Think only inner-city elites voted Yes? Booth-by-booth analysis tells another story

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On the day Anthony Albanese confirmed the referendum for a Voice to parliament would be held on October 14, opposition Indigenous Australians spokeswoman Jacinta Nampijinpa Price was in Hobart.

In lines that would be repeated by No supporters throughout the campaign, Price was quick to denounce the proposal as the thought bubble of Australians divorced from the reality of “ordinary people”.

Anthony Albanese speaks after the failure of the Yes vote on Saturday night.Credit: Alex Ellinghausen

“It is evident to me this elite proposal is about division in our country,” she declared on August 30.

On Saturday night, the attack on “inner-city elites” reached a crescendo. Google Trends show the term “inner-city elites” spiked when the voting gulf between inner-city Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Hobart and Perth and seemingly everywhere else was laid bare.

Yet, with most votes now counted, it is clear the “woke inner-city” is not confined to the craft beers and artisanal sour dough of suburbs like Brunswick or Erskineville.

Across a large number of regional centres – from the northern part of Tasmania to the tourism centres of south-west Western Australia to far north Queensland – people who live close to their town’s main street also voted Yes.

They are the hearts of big country towns or small regional cities. They are the areas that suck in residents from their surrounding hinterlands for the weekly shop or afternoon coffee. Unlike their Melbourne or Sydney counterparts, paddocks of sheep or country villages may be just a few kilometres away.

The sprawling seat of Farrer, held by Liberal deputy leader Sussan Ley, delivered a resounding No vote at Saturday’s referendum. About three in four of the electorate’s voters rejected the Voice proposal.

While Farrer stretches along the Murray River all the way to the South Australian border, it’s dominated by the city of Albury, which is home to about 54,000 people.

At the heart of Albury are two booths, located at the city’s oldest primary school and its oldest highest school. These booths both delivered majority Yes votes while, only a handful of kilometres away in the city’s northern, western and eastern suburbs, the No vote approached 66 per cent.

Just up the road is the city of Wagga Wagga, the population heart of the electorate of Riverina, held safely by former Nationals leader Michael McCormack.

Like Farrer, the overall No vote was around 75 per cent. But in the heart of Wagga, an area dominated by old Federation-style homes and small groups of units, the No vote was 20 points lower.

Eight hundred kilometres north in Armidale, which sits in Barnaby Joyce’s electorate of England, Yes votes were recorded in booths at the heart of 21,000 resident city. The electorate voted 24-76 against the Voice.

Across Victoria, a similar story played out. The Labor-held seat of Ballarat voted 41-59 No.

But in the older parts of the city of Ballarat, home to more than 110,000 people, the picture changed. Yes majorities were recorded in a string of inner-city booths including the Dana Street Primary School (61 per cent), the St Alipius Church Hall (60 per cent) and Black Hill Primary School (63 per cent).

In the neighbouring seat of Bendigo, a Yes vote snaked its way along communities attached to Melbourne via the main railway line. Castlemaine, an old gold mining area, delivered Yes majorities close to 70 per cent.

Central Geelong, the heart of the seat of Corio which voted No, cast ballots strongly in favour of constitutional change.

South of Geelong runs the Great Ocean Road which is home to some of the best known surf breaks in the world. Between Torquay and Apollo Bay, voters broke to Yes.

Hundreds of kilometres away, in the Victorian north-east seat of Indi, communities of Yes emerged. While Indi, which sits opposite Farrer, was strongly No a string of growing towns such as Beechworth (60 per cent), Bright (56 per cent) and Mount Beauty (53 per cent) said Yes.

Again and again, these rural or regional-based centres of Yes votes emerge. In Cairns, the population centre of the Leichhardt electorate which voted 34-66 No, the Parramatta Park booth in the city centre voted 58-42 in favour of change.

Central Launceston, in the Tasmanian seat of Tasmania, voted more like inner-city Sydney than the rest of the Apple Isle.Credit: Joe Armao

In Tasmania, the seat of Bass takes in the island’s north-east including the city of Launceston and its 91,000 residents.

Across the electorate, the vote was 38-62 against the referendum. Yet in the heart of Launceston, a series of booths were strongly yes including the Trevallyn Primary School where the vote was 62-38 in favour.

Over in Western Australia, the Margaret River area is well known for its surfing and wines. While most of regional WA was strongly No, the town of Margaret River – population 7400 – backed Yes 55-45 as did nearby centres such as Dunsborough, Cowaramup and Yallingup.

RedBridge pollster Kos Samaras believes the higher Yes votes at the centre of many regional centres is likely connected to the occupations of local residents.

In the case of Albury, about one-in-five of the city’s residents are in professions. The single largest occupation group, accounting for 4.8 per cent of the population, are hospital workers.

Across the Murray in Wodonga, where no city booth recorded more than 38 per cent support for change, the largest occupation group are defence staff. They account for 4.8 per cent of Wodonga’s workers.

Samaras says the Yes vote in the centre of so many regional centres suggests these areas are home to occupations that bring with them incomes higher than those in neighbouring suburbs. “Income is part of that story, but it doesn’t paint the full picture,” he says.

Another feature of Saturday’s referendum was the high No vote in the outer suburbs of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth.

In the Melbourne electorate of Scullin, which covers safe Labor suburbs such as Thomastown, Epping and Mill Park, the No vote was 63 per cent.

At the 2022 election, the various booths across Mill Park – home to many Greek and Italian-born migrants who moved to the area in the late 1970s – recorded Labor votes of more than 60 per cent. On Saturday, none of the booths reported a Yes vote better than 45 per cent.

But, like regional centres, not all outer suburbs are alike.

On Melbourne’s western urban fringe, the suburb of Tarneit has grown from 330 residents in 2001 to about 56,000 today, driven by a migrant influx vastly different to Mill Park. About 40 per cent of the population is Indian-born, with half of the residents declaring themselves Hindu, Sikh or Muslim.

Greens Senator David Shoebridge says the Yes vote in parts of western Sydney showed the referendum could have won majority support.Credit: Rhett Wyman

Situated in the safe Labor seat of Lalor, several booths in Tarneit recorded Yes votes of more than 65 per cent. The electorate vote, however, was 46-54 in favour of No.

One of the highest Yes votes in the country was recorded in Anthony Albanese’s electorate of Grayndler in Sydney’s inner west.

To his immediate west, the seat of Watson – held by Industrial Relations Minister Tony Burke – recorded a No vote of 59 per cent. The Yes vote gets lower the further west you travel.

But within these big No votes there are islands of Yes.

Within Watson there are three booths in the suburb of Lakemba. The booths at the Samoan Presbyterian Church and St Therese’s Catholic Primary School voted No 47-53. However, just a few hundred metres away the Hampden Park Primary School voted Yes 65-35. It was the electorate’s highest Yes vote.

Further west, in the Labor-held seat of Greenway sandwiched between Parramatta and Blacktown, the No vote reached 53 per cent. Again, there were patches of Yes. In the suburb of Glenwood, three of the four booths all delivered solid Yes votes.

Greens Senator David Shoebridge said in Watson, Greenway and in nearby Lindsay there had been a concerted push by the Yes campaign to engage growing Sikh, Kurdish, Bangladeshi and Pakistini communities.

In the case of Glenwood, the local Gurdwara hosted Shoebridge, Labor MP Ed Husic and a number of First Nations elders to talk about the Yes case. The nearby Blacktown Leisure Centre in Stanhope Gardens, which voted 54-46 in favour of change, hosted a strong campaign by the Kurdish community of the area.

In Lakemba, the local Bangladesh community adopted the Hampden Park polling booth to argue on behalf of the Voice.

According to Shoebridge, the efforts in these electorates and others across western Sydney showed the Yes vote could have tapped the support of different ethnic and religious communities.

“We can see in the numbers that despite western Sydney electorates voting No, in the polling booths when multicultural communities come together with First Nations communities the Yes vote saw strong engagement and a significant surge,” he said.

Trying to draw direct links between referendum results and elections is hazardous.

Robert Menzies lost his referendum to ban the Communist Party in September 1951. He went on to win the 1954 election, when the issue of communism was front and centre due to the Petrov Affair.

Pollseter Kos Samaras says all sides of politics will learn from the referendum’s results.Credit: Wayne Taylor

Bob Hawke suffered the poorest referendum results on record in September 1988. Eighteen months later, Hawke’s Labor government won its fourth consecutive federal election.

Samaras says all sides will take lessons from the referendum’s results. He says it appears that with the teal independent seats, which the Liberal Party lost at the 2022 election, all returning Yes votes, the chances of them returning to the Liberal fold were low.

Labor should be worried by the large No votes in the outer suburbs that have been strong ALP bases. These same areas were much less likely to support the 2017 same-sex marriage survey, suggesting they could be targeted by conservative-leaning independents in much the same way the Liberals lost to progressive teal independents.

“The problem for the Liberal Party is that there just aren’t enough seats for them to win from Labor to offset the ones they’ve lost,” Samaras says.

“The Liberal Party has been struggling with the change in their base. I think Labor are about to start their journey.”

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