US voters go one way; Australians are different

GIVEN the fact that the Democrats were returned to power in the recent US elections, there is a tendency for people in Australia to see a similar trend emerging in the elections due Down Under in 2013.

One should be extremely careful when drawing such conclusions.

Those who incline towards the view that the leader of the Coalition, Tony Abbott, will suffer a fate similar to that which befell Mitt Romney, should take into the fact that voting is compulsory in Australia.

That fact tends to change things a great deal.

In the US, certain voting groups tilted President Barack Obama’s way in overwhelming numbers in 2012. For example, 93 per cent of African-Americans who voted, cast their ballots for Obama. In the case of Hispanics, this was in the 70s.

But these percentages are only of those who turned out – the total turnout in the US did not exceed 55 per cent.

Given that other groups — women, young voters — also turned to Obama in larger numbers than to Romney, there is an opinion forming that there are not enough conservative voters in the US to tilt an election the way of the Republican party.

This is an unsupported conclusion. In the case of African-Americans, for example, many analysts have pointed to a possible reason for the bigger-than-usual turnout – they were offended at the way Obama was treated during his first term and the numerous insults that were hurled at him and hence they turned out in larger than usual numbers to vote for him in 2012. They are unlikely to turn out in such numbers every time – and indeed they do not.

But unless the full electorate turns out, one cannot come to any conclusion about the numbers. One cannot say, with any measure of certainty, that one group or the other has insufficient clout to tilt an election the way of their candidate – as people are saying about white, older, conservative voters in the US.

In Australia, voting is compulsory. Or rather, turning up to a poll booth and getting one’s name ticked off is compulsory. One can do what one likes with the ballot paper thereafter and there are a fair number of “donkey” votes every year.

But one can come to conclusions based on a study of the voting trends because all the eligible voters who are on the rolls do vote. There are a few who do not and there are a fair number who are not on the rolls but the fact that a fine has to be paid by those who keep away from the poll tends to make people vote.

To take statistics from the recent US election and try to draw conclusions about Australia has no rational basis at all.


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