Republic News

The republican disconnect between voters and politicians

By | | comments |

‘Right-wing’ voters combine high support for the monarchy with particularly strong opposition to parliamentary selection of a President, says John Pyke.

ALP SUPPORTERS want a republic, preferably with direct election of the President, Liberal voters either want to keep the Queen or have a minimalist republic with no direct election, and “National” (Country) party voters are all monarchist diehards.  Right?  Well, actually, completely wrong!  That may be a fair summary of the attitudes of the politicians from the major parties, but among the people who vote for them there is not such a huge difference from party to party, and among the supporters of the conservative parties who are republican they are much more likely to be in favour of direct election of the President.

What’s my evidence for this?  The figures below are derived from the Australian Referendum Survey conducted in 1999 by Gow, Bean and McAllister.  The original data is held on the Social Science Data Archives at (registration required).  As I have discussed elsewhere[2], the survey results are, but for the usual 5% or so of respondents whose answers make no sense, internally consistent and consistent with the results of the actual referendum taken a few months earlier.    The figures are 7 years old, and the party identification figures may have drifted a bit since then, but I know of no evidence that the preferences of the general public on the republic issue have changed in any significant way.

The table below is the result of my own cross-correlation of the answers to questions A14P1 (first preference) and B1 (party identification), using the OASISS program that used to be available on the ANU website.
Party identification No of respnts Republic with direct election of Pres (DE)        % Republic with  Pres selected by Parlt (PS)       % Retain Queen% Don’t know (or care?) %
National 84 45.2 11.9 41.7 1.2
One Nation 53 58.5 0 39.6 1.9
Liberal 1070 48.0 16.7 33.0 2.2
No party id’na 427 49.6 22.0 24.1 4.2
Labor 1149 59.4 23.8 14.7 2.0
Aust Democrts 118 55.1 31.4 11.9 1.7
Greens 91 54.9 34.1 4.4 6.6
Other party 10 90 10 0 0
No answer 429 a a a a
Total/overall% 3431 50.1 18.6 21.8 9.6

a Note that ‘No party identification’ was expressly provided as a possible answer to this question, and seems to have been used by those who identify themselves as swinging voters.  Those who gave no answer at all, despite the presence of the ‘no party’ option, appear to have been the generally vague or apathetic, as a large proportion (about 2/3, by a rough calculation) evidently gave no answer to the first preference question as well. The cross-correlation program did not analyse even the few of them who did answer the latter question.

Interesting, eh?  There are differences between the followers of the different parties, but they are less than you might expect.  (You’ll notice I have put the parties in decreasing order of tendency to monarchism, so that the patterns are easier to see.)

Among supporters of the coalition and ON, the percentage who are monarchists is indeed higher than among those who support other parties, but they are a minority in the supporters of all parties.  The interesting, and perhaps surprising, thing is that support for DE is relatively constant (52±7%) and that the more significant variation between parties is how the remainder of their supporters split between monarchy and PS.  The ‘right-wing’ voters combine relatively high support for the monarchy with particularly strong opposition to parliamentary selection of a President – the percentage in favour of PS is very low in absolute terms and also quite low as a percentage of the total republicans in these parties’ samples.  It seems that, among these voters on this issue, those who do not manifest the conservative "don't change anything" urge tend to manifest the other conservative instinct – "don't  trust government".  (This is about emotions – read it with your right eye covered so it will go to your right brain and you will ‘understand’ it better!)

Next – how dogmatic are the republicans about their preferred ‘model’?  How many of them will not support a republic unless they can get the system of their choice, and how many would be happy enough with either basic model?  The survey asked voters to express a second preference on the monarchy-republic question, the answers to which are not much use unless you know the first preference of the relevant respondents.  So to answer this I used good old OASISS to do a 3-way cross-correlation, adding question A14P2 (second preference) to the two questions tabled above.  (Some of the “Don’t Knows” as to 1st preference actually expressed a 2nd preference – I have ignored them!)   I printed off the result and stuck it in a file, and have only just worked through the numbers to put them into an intelligible table.  Here it is:
1. Party 2. No of respnts 3. DE,or no change!b% 4. DE with PS 2nd pref% 5. PS with DE2nd pref% 6. PS,or no change!b% Happy enough with DE(3+4+5) Happy enough with PS (4+5+6)
National 84 33.3 11.9 10.7 1.2 55.9 23.8
OneNation 53 43.4 15.1 0 0 58.5 15.1
Liberal 1070 27.1 20.9 11.5 5.2 59.5 38.6
No party 427 31.4 18.3 15.5 6.5 65.1 40.3
Labor 1149 28.3 31.1 20.2 3.6 79.6 54.9
AustDems 118 22.9 32.2 21.2 10.2 76.3 63.6
Greens 91 25.3 29.7 27.5 6.6 72.4 63.8
“Other” 10 70 20 10 0 100 30
Total/o’all 3002 31.1 24.3 15.6 5.0 71.0 44.9

b Those who stated no 2nd preference, or who obstinately repeated their 1st preference as their 2nd, were added to those whose stated 2nd preference was “retain the Queen”.   I think we can assume they were saying “give me my preference or I’ll hold my breath!”

Now this may really surprise a lot of people (it rather surprised me, in fact!).  There is no great concentration of “give me PS or we’ll keep the Queen till Hell freezes over” people among those who vote for the conservative parties – whatever attitude party members and politicians might have – and none at all in One Nation voters. What we do find among the conservative voters is the opposite – a strong concentration of “DE or nothing” voters. The polarisation in these voters between monarchy and DE continues – not only do the republicans among them prefer DE more strongly than average, but the DE-preferers among them are more strongly ‘DE or nuthin’’ than almost anybody else.

The last two columns in the table above show how these attitudes should reflect in the vote on a referendum proposing a change to a specific form of republic.  This is not merely hypothetical – the figure of 44.9% in the bottom-right corner is an amazingly close fit to the 45.1% “yes” vote in the actual referendum in 1999; it is so close that there must have been an element of fluke, but the State-by-State figures are also generally close to the actual vote, so the general reliability of the Survey as a predictor of how people felt about republican ‘models’ – and it’s their feelings that get reflected in a referendum vote, remember – seems confirmed.

The right-hand column confirms that the 1999 referendum was defeated because it was opposed by conservative voters – well, everybody knew that much.  But it also shows that if a PS proposal is put again to the electors, even if it is slightly improved from the 1999 model and sold much better, it will find it very hard to get support from those who vote for the coalition (or indeed for One Nation or the splinter parties).  It is true that some of the opposition to PS in 1999 may have been based on misunderstanding of the particular proposal and ignorance of the fact that such systems work quite well in other republics[3].  But the opposition was also based on an instinctual feeling that is particularly strong among conservative voters – don’t give more power to a government.  Those conservative voters who didn’t care about keeping the Queen just didn’t want politicians choosing their President, however rationally it could be done!   They are likely to keep feeling that way. (See my note above, about reading text that discusses emotions.)  Even if a repeat PS proposal gets a bare double majority under s 128 of the Constitution, it will probably not have the support of a majority of coalition voters – not exactly a recipe for the ready acceptance of the legitimacy of the new republic and its first President!

On the other hand the table shows that if a reasonable direct-election proposal is ever put to the people, it will be supported by a significant-to-substantial majority of voters for every party - and I have done another analysis[4] that shows that it will be supported in every State and Territory.  It is true that there is some fear about this in some quarters, though the table shows that the ‘PS or nothing’ (aka ‘DE is frightening’) view is only subscribed to by about 5% of the general population, and about double that proportion among Democrat voters.  (How droll – more fear of democracy in Democrats’ supporters than in other parties!).  It also seems, from my observations, to be particularly prevalent among members of the Commonwealth Parliament and of the Australian Republican Movement.  This view, or fear, is also based on ignorance of the way that real republican constitutions work in real republican countries[5], and on a good dose of snobbery as well.  People in politics or the ARM, or in both, who want to lead us to an Australian republic should reflect on this.  The gut-feeling of the majority of Australians tells them that they want a republic, and that they want to vote for the President directly, and this is particularly strong among conservative voters.  Republican campaigners and politicians – conservative politicians in particular – who campaign against a directly-elected President risk alienating themselves from their supporters on an issue – the issue – of national symbolism and identity.

John Pyke, BSc, LLB, LLM
QUT Law School
March 2007


[1] For ‘disconnect’ as a noun see
[3] See my chapter ‘Let’s Leave Hysteria to the Monarchists’ in John Uhr (ed) The Australian Republic; The Case for Yes, Federation Press, 1999
[4] See web link in n 2
[5] See n 3

Support independent journalism Subscribe to IA.

Recent articles by
Australia's Family Court system failing to protect children

Six years of fighting Family Court battles to try and protect her son from abuse ...  
CQ University staff denied vote on pay-cut option ahead of massive job losses

Central Queensland University (CQU) Vice-Chancellor Professor Nick Klomp is ...  
To the CQ University Vice-Chancellor: Save our jobs and not just yours

An anonymous group of academics from Central Queensland University has voiced ...  
Join the conversation
comments powered by Disqus

Support IAIndependent Australia

Subscribe to IA and investigate Australia today.

Close Subscribe Donate