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Oct 16, 2009

Generational Voting Power

Continuing on from yesterdays post about the hi

Possum Comitatus — Editor of Pollytics

Possum Comitatus

Editor of Pollytics

Continuing on from yesterdays post about the historical voting patters of four generations of Australians (Pre-War, Boomers, Gen X and Gen Y) – Kymbos asked in comments about generational voting power. If we use the ABS data for historical population estimates by age, we can figure out the proportion of the electorate (those aged 18 and over) that each of these generations represent – effectively giving us a measure of their electoral power and how it’s changed over the years.

First up, we need to define when the generations start and finish. I’ve used the pre-War Gen Blue as being born in 1945 or earlier, the Boomers as being born between 1946 and 1964, Gen X being born between 1965 and 1980 while Gen Y why comes in as being born in 1981 or later.

Once we tally up all the numbers and break them down into proportions for elections years corresponding to the primary vote data of yesterday’s post, this is what the generational voting power looks like – with a projection for 2010 (click to expand).


You can really see how the premium vote the Coalition receives from the pre-war generation is getting quickly washed out of the system and replaced with a generation that votes much more heavily toward Labor. Effectively, a generation of voters that votes 60/40 for the Coalition is being gradually substituted for one that votes 60/40 the other way. The practical political problem for the Coalition is that it’s difficult for them to move away from that older generation politically and pivot towards a much younger demographic, as the majority of  party’s membership base is over 60.

Think of the vast generation gap that exists between the youngest and oldest cohorts of the electoral roll on climate change, same sex marriage, censorship laws, asylum seekers, immigration policy and general technology issues – how will the Libs pivot towards Gen Y when on any of these issues the views of the party’s older membership base is incompatible with the majority view of Gen Y, a generation whose vote the Libs will increasingly need to be electorally competitive?


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41 thoughts on “Generational Voting Power

  1. Chasing the Norm » Blog Archive » Liberalism in 21st Century Australia

    […] them to be. It’s also a very powerful political message to the newest voting block: Gen-Y. As Possum Pollytics has detailed, Gen-Y is a quickly rising block that the Liberal party absolutely fails at marketing […]

  2. Andrew Norton » Blog Archive » Generational differences in issue opinion?

    […] the end of another post on demographic shifts in voting patterns against the Coalition, Pollytics blogger Scott Steel says: Think of the vast generation gap that […]

  3. Sam Bauers

    Sam, do you really think that’s going to work?

    No, but it shows that they are already trying.

  4. Musrum

    [Sucks to be Gen X doesn’t it? At no time do we get to be the largest demographic in the electorate.]

    And it turns out we have already peaked in 1998.

    Still, we do get to wear angsty black on Possum’s graph…

  5. Jason Wilson

    Sucks to be Gen X doesn’t it? At no time do we get to be the largest demographic in the electorate.

    Sam, do you really think that’s going to work?

  6. goanna

    That vote in the Victorian paraliment on abortion reform ensured the resurrgence of the DLP when it was in danger of dying.
    Since that vote there has been a flood of new recruits to the DLP, which has rejuvienated the party and ensured it will enter the next election as a strong fighting unit.

  7. Malcolm Street

    [email protected] – the same Victoria that just caved in to the churches re. anti-discrimination exemptions. They’re not down for the count yet.

  8. Sam Bauers

    @JimmyD #13

    On another note, Sam, how exactly is the NSW Liberal Party going to reinvent itself…

    I’m not sure exactly, but it will probably involve spending lots of money.

    I’m not disagreeing with your analysis (honest). I’m just stating that this is not the main game and that I don’t think it is something that the Libs can’t potentially reverse. Which I think is what you have stated in comments now anyway.

    I’m just playing devil’s advocate to all those people who might think that this alone will lead to the demise of the Liberal party and making the point that for that to happen will take continued effort on the part of their opponents.

  9. David Richards

    [email protected] – take into account the decline in percentages of those who nominate themselves as christians in the census, and that even among those that so nominate, church attendance and therefore allegiance is declining, and you will see that that demographic is becoming less relevant, much as is gen blue.

    Some of this decline in the relevance of the christian lobby may also be tied up directly with gen blue, given gen blue’s likely religious affinity.

  10. Venise Alstergren

    [email protected] know where you are coming from but surely their vote would be much smaller than-in the USA, I’m talking per capita, of course.

    Do you think QLD is relevant to Oz as a whole? They’ve been called the Deep North for a good reason.

    I guess it’s with a mixture of joy and wonder when-on a conscience vote-the Victorian Government brought in the legalization of abortion. This despite the mad ranting of the Catholics, despite the Catholics running a series of still shots of aborted foetuses , all chopped up from having been crushed in the womb-according to them-on television, despite Steve Fielding’s mad manoeuvres, and despite the huge number of Catholics in both parties. The vote got through. The egregious religious vote for once lost the vote.

    I am very proud of being a Victorian, on this issue only. I just can’t imagine the Deep North being so enlightened.

    Cheers V.
    the vote got through

  11. calyptorhynchus

    “Isn’t this the sort of situation where a party underwrites a new party to keep their old vote themselves but capture the new vote with the splinter party?”

    Didn’t the Liberals try that with the Democrats?

  12. Malcolm Street

    [email protected] – the point about the Christian Right is that while small they vote as a block on social issues and are beyond compromise. Cross them and you can guarantee you’ll lose their followers. It’s a small but certain loss when every bit helps. Look at how Bligh is desperate to avoid an all-in debate in Queensland over abortion laws.

  13. Bogdanovist

    Great series of posts over the last few days Possum.

    One thing that struck me though, the analysis you’ve done is split entirely by when someone was born, not where. I’m not sure if the figures are readily available, but it would be interesting to see the voting patterns of those born in Australia as compared to those born overseas, or possibly even first generation migrants, again if that kind of info is available.

    In terms of changing demographics, the relatively high immigration rates that are projected to continue are arguably as important as the steady change of the generational demographics. If (say) migrants tended in a significant way to vote for one party over the other in a systematic way, that would surely be an important consideration into the future in the same way as you’ve demonstrated for generational change.

  14. Venise Alstergren

    Cud Chewer: The Christian fundamentalist right don’t have quite the amount of votes as they purport to have. However, because so many people are frightened of them and because they are so vocal they have politicians right where they want them. A warm reminder that they don’t always get their own way came when Victoria managed to legalize abortion.

    IMHO you should be very worried about the Baby Boomers, more than Gen Y. I’m talking here and now, this very day, as it were.

  15. Tweets that mention Generational Voting Power – Pollytics -- Topsy.com

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Sandeep Varma and D Runner, Marilyn Rich. Marilyn Rich said: Generational Voting Power – Pollytics: BUT, the Baby Boomers positively swamp everyone else. They hand out how-t.. http://bit.ly/4C07GX […]

  16. vp

    cud chewer,

    With no evidence whatsoever, I suspect that the Christian right is more of a tangible than Gen Y for the chicks in the Labor party and will therefore have more weight. I don’t think Kevin Rudd is dissembling his faith but I have no idea how HE weighs the difference.

  17. cud chewer

    Yes, but at what point does the Christian Right vote matter more, or the vote of Gen Y?

  18. vp

    cud chewer,

    Being a church going Christian might not stop Kevin Rudd supporting gay marriage; being in the public eye as a church going Christian will.

  19. cud chewer

    Possum, how much of your analysis depends upon potential younger voters actually registering? Is there a trend away from registering/voting that might reduce the effect of younger (potential) voters?

  20. cud chewer

    Is there much evidence for there being a difference between the ALP and Coalition on censorship? Hard to tell with Conroy trying to push classification laws onto the net and Rudd off to meet with the Australian Christian Lobby (but not bothering to explain to anyone else why he doesn’t shoot Conroy in the head for pushing legislation noone wants – except the ACL).

    p.s. Rudd has yet to accept public support for gay marriage and I’ve gotta wonder if that isn’t going to catch up with him and demand a rethink – in time.

  21. vp

    Lee and Cat thrower,

    I’m sure the electorate has much more sense now. Just look at the demographics and voting patterns.

  22. Possum Comitatus

    Lee, if I could throw a cat among the pidgeons here – how about “One Nation” as having already been tried.

  23. Lee

    Isn’t this the sort of situation where a party underwrites a new party to keep their old vote themselves but capture the new vote with the splinter party? With preferences returning the captured vote? Such as the DLP feeding back to the liberals, communists to the ALP.

  24. Malcolm Street

    “Think of the vast generation gap that exists between the youngest and oldest cohorts of the electoral roll on climate change, same sex marriage, censorship laws, asylum seekers, immigration policy and general technology issues – how will the Libs pivot towards Gen Y”

    How’s this for a scenario? They won’t… Instead the Liberals (having p*ssed off event their business supporters, who will be increasingly Gen X and Y anyway) will become a One-Nation/DLP style nuisance on the right, maybe merging with the Nationals. The real battle will be between Labor and the Greens – the same phenomenon you’ve listed will see a similar drift to the Greens. Ultimately the remains of the Liberals join with a Labor party that is under increasing fire from the Greens. You guessed it – it’s a latter-day version of the early years of Federation, when the rise of the Labor party resulted in the Free Traders joining with the Protectionists.

    I don’t think it’s the most likely scenario, but I think it’s possible, particularly if the effects of climate change follow the more pessimistic estimates.

  25. Malcolm Street

    Aristotle @ 6

    “all long term Govts will hold onto to power by holding onto the centre. Menzies did it, Hawke did it, Howard did it and Rudd is doing it.”

    Howard didn’t do it. Howard’s genius was to tap into the nastiest, darkest, most lumpen elements of the Australian psyche (particularly in scapegoating minorities) and use that to push Australia under his government massively to the right. Menzies kicked the Communist can for all he was worth, but was otherwise a centrist.

    In my more optimistic moods I hope that Howard (and Bush2 in the US) were the last gasp of the Reagan/Thatcher right push and that this political philosophy has been sufficiently discredited to return. In my more pessimistic moods I think Howard showed the way for a similar amoral, manipulative genius to get into office by appealing to the dark underbelly of the Australian mind.

  26. Venise Alstergren


    I meant his correctness but buggered it. His Rightness? Doesn’t sound too bad does it?

  27. vp


    “his rightness”. Is that anything like “his holiness”?

  28. JimmyD

    Sam Bauers, regarding your post at 8 – No one on this blog or any other could forget that the Coalition was in power that recently, and if you had read Poss’ previous post concerning he vote of the ‘grey vote’ you would have read how those over 55 provided the Liberals with their wining margin in 1998, 2001 without which they would have lost those elections. 2004, a supposed landslide for the coalition, would have been line ball if not for the effect of the ‘grey vote’. The effects of these generational differences have been affecting electoral outcomes for some time now.

    On another note, Sam, how exactly is the NSW Liberal Party going to reinvent itself, when arch-conservatives of the likes of Alex Hawke, David Clarke, Greg Smith and Ray Williams are flexing their considerable influence to turn the Liberals into the ‘Antipodean Republican Party’?

  29. Venise Alstergren

    Possum Comitatus
    North of the Rio Tweed

    Dear Poss,

    What about all the Baby Boomers I mentioned? Short of dying, they won’t change their votes. And with medical science going the way it is they’ll be there for ever.

    You wouldn’t like a small bet on Higgins becoming marginal at the next election? Just joking.


    South of the Rio Yarra

  30. Possum Comitatus

    Venise – I don’t actually think Higgins will fall soon. But I reckon it will become marginal next election and fall some time over the next 3 or 4 regardless of of just about anything that happens with the wider national two party preferred vote.

    By 2020 I reckon there’ll be a new class of marginal seats emerging – the inner city marginals where they’re either a Liberal/Labor contest (Wentworth, Higgins, Bennelong, North Sydney, Ryan) or ALP/Greens contests (Sydney, Melbourne, maybe Brisbane CBD area)

  31. Venise Alstergren

    Possum is absolutely right folks, and the perfect illustration of his rightness is in the seat of Higgins. Generations X and Y, not to mention idiosyncratic old farts like me knew out-gunned we are on election day. We slink into the polling booth at Lauriston School, or St Johns church, Toorak-although I do make a point of sailing past Costello’s tame dogs, asking for Communist, if possible, Greens and Labor tickets.

    Depression era voters are pretty thin on the ground in Higgins. BUT, the Baby Boomers positively swamp everyone else. They hand out how-to-vote Liberal tickets, have fairly high-pitched voices and call other people darling. And when Peter Costello came to vote they almost genuflected.

    I think, Poss, you have speculated that Higgins could fall to Labor at the next election. I would have thought that the only people in the electorate of Higgins who would vote Labor would be clustered around the Greek area near Commercial road and Greville Street. Also a small enclave on the other side of Commercial Road in South Yarra. Together with the part of the electorate which runs from Commercial road through to High Street. This part of the electorate could yield Labor voters, although the trendies have moved in and tarted everything up.

    The area of Windsor could produce a fairly strong Labor voting block. Ditto from Punt Road through to Orrong Road in South Yarra and Armadale, and the last one could be from St Kilda Road through to Chapel Street South Yarra and Windsor.

    However, there are a lot of working-class people in these areas who wouldn’t vote Labor in a fit. I’ve never received a convincing answer to this question.

    Having lived in Toorak and the Greek area in Prahran for ten years and now back to Armadale/Toorak I am merely giving some of my observations.

  32. Possum Comitatus

    Sam, the political landscape in “other countries” is dramatically different. “other countries” don’t share our historical immigration policies, our political history, our two party state, compulsory voting, our base vote levels, relatively homogeneous electorates or, well, just about anything else Australia has. The only similarity is a population bulge for boomers in some western countries.

    But people don’t vote a certain way because of their age, they vote a certain way because of the political socialisation that they’ve experienced providing the context for the political choices they ultimately make

    If you go back to last post – the voting differentials between generations is clear across time. Not just a little clear, significantly clear in a robust statistical sense – and not just for the last election, but across all elections.

    Electoral volatility happens on top of demographic change – that’s the key point. What demographic change does is shift the odds underneath the political cycle – it doesn’t dominate the political cycle.

    So it let’s Labor governments win elections that they ordinarily shouldnt (what we’re seeing now) rather than helping Liberal governments win them when they ordinarily shouldn’t (what we witnessed for 30+ years).

    Even when the Libs win, unless they can build a sustainable political majority in victory and in government, the demographic playing field will still remain tilted against them – still providing for Labor victories more often than would ordinarily be the case (just as the Labor party faced the same problem earlier)

    Yet, building that political majority will be more difficult for the Libs because they are forced to get more voters that rarely vote for them (and more voters that have never voted for them) to do so. Repeatedly.

    Labor has the opposite issue – as Gen Blue fades, to win government the ALP have to force fewer people who rarely (or never) have voted for them to change their minds.

    Whether the Libs demise or not is in their hands. I can’t see it happening myself unless they merge with the Nats anywhere else. But their life will certainly become more difficult for a decade or more – possibly longer depending on how long it takes to structurally break from their politics of the last 20-30 years into something more widely acceptable to a different electorate (in the same way Whitlam did with the ALP)

  33. Sam Bauers

    I understand that it’s about Australian demographics, but the same or similar generational blocks exist throughout much of the western world (and NZ is probably the closest match), I just don’t think that the correlation with the results of the last election equate to causation. In the midst of this argument we forget that just 3 years ago the coalition were in power despite these shifts for a long time, and their support over that time varied without regard to these generational figures. I understand if the Liberal party are concerned about this, but I was talking about Labor/Greens not “relaxing” because of it.

    As long as the Liberal party are in a position to win in the event of Labor imploding, then the generational shift that is occurring is not causing a difference that will see the demise of the Liberal party in the long run. Being involved in politics in NSW, I’m particularly aware of this. Giving the Liberals another run in NSW will give them enough time and space for them to reinvent and reinforce themselves, making the passing of gen-blue less significant.

  34. Andos

    Stupid centre; why can’t it be more Left?

  35. Aristotle

    The Possum is right.

    It doesn’t mean the Coalition can’t win, it just means it makes it harder for them to win. The battle ground is always the centre and all long term Govts will hold onto to power by holding onto the centre. Menzies did it, Hawke did it, Howard did it and Rudd is doing it.

  36. Possum Comitatus

    Sam, it’s not about generational shifts to the left, right or otherwise – it’s about Australian demographics. In the same way that demographic evolution was favourable to the conservative side of politics after WW2, making it harder for ALP governments to form – we are seeing the opposite of that occurring today. What ever is happening in other countries has no bearing here.

    The parties are concerned BTW – some in the Liberal party particularly.Especially since they’ve seen how this works first hand and up close…. opposition in every state where building a sustainable political majority without relying on the implosion of the ALP is becoming more difficult as time goes on. They also see their own heartland seats – the seats where party leadership and fund raising power originates – slowly moving against them beyond any ordinary political cycle.

  37. Sam Bauers

    the majority of [the Liberal] party’s membership base is over 60

    Assuming you mean 50% are over 60 that’s not a particularly staggering figure, nor a good reason for them to not be able to appeal to younger voters with shifts in policy or message. The median age of Greens members is somewhere around 50 and they manage to hold positions that appeal to younger voters.

    Nobody has a monopoly on the “Gen Y” cohort. There are many in the “Gen Y” group that are drawn to socially progressive and/or green principles, but many would vote for you in exchange for an iPod. That was the original nature of “Gen X” and “Gen Y”, they are a mystery, you can’t profile them.

    I think a lot of this conversation on generational change is just wishful thinking on the part of Labor/Green supporters. I don’t think anyone inside those parties looks at these stats and thinks they are particularly significant in terms of recent or future electoral outcomes. They know that they are not going to be able to just sit back and relax while the Liberals just “die out”. You only have to look at all the conservative governments that have recently been installed in other parts of the western world (NZ, France, Germany, Italy and soon the UK and NSW) to see that there is no overriding nor consistent generational shift to the left.

  38. caf

    how will the Libs pivot towards Gen Y when on any of these issues the views of the party’s older membership base is incompatible with the majority view of Gen Y

    I suspect the answer is that the parliamentary party will make policy that is more palatable to Gen X & Gen Y, over the objections of the membership base. There’s not really anyone significant on the Coalition’s right flank, so they don’t have anything to lose by moving towards the centre.

  39. kymbos

    Fascinating, thanks Possum. So Gen X has actually been at it’s most powerful for several elections now, but it’s increasingly being backed up by Gen Y as the Blue Rinse set fall off the page. And soon we will take the Boomers…

  40. EnergyPedant

    Possum, I agree its difficult for the Libs to re-invent themselves to pitch to a much younger generation (although a comparison with David Cameron’s conservatives could be interesting). The key question is do the Libs have much chance of increasing their share of Baby Boomer votes? Or is enough of the Baby Boomer cohort solidly anti-coalition based on the politics of their youth?

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