Australian Jewry's conservative voting swing

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Date: Annual 2008
Publisher: Australian Association of Jewish Studies
Document Type: Article
Length: 6,455 words

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The initial Jewish voting allegiance to the ALP

Between the late 1940s and early 1960s there was a clear Jewish ALP voting preference. From his 1947 sample of Melbourne Jews, Ronald Taft found that 75 per cent voted Labor. In 1962, Peter Medding showed that this preference continued throughout the 1950s and into the 1960s. In the 1958 federal election, 56.5 per cent favoured the ALP, while in 1961 the figure was 61.6 per cent (Encel 2004:53, Medding 1973:143). These statistics apply to Melbourne residents only, but they are striking.

The ALP was formed by the labour movement during the 1880s and 1890s, workers feeling the need for direct representation. It was created with a commitment to socialism (Deacon 1994:141, Jaensch 1994:215, Warhurst 1997:167). From the 1930s, the ALP was viewed as the party of "initiative." It was the driving force behind societal reforms, while the others were seen as the protectors of the status quo (Warhurst 1997:170). In 1941, the Curtin government removed the ban on the Communist Party, placed by Menzies in 1939 through a referendum (Jaensch 1994:29). Poor, immigrant Jews would probably have found the ALP attractive during this period of progressive reform and socialist ideology. It was, however, the more wealthy Anglo-Jews, who remained the dominant Jewish subgroup until the 1950s.

In the 1954-1958 period, friction between the influences of the Communist Party and the Catholic Social Studies Movement led to an ALP split, resulting in the breakaway of the largely Catholic Democratic Labor Party (Warhurst 1997:170). This is significant because, during the early 1950s, the ALP had excluded from membership the Jewish Council to Combat Fascism and Anti-Semitism; it refused to co-operate with it as most Council members were left-liberal and some had gained the reputation of being Communist. After the Democratic Labor Party split, the ALP returned to co-operating with the Council (Rutland 1997:335).

During the 1950s and early 1960s, the ALP continued to assert its working-class orientation. Jewish socio-economic status, in contrast, had been steadily rising since the 1920s (Goldlust 2004:19). If by the 1950s and 1960s they had become middle-class, then this continued ALP image would have become less attractive.

From 1966, Gough Whitlam's leadership adopted a distinctly reformist outlook (Rutland 1997:370, Warhurst 1997:171). Under Whitlam, "multiculturalism" replaced "assimilation" (Rutland 1997: 370). Meanwhile, the socialist working-class image of the party was fading. Whitlam caused a lasting change in leadership image: the middle-class, professional Labor leader (Jaensch 1994:222, Warhurst 1997:171). These factors should have been attractive to an upwardly mobile ethnic/religious minority. It was in this period, however, that Australian Jewry appears to have switched allegiance. Perhaps other, specifically Jewish, concerns were the motivation.

By the 1970s, the traditional working-class ALP support base--that of the labour movement and the "blue-collar" workers associated with it-had begun to diminish; in the 1980s it was seriously eroded. The party's socialist commitment was removed from the Party Objective (Jaensch 1994:222). The Bob Hawke and Paul Keating governments changed Labor significantly, appealing to middle-class voters in marginal seats...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A198354453