catallaxy files

catallaxy in technical exile

Partisan pessimism?

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According to a Newspoll reported in today’s Australian (though oddly you will have to go to Fairfax breaking news to get an online report of it):

Labor voters have revealed themselves to be among the most pessimistic people in the country… almost one in four Labor voters (22 per cent) believed their standard of living would soon worsen. This compared with 87 per cent of Coalition voters who believed their standard of living would remain the same or improve in the next six months.

Leaving aside the misleading impressions created by the juxtaposition of answers to different parts of the question (77% of Labor voters think their standard of living will improve or stay the same) twice the proportion of Labor voters are pessimistic about their prospects for the next six months as Coalition voters.

But causation could be running two ways here. People who identify with Labor may be more likely to think that they will be worse off in the next six months, but similarly people who think they will be worse off are perhaps more likely to vote for the Opposition, whichever party that may be. If we look at the history of polling on this subject going back to 1985 (available at the Newspoll website) only once, in June 1994, were Labor and Liberal supporters equally likely to believe that their standard of living will get worse in the next six months. At all other times, those telling Newspoll that they were voting for the Opposition were more likely to say that things were going to get worse for them.

This same data supports a thesis of partisan bias in perceptions of future prospects: that Labor voters are more likely to think things will get worse under Coalition governments, and Liberal supporters more likely to think that things will get worse under Labor governments. This is not necessarily a ‘regardless of facts’ stance. Except for Liberal voters during the early 1990s recession and Labor supporters during the introduction of the GST a majority of voters in each survey think that their standard of living will stay the same or improve, regardless of how they vote. But where there is doubt, their perceptions of who the government favours may influence their interpretation.

Averaging the data (and we have about a decade of each now) it is Coalition supporters that look like they experience more partisan bias. Under Labor, an average of 36% of Coalition supporters thought their standard of living was headed down in the next six months, compared to an average of 12% under a Coalition government. By contrast, under a Labor government an average 23% of Labor voters thought their standard of living would decline, compared to 26% under a Coalition government.

What’s hard to control for here is to what extent the support bases of the two main parties objectively do better, or are less likely to do worse, when their party is in power. This is made harder to assess by ‘standard of living’ being a vaguer concept than income, affected not just by the amount of money received in a six month period but by assets (most of which will be carried over from earlier periods) and by the availability of public and private services. Further, parties do not always act according to stereotypes: Labor in the 1980s did more than the Coalition has done to reduce very high marginal tax rates, while the Liberals have splurged on the welfare state, especially to families. Perhaps periods surrounding changes in government give us a guide, too soon for huge objective changes but soon enough for subjective changes. Between December 1995 and July 1996 the proportion of Labor pessimists more than doubled from 14% to 29%. However, Liberal pessimists declined only from 21% to 16%. But perhaps this reflects reality: the May 1996 Budget cut government spending, which probably disproportionately affects Labor voters, but few if any economic benefits were yet flowing through to Liberal supporters.

One aspect of this poll should concern Labor. The proportion of pessimists overall is up only 2 percentage points, to 17%, despite the Labor campaign claiming imminent standard of living decline from IR reform. Their GST scare campaign was much more effective, with 10 percentage points more, to 34%, thinking their standard of living would decline. And as we now know, the GST in practice did not turn out to be very scary at all.

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Written by Admin

January 2, 2006 at 11:44 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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