Christian tide flows back

Australia doesn’t have a Christian vote in the same way that the US does. We have some small pockets of fundamentalists, but they are mostly isolated within communities, rather than representing the world view of their communities.

Christians are distinct in their voting patterns along denominational lines. Catholics tend to be Labor voting, although with strong conservative segments, as do Uniting Church. Anglicans tend to the default position of the rest of the community and evangelicals and fundamentalists tend to favour the Coalition.

However their Christianity does give them some common concerns which make ties of religion at least as strong as those of family and class.

One of the features of the last few years has been the rise of militant atheists like Richard Dawkins. This appears in our research to have led to a greater feeling of group identity amongst atheists and agnostics. While they may have been solitary beliefs in Australia for much of the last century, they are now coming to be more broadly held by socially cohesive groups.

The Leximancer map below, generated from our July survey, demonstrates this. (Click on map for larger image).


One can quite clearly see that Christians are heavily associated with “debt”, one of the issues that is indicative of a Liberal voting intention, but also with “people”. “People” is a word in the leximancer maps which denotes concern for the effects of policies on people. It is an indicator of compassion.

At the opposite end are the atheists and agnostics whose major concern is with climate “change” and “environment”. This does not mean that Christians are not interested in environmental issues, nor that atheists and agnostics lack compassion, just that there is a much higher likelihood that each group will be associated with these contrasting clusters of  issues. That does not also mean that there is considerable overlap.

With reference to the way Christians swung to the government last election you might be interested in this work by my colleague John Black.  With respect to the last election he says:

“…we saw significant swings to the Christian Kevin Rudd led Labor Party across seats where religions such as Pentecostals and Lutherans were strongly represented and this relationship between the outer urban Pentecostals and the more rural Lutherans proved enduring enough to last right through to the end of the modelling process. Here's the data on these two faiths and on the major mainstream religions, by new Commonwealth electorates, so you can see for yourselves what impact the loss of Rudd makes on election night.”

This table shows you how our respondents are voting, sorted by denomination. (Click on map for larger image).


It looks like Kevin Rudd’s Christianity, or at least his approach to politics found a lot of favour with Christians, without alienating atheists and agnostics. Abbott is attracting Christian voters, but at the same time he loses atheists and agnostics. Interestingly Abbott does not draw his best support from Catholics, but from Pentecostals.

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0 #1 Although I am a non-believer, I was brouMary Sharah 2010-08-20 17:55
Although I am a non-believer, I was brought up in a Catholic household and believe that Christian morality has shaped my morality over most things - except with some considerations, for example I believe abortion is not wrong, but a personal choice - just as I believe taking part in warfare is a personal choice.
I am a strong believer in Labor philosophy, where we care for those weaker than ourselves by working together for common good.
Thus I can easily understand Julia Gillard's Labor beliefs coming from her Baptist background - one of the protest faiths of the poor English/Welsh.
0 #2 Interesting! However people are not ChrSheila Hale 2010-08-20 18:02
Interesting! However people are not Christians because they have a Church name tag. Catholics are not Christians because their systems of belief are mutually exclusive. One a system of works which cannot save and the other by faith through God's grace plus nothing. The Bible clearly teaches God hates our own self-righteousn ess and there is nothing man can do to be saved. True Believers are only those who are born again in accordance with (John 3; Acts 2:v36-38; and Ephesians Ch 1). For this reason I cannot vote for the Libs.
0 #3 Well Julia Gillard may not be attractingWayne Cartright 2010-08-20 23:17
Well Julia Gillard may not be attracting Christian fundamentalist voters but she sure is permanently alienating those concerned with justice and humanity.

Personally being gay I take great exception to being told I am a second class citizen and then being told I will be funding other people's lifestyle choices. Under Labor I am told that I can't marry and therefore can't ensure my partner gets the pension from my superannuation that I PAID FOR. However I'm supposed to be some sort of money source for other people's children on this overpopulated planet.

No. I will not wear it. Labor has lost my vote this election, and they may never ever get it back.

Julia Gillard is an atheist. That means that she does not have the excuse of brain washing to explain her statements about marriage, so I want to know if she is just a hate filled homophobe, or simply so selfish that she is prepared to sell my life down the river to get elected. She and Labor are totally amoral.

I'm equally unimpressed with the use of other people (refugees) as pawns in this election, and I will defend those less fortunate than myself by voting any government who treats them inhumanly out.

I'm never going to forget this absolute betrayal by Labor and Sen. Penny Wong is a hypocrite and a traitor to her own kind.
0 #4 I was a christian fundamentalist in my lDon Maclean 2010-08-21 10:24
I was a christian fundamentalist in my late teens, progressed through small "l" liberal christianity during my 20's, & eventually lost religion. So I have viewed Labor & Conservative politics from both sides of the religious divide. Even as a fundamentalist however I supported Labor because it stood for the ordinary working citizen (Christian socialism) rather than the priveleged. Perhaps most fundamentalists see themselves as "saved" & moving towards celestial priveleges in the hereafter, hence they support the party of privelege in the present?

Because both Labor and Coalition draw support from religious individuals (including some of their own MPs) who strongly believe that marriage is between a man and a woman, neither is prepared to risk supporting gay marriage. The current election campaign has spotlighted the definition of marriage as an issue that requires ongoing debate and resolution - this is good! What extra benefits/obliga tions are conferred by marriage compared to de facto or civil unions? Should we redefine marriage in asexual terms and what would be the consequences? I feel for Wayne's sense of betrayal, but he needs to remember that both sides of politics have the same policy at this election, and feel gratified that the prominence given to this issue during the election will ramp up the debate as we move on (& assist those MPs working for change from within government).
0 #5 As an atheist I was extremely disappointLance 2010-08-21 17:17
As an atheist I was extremely disappointed at Gillard's pledge to expand the School Chaplaincy Program, rather than putting the funds towards having qualified counsellors in schools.
0 #6 According to the table at the bottom of Greg Croke 2010-11-16 00:14
According to the table at the bottom of the article, I am statistically irrelevant - I belong to a category that doesn't exist! I am a Pentecostal Christian who currently attends a Churches of Christ congregation. I am also a member of the Australian Democrats. The percentage of either of those groups of Christians who voted Democrats was 0%!

On a more serious note, for me the most disappointing thing about the table, and the sentiments expressed in the article, is that it appears that too many Christians have not thought through where to send their vote anywhere near thoroughly enough. There are several possible explanations for why so many Christians are politically conservative, but invariably they show a lack of intellectual rigour - of analytical thought. Possibly they may be falling into the same trap the Church has historically fallen into, of thinking that their primary duty is to police people's personal moral conduct - tending to a focus primarily on sex. They have narrowed their concept of 'moral issues' to the point where it is about sex and not much else - playing right into the hands of the political Right. We need to do the exact opposite: define 'moral issues' as broadly as possible. Climate Change, Asylum Seekers and Poverty are MORAL concepts. If Christians did this they would find that the most Christian political parties are somewhere between the Centre and the moderate Left. The Democrats, followed by the Greens - and among the major parties, ALP (particularly the ALP Left) definitely ahead of either Coalition party - would thus fit the bill.