Generation Left? [Or, Conservative-Fatigue]
The following was written in February this year about the problem Labor had with the voter base it had gained in the 2007 election – it is indicative of the problems they faced in 2010 election, and that they will continue to face if they remain determined to play safe, centrist politics.
For many younger citizens, the 2007 federal election provided the first opportunity for them to have their say on the running of the country. After twelve years of Howard Government/Liberal rule, this election proved to be the opportunity for this generation to voice their opinion, and this was largely a vote for Labor.
Voting Labor in the 2007 election was a vote for the “left” and a vote against the conservative “right” policies of the Liberals. To this group, the biggest stories of the Howard Government were things like the Children Overboard scandal, a refusal to apologise to the stolen generation, failure to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, offshore detention, the Iraq war, and more. Given the only experience by this generation of conservative politics was characterised by such extremes and failures, it is unsurprising that a repulsion developed and an attraction to the left arose.
To these new voters, the Kevin Rudd led Labor opposition provided a “left” alternative – one that embraced action on climate change, would act on refugees, was willing to apologise to the stolen generation, spoke out against detention centres, and so on. The youth felt they could trust Labor with their vote, and so Kevin Rudd became Prime Minister.
Fast forward to post the election win. Whilst many Labor promises have been delivered, many remain unfulfilled. On climate, refugees, the “Intervention” and many other areas, there is a general feeling that the Government has not gone far enough – only low targets have been set for emission reductions, offshore detention is still in place, and the “Intervention” continues.
Once again the young voters of the country feel isolated by another conservative government, unwilling and afraid to take strong action in areas important to many young people. With Labor now revealed as conservative and the Coalition already known to be conservative – disillusion has begun. I already know of instances where Labor and Young Labor members who had strongly supported Rudd at the last election are now signing up as Greens.
The Newspoll published by The Australian [2/1/2010] has shown that the popularity of the Labor party has substantially diminished. On a two-party preferred basis, Labor now only leads the Coalition 52 to 48. Whilst much of this swing may be explained by the silence on behalf of Labor and the ever present and vocal Tony Abbott over the summer break, I would also argue that much of the swing is also attributable to conservative-fatigue by those voters who thought a vote for Labor was a vote for the “left”.
Given the perceived failure by Labor to satisfy those voters with “left”-leaning tendencies, it is not surprising then that the Labor vote is diminishing, and the Greens vote is growing. At the 2007 election, the Greens’ primary vote sat at just under 8%, but according to Newspoll, it now sits at 12%. When taking preferences into account, that can be an election changing vote. The problem is that if the Greens continue to send their preferences Labor’s way, the migration of these young voters may have little practical effect unless the Greens are able to translate these votes into a decent number of seats in either House.