Looking back, and angry: what drives Pauline Hanson’s voters

Looking back, and angry: what drives Pauline Hanson’s voters, by David Marr.

One Nation voters in 2016 were almost entirely native-born Australians. …

Liberal 78% native-born
Labor 79%
Greens 82%
National 91%
One Nation 98%

One Nation is a party of old people but there’s no sign they are dying out. According to the AES figures, roughly a third of Hanson’s voters in 2016 were under the age of 44. And women are voting One Nation. …

1998 male 65%, female 35%
2016 male 56%, female 44%

Reports from focus groups suggest these are working women, better educated than the men. “They looked like nice Labor voters working in nice jobs,” said one researcher. “We had a childcare worker, two government workers, and I think there was a teacher. Yet they like Pauline.”

Other reports from focus groups suggest contradictions here: “Women like her because she’s a woman who speaks her mind. Men like her because she’s a woman who stands up against feminism.” That she’s a woman from the “life doesn’t owe us anything” school is a key aspect of her political makeup. Raising four children from two husbands hasn’t softened her heart towards single mothers. Twice divorced, she backs men burnt by the divorce courts.

Hanson is not pulling the religious vote. … Hanson’s staunch defence of Christianity in the face of Muslim hordes isn’t about faith but preserving our way of life. Hanson’s moral agenda is to punish welfare bludgers not perverts. One Nation voters rarely worship. While 48% of Australians never attend church – not even for weddings and funerals – the figure for One Nation voters is 60%. Breakaway Cory Bernardi is pursuing a tiny constituency who believe in small government and high Catholic morality. Hanson backs neither: she’s a secular, big government woman. That’s a big constituency. …

Labor party research and focus groups report strong growth of support for One Nation in seats on the fringe of big towns and capital cities, seats on the edge of — but not actually among — migrant suburbs. …

Reports from focus groups suggest city folk most respect Hanson. “The bush is more sceptical of One Nation than the cities,” says one researcher. “In the bush they tend to say she doesn’t have the answers. Those in the cities are more in agreement with her. They rate her intelligence in the city. They say she’s doing better, she’s learnt a lot. In the country they think she’s a bit stupid.” …

Many of Hanson’s voters missed out on a big dose of propaganda by not going to university:

Education is the clearest link between Hanson, Trump and Brexit. Surveys here, in the United States and in the United Kingdom all point to education as a key component of political dissatisfaction. In the UK, Matthew Goodwin and Oliver Heath found “educational inequality” was the strongest driver of Brexit. In the US, Nate Silver concluded, “The education gap is carving up the American electorate and toppling political coalitions that had been in place for many years.”

That about eight out of 10 One Nation voters dropped out of school doesn’t mark them as dumb. Queensland, the party’s heartland, made it extraordinarily hard for a long time for poor kids to get to university. But for whatever reason, few of Hanson’s people have been exposed to life and learning on a campus. …

Culture matters to Hanson’s voters:

One Nation is the nostalgia party. “Simply addressing economic inequality – which is what the left has tried to do – is just not sufficient,” says Huntley. “Prosperity is important, but what worries this group is the cultural, social slippage they feel in their life. They imagine their fathers’ and grandfathers’ lives were better, more certain, easier to navigate. Maybe they were and maybe they weren’t, but it’s the loss of that that is worrying for them. The economic argument alone isn’t persuasive for them.” …

Immigration: open borders not popular.

Twenty years ago Hanson’s people were hostile to immigration. Now they are extraordinarily so. One Nation is the party of those not bought off in the end by Howard’s great Faustian pact: close the borders to boat people and the nation will relax about mass immigration. More than 80% of One Nation voters considered immigration “extremely important” when deciding how to vote. …

More than 80% of One Nation voters also want immigration numbers cut. The wishes of the party are now even more extreme than they were 20 years ago. In 2016 the AES turned up only a single One Nation voter happy to see immigration increased. The numbers all went the other way. This puts Hanson’s people dramatically at odds with the sentiment of a welcoming country. …

Their grim attitudes to migrants also set Hanson’s people apart. For One Nation voters, there is little disagreement that migrants increase crime, are not good for the economy and take the jobs of native-born Australians.

Anger with government:

One Nation is the Pissed Off with Government Party. It was so the last time, when Australians still trusted their governments. In those days, being ignored by politicians was the base complaint of the party. Hanson was the gutsy politician who listened. Twenty years later, with trust in government sagging across the country, One Nation is coming into its own as the party that accuses politicians of not listening. It’s the brand. [They] believe politicians “usually look after themselves.”

Not conservatives:

Hanson’s people are not implacable conservatives. They aren’t hostile to unions and they believe – this figure in the AES is quite clear – that big business has too much power. Nor is One Nation preaching family values. They are not lining up against equal marriage. (In focus groups they say, ‘Why not let them get on with it?’) Hanson’s people are second only to the Greens in wanting marijuana decriminalised: 68% of Greens to 49% of One Nation. Not that they’ve given up on the War on Drugs. They loathe ice and fear it as a source of crime and violence. And Hanson’s people are absolutely of one mind on allowing the terminally ill to end their own lives with medical assistance: support in the party runs at 98%.


On the other hand, Hanson’s people are particularly tough on crime. … And their faith in the gallows is complete. … Among One Nation voters, the passion for the death penalty is undiminished.

Huntley is struck by the links between One Nation’s two agendas: law and order, and immigration. “The general way this plays out in groups is for someone to say, ‘Once upon a time you could leave your door open,’ or, ‘You could go to the pub and put your wallet next to your beer and go to the loo and you’d be surrounded by people just like you, people who would never even think to touch your wallet. But now you can’t do that.’ A discussion about asylum seekers and immigration will slip very quickly into that sort of talk. There’s a really intense nexus between law and order and immigration in that group.”

Which parties are Hanson voters deserting?

Some Labor but mostly Coalition. … For every vote Kim Beazley lost, John Howard lost two. … There are signs she’s winning more of her new following this time at the expense of Labor. Hanson was a spectator sport for Kim Beazley. Not for Bill Shorten.


Those who see Hanson tapping into something murkier than mere disenchantment with politics fear One Nation will never be dealt with until the major parties find the courage to address the issue that haunts this country: race. Their understanding – it’s bipartisan – is that however they try to deal with the drift of votes to One Nation, they cannot afford to denounce Hanson as a racist. “We can only address this through dealing with their economic insecurities,” said Labor’s Kosmos Samaras. “If you say to someone, ‘Vote for us because that woman is racist,’ we’d be classified as elites. We’ll get killed electorally. If all we do is try to address the cultural issues, we’ll lose.”