cover image: Why the Voice Referendum is Failing


Why the Voice Referendum is Failing

1 Sep 2023

This report seeks to explain the decline in voter support for the voice in recent months. This fall has generated bemusement and hurt among supporters, including Labor leaders. The decline is also a major surprise given the domination of Labor and the Greens at the May 2022 election and the apparent public support for their progressive economic and cultural agenda. However, Labor’s strength on economic issues (in most voters’ eyes) hid their vulnerability on the cultural front, which the voice initiative has exposed. Commentators have put forward many explanations for the decline in voter support. Chief among them is that voters have been scared by claims that the voice will deliver much greater policy influence for Indigenous leaders than has been admitted by proponents. Other commentators claim that cost-of-living stresses on lower-income households, together with resentment towards elites advocating for the voice, are prompting its rejection. The fallback position for some who struggle to find an explanation is that much of the No vote is based on racism. Our analysis of the polls shows that the fall-off in support for the voice is mainly among non-graduate voters. In our view the main explanation for this is that the voice is seen by many voters (especially the non-graduates) as a challenge to their nationalist values. From their perspective a strong and united nation is important as a protector of their economic interests. So is the maintenance of strong national unity and loyalty. Our polling evidence indicates that they see the voice as advancing the autonomy of the Indigenous community and thus as weakening this unity. Some voice advocates have reacted to the slip in the voice vote by pressing the moral intensity of their cause, with the implication that a No vote is shameful, even racist. Shaming is not working because, at the core of non-graduates’ nationalistic values, is the belief that all Australians are equal regardless of the community they identify with. For them it is voice advocates who are racists, because they are advocating for separate political representation and sovereignty for one racially distinct group, the Indigenous community.
australia voice referendum


Bob Birrell, Katharine Betts

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