The kids are alright

“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.

Author: William Bowe

William Bowe is a Perth-based election analyst and occasional teacher of political science. His blog, The Poll Bludger, has existed in one form or another since 2004, and is one of the most heavily trafficked websites on Australian politics.

44 comments on “The kids are alright”

  1. Interesting that most of the movement here occurred before Rudd/Gillard were installed. ie when gen B Kim was still leader. So much for generational change and all that…

  2. Fascinating – where do you find the time Mr Bowe?

    Sure, Labor holds the seats with highest concentrations of youngstas 2-1. But presumably what matters is: (a) in which marginals are there above sufficient cohorts of younger voters to make a difference (eg near any university); and (b) whether the rolls closing several days early will dilute their impact.

  3. It’s good to see that Kalgoorlie is on somebody’s list. With the lowest turnout last time of 83% it would have only taken about a third of the non-voters to change the seat.
    Of course it’s not that simple. We won’t know how many are on the roll for another week. The 6.3% swing required is a just a number, not a percentage of any real people. The cohort will be very different. How many of those enrolled in 2007 were on the Kalgoorlie roll in 2004? How many have died or moved since last time? How many first time voters, 18 year olds and those transferring from other electorates, will we have? What percentage of the 18-34 year olds will actually be enrolled and will turnout to vote? Where are the fly-in fly-out mining workers enrolled, if at all? Will they decide some marginals in other places?
    Psephologists sometimes like to think of election analysis as a science. If it is open to exact measurements, it’s only as a science of hindsight.
    See you all at ‘Labor View from Broome’ for some policy debate or where you can have several plogs for the price of one.

  4. Thanks for the analysis William,
    Has anyone given thought to the fact that if these younger voters are swinging hard (and a big part of that may be Workchoices, owing to their vulnerabilitiy in the work place) that a large number of parents may also have concerns about their kids’ prospects int he work place?

  5. As a younger voter myself, I find that the thing driving people to Rudd is not so much Workchoices (although I’m sure that’s a motivating factor in certain places and amongst certain groups), but rather there is a mood that people are sick of Howard. Most people (including myself) are too young to remember a PM other than Howard. I, myself can barely remember the Keating prime ministership.

    What this means is that the high younger vote for Labor could be quite “hard” – it’s not Howard’s policies for us, it’s him…

  6. Look, I’ll be the first to admit that my above comment is based of anecdotal evidence. I have my doubts about Morgan’s “soft” vote calculations, however (and I think there are a few other people out there who share my doubts). But I think it is pretty clear that Rudd will pick up most of the youth vote – and it’s just rewards considering how hard he’s been working the FM radio stations this year.

    A couple of things about the Taverner poll – 18-29 year olds in NSW and Victoria are probably more likely to vote Labor than those in other states, as people in those states are more likely to be university-educated or yuppies with social consciences (people who would have been wet Liberals, if they still existed).

    And another note, Peter Garrett was encouraging students to enrol to vote today at UNSW in the morning. It’s these sorts of things that encourage the youth to vote Labor – Labor seems to care about them, the Liberals don’t seem to give a f***.

  7. Watched Insight on SBS with a cohort of young voters in the seat of Moreton. The majority seemed to be sitting on the fence or choosing Howard/Lib because of things like, “I don’t mind paying for my education” or “I got a pay rise because of Workchoices” or “I’ll wait and see what’s in it for me in their policies” or “They’re just the same as each other.”

    There were two or three token pro-Labors and the Greens candidate. Listening to the responses quoted above, it sounded like either the Young Libs got themselves organised to stack the audience or the polls we’ve been following have been way out..

    Hope it was a case of stacking – or else the young are a very depressingly selfish lot – made in Howard’s image.

    That aside, there were a few insights re. the clumsy use of the new media by the politicians.

  8. Top call, Burgey #5. Absolutely right.

    I would also suggest that the 18 – 34 group are the least likely to be influenced by the similarly archaic ideas of the MSM.

  9. Swing Lowe, I have no problem with your analysis, seems interesting and sound. Also seems to square with William’s trend graph. I was just poking fun at fabled Morgan ‘soft’ vote in light of your post.

  10. Pritam, I heard about but didn’t see that Insight. It was explained to me that they seemed thick rather than Libs necessarily…I’ll leave that line of thought there.

    But was there any info on whether this was a random crowd, or stacked, or focussed in that annoying way that weeds out anyone with affiliations or ideas to leave a middle drongo band with no opinion on anything?

  11. I saw the Insight program and couldn’t help thinking it had the feel of being stacked… Several of the pro-Coalition young people sounded as though they were reading straight off the Coalition’s talking points. However, there were several who were just pretty much tuned out – unaware of the most basic info, such as Howard’s pledge to hand over to Costello.

  12. Very interesting work William. Still reading and looking for a chance to debate Ms Cornes or Iraq *laughs* but I’m too tense election wise to have much passion for argy bargy. But beautiful analysis..

  13. Why isn’t Ryan on the list? It’s a seat stuffed full of students, and all four candidates running against the very mediocre Michael Johnson are academics at UQ or UTS, three with PhDs. With the Volvo suburbs turning against Howard, plus the youth vote, Ryan is high on my list of “election night shockers.”

  14. All this of course assumes that the little f*ckers have got themselves on the rolls, which of course a lot of them haven’t – as they will start wailing tomorrow.

  15. Young voters should be ashamed. Rudd is all smoke and mirrors.

    Why, after 11 years in opposition, are they still lacking a tax policy?

  16. Speaking of those “youtube generation little f*ckers”, there seems to be a plethora of left leaning groups that are literally springing up overnight, leading the anti-conservative 18-29 charge.
    Forget Rupert Murdoch’s myspace people, that is like so 2006.
    Groups include:

    ‘I bet I can find 1,000 people who think Dennis Jensen (Tangney) is “completely wacky” ‘

    ‘I bet i can find 100 000 people that hate john howard!’

    ‘Friends don’t let friends vote Liberal’

    ‘Invading Iraq is worse than going to a strip club’

    and my personal favourite

    ‘I’ll be drinking to Howard’s end on election night!’

  17. Well it’s not WorkChoices thats worrying the kids. According to the Shanahanetc Newspoll report Howard’s support on IR is now back to pre-workchoices levels.

    Now the problem is when you collect and report data it has at least to be believable. If it is not believable then it is suspect and thus you got to question the data. There is no possible way in hell that this could be true. Especially when you have other data saying the opposite.

    Another GG spin article to help Howard along.

    Howard has been PM for 11 years, where is his credibility racndelori? Of course, he is in fact all smoke and mirrors [and wedges].

  18. rcandelori – “Why, after 11 years in opposition, are they still lacking a tax policy?”

    There is a difference between “not having a tax policy” and “not releasing a tax policy” yet….

    Merely because Howard has had to release his tax policy this early to try and generate some momentum to recover from their current disastrous political position, there is no reason that Labor should be pressured to release their tax policy this early as well.

  19. Of the nine most important issues the Coalition was only ahead in 2; and they were ranked 5th and 8th. From that remarkably poor factoid from the Coalition’s perspective, Dennis managed to spin…

    THE Coalition has stretched its commanding lead over Labor on the key vote-changing issues of the economy and national security.

    And although Labor continues to hold a comfortable lead over the Government on social issues such as education and health, the Coalition appears to have negated the union movement’s multi-million-dollar anti-Work Choices advertising campaign.

    Remarkable really.

  20. 24
    rcandelori Says:

    Young voters should be ashamed. Rudd is all smoke and mirrors.
    Why, after 11 years in opposition, are they still lacking a tax policy?

    Is the Liberal party organized enough to fax out the one liners to be added to blogs,or is this a random one liner from a party hack?

  21. Parramatta is notionally Liberal, eh? Well, I live in Werriwa which is safe Labor and we regularly go back and forth to Parramatta so I know it reasonably well. Seeing as how it has much of the same makeup as the rest of SW Sydney (mortgage stress, etc.), I would expect that it would yield up a big swing to Labor at this election.

  22. Why would mortgage stress make it more likely for Labor to win if people consider the Coalition to be better with interest rates… makes no sense.

  23. I think there’s a very strong It’s Time factor among the under-25s. They have known no PM other than John Howard, and think he’s too old and off the pace on the environment. They have no fear of voting Labor, as they’ve been brought up under conservative state Labor governments.

    On the other hand, my daughter, who’s in senior high school, says the 18-year-olds aren’t giving a thought to voting at all. They’re all about to start Year 12 exams. While I live in Melbourne, I have close links with parts of regional Vic and regional NSW, and the impression I get is that country kids are more conscious of the election than city kids. This is perhaps because country people are more connected to what’s happening and who’s who in their own towns. And even teenagers understand all about water shortages and the drought.

    I agree with Burge that the parents of these teenagers are more concerned about housing costs, HECS fees and WorkChoices on their children’s behalf, than many of the teenagers themselves. For many of them, issues like interest rates and tax cuts don’t mean anything yet.

    I think that if there’s a strong swing to Labor among the young at this election, it will confirm a whole generation of voters for whom Labor is the natural party of government.

  24. 24 rcandelori – Don’t be so obtuse. Of course Labor has a tax policy. They just haven’t released it yet. There’s no law that says that have to simply because the Liberals have done so. Some homework for you – how long before election day did Howard release their tax policy in 1996?

  25. Well of course you would believe that Black. The fact is that Rudd has been harping on for 10 months on this issue and we’re still no closer to a policy, just more smoke and mirrors.

  26. rcandelori
    Did you watch Insight last night?
    One of the key points was the suitability of the message and the medium.
    Overly simplistic one-liners might be your message, but you’re posting them in the wrong medium.
    Is delaying the release of the ALP tax policy a vote changer for you?
    Does the tax policy desperately need reform?
    Why was the last tax cut by the government, which was bigger than this weeks one, ignored by the general public?
    Why was the talk back reaction to the cut to vehemently against it yesterday?
    You might be right, but without any evidence, there’s nothing to discuss but ideology.
    Are you seriously trying to change people’s minds?

  27. onimond,

    Why should I go through the trouble of finding evidence when the vast majority of posters here are vehement Labor supporters, so deluded by their ideology that they are incapable of accepting rational, conservative judgment.

  28. Every time I see a young person in Stirling (and there are a lot of ’em) I make a point of asking if they are enrolled to vote. More of them are than I would have thought, given the media spin that young people are ‘not engaged’. And the majority intend voting ALP or Greens. The issues they rate as most important? 1. Climate Change; 2. Workchoices; 3. Education; 4. Immigration. (These last two no doubt influenced by the fact that there are many immigrant students in the electorate). Asked about leadership, they say they like Kevin Rudd’s approach, and never want to see Howard’s face or hear his voice on their TVs again.

    BTW, where was the GG’s coverage of Howard’s lamentable gaffes on average weekly wages and current official interest rates? If Rudd had stumbled as badly as Howard did yesterday, they would have splashed it front page lead.

  29. From what I can gauge in my seat of Moreton is that Hardgrave is pretty well on the nose and the demographic shift in the last couple of years will hand the seat to Labor.

    Many people who voted Liberal last election including myself just couldn’t stomach another term of Howard and his rapscallions.

  30. No. 40

    I urge you to watch Tuesday’s Insight programme. It’s on the SBS website.

    Most young people in the Moreton electorate are undecided.

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