This study investigates electoral choice and electoral change in Australia. The main purpose of this study is to establish what changes, if any, have occurred in the process of electoral choice in Australia.
The way in which this study investigates changes in the process of electoral choice involves several steps. First, the literature is reviewed to find which factors have been found to have substantial effects on political preference. The factors that may influence political preference are organised into five sets of factors: social structural and background factors, partisanship, ideology, issues and candidates. The second step is to a construct a model of electoral choice which specifies these groups of factors in a theoretically plausible manner. The main features of the model are (i) direct effects of social structural and background factors on partisanship and ideology, (ii) direct effects of partisanship, ideology, issues and candidates on electoral choice (vote) and (iii) the possibility of reciprocal effects of partisanship with both issues and candidate evaluations. The model forms the theoretical framework for the thesis. Analysis of data employing this model allows conclusions to made on the factors that are, and are not, involved in the process of electoral choice. Furthermore, comparisons of analyses of data collected at different time points inform on changes or consistencies in this process. In addition, when long and short term electoral factors are distinguished, analyses of the model allow conclusions to be drawn on enduring electoral advantages that the major parties may hold.
The model is employed in the empirical chapters to investigate changes over time by analysing the available data. The scope of the study is limited to the period between 1967 to 1987, during which seven appropriate national political surveys were conducted. The first three empirical chapters analyse distinct parts of the model and compare the results over time. The final empirical chapter employs the results from these three chapters to investigate a confirmatory model of electoral choice.
Focusing on electoral choice the main findings were: partisanship has the greatest effect on electoral choice, ideology is of little consequence in the process of electoral choice, and issues and the evaluations of leaders do influence electoral choice, independently of partisanship, over time period studied. Specifically, the Vietnam war issue prompted electors to vote contrary to their partisan leanings in 1967 and 1969. Furthermore, there is evidence that electors responded to (past or perceived future) changes in economic circumstances. Environmental issues were found to effect electoral choice in 1984 and 1988, but (unexpectedly) transferred primary votes away from the Labor party. Other specific findings are detailed in the text.
Concerning electoral change the following conclusions were drawn. Generally, social structural factors have become less important in the process of electoral choice. The effects of occupational class, class identification, and income on party identification have declined and the effects of trade union membership and religiosity were found to be more or less constant. The effects of partisan background have remained constant indicating a constant degree of intra-familial political socialisation in the Australian electorate. Partisanship has become less important in influencing vote and in structuring the process of electoral choice. This finding is attributed to mainly not very strong and fairly strong party identifiers, who have become less inclined to vote for the party they identify with. There is no evidence that the electorate has become more ideological over the time period studied. Issues appear to have become more important influences on electoral choice. Evaluations of the Prime Minister have become a more important influences on voting, while evaluations of the Leader of the Opposition have become less important.
There is evidence for one of the propositions discussed in the text, that the results of elections held since 1967 can to an extent be accounted for by durable electoral advantages that parties enjoy. A period of coalition advantage was identified during the late 1960s and a period of Labor advantage since 1979.