Poor pandemic management pummels Coalition at the polls

05 Dec 2022

The Coalition government was severely punished at the polls for perceived poor performance during the COVID-19 pandemic, paving the way for Labor's win, Australia's leading study on elections and democratic trends has found.

The 2022 Australian Election Study (AES), released in full today, also found voters had the most pessimistic view of a government's economic management, including the cost of living, in 30 years.

Taken together, the findings represent "a serious existential crisis for the Liberal Party", the study authors argue.

Study co-author Professor Ian McAllister, from The Australian National University (ANU), said perceptions of poor performance by the government "played a key role in the Coalition's defeat".

"In 2022 there were three performance explanations for the Coalition's defeat - the economy, the pandemic and Scott Morrison's leadership," Professor McAllister said.

"Only 30 per cent of Australians thought that the federal government had handled the pandemic well. Indeed, voters had much more favourable views of their state government's performance.

"And with rising inflation and a cost of living crisis, two thirds of voters thought the national economy had become worse in the year leading up to the election. This was the most pessimistic view of the economy in over 30 years.

"In previous elections voters have consistently preferred the Coalition over Labor on economic issues. In 2022, however, voters preferred Labor over the Coalition on the cost of living - the single biggest issue in the election."

Study co-author Dr Sarah Cameron, from Griffith University, said voters also held "very negative views" of the former prime minister's leadership.

"While Morrison was moderately popular when he won the election in 2019, by 2022 he had become the most unpopular major party leader since at least 1987," Dr Cameron said.

"Morrison was not considered honest and trustworthy, the two traits most closely associated with leaders' overall favourability.

"The public's dislike of Morrison was impacted by his Hawaii holiday during the 2019-20 bushfires and by a perception of poor performance in the second year of the pandemic."  

Scott Morrison became the least popular major party leader in the history of the AES, scoring 3.8 on a zero to 10 popularity scale, down from 5.1 in the 2019 election.

The study authors argue these factors combined to give Labor "victory by default".

"Labor won the election despite their record low vote and a 0.8 percent swing against them," Professor McAllister said.  "Labor's win in 2022 was more about directing attention to the Coalition's poor performance rather than putting forward a policy agenda that would attract voters."

Dr Cameron said:  "Fewer voters cast their ballots based on policy issues than in 2019, and the proportion of voters who saw 'a good deal of difference' between the parties declined from 40 per cent in 2019 to 28 per cent in 2022."

The study also found gender and generation were the two key demographic changes eroding the voting base of Australia's major parties - a shift that also coincided with increased voter volatility in the 2022 federal election.

"Since the early 2000s fewer women than men have voted for the Coalition," study co-author Professor Simon Jackman, from the University of Sydney, said.

"Labor has the opposite gender voting gap, attracting more votes from women than men, but to a lesser degree.

"In 2022 just 32 per cent of women voted for the Coalition, the lowest share ever. This collapse in female support for the Coalition can be traced to the treatment of women within the Liberal party.

"The divide between how younger and older generations of Australians vote is even more pronounced than the gender gap. Younger generations have very different voting patterns to previous generations at the same stage of the lifecycle and are much further to the left in their party preferences.

"Just 27 per cent of millennials said they voted for the Coalition in 2022. At no time in the 35-year history of the AES has there been such a low level of support for either major party in so large a segment of the electorate."

These demographic changes come as more voters abandon the two major parties. The number of voters who said they had always voted for the same party fell to an all-time low of 37 per cent in 2022. This figure was 72 per cent in 1967.   

In addition, the proportion of voters who considered voting for another party during the 2022 election campaign, 36 per cent, has never been higher.

The 2022 Australian Election Study is led by The Australian National University with Griffith University. It includes findings on this year's federal election as well as 35 years of trends in political opinion. Read the full study online: www.australianelectionstudy.org

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