All signs are pointing to a defeat for the Yes campaign, but it’s not over yet.
The Indigenous Voice to Parliament could still succeed with a narrow pathway to victory, a leading pollster says, if the Yes campaign targets zoomers on TikTok in the hope of generating a massive youth wave.
“That’s really their pathway,” said RedBridge director Kos Samaras.
RedBridge’s latest Voice referendum poll of 1500 voters, conducted from September 13 to 21, suggests 62 per cent intend to vote No and 38 per cent intend to vote Yes.
The poll’s margin of error was 2.6 per cent.
No had a clear lead in every demographic except two — young people, and people who speak a language other than English at home.
Among those aged 18 to 34, 54 per cent said they intend to vote Yes.
The Yes vote fell to 39 per cent in the 35 to 49 age bracket, 30 per cent in 50 to 64, and 28 per cent in 65 and over.
By gender, 40 per cent of women were voting Yes compared to 36 per cent of men.
Education-wise, the Yes vote was highest among university degree holders at 50 per cent, falling to 39 per cent for Year 12 or equivalent, 35 per cent for TAFE, trade or vocational and 22 per cent among those with less than Year 12.
A clear majority in every income bracket indicated they were voting No.
The Yes vote was highest in the $50,000 to $79,999 bracket at 41 per cent, and 39 per cent in every other bracket. Those earning $120,00 to $200,000 had the highest proportion of strong Yes voters at 27 per cent, while the hard No voters were most pronounced among those earning more than $200,000 at 48 per cent.
Those who spoke only English at home were largely against the Voice with just 37 per cent voting Yes, compared with 59 per cent of those who spoke other languages.
Asked which issues the Albanese government should prioritise, the Voice was near the bottom.
Cost of living was by far the most pressing concern for voters, with 49 per cent naming it their top issue and 92 per cent putting it in their top five.
Just 2 per cent said the Voice was their top priority, and only 15 per cent put it in their top five.
After cost of living, voters ranked housing affordability, climate change, the economy and jobs, health funding, wages, national security and transitioning to renewable energy as the most pressing issues.
Pathway to victory
In theory, Yes could still pull off a miracle — but only with the help of young people.
To pass, the referendum requires a “double majority” — a national majority of Yes votes, and a majority of states voting Yes.
“Basically the Yes campaign will need to get support for the Voice amongst 18- to 34-year-olds in excess of 70 per cent in outer urban areas to offset the slide in support in the same areas amongst older people,” said Mr Samaras.
“At the same time they need to record significant levels of support in what we expect to be seats that will vote Yes, overwhelmingly in large cities — North Sydney, Grayndler [in Sydney’s inner-west]. In Victoria, Macnamara, Cooper, Wills, Kooyong, those sorts of electorates.”
Mr Samaras said if Yes could get the vote up high enough among younger voters “they will potentially bring states like NSW, Victoria, South Australia and to a certain extent Tasmania to a point where they are competitive”.
“There is an element of that constituency that are not at all attuned to the referendum,” he said. “There is a strong possibility that the [18-34] cohort may come out and vote in large numbers and offset the losses we are seeing amongst older demographics.”
Crucial will be whether Yes can covert enough of the “soft” Nos — those who say they are voting No, but are only “somewhat certain” or “not at all certain”.
Of the 62 per cent of overall No voters in RedBridge’s poll, 18 per cent were soft Nos, comprising 13 per cent somewhats and 5 per cent not at alls.
“They need to secure a significant proportion of them,” Mr Samaras said.
“The soft No and soft Yes [voters] are really a manifestation of people not paying attention to the referendum full-stop. It’s two book-ends screaming at each other and a vast chasm in the middle.”
‘Don’t care’: Uncomfortable truth Yes camp must accept
Mr Samaras said the fact that the Voice ranked second to last in voter priorities highlighted the challenge for Yes.
“People really don’t care about the issue,” he said.
“They might have strong views personally about recognising Aboriginal people in our constitution, but they don’t share the same passion as those who are hard No and hard Yes voters. This is an issue that is not animating people.”
In other words, Yes needs to embrace the reality that most voters don’t care that much about the Voice — but some could be convinced to vote for it anyway.
“There is a stronger likelihood that young people will turn up initially planning to vote No and vote Yes,” he said. “That’s far less likely for older people.”
What should Yes do?
With less than two weeks to go and early voting already underway, the Yes campaign needs to be urgently going after the young soft Nos, according to Mr Samaras.
“It’s pretty difficult,” he said.
“They could try phones, but we know that young millennials and zoomers are notoriously bad to reach with phones. It’s really about using third-party endorsements, using platforms which younger people tend to interact with. TikTok is one but there are many others. Use formats that are free and easily accessible, not behind paywalls.”
Free-to-air TV is a dead end, he added.
“This is an online generation, the problem I’m seeing is that the Yes campaign is still relying on traditional technologies used by parties during campaigns — telephone and doorknocking,” he said. “Most people don’t even answer the door.”
The long-time Labor strategist said targeting influencers to spread viral messaging should be a priority, but to date the Yes campaign had done very little in that space.
“They should have been using influencers quite a lot,” he said. “This is a generation that doesn’t really pay much attention to a talking head on TV versus someone’s [social media] page or YouTube channel or podcast.”
RedBridge’s survey also showed 61 per cent of respondents reported having seen ads supporting the Yes campaign, compared with 56 per cent who had seen No advertising — but still Yes is struggling.
“Because it’s just a default No,” Mr Samaras said.
“It’s been the same for other referendums. Unless there’s bipartisan support people get suss about it. There are potentially two million Labor voters planning to vote No.”
On Wednesday, the Uluru Dialogue and Yes23 called on young Australians to talk to their networks about why they support the Voice.
The leading Yes campaigns will hold a gathering at Melbourne’s Treasury Gardens at 10am with representatives of more than a dozen other youth organisations.
“Young Australians will inherit the outcome of this referendum,” Cobble Cobble woman and Uluru Youth Dialogue Co-Chair Allira Davis said in a statement.
“Throughout this campaign, we have seen their passion and enthusiasm for creating positive and lasting change. We know that we can rely on their support in large numbers but hope they will be buoyed to see this rallying by their peers.”
‘There is no plan B’
It comes after Anthony Albanese on Tuesday pleaded with undecided voters to drown out the “absurd” conspiracy theories and vote Yes.
The Prime Minister remained insistent that a Yes vote will prevail on October 14.
Mr Albanese said he was hopeful that undecided and “soft No” voters could tune out the “full sweep of misinformation”, citing examples of claims made regarding the Reserve Bank, private land ownership, and the United Nations.
“The idea that the Voice will have a say on the Reserve Bank determination of interest rates is quite frankly absurd, just absurd,” he said on the hustings in Tasmania.
“But to me, I think that is being countered by the goodwill that is overwhelmingly coming from the Yes campaign. The patient, extraordinary leadership from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people themselves who … have spent a lifetime just asking for a crack.”
A record 17.5 million people set to cast their ballots over the next two weeks in the first referendum since 1999.
The majority of polls have pointed towards a defeat, although the most recent Guardian Essential poll published on Tuesday showed a slight increase in support for Yes, up two points to 43 per cent, while 49 per cent still intend to vote No.
Speaking to 3AW radio host Neil Mitchell on Tuesday, leading Yes campaigner Noel Pearson warned a No vote would be “a precipice”.
“There is no plan B,” Mr Pearson said, when asked what else could be done to close the gap on Indigenous disadvantage in the likely event that the Voice fails.
“Mate, I have been at this for 30 years working on these problems from the ground up, and I’m telling you that there is no plan B. No will be a disaster for all of us. We will all lose, including the No campaigners. We will lose. If we vote Yes, we’ll all win, including the No campaigners. This will be good for them and for the entire country if we vote Yes.”
He added, “In the event of a No vote, that’s a precipice. I’m telling you, this side of the vote, that’s an absolute abyss for Australia. There will be heartbreak. There will be absolute despair from people who know that without this reform, 15 years in the making, you cannot see progress ahead. We cannot see a pathway.”