Swing voters

Natasha Moore reflects on the tribalism she's seeing in the current debate in Australia around the Indigenous Voice to Parliament.

Yesterday I went along to a local event put on to help people understand the Voice to Parliament. Noel Pearson and my friend and colleague Tim Costello both spoke, eloquently and movingly, in support.

Soon after the event started, a man came in and sat in front of me: older guy, motorcycle jacket, tough-looking. Almost unconsciously, I pegged him as a no voter.

After it was over, the man – let’s call him Bruce – turned round and spoke to me. Only then did I see he was wearing a ‘yes’ t-shirt. He told me about his doorknocking for the yes campaign. My crude stereotyping could not have been more off base.

For me, one of the most depressing things about the Voice debate so far has been the way it’s cut so cleanly along partisan lines. Everyone you might expect to vote yes is voting yes; everyone you might expect to vote no is voting no. It feels like, rather than engage with the substance of the change, we’re just reverting to our team loyalties. We can all find reasons to back up our choice; but when the head count is this predictable, they start to look more like pretexts for our tribal intuitions.

Predictable, but not inevitable. Meeting Bruce made me more hopeful. From his experience knocking on doors, he thinks more people are open to voting yes than the polling suggests. His main worry is the ‘fundie Christians’ (I cringed a little). But clearly, we can still surprise one another. Just as Bruce surprised me, I’m hoping my ‘tribe’ might yet surprise him.