Tasmania 2021: north and south diverge

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I’ve been fascinated by how the two halves of Tasmania have moved apart at this election. The Liberal Party lost support overall, but managed to gain swings in the three northern electorates. This has been the culmination of a trend which has seen the gap between the north and south larger than it has been at any point in the last three decades.

For our purposes I’m defining “north” as Bass, Braddon and Lyons. Admittedly the seat of Lyons stretches to the Hobart suburbs, but it’s mostly a large rural electorate with most of its population outside of the Hobart area.

On the other hand you have Clark, contained entirely in Hobart, and Franklin, which covers the remainder of southern Tasmania, but is about 50% Hobart.

The gap between these two areas has seen the Liberal Party much stronger in the north than the south, and the Greens vote much higher in the south than the north, with a gap not previously seen.

Unlike a mainland state using single-member electorates, the number of electorates has been consistent for the last century, with only relatively minor changes to boundaries. This makes it much easier to compare the relative position of electorates over decades.

Now I should also acknowledge that there were candidate effects that were relevant in the anti-Liberal swing in these areas, namely the retirement of former Franklin MP Will Hodgman, and the independent candidacy of Sue Hickey, a former Hobart mayor elected as a Clark MP in 2018.

The trend is most dramatic when looking at the Liberal and Green votes, and I think it’s a particular problem for the Greens in the future.

This first graph is simple. It just shows the Greens vote in each electorate over the last ten elections, all the way back to the first time the Green Independents contested every electorate in 1989:


Electorates mostly have moved in line with each other, and the order has mostly remained the same. Braddon has consistently been the worst electorate, with Bass and Lyons a bit better. Franklin has usually come second to Denison/Clark, with an exception in 2010 when Greens leader Nick McKim was defending his seat in Franklin and the Greens were running a new MP in Cassy O’Connor in Denison.

But while the order has stayed the same, the gap between the best and worst electorates has grown, and has never been worse than in 2021.

Another way to look at this same information is to subtract the statewide vote from each seat’s vote.

The gap shrunk to its smallest point in 1996 and 1998. 1998 was the worst ever result for the party in terms of votes and seats. The gap started to widen in 2002 when the Greens bounced back and regained three seats lost in 1998.

Denison/Clark has been well out in front of the northern seats consistently since 2002, but Franklin is now as far ahead of the statewide total as it’s ever been. Meanwhile the vote in Bass has now fallen further away from the statewide average. The gap between second and third is now 9.7%.

Meanwhile Braddon has bounced along the bottom, consistently polling 6-8% below the statewide total. This means the Greens have only been able to win in Braddon at a record high statewide vote in 2010.

This gap matters because the Greens have two safe seats in the south, but are a long way from winning a second seat in either southern electorate. Their best prospects for growth remain in Bass and Lyons, but the party had a relatively small swing in Lyons and lost ground in Bass.

We have seen a trend in lower house results in the bigger mainland states where the Greens have stayed consistent across the state but have built up support in their inner city heartland. That’s helpful under a single-member electorate system which rewards concentrated support, but the Hare-Clark system punishes that concentrated support.

But this story isn’t just about the Greens. It’s also very obvious for the Liberal Party.

This chart is the same as the last, but for the Liberal Party.

The Liberal vote in Bass is now about 11% higher than the statewide total, which is more than we’ve ever seen before. The gap is 8.3% in Braddon, which is about the same as in 1996. Lyons remains relatively close to the statewide average but has ticked above it in 2021, leaning more towards the Liberal Party for any time since the early 1990s.

Denison has always been a relatively weak electorate for the Liberals but this weakness has been growing, even before the Hickey candidacy widened the gap further than any time in the last three decades. The Liberal vote in Clark is now 17% less than the statewide vote.

You can also simplify this widening gap by looking at the average Liberal vote in the three northern electorates compared to the statewide vote, and the same for the two southern seats:

The two lines parallel each other, but the southern line is more exaggerated since they don’t cover the same number of electorates.

I’ll note that the gap between north and south was smallest from 1998 to 2010, elections which the Liberal Party lost. I won’t crowd this post with a similar chart for Labor, but the Labor vote was actually higher in the north of the state during that period of government, but Labor was more popular in the south during the previous 1989-1998 era, and from 2014 to 2018. The crashing Labor vote in Clark has balanced out the two regions.

So Labor does better in the north when they are on an upward trend, and the Liberal Party’s north-south gap widens when they are winning majorities in the House. That gap is the thing putting the Liberal Party in majority territory, and if Labor is to win back Tasmania they’ll need to win back some more seats in the north of the state.

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12 COMMENTS

  1. That’s an Interesting phenomenon. It’d be interesting to see a deeper dive into why Greens vote has dropped so much in both Braddon & Lyons – what I’d think of as the two mainly rural electorates. Christine Milne represented Lyons, although the party’s vote still mostly stayed at a reasonable level after she moved to the Senate – perhaps partly because she was still around as a visible voice for the Greens, although perhaps also because the Greens had another fairly well know local rep in Lyons at state level with Tim Morris.

    Whatever the reason/s it certainly seems to be staying stubbornly lower in those two rural seats in the last few elections.

    (But I Think you’ve got a typo in your fourth paragraph – pretty sure you mean to say Greens vote much higher in the south than the north, rather than the other way around).

  2. Greens are no longer a ‘beyond left and right’ party but part of the ‘left’ and understandings of what it means to be ‘left’ have changed in way that makes left less attractive to ‘white working class’ voters that are well represented outside Hobart. Federal Labor will have to work hard in Lyons next year.

  3. The redistribution over the last decade of Bridgewater and Old Beach from Franklin to Lyons would partially explain the increased Green divergence between those two. That was around 7000 or so electors all up, and those areas are some of the weakest for the Greens: Franklin transferred its most anti-Green areas into Lyons.

  4. In the case of the Greens you would have to put some of this down to incumbency.

    Fail to win in a district and all of a sudden the next election is much harder to win. You could have anticipated that the safer Southern seats and the tenuous Northern seats would drift apart.

    It’s quite ominous that the Libs have an advantage in 3 out of 5 electorates. Systematically it means they are more likely to win than in a purely proportional system. The “left” have to win 3 seats in one of their 3 “weak” electorates.

    (I don’t think relying on a 4th Clarke MP while having only 2 from the 3 north districts would be a serious prospect)

  5. The gains of the Liberals in the less urban north is consistent with the trend in many places toward population density being a key indicator of voting patterns, with more conservative parties appealing more to people in lower density areas. With the long term trend toward urbanisation (all be it slowed by COVID mainstreaming work from home, all be it possibly less apparent in Tasmania due to inter-state migration to Tasmania including significant migration to Hobart, and international migration halted), Lyons will probably gradually shift south (potentially at some point causing a reorganisation of Hobart seats so Franklin is not split by the lower Derwent and Clark), however, the urbanisation effect of this will be (at least temporarily) reduced by gradually loosing parts of Launceston.

    On the Greens vote it must be noted that the Animal Justice Party ran this time in 4 seats (not Braddon), likely eating into the Green vote in those seats. The independent Craig Garland in Braddon also apparently has some environmental leanings, without being a full Greens, likely attracting some soft Green voters away from the Greens over the last 2 elections.

  6. The really interesting question is what bearing this might have on Lyons in the fed election (later this year !?).
    In 2019 the non left vote was splintered & perhaps retarded by a very large field ON, NAT, PUP, LIB etc.
    Lyons swung 1.4% to ALP 2pp., as opposed to 6-7% Bass, & Braddon. Yes they aren’t the same But perhaps the divergence has been exacerbated . there appears that a further movement (in voting intentions) has occurred, beyond an understandable correction, or compensation.

    Lyon’s seems to have a 5% margin which would seem quite safe. But is it really ?. Perhaps the real margin is far less ?

    Brian Mitchell has has his sophomore swing, has it translated into a personal vote, & will it be enough ?

  7. Cassy O’Connor’s position as leader of the Greens is untenable. for 2 elections in a row they won 2 seats which is down from 3 in 2014 which was already considered a disaster for them. They did very poorly in the north.

    The Greens need to learn and rebuild from this. I disagree with the notion that the Greens and Labor should merge because if they do then that would be electoral suicide as most moderates including myself wouldn’t consider voting Labor again (Not to mention I’ve already decided I won’t be voting for them at the next election)

    The Liberal party did well in Clark thanks to the vote splitting caused by the independents and the Greens causing Labor to win only 1 seat in a place that usually is very socially progressive, It is unthinkable to believe Labor is getting less seats in Clark than in Braddon but it looks as if that has just happened.

    The big winner is Peter Gutwein every other leader is a loser and even if the Liberals only win 12 seats that is still a victory because they did win the most votes and it is clear most Tasmanians want a Liberal government. The shenanigans are over it is time for both Labor and the Greens state leaders to both resign and start a new chapter in Tasmanian politics.

  8. The difference between state and federal in Lyons and bass is large.The key to Lyons is personal votes.. Burr and Dick Adams both had this..Bass at a federal level was ultra marginal…. But voted over 60% liberal. There is obviously lots of cross voting.

  9. @ Daniel
    When have the Greens ever “learned” anything !?. “Rebuild” from what into what !?
    How is O’Connor’s “position” untenable?. The woman made a speech that made Okscschott’s interminable rambling nonsense appear like a brief comment !.

    “Clueless Cassie” seems intent on preaching lecturing, & righteously informing us all of the holy truth. Her truth.
    Until the Greens can grasp the concept of having an interest in the views of others (democracy !) they will remain a party of protest & complete irrelevance.
    What would be accomplished by the leaders resigning ? Would their successors be any better, more competent, or talented. OTH they would obviously be less experienced. My suggestion would be that they need leaders that can learn how to learn. To learn how to apply all this experience (of failure)

  10. The Greens should be thinking about having 2 candidates be prominent in Clark at the next election, to maximise their chances at 2 seats (like they did in Kurrajong in the ACT in 2020), although that would probably exacerbate the north-south divide. Their chances are increased if only 1 independent gets up.

  11. Mick
    Yes but there was “cross voting ” In Bass, & Braddon too. Now there isn’t or very much. There does appear to be far more mobility in voting, at whatever level.

  12. In Lyons at the federal election, the Liberal was disendorsed.

    I imagine that explains any differences between it and Bass/Braddon, in comparing the recent state and federal results. IMHO it would have likely gone Liberal in 2019 with a decent non-controversial candidate.

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