Churchgoing Labor voters

What proportion of Australian voters regularly attend church and identify as Labor voters? How many of those are social conservatives in the mould of, say, Joe de Bruyn? If I’ve interpreted this piece by Crikey’s Pollbludger correctly, the answer to the first question is about 4 per cent. The relevant bits

This is partly reflected by the long-term decline in religious observance, with the proportion of respondents who attended services at least once a month falling from 23% in 1990 to 17% last year.


Of still greater interest is a pattern over the past decade in which the observant have grown more pronounced in their identification with the Coalition rather than Labor, with the gap reaching a new peak of 52% to 25% in the 2016 survey.

25 per cent of 17 per cent is 4.25 per cent.

Turning to the second question, I’d be surprised if socially progressive observant Christians (and members of other religious) didn’t account for 5 per cent of the total population of Australia. So, if Labor gets the support of half of those, that would leave less than 2 per cent of the population in the religious conservative Labor voting category. That’s comparable to the support for the HEMP (pro sex, pro marijuana) party in the last Senate election.

Unfortunately, PollBludger doesn’t give proper links, so I can’t check this out. I’ll update if I find a link

32 thoughts on “Churchgoing Labor voters

  1. so what’s the story cory?

    apologies to all——just a rainyday brainsnap.

    delete at your leisure JQ.

  2. A bit of a problem with this sort of analysis is that it equates religiosity with formal attendance at churches and the like.

    What is apparent even to an atheist such as myself is that many ‘religious’ individuals have eschewed tradional religious observance in favour of other less conventional forms.

  3. Once upon a time, it was all fairly neat in Australia – economic conservatives all voted Liberal but economic conservatives were about equally divided between socially liberal and socially conservative people. Social democrats voted Labor, but social democrats were about equally divided between social liberals and social conservatives – after all, the old Catholic Right in the ALP held anything but neoliberal views on economic (or any other) policy.

    But the famous “broad church’ of both major parties has now become impossibly narrow. If you hold social democrat views on economic matters and socially conservative views then you have to exit to One Nation. If you hold social democrat views and are socially liberal you have to go to the Greens.

    It’s the baleful influence of the culture wars and the consequent preoccupation among belligerents on both sides with symbols and language, at the expense of actual outcomes. Postmodernism has infected both Right and Left, and I think the results are not pretty. There really is a lot to be said for Bourkean compromise and incrementalism.

  4. socially progressive observant Christians. What in the hell ( pun intended) does this mean?

  5. @derrida derider
    “If you hold social democrat views on economic matters and socially conservative views then you have to exit to One Nation. ”

    That might have been arguable in the 1990s. Hanson is as economically rightwing as Cory Bernardi these days, it’s just that she’s a nostalgic protectionist rather than a free marketeer.

    Also, your classification appears to imply that Labor shouldn’t get any votes at all.

  6. Shorten can read these numbers too, which is why he supports gay marriage. If the Labor Party relied on the votes of socially conservative Catholics as it once did, he would not. The socially conservative Catholics are firmly entrenched in the Liberal Party and have been for decades, notwithstanding the residual influence of Joe de Bruyn and his acolytes, which is waning. The socially conservative Protestants have always been in the Liberal Party.

    DDs classification does imply that Labor should get no votes, but it still gets 1/3 of the primary vote. Unlike mainstream centre left parties in many countries it has not self-destructed, losing all its progressive middle class vote to a party in its left – the bleeding to the Greens seems capped at 10% – or losing a large chunk of its working class vote to a nativist party on its right. Labor is in power in 6 states/territories and unless it stuffs things up looks set to win federally next time. Someone should do a study on why and how Labor has managed to hold its voters.

  7. Blind believers in anything are a bit of a problem. Says me, the self-supposed Marxian autonomist! 😉

  8. john, It would be nice if you ( and some of your readers) could do at least some research on subjects you write about.
    Clearly no-one is going to interpret your absurd remark which is an oxymoron.

    What would occur in some-one wrote about fiscal austere keynesians in a recession??

  9. @Smith

    A partial explanation. Labor’s successful management of the GFC didn’t pay off directly, but it meant we didn’t get austerity (despite Swan’s attempts), and therefore haven’t had Pasokification.

  10. On the topic of belief. A search for Bill Mitchell, the Australian economist, can unfortunately turn up Bill Mitchell, the US Alt-Right political and religious fundamentalist Trump reporter, blogger and twitterer. A defining characteristic of his and of all fundamentalists beliefs is that their beliefs are always self-evidently true. Everything they believe is so self-evidently true (to them) that it needs no evidence.

    Such people are impossible to argue with and if they have reached adulthood in this frame of mind they are, in almost all cases, lost to evidence and logical argument for the rest of their lives. It’s pointless trying to deal with them, negotiate with them or argue with them. The best thing to do is to variously ignore them or ridicule them as socio-political and political-economy strategy and tactics require. Concentrate on educating the next generation more thoroughly so that fundamentalist indoctrination and blind beliefs can get less of a foothold and get it in fewer individuals.

  11. @John Quiggin

    It’s a very partial explanation. A deeper explanation might that, NSW aside, Labor politicians have not been [found to be] corrupt – unlike in European countries where mainstream centre left parties have been up to their neck in it – which means that its core voters (or in Sky News terminology, its ‘base’) have had no (or less) reason to be disillusioned with the mainstream political establishment. (The practice of ex-Labor politicians like Marn Bligh to happily take the shilling after they leave politics does not seem to have harmed the Labor Party.)

    The Labor Party is also very adaptable. Once the party of the Irish Catholic working class totally underpinned by the trade union movement, it is now more or less secular social democratic.

  12. I’m guessing that Poll Bludger’s working off the AES data directly (e.g. for R users, ), though I can’t quite replicate his numbers.

    For 2016 I get 453/2818 = 16% regular religious-service-attenders in the sample (unweighted!), and of those, there are 216/453 = 48% Coalition voters, and 113/453 = 25% ALP voters. Those 113 are indeed 4% of the whole sample.

  13. Ignore the silly Not Trampis. Stick with Quiggin DD and Ikon…

    It is true that progressive Xtianity once did inform western politics in general, fitted well enough with socialist thinking as to use v exchange value; in its proposition that class should not obscure and deny the human experience and access to it, of humans having intrinsic value, some thing beyond mere commodification and collateralisation.

  14. @Ikonoclast
    socially progressive and observant christians are oxymorons. you can be socially progressive and worldly or an observant christian but not both.

  15. The thing about being wrong, Trampis, is that you don’t know it; all the evidence you have points to the conclusion you’ve come to.

    “I came to this conclusion based on the evidence I have” -> “all the evidence I have points to this conclusion”. But people still make errors, which means that from time to time what “all the evidence I have” points to is “a mistake”.

  16. @I am and will always be Not Trampis

    It depends on the definition of “observant”. Which tradition does the observant Christian follow? There are many traditions, therefore there are many observances. I sense that by “observant” you simply mean observing the tradition you observe (or that you think traditional or “true” Christians observe). For example, there is a lot of complexity around the theology of “law” and “forgiveness”… but you seem to think it’s all cut and dried and that there is just one true tradition and one true understanding. If you think that and believe that then fine but it makes you a dogmatic fundamentalist essentially. And from your statements above, you are clearly more interested in law and judgement than forgiveness. The path of law and judgement leads to the path of cruelty.

  17. @I am and will always be Not Trampis

    Just to confuse things further, I used to work alongside someone most would regard as a fundamentalist Christian (who unsurprisingly vocferously opposed abortion, drug-liberalisation and gay marriage) but equally vociferously supported just treatment of refugees, including so-called ‘boat people’, robust action on climate change, taxes to restrain wealth and fund generous social programs, health and education etc …

    So ‘progressive’ in part.

  18. @Ikonoclast
    I would have thoufght an observant christian is one whom follows the bible as that is what they believe is the word of God.
    It appears socially progressive Christians do not

  19. @I am and will always be Not Trampis

    Ah, the “who decides” problem, or alternatively “judge not, lest you be judged”. Are you the anointed one, sent to sort the true followers from the rejected-by-God?

    For statistical purposes, we really have to go with the labels people choose for themselves. I claim to be white, male, Australian by choice rather than by birth, and so on. Statistics Australia can’t really afford to come down and question me in detail to establish whether I’m stretching the truth when I make those claims, let alone put them to a vote by the community.

    In my somewhat varied experience with religious people they mostly act as though they accept self-definition in such matters. For example Lakemba elects ALP representatives. You’d think with 50% Muslims they would have an Islamic hardliner in the seat, but instead we get Tony Burke. At state level we have the awesomely named Jihad Dib (as you’d expect he was a teacher before election). Do the various gods involved agree? The lack of widespread struck-by-lightnings would suggest they do.

  20. Nega-Trampis, I don’t think there is anyone in Australia who follows the bible. It’s not something that is really possible to do. That was the case back in the fifth century which was when they had pretty much worked out what the bible consisted of and it would be even harder to do now. There are people who claim to follow the bible in Australia, but they don’t.

  21. @Moz of Yarramulla
    john appears to think nominal church goers are the same as people who believe in the bible.

    It is a bit like saying you believe both in Keynesian and classical economics

  22. It’s never difficult to tell when someone tries to give a book report without actually having read the book.

  23. I was browsing a certain persons web site a number of years ago and noticed that he/she had stated that Christianity is not a religion, it is a world view. I’m not inviting comment here, just pointing out his/her previous musings on the subject.

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