Lawyers sensed electorate’s mood better than other professions

23 May 2022 By Jerome Doraisamy

Both in terms of preferred Prime Minister and identification of important election issues, lawyers’ voting intentions clearly resonated much more with the broader public than other professional services strands.

The 2022 federal election is in the books, with Labor’s Anthony Albanese having been sworn in yesterday (23 May) as Australia’s 31st Prime Minister, alongside the nation’s new Attorney-General, Senator Katy Gallagher.

As of the timing of writing this story, it looks likely that the new PM will lead a majority government. What has appeared clear since Saturday night, however, is that the issues that ultimately became significant in swaying votes were ones that lawyers both identified, and cared about, in much greater numbers than their counterparts in other sectors.

And while Lawyers Weekly and Momentum Intelligence will soon conduct research into who lawyers ultimately cast their votes for and why, their pre-election intentions demonstrate a stronger resonance with the rest of the public than other professions.

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Cross-industry findings

In both February and April of this year, Momentum Intelligence published Industry Insight reports, which surveyed the attitudes, preferences and considerations of the accounting, aviation, defence, financial services, mortgage broking, real estate, and legal services sectors with regard to the 2022 federal election.

In both surveys, six out of seven sectors said that they would prefer a re-elected Coalition government over a Labor government, on a two-party preferred basis, with 58 per cent of the 2,800 professionals nationwide in the first survey backing Scott Morrison over Anthony Albanese (34 per cent), with more than half keeping faith in the incumbent in the second poll.

Law was the exception to this rule: in both surveys, law was the only demographic to back Albanese, with three in five respondents (61 per cent) choosing Labor over LNP.

This was in sharp contrast with their professional services counterparts across the board: just 19 per cent of mortgage brokers and 27 per cent of real estate agents preferred the idea of Albanese as PM. None of the 2,500 respondents in the six aforementioned sectors (from the second survey) offered greater than one-third support for the Labor leader.

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When it came to voting considerations, lawyers were more in sync with other respondents on the economy, with 61 per cent of legal services respondents saying that economic considerations were going to be an important factor when casting their votes, compared to 69 per cent of respondents from all seven sectors.

That was where the similarities ended, however.

As detailed in an outline of the issues that would decide the votes of lawyers, 63 per cent of legal professionals surveyed saw the environment and climate change as a significant issue for consideration ahead of the election, compared to just 44 per cent of respondents overall. Just 36 per cent of accountants saw it as important, as did 38 per cent of real estate agents.

In February, almost half (46 per cent) of lawyers surveyed identified the establishment of a national integrity and anti-corruption commission as important for the election, compared to just 24 per cent across the seven sectors. In the April survey, only 14 per cent of mortgage brokers deemed this important.

But the biggest contrast between law and other sectors arose from the topics of gender, sexual harassment and related misconduct.

Just under three in 10 (29 per cent) lawyers, across both surveys, said that addressing sexual harassment and related misconduct was important. Cumulatively, just 16 per cent of all seven sectors said the same, with defence professionals (12 per cent), aviation professionals (13 per cent) and accountants (15 per cent) scoring this issue the lowest.

It was the same story on the question of gender, diversity and inclusion: one in three (32 per cent) of lawyers identified this as an issue for serious consideration when voting, compared to only 14 per cent across the board. A mere 10 per cent of mortgage brokers, real estate agents and aviation professionals deemed this important.

Reflections

The electoral success of The Greens and the “teal independents” on Saturday night (21 May) highlights just how much closer lawyers were to the nation’s pulse than their counterparts in accounting, aviation, defence, financial services, mortgage broking and real estate.

The Greens experienced its best-ever election result, securing three – possibly four – lower house seats, and bolstering its senate numbers to 12. With up to 16 representatives across both houses of Parliament, the biggest minor party in Australian politics is set to become a much more influential player.

Elsewhere, the teal candidates, running as independents, have won six seats. Dr Sophie Scamps, Kylea Tink, Allegra Spender, Dr Monique Ryan, Zoe Daniel and Kate Chaney will all join barrister Zali Steggall on the crossbench in the lower house, meaning there are now seven teal independents in Parliament.

As has been well-documented, the three headline issues that the teals campaigned on (separately, not in collaboration) were: environmental concerns, the establishment of a federal ICAC, and gender equality. These are issues that The Greens have long championed.

Labor – despite its own low primary vote – has been swept to power, in line with the voting intentions of a majority of lawyers and on the back of an elevated primary vote for The Greens and the denial of blue-ribbon seats to the Liberals.

And, the now-former Morrison government was comprehensively beaten, due not just to the bleeding of seats to Labor but also the shocking losses of Liberal strongholds to teals, who fought on issues that lawyers cared about and other professions almost entirely ignored.

Each individual lawyer will have their own reasons for voting as they did on Saturday. However, there are a few potential explanations for why lawyers were better able to read the room, relative to other sectors.

One is in the perception of the umbrella term humanitarian concerns”, which just 19 per cent of those surveyed by Momentum Intelligence identified as an important issue for the election. Thirty-six per cent of lawyers said they saw such concerns (which can reasonably include environmental issues, integrity in Parliament and gender equality) as being important for the vote.

In conversation with Lawyers Weekly, Momentum Intelligence director Michael Johnson offered an additional reason for the reluctance of the other six professional strands to back in Labor pre-election.

Many other industries surveyed, he explained, were “not clear” on how a Labor government would impact their livelihoods, relative to the legal profession, until late in the campaign.

“This is true for both mortgage brokers and financial advisers, who had some regulatory positions clarified by the ALP within the last two months of the campaign,” he outlined.

This goes some way to explaining why some sectors may not have been keen to vote for Albanese, but it doesn’t extrapolate why the issues that have delivered seats in Parliament to The Greens and teals were deemed unimportant, relative to other concerns, by those across other professional services.

The answer may be that – by virtue of the ever-increasing volume of pro bono work being undertaken by lawyers nationwide, as well as the services undertaken for members of the community and their idiosyncratic needs – lawyers’ sense of social justice makes them better placed to deduce what is, or will be, important to broader society.

As evidenced by the above two surveys, lawyers absolutely do care strongly about business-adjacent items such as taxation, SME interests, technology and innovation, just as the other six sectors do. But legal professionals have, in Momentum Intelligence’s findings, displayed a much more holistic appreciation for what is important to those around them.

Whatever the reason for lawyers’ elevated sense of what issues would be important on Election Day, looking ahead, Mr Johnson said that “moving forward, it will be important for the business community to continue to raise its concerns, but ultimately, to support the success of the incoming government”.

“We look forward to capturing these sentiments in future editions of the Industry Insight survey,” he concluded. 

Lawyers sensed electorate’s mood better than other professions
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