Can a former Australian Idol host beat Tony Abbott in the election?

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Recent figures from the Australian Electoral Commission show that almost one million Australians are not enrolled to vote. As the opportunity to have a say in the nation’s upcoming federal election looms, it seems almost half of Australia’s 18-year-olds will not participate.

The political apathy among young people is palpable. But can they be blamed for disinterest in the outcome of the election when questions about their future job stability, cost of living and marriage equality continue to be sidelined?

Former Australian Idol host James Mathison believes that many politicians do not represent the views and values of our youngest generation of adults, which is why he’s running as an independent against Tony Abbott in the New South Wales seat of Warringah. And he’s even got his own catchphrase: ‘Warringah deserves better’.

Does celebrity appeal help candidates?

As a commercial television personality, Mathison will have no trouble sourcing prime time spots to roll out his campaign messages. ‘For 15 years he’s been promising the same things and I thought, someone’s got to hold him to account,’ Mathison told Channel 10’s The Project. But having mass media access isn’t necessarily enough to whip Abbott’s seat out from under him, whether Mathison garners the support of progressive young people or not.

While America’s Donald Trump has been an unlikely-yet-successful candidate by draping his campaign in Hollywood tinsel and swaying US voters with theatrics, Mathison has a tougher sell. He is one of a string of high profile Australians who’ve tried their hand at politics. But Midnight Oil’s Peter Garrett, athlete Nova Peris and former rugby league coach Mal Meninga have all tried and failed.

Can Mathison make history?

According to Dr Geoffrey Robinson, senior lecturer in Australian studies at Deakin University, the answer is no. ‘Warringah is a very safe Liberal seat. It’s true that Abbott’s social conservatism is not a fit for the seat, which voted 54% in favour of the republic in 1999, but it is a very wealthy area,’ he says. This means the economically conservative members of the community are likely to hand Abbott victory once again.

‘In 2001 a strong independent – a former state MP for the area – came within 6% of winning, but even then Abbot still had 51% of the vote on first count,’ Dr Robinson adds and concludes that Mathison will ‘mostly pull votes from Labor and the Greens’.

Want to learn more about Australian politics? Find out more about studying politics and policy at Deakin University.

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Geoffrey Robinson
Geoffrey Robinson

Senior Lecturer in Australian Studies, Deakin University
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