The shift to the Right among the weak and powerful is a sign that mainstream economic thinking has failed

The – Australian Election Study (AES) – is the “leading study of political attitudes and behaviour in Australia” and has been running for 35 years. It provides a great time series for investigating electoral trends. The most recent analysis covers the period of the most recent federal election (May 2022). The data shows that Labor Party, which is currently in government has dramatically lost primary vote support over the period covered by the data and in particular among the younger voters. A similar trend is observed for the Coalition conservative parties. There is also strong evidence that ‘rusted on’ is no longer a thing among young voters. The proportions of ‘lifetime voting’ for either major party has fallen dramatically. While the Greens have benefitted from this shift in young voting patterns, there is evidence, which is also resonating globally, that young people are increasingly being attracted to what we term ‘far right’ political voices. That is, where the organised Left has failed. Young progressive minds are deserting the traditional progressive political institutions. Part of this reflects the failure of mainstream economics. The other part reflects the insecure being lured by influential characters who are increasingly embracing right agendas (for various reasons).

You can access all the AES data from – HERE.

The source is: Cameron, Sarah; McAllister, Ian, 2023, “Australian Election Study, 1987-2022 Trends”, doi:10.26193/HPA0BY.

Caution is also required in using the term ‘far right’, given how far to the ‘Right’ the old ‘centre’ has shifted.

I often say that the conservative governments in the post WW2 period in Australia up to the 1970s were more Left than the current Labor government – by a long way.

But we can attribute certain characteristics that separate traditional conservative views (mainstream Tory, Republican, Liberal (Australia)) from the new ‘far right’ conservative views espoused by the new government in Argentina, for example.

Or the views of Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, or Trump MAG supporters, or the rabid right in the Australian Liberal Party.

The stable vote for the Australian Labor Party among 18-24 year olds was 43.6 per cent in 1987.

In the 2022 election it had fallen to 8.7 per cent.

The proportion of 18-24 year olds who no longer see much difference between the major parties (Labor/Liberal) has risen from 13.7 per cent in 1993 to 26.1 per cent in 2022.

The 18-24 proportion who preferred the ALP on environmental issues has fallen from 63 per cent in 1990 to 46 per cent in 2022.

The Labor party has also lost traction among this group in terms of its handling of the global warming issue.

Clearly, we covered some of these issues in our 2017 book – Reclaiming the State: A Progressive Vision of Sovereignty for a Post-Neoliberal World (Pluto Books, September 2017).

The follow-up to that book is coming at some point – with a single author (me).

There have been two Op Ed commentaries on these issues in the last few days in the Australian press.

The first (December 16, 2023) – Young and restless: Youth support for far right a threat to Albanese (behind a paywall) – was reporting on a new paper (not publicly available as yet) from the ALPs own research institute (the John Curtin Research Centre) and said that the message was that:

The Labor Party risks being deserted by disillusioned young voters, a left-leaning Australian think tank has warned as it tracks a surge of support for far-right parties across the world by people under 30.

The John Curtin Research Centre report said that the ALP is in danger of losing further support from younger Australians who are being locked out of the housing market by shortages, high interest rates and underinvestment in social housing by governments.

The journalist quoted the Report as saying:

Over the past few generations, the children and grandchildren of working-class Australians smashed by Paul Keating’s ‘recession we had to have’ of the early 1990s and who were buffeted by the … [global financial crisis] … and then COVID have given the finger to the ALP.

They too are angry at and alienated from the economic system which they feel is gamed against them, and progressive cultural obsessions which they feel ignore their primary needs, stuck in a loop of poorer educational outcomes, fewer training and job opportunities, unemployment or precarious employment and with no hope of becoming homeowners or renting on fair terms …

It’s the economy, stupid! And if we in Labor continue to think these young voters are the problem – implicitly stupid – they will deservedly punish us

Apparently, the shift to the right among these voters is not because the ALP is a voice for “so-called woke issues”.

The trend is global:

1. “Geert Wilders won a larger share of the vote among 18-34-year-olds than any other party in the Dutch election last month.”

2. “The Trump-like Argentinian President Javier Milei won by a large margin among young voters.”

3. “In Sweden … 22 per cent of voters aged under 21 voted for the major far-right party in 2022 – up from 12 per cent in 2018.”

4. In last year’s run-off election, French right-winger Marine Le Pen won half the votes of those aged 25-34 and in a recent German state election, the anti-Islam Alternative for Germany came top among voters under 30.”

5. “Far-right parties in Austria and Spain also enjoy strong support from young people.”

It is also true that a higher proportion of young voters are shifting towards green politics, but not enough to defray the bifurcation to the right.

I recall being in Spain some years ago and there was a huge street march in Seville calling on the government to produce more jobs for the youth amidst very high jobless rates following the GFC.

Most people I spoke to about it initially thought it had been organised by the Socialist Party, which is a reasonable assumption given the traditional raison d’être of the party.

The reality though was that the movement was a far right initiative, who were the only ones giving voice to the jobless and the traditional parties were moving in lock-step with the European Commission on austerity and fiscal servitude.

In Australia, the Labor Party is virtually indistinguishable on macroeconomic issues from the conservative parties, who themselves have moved further to the Right over time.

At present, with 10.4 per cent of available workers either unemployed or underemployed, the Labor government celebrates achieving a near fiscal surplus.

This is in the context of a dual squeeze from cost-of-living pressures and 11 interest rate rises (which have pushed average monthly mortgage payments up by 52 per cent since May 2022 and further increased rents).

The public can see the profit-gouging from energy companies, supermarket chains and banks but the government, which has the power to discipline these organisations does little.

Large multinational companies that hold leases to Australia’s gas reserves and produce more than the domestic market created a domestic shortage in recent years (pushing up prices) as they diverted production to the export market to exploit the Ukraine situation.

The Federal government did little.

The public observe that the Treasurer in recent weeks agreed to cede the power to modify central bank decisions in the national interest, which eliminates any weak link voters had to ensure macroeconomic policy was accountable.

Why support a political party that tells us they are not responsible for major decisions that impact on us adversely because they have actively depoliticised the decision-making machinery by transferring responsibility to unelected, unaccountable and unrepresentative elite bodies.

The Treasurer proposes to entrench that depoliticisation further by created a specialist monetary policy committee full of mainstream economists.

While people may not understand the complexities of how the adherence to the mainstream New Keynesian economics among policy makers had been a major factor in creating the multi-pronged mess that the world is now in, they know from their experience. that the promise of economists to enrich society as they were pressuring governments to deregulate, privatise, outsource, user pays, run surpluses, shift responsibility to monetary policy and away from fiscal policy, deinvest in public housing, under fund public education and public health, shift utilities from service to private profit creation, and all the rest of it, has failed to deliver.

Young people know they face poorly paid and insecure work when they can get it.

They know they face major problems securing accommodation.

They know there are diminished training and education support and if they get to university they will end up being lumbered with massive debts.

They know that the Labor government continues to approve coal and gas projects.

They see the weaseling of government politicians supporting Israel’s ‘right’ to slaughter innocent Palestinians.

And more.

It is no wonder they are abandoning the Party, which on many important issues just plays it safe by staying close to the conservative message, which itself, has shifted towards the far right.

The second interesting OP Ed article on this theme came out last week (December 12, 2023) in the the InTheseTimes portal – Losing the Plot: The “Leftists” Who Turn Right.

This is a US-based media group that publishes material that seeks “to inform and critically analyze the emerging new movements on the American Left.”

It documents a large group of previously progressive voices in the US that have embraced a more extreme Right or ‘neoconservative’ position.

These characters increasingly advocated hard positions on keeping migrants out, increasing capital punishment, and those sort of things.

The journalists do not dismiss them as “crackpots or spotlight-seekers” and are more concerned with “who they bring along”.

They document all the weird ‘coalitions’ that are forming out there in the Right – “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” – such as the “trans-exclusionary radical feminists .. who begin with a defense of women’s-only spaces and then fall, like J.K. Rowling, into alliances with the Christian Right.”

A number of these shifts relate to the so-called ‘culture wars’ or the “identity is just a distraction” mob.

Interestingly, the issues that are driving these shifts to the right among high-profile commentators and the like are not the same issues that seem to be influential in pushing the young Australians away from the Labor party.

The first report I mentioned makes it clear that woke issues are not the reason.

The InTheseTimes article focuses a lot on the retaliation against these issues as a reason for these high profile shifts.

The link between the two groups is that the high profile shifters have a media platform to sprout their often crazy views, which fill a void among the younger generations who are being played out of the wealth system and don’t know why their lives are so precarious.

The right in Seville provided the ‘voice’ of anger and despair that the Left refused to provide, while they were being duchessed by the austerity voices of the European Commission and others.

The Australian Labor Party has abandoned that voice and instead promotes policies that we can all see perpetuate the insecurities that people are trying to deal with.

Instead of actually articulating a carbon-free future, where people can be assured of good housing, stable employment, good access to health care and education etc, the Government talks about abstract things such as ‘budget repair’, and the ‘debt mountain’.

Even the John Curtin Research Centre, which can see the support of the youth crumbling, and which is a voice of the ALP, pumps out material urging the government to do the “fiscally prudent thing to do” (Source) and talks about “massive spending pressures on the budget” and that “we can’t afford them”.

It talks about “Saving the budget an estimated $70bn to $130bn is crucial to its long-term health.”

This is conservative talk – not the voice of a progressive political movement.

The emphasis on the government not having enough money is sound finance talk – the very talk that has led to the mass crisis we are facing around the world due to a lack of public investment and a shift in resource allocation to profit-seeking.


I am still researching all these issues as part of a project to mount a follow-up to Reclaiming the State.

More in due course.

That is enough for today!

(c) Copyright 2023 William Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.

This Post Has 12 Comments

  1. This short comment is similar. Points out that the “surprise” of mainstream commentators in UK at the Dutch result indicates they don’t take much notice of what has been going on around them – and they probably have been cheering on – the same sorts of positions in the UK “Most British liberals have confidence in our institutions to withstand the onward march of the far right. This is a sign of complacency, not inoculation. Now that right-wing nationalism has entered the mainstream, our political system acts to promote and normalise it.”

  2. In these times is theoretically a labor newspaper. That hatchet job is trying to redefine leftism as being mostly identity based. Disapprove of US imperialism? your not a leftist. Support free speech? your not a leftist.

  3. Dear Bill,

    The section you quote from the John Alpin report is hard to parse, but it does not seem to support your assertion that “the shift to the right among these voters is not because the ALP is a voice for “so-called woke issues””.

    They too are angry at and alienated from […] progressive cultural obsessions which they feel ignore their primary needs

    Surely the progressive cultural obsessions are what other commentators call “woke issues”? You later state that “[a] number of these shifts relate to the […] “identity is just a distraction” mob”. The use of the word ‘mob’ seems to indicate a pejorative attitude, but you yourself are claiming that identity issues are a distraction. From my point of view, the “often crazy views” on these matters are also in evidence on the ‘progressive’ side and when mainstream politicians espouse them, they do themselves no electoral favours. Maybe, as you say, this is less important for younger voters, but in any case it seems like left-wing parties are getting trapped in a classic example of false consciousness.

  4. Democracy and its dizygotic twin polarisation have played nicely into the ideology of conservative hateful policies.
    I heard recently, in the US I think, that a percentage of the young were willing to take a pay cut if the company/employer was more ‘green’. Also that a percentage were not willing to seek employment in mining jobs either for example. Based on the surge to the right, that percentage must have been a minority.
    I think if these young people were to all understand MMT rather than the tsunami of myths from politicians. We might have a brighter future?

    NB: poor Argentina…in a big pickle moving further away from being a sovereign currency issuer imho.

  5. I wonder if we can say that they failed, or it is exactly the opposite: they suceeded?
    Populist shift was exactly what happened in Germany with the nazis, back in the 1930’s.
    Nothing new, really.
    Morbid symptoms just like those that Gramsci talked about.
    Nathanyahu, Trump, Bolsonaro, Wilders or Milei are the other face of neoliberal politics, trying to harness on the discontent of the masses, for the mess their buddies created while in power, disguised as democrats.
    Populists are the just right-wingers on steroids.
    What democracy will remain, once power is grabbed by anti-democratic forces?
    Just look at the US: can we call that a democracy?
    What about the EU? More akin to a guild of big businesses.

  6. I reject the term “depoliticisation” as everything associated with government and its interactions with the non-government sector is political (and economic). Using such a term panders to the libertarian proclivities propounded by right wingers and their fellow travelers thereby reinforcing the view that depoliticisation is a good thing for society as it infers increased individual “freedom”. Nothing could be further from the reality.

    The capital order, which is in control of politicians and their politics, has propagandised the electorate into believing that this implies more “freedom” from political interference for us all. Who could be against the idea of more freedom?

    In Reclaiming the State the case is well made that government has not been diminished by neoliberalism but that it has been co-opted/captured to serve the interests of the wealthy few to the detriment of the welfare of the many. A big difference between depoliticisation and co-option or capture. How would it make any sense for capitalists to other than give the appearance of diminishing the effect/influence of government (their narrative as sold to electors) while it is the source of the state’s fiat currency flow to themselves? The Game of Mates or crony capitalism is well in our faces today. The neoliberal LNP and the neoliberal ALP have both been willingly captured and that is where we are now.

    Don’t let your opponents be unchallenged in defining the terminology that is to be used in discussing these matters.

  7. My American view of this is that Occupy Wall Street was the identitarian turning point. You know full well that the goal of capitalist propaganda is to break worker solidarity, and for the first time in a very long time there was an economic protest that made a big splash. The US media coverage basically boiled down to, “I don’t know what their message is?!?!?!?!?!” but it seems what killed it was an injection of identity politics.

    As much as social justice academics say things like “such-and-such focused oppression oppresses everyone,” the effect is to create resentment between different identity groups—particularly between men and women, whites and nonwhites, cis and trans. I think this is why the far more unfocused Black Lives Matter protest got fawning adoration from the mainstream media, because modern racial awareness has the perverse effect of breaking down class solidarity.

    Then yes, as you also know well, fascism flourishes in the aftermath because fascists say, “your economic problems are because of this ethnic group.” Even people who don’t care about the ethnic group at least have someone talking about their economic problems, rather than the liberals trying to paint broad aggregates like GDP as evidence that normal people are wrong about their economic anxiety.

    People who are reasonably economically secure, the higher-earning proletariat and the petite-bourgeoisie, don’t understand why all these yokels aren’t on board with the latest social crusade, and why they would want to condemn the US to a flabby autocrat. Hence you get articles like that In These Times nonsense.

    I think this is also why “Meatball” Ron Desantis has taken such a dive, because he doesn’t appreciate that “woke” is a means to an end.

    Meanwhile, bizarre as it is, the thing that seems to be doing the most to keep fascism at bay is Americans’ love for abortion. Go figure.

  8. “trans-exclusionary radical feminists .. who begin with a defense of women’s-only spaces and then fall, like J.K. Rowling, into alliances with the Christian Right.”

    If only… last I looked at it, that crowd was going straight trough to supremacists, anti-feminists, with a few hanging out with neonazis. In other places, comment spaces *trying* to be more materialistic believe that if the hegemony is bad, and a lot of their pawns are bad, so the other countries fighting against them must be for justice, equality, and all the things they haven’t shown any care for.
    It’s a dismal, hopeless mess. I do believe you are correct, though, at least in some places: voters, especially the young, are not significantly shifting left to right; the left voters stopped believing and voting, while the right voters guess mostly correctly it’s more of an act that is only serious against some they don’t like, but are more interested in the follow through of economic rebalance that will somehow solve their temporarily embarrassed millionaire status.
    But let me also be clear that by “mostly an act” I don’t mean it’s actually not bad; it can be very violent in all ways, but it’s not a real ideological pursuit on the levels of the abhorrence associated with ur-fascism, and not really transparent for the culture of that particular country.

  9. “Unhappy events abroad have retaught us two simple truths about the liberty of a democratic people.

    The first truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is Fascism—ownership of Government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power.

    The second truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if its business system does not provide employment and produce and distribute goods in such a way as to sustain an acceptable standard of living.” — Franklin D. Roosevelt

    “I venture the challenging statement that if American democracy ceases to move forward as a living force, seeking day and night by peaceful means to better the lot of our citizens, fascism will grow in strength in our land.” –Franklin D. Roosevelt

  10. Dear Bill,

    While all the Australian government’s failures that you outline increasingly create hardship and frustrate voters, I feel none rate above its inability or reluctance to address the imperative of shutting down fossil fuel industries, given the dire and ongoing consequences of not doing so.

    Robert Pollin and his co-workers in the US have estimated the total cost of a very generous just transition for workers now tied to the fossil fuel and ancillary industries, assuming that all fossil fuel production must end by 2050.

    Including a re-employment guarantee with wages at least matching workers’ current pay, pension guarantees and re-location and re-training support, total costs are estimated at $3 billion per year average, or just 0.01 percent of average US GDP between 2021 and 2050.

    With this example and an MMT understanding the Australian government could begin re-directing resources from coal and gas extraction to creating the neccessary infrastructure for a sustainable energy future, with the support of workers.

    Laying essential electricity interconnectors underground to avoid community opposition would seem an obvious target for this type of resource re-allocation. Of course in its current blinkered mainstream economic mindset the government would reject this out of hand as unaffordable.

    Perhaps the Labor Party’s reluctance to distance itself significantly from the Opposition may mean it will find itself (at best) forming a coalition government with the Greens after the next election. If so, it will be fascinating to see whether mainstream economic dogma will be questioned if the Greens insist on action instead of rhetoric.

  11. Bill, please pass this to a trusted friend and organise such a study locally it may sort some chaff to sprinkle on your “… follow-up to Reclaiming the State.”

    I especially appreciate the study method enable a true mask off reveal. Only one change in survey. Nice.

    If only we were able to get “the rabid right in the Australian Liberal Party” to reveal their convert prejudices.

    “Why hidden xenophobia is surging into the open

    “Sociologist Mathew Creighton discusses how events in Europe in the past month are fed by people’s covert prejudices.

    Q: “Your work is survey-based. How do you get participants to tell you that they are secretly xenophobic?

    Mathew Creighton: “We provide people with the ability to express themselves under the cover of permanent, absolute anonymity. Importantly, they must realistically understand that their opinions cannot be disclosed. To do this, we use an experiment. First, we present people with a list of items. Rather than directly ask how they feel about any particular item, we ask how many items on the list they support.

    “We do this for two groups — a treatment and a control. For a control group, we only include issues unrelated to xenophobia, like the environment or taxation. Respondents tell us how many items they support in total. For a treatment group, we add a focal item linked to xenophobia to the identical list of items that we gave to the control.”

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