According to United States Studies Centre research published this week, Australians who voted for the Coalition in 2019 have far more ideological overlap with Americans who voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 than with those who voted for Donald Trump.
Our comparison of public opinion in Australia and the US found that some 90 per cent of Coalition voters had more progressive views than the median American who voted for Trump.
The survey was designed to get to the heart of political views beyond ephemeral news cycles, such as Thursday's historic impeachment of Trump.
How can conservatives in two countries with so much in common share so little ideologically?
Perhaps no single concept is more central to explaining this phenomenon than the view of individual liberty in American culture. As much as Prime Minister Scott Morrison may have campaigned on the notion of a “fair go”, individualism remains the long-cherished American value that, more often than not, is prioritised at the expense of fairness.
The importance of the individual, and the belief that the government should prioritise individual freedoms over intervening to enact more widespread fairness, explains some of the most eccentric Americanisms.
This is why, even though the US is home to the world’s largest economy, it is the only developed country in the world to lack universal health care and paid maternity leave. The US similarly suffers from a higher rate of violent gun deaths than most countries. And though the US may be home to hubs of the world’s most innovative research, Americans themselves pay global highs for drugs developed within their borders. In fact, the share of gross domestic product that Americans spend on health care is the highest in the OECD.
This is by no means a new phenomenon to the US. America’s fervent individualism is storied. In the early 1800s, the likes of writers Alexis de Tocqueville and Max Weber were intrigued by the deeply historical and cultural roots of the notion. For much of American history, this fiercely individual outlook was bipartisan, albeit to lesser degrees in the left-wing parties.
Yet according to the same US Studies Centre report, individualism may no longer be as ubiquitous in the US as many assumed. Our survey of 1800 Americans and 1820 Australians found that by many measures, American support for individualism is predominantly restricted to one group: those who voted for Donald Trump in 2016.
On essentially every measure that asked about the social safety net, respondents who voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 identified far more with the average Australian opinion than with their fellow Americans who voted for Trump. While some may view Clinton voters as the outlier, it is actually Trump voters who stand out for their views. Much of the difference between Australian and American political views can be attributed to the distinctly conservative positions of Trump voters.
For example, when asked if the government should provide a decent standard living for the unemployed, 61 per cent of both Clinton voters and Australians agreed while only 17 per cent of Trump voters agreed.
When asked if the minimum wage should be high enough so that no family with a full-time worker falls below the official poverty line, 82 per cent of Clinton voters, as did 84 per cent of Australian voters, but only 28 per cent of Trump voters agreed. When asked if the government should provide funding for hospital visits for emergencies and operations to lower the costs for patients, 74 per cent of Clinton voters and 82 per cent of Australians agreed but only 26 percent of Trump voters agreed.
Beyond diverging opinions, Coalition voters made clear in our survey that they would not want to vote for President Trump either. Only 30 per cent of Coalition voters said they would want President Trump to be re-elected in 2020. This is a stark departure from Republican approval of Trump, which has remained above 85 per cent for nearly his entire term of office.
Coalition politicians would do well to remember that as much as shifts in the US may influence Australia, the Trump brand of the Republican Party does not resonate with the Australian psyche, even among conservatives.