God at the ballot box: how your faith affects your vote
The confession box may be losing favour, but when it comes to the ballot box your idea of God still has big impact on how you vote.
If you are Catholic you are nearly twice as likely to love Kevin, if you are an Anglican you can still stomach Malcolm and if you believe in nothing, then you’re more likely to believe in Bob.
That’s the conclusion to the Punch’s first installment in our Taboo-Busters series, where we look at politics through the prism of topics that are off limits to polite society.
Thankfully, in Australia we do not have a tradition of our leaders invoking the Lord and Blessing the Country at every opportunity - although the PM’s regular church-step doorstop has bought God back into the body politic.
This analysis of religious/voter affiliation conducted by Essential Research shows the sectarian split exists between Catholics and Protestants.
So what does it all mean?
Catholics –Traditionally the Catholic Church and the ALP were inseparable, the close ties with the Labour movement and the Catholic tradition of social justice made them natural partners. The split with the ALP over Communism shifted this and many argue the Catholic-aligned DLP kept Labour out of power through the 1960s.
Some of those cold war Catholic warriors like Tony Abbott ad Eric Abetz have ended up in the Liberal Party. Meanwhile, the strongest right-wing union, the Shop Assistants (SDA) still recruits most of its officials from student Catholic associations.
During the Howard years issues like abortion, IVF for gay couples and public funding for stem-cell research saw the Church shift its allegiance to the conservatives. But a critical bellwether for Catholics was the WorkChoices legislation, which drew out many high profile figures, including Cardinal Pell against labour market deregulation, a position that frustrated Abbott but re-engaged the Church with the labour movement.
Anglican – While many link Tories with High Anglicans, the early years of the ALP saw it drawing support from both the Catholics and the Anglicans. The catalyst for the split occurred over conscription during World War I, when Labor, at the behest of Bishop Mannix, prevented the PM Billy Hughes from forcing Australia to bolster British troops.
Hughes, a protestant walked from the Party, marking the moment when the ALP because a predominantly Irish-Catholic operation. Ironically, 40 years later, it was Mannix who was the force behind the split and the rise of BA Santamaria’s National Civic Council.
Protestant/Christian minorities - OK, I was bought up a Methodist so I can joke about this category: “Why won’t Methodists have sex standing up? Because it could lead to dancing”.
No surprise how most recently departed PM was of my faith and little surprise that many of them are drawn to his small-minded conservatism. Sorry, Mum. While the Uniting Church is probably the most institutionally progressive, this group also includes the Evangelists whose “Prosperity Doctrine” is the religious justification for neo-conservatism. Also have a habit of backing religious independents to Parliament think Fred Nile, think Steve Fielding.
Agnostics – technically, shouldn’t these also vote ‘don’t know’? *
Non-Christian denominations – in our own little battle for world peace, we have grouped disparate religions like Islam and Judaism together, as their numbers do not deliver a statistically relevant sample. What we can determine here is that they are much more likely to either vote Labor or Green - payback for the years of dog-whistling from the conservative side of politics.
No Religion – People who don’t believe in God are more likely to vote Green than the general public, perhaps the search for world peace and environmental salvation is really just a heaven substitute.
So does playing religion work in Australian politics? The demise of actual membership of churches has clearly cut back the power of the sermon from the pulpit. That said, religious values do still figure prominently in people’s identity, part of their history that does seem to influence their ultimate political identity. And across the religions, it does appear that Labor has a natural advantage when God comes into play.
I think this is where Rudd’s concerted politeness and decency delivers results, especially amongst older Australians. By reminding us that he is of his faith, he invites us all to stick to ours.
* Note to reader, this is a cheap joke as there was no Agnostic category
Next week: Taboo-Busters #2 – Death and Politics
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