What happened with the Chinese-Australian vote in the big cities?


One of the trends I’ve started hearing about over the last day or two, thanks to the very smart commenters on this blog, is that booth swings in a bunch of suburban seats in Sydney and Melbourne were particularly strong in the areas with a large population of Chinese-Australian voters. So I thought I would try and visualise this effect, or see if it was just anecdote.

We know Labor did well in seats with a large Chinese-Australian population in Sydney and Melbourne, such as Reid, Bennelong and Chisholm. Even in Menzies the race was surprisingly close.

The trend doesn’t appear to be the same across a seat, so I don’t just want to analyse the data at the electorate level. But I also don’t have election results data at the SA1 level, and it’s a bit complex to match census data to a booth. So instead I’ve amalgamated all of the election results at the suburb level, and the same for the census data.

I’m looking at two-party-preferred swings between Labor and the Coalition, so this analysis can’t include suburbs like Chatswood in the seat of North Sydney, which has an Independent vs Liberal count.

The trend seems pretty clear to me. While suburbs with low proportions of people of Chinese ancestry moved in both directions, those with higher proportions almost entirely swung towards Labor, some moving quite far.

Next up, I thought I would try and map the booth swings across the seats with the largest Chinese-Australian populations in Sydney and Melbourne. For each of these maps, you can toggle from the 2PP swings to the 2PP overall percentage and the proportion of the suburb who have Chinese ancestry. Sorry these maps are big files and might take a little while to load.

For Sydney, I've included Banks, Barton, Bennelong, Blaxland, Mitchell, Parramatta, Reid and Watson.

Blaxland doesn't have a big Chinese-Australian population, but it connects Banks to the other seats, so I've included it.

Banks is particularly interesting. The eastern parts of the seat have much larger Chinese-Australian populations, and Labor gained swings across this area, while losing support in the west of the seat.

Further north, there were swings all across Reid, but they were particularly high in the Strathfield-Burwood and Rhodes-Wentworth Point areas, both of which have very high Chinese-Australian populations.

The swing in Bennelong was strongest in Eastwood, which has the biggest Chinese-Australian population. There were big swings in the safe Liberal seat of Mitchell, but they were strongest around Castle Hill.

I found Parramatta particularly interesting. This is the seat where the sitting MP Julie Owens retired, and Labor controversially preselected Andrew Charlton, an out-of-area former Kevin Rudd advisor, overriding a number of local candidates of colour seeking preselection in a very multicultural seat.

Charlton suffered negative swings across the west of the electorate, but gained small swings in the east, with big swings in his favour in the north-eastern corner around Carlingford, which is (you've guessed it) the area with the highest proportion of people of Chinese ancestry. This produces an interesting pattern when you look at the final percentages. The seat used to have stronger Liberal areas in the north and stronger Labor votes in the south, but now it is quite even across the seat.

Next let's look at Melbourne. I don't know Melbourne as well, so maybe I'm leaving off a few other seats, but it's generally a smaller area, focused on Chisholm, Deakin and Menzies.

There were swings to Labor across this whole area, but it was heaviest in the parts of Chisholm and Menzies with large Chinese-Australian populations, specifically Glen Waverley, Box Hill and Doncaster. The effect is not so obvious in Deakin.

I won't try and explain this effect, except to note that Australia's relationship with China was a major story early in the election campaign. I think there are probably other effects overlapping with these trends. Labor generally did well across the whole of eastern Melbourne, which tend to be relatively wealthy parts of the city, so the underlying large swings may be explained by the Liberal collapse with high-income voters, and is then enhanced in areas with a lot of Chinese-Australian voters.

What trends are you noticing in this data? And what other seats would you like to see similar maps for?

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  1. Thanks Ben, interesting analysis. Aston also has a high proportion of people with Chinese ancestry especially around Wantirna South/Scoresby. The swing in Aston was large, and hard to know whether it was a general swing to Labor in the eastern suburbs, the effects of the allegations against Tudge and the $500k payout, or whether it was larger in the western parts of the electorate which has a larger population of people with Chinese ancestry.
    Hotham also has a large Chinese comminity in parts around Clayton, the parts of Wheelers Hill in the seat, and certain parts of Mulgrave.

  2. Great Map Ben, Agreed Aston has a large portion of people of Chinese Ancestry including in Knoxfield along with the suburbs Adam mentioned above. Rowville not so much but still larger than Greater Melbourne Average (8.7% versus 6.1%) at 2016 Census. The Eastern Part of Deakin in Maroondah LGA especially suburbs such Warranwood do not tend to be ethnically diverse.

  3. It may have made a difference in Kooyong as the swings in Balwyn and North Balwyn were slightly higher than the rest of the seat and the swing at the Box Hill PPVC was particularly high (as it was in Chisholm). However, the swings in both Surrey Hills and Mont Albert were particularly low so possibly the Get Josh No Matter What brigade voted early.

  4. Chisholm is a bit of a curly one as it is hard to know if it was parts of the Chinese community voting against the Liberals or parts of the Chinese community voting against Gladys Liu -after all Max Mok’s abortive campaign was vociferously ‘Put Gladys Last’ and there were a lot of accusations about her ‘links’ with China backed organisations – several of her posters near me were daubed with ‘spy’, ‘ccp’ or ‘ccp spy’. The swings were particularly large around Glen Waverley and it is often overlooked that this area has a very large South Asian population and it would be interesting to know what the view of Gladys was from that community. I suspect also that Gladys did not make a great impression on those she dealt with – she spoke at my kids school prizegiving – must have been 2019 – and she just missed the mark altogether – lots of head shaking from parents and the views from the senior students was well …. you can imagine….

  5. @redistributed I would be interested to know more about the speech a the prizegiving you mention. What made her speech so poorly received? I think we’ve all seen that she’s not a strong media performer but appearances at local events are a different kettle of fish.

  6. @redistributed I’d say more so that Gladys Liu’s main problem is the same one that led to Josh Frydenberg and the other moderate’s downfall, they’re unable to distinguish themselves from the clearly unpopular Morrison government. The swing against her is in line with other seats with large Chinese populations like Moreton and Reid. The areas with large South Asian communities in general seem to have either barely swung at all or swung to the Libs, sometimes strongly. Perhaps the increased focus on social conservatism and the Libs’ embrace of Modi made them more popular. I am not too familiar with the South Asian community or their voting patterns so anyone who knows about it can correct me if I am wrong.

  7. Greenway has a very large South Asian community and received a large swing to Labor (particularly around The Ponds). South Asians are generally a well-educated demographic and I expect the swing was in line with overall swing if adjusted by education (better educated areas generally being the ones to swing Labor this election). Parramatta is a rather unique case because of the parachuting which specifically stopped an Indian woman being preselected, which could explain the negative swings in the western parts of the seats with the largest South Asian community.

  8. Looking at McMahon, the north-eastern portion bordering Parramatta (and with its own large South Asian community) swung substantially to Labor. This supports the idea that the swings to Liberals in the western parts of Parramatta were linked to the preselection. Greenway meanwhile has big swings throughout (despite the presence of an Indian Liberal candidate, it should be noted), but the especially big ones (>15%) come from the rapidly growing north of the seat where there many new affluent, well educated voters. Still, the south of the seat was also generally in the high single digits.

    I’m inclined to say there’s no evidence of a “Modi boost” to the Liberals. Considering that not all Indian-Australians demographics are fans of Modi, that isn’t unexpected.

  9. I suggest doing some of these calcs using language rather than heritage or CoB. So rather than South Asian pull out Sikh vs Hindu or Punjabi vs Hindi and Mandarin vs Other (Cantonese or other) -also test the Deves hypothesis by looking for pentecostalist and Orthodox voters and swings compared to other Christian. Very useful as you drill down. Makes 2016 the last White Australia election, 2019 the cusp and this one the first multicultural election. The Keneally mess was predictable and avoidable – Tu Le would have walked it in for the ALP.

  10. Entrepreneur
    Gladys’ speech was very much of the Chinese Tiger mother variety – it might have gone down well at a private school but at a state high school that is fairly anglo … my son who was year 10 at the time just dscribed it as “terrifying tiger mother shit”.

  11. Ben,

    the 2PP result in North Sydney is going to be not much less than the 2CP between Liberal and the IND, so you could have used the 2CP as a pretty good proxy.

    But to add to this after preferences data, just look at the ALP results in the Chatswood booths in North Sydney, and possibly Bradfield as well (they are joint booths). Labor actually won the primary vote in the Chatswood booth and were only 1% behind the Liberals in the Chatswood West booth. It was also the location of the only pre poll centre that Labor finished in second. Artarmon Central was also another booth were there was almost a tie of primary vote.

  12. @Redistributed well if that’s the case then I can see many Chinese Australians and other people with migrant backgrounds who would probably agree with her so who knows, maybe she gave that same speech in a school with a large migrant background student population before and it was probably very well received.
    Even then, if you look at the poll booths in Chisholm, it’s the areas with the smallest Chinese Australian population that swung the least to the Labor, which is contrary to what I expected before the election but it does follow the trends seen in other similar seats.

  13. I might go out on a limb.

    Many middle-class suburban seats are marginal seats and coincidentally have a greater ethnic Chinese population e.g. Reid, Banks, Parramatta, Bennelong in metropolitan Sydney and Chisholm, Deakin in metropolitan Melbourne. Marginal seats get more attention and more money thrown at them each election. They are part of the demographic that major parties chase after because of their family status and socio-economic status, not because of their ethnicity. Geopolitics may be a factor but perhaps the seat margins is a bigger factor.

    I noticed that there are two types of Melbourne electorates with LIB vs ALP contests.
    1. The eastern suburbs had swung to Labor.
    2. The western and northern suburbs and some south-eastern suburbs had swung away from Labor.

  14. I’d still be interested in your read of the change in the Labor vote in Chatswood which is where the Chinese population is highest, compared with areas in the Southern part of the electorate.

  15. Furthermore the huge swings to Labor in Moreton and Tangney can be in explained in part to the Chinese Australian vote. I do concede WA specific factors also played a part in Tangney. However, Bateman/Bull Creek had some huge swings to Labor above the electorate average. In some ways these suburbs are similar to Carlingford, Doncaster and Glen Waverley. Also in Moreton biggest swings were in Sunnybank Hills above electorate average. It seems in Moreton and Chisholm, the Libs having Chinese Australian candidates did not help. i agree in Parramatta it was the South Asian end around Toongabbie etc that did not swing. It was perhaps similar to Fowler and anger towards Andrew Charlton being parachuted against South Asian Candidates.

  16. I am not a numbers man, so I tend to go by motivation (i.e. what drive people to vote they way they do). So first, some caveats: what I say is mostly generalisations and like white anglos (myself included) these groups are not mono in that they all think and react the same. That said, I think:

    1. The Chinese heritage population were spooked by Dutton’s aggression towards China. While it was more likely to be rhetoric designed to whip up fear and therefore support for the Coalition, for a good percentage of this Chinese cohort, they would view it with real life implications (i.e. eventually a head of steam building up for direct attacks by white nationalist against them and their family). This was, to me, an obvious own goal that was not subtle enough to be effective in the multiple groups that heard the same message. Why vote for obvious future pain down the track.

    2. By nature, the South East Asian communities tend to be more entrepreneurial and therefore natural allies for the Coalition. Teals and the girl who won Fowler demonstrate that point. They didn’t want the Liberals, but that didn’t mean they went automatically towards Labor. These are still a cohort who can be won back into the Liberal fold, with the right (not political) leadership.

    3. I know a number of Australian born Chinese and they are not as liberal or conservative as people assume. Neither are they outright socialist, but again they are not a monolithic group who vote purely because they see themselves represented in the person standing for a particular party, although it does influence some.

  17. ‘Chinese’ is a broad category – I doubt the data is available, but I’d be curious to see a division between ‘PRC born’, ‘HK born’, ‘RoC born’ and ‘Australian born of Chinese ethnicity (marker being use of Mandarin/Cantonese at home’ – my suspicion is the last 3 would be less likely to have swung.

  18. @Pyrmonter Add to that is time of migration to Australia. Also, not every second generation Chinese Australian would retain their mother tongue – a lot of them lose it, and putting aside their ethnicity, are basically just regular Australians at that point, where factors like age group, income and education level matter a lot more.

    Anyway on a side note, seeing that western section of Deakin just seems rather odd, pairing the likes of Vermont South and Forest Hill with Ringwood and Croydon.

  19. @WL and Pyrmonter I doubt there is a significant difference in the swings within PRC born, ROC born etc. like for example Moreton which has a larger Taiwanese born population saw swings equally as large as in Chisholm and Reid which both have mainly PRC born populations as do areas like Doncaster and Doncaster East in Menzies which have a larger HK born and Cantonese speaking population. Tangney which has a larger Malaysian and Singaporean born Chinese population has a larger swing than either of the aforementioned seats though it could be due to the WA factor as well. I’d say the issue most Chinese Australians have with the rhetoric from Dutton and co isn’t really about the PRC itself but rather the fear that it would lead to and normalise racism and racial attacks. Since COVID started, the number and frequency of racial attacks and racism against Chinese Australians including casual racism has skyrocketed. Many are well aware of the frequent violent and often fatal racial attacks on ethnic Chinese, to the point where many are learning self-defence and martial arts to defend themselves, in countries like the US and worry it could happen to them in Australia. How Australia should approach Beijing certainly divides the community but I doubt they would be equally divided when it comes to things like racism since they would be directly affected.

  20. Another non-PRC related explanation I can think of for explaining the swings is that much of the Chinese population tends to be a lot more cautious about COVID and supportive of things like mask mandates compared to the general Australian population or other migrant communities particularly in poorer working class areas. Obviously with the Coalition being perceived as the “let it rip” party that will not translate into a lot of support for them among the Chinese community.

  21. Agree with John Smith, some of the rhetoric used can be offensive to all ethnic Chinese irrespective of political allegiance for example when Tony Abbott used the phrase “cult of the red emperor” or when some of these so called “Hawks” describe themselves as “dragon slayers” bearing in mind the cultural significance of the Yellow Empreror or Dragons. In the US there has been a “Stop Asian Hate Movement” and one of the catalyst was the killing of Vicha Ratanapakdee in a hate crime who was not even Chinese.

    @WL, with respect to Deakin, Whitehorse/Maroondah LGAs are very different in terms of ethnic demographics. In fact Knox has a significant percentage of its population with Chinese ancestry especially around Wantirna South,

  22. @John Smith. That is a good point regarding masks and COVID in general. I note in Parramatta that the UAP did very well around Merrylands and Granville. But in Carlingford which has the big Chinese Australian population in that seat, the UAP vote was much lower. The UAP vote was also low in Bennelong. In contrast it was pretty high in working class multicultural areas in Western Sydney without large Chinese populations. The UAP is not the Coalition yes, but it shows that the whole “freedom” and anti-vaxx, anti-mask rhetoric was not embraced en masse by the Chinese community. Simon Kennedy’s association with anti-vaxxers might have made it worse for him in Bennelong.

  23. Nicholas
    Yes – As you suggest, The aec have transposed raw 2PP data for Belmore booth, between Burke & Liberals & derived an erroneous swing figure thereafter.

  24. Ben, I’d be curious in a similar chart for the 2019 election.

    Its a fact of behavioural economics that those of Asian backgrounds tend to have a higher savings rate. The ALP had policies that taxed all forms of savings across the board – negative gearing, CGT discount, superannuation.

    My guess would be that the Chinese vote swung against Labor in 2019 and to Labor in 2022. That would make them kingmakers two years running.

  25. @Obscurata that certainly is true, the ALP’s taxation policies in 2019 were not at all popular among Chinese Australians since investment and savings is encouraged and valued culturally. Hence which could explain why seats like Banks, Chisholm and Reid which were expected to fall to Labor in 2019 didn’t. Of course this time, the ALP doesn’t have the same policies and in fact has the exact same taxation agenda as the Libs so what separates the two parties shift from economics and taxation to issues like racism, the relationship with China, COVID response etc. If Dutton wants to win back these communities (although I have a suspicion he doesn’t based on his first speech as Liberal leader), advocating further tax cuts and reducing taxation would help in addition to re-evaluating how he and his party approaches Beijing and the language used.

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