labor wealthy Australian economy

In the aftermath of the election, the post-mortem of Labor’s historic loss is in full swing. Some have pointed to the effective scare campaign run by vested interests. Others blame the large target, substantive policy agenda of the Labor party for putting off voters. Many more still highlight Bill Shorten’s enduring unpopularity as the key reason for failure.

However, the most interesting analysis appears to be occurring within the newly minted Labor leadership. In his opening address as opposition leader Anthony Albanese has signalled a pitch to wealthy voters, saying that the party has to “articulate a vision for how we increase wealth and not just share wealth”. It appears from this statement that Albanese believes that part of the reason Labor lost is that wealthy voters found their previous platform unappealing.

This would be a reasonable conclusion to draw, except for one key problem — it’s not true.

If we map the primary vote results against a number of key factors, a very different picture begins to emerge, and it has important ramifications for the next election.

Beginning with the wealthy, I decided to map the results against the top 20 wealthiest electorates, from highest to lowest, according to median house prices.

If anything, it seems that Labour’s message was marginally well received, or at least benign, in the wealthy electorates. On average, Labor received a swing of 1.54% towards them while the wealthy swung away from the LNP by 2.24%. The Coalition only managed to gain at the expense of Labor in four of the 20 seats, in Reid, Mackellar, Cook and Mitchell. Arguably, Labor’s platform, message and leadership didn’t scare off voters in these affluent areas.

Housing isn’t just a useful metric for the wealthy. By using rental stress, or the number of renters who report that they regularly struggle to meet housing costs, to map electoral outcomes, we can see how well Labor’s message was received by those who are most vulnerable in the housing market.

A very different picture starts to emerge when we consider the top 20 electorates for rental stress. Here, the LNP makes gains at the expense of Labor’s primary vote in 12 out of the 20 electorates, with an average primary vote swing of 1.23% towards the government. Labor suffered a 2.85% swing against them in these seats, including in Longman where Labor’s Susan Lamb lost her seat to incoming LNP candidate Terry Young.

Another interesting issue is median income. Given Labor’s policies around raising the minimum wage, it is logical to think that those who earn the least would have the most to gain from their policies. Yet when we map the primary vote against median weekly income, we again see swings against Labor.

While overall the Labor Party only suffered an average swing against their candidates and parliamentarians in these electorates, in the five electorates with a median weekly wage less that $1,000 the average swing against Labor was 5.84%. This also includes a 7.5% swing against them in Braddon, where Justine Key lost her seat to the Coalition.

Interestingly, in this circumstance the LNP also suffered a minor swing against them. The question then becomes: who did appeal to these voters? The answer: Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party and Pauline Hanson’s One Nation.

When we look at the combined vote for these parties that ran on an anti-political platform, these issues become a key factor in the election outcome.

While the average vote for UAP and PHON is 2% in the top 20 wealthiest electorates, those at the lower end of the socio-economic scale recorded much higher votes towards the minor parties. In 16 of the 20 electorates that experienced the highest amounts of rental stress, the largest swings went towards UAP and ON. Their combined average swing across these electorates was 5.48%, far outstripping either major party.

Similarly, in the electorates with the lowest median weekly income, the average swing was 6.47% towards the anti-political parties.

Most importantly for Labor, while these parties never achieved a significant majority that would elevate them to either houses of parliament, their preferences almost exclusively flowed towards to the Coalition.

If Albanese is serious about winning the next federal election then he would do well to focus less on the wealthiest Australians and figure out a way to speak to the issues which affect disaffected voters most — affordable housing and secure employment.

Shirley Jackson is a political economist and freelance commentator who has previously been published in The AgeABC News, The Guardian and The Conversation.

Do you think Labor is wrong to focus on wealthy voters? Write to [email protected] with your full name and let us know. 

Peter Fray

Help us keep up the fight

Get Crikey for just $1 a week and support our journalists’ important work of uncovering the hypocrisies that infest our corridors of power.

If you haven’t joined us yet, subscribe today and get your first 12 weeks for $12.

Cancel anytime.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey