Madonna King: While the Coalition ignores these cold, hard facts, it will not win back voters

More than three million Queenslanders will cast their ballots in the state's local elections.

More than three million Queenslanders will cast their ballots in the state's local elections.

In the din around politics that fans Canberra blame games and leadership coups, little stock is often put on cold, hard evidence.

Politics is a ‘feeling’ game, some pundits argue. Good politicians have their ‘finger on the national pulse’, know how to serve their electorates, and are masters at winning over doubting voters.

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton is often cited as an example of someone unpopular at the national level, but adept at local campaigning and able to defeat talented opponents at each poll.

And Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is billed as the leader whose moderate stance is more likely to protect his party from a Teal onslaught.

Both those points might be true, but the latest Australian Election Study (AES), led by the ANU, with Queensland’s Griffith University, should be compulsory reading for both of them – and their parties.

Large-scale abandonment

It has surveyed voters for 35 years – since 1987 – and its findings on the 2022 federal poll are probably the best evidence of the tectonic political shift happening around us.

Take this example: Almost one in every three people cast their vote for minor parties or independents in 2022 – the highest number in almost a century.

Or this: The proportion of those who vote the same way each time hit record lows (37 per cent in 2022 compared to 72 per cent in 1967), and that no doubt provided a fillip for the Teal independents.

Ferguson report Scott Morrison voters

Scott Morrison was part of the reason for the Coalition’s unpopularity. Photo: AAP

But any suggestion Teal voters were disaffected conservatives has been put to rest, with evidence they were “tactical Labor and Greens voters’’, the report says. “Less than one in five Teal voters previously voted for the Coalition.’’

On some issues, the findings of this study are predictable: Scott Morrison was the least popular big party leader for goodness knows how long; and 2022 saw a “large-scale abandonment’’ of the two-party system, driven by higher education, generational change, social media and shifting policy priorities.

But across geography and demography, it offers politicians a real and evidenced-based window into what they need to do to win, and keep our vote.

For example, it floats the need for the Teals to be able to create their own political identity to carry forward their successes. For Labor it proves how close Teal voters are, ideologically, to its own voters and the importance of the leader being seen as honest, trustworthy and compassionate.

It floats concern that most Australians believe government is now run by a select few, and is not acting for the majority. In that context, reforms around the national anti-corruption body and political donations are crucial. And that 80 per cent of Australians support Indigenous recognition in the Constitution.

Warning for major parties

The Albanese government has also been forewarned that most voters now no longer base their vote on policy issues. But the most important of those, at least in 2022, were cost of living, environment, the economy and health – where in three out of four cases, it trumped the Morrison team.

The exception was the Coalition’s management of the economy – along with tax and national security – which was favoured.

But most of the lessons might be directed at the Coalition, which is found to be losing support from both men and women, university-educated and high-income voters.

The drop in support from younger voters reached historic lows – and if Coalition strategists aren’t concerned about this, they have no hope of winning back voters next time round.

young voters

The drop in support for the Coalition from younger voters has reached historic lows. Photo: Getty

While 38 per cent of voters under 40 supported Labor, only about 25 per cent of voters in the same age group supported the Coalition.

In the six years to 2022, Millennials recorded the biggest decline in Coalition support, falling from 38 per cent to 25 per cent in just two election cycles.

“Changes of this magnitude and this pace are rare in Australian electoral history,’’ the report concludes.

And what about Generational Z, born after 1996? In the same two elections just 26 per cent voted for the Coalition – with 67 per cent voting for the Greens or for Labor.

“No other generation records such skewed preferences at similarly early stages of the life course,’’ it says.

For political groupies, it’s riveting. For voters, it’s a comfort knowing that as a nation we are united on those issues and attributes we want in Canberra.

And for the politicians? It should be compulsory reading.

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