Not just a new government, but new politics

“Something definitely happened on 21 May 2022” writes Katharine Murphy in her Quarterly Essay Lone wolf: Albanese and the new politics. Of course there was a change of government, but Murphy writes about the way politics in Australia has changed. We didn’t understand how it had changed until election night when we saw Labor win office with a record low vote and 16 seats were taken by “insurgents” as she calls Greens and independents.


The old two-party politics has been crumbling for many years. Many issues including gender and integrity in government do not easily fit into the old politics. The well-off and well-educated, who were once part of the Liberal Party base, have turned away from the Coalition.

Labor was able navigate in this environment in a way that the Coalition wasn’t.

Morrison’s behaviour certainly helped Labor, as the party’s own analysis confirms. But this was not like previous elections when Labor took office because people felt it was time to give Labor a run while the Coalition, the natural party of government, re-organized itself. Albanese and those around him have been able to present themselves as the natural party of government. If that perception of Labor holds it really is a new politics for Australia.

The Australian Election Study

The Australian Election Study covering the 2022 federal election has been released in three parts: the 2022 election report; a survey of trends revealed in 16 federal elections from 1987 to 2022; and a generous dump of data for those who look forward to spending their summer break doing correlations on spreadsheets.

The 2022 Report

Most media coverage has been about the 2022 report with comments on the unpopularity of Morrison and the source of the Teal vote.

The main finding is the long-term decline in the vote of the two main parties since 1967. In fact, that decline has been in train since 1946, just after Menzies founded the Liberal Party, as shown in the graph below (which I previously presented after the election in May):

Some findings that don’t align with general perceptions, or that are particularly strong are:

Perhaps the most significant findings relate to age. To quote from the study:

Only about one in four voters under the age of 40 reported voting for the Coalition in 2022. At no time in the 35-year history of the AES have we observed such a low level of support for either major party in so large a segment of the electorate.

The even more significant finding (which is also showing up in the Victorian election) is that contrary to earlier trends, as voters age they have not been coming back to the Coalition. Even those born after 1965 (57 years or younger) have not switched to the Coalition as they have aged. The Coalition still enjoys strong support from those over 57, particularly those aged 77 or more whose support for the Coalition grew as they aged, but as they die they are not being replaced by new Coalition supporters.

Another finding, which has been a consistent one in these studies, is that voters almost always rate the Coalition as better than Labor at “economic management”, but they rate Labor higher in important economic issues, including climate change and education. This reflects a poor level of economic understanding in the electorate, because it is hard to find any dimension of economic management where the Coalition succeeds.


The other report Trends in Australian political opinion presents about 130 time-series charts of long-term developments (1987 to 2022) under 11 headings. Below are summarized as dot points some of the more significant findings and those that may not align with our beliefs and expectations. They all point to a future where life is getting harder for campaign managers and for pollsters.

The campaign:

Voting and partisanship:

Election issues:

The economy:

Politics and political parties:

 The left-right dimension:

The political leaders:

Democracy and institutions:

Trade unions, business and wealth:

Social issues:

Defence and foreign affairs:

More on the Liberals’ journey to oblivion

They are in deep trouble.

Mike Seccombe’s Saturday Paper article, written after the Victorian election – Inside the Liberal Party’s “existential crisis” – confirms much of what was covered in last week’s roundup, particularly its long-term decline in primary vote. He adds three other important points:

First, the Coalition can no longer rely on people becoming more attuned to its policies as they age. Conservatives once relied on the trend for older people to move to the right: as one cohort of aged supporters died off, another would fill their ranks. But there is strong evidence that this political conversion is no longer happening.

Age journalists Sumeyya Ilambey and Royce Millar show what this means in their article How Labor pulled off the sweetest victory of all. In just the last ten years the proportion of baby boomers in Victoria has fallen from 55 percent to 39 percent.

Second is the re-emergence of economic inequality as a political issue, but this time it is not so much about income (as it was in the past) but about wealth – owning a house, a share portfolio, a self-managed superannuation fund. Young people have become more politically engaged because they are generally asset-poor, and over-represented among renters. Seccombe could have gone on to make the point that so far they have been able to blame the Coalition’s policies for this situation, but in view of Labor’s dominance of the political landscape, as time passes intergenerational disparities in wealth are becoming Labor’s problem.

Third, Teals and independents have done well in the Victorian election. The Coalition is gloating that contrary to some media expectations the predicted Teal wave didn’t occur. The Liberals won Hawthorn, in the middle of the Kooyong federal electorate that Frydenberg lost to independent Monique Ryan, and held on to Kew, an adjoining seat contested by an independent. Also the National Party has taken two seats from independents. But as Peter FitzSimons points out in his account of an interview with Simon Holmes à Court, it’s short-sighted to focus on seat counts: Has the teal tide turned? The Fair Dinkum Department quizzed Simon Holmes à Court in The Sydney Morning Herald. The Coalition’s victories against independents were narrow, and the trend is away from the major parties. Ilambey and Millar, in the article referred to above, demonstrate the steady decline in the two-party Coalition plus Labor primary vote in Victoria: in 1992 it was 94 percent; in this election it was 72 percent.

As a metaphor, imagine a community living downstream from a dam, concerned about flooding. The water authority may report that the water is still a few centimeters below the spillway, but if it is rising that’s cold comfort.

Confirming the Liberals’ poor standing, William Bowe in his Poll Bludger reports on two national voting intention surveys, one by Newspoll and the other by Essential. The Newspoll shows a big rise in Labor’s support since the election but no significant fall in the Coalition’s support, while the Essential poll shows a big fall in Coalition support and no change in Labor support. Either way it’s bad news for the Coalition as we go into the end-of-year political doldrums.

The Newspoll has particularly poor approval and preferred PM figures for Dutton, and the Sydney Morning Herald reports on an even worse poll for the Coalition, showing Labor’s vote 9 percent up on its vote at the election and the Coalition’s down 6 percent. In terms of policies it shows Labor leading in all 17 policy areas surveyed, including economic management and national security, areas where the Coalition has almost always led. It also shows Albanese holding a huge lead as preferred prime minister.

David Crowe, commenting on the results, attributes some of Labor’s surge to voters getting to know Albanese and finding that the Labor government is not the ogre that the Coalition and the Murdoch media had warned us about. Have they blown their credibility?

Update on the Victorian election: In last week’s roundup my table of long-term reversals by the Coalition showed that in this election their primary vote has fallen by 0.2 percent. Later counting shows that the fall has been 0.5 percent. There goes another election myth, the idea that pre-poll, postal and absentee votes are biased towards conservative parties.