Labor's policies on negative gearing and franking credits were major factors in its election loss, a new study finds, with Australians no longer voting according to what they do, but what they own.
The 2019 election underlined an important shift from "occupation-based voting" towards "asset-based voting", reflected in shares, housing and superannuation, Sarah Cameron and Ian McAllister from the Australian National's University's school of politics said.
Labor went to the election promising to scrap tax breaks for people owning investment properties and shares.
It was a risky strategy, leaving Labor contesting the election in an area where they had a long-term advantage, the authors of the latest Trends in Australian Political Opinion report said. The Coalition has a 13-point lead on Labor as preferred party on tax.
"Labor's policies on the taxation of economic assets were a major factor in their election loss.
"The policies divided the electorate and would have had significant consequences for the one-fifth of voters who owned an investment property and the one-third who owned shares."
Crucially, Labor did not show how the tax changes would benefit the economy, unlike 1998 when the Liberals convinced a sceptical electorate to support a goods and services tax.
The Coalition won over voters for its strength on the economy and a preference for Scott Morrison over Bill Shorten, with Mr Shorten the most unpopular Labor leader in more than 30 years, the study found.
The main reasons Labor voters gave for switching to the Coalition were the economy and tax (4.5 per cent of them) and leadership (2 per cent). The main reasons Coalition voters gave for switching to Labor were the environment (1.5 per cent) and health (1 per cent).
"Although the effect of these factors on shaping voting behaviour may be small, elections are often won or lost on small margins," the authors commented.
The survey actually shows considerable support for Labor's most contentious election polices, with 57 per cent of voters overall support the negative gearing change and 54 per cent supporting the franking credits policy. But Labor ran into trouble among its own voters, with 37 per cent of Labor voters opposing the negative gearing plan and 46 per cent opposing the franking credits change.
The Liberals won big the day among people with investment properties, home owners and shareholders. But the vast majority of renters sent their votes elsewhere, 41 per cent of them voting for Labor and 20 per cent for the Greens.
And the survey has some worrying messages for the Coalition.
Sixty-eight per cent of voters say global warming is a serious threat, a big rise in a decade, and voters much prefer Labor's stance on the issue. Just one in five voters favour the Coalition on global warming and the environment.
Tellingly, for a government that just lost its union-busting bill when blindsided by the Senate crossbench, Australians do not think unions have much too much power. Just 42 per cent agree with that proposition, while 76 per cent say big business has too much power. Union membership sits at 19 per cent, down slightly but not dramatically since the turn of the century.
More Australians regarded themselves as working class - rising steadily from 42 per cent a decade ago to 48 per cent now, while those regarding themselves as middle class has fallen from 57 per cent to 50 per cent. Just 2 per cent say they are upper class.
And the survey finds Labor is losing its working class base. People who identify themselves as working class are still much more likely to vote Labor than middle class voters, but the Liberals are more popular among people with trade qualifications, and Labor's working class vote has steadily eroded. In 1987, 60 per cent of the working class vote went to Labor. That fell to 48 per cent at the 2016 election, and 41 per cent this year. Only a small portion went to the Liberals, whose working class vote is up from 26 per cent in the 1980s to 32 per cent now.
The highly educated vote Green (17 per cent of people with degrees supported the party); the well off vote Liberal (half of people earning $130,000 or more voted Liberal).
Young people vote Green, older people vote Liberal. The Liberals recorded their lowest vote on record among under 35s, just 23 per cent. The Greens recorded their highest vote on record in the group, at 28 per cent. More than half of over-65s voted Liberal; just 2 per cent of them voted Green.
Men are increasingly massing behind the Liberals. The Liberals won 45 per cent of men and just 35 per cent of women.
Women were more likely to vote Green. Fifteen per cent of women votes Green, and just 9 per cent of men.
The survey found men are moving right and women left. When asked to place themselves on a left-right scale, men sat at an average 5.2 (just on the right side) and women at 4.8. The difference has opened up since the mid 1990s.
The authors say satisfaction with democracy is currently at its lowest level since the dismissal of Gough Whitlam, and the decline has been steeper than in Britain after the 2016 Brexit vote and in the United States after Donald Trump's 2016 election win. Just 59 per cent are satisfied with democracy, down from 86 per cent in 2007. Satisfaction rates 10 points below New Zealand and eight points below the US.
While 63 per cent of voters said the economy was extremely important in their vote - and the Coalition is by far the preferred party to handle the economy, other Labor-led issues were also important to high numbers of voters. Seventy per cent said health was extremely important in their decision, 62 per cent said education, and 53 per cent the environment. On all of those issues Labor is by far the preferred party.
And despite their support for the Coalition, an increasing number of voters want more spending on social services. One-third of voters want the unemployment benefit boosted, almost double the number at the last election, a result that gives traction to the campaign to boost Newstart. Newstart is $279 a week. Sixty-eight per cent want the old-age pension boosted. The pension is $425 a week.
Unhappily for both major parties, few voters are rusted on. Lifetime Labor votes are down from as high as 38 per cent on 1987 to just 14 per cent, with stable Coalition voters also languishing on 17 per cent. On the same theme, only 39 per cent said they always voted for the same party compared with 72 per cent 50 years ago. People are more volatile till the last minute, with more than a third of people (37 per cent) made up their minds during the election campaign, up 10 points in either 1980s.
On others issues:
- 75 per cent of Australians say China is a likely security threat, a number that is rising. At the same time, trust in the United States to come to Australia's defence has plunged in the past three years, from 80 per cent trusting to 69 per cent.
- Half of Australians think marijuana should not be a criminal offence, with just 28 per cent saying it should be.
- Support for abortion continues to rise steadily, to sit at just under three-quarters of voters.
- Support for a republic has waned since a high point 1998, and now sits at 49 per cent, although still higher than monarchists (43 per cent).
- 43 per cent support the death penalty.
- More people now get their news form the internet than any other source. Just 11 per cent of people get their election news from newspapers, and only 30 per cent watch the leaders' debate.
The survey had 2179 valid responses.