One of the defining moments of the New South Wales election campaign was Labor leader Michael Daley’s recorded comments from 2018 about people in Sydney being squeezed out by Asia migrants.
At the time there was speculation about how this would affect the Labor vote in communities with large migrant populations in Sydney, and this was seemingly confirmed by a big swing against Labor in heavily Chinese electorate of Kogarah.
In this post I’ll run through what I found about the relationship between how large the Chinese population is and the swing against Labor, as well as map out how the parties performed in the southern Sydney electorates at the booth level.
To start with, I pulled together the two-party-preferred votes for each booth in the Sydney region. We don’t have ABS data on ancestry at the booth level, so I figured it would be simpler to aggregate all booths in each postcode and compare it to the ancestry data for that postcode. All vote data referred to in this blog post is based on two-party-preferred figures.
I excluded any postcodes outside the Sydney region and only included those where the 2019 two-candidate-preferred count is between Labor and Coalition. So that means this data doesn’t include Newtown, Balmain, Sydney, Summer Hill, or a number of safe Liberal seats where the Greens or an independent came second.
This left me with 202 postcodes. Labor gained a positive swing in 141 postcodes and went backwards in 61.
I looked at data for how many people were of Chinese heritage, Korean heritage or Indian heritage. It’s worth noting that the Chinese community makes up a much larger part of the Sydney population than either of the other groups.
It’s also important to note that we can easily get caught up in the ecological fallacy. We don’t know if it’s the Chinese community shifting, or if it’s just places with a larger Chinese community shifting.
Having said all that, I did find some relationship between the size of the Chinese community and the anti-Labor swing.
You can see in this chart that Labor was more likely to suffer a negative swing in postcodes with more people of Chinese ancestry. On average, Chinese ancestry made up 7.1% of the population in areas with a positive swing and 9.7% in those with a negative swing.
There is a -0.26 correlation between Chinese ancestry and swing to Labor. This is not particularly strong.
I’m not convinced that this was a general trend across Sydney. Yes, Labor did lose ground in Kogarah, with a massive 5.2% swing, but they also gained 2.9% in Strathfield and 2.5% in Ryde, two other electorates with large Chinese populations.
But maybe there is something going on in southern Sydney. On the day after the election I published a post showing the swings per electorate, and there is a contiguous block of six seats stretching from Miranda up to Bankstown and Canterbury where Labor was suffering a negative swing (at least on the election night figures).
Labor has been having trouble in seats along the Georges River over the last decade. They have struggled in the federal seat of Banks despite having held the seat throughout the Howard years. They have failed to shift the dial in East Hills and Oatley at two elections, and have fallen backwards in Miranda.
The following map shows the two-party-preferred swing (toggle for the 2PP percent) across Rockdale, Kogarah, Oatley, Miranda, East Hills and Holsworthy.
If you look at the overall voting figures you can see a strong trend in Oatley and East Hills of stronger Liberal votes along the southern strip of the seat. There appears to be a shift in voting patterns as these areas get wealthier. You could argue the same about areas in the eastern end of Holsworthy.
If you look at the swings, there is an interesting trend where Labor gained a large swing across most of Rockdale while losing ground in neighbouring Kogarah. There is no major difference in these communities, yet the swings looked very different. So we may be looking at the impact of campaign effects as the Liberal Party abandoned Rockdale and focused on Kogarah. With Kogarah having a large Chinese population it wouldn’t be surprising if this explains some of the correlation I found in the above chart.
Incidentally the swings to Labor in Holsworthy look good compared to the other Georges River seats.
I do suspect that Daley’s comments were a big factor in the anti-Labor swing in Kogarah, but it was also clearly not the only factor in the election, and doesn’t appear to have had big effects elsewhere.