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Australia speaks - it's Obama v McCain

By Graham Young - posted Tuesday, 5 February 2008

When the 13 British colonies in North America realised that they were hostage to decisions made an ocean away by their coloniser Great Britain, they declared war. When we realised the same thing in the US colony of Australia On Line Opinion decided to run an "online primary" for Democrat and Republican nominees for President of the United States of America.

The votes have been lodged, weighed and counted, and we have to announce, that while the 51st state of the union will not be sending any delegates to either primary, the respective nominees would have been Barack Obama for the Democrats and John McCain for the Republicans.

Obama won 54 per cent of the Democrat primary, clearly beating his closest rival Hillary Clinton on 33 per cent. John Edwards, who had not withdrawn at the time we started our ballot, scored 7 per cent. 6 per cent were unsure who they would vote for. (While this was billed as a "primary" we ran it just like one of our normal qualitative surveys, so you could "vote" not to have an opinion if you wanted. If you are interested in the survey, it is still live here.)


McCain's victory was, if anything, even more emphatic. While he scored 48 per cent of the vote, less than Obama, his competitors may just as well not have been on the ballot paper. Again, we had candidates who have withdrawn, and one of these, Rudi Giuliani, was the second place-getter on 11 per cent of the vote. Romney and Huckabee, the two candidates still fighting with McCain for the nomination, both tied with eccentric Ron Paul with 6 per cent of the vote apiece. So unpopular were all candidates but McCain, that "unsure" on 24 per cent was actually the second-highest vote recorded.

Democrat Total
Barack Obama 54%
Hillary Clinton 33%
John Edwards 7%
Unsure 6%
Grand Total 100%
Republican Total
John McCain 48%
Mike Huckabee 6%
Mitt Romney 6%
Ron Paul 6%
Rudolph Giuliani 11%
Unsure 24%
Grand Total 100%

Like a number of other states, the Australian primaries allowed anyone to vote, no matter what their party affiliation. Party allegiance introduced some nuances, but wouldn't have changed the result. Obama was 56 per cent popular with Democrats, and only 38 per cent popular with Republicans, but this was to the benefit of John Edwards, rather than Hillary Clinton, Obama's rival. McCain scored 49 per cent with Democrats and 55 per cent with Republicans. There was little evidence of strategic voting with Republicans backing, say Hillary Clinton, because she was least likely to win.

In the US women have been credited with some of Clinton's recent successes. In Australia gender works only marginally in her favour with a two percentage point difference between male and female support. In the Republicans it makes a larger difference to McCain, with a 10 percentage point difference, which is a reflection of the fact that women are 14 percentage points less sure which Republican candidate to support.

Longitudinal data that we have gathered from other surveys also allowed us to make comparisons between voting intentions in US elections and those in Australian elections. This data showed just how much to the right US politics appears to most Australians.

While 95 per cent of Labor voters, 90 per cent of Australian Democrats and 84 per cent of Greens voters would vote Democrat in the US, only 53 per cent of Liberals and 60 per cent of Nationals would vote Republican, with almost a third in each case being Democrats. Even the more right-wing and religiously inclined parties were equivocal, with 63 per cent of Christian Democrats identifying as Republican, while only 37 per cent of Family First voters did. A majority of One Nation voters would also have voted Democrat.


When it came to overall voting intentions, this resulted in an ultra-landslide to the Democrats giving them 75 per cent of the primary vote to the Republicans' 14 per cent. Democrat support was stronger among women, and peaked among voters 55-64 years of age. It was weakest with the youngest and oldest voters.

While Republican support was conversely higher among oldest and youngest voters, the choice of candidate made by these age groups tells us something about why they are voting this way. Younger Australians seem more inclined towards "Libertarian" political philosophies than their older peers, and they are also looking for the fresh and innovative. This saw them being the most inclined to vote for the youngest candidate, Barack Obama, and the oldest, Ron Paul. While Paul didn't win any age group, he scored 17 per cent with the under 24s (about the same as he scored in Maine in the real world two days ago). Paul is also an Internet phenomenon in the US, attracting more visits to his site than any of the other candidates. This may also make him more accessible and real to young Australians than most of the other candidates.

The reasons given for voting for candidates revolved around symbolism. When we analyse Australian elections, policies and actions make up the bulk of the reasons for voting. Impressions, more than facts, were the basis for voting decisions in these primaries. Perhaps that is why "West Wing" candidate Obama is doing so well - he articulates sentiments as though they are facts.

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About the Author

Graham Young is chief editor and the publisher of On Line Opinion. He is executive director of the Australian Institute for Progress, an Australian think tank based in Brisbane, and the publisher of On Line Opinion.

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