The Voice Referendum is being put by and overwhelmingly backed by the Albanese Labor government. It is opposed by the National Party and is opposed by large parts of the Liberal Party including Opposition Leader Peter Dutton. It is largely supported by the Greens and ‘teal’ Independents, and opposed by Pauline Hanson’s One Nation.
It is a pattern of party support that suggests referendum night results might follow traditional party divides. This is despite the referendum being held away from a general election, away from a campaign with how-to-votes advocating a vote for or against the government as well as for or against the referendum.
To examine the role of partisanship in referendum voting patterns, I look back at two very different referendums and the relationship between Labor/Coalition election voting by electoral division, and Yes/No referendum results.
The first is the Simultaneous Elections referendum held in conjunction with the 1984 Federal election. With both Labor and Coalition how-to-votes having clear Yes and No referendum recommendations, there was an extremely strong relationship between two-party preferred results by division and Yes/No referendum results.
But the second case, the 1999 republic referendum, was a very different campaign and produced results with a much weaker link between party voting and Yes/No results. Held separately from a general election, the republic referendum was not combined with the partisanship inducing vote for or against the government. The Republic referendum is also unique in being the only referendum put by a Prime Minister who advocated a No vote.
Like The Voice referendum, the Republic was backed by Labor and generally opposed by the Coalition, though with some significant Liberal supporters of a republic. The result produced a confusing mosaic of results where safe Liberal seats voted Yes and safe Labor seats voted no.
As I outline in this post, you can explain more about the pattern of Republic referendum results by looking at the social status of electorates rather then the level of Labor or Coalition support at the previous year’s Federal election.
So are these high social status Republic supporting electorates the ‘elites’ campaigned against in 1999 and so often mentioned again in The Voice campaign? The majority of voters have more interest in getting by day to day than worrying whether ‘The Voice’ will improve the position of First Nations Australians. Does railing against ‘elites’ tap into resentment against those with more time and money to worry about such issues?
Having covered the 1999 Republic campaign and written on the results at the time, I see strong similarities with the current Voice referendum. And on Saturday night I expect to see a very similar pattern of results, with Yes results strongest in high social status metropolitan seats irrespective of whether they are Labor, Liberal, Green or Independent held.
A quick technical point before the post. Most of this post is written comparing Labor two-party preferred percentages by electoral division to Yes percentages at referendums. It could have been written comparing Coalition 2PP% to No% and produce the same findings. You just have to choose one of the two methods of measure, and focussing on the smaller number of Yes voting divisions is easier to measure and explain.
Read More »How Referendum Results Relate to Levels of Party Support