by Brian on July 16, 2003

Via Virulent Memes, I see that an American-Australian academic is recommending Australia merge with the U.S. This kind of suggestion comes up a lot, though for some reason the suggestion always seems to be that Australia would become the 51st state. Wouldn’t it be better if the six Australian states stayed as separate states? Not sure.

The article doesn’t mention the obvious reason this merger won’t happen any time soon. Australians aren’t about to give up universal public health insurance, and Americans aren’t about to vote to bring that in. More generally, once they hear anything about it Australians aren’t going to voluntarily become part of the American health care system. (Would anyone?) Maybe there is some way Medicare could be converted to a state-based system and keep working, but I suspect this would be an insurmountable problem in the medium term.

What’s more interesting to think about is what the consequences would be politically if Australia joined America. I’ve always thought that Australians would vote overwhelmingly Democratic. The point isn’t that Australians are particularly left-wing, it’s just that (urban) Australian conservatives seem more like right-wing Democrats than like Republicans. (By ‘conservatives’ here I mean people who vote Liberal, not the self-labelled conservatives one sees on the op-ed pages. Some of them would be Republicans.) They believe in balanced budgets, don’t care for religious arguments in politics, have at least some sympathy for libertarian values, are pragmatists about gun control, are usually pro-choice, and so on. In other words, practically everything the DLC believes in. These people aren’t going to vote for Dennis Kucinich, or perhaps even Dick Gephardt (b/c of the union connections) but they would I think vote for Clinton, and probably Gore, much more than Bush. Obviously this is analysis is so simplistic to barely count as half-baked (maybe quarter-thawed?), but if it’s right maybe there are partisan reasons to push for a merger!



Scott Martens 07.16.03 at 5:59 pm

Actually, Brian, you’re not too far from the truth. US states were usually admitted into the union in pairs, generally where one could be expected to vote for one party and the other for the other. Each state admission was a partisan compromise that kept the Senate in balance.

The US has not had any new states since 1959 (Hawaii – Democrat, Alaska – Republican), and the main reason is the difficulty in getting a balanced pair. Puerto Rico might be just slighly Republican, but not consistently. DC has been demanding statehood for years, but it will never happen because it’s a Democratic stronghold. Guam and the Northern Marianas are heavily subsidised by the military budget, and would make a pretty small state anyway. The Virgin Islands are also too small, and the population is largely black and not very Republican.

This is also why even if Canada asked to be annexed by the US, it would never happen. It would guarantee Democrats the Senate and probably House majorities for generations, as well as the Presidency thanks to the electoral college.


Trapper John 07.16.03 at 6:03 pm

As an American with an Australian wife, I’d rather not see this happen. I prefer an autonomous, sane Australia to which I can retreat should I ever become hopelessly disillusioned with the US.


Alan 07.16.03 at 6:12 pm

I think you’re right about Australian Coalition voters going Democrat. My father, an unabashed reactionary if ever there was one, consistently said he would support the US Democrats if he were American.

We were both fairly pleased when we both voted the same way in the republic referendum because we wanted an elected president. It was certainly the only time that happened.

I’d think every state except would go Democrat. Ditto New Zealand if they joined. While the Australian Right would probably adore the idea they’d become hysterical about any threat to the position of Elizabeth II as Queen of Australia.


kokomo 07.16.03 at 6:33 pm

First off, the idea that US states were “usually” admitted in pairs is ridiculous. A few states, primarly in the antebellum period, were admitted in pairs, but this was to balance slave interests and not party interests.

Second, states were often admitted to gain partisan advantage, which of course is why lightly populated states like Nevada were admitted.

Third, given the Republican party’s unseemly quest to manufacture a permanent majority (see FL vote count, CO redistricting, TX redistricting) you could expect the Republicans to promptly admit any right-leaning territory that exists.

Finally, the really big issue for state expansion will be net transfers. California already subsidizes the US. Would an Aussie be happy to do the same? Likely not. And no self-respecting red-state voter would ever vote to subsidize an Aussie. Particularly if it was a federally subsidized red-ink red state.


zippy 07.16.03 at 7:00 pm

Um… California “subsidizes” the US how? Did I miss something?


Scott Martens 07.16.03 at 7:27 pm

Kokomo, it went on well past the antebellum period:

Alaska & Hawaii – 1959
Arizona & New Mexico – 1912
North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Washington, Idaho, Wyoming – 1889/90

That’s 10 states out of 14 since the end of the Civil War. Several of the 1889/90 batch had tried for years to become states and were prevented exactly because it would mess up the balance of power in the Senate, only becoming states when a whole bunch could be admitted at once with more partisan equality.

And free/slave pairs before the Civil War come to another 8 states, 12 if you count Florida, Texas, Iowa and Wisconsin together over three years. That’s 24 out of 50 states, or 24 of the 39 states that weren’t part of the 13 colonies. I’d say that qualifies as “usually.”


unf 07.16.03 at 7:59 pm

So who says Americans would even let Australia in? I would point out that: 1) Australians talk funny; 2) Australia is too damn far away; 3) we already have a game called football and don’t need another; 4) everyone knows that Melbourne is in Florida; and 5) it would just be too damn confusing for it to always be a different day in one part of the country.


kokomo 07.16.03 at 8:15 pm

I suppose if you disregard the intervening years between “pairs” then every state could be rationalized as one half of a pair. Why would FL, IA, WS, and TX count as pairs? And those earlier 8 you mention — were they really pairs? :-)

Second, showing that pairs were admitted, which you have not yet done, is not to show that they were admitted to balance partisan interests. In the multiple year quadruple you mention, three of the states voted for the Democratic candidate in 1848 and one (Florida) for the winning Whig (Zach Taylor).

So your partisan pairs theory is not consistent with the data I’m looking at.


Scott Martens 07.16.03 at 9:32 pm

Kokomo, I’m afraid I don’t have any complete access to the Congressional Record from the 19th century, so, here are are the states and the dates of the next election. Succeeding years is the same election cycle, which is as close to simultaneous as the US Congress gets.

Indiana & Mississippi – 1818
Illinois & Alabama – 1820
Maine & Missouri – 1822
Arkansas & Michigan – 1838

In my history class, I recall being told that Iowa and Wisconsin were admitted in 1846 and 1848 because of the admission of Texas and Florida as slave states. The longer time was due to the Mexican War interfering with the bargaining. Initially, the slave states hoped to make several states out of Texas.

Minnesota & Oregon – 1860

For 1860, I have some election data access. Unfortunately only for the Presidential election and not Congress. Minnesota by 60-some percent voted for Douglas in 1860. Only 36% of Oregonians voted for Douglas, although because it was an unexpected four candidate election, Douglas still took the state.

North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Washington, Idaho, Wyoming – 1892

From Today in History at the Library of Congress:

During the period 1878-1889, Congress consistently rejected appeals for Washington statehood despite its growing population. Denial of statehood was largely due to a concern that the lack of an interstate railroad connection would interfere in the effective governance of Oregon as a state. More significantly, the legislators hesitated to disturb the delicate balance of Democrats and Republicans in Congress by creating another state. Finally, a decade after its initial request, Congress admitted Washington into the Union along with Montana and the Dakotas.

Arizona & New Mexico – 1912

I have not been able to find a footnoted source which points to Republican resistance to admitting potentially Democratic New Mexico to the union – I did find an unfootnoted one here. I have had no difficulty finding sources linking New Mexico statehood to Arizona statehood. In the 1912 Presidential election, both voted for Wilson by narrow margins in a three candidate race which suggests that it makes some sense for Republicans to have delayed statehood until there were more even chances for both parties.

Alaska & Hawaii – 1960

Hawaii went for Kennedy in 1960, and Alaska for Nixon. I had always understood that to have been part of the deal.

Now, I lack access to a regular university library, so this is all web research of uncertain pedigree. Still, considering the resources I have on hand, I think my case is decent.


Con Tendem 07.16.03 at 10:05 pm

Interesting discussion. I understand the theory behind admitting states in pairs, but clearly it did not really work, since we have not had real partisan parity for much of the history. I cannot imagine why Australia, or Canada, would ever consider joining the USA short of a brewing interstellar nuclear war. If they did not join during the Cold War, why now?
That said, I think that considering these countries a sure Democtratic vote is probably wrong in medium-to-long-term. Even if the people they elect are closer to the Democtratic Party side of the USA, they would be locally elected and thus be much more “republican” about many issues, esp. in Australia than many US Democrats. Moreover, given time and a democratic majority in the A/US Congress and White House the inhabitants of the Down Under might just become as disillusioned with democrats as many Americans have become. Since they would directly elect their representatives they would be much more likely to vote the way their constituences are, perhaps left-of-center socially and right-of-center economically and militarily. We could easily see Australia become strongly republican in 10 or 15 years of Democratic mismanagement (and vise versa after another 10-15 years of Republican mismanagement). Clearly this is very hypothetical, but somehow fun.
ps. wish you had trackback.


Nick 07.16.03 at 11:24 pm

While this is an unlikely scenarion, wouldn’t it be more likely that the existing Australian parties would continue to exist but would make some sort of alliance with the two main parties in the US? Senators, representatives and governors would be either Liberal or Labor but would work with either the Republican or Democrat Parties, with some sort of agreement to come together at elections.

In the long run, you’d expect to see the various parties merge, or at least become very close (the DFL in Minnesota could be an example, but I’m not entirely sure of the background there) but in the short term, I would expect that the Australian parties would keep their own identities, if only to stop some ‘True Aussie’ party stealing all the votes at the first elections.

Which is probably way too much detail for a subject that’s unlikely ever to happen in my lifetime.


kokomo 07.17.03 at 12:34 am

Zippy: Go to and browse through the relavant documents to see the extent to which your home state has been subsidized or looted by the federal government.

And surprisingly I suppose we are still on topic. Should California subsidize Montana?


mitch 07.17.03 at 1:28 am

I really don’t think the guy is recommending that Australia become the 51st state, except in a Swiftian way. He is an American expatriate who wishes that Australia was more interested in being Australian.


Brian Weatherson 07.17.03 at 5:14 am

I agree with Nick that the parties might drift over time to reflect the new reality. After all, Massachusetts and Rhode Island both have Republican governors (and have had for a while now), so the Republican party can in principle moderate its views if faced with a more moderate electorate. Theory says that adding Australia would have this effect, and I think the theory might be right here.

But any kind of cooperation between the parties would be problematic for just the reasons I mentioned. I’d guess a majority of the Liberal Party, at least at the Federal and State Cabinet level, are more like conservative Democrats than like any kind of Republican. All through the 90s their mantra was balanced budgets at all costs, though they have (quite reasonably I think) toned that down a bit in recent times. If the Liberal Party tried to become more like the Republican Party, it would lose a lot of its best and brightest. (Where would they go? Who knows, because they wouldn’t join the Labor Party.)


Alan 07.17.03 at 5:46 am

Consider the sad plight of the The Road to Surfdom and I would certainly vote Democrat. So there.

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