Health: Did you know?

Health care has ranked as one of the key issues in every recent Australian election. Post-election surveys indicate that Labor has done best when it presents a clear and distinctive reform message, including firm support for universal access to Medicare.

The Australian Election Study questions more than twenty thousand voters after each election. It has found that health has been one of the top two concerns of voters in every election since 1990 – but for 1998 – when the GST trumped all. In 2001 ‘health and Medicare’ was ranked as one of the two most important issues by 33% of those surveyed; refugees and asylum seekers scored only 23%. In 2004 ‘health and Medicare’ rose to 49%; worries about interest rates scored just 17%. When respondents were asked which issues were ‘extremely important’ to their vote, ‘health’ led all other issues – even the GST in 1998.

When these concerns were turned into votes, the results were more complex. Labor was the main beneficiary in elections where there was a clear choice between the main parties. In 1993, after the Coalition pledged to abolish Medicare, the ALP surged to a 23 points advantage. After John Howard’s assurances in 1996 that Medicare would stay, the parties drew level. In 1998 and 2001 Labor surged ahead again, with a lead of 13-14 percentage points. In 2004, after the massive publicity campaign for Medicare Plus, the Howard government halved this lead.

All surveys need to be treated with caution, and in this case the results are complicated by minor changes in the questions. However, the size and consistency of the results present a clear message for both parties.

Source: AES Data, Social Science Data Archive , Australian National University.

Dr James Gillespie
Sesquicentenary Senior Lecturer
Health Policy School of Public Health
Australian Health Policy Institute
at The University of Sydney

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