The proportion of voters nominating global warming and the environment as their top issue is at an all-time high, helping Labor win votes at the May 2019 election despite its shock loss.
That is the conclusion of the Australian National University’s election survey, released on Monday, explaining the result was caused instead by an erosion of Labor’s working class base and the Coalition’s perceived advantage on the economy and taxation.
Nevertheless the Australian election study – which used a nationally representative sample of 2,179 voters – found that narrow majorities approved of Labor’s individual tax policy measures to limit franking credit rebates and negative gearing.
The survey found that Scott Morrison was the most popular political leader since Kevin Rudd in 2007 while Bill Shorten was the least popular leader of any major political party since 1990, although most voters decided their vote on policies, not leaders.
The study confirms a trend of declining satisfaction with Australia’s democracy – down 27 points since 2007 to 59% – with most voters (56%) believing government is run for “a few big interests” rather than for “all the people” (12%).
The study found that two-thirds of voters (66%) primarily decided their vote based on policy issues, compared with 19% who voted based on the parties as a whole, 8% on local candidates and 7% on the party leaders (7%).
The most important policy issues for voters were management of the economy (24%), health (22%), taxation (12%), the environment (11%) and global warming (10%). One in five respondents nominating environmental issues as their top concern is a record, up from fewer than 10% of voters in 2016.
Voters preferred the Coalition to handle the management of the economy, taxation, and immigration, while Labor was preferred on education, health, and the environment.
On the economy, 47% of voters preferred the Coalition, 21% chose Labor and 17% saw no difference between the major parties.
On the environment and global warming, 40% of voters preferred Labor, about 20% nominated the Coalition and 22% saw no difference.
Despite the Coalition’s perceived advantage on the economy and tax, some 57% of voters supported “[limiting] property investors claiming tax deductions ie negative gearing”. Some 54% of all voters supported “[limiting] shareholders receiving a cash rebate on dividends ie franking credits”.
Researcher Jill Shephard said that the economy was a “key concern for voters … [that] tipped the balance in favour of the Coalition”.
“The study shows a clear rise in support for minor parties among voters, while 21% cent of Australians don’t align with any party at all,” she said.
The study found that while 41% of working class people vote for Labor compared with 29% of middle class voters, there is nevertheless a long-term decline in Labor’s working class base. In 1987, some 60% of the working class voted for Labor, down to 48% in 2016.
The Coalition was much more popular among men (48% of who supported the Coalition) than among women (38%), a change from the 1990s, when men were slightly more likely to vote Labor than women were. The Greens won 15% support among women and just 9% among men.
The 2019 election represented the lowest Liberal party vote on record for those under 35 (23%) and the highest ever vote for the Greens (28%).
The study suggests Australia is overwhelmingly progressive on social issues, with 80% support for recognition of Indigenous Australians in the constitution and 73% in favour of abortion being readily attainable, compared with 23% who would limit access to “special circumstances”.
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However, support for Australia becoming a republic has reached its lowest level on record, 49%.
On the leaders’ popularity, Morrison earned a score of 5.1 on a 10-point scale, behind Rudd in 2007 (6.3), John Howard, Kim Beazley and even John Hewson in 1993 (5.2). Shorten rated 4.0, behind Tony Abbott, Paul Keating, and just ahead of Andrew Peacock in 1990 (3.9).
Morrison beat Shorten as a “strong leader” (63% to 37%) and all other leadership characteristics except “compassion”, which was tied 50-50. Nevertheless, the majority of voters (74%) disapproved of the Liberal leadership change from Malcolm Turnbull to Morrison.
Just one in four Australians believe that people in government can be trusted to do the right thing, while three quarters believe that people in government are looking after themselves. Trust in government has declined by nearly 20% since 2007.
The lead researcher, Ian McAllister, said the results are “a wakeup call”.
“With faith in democracy taking major hits all over the globe, winning back the people’s trust and satisfaction would appear to be one of the most pressing and urgent challenges facing our political leaders and institutions,” he said.
The Labor election review, released in November, found that it lost because of weak strategy, with a suite of spending initiatives but little overarching narrative, poor adaptability and an unpopular leader.
The Liberal election review found that Morrison navigated the government through a “narrow” path to victory but was aided by Labor’s “many missteps” and a strong contrast with Shorten and Labor’s policies.
The joint standing committee on electoral matters is currently conducting a review of the 2019 election. It has heard from civil society groups calling for spending caps on elections, the Coalition calling for a shorter pre-poll period and Labor, which wants social media giants subjected to more scrutiny for failing to take down false material.
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