A noted feature of recent opinion polling has been a continuing softening of support for Mark Latham among those old enough to know better. Last week’s ACNielsen poll showed Labor’s vote slumping from 41 to 33 per cent among the over-55s in the space of one month, and while this is from a sample too small to take entirely seriously, it backs up a trend indicated in the Newspoll’s recent geographic and demographic analysis survey which showed support for the Coalition among voters aged 50 and over increasing in the second quarter by 2 per cent directly at Labor’s expense.
Latham’s brash and somewhat erratic political style is no doubt one reason for this, as is his explicit identification with Gough Whitlam, something Bob Hawke went out of his way to avoid as he strung together Labor’s rare succession of victories in the 1980s. A new generation of young voters galvanised by opposition to the Iraq war might well be up for a bit of spirit of 1972, but the upper age brackets contain those who remember what happened afterwards. They delivered massive victories to the Coalition in 1975 and 1977 and haven’t changed their minds since. Another factor worth noting is the Federal Government’s delightful Medicare advertisements which have warmed hearts the nation over to the tune of $11 million. It has been widely reported that Labor is exasperated by the campaign’s effectiveness and a swing to the Coalition among older voters is a logical symptom of this.
A saving grace for Labor in this respect is that the crucial seats the Coalition holds by margins of less than 6 per cent tend to have a younger demographic profile. Compared with a national average of 13.9 per cent of the population aged 65 and over, the list contains a large number of outer urban seats where young families dominate such as Canning (WA, held for the Liberals by 0.4 per cent) on 9.2 per cent, Dickson (Queensland, 6 per cent) on 6.4 per cent, La Trobe (Victoria, 3.7 per cent) on 8.9 per cent, Lindsay (New South Wales, 5.5 per cent) on 7.3 per cent and Makin (South Australia, 3.8 per cent) on 9.9 per cent. Also weighing down the average are Solomon (Northern Territory, 0.1 per cent) on 5.2 per cent and Kalgoorlie (Western Australia, 4.4 per cent) on 7.7 per cent, where people are lucky to make it to adulthood, never mind old age. For the most part though, these seats are in mortgage belt territory and have been carefully targeted by the Government’s pre-election largesse.
One problem area for Labor is on the New South Wales north coast where residents of retirement villages make up an ever growing proportion of the voting pool. Among these are Paterson (a 1.5 per cent margin, with 16.9 per cent of the population over 65), Page (2.8 per cent and 16.3 per cent) and Cowper (4.8 per cent and 17.8 per cent). The Coalition will also be heartened by the knowledge that the nation’s oldest electorate is the important Adelaide marginal of Hindmarsh (1.1 per cent and 20.2 per cent).