On for young and old

A new study probes deeply into younger voters’ overwhelming preference for parties of the left, and whether it portends a progressive tide over the coming decades.

Courtesy of Shaun Ratcliff, University of Sydney and YouGov alumnus now at Accent Research, a study on political attitudes and voting behaviour across the generations offers a detailed look at the exacerbating tendency of younger voters to favour the left and its future implications. This scaled new heights at the 2022 election, for which survey research cited in the report shows gaps between Gen-Z (born 1996 and after) and baby boomers (born 1946 to 1965) of 23 points in support for the Coalition, four points in support for Labor and 26 points in support for the Greens.

What this means for the future depends in large part on whether the gap bespeaks life-cycle effects, in which conservatism is encouraged by personal and economic circumstances that tend to apply later in life (notably home ownership and family formation), or cohort effects, in which variations in political attitudes reflect divergent historical experiences. Contrary to common belief (Ratcliff notes it being expressed by former Liberal Senator George Brandis), it is plainly not the case that life-cycle effects consistently manifest as stronger support for the left among the young, as the current tendency to that effect has only been evident since the 1990s. However, proponents can argue that the gap at least partly reflects the fact that emerging generations are reaching life-cycle milestones later in the game.

For conservatives, the life-cycle thesis holds out hope that younger voters will adopt the attitudes currently associated with baby boomers in due course. The implications of cohort effects are more troubling, at least for conservatism as presently understood, as they are less likely to change over time. The manifestations of cohort effects tested by Ratcliff’s study are possession of a university degree (22.1% among boomers, 40.2% among the millennial cohort born 1981 to 1995), non-identification with a formal religion (54.7% among Gen-Z, 31.3% among boomers), LGBTQ+ identification (17% among Gen-Z, 4% among boomers) and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander identification (5.4% among Gen-Z and 1.8% among boomers, which is presumably not entirely down to health outcomes).

Ratcliff’s analysis reaches something of a split decision: life-cycle and cohort effects each explain five to six points of difference in Coalition support between boomers and Gen-Z, and eight points each for the Greens. However, life-cycle effects do little to explain the smaller but still substantial gaps between boomers and millennials, whereas cohort effects explain three points in the difference for the Coalition and six points for the Greens.

In any case, progressives should be warned against triumphalism, at least with respect to the immediate future. As the greying of the population continues to play out, the 70-plus cohort is increasing as a share of the overall voting population – a point illustrated in a Grattan Institute report noting its 13% increase between the 2016 and 2019 elections.

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.

25 comments on “On for young and old”

  1. Not the best game plan for the LNP; don’t worry, you’ll vote for us when you are older and (presumably) more selfish.

    Meanwhile the planet is n fire and SMRs still don’t exist.

  2. https://theconversation.com/non-university-educated-white-people-are-deserting-left-leaning-parties-how-can-they-get-them-back-160617

    Succinctly put: “A summary would be as follows:
    wealthy, well-educated people used to vote conservative
    poor, poorly-educated people used to vote socialist

    well-educated poor people vote socialist
    poorly-educated wealthy people vote conservative

    leaving behind the un-represented, or electorally anxious:
    well-educated, wealthy people who are embarrassed to vote conservative, since their policies are stupid
    poorly-educated, poor people who are afraid of voting for the socialists, because of the gays and the trees and the blacks”.

  3. Once again Gen x is left out of the equation me thinks they have had it with lefties.Feds and state labor govs will be in all sorts with gen x swinging more conservative as they age.

  4. Whether Pasokification is in play in Australia remains to be seen.

    With the GFC, the hollowing out of the West’s middle classes through globalization (and their transfer mainly to China) and the vast unemployment amongst older men who never got another job, I always thought there would be a major political disruption. Perhaps accelerated and amplified by social media, and fueled by massive and sustained disinformation campaigns from the autocracies, I feared for the future of our style of democracy.

    Both extreme left and extreme right are making hay from the disruption.

    The extreme left in Australia did show signs of triumphalism after the last election. They would force Labor into adopting their agenda. That this feeds the extreme right (as shown by growth in the right wing polling) is not a matter of concern to them. It never has been. The extremes of the horseshoe need each other.

    While there have been some strong signs of the adaptability of representative democracy there have also been massive signs that it is being white-anted, damaged and tarnished by incumbents such as Erdogan, Trump, Modi, Orban and Bolsinaro. Milei, Wilders, Le Pen, Trump and Dutton are present or nearly-present and are clear threats.

    How all of the above feeds into the tensions between various cohorts and stations in life* (as per the above discussion) is very, very interesting. In terms of station, it seems to me that a large majority of Australians either own their own homes or have realistic hopes of inheriting homes from their parents. This is the fulcrum of Australian politics and, IMO, explains a strong general basic economic conservatism. Renters will increasingly diverge but they lack the political numbers.

    I would have liked to see a breakdown by some of the larger groups of ethnic/religious australians – in particular the million plus groups of India, China and muslims. I suggest that these are not monoliths and are likely to be much fractured with the fractures possibly more likely to reflect countries of origin than what might be called standard cohort/station tensions.

    The last election was, IMO, an anomaly. It was about climate, women and integrity. The next election will be back to BAU: the hip pocket nerve.

    I anticipate that the ends of the Australian electoral horseshoe will attract more voters and that the centre will continue to be hollowed out.

    Logically, this will lead to an increasing probability of multi-party governments. Again this is extremely attractive to extremist minorities, for obvious reasons.

    Here the Right have much to look forward to in terms of global trends. Most of the formations of newer multi-party governments are to the right and the far right.

    We live in interesting times.

    *Jane Austen eat your heart out.

  5. As a Gen X (or late Baby boomer depending upon which metric you wish to apply) environmental issues were back of the mind in the late 70’s when I was a teenager and not high on the list of issues when I first voted in ’83.
    The current generations are living in a different reality, they know they’ve been screwed by the older generations through housing and education and they can see the impact of global warming.
    I’m not and never have been conservative. I see conservative as simply another word for Selfish and have largely voted Labor however my children vote Green.
    I generally see this trend as a good thing and I hope by the end of the decade that Dutton and the current conservative parties are relegated to history.

  6. The reality of Global Warming is an ever present existential fear for those of us who are parents and grandparents. While the stunts and nonsense espoused by the Greens and the LNP leave me astonished that they are taken seriously the attraction of the simplistic policy positions is understandably attractive to the naive.
    It is the centre where solutions are. It needs to be a softly softly approach to bring the majority along. The LNP show us that policies are not required when a good scare campaign works. The Greens know this too and use it to “good” effect. Extremist left policies drive the fearful to the right and extremist right policies drive the naive to the left.
    The centre is left to carry the burden of policy making and implementation.

  7. Good posts Kage and BW. Thanks. I hope you are wrong BW about multi parties being right wing on the whole.

    I am greatly disillusioned after the Voice Ref. I am actually starting to get the shits with Australia. I’ve started reading David Marr’s excellent recent book on Aboriginal genocide. The squatters / thieves of the 1820s seem to me to be the forebears to the current right side of politics. It’s amazing how attitudes in 1830 still predominate today.

  8. Well done Mr Bowe and the contributors today. Lots of meat to chew over. Can’t predict how the older= more conservative meme will play out in the near future but Climate Change and financial inequality are going to be high on voters minds come next election- something I believe will be a lead weight in the Coalition saddle.
    On another theme, the current Forests get-together in Tasmania couldn’t have picked a better place to take place.
    The obscenity of logging native forests anywhere in Australia needs to end. I get that environmentalist decry the excuse of ending logging as a venue to continue emissions elsewhere, but frankly, I don’t care as long as the obscenity ends. This country needs to increase its emission controls and renewables regardless of the cessation of logging. (the option of plantation timber could equally be used as a cover by the Fossil Fuel emitters.)
    I understand the concerns about employment in those town and regions involved in logging native forests but, instead of amorally subsidizing this destructive industry , the current subsidies could be used for more productive regional employment opportunities.
    I remember the outcry when native forest logging ended on the Atherton Tableland. Today some 40 odd years later, tourism is producing more income and sustainable regional economies and protection of the remaining forest.
    Surely, Tasmania alone can prosper from cessation. Forget about NZs 100% pure falsehood- but Tassie can fairly claim to hold a special place in Australia, given climate change for one. ( and its wines-yum)
    I can agree with comments about The Greens sometimes overboard politics, but a disappointing Labor Government needs to do a hell of a lot more in all the areas of climate change. The Greens can be more influential, along with the Indies and Teals, to put pressure on Albo and his team.
    Let’s hope that happens. Progressive voters need to see real change- not shit like allow the expansion of one coal mine and denial of another ( even if it is that shit Palmer’s mine).

  9. LGBTQ+ identification (17% among Gen-Z, 4% among boomers)

    Serious question, Are there more young LGBTQ+ young people? Or is it that young people are just more likely to be honest about it?

  10. Vague memory is that Mackerras looked at age breakdowns in early 70’s, which showed a major difference between the young and old and showed my generation would sweep the conservatives into the dustbin of history.

    That didn’t happen. Voting split is much the same, except less focused on ALP/LibNats

    Perhaps increasing house prices will mean fewer home owners, more renters and a poorer population that will not drift toward the running dogs of capitalism as they age.

  11. KAGE: “The reality of Global Warming is an ever present existential fear for those of us who are parents and grandparents. While the stunts and nonsense espoused by the Greens and the LNP leave me astonished that they are taken seriously the attraction of the simplistic policy positions is understandably attractive to the naive.”

    The cognitive dissonance is strong in this one …

    What does Labor’s obstinacy in continuing to approve new coal mines do for your ‘existential fear’?

    How ‘naive’ is ‘a softly softly approach’ as global temperatures rise inexorably?

    Chris Minns, this week:

    “We sold $40 billion worth of coal last year and we need it if we’re going to transition our economy to renewable energies.”

  12. bryon says:
    “Vague memory is that Mackerras looked at age breakdowns in early 70’ … and showed my generation would sweep the conservatives into the dustbin of history. That didn’t happen.”

    What *did* happen is that the world has, on multiple measures, become much less ‘conservative’ over the past half century.

    Consider the attitudes in 1970s Australia to (for example):

    • race (entrenched discrimination as an accepted way of life);

    • religion (sectarian divides between Catholics and Protestants — let alone Christians and Muslims)

    • sexuality (intolerance of extramarital sex and single parenting — and pathologising of homosexuality)

    • gender (women’s wages were, by law, a fraction of men’s, and in many occupations women were required to resign upon marriage)

    The world has moved on and the goalposts have shifted.

    The Liberal and Labor parties of 2023 are not the same as the parties of 1973. (Phillip Lynch’s ministerial appointment in 1968 was remarkable for a Catholic; by 2013 almost half of Abbott’s ministry was Catholic.)

    Much of what was radical, even unimaginable, in the 1970s (same-sex marriage!?) is now everyday. Oils ain’t oils, Sol.

  13. GoldenSmaug;
    Gen X as well, i remember as a kid watching sci-fi cartoons on the one commercial TV station we got that showed Terraforming of a planet, its not sci-fi now… They also had glowy energy cubes, still waiting !

    More on topic, Kos Samaras has been talking about these demographic issues for a while. Education is a big split between progressives and Conservatives.

    Other gen X’ers might be able to confirm my memory that school retention rates lifted significantly in our time, they certainly did in my non-metro school. Low education is one of the defining traits for boomers. The issue isnt just University or not (mentioned in report), a significant amount didnt even complete year 11.
    EDIT: there was a big recession at the time, due to generational change of ‘computers taking everyones job’, so people stayed in school because of higher unemployment, and better opportunities from education.

    There is occasional commentary about the Libs specifically (distinct from Nats) chasing the lower educated, more marginal younger voters. I cant see them pulling this off, but even if they do, its a poison pill, its Trumps path.

  14. The views that Zoomers have about climate change, inequality, housing, and workers’ rights are probably identity-defining commitments rather than transient beliefs. This is because their formative years took place in a social context where secure housing is out of reach for huge numbers of people and is going to stay that way if current policies persist. They grew up realising that the climate crisis and other ecological problems are severe. They grew up knowing the economic system supports a powerful few at the expense of the many. Boomers and Gen Xers had their formative experiences in a context that wasn’t totally screwed, that was less overtly corrupt, that offered a realistic hope of a secure life. Even Zoomers who do end up paying off a mortgage are not going to stop seeing housing as a human right. When they start families of their own they won’t become less concerned about severe weather events becoming more frequent and more intense, disrupting food production, restricting where people can live, making heatwave-induced death a routine occurrence. The stakes of the political issues that the Zoomers are facing are very high. Their connection to those issues transcends self-interest. The issues they care about elicit beliefs about fairness, security, and planetary survival.

  15. Have some doubts about this sort of research not because i don’t think its possible but we have seen this movie before so would want to see how this trend looks after Albo has been in office for a decade before getting too excited because young people are conservative on some issues.

  16. It’s the education stupid!

    The higher the level of education, the greater the critical literacy. This provides a defence against dis and mis information. Look at the voting history of the electorates with the highest education level – the ACT is the most progressive government in Aus.

    Of course the LNP is against higher education, especially in the arts, as this reality check pushes people away from the reactionary Christianists.

    And we have always had the same amount of LGBTIQ people, it’s just that now it is more socially acceptable to be out, so out they come! It’s the same as the rising rates of domestic violence, people don’t suffer in silence as much. And autism – people are aware and it is less of a stigma, it’s not that rates are rising, it’s that they are being seen.

  17. Lots of gen x remember Paul keating and being smashed with high interest rates.Political dumbs by chalmers to keep mentioning keating in public as ex Pm keating was defeated massively and Howard followed for about a decade.

    Chalmers isJust bringing back bad memories for voters needs to stop mentioning Keating.!

  18. When today’s youth have to support a larger cohort of elders, of which I am one, attitudes may change.
    Especially if Aged Care remains a commercial for-profit sector, the costs to families will sky-rocket. If the government has to provide Aged Care through the tax system, as it partially does now, taxes have to go up.

    Voluntary Euthanasia, which is a human right imo, coukd become very popular. Soylent Green hey, with the gov’t paying families a bonus if their Elder agrees to press the fatal red button.

    But AI could upset the lot. Such a service will be provided by robots, one nurse or carer to a 50 bedrooms or a big ward, everything automated.

    I woukd rather a machine than an overworked, underpaid staff not giving me the care I need or the malicious ones tormenting me.

    Will there even be a Right or Left in a future we can just guess at now? The Rightwing forkwit cult is dying and it’s absurdities and cruelties are simply its death throes. Socialism has no hope. But progressivism?

    Anyone under 60 yeaes of age has heard the phrase the only thing that is certain is change itself. We have lived it in job-changing times. The youth see change as the norm. There will always be a better phone.

    What’s worth conserving? It’s the stuff with intrinsic value, the recreational opportunities, the environment a d history to enjoy, to tour. The newest generation may start the centuries long task of terra-forming Mars and genetically engineering foetuses for optimum space travel. You don’t need thick muscular legs or oxygen-based blood. (Cue the song ‘In the Year 2525’.)

    This research is important but remember, it does not account for the wild-cards, the confounds, that the future offers us.

  19. I want to know where all these university graduates are. They sure as heck don’t inhabit the same space as my extended family and friends. All the young people I know want an apprenticeship, not a HECS-HELP debt.

  20. @Puffytmd Disagree that socialism has no hope. Progressivism incorporates its qualities while shedding the baggage. Darwinistically socialism is the only enduring political ideology, the only one that persists in the conversation without systems specifically designed to uphold it. Neoliberalism needed a decades-long project to trick people into thinking it was a functional approach to capitalism and even then younger voters are discarding it in favour of progressive socialism. The word conservatism gives younger people an anaemic reaction, like with boomers and the dreaded taxes. It can be diluted by calling it left wing politics or progressivism or anything else to rebrand it, but socialism will resurface to the conversation as it always has, in a grassroots way without the backing of the wealthy few.

  21. Anyone under 60 years of age has heard the phrase the only thing that is certain is change itself.

    I joined the Army in late ’81 and became a Signaller. We use to read the data as it would come in via the teletypewriter at 75 bits per second, now I’m getting 100mbs. The change over 40 years IS pure SF stuff.

    We’ve put a noose around the necks of the younger generation, I read somewhere they will be the first generation since the start of the industrial revolution that are economically more disadvantaged than their parents.

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