Young and restless: Youth support for far right a threat to Albanese

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The Labor Party risks being deserted by disillusioned young voters, a left-leaning Australian think tank has warned as it tracks a surge of support for far-right parties across the world by people under 30.

A new paper from the John Curtin Research Centre argues that Labor’s near record low primary vote could be further depleted if it fails to win the trust of a lost generation of younger Australians unable to afford homes.

Anthony Albanese won the 2022 election with a record-low Labor primary vote.Credit: Alex Ellinghausen

The party’s youth wing must radically change from a culturally homogenous group of privileged university students to one that embraces TAFE students and battlers, the Labor-aligned think tank urges.

“Over the past few generations, the children and grandchildren of working-class Australians
smashed by Paul Keating’s ‘recession we had to have’ of the early 1990s and who were buffeted by the [global financial crisis] and then COVID have given the finger to the ALP,” writes the think-tank’s director, Labor historian Nick Dyrenfurth.

“They too are angry at and alienated from the economic system which they feel is gamed against them, and progressive cultural obsessions which they feel ignore their primary needs, stuck in a loop of poorer educational outcomes, fewer training and job opportunities, unemployment or precarious employment and with no hope of becoming homeowners or renting on fair terms.”

Dyrenfurth said that “contrary to right-wing spin”, the shift was not being driven by so-called woke issues and the culture wars.

“It’s the economy, stupid! And if we in Labor continue to think these young voters are the problem – implicitly stupid – they will deservedly punish us,” he wrote.

The paper cites examples from Europe and South America that show a rise in support for right-wing parties among young voters.

The party of new anti-immigration Dutch Prime Minister Geert Wilders won a larger share of the vote among 18-34 year olds than any other party. The Trump-like Argentinian President Javier Milei won by a large margin among young voters.

In Sweden, the spiritual home of European social democracy, 22 per cent of voters aged under 21 voted for the major far-right party in 2022 – up from 12 per cent in 2018.

Geert Wilders’ Freedom party topped the polls in last month’s Dutch elections.Credit: Getty

In last year’s run-off election, French right-winger Marine Le Pen won half the votes of those aged 25-34 and in a recent German state election the anti-Islam Alternative for Germany came top among voters under 30.

Far-right parties in Austria and Spain also enjoy strong support from young people.

Boys in the final year of school in the US are nearly twice as likely to identify as conservative than left-leaning, according to last year’s respected Monitoring the Future survey – reversing trends of decades past.

However, the survey also showed the majority of young men either had no politics or identified as moderate. The same survey showed young women drifting leftward.

Greens leader Adam Bandt and the party’s spokesperson for housing and homelessness Max Chandler-Mather.Credit: Alex Ellinghausen

“If Labor folks think young people won’t ever vote for right-wing, populist anti-establishment parties, and that they, as a whole, are moving leftward or have all become progressives, think again,” the paper states, adding that many Gen Y and Gen Xers had little regard for the political system.

“There is every possibility of a second pincer threat from a new or renewed party on the populist right.

“Most young people are not xenophobic, but their lives are precarious, amid crises in the availability and nature of work, and of housing and healthcare options.”

Dyrenfurth notes the Australian Greens – led by Adam Bandt and housing advocate Max Chandler-Mather – has morphed into a party interested in young voters’ economic rights rather than simply environmental policy.

“The left-wing populism spouted by the Greens, especially Chandler-Mather – himself a renter and almost the only renter in federal parliament – is cutting through with ‘Generation Rent’,” the paper states.

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