14 October 2004

The kids aren’t all right

by Matt Rubinstein at 10:42 am

To my considerable surprise, I seem to have mellowed slightly towards right-wing Herald columnist Miranda Devine in recent times. Of course I find her politics repellent and her smugness baffling and infuriating, but she writes well and canvasses all the relevant issues—she just manages somehow to come to these inexplicable teeth-grinding conclusions.

For example, after reading that first sentence in disbelief and sudden self-loathing, I went through a bunch of her recent columns and found that this one on Family First has a lot in common with my spray of a couple of days ago—except, of course, that I’m all for godless secularism. Her big crusade right now seems to be to prove that religion and conservatism are on the rise, and so—I’m trying to summarise the thrust of her argument here—ha!

I do think that every paper needs a diversity of well-expressed views and so I have come around to the view that perhaps Devine enriches the opinion pages of our Herald after all. But then she comes up with something like this article, provocatively subtitled “He might be 65 but John Howard understands how younger people are thinking&#8221:

The story of Howard’s historic landslide is the evolution of conservative support since he won government in 1996. The strong-minded, grey-haired stalwarts of the Liberal Party have made way for a new generation of conservative under-30s who admire the Howard reviled by the baby boomer nostalgics of Gnashville. Howard has presided over a “youthquake” of conservatism not dissimilar to Ronald Reagan’s in the United States in the 1980s.

If you observed each of Howard’s four victory parties at the Wentworth Hotel, that evolution was evident. Each year the crowd has been getting younger, rowdier and more patriotic as the food improved, from sparse plates of triangle sandwiches in 1996 to the tempura prawns and Peking duck wraps abounding this year.

First let me pause to say: puke. Now for some figures. Roy Morgan research from late September appears to confirm what we all think: that people get more conservative as they get older. On a two-party-preferred basis, 63% of 18–24-year-olds said they would vote for Labor, compared with 53.5% of 25–34-year-olds, 51.5% of 35–49-year-olds, 48.5% of 50–64-year-olds and only 39% of those aged 65 and over.

Trying to compare this to 2001 is complicated, because polling back then didn’t give a two-party-preferred result. However, assuming (dangerously) that total preference flows that year were the same for all age groups, my calculations give 64.5% of 18–24-year-olds preferring Labor, 57.2% of 25–34-year-olds, 57.9% of 35–49-year-olds, and 48.4% of the 50+ brigade.

We know that overall there’s been a swing of about 2.1 percentage points to the Coalition this time round. Now, on my guess 18–24-year-olds only swung by 1.5 points, making them slightly less reluctant than the rest of the population to abandon their idealism; whereas 25–34-year-olds swung by 3.7 points, suggesting that there has in fact been a greater-than-proportionate shift in the youth away from bleeding-heart concerns and towards tempura prawns.

If anyone’s still listening, that’s about 100,000 under-35s who’ve jumped the fence since 2001. You couldn’t fit them all in the Wentworth Hotel (though on Friday nights it sure feels like someone has) but at around 2.8% of total voting youth I’m not sure you’d call it a “youthquake&#8221.

Of course that’s only over three years, and there’s no doubt that young people are becoming somewhat more conservative—or, rather, that somewhat more young people are becoming conservative. There was a time when you just couldn’t find a contemporary who’d voted for Howard; now… well, I don’t know any, but I know someone who knows one.

It’s a disturbing trend because young people should be idealistic. We should be revolutionary. We should in fact be more left-wing, more green, more activist than is sensible; we should be passionately committed to demonstrably unworkable ideas. Because politics is about compromise, and you’re not helping that process if you’ve already caved. You don’t see the right-wingers getting any less rabid: they’re doing their bit, propagating insane fascist opinions that surely nobody wants to see implemented. We need to counter that.

Young people need to be left-wing for the same reason as the media needs to be biased against the government—it should always be critical of the government in power. The reason is that someone has to do it. And of course there are older radicals, including the apparently limitless hordes of ratbag baby-boomers Devine keeps warning us about. But this is our core competency—this is our thing. So when you hear about these earnest young Liberal-voters it just doesn’t sit right; and when you read these journalists kow-towing to the government, crowing about how they were right all along: that’s a bloody disgrace.

OK, seems I hate Miranda Devine again. That’s better.

One Response to “The kids aren’t all right”

  1. Nick Says:

    Have a look at the Natsem report on Australia’s population and economy in 2010. The ageing of the population may also mean that we are stuck with conservatism forever…

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