Last weekend, Don Arthur asked ‘why is there no liberal party?’ By which he meant, why is there no significant political party supporting social and economic freedom?
I’ll leave the deep reasons to one side. But the proximate reason is that the constituency for such a party is very small. So small that I probably know a large proportion of them personally.
The 2010 Australian Election Survey isn’t quite designed to explore the electoral realities. But it has a number of questions that are reasonably open to classifying the answers as ‘liberal’ or ‘not liberal’.
1. Size of government
I deemed agreeing with the proposition that ‘there are more things the government should be doing’ as non-liberal and ‘the less government the better’ as liberal. Liberals=25%.
2. Tax and spend
In response to the question ‘if the government had a choice between reducing taxes or spending more on social services, which do you think it should do?’ I deemed a liberal response as agreeing or strongly agreeing with lower tax. Liberals=37%.
I deemed the liberal answer to the statement ‘the right to show nudity and sex in films and magazines’ as ‘not gone far enough’ or ‘not gone nearly far enough’. Liberals=9%. Though in this case ‘about right’ is probably a defensible response from a liberal perspective, on about 45%.
For the proposition, ‘the smoking of marijuana should NOT be a criminal offence’ I deemed the liberal answers as agree or strongly agree. Liberals=28%.
This is more difficult to classify. I took the liberal answers to ‘Do you think the number of immigrants allowed into Australia nowadays should be reduced or increased?’ as increased a lot or a little. Liberals=11%.
6. Income redistribution
The AES question ‘income and wealth should be redistributed towards ordinary working people’ is not ideal; someone could agree with it in general terms but still think there should be less redistribution than now. But with this caveat I took disagreeing with it as a liberal – or at least classical liberal – response. Liberals=19%.
But the test of a social-economic liberal constituency is not just whether there are some liberal propositions that can win significant public support. It is whether there are enough people with liberal views across a range of issues.
The table below shows the proportion of liberal responses to the six issues. The one person who gave six out of six and the nine people who gave five out of six were rounded down to 0%. Saying three or more liberal answers makes a liberal gets us to 13%, with rounding. That’s half the proportion who gave liberal answers to zero of the six questions. Australians say they don’t like politicians much, but they have a strong belief in government shaping the social and economic structures of Australian society.