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Young voters desert Howard

Young voters desert Howard

George Megalogenis |
J/uly 21, 2007/
The Australian

*THE Howard Government has suffered a dramatic slump in support among young Australians as secret Coalition research shows one in four voters aged 18-24 have swung to Labor since Kevin Rudd became Opposition Leader.***

The polling, taken in mid-May, has unnerved senior ministers and confirms a strong community mood for "generational change" in Canberra.

Mr Rudd has shifted about 10per cent of 25- to 34-year-olds into Labor's column, and more than 15 per cent of part-time workers -- a sign that Work Choices is still biting.

The Government is viewed by younger voters as arrogant and lacking in energy, according to the qualitative polling which seeks the reasons behind the hard numbers.

Younger voters see John Howard as losing his nerve and not reacting well to pressure, the research says. Mr Rudd, on the other hand, is rated as energetic and enthusiastic and wins applause for appearing cool under pressure, unlike his predecessors -- Kim Beazley, Mark Latham and Simon

The really bad news for the Coalition is that the youth vote may have already bolted. Swapping leaders now to address the concerns of the under-35s would not solve the Government's problems, the polling suggests, because voters believe Mr Rudd is better placed to achieve
"generational change" for the nation than Peter Costello.

Four million of the 13.5 million voters on the electoral roll are younger than 35.

Separate calculations by The Weekend Australian identify six Coalition marginal seats as sitting exclusively in the youth belt, including the Prime Minister's electorate of Bennelong, in which the proportion of voters aged 18-35 is more than the national average of 31.6 per cent.

The Coalition research suggests that the Government risks losing office in good economic times, in part, because of a bottom-up backlash from workers who were too young to remember the last recession in 1990-91.

Concerns about climate change and Work Choices appear to be two of the triggers for the youth revolt.

Labor requires 16 seats to form government in its own right, or 15 if it is to rule with independents. The private polling, widely circulated among senior Coalition figures, echoes a generational mood shift already detected by Newspoll.

The Government had drawn level with Labor in the 18- to 34-year-old bracket by the time of the 2004 election and largely held that ground until the middle of last year, Newspoll shows.

But the tide began turning in the second half of last year. Labor had a five percentage-point lead on the primary vote by November -- 41 per cent to 36per cent. Mr Rudd's elevation in December then accelerated the swing.

The latest detailed Newspoll for the June quarter puts Labor's primary vote lead in the youth belt at 23 percentage points -- 53 per cent to 30 per cent.

Voter concern about water policy and the environment more generally had risen to match economic management as a top-line issue over the past 12 months, Newspoll chief executive officer Martin O'Shannessy said yesterday.

"Generally speaking, the polls are saying the Coalition vote is fading," he said. "It's fading very rapidly in the 18-34 age group and it's fading not so rapidly elsewhere, but there is nowhere yet where Mr Howard is clearly gaining supporters."

The secret Coalition research looks at swings after preferences. The Newspoll data deals with primary voting intention. Both results are in synch.

Earlier this year, the Ipsos Mackay Report, the highly regarded social research series founded by Hugh Mackay, revealed the under-30s were favourably disposed to Mr Howard as a leader. But there was also a tiredness with his Government. The latest research shows that while Mr Howard is still not loathed, the public is waiting for him to move on.

"In this sense, maybe fatigue is worse than hate," said Rebecca Huntley, director of research for the Ipsos Mackay Report, of Mr Howard's dilemma.

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