catallaxy files

catallaxy in technical exile

A shrinking symbolic state vs. an expanding actual state

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A striking table attached to an article in the Weekend Australian (you can read the analysis online, but you’ll have to part with your $2.20 to see the detail) shows that of the 15 most welfare-dependent electorates in the country all but one swung to the Coalition at the 2004 election, and 10 of them shifted by more than the overall swing of 1.8%. The situation was only moderately better for Labor in the 15 seats with the most workers, with 11 swings to the Coalition, 9 of them by more than the general swing. Consistent with the latte left thesis, the only good news for Labor was in the 15 most educated seats: 10 swings to Labor.

Mortgage Nation, a book analysing the 2004 election, suggests that the news wasn’t all good for Labor among university-educated voters. According to the Australian Election Survey results discussed in Clive Bean and Ian McAllister’s chapter, the Labor vote went down among university-educated voters between 2001 and 2004, from 38% to 35% (though this could just be statistical noise). But in the seats where the university educated are numerous enough to set the tone of the political culture, Labor is doing relatively well.

Perhaps what we are seeing here are the twin effects of a shrinking symbolic state but an expanding actual state. Howard has failed to make the symbolic gestures that Keating promised and the latte left want: the three Rs of republic, reconciliation and refugees. So he is rejected by those whose political concerns have moved beyond bread and butter issues. But financed by our extraordinarily long period of economic growth Howard has expanded the actual state through a huge welfare spending spree (ok, some of it is dressed up as a tax benefit), lavishing billions on families – whose political gratitude may well be showing up in these swings.

This probably isn’t quite as bad for Labor as it seems now. After all, if the Coalition is just buying votes they can be outbid, while latte left voting is about personal identity (I am a good person, as shown by my stance on key symbolic issues), which is more stable than a calculation about which party is better for the purse and wallet. But it is only because of declining identification with Labor amongst broader constituencies that the Coalition has found so many votes for sale.

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Written by Admin

March 11, 2006 at 3:59 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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