AusPol: The Battle for Middle Australia


If an election were held today, the results of the 2022 federal election would likely be repeated. In 2022, the Australian Labor Party under Anthony Albanese defeated the Liberal-National Coalition under then Prime Minister Scott Morrison, winning government after nearly a decade in opposition.

Both parties faced swings against them in the primary vote, while their combined primary vote fell to a record low of 68 per cent. Labor won 77 seats in the House of Representatives, a narrow one above the majority threshold, which allows it to pass legislation through the House without the need for cross-party support.

Should an election be held today, a similar vote margin would likely be replicated, according to an analysis of ten February opinion polls.

In Farrago’s weighted polling average, Labor leads the Coalition on the popular vote 52% to 48% two-party preferred (TPP), the same margin as the 2022 election. On the primary vote, the support for major parties also remains unchanged, with the Coalition leading Labor 36 per cent to 33 per cent. The Greens currently sit at 12 per cent (steady), One Nation at six per cent (an increase of one percentage point), and other candidates at 13 percent (a decrease of one percentage point).



With a narrow majority in the House, these results could see Labor slip into a minority government, although the party would still defeat the Coalition, who currently hold only 55 seats. Whether Labor can maintain a majority ultimately hinges on whether it can expand its support among the middle and lower-middle classes, collectively known as ‘Middle Australia’.


Middle Australia & the Coalition surge

Throughout their first year in power, Labor and the Albanese government enjoyed positive approval ratings. Labor won the Aston by-election in a historic upset, putting them on track for a landslide victory over the Coalition at the next federal election, and substantiating their appeal to Middle Australia.

However, in a catastrophic blow for the government, its Indigenous Voice to Parliament was defeated at the October referendum, including in a majority of Labor’s own safe working-class electorates. The Voice had been touted by Albanese as integral for Indigenous Reconciliation, a major goal for the Labor Party.

Following the Voice defeat, most opinion pollsters recorded a sharp decline in TPP support for Labor, as recorded by Newspoll (a decrease of two per cent), YouGov (a decrease of 1.5), Essential (a decrease of two), and Roy Morgan (a decrease of 4.5).

Support for the Coalition has since been climbing in Middle Australia. Opposition Leader Peter Dutton, who was a key architect of the “no” campaign, has mantled a Trumpian populist persona, accusing the Australian Electoral Commission of rigging the Voice referendum. In January, he also called for a mass boycott of Woolworths and Big W over their decision to no longer stock Australia Day merchandise.

While one poll found that only 20 per cent of Australians supported Dutton’s boycott, the Coalition’s growing support in Middle Australia has nevertheless been troubling for Labor. Between September 2023 and February 2024, TPP support for the Coalition has risen by four per cent to 51 per cent among the lowest incomes, according to RedBridge.

Federal Liberal and Opposition Leader Peter Dutton. Credit: M Chan, via Wikimedia Commons


Dutton has capitalised on the cost-of-living crisis and Middle Australia’s subsequent dissatisfaction with the government. He has accused Albanese of being out of touch with ordinary Australians, and in a targeted swipe at Labor, has declared the Liberal Party to be “the party of the worker”.

Freshwater Strategy’s latest poll found that the cost of living is the most important concern for voters at 69 per cent, which the Coalition leads Labor on by six per cent. Meanwhile, 54 per cent of people believe that the country is heading in the wrong direction.


Labor fights back

Labor was initially paralysed by the Voice’s defeat. However, in 2024, the government has pursued a series of measures to alleviate cost-of-living pressures with the goal of regaining support in Middle Australia.

In January, they announced a series of independent investigations into alleged corporate price gouging. One inquiry conducted by the Australian Council of Trade Unions found that airlines, banks, energy companies, and supermarkets were artificially inflating prices. These findings have been sent back to the government for further action.

Prime Minister Albanese announcing a review into the conduct of supermarkets. Credit: Anthony Albanese, via X


The Senate has also passed an amendment to the government’s Closing Loopholes Bill, which would include an enshrined ‘right to disconnect’. This right would allow employees to refuse work-related communications outside of duty periods, without fearing repercussions from employers.

An Essential poll found that 59 per cent of people supported the policy, compared to just 15 per cent opposing it. In the interests of businesses, the Coalition has promised to overturn this legislation, putting them at odds with Australian workers.

Most important to the government’s agenda however is a planned amendment to the Morrison government’s Stage 3 tax cuts, effective July 1. Under the proposed legislation, lower income earners would receive a larger tax cut, while high-income earners would see a reduced cut. Everyone, however, would ultimately receive a tax cut.

Coalition leaders initially vowed to roll back any amendments to the cuts, but later reversed their position following the release of polls that showed substantial support for the changes. It is thus expected that the changes will pass both chambers of parliament with bipartisan support.

The latest polls continue to show support for the amendments, including those from Essential (56 per cent), YouGov (69 per cent), RedBridge (60 per cent), and Newspoll (62 per cent).



However, most polls have yet to show a bounce in support for Labor, which is reason for concern for the party.

While Freshwater Strategy found that most people supported the Stage 3 amendments, 43 per cent believed that they would not make a difference, which could explain Middle Australia’s reluctance to immediately reward Labor for their overhaul of Stage 3.

Alternatively, it is also possible that voters have soured on Labor over accusations of ‘breaking a promise’. Coalition leaders have persistently levied this attack on Labor, on the basis of Albanese’s promises not to scrap Stage 3. Whether or not this has prevented Labor from receiving a boost remains unclear.

Should Labor not receive a tax bounce, it could slip in the polls once again, falling into a minority government at the next election. On the other hand, should voters reward Labor, the government may be looking at a swing towards it, which could give it a larger majority. In the coming months, all eyes will be on Middle Australia as Labor and the Coalition battle for the heart of the nation.

Cover photo by Pryce Starkey, using edited assets from the social media of Anthony Albanese and Peter Dutton. Photo of Parliament House by Wikimedia Commons user Thennicke.

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