IPA Today

Liberals Must Learn That Aspiration Is For The Young Too

Written by
1 December 2022

Jordan Peterson has no problem appealing to young people but, as demonstrated in Victoria, the Liberal Party isn’t making much headway among the under-40s.

Last Saturday night in Melbourne, at the same time as the Victorian Liberals were getting thrashed in the state election – their third defeat in a row and their fifth loss from the last six elections – Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson was speaking at an event almost literally across the road from Liberal headquarters.

One of the many reasons the Liberals lost is because of their lack of appeal to voters under 40, especially Generation Z (those under 25). As political consultants Redbridge Group have perceptively identified, under-40s are now 36 per cent of Victorian voters. Ten years ago, that share was 18 per cent.

An explanation for the Victorian Liberals’ promise to legislate for a more radical emissions target by 2030 than even that proposed by Anthony Albanese – not so much a “Labor-lite” policy as “Labor-heavy” – was because “young people” said “they wanted something done about climate change”.

It will be interesting to see what happens if ever enough young people say “they want something done about socialism”. Such a demand is not quite as far-fetched as it sounds. In the inner-city seat of Brunswick, the Victorian Socialists party received more than 8 per cent of first preference votes.

Peterson has no problem appealing to young people. Most of his sellout crowd of 13,000 people at Rod Laver Arena were under 40.

Polls taken before Saturday showed that by an overwhelming margin younger voters were Daniel Andrews’ strongest supporters: 57 per cent of those between 18 and 34 believed he deserved to be re-elected, while only 34 per cent of over-65s said the same thing.

If the Liberals got beyond the stereotype of the young as woke eco-warrior, they’d discover aspiration isn’t just for the middle-aged.

The truth is that the only issue on which the Victorian Liberals attempted to communicate with young people was climate change. Which is what the federal Liberals also do. But if the Liberals ever got beyond the stereotype of the young as woke eco-warrior, they’d discover economic aspiration isn’t just for the middle-aged.

For example, an Institute of Public Affairs survey a few years ago of 16- to 25-year-olds found that 60 per cent were interested in starting their own business. Young people are now unaware of the economic and political challenges ahead. Only 25 per cent feel their generation will be better off than their parents’ generation, while 49 per cent think their generation will be worse off.

Great Australian dream isn’t dead

Just 2 per cent said they did not want to one day own a home. But, worryingly, of all the rest who did want to own a home, 22 per cent said it would take more than 20 years for them to have the money to do so, and 12 per cent said they’d never be able to buy a house.

The great Australian dream of home ownership is not quite dead – as much as Andrews might wish it otherwise. In an exclusive interview he gave to The Guardian (naturally), the Victorian premier said: “I get a sense, I’ve talked to my kids and their friends, they’re much more focused on perhaps living where they want to live and ownership is not such a big thing. They are happy to rent with secure terms.”

As federal Liberal MP Keith Wolahan was quoted as saying in this newspaper a few days ago, property owners are more likely to vote Liberal than Labor. “Are we the party of inner-city anaesthetists who vote teal and own 10 rentals? Or are we the party of young families looking to own their first piece of Australia?”

The most popular policy the Morrison government took to the federal election in May (and, other than it’s net zero pledge, the only Liberal policy anyone can remember) was a plan to allow first home buyers to use part of their superannuation for a housing deposit, a proposal long championed by former Liberal MP Tim Wilson.

Certainly, the Liberals need the votes from more young people than just those who go to Peterson lectures. And in a popularity contest of under-25s between him and Greta Thunberg, it’s clear who’d win. However, the point is that “young people” are no more a single, identical, same-thinking group than “professional women” or “multicultural communities”. Young people are people too.

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John Roskam

John Roskam is a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Public Affairs

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