ni­als, vot­ers un­der 35; and aware of grow­ing con­cern on the back­bench about the bread-and-but­ter con­cerns of fam­i­lies, pen­sion­ers and re­tirees.

As a re­sult of the mil­len­nial de­ser­tion at the elec­tion last year, there has been a con­scious ef­fort by Turn­bull — who should nat­u­rally ap­peal to young, tech-savvy and lib­eral vot­ers — to cul­ti­vate so­cial me­dia and the nooks and cran­nies of nar­row broad­cast­ing.

The ev­i­dence of the fe­male and young de­ser­tion is clear: be­tween the Tony Ab­bott-led Coali­tion at the 2013 elec­tion and the Turn­bull-led Coali­tion last year, the vote among women aged 18 to 24 fell 10 per­cent­age points to 26 per cent; for women aged 25 to 34, it fell 16 points to just 24 per cent.

The fe­male rout also was no­tice­able among older women: in the 55-64 age group it fell 15 points to 34; and in the 65-plus group it fell four points to 52 per cent.

Alarm about the loss of the fe­male vote — worse than Ab­bott’s per­for­mance in 2010 and 2013, when he was said to “have a prob­lem with women” — and the youth vote has been ac­cen­tu­ated by the knowl­edge that more than 90,000 peo­ple have reg­is­tered to vote for the first time be­cause of the same-sex mar­riage postal sur­vey. They largely have been re­cruited by the ALP, the Greens and GetUp! and are ex­pected to vote over­whelm­ingly for the Yes case, and later for La­bor or the Greens.

Lib­eral se­na­tor Linda Reynolds, who co-chairs the joint stand­ing com­mit­tee on elec­toral mat­ters, con­cedes most of these new en­trants are prob­a­bly young and less likely to be Coali­tion sup­port­ers. But as the head of a bi­par­ti­san com­mit­tee, she is pleased by the idea of a sin­gle-is­sue plebiscite ex­cit­ing enough in­ter­est to re-en­gage younger peo­ple with the po­lit­i­cal sys­tem and democ­racy.

“It is also clear that over the course of the last decade pub­lic con­fi­dence in our democ­racy and the politi­cians they elect to rep­re­sent them is de­clin­ing,” Reynolds tells In­quirer.

“I do be­lieve there is light at the end of the tun­nel, and I see it in the postal sur­vey on mar­riage equali- ty. The pub­lic de­bate sur­round­ing the vote shows that while younger Aus­tralians may be dis­en­gaged from tra­di­tional po­lit­i­cal pro­cesses and have scant re­gard for democ­racy, they are still en­gaged with and care about po­lit­i­cal is­sues.”

But, de­pend­ing on where they live, about 100,000 vot­ers can change the out­come of an elec­tion. So Turn­bull’s re­sponse has been to ap­peal to mil­len­nial vot­ers and women through soft ra­dio and TV ap­pear­ances as well as a more sub­tle so­cial me­dia cam­paign.

Yet there is ris­ing con­cern within the Lib­eral Party and among MPs that too much time and ef­fort is be­ing di­rected at the young vot­ers, who ad­mit­tedly de­serted the Coali­tion in droves last year, at the ex­pense of the Coali­tion’s long­est serv­ing, truest sup­port­ers, who have de­liv­ered elec­tion vic­to­ries time and again — those aged 55 and older.

In 1996 the co­hort aged 65 and older de­liv­ered the strong­est sup­port for John Howard — and con­tin­ued to do so in every elec­tion un­der Howard, in­clud­ing the one he lost in 2007. It was the strong­est co­hort for Ab­bott against Ju­lia Gil­lard in 2010, in Ab­bott’s vic­tory in 2013, and again last year.

A pre­lim­i­nary re­search paper for the Lib­eral-backed Men­zies Re­search Cen­tre has bro­ken down the ar­eas of sup­port for the Coali­tion, the age groups, the pol­icy driv­ers and, most sig­nif­i­cantly, which elec­torates they live in.

Some of the key find­ings of the study are: the num­ber of vot­ers aged 60 or older has grown by 1.1 mil­lion since 2007 and at the 2013 elec­tion the per­cent­age of baby boomer vot­ers over­took those aged un­der 34 for the first time; the Coali­tion holds twothirds of the 93 elec­torates in which baby boomers out­num­ber or equal mil­len­ni­als; of the 57 seats in which mil­len­ni­als out­num­ber baby boomers, three-quar­ters are held by La­bor; and of the 17 seats lost by the Lib­er­als at last year’s elec­tion, 12 were baby boomer con­stituen­cies.

What’s more, the Lib­er­als lost a baby boomer con­stituency — Mur­ray — to the Na­tion­als and the only Lib­eral win from the ALP was Chisholm, where boomers out­num­ber mil­len­ni­als. Most of the 20 Coali­tion-held seats vul­ner­a­ble to a swing of 4 per cent are boomer con­stituen­cies and so are the 14 La­bor-held seats that could be won by the Coali­tion with a sim­i­lar swing against the ALP.

Peter Dut­ton’s seat of Dick­son, held on a knife-edge and un­der threat from third-party cam­paigns, is finely bal­anced but in favour of mil­len­ni­als 27.2 per cent to 25.4 per cent.

For Dut­ton, the lead­ing con­ser­va­tive in the cabi­net and a po­ten­tial party leader, the big mid­dle — 47 per cent — in­cludes women aged be­tween 45 and 54 who are up­set about su­per­an­nu­a­tion and pen­sion changes at the elec­tion last year.

“The most im­por­tant bat­tles will be fought in the boomer elec­torates, not the mil­len­nial elec­torates,” the Men­zies Re­search Cen­tre says.

The real po­lit­i­cal chal­lenge for the Coali­tion is to re­cap­ture the lost boomer vot­ers — those over 55 who de­serted the Coali­tion at the elec­tion last year.

De­spite heroic claims last year that only tiny per­cent­age of peo­ple would be af­fected by su­per­an­nu­a­tion changes, the anal­y­sis of the votes shows that the su­per changes, which were ret­ro­spec­tive, af­fected many vot­ers be­sides those aged over 65 with large su­per­an­nu­a­tion sav­ings; men aged be­tween 45 and 64 were fright­ened by the changes, and women who feared their se­cu­rity would be threat­ened by pen­sion and su­per­an­nu­a­tion changes were par­tic­u­larly in­clined to aban­don Turn­bull.

The Men­zies paper recog­nises there is a grow­ing schism be­tween the top and bot­tom age co­horts, where the older vot­ers are con­cerned about con­serv­ing their wealth and as­sets for re­tire­ment, while young vot­ers want the op­por­tu­nity to cre­ate their own wealth.

Moral is­sues also pro­vide grounds for stark dif­fer­ences be­tween the gen­er­a­tions.

Same-sex mar­riage is prov­ing a light­ning rod of dif­fer­ence just as Bri­tain’s blunt choice to leave the EU re­vealed stark ge­o­graphic and gen­er­a­tional dif­fer­ences.

Here Turn­bull is likely to lift his per­sonal stand­ing on the sin­gle is­sue of same-sex mar­riage, some­thing that may help to im­prove his stand­ing as pre­ferred prime min­is­ter against Shorten.

How­ever, it will not build a bridge to the con­ser­va­tive Lib­eral sup­port­ers who have re­mained loyal to the Coali­tion as a co­hort but have also demon­strated a will­ing­ness to leave the Coali­tion tent for One Na­tion, Cory Bernardi’s Aus­tralian Con­ser­va­tives and even the La­bor Party if they feel their cul­tural and so­cial val­ues are be­ing dis­re­garded and their fi­nan­cial in­ter­ests dam­aged.

There are signs Turn­bull recog­nises that not danc­ing with the one that brought you could lead to ut­ter hu­mil­i­a­tion at the next elec­tion.

The Coali­tion has started to con­cen­trate on en­ergy prices for house­holds as well as tax cuts for small busi­ness, while is­sues that res­onate in key elec­torates, such as drug abuse, wel­fare waste, crime and se­cu­rity, are start­ing to be recog­nised in ques­tion time. Turn­bull didn’t do an FM in­ter­view yes­ter­day and went to a rugby league func­tion last night.

There is con­cern within the Lib­eral Party that too much ef­fort is be­ing di­rected at young vot­ers at the ex­pense of the Coali­tion’s long­est serv­ing, truest sup­port­ers

Source: Men­zies Re­search Cen­tre

LYN­DON MECHIELSEN

Moana Kidd, left, with Monique and grand­son Bronx, 10, at Warner in Bris­bane’s north

KELLY BARNES

Hind­marsh voter El­iz­a­beth Cwik­lin­ska, 66, and urges the Coali­tion to un­der­stand that a re­tired aged-care older fe­male vot­ers nurse, mi­grated from Poland in 1989; she de­scribes her­self as a ‘frustrated’ swing­ing need to feel there is sup­port for them to pre­serve wealth for a dig­ni­fied re­tire­ment voter

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