Australian Election Study predicts independent MP teal wave: ANU researcher

Lead researchers Dr Jill Sheppard and Professor Ian McAllister. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong
Lead researchers Dr Jill Sheppard and Professor Ian McAllister. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

The rumblings of the historic move away from major parties that rocked the federal election - and propelled "teal" independents into Parliament - could be heard a decade ago, according to aresearcher on a leading Australian National University election study.

Professor Ian McAllister said the Australian Election Studyhad predicted the so-called "teal wave" of independent MPs as long as 10 years ago, whenresults showed people growing disillusioned with the Liberal and Labor parties.

The study reflects changes in both Australian society and politics, revealing important trends such as volatility in the vote, declining trust in politicians and the rising and falling popularity of leaders

"Everybody's talking about the teal MPs at the moment, the big minor party vote. We could all see that coming about 10 years ago because we could see the trend starting that people were becoming disillusioned with the major political parties, they were reacting against overly polarised party politics," Professor McAllister said.

The national federal election study started in 1987, providing insight into the changing political landscape for more than 30 years.

Professor McAllister said it was the "definitive account of why people voted the way they did, the sort of decisions they made, the issues that were important [and] how they made their mind up".

In the year the study began, the first ever short of The Simpsons aired, a new movie starring Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey, Dirty Dancing, took the box office by storm, and Crowded House's Don't Dream it's Over hit the top 100.

Prime Minister Bob Hawke was at the zenith of his political career having defeated newly-minted Liberal leader John Howard in a double-dissolution election.

Bob and Hazel Hawke celebrate their successful election campaign in 1987. Picture: National Archives of Australia

Bob and Hazel Hawke celebrate their successful election campaign in 1987. Picture: National Archives of Australia

The study shows voters approached the ballots very differently. In 1987, 56 per cent of voters followed "how to vote"cards for the House of Representatives compared to 29 per cent in 2019.

Meanwhile, results also show voters in recent years are more likely to decide who they'll support closer to election day, compared to the late 1980s.

The study's findings from the previous election showed trust in government had reached an all-time low. Only one in four Australians were confident in their political leaders and institutions that year, and 59 per cent of people were satisfied with how democracy was working.

While Scott Morrison's personal unpopularity was a factor in his recent disastrous electionresults, the election study told a very different story in 2019. Thenumbers then found Mr Morrison to be the most popular political leader since Kevin Rudd in 2007.

Numbers from the 2019 election study have also been used to analyse how Australian society is changing, and to measure how attitudes towards issues have shifted.

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Despite the survey's long standing success there are challenges, mainly cost and dwindling response rates.

While researchers require 2000 complete survey responses to conduct their work, this has become more difficult as voters are inundated with spam and switch off from survey requests.

"There are biases in these things because you get people who are better educated tend to fill it out, you get people who probably have a bit more time on their hands, [people] that are interested in the election," Professor McAllister said.

Researchers expect to release results from the study into the 2022 poll in late August to early September.

While about 70 per cent of survey questionsremain the same for reasons of continuity, a portion are tailored to reflect current issues. New questions on COVID-19 are set to provide a post-lockdown lens on the federal election.

This story Voter disillusionment echoes back 10 years first appeared on The Canberra Times.