The Coalitions’ Demographic Train Wreck
Posted by Possum Comitatus on July 6, 2008
Back in March over at Australian Policy Online, Ian Watson published a really interesting paper titled “Is demography moving against the Coalition? ”, which was an update of a larger, earlier paper that added new results for the 2007 election period. What Ian Watson did was use Newspoll figures to look at the way different age groups have been changing their voting intention patterns over the period of 1987 through to the present.
What is really interesting about this paper is the dataset it contains at the end – age profile breakdowns on primary voting intention going all the way back to 1987 when Newspoll first started.
It doesn’t take long playing around with the data to realise that, putting it bluntly, the Coalition is facing a demographic train wreck of catastrophic proportions. It isn’t some short term problem that just appeared at the last election and which could easily be dealt with by a bit of vote targeting. Far from it, the impending train wreck is the result of a long slow demographic assault on the Coalitions’ primary vote that has been happening for at least 21 years.
They are losing ground among all age groups under 60, their only strong voting age demographic, the pre-Boomer over 60’s, are declining in number through attrition and will start being replaced by more Labor oriented Boomers over the next decade. As we will see, this pre-boomer demographic is carrying a large weight of the Coalition’s voter support. When that vote becomes neutralised by boomers moving into the 60+ age group, which is expected to occur sometime around 2018-2020, the Coalition primary vote will have lost around 4 to 5 points, perhaps a little more, should prevailing long term trends continue for the next 10-15 years in the same way they’ve played out for the last 21 years.
First up, we’ll just repeat what Ian Watson did and show how various age group voting intentions have been running for the Coalition at each election period since 1987 to give us a bit of a feel for the data. This data is Newspoll data, so the average Coalition primary vote result will be slightly different from the primary vote result that they achieved at each election, simply because of sampling error and late movement, but not by a great deal – it works out as an average of 1.47% mean absolute error.
As there are quite a few age cohorts here, we’ll split the demographics into two groups; the under 40’s and the over 40’s and we’ll also add the average Coalition primary result as well to show which groups are under and over that average.
Notice here that all groups under 40 have had a voting intention less than the average Coalition voting intention for every election since 1987.
Here it starts to get interesting. Up to and including the 1993 election, all groups over the age of 40 supported the Coalition to levels higher than the Coalition average support. But in 1996, the 40-44s were voting under the average, in 1998 the 40-49s were voting under the average, by 2001 it became the 40-54s all voting under the average and by 2007, the 55-59 group was voting just slightly above average but will probably vote below average next election and beyond.
If we play around with the data a bit and subtract the average Coalition primary vote estimate from each age cohorts’ support level for the Coalition, it shows this in starker terms. So, for instance, if the Coalition average was 40% and a particular demographic had only 36% support for the Coalition, they’d get a score of -4.
Again, we’ll do it for both the under 40’s and over 40’s.
From these two charts we can see that it is the over 60’s that are really carrying the weight of Coalition average support here. As the levels of support for the Coalition decline in younger cohorts, it drags down the average Coalition vote, leaving the Coalition more and more reliant on that over 60’s group to shore up their vote. But the problem here is that the over 60’s group is just about to be flooded with Baby Boomers, which will start reducing the Coalition dominance in their most important age cohort.
We can see how this might play out if we use the Newspoll data to track how people born between certain years have behaved over the last 21 years. The problem we have with the data here is that the age groups we’ll track don’t perfectly fit into the age classifications we have – but we can get pretty close on a number of elections. For instance, if we track the 25-29 age bracket from the 1987 election onwards, in the 1993 election that group would be 31-35, but we don’t have that as an available cohort. Yet we do have the 30-34 which is only out by 1 year. At the 1998 election those people were 36-40 years of age, and we can use the 35-39 age cohort for that and so on an so forth.
In the following chart, each age group is only out by a maximum of a year either side of their actual age, so it’s a fairly decent match to give us an idea of how people born in different years have voted over time.
There’s a couple of things to note here. Firstly, I stopped tracking groups when they got into the 60+ age group because it contains too many different ages all bunched together to be useful, so our last age cohort we can use effectively is the 55-59 age bracket. Secondly, you’ll notice a big drop in Coalition support in 1998 by those born between 1938 and 1942. Most of that lost Coalition vote went to One Nation. In 1987 that group voted 7.3% for minor parties and independents, in 1993 it was 6.5%, but in 1998 it was a big 17.3%. In 2001 that vote would have jumped back up to 50+% for the Coalition.
As you can see, those early Boomers born between 1948 and 1952 vote for the Coalition in substantially less numbers than do the older age groups – yet this group has just started to turn 60 this year. By the next election nearly all of that group will be over 60, by the election after that, the 1953-1957 boomers will be starting to turn 60. As time goes on, the Coalitions hold on that over 60 demographic gets further washed out, especially since many of the pre-boomer Coalition supporters in the 60+ group will be increasingly dying out.
If we take these same age groups and do what we did before and measure the difference between the average Coalition vote and the Coalition vote for each age group we get:
We would expect those born between 1938 and 1947 to have increased their “difference from the mean” over the last few elections if we could actually measure it with the Newspoll data, but unfortunately we can’t. However, since that group is reducing in number every year at a faster rate than their younger cohorts, it is slowly allowing the average Coalition vote to fall, and as a result reducing the “difference from the mean” for the younger cohorts.
Looking back over all of the charts, the voters the Coalition are losing aren’t being replaced by younger voters, to the point where it’s reducing the total Coalition primary vote. If the trends that have been happening for the last 21 years continue for the next decade, by 2018 thereabouts, the ALP will simply become unbeatable with TPP results coming in with a an expected demographic floor of around 55%.
(I thought I better bold that point)
So the Coalition has to start appealing to much younger demographics or they will likely find themselves in permanent opposition.
Something for them to keep in mind if they start trying to play political games with the emissions trading system and climate change – issues with large support in the younger demographics.
I’ll do some more with this data later, as well as start applying these results on a seat by seat basis to see which regions face the largest political changes, but I thought you folks might be interested to see how your sub-generation has been voting over the last 21 years or so. I’ll also take a closer look at those born after 1969 in another post.
I’ll stick this chart in here as well since it’s relevant. It’s a basic graphic of the results of the two Newspolls that dealt with climate change and the proposed ETS.
The demographics that the Coalition needs to attract are the ones that have the strongest views on climate change, willingness to pay for it and the benefit of an ETS.
It makes the politicking of the Opposition a hard slog for any long term partisan benefit.