YouTube generation is poised to deliver the killer blow to John Howard’s election chances, read the headline in Sunday’s Sun-Herald. The evidence: polling agency Taverner’s remarkable finding that Labor held a 73-27 lead among Sydney and Melbourne voters aged 18 to 29. Bearing in mind the maxim that young people are becoming increasingly difficult to poll, on which I make no judgement, I looked to other polls in search of corroborating evidence. Newspoll‘s quarterly demographic breakdowns provide figures for an 18-34 cohort which indeed show a pronounced surge for Labor among this group, though not quite on the biblical scale indicated by Taverner.
In two-party terms Labor’s share of the youth vote under Rudd has been tracking in the low 60s, as much as 6 per cent higher than the overall total. The chart below puts this into some sort of historical perspective, showing the gap between the 18-34 age group and the overall total since the 2001 election. Once the short-term fluctuations are smoothed out with a moving average, it is possible to determine a pronounced honeymoon for Mark Latham and a negative reaction to Kim Beazley and his senior moments during 2006. However, the main point of interest is the general long-term widening of the gap. It is tempting to describe this in terms of a new generation of voters who are strangers to economic crisis, viewing politics entirely in terms of Coalition negatives: Iraq, climate change and housing costs, to say nothing of a stodgy and rather too long-serving Prime Minister.
The next question is, in which parts of the country might these rosy-cheeked young idealists be found? The answer, of course, is overwhelmingly in seats already held by Labor. George Megalogenis of The Australian has compiled data from the census showing each electorate’s proportion of voters who have never known recession, being aged 35 or under. When lining them up in order, the first thing that leaps out is the names of the top three: Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. The remainder of the top 30 is similarly dominated by areas in and around capital city centres, including 14 safe and six marginal Labor seats against four marginal, two safe-ish and four safe Liberal seats. The Liberal marginals include Darwin-based Solomon (actually held by the Country Liberal Party, for the pedants among you), Moreton in inner Brisbane, western Sydney’s young families capital Lindsay and that most post-materialist of inner urban seats, Wentworth. The safe-ish seats are Townsville-based Herbert and remote Western Australian Kalgoorlie (which like Solomon is boosted up the rankings by a large indigenous component). High on the list at number 10 is the Brisbane seat of Ryan, which has a safe Liberal margin but is being widely mentioned as a roughie. Not too far outside the top 30 are notionally Liberal Parramatta and the sensitive Perth electorate of Stirling.