‘Education’ is the reason federal voting patterns are changing

He took the Australian Electoral Commission’s voting figures by polling booth and compared them with all the detailed demographic information for the corresponding small statistical areas in the 2016 census. They’re not a perfect match, but they’re a good guide.

The trend since the 2019 federal election, where the Coalition’s base of support shifted towards the poorer, less skilled and less educated Australian-born people, has continued. Credit:ANDREW MEARE

Metcalfe notes that “we are seeing a continuation of the trend in the [2019] federal elections, where the Coalition’s base of support shifts to the poorest, least skilled and least educated Australian-born people”.

When Labor lost in 2019, many people noticed the swing against Labor in the regional mining seats of NSW Hunter Valley and Central Queensland. What few have noticed is the swing at Work in many safe liberal seats.

This time, says Metcalfe, wealthy, educated professionals swung 11-12% against the Coalition, while the country’s working poor – the fifth of polling booths paying the lowest rent, earning the lowest incomes and with the less skills – only tipped 3-4% against.

As we know, much of this change in attitude towards the Liberals has come from the teal independents in the Liberal heartlands seats in Melbourne, Sydney and Perth. The most dominant feature of the teal seats was their high level of “schooling”.

Not surprisingly, income and education are strongly correlated. But Metcalfe says education, not income, determines conduct.

Many people think they have detected in recent election results a growing divide between city and country in Australia, but also in Britain and America. But perhaps it’s more of the better educated concentrating in the big cities – where the best paying jobs are – leaving the less educated in the suburbs or in the country towns, feeling that the world has changed in a way they don’t like and thinking about voting One Nation.

Some political scientists believe that voters in wealthy economies are split between globalists and nationalists. Along the same lines, David Goodhart explained Brexit as a battle between those who could live and work “anywhere” and those who had to live “somewhere”.

But it still comes down to education and how ever-higher levels of education – especially among women – are reshaping the party political landscape.

Take climate change. The more educated you are, the more likely you are to accept science, believe that we should act, and not worry about losing your job in the mine or paying a little more for electricity.

Wouldn’t it be funny if the party of the workers became the party of the educated, while the party of the bosses became the party of the fighters?

I don’t see that happening, it’s too incongruous. There is no way for the Coalition to get enough seats without the green heart of the Liberals. But it will take a sea change in policy to bring well-educated people back into the fold, or into bed with Neanderthals.

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