August 7, 2005

"Affordable Family Formation" and "Sailer Strategy" at work in Australia:

Continuing's recent All Australia All the Time theme, I see, thanks to Jack Strocchi, that Tim Colbatch reported in the Sydney Morning Herald last November that much the same process that is dividing the US map up into red and blue is at work in Australia:

New Political Divide Is All About Values:

A new divide is reshaping Australians' political loyalties. Analysis of voting shifts, booth by booth throughout Victoria, reveals that a cultural divide is growing alongside the income divide that traditionally dictates our votes - and, increasingly, is overshadowing it.

In the past six years, many elite suburbs and coastal areas have moved towards Labor [the left party]. The middle and outer suburbs have gone towards the Liberals [the right party].

From its high watermark in 1998, when it won its second-best vote in Victoria for 50 years, Labor has slid from 53.5 per cent of the two-party vote to 49 per cent, a swing to the Coalition [right] of 4.5 per cent.

Yet at scores of polling booths, voters generated swings of more than 10 per cent - while at other booths, Labor was polling even better in 2004 than in 1998.

The new divide is based on values rather than incomes. "Australia is dividing between the cultural elite on one side and middle Australia and everyone else on the other," says social analyst Bernard Salt, a partner at KPMG and author of The Big Shift.

Educated insiders living close to the city are increasingly Labor-oriented, while the outsiders living in middle and outer suburbs are increasingly Liberal-oriented...

Take Melbourne, one of just three seats where Labor did better this time than in 1998. Within two kilometres of each other, two booths swung in wildly different directions. Voters in the booth under Richmond's housing commission flats gave the Liberals a combined swing in 2001 and 2004 of 12 per cent. But over Punt Road and up a dozen income levels, East Melbourne residents voted Labor, with a swing almost as large.

Educated insiders living close to the city are increasingly Labor-oriented." Take Batman in the northern suburbs. Almost all the booths in inner-suburban Northcote swung to Labor or held fairly steady, yet in Reservoir the swings to the Coalition ran as high as 13 per cent.

Similarly, in Maribyrnong, inner middle-class Essendon was slightly better for Labor this time than in 1998, whereas outer working-class St Albans and Sunshine were much worse.

... In outer-suburban marginals such as La Trobe, suburbs dominated by families with children and mortgages - such as Berwick, Boronia and Ferntree Gully - swung heavily to the Coalition [right]. But Sassafras and Mount Dandenong swung to Labor [left]. The analysis suggests that interest rates and the Mitcham-Frankston freeway helped draw Coalition votes, just as the GST inflated Labor's vote in 1998.

In contrast to the role born-again Christians played in US President George Bush's re-election during the week, religion seems not to have been a factor here. Analysis by Andrew Kopras of the Federal Parliamentary Library shows that the electorates with most non-believers are nearly all outer-suburban Liberal seats.

Mr Salt argues that there is a "groovy, inner-urban green culture" that identifies with Labor, even in affluent suburbs such as Middle Park, Parkville and North Fitzroy. And it has spread to coastal resorts and bushland settings by "sea-changers and tree-changers".

"You can almost draw a line around that culture a few kilometres from the city," Mr Salt says... Mr Salt said big swings to the Liberals among people on welfare were no surprise. "Even people in housing commission flats no longer see themselves as aligned to a particular class, but to the values set of middle Australia," he said. By contrast, "I think most sea-changers and tree-changers are Labor voters. These are inner-city people so they've got property wealth and green values."

While Prime Minister John Howard, now in his fourth term in office, is best known in the U.S. for his support of the Iraq Attaq, Australia's actual participation in the fighting has been prudently nugatory. Not a single Australian soldier was even injured in Iraq until October 2004, 19 months after the invasion. As far as I can tell, no Australian soldiers have yet been killed in action. Michael Duffy wrote in March:

At the peak of their commitments to Iraq, Britain had 45,000 people there and the US about 150,000. Relative to population sizes, to match this Australia should have had between 10,000 and 15,000 people in the Middle East at some point. In fact we peaked at just 2000. There are now fewer than 600 Australians serving there, to be joined next month by another 450.

Republicans in America should note that the hot issue for John Howard was cracking down on immigrant refugees. This paid off at the ballot box in recent elections. Howard has been winning on what Peter Brimelow calls the Sailer Strategy:

Michael Millett wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald in 2002:

White fringe fury feeds Labor's fall

But controversial new research suggests an even bigger issue at play, one that Labor [the left party] will struggle to overcome as long as elections are fought on anything other than conventional hip-pocket issues. It is what Melbourne academic Bob Birrell refers to as the "new political divide" of birthplace.

Birrell's thesis, outlined in a just-released article in his People and Place journal, published by the Centre for Population and Urban Research at Monash University, is that birthplace can be just as strong a voting determinant as class or educational background. Moreover, that Howard [the center-right prime minister] is winning the political war by directly targeting the white vote, that is, Australian-born voters in outer-suburban seats with a potent mix of conservative social, cultural and national security policies. Labor's inability to match the Howard pitch is costing it dearly.

Birrell points out that Labor is being forced back to its inner-city strongholds - seats with a high proportion of ethnic voters (more specifically, seats with a high concentration of voters from non-English-speaking backgrounds). At the election in November last year, Labor held 19 of the top 20 electorates in which more than 30 per cent of residents spoke a language other than English at home.

Yet these impenetrable inner-city defences do little to assist Labor out where it really counts - out there in the "white bread" marginals that fringe the major cities.

It is here, asserts Birrell, that Labor's progressive social justice agenda runs up against native-born, middle Australia conservatism. While bipartisanship protected Labor's weaker flanks during the 1980s, it was Howard's hard-edged social conservative agenda, and his attack on Labor's "global vision" that cost it the brick veneers in the late 1990s.

Howard's success lay in turning the anti-Keating movement [Keating was the last Labor prime minister] into a viable new constituency. According to Birrell, it is at its most potent in the outer-suburban marginals, where Australian-born voters are predominant. These voters have a stronger sense of national identity, are wary of immigration and multiculturalism and are most likely to criticise policies involving concessions to minority groups, such as Aborigines and migrants.

Birrell analyses voting data and the highly respected Australian Electoral Survey (AES), which attempts to gauge how the electorate votes across a whole range of criteria, to isolate this new factor. His focus is on NSW, and the mass desertion of Labor votes on the suburban fringes of Sydney.

The figures are stark. Labor dominates the New South Wales [Sydney and environs] ethnic seats, with little noticeable shift in votes there between 1993 and last year. But in the half of NSW's 50 seats where the non-English-speaking presence is low, Labor's hold is almost non-existent. It held 16 of the 25 seats in 1993. It now possesses four.

The swing against Labor on the suburban fringe has been pronounced...

Why such a big swing? For answers, Birrell looks to Mark Latham, the outspoken Labor frontbencher. From his base in Sydney's unfashionable outer-western suburbs, Latham has raised the uncomfortable notion of "white flight", caused by aspirational families fleeing troubled neighbourhoods for perceived safe havens on the city fringe.

"In most cases, the population are changing rapidly due to movement into the areas, overwhelmingly from Australian-born and mainly-English-speaking-born persons moving from elsewhere in Sydney," Birrell writes. "They could well include some of Mark Latham's aspirational voters - voters with enough capital to afford a new dwelling 50 kilometres or more from the centre of Sydney. Latham hypothesises that such people do not want the troubles of other areas to follow them to the fringe.

"Given the attention paid in Sydney to social tensions associated with the city's changing migrant population, it could well be that these people would be especially susceptible to negative messages about Labor's social and cultural vision."

It is obvious that Howard's security message also resounds strongly here. Nationalist sentiment - embodied in Howard's declaration that "we decide who comes here" - was at the heart of the Coalition's response to the Tampa and its strong border protection policy at the last election.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

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