In the July survey we asked a special set of questions about Pauline Hanson and One Nation. We re-issued the same questions in a short survey in August. There were some questions as to why: the truth is, the question of ‘why do people support Pauline Hanson’ is one of the greatest unknowns in Australian politics. We guess, we theorise, but there isn’t a great dataset, or any real understanding of the way Australians think about one of Australia’s most polarising political figures.
This is only a start. Of the 1160 panel members that responded to July, 963 answered the Hanson questions. A further 321 answered the short survey in August. 240 respondents voted for Pauline Hanson’s One Nation (PHON) in 2016, either as a first or lower preference, which is the largest sample of PHON voters that I know of. Voters from all states (but not the two territories where PHON did not stand in 2016) reported voting for PHON.
The below graph shows the flow of prior Pauline Hanson or One Nation voting to voting for PHON in 2016. As you can see, only 5.6% of voters (weighted by age, gender, and reported 2016 vote) were both previously PHON voters and voted 1 PHON in 2016, so we can already draw from these figures the likelihood that most of the PHON 2016 vote are new PHON supporters and/or protest votes.
Quite a number (by which I mean over 10% of respondents) were confused by the questions that involved any mention of preferences. Normally with a failure like that we’d blame the question, and I’d say that’s my bad, but there has been a consistent trend in our engagement with voters throughout the recruiting process and in the survey responses thus far that indicates most people do not understand how preferences work, nor the changes to the electoral system introduced in 2016. For example, the most common ‘other’ response in answer to “did you vote for Pauline Hanson’s One Nation in 2016” was something like ‘I vote below the line so technically I gave them a preference, but they were dead last’.
The changes in 2016 meant that those voting below the line only had to number 12 boxes, and could stop, so voters no longer have to number all the boxes (you can if you want to and you have that kind of time…). Above the line, voters now number party tickets 1 through 6 (or more if you want), and there are no more party preference deals – your vote will work through those 6 party tickets and then stop. Senate votes now ‘exhaust’ which means when there’s no more preferences indicated on that ballot paper, they are excluded, and don’t count towards anyone.
To put it another way, you no longer have to give PHON or any other party or candidate a preference, technically or otherwise, in the Senate. For transparency, all those who indicated via ‘other’ they put PHON last were re-coded as ‘no’ to having voted for Pauline Hanson’s One Nation.
Of course, it could just be a problem of memory, and this is one of the reasons we’re running this study through the election campaign rather than sometime after: people don’t remember stuff. Most of the remaining other’s are people believing PHON did not stand in their state in 2016, mostly Victorians. It is unusual for PHON to stick their toe in the Victorian Senate contest, but they did in 2016 getting just 0.2% of the vote. Simon Roylance was the lead candidate (yeah I got no idea who he is either, and I do this all day, every day).
We began by asking what people thought of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation. No prizes for guessing that the most common response was racist, along with hateful, xenophopic, bigoted and intolerant. Stupid, ignorant, and ill-informed was high on the list too. Dangerous, divisive, scary and doing damage to our country was also frequent.
So that’s not surprising, but what do supporters say?
They can trust her. She cares about them. They like her policies. She puts Australia first. Is straight forward, genuine, ‘has no filters’.
But, some are disappointed: ‘had some good ideas but…’, ‘could be much better’, ‘has become like the Liberals’, ‘they’re in disarray’. There were a number of comments about dysfunction in the party ‘couldn’t run a chook raffle’, the poor candidate choices, and her naivety ‘she’s being taken advantage of’. Hanson’s personal difficulties with communicating the party’s position were also noted.
When we asked what people liked about Pauline Hanson (the person) those who don’t support her most commonly said ‘nothing’. Some were more charitable, noting that she’s determined, believes in herself, liking that she’s not a ‘party machine’ politician – she’s done something else in her life, and ‘at least she’s having a go’. And some made comments about liking fish and chips or they quite like her hair colour. Supporters like that she is honest, strong, genuine, never gives up and speaks her mind. Love of country of being a ‘true blue Aussie’ was there a little too. When they (rarely) mention they liked her policies or position on issues, it was usually generic, but there were a few mentions of liking her position on immigration or her stance on Muslims.
A theme which carried over from the first question became much more magnified when we asked specifically what people disliked about Pauline Hanson (the person) – and that was her communication skills: ‘she needs to learn how to speak, ‘she talks too fast’, ‘I don’t understand what she’s saying on the television’, ‘not being nasty but speech therapy might help her image’, and more descriptive references to her vocal stumbling, limited vocabulary and nasal tone came from supporters and others alike.
Other dislikes about Pauline Hanson (the person) from supporters included the stunts like wearing a burqa in parliament, becoming more like a politician ‘she’s starting to lie’, flip-flopping, her poor leadership skills, authoritarian tendencies and mismanagement of the party ‘zero tolerance for ideas from party members’. Dislikes from non-supporters was often ‘everything’, or again reverberated around her intolerance or lack of intelligence, with a bit more detail on her lack of engagement with the issues and struggling with policy detail, and the word ‘narcissist’ was used a few times. A number of supporters refused to nominate anything negative, but instead blamed the media or others for unfairly attacking her or ‘making stuff up‘. A similar rejection of criticism was noted in the Greens survey.
We asked whether people thought their friends and family supported PHON which brought up an interesting trend: a significant proportion of those who voted for PHON knew other supporters of the party. Conversely, the majority of those who have never voted for Pauline Hanson or One Nation have no friends or family who support the party. This would indicate that social influence is a strong factor in the PHON vote.
We also asked two questions that were more about determining how much PHON was perceived as being an actual party or it was all about Pauline herself. They were whether or not people could name any other One Nation Senators (including those no longer in the Senate or in the party), and who they held responsible for the section 44 disqualifications of One Nation senators. Neither of these were particularly revealing – about the expected ratio could name other Senators; some of you consider Pauline as responsible for the entire party, most respondents don’t; although notably a number of respondents saw the disqualifications of Malcolm Roberts and Rod Culleton as entirely separate issues that could not be considered together, so that’s an interesting piece of information to add to the section 44 ponderings.
The most interesting question was ‘Why do you think the majority of Pauline Hanson’s voters support her?’. Note: the order of these changed a little with the addition of the August responses.
It was the most interesting, because even the most strident of Hanson opposers were often able to empathise with the grievances of the PHON voter, and understand why they support the party, with ignorance (including lack of education, lack of awareness, and more derogatory terms of not being very smart) being the most frequently cited reason for other people voting for PHON, closely followed by Pauline’s personal qualities (being a fighter, honest, she listens, etc.). Yes, racism ranked highly here too, but more gave excuses along the lines of ‘they don’t know better’, ‘they’re misled’, ‘they’re perhaps not well educated and easily swayed by Hanson’s simple solutions’. Many referred to Hanson herself, not the party, with the most frequent being ‘she speaks for them’ which includes things like ‘she says what they’re thinking’, or ‘she tells the truth on things they care about and doesn’t care what anyone thinks’.
A good number acknowledged the legitimate grievances of some Hanson supporters, that they feel disenfranchised, disempowered, or just left out, but the vast majority of comments along these lines also came with ‘and they want to blame someone else for their problems’. Those who indicated media influence were quite specific in blaming the influence of breakfast television, and Channel 7’s Sunrise program specifically, for normalising Hanson’s views.
Most of the ‘do you want to say anything else’ comments returned to the she’s racist, gotta do anything to get her out from the opposers, and from the supporters ‘Go Pauline!’.
There’s a lot more here, particularly when we start to layer in the other waves and put together a more complete picture of the PHON voter. It’s on the to-do list for after the election. In the meantime, if you want to read more of my academic work on Hanson, chapter 6 in the forthcoming Rise of the Right-populism: Pauline Hanson’s One Nation and Australian Politics (edited by Bligh Grant, Tod Moore and Tony Lynch) is me on Hanson, the power of personality and populist framing.