The Western Australian election was more than a fortnight ago, but we are still waiting on the WA electoral commission to declare the last handful of seats. In the meantime, however, one can study here final figures from the shop trading hours referendum held the same day. They make interesting reading.
There were two questions – asking people to vote on extending evening trading and extending Sunday trading hours in the Perth metropolitan area. Both got much the same result: 41.3% said “yes” to evening trading, while 38.6% said “yes” to extended Sunday trading. On the question of longer evening trading only five of the state’s 57 seats voted “yes” – all of them Labor-held. The strongest “no” votes, some of them over 70%, came from the safe Coalition seats of the wheatbelt.
Most referenda in Australia are fought on party lines, so the detailed results don’t tell you anything very interesting about what people think, they just mirror the pattern of the parties’ vote. One lesson from WA is that this holds to some extent even when the parties don’t have official positions. There were no official ALP or Liberal how-to-vote cards, but Geoff Gallop supported the “yes” case and Colin Barnett the “no”. Sure enough, Labor seats returned a median “yes” vote (on question 1) of 42.6%, but Coalition seats only 36.8%.
So much for those who think that Liberal voters are naturally more supportive of free enterprise, despite the foibles of their leaders. But there was something else going on. In the inner city, safe Liberal seats recorded high “yes” votes: South Perth 47.1%, Nedlands 46.2%, Cottesloe 43.5%. But some safe Labor seats in the outer suburbs went the other way: Willagee 39.5%, Midland 39.1%, Armadale 37.9%. Labor’s safe outback seats voted “yes”, but otherwise country seats of whichever party voted strongly “no”.
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Compare this with the republic referendum of 1999, which completely upset the usual pattern: “yes” votes in the inner city seats, whether Liberal or ALP, weak “no” votes in the middle suburbs, strong “no” votes in outer suburbs and in the bush. The “yes” vote was highly correlated with levels of education. Shop trading seems to have produced a hybrid of the “republic” pattern and the “two-party” pattern.