Victorian Labor and rural electoral myths

Is Victorian Labor in trouble in rural areas? This theme is getting some coverage in the media. However much of the coverage tells us very little. The Age interviewed Mallee farmers, the problem is that they have always been very conservative. Year in year out the small rural polling booths in the Mallee record primary votes in many cases of over 90% for the conservatives. Asking them about Labor’s prospects would be like judging the Greens statewide prospects by a Brunswick St vox-pop. The Australian does does better but although it starts with the cliche that regional Victoria is crucial it actually finds little evidence for this.  The 1999 election saw distinct swing to Labor outside of Melbourne, but Nick Economou overstates;

Monash University political analyst Nick Economou says: “Regional Victoria holds the key to the election. That’s where the Coalition must win a number of seats if it wants to form government. “It’s really about Bendigo, it’s about Ballarat and it’s about Geelong. They’re the ones that Labor picked up in 1999 and 2002, it’s really provided the electoral bedrock for the government.”

Actually Labor gained only seat in Geelong in 1999 and two in Melbourne. In 2002 Labor’s gains were mostly in Melbourne apart from two Geelong seats. Geelong has its political peculiarities but it is misleading to consider it provincial in the same sense as Ripon. If public transport is a vote-loser for Labor it is more of a likely factor in Bentleigh than Ripon. Has Labor’s good provincial performance since 1999 (apart from its collapse in Gippsland) been aberrant, or does it rather show that provincial areas have come to vote as if they were Melbourne suburbs rather than country towns? There are 18 Labor-Coalition contests on a margin of 7% or less, 2 are in Ballarat, there is Seymour which is largely Melbourne suburbs and South Barwon which is Geelong suburban + surf coast. For all the hullabaloo about marginal seats, subgroups of voters and regional identities electoral swings tend to be uniform unless something odd is going on, there was at 2010 federal election but the Victorian election looks very routine.

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