OPINION

Did a record-low voter turnout skew the 2019 federal election?

The latest figures from the AEC confirm that last month's federal election voter turnout was the lowest on record since compulsory voting was introduced in 1925.

At just under 92 per cent, such a turnout means that more than 1.5 million registered voters failed to vote. Such disinterest is particularly disturbing and needs explaining.

It is standard political orthodoxy that in polarised election campaigns, such as this, the voter turnout increases. The 2019 election turned this notion on its head.

After the spike in enrolments prior to last year's plebiscite on same-sex marriage, many thought this would result in an increase in the progressive vote. It is clear though, that many of these new enrolees did not vote at this election.

In searching for explanations, there are three possible causes for the low turnout.

First, it is a fact that the seats with a higher proportion of younger voters had higher levels of non-voting.

Most of these seats, though, were in inner-city electorates in the major state capitals, and any increase in the vote would not have changed these results.

This election was often touted as a climate change election. But Labor's mixed messages on Adani lost it any advantage it may have had, particularly in the southern states.

Labor's promise to review Newstart and end penalty rate cuts, which disproportionately affect younger people, appeared to have no discernible impact. The reason is unclear. It may have been the messages were drowned out by a broader debate.

The ACTU's campaign failed dismally, as it's campaign to 'change the rules' did not have the impact of the 2007 campaign against WorkChoices.

So too did the Get Up! campaign, which targeted specific seats, but failed overall to put a dent in the Coalition vote.

While the final results are still being tallied, it's clear a few seats could have returned a different result with a larger turnout. The point to be learned, nevertheless, is not whether Labor would have won extra seats with a higher turnout.

It's why its campaign strategy did not attract these extra voters in the Liberals' most marginal seats.

Labor is now conflicted on coal. It cannot continue to have it each way: it is clear that its conditioned support in the north and a conflicted neutrality in the south simply did not work.

The next election will not be about climate change: it will be about jobs and the economy.

Ian Tulloch is an Honorary Associate (Politics), La Trobe University, Bendigo