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Immigration, population growth and voters: who cares, and why?

The October/November 2018 TAPRI survey
Questionnaire survey Elections Immigration Voting Population Australia

Previous research has shown a wide split between elite and non-elite opinion on topics such as cultural diversity, globalisation and immigration. Media professionals and most politicians share these elite views, but large swathes of the electorate do not.

The current findings of the survey conducted late in 2018 by The Australian Population Research Institute (TAPRI) on attitudes to immigration and population growth confirm this. They show that the split between elite and non-elite opinion is mirrored in the divisions between voters who are university graduates and voters who are not. This is logical as most elites are now recruited from the graduate class.

These differences mean that, provided conditions remain fairly stable, political and media elites, with their cosmopolitan supporters among the graduate class, can continue to feel relaxed. Their political experiment with high immigration, ever growing diversity, and globalisation will continue to be free of serious political challenge.

This assumption pervades the run up to the 2019 federal election. The dominant view within the media is that the Coalition faces serious threats of losing centre-left voters in blue ribbon Coalition seats. This is because such voters appear to be attracted by relatively strong Labor/Green policies supporting the progressive agenda. This is a realistic possibility.

However there has been a notable absence of commentary on the majority of Australian voters who do not share these progressive views. If there were to be an effort to mobilize this majority around their cultural priorities, as has been the case in recent elections in Europe and the US, it is likely that it would shape the votes of many.

The survey also shows that most of those favouring lower migration also oppose the elite progressive agenda. The authors argue that this is because most of these anti-immigration voters think that high immigration is a threat to their sense of identity and their nation’s sovereignty.

It is true that any attempt to mobilize this voting block would prompt a ‘guardian’ response asserting that such advocacy was shameful and illegitimate. The experience in Europe and the US suggests that this tactic may have only a limited effect (as with the Brexit campaign). This is especially likely if those involved in the mobilization include credible, mainstream political figures (like the Tory party grandees, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, who led the leave campaign).

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