For richer, for poorer

After taking a pounding in the polls at the end of the first week, Labor can expect the ball to bounce back their way starting tomorrow with Roy Morgan (I’m assuming their polls will now be weekly). While the family benefits issue remains a source of confusion, Mark Latham has unquestionably "cut through" with his message that workers on less than $52,000 will get hamburgers and milkshakes that will not be available to them under the Coalition. No doubt the policy is well targeted socially, but that might not make it well targeted electorally. If Labor is the party of the low income earner, won’t the dividend be wasted in safe seats?

This Australian Parliamentary Library spreadsheet, ranking electorates in order of taxable income per taxable individual, suggests otherwise. It is true that the average figure is less than $52,000 in all but the top eight seats, all of which are held securely for the Liberal Party unless you don’t count Wentworth. But the Coalition also monopolises the bottom seven, four of which are National Party seats. In reality the urban/rural divide is a more significant cleavage than income ranking, with the Coalition tending to dominate in regional areas where both incomes and the cost of living are lower.

The figures for the 24 most marginal Coalition-held seats are listed in the following table, with their ranking out of the 150 seats in brackets:

Solomon (0.1%) 38113 (43) Hinkler (2.3%) 32599 (127)
Dobell (0.4%) 35772 (71) Moreton (2.5%) 36581 (59)
Canning (0.4%) 34218 (99) Longman (2.5%) 30859 (145)
Adelaide (0.6%) 43120 (21) Gippsland (2.6%) 33577 (111)
Hindmarsh (1.1%) 36481 (61) Page (2.8%) 30402 (147)
Parramatta (1.2%) 38886 (38) McMillan (2.9%) 32734 (124)
Paterson (1.5%) 34827 (89) Bowman (3.1%) 35502 (76)
Herbert (1.5%) 35498 (77) Petrie (3.5%) 34667 (93)
Deakin (1.6%) 38319 (42) La Trobe (3.7%) 36792 (54)
Eden-Monaro (1.7%) 34981 (86) Makin (3.8%) 33014 (120)
Richmond (1.7%) 30772 (146) Kalgoorlie (4.4%) 41741 (25)
McEwen (2.2%) 36192 (66) Cowper (4.8%) 29895 (149)

Broadly speaking the very most marginal seats, most of them in cities or suburbs, are disappointingly well off from Labor’s perspective. But it’s a different story in the 2 to 3 per cent range, where there is a clump of low-income non-metropolitan electorates including three held by the National Party. They include Richmond and Page on the New South Wales north coast; Gippsland and its neighbour McMillan (held by Labor but notionally Coalition after the redistribution) in eastern Victoria; and in all important Queensland, Longman on the Sunshine Coast and the Gladstone/Bundaberg seat of Hinkler. It’s also in the former category of electorate where the Coalition’s campaigning on interest rates is likely to have its greatest impact. Unless the Coalition can find another way to sway wage earners in regional electorates, it could be here that they face the greater challenge.

Author: William Bowe

William Bowe is a Perth-based election analyst and occasional teacher of political science. His blog, The Poll Bludger, has existed in one form or another since 2004, and is one of the most heavily trafficked websites on Australian politics.