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Gen-Z are different

Drivers of the growing generational gap in Australian politics
An Accent Research White Paper

This paper is the first in a series by Accent Research exploring long-term trends in the Australian electorate, and analysing their implications for federal politics in the near future.

Using several decades worth of survey data, in this paper the impact of both life-cycle and cohort effects are explored. However, this report does not only explore whether there is a change in support for different party groups across the generations, but also some of the potential drivers of these changes. In doing so, it is hoped that potential political implications of generational shifts in partisan support may be better understood.

Key findings

  • The partisan age gap is not a long-standing reality of Australian politics. In the 1960s and 1970s younger voters were as likely to vote for the Coalition parties as they were to vote Labor.  This trend only emerged in the 1990s and has continued to grow since.

  • While Baby Boomers and Gen-X have become more likely to vote Coalition as they age, Millennials and Gen-Z are less likely to do so than these older generations at the same age, and there is evidence of only a small shift towards the Coalition as the oldest Millennial voters have aged, despite now being in their early 40s. - This lower level of cohort support for the Coalition from Millennials and Gen-Z has driven the emergence of the partisan age gap. However, the main beneficiary of this since the 2000s appears to be The Greens, not Labor.

  • This political divergence between the generations has been driven by real social and material differences between cohorts. Millennial and Gen-Z voters are more diverse than older generations, and fewer Millennials are hitting the milestones in their 20s and 30s that may have been associated with increasing support for conservative parties as voters age, such as home ownership and family formation.

  • On some of these measures, the differences between Gen-Z and older generations are significant: 56 per cent of Gen-Z voters say they have no religion, compared with 38 per cent of Gen-X and 31 per cent of Baby Boomers; and 17 per cent identify as LGBTQ+ compared with eight per cent of Gen-X and four per cent of Baby Boomers. Gen-Z are also three times as likely as Baby Boomers to identify as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander.

  • Likely linked to these different lived experiences, a larger share of these younger generations tend to hold left of centre political preferences, particularly on social issues. In particular, generational differences are truly massive on the questions about help for Indigenous Australians and immigration.

  • For instance, Gen-Z are more likely to support the Voice, with 60 per cent saying they would vote yes in polling shortly before the referendum, compared to 33 per cent of Gen-X and 28 per cent of Baby Boomers. The consequences of the Coalition parties opposing the Voice may be the further alienation of more socially liberal younger generations.

  • Additionally, there is no evidence that generations become more conservative on political issues as they age, and often the opposite occurs. - If current trends hold, and it should not be assumed they will indefinitely, as the generational composition of the electorate changes in the future, the left-lean of Millennial and Gen-Z voters foreshadows significant electoral ramifications.

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