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What Kevin Rudd must do to win the 2013 election

See our prescription for a last minute victory at the bottom of this page.

The restoration of Kevin Rudd as prime minister has significantly lifted Laborís prospects of winning the 2013 federal election.  But there is one large group of voters who are yet to be swayed and until more of them can be switched from the coalition to Labor, Rudd cannot win.

Chart 1 shows the primary vote intention in the Nielsen / Fairfax polls by broad age group in April 2013, while Julia Gillard was PM.  Laborís primary vote was behind the coalitionsí in every age group and so Labor was clearly doomed.  The purple bars show the proportion of adults in each age group as a proxy for the proportion of voters by age group.  Note that 55+ is the largest age group with one-third of voters.

Chart 1


Chart 2 shows the results from the July Nielsen / Fairfax poll, shortly after the Rudd restoration.

Chart 2

Labor has surged ahead of the coalition amongst the 18 to 24 age group (13% of voters) and amongst the 25 to 39 age group (28% of voters).  Amongst the 40 to 54 age group (27% of voters) Labor is still behind the coalition on primary voting intention but competitive with Greens preferences.

But amongst the 55+ age group (33% of voters) Labor is still well behind the coalition and will get little help from Greens preferences.  Thus, Labor cannot clearly win an election without a substantial lift in their primary vote amongst the 55+ population.

Chart 3 shows the shift in primary voting intention for the coalition between the April and July polls.  There has been a big shift away from the coalition amongst the smaller, younger, age groups.  But very little shift amongst the larger over 40 age groups which together comprise the majority of voters.

Chart 3

Laborís large deficit amongst the over 55ís has been a constant problem since at least the 1990ís and was the chief reason Howard stayed in power (see my earlier article at  The only time Labor reached parity amongst the 55+ population was in the 2007 election which was won by Rudd.  So he can do it but still has to win them back.

Rudd would be well advised to delay the election until he has crafted policies and communications which will get Labor to parity amongst the 55+ population.

Charlie Nelson
July 2013

UPDATE August 11 2013

The Nielsen poll taken over the period 6 to 8 August shows no further loss of the coalition's primary vote amongst people aged over 40 and some recovery amongst younger people.  Kevin Rudd and the ALP still have a to do to have any chance of winning the election.

Coalition primary vote 18 to 24 25 to 39 40 to 54 55+
April 2013 43 43 47 57
July 2013 28 37 45 54
August 2013 37 42 45 54


UPDATE August 26 2013

Just under two weeks to polling day and no sign of a pick up in the polls for the ALP.  Indeed, 71% of voters now expect the coalition to win, up from 54% in mid-July, according to Nielsen polls.

Nielsen polls also rate the major parties on which is best to handle particular issues.  In June and July, Labor was ahead on issues such as health, education, the environment, and the national broadband network.  The coalition were ahead on the issue of asylum seekers although the gap had been narrowed.  After the coalition's paid parental scheme was announced in more detail, Labor was seen as better for handling this issue.

But where Labor is behind is on the economy, and the coalitions lead has been extended in August.  The difference between the coalition and Labor was 11% in July and 21% in August.

It is likely that this increased gap on the economy is the main reason behind Labor's falling primary vote during August.  While Nielsen does not provide a breakdown of issues ratings by age group, it is important to note that those aged over 55 will remember the economic chaos of the Whitlam years and also the "recession that we had to have" under Labor in the early 1990's.  People under the age of 40 would not have experienced the Whitlam years of 1972 to 1975 and people under the age of 40 would not have experienced the very high interest rates before the early 1990's recession.

So it is likely that Labor is perceived to be a poor economic manager by people over the age of 40, and that this would increase with age.  Clearly, Labor has done little to alleviate such perceptions recently.  Indeed, the budget surplus long promised by Gillard and Swan for 2012/13 and the increased spending commitments they made which assumed that revenue forecast would be accurate actually delivered another big deficit.  This was a very costly mistake in a political sense.

Rudd now urgently needs to draw a very big line under this sort of mistake.

Abbott has only promised a budget surplus in 10 years and the coalition are very fuzzy on the costs of funding their spending promises.  This is an opportunity for Labor to do better.

It should be made clear that budget surpluses are needed to fund much needed infrastructure and to provide insurance against economic shocks, such as the $20 billion stimulus cash handed to some consumers in late 2008 and in 2009 which saved Australia from recession.  Accordingly, some spending will have to be cut or delayed to bring the budget back into surplus much sooner than the 10 years promised by Abbott.  The surplus needs to be "guaranteed" in the sense that allowance will be made for potential errors in forecasts of revenue.  That is, spending will be less than forecast revenue by an appropriate amount.

UPDATE September 3 2013


Rudd has failed to lift Labor's primary vote amongst the 55+ population, see bottom row of table above.  The coalition has an absolute majority amongst this age group.  But the coalition primary vote amongst younger age groups is well under 50%.  This leaves an opportunity for Labor.

No problem amongst people aged 18 to 24, where Labor + Greens primary vote totals 55%.  Minor party primary vote is 8%.

Amongst people aged 25 to 39, the Labor + Greens primary vote totals 50%.  Minor party primary vote is also 8% and if Labor can secure more than 50% of these preferences, they would be well ahead in this age group.

Amongst people aged 40 to 54, the Labor + Greens vote totals 47%.  Again, minor party vote is 8% and if Labor can secure 50% or more of these preferences, this age group could be won too.

This leaves the 55+ age group, where the Labor + Greens vote totals 41% and only 5% would vote for minor parties.  This age group comprises one-third of all adults.

The last minute strategy must be:

  • Switch some coalition voters to labor voters amongst the 55+ age group.  This group is easily reached and should not be considered rusted on to the coalition as Rudd did get to parity in 2007.  Even if 5% switch, that would make a huge difference, lifting Labor's overall primary vote by 1.7%.

  • Influence the coalition voters who are not committed.  Amongst all coalition voters, this is 7% who could be considered switchable and 21% who are not absolutely rusted on (according to a Newspoll in mid-August).

  • Lock in the Greens preferences.  The coalition are probably helping Labor here on the climate change issue.

  • Boost the flow of minor party preferences to Labor.  In Queensland, this is mostly people intending to vote PUP or KAP and over 50% of these say they intend to preference Labor (62% and 55% respectively).  Boosting these numbers would work wonders.

It is not over yet. A last minute clear focus on these particular voters, with attractive strategies, could yet snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.