Germany’s Electoral Regionalization

As noted in the previous post, Germany’s electoral geography exhibits a stark division between former East Germany and former West Germany. Otherwise, its political distinctions are relatively muted, with most parties receiving somewhat similar shares of the vote in each state. But the southern portion of the former West is more center-right oriented than the northern portion, which, in contrast, inclines a bit more to the center-left. As a result, Germany can be said to be divided into three electoral macro-regions.

Germany’s three-fold political division reflects differences in economic productivity at the state level, at least if one excludes the three city-states (Berlin, Hamburg, and Bremen), which are not representative of the larger regions in which they are located. As the per capita gross regional product (GRP) map posted below show, former East German has a less productive economy than former West Germany, while in the former West, the north is a bit less productive than the south. The small western rustbelt state of Saarland, however, is an exception, as it groups between the East and the West on this indicator. It is also the most religious and the most Catholic state in Germany.

Map of Germany showing per capita gross domestic product by state in 2022
Germany per capita GRP by State 2022 Map

The rest of this post examines state-level maps showing the performance of each seat-winning German political party in the 2024 EU parliamentary election. The order of presentation is based on support level, starting with the party that received the most votes in this election.

As the first map shows, the center-right (combined) Christian Democratic Union did particularly well in Bavaria, Germany’s most economically productive “area state” (non-city-state, or Flächenländer). This party had a particularly poor showing, however, in the city-state of Hamburg, Germany’s most economically productive state. It did not do much better in the city-state of Bremen, Germany’s second most economically productive state. Such voting disparities among Germany’s richest states reflects both the north/south divide and the political differences between area states and the more left-leaning city-states.

map of Germany's 2024 EU election showing the vote percentage of the combined Christian Democratic parties by state
Germany 2024 EU election CDU vote by state map

The map (below) of the rightwing, or far-right, Alternative for Germany (AfD) clearly reveals the political divide between former East Germany and former West Germany. Intriguingly, AfD’s level of support was relatively uniform across the West, except for the region’s two city-states.

Map of Germany's 2024 EU election showing the Alternative for Germany vote by state
Germany 2024 EU election AfD vote by state map

Intriguingly, the divide between former East Germany and former West Germany does not appear on the map showing the vote percentage of the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD). One can, however, discern on this map the distinction between the more center-right south and the more center-left north of the former West Germany. Also of note is the relatively high level of support for the SPD in western Germany’s poorest state, Saarland, and in Germany’s second wealthiest state, Bremen.

Map showing Germany's 2024 EU election vote for the Social Democratic Party by state
Germany 2024 EU election SPD vote by state map

The next map, that of the Greens, shows a relatively high level of support in the three city-states and a low level of support in the former East. On this map rust-belt Saarland groups more closely with the East rather than the West. Otherwise, levels of support for the Greens were relatively uniform across former West Germany.

Map showing Germany's 2024 EU election vote for the Greens by state
Germany 2024 EU election Green vote by state map

The upstart left-populist BSW party (Bündnis Sahra Wagenknecht) unsurprisingly found most of its support in former East Germany. Support levels were relatively low and uniform across the West, although again Saarland stands out for its more “eastern” voting pattern.

Map of Germany's 2024 EU election showing the BSW vote by state
Germany 2024 EU election BSW vote by state map

The map showing of the “classically liberal” center-right or centrist Free Democratic Party shows a different version of the east/west split, with wealthy Bavaria grouping more with former East Germany than with the rest of the former West, although the differences are not large. This unusual pattern perhaps indicates the somewhat more socially conservative attitudes found in both Bavaria and the East.

Map of Germany's 2024 EU election showing the Free Democratic Party vote by state
Germany 2024 EU election FDP vote by state map

The map of The Left Party – not surprisingly, the most left-leaning of Germany major parties, shows a national north/south division, with the northern half of former West Germany grouping a bit more closely with former East Germany than with the southern half of former West Germany. The city-state unsurprisingly gave slightly higher percentages of their votes to The Left than did the area states. But again, these differences are relatively minor.

Map of Germany's 2024 EU election showing The Left vote by state
Germany 2024 EU election The Left vote by state map

The map of the locally and regionally oriented Free Voters Party, which inclines in a conservative direction, reveals some significant regional differences. This party found negligible support in the city-states and performed only slightly better across the north. It had its best showing in Bavaria, arguably Germany’s most culturally and politically distinctive state, and one that has long harbored secessionist sentiments.

Map of Germany's 2024 EU election showing the Free Voters vote by state
Germany 2024 EU election Free Voters vote by state

The map of the pragmatic, reformist, pro-EU Volt Party nicely reflects the East/West division. But again, Saarland appears as an outlier, grouping more closely with the East.

Map of Germany's 2024 EU election showing the  Volt vote by state
Germany 2024 EU election Volt vote by state

The vote pattern for the satirical, leftwing The Party was unusually uniform, showing only minor differences from state to state.

Map of Germany's 2024 EU election showing The PARTY vote by state
Germany 2024 EU election The PARTY vote by state

Even more uniform is the map of the single-issue Animal Protection Party. I would have expected this party to have received a higher level of support in the city-states and a lower level of support in the former East. At the ideological margins, however, regional differences sometimes vanish.

Map of Germany's 2024 EU election showing the Animal Protection Party vote by state
Germany 2024 EU election Animal Protection Party vote by state

The rightwing environmental ÖDP had its best showing in the south, with Bavaria again standing out. In contrast, the rightwing familialist Family Part found its highest level of support in the former East Germany, where, counter-intuitively, birthrates are slightly lower than the national average.

Map of Germany's 2024 EU election showing ODP vote by state
Germany 2024 EU election ODP vote by state

Map of Germany 2024 EU election showing Family Party vote by state
Germany 2024 EU election Family Party vote by state

Finally, the map of the new center-left Party of Progress shows almost uniformly low levels of support across the county, with no significant regional patterns.

Map of Germany 2024 EU election showing Party of Progress vote by state
Germany 2024 EU election Party of Progress vote by state

Germany’s Electoral Regionalization Read More »

Germany’s 2024 EU Parliamentary Election: Populist Surge, But the Center Holds (at Least in the West)

The 2024 EU parliamentary election in Germany has been generally interpreted as a major victory for the political right and a defeat for the left – and for good reasons. To illustrate the electoral shift from 2019 EU election, I have modified a German graphic and translated it into English (see the figure posted below). As can be seen, the center-right “Union Party” (Christian Democratic Union combined with the Christian Social Union of Bavaria) made modest gains while the rightwing (or far-right), Alternative for Germany (AfD) made major gains. In contrast, the center-left Social Democratic Party suffered modest losses while the environmental-left Greens suffered major losses. The leftwing (or far-left) Left Party suffered an even larger proportional loss, with many of its voters shifting to the new Sahra Wagenknecht Alliance (BSW). Although BSW takes mostly leftwing positions, it has veered in a decidedly populist-nationalist direction that is usually associated with the far-right. BSW is especially critical of the Green Party, which it blames for the recent decline in living standards of the German working class. The only party on the broadly defined left to see major gains was Volt Germany, a pro-EU, socially liberal, pragmatic party that “claims to have an evidence-based, scientific approach.”

Graph of the 2024 German EU Election by Parties Vote
2024 German EU Election Parties Vote Graph

The most striking geographical feature of this election is the stark differentiation of former West Germany from former East Germany. This distinction appears on every German electoral map, but in this election it was particularly pronounced. As the first map posted below shows, the right-populist Alternative for Germany won a plurality of votes in almost every electoral district in the former East whereas the center-leaning, moderately conservative (combined) Christian Union Party won a plurality of votes in a sizable majority of districts in the former West. I have indicated the exceptions on the map, which in all cases voted further to the left than did surrounding districts. Other than Postdam-Mittelmark southwest of Berlin, all these exceptional areas are urban based, being either “city-states” (state-level cities: Berlin, Hamburg, and two-part Bremen) or “district-free cities” (Kreisfreie Städte) that sit outside the regular districts (Kreise) into which German states are divided. This leftward shift in urban areas is to be expected, but in this election it was particularly pronounced. Intriguingly, in the former East German state of Saxony, both Dresden and Leipzig – historically highly cultured major cities – gave plurality support to the rightwing AfD, although not to the same extent as nearby rural districts. In the neighboring former East German state of Thuringia, in contrast, Jena, Weimar, and Erfurt all gave plurality support to the more centrist (combined) Christian Union Party.

Map of the 2024 EU Parliamentary Election Vote in Germany Showing Exceptional Districts
2024 EU Election Vote Germany Exceptional Districts Map

Map of Saxony and Thuringia in the 2024 EU Parliamentary Election
Saxony and Thuringia 2024 EU Election Map

But it is essential not to exaggerate the victory of the right. Although the Christian Democratic Union and its Bavarian counterpart, the Christian Social Union in Bavaria, are almost always described “center-right,” such a designation is fitting only in the European context. From the perspective of the United States, the Christian Democratic Union is more centrist than center-right and could be construed as slightly left-of-center. If one looks at this election not in “left/right” terms, but rather in regard to the distinction between establishment-oriented centrist parties and parties with a more radical inclination – whether rightist or leftist – a different picture emerges. In the map below, I have combined the vote percentages of all parties that Wikipedia defines as oriented toward the center. As can be seen, center-oriented parties enjoyed overwhelming support in the West, taking more than 70 percent of the vote in all of its states but Saarland.

Map of the Combined Vote of Center Parties in the 2024 EU Parliamentary Election in Germany
Combined Center Party Vote 2024 EU Election Germany map

The situation in former East Germany is quite different, but even there the election results were mixed. Centrist parties received between 42 and 46 percent of the vote in the former East German states, which was roughly the same vote-share taken by populist-nationalist parties. This can be seen in the map posted below, which combines the vote shares of the right-populist-nationalist AfD and the left-populist-nationalist BSW. Intriguingly, in both the West and East there is relatively little difference from state to state in their support for these two opposed political tendencies.

Map of the 2024 EU Parliamentary Election in Germany Showing the Combined Populist Nationalist Vote
2024 EU Election Germany Populist Nationalist Vote Map

The current electoral situation in the United States as a whole is more similar to that of former East Germany than that of former West Germany. In the U.S., the electorate is relatively evenly split between the establishment-oriented Democratic Party and the Republican Party, which has veered in a populist-nationalist direction under the influence of Donald Trump. But in the U.S., unlike former East Germany, support for these two broad camps varies greatly from state to state.

Germany’s 2024 EU Parliamentary Election: Populist Surge, But the Center Holds (at Least in the West) Read More »

South Africa’s Western Cape Exceptionalism and the Coloured Vote

Western Cape is South Africa’s most politically distinctive region by a wide margin. It is the only province that has never given majority support to the African National Congress (ANC). In 2024, it gave less than 20 percent of its vote to the ANC, awarding 53.4 percent to the centrist, non-racialist Democratic Alliance, which has long dominated the province. As the second map posted below shows, every municipality in Western Cape gave majority or plurality support to the DA in the 2024 national election, whereas only three municipalities in other provinces did the same. Western Cape’s political differentiation is so pronounced that it supports an active independence movement that sometimes polls above 50 percent.

Map of the Democratic Alliance vote by province in South Africa 2024
South Africa 2024 DA Vote by Province Map

Map of the 2024 South African Election Vote by Municipality
2024 South Africa Election Vote by Municipality Map

South Africa’s White community heavily supports the Democratic Alliance, favoring its non-racialist stance. Not surprisingly, Western Cape has South Africa’s largest percentage of White population by a significant margin. But at 16.4 percent, it is still relatively low and as such cannot account for the DA’s success in the province. Instead, most DA voters in Western Cape are members of the mixed-race, Afrikaans-speaking Coloured community. At 42 percent, the Coloured community forms a strong plurality of the population of Western Cape. But the figure is identical in neighboring Northern Cape (see the second map posted below), which gave only 20.9 percent of its vote to the Democratic Alliance and awarded plurality support to the ANC. As it turns out, the two provinces are quite distinctive in other regards. Western Cape has a more productive economy and a higher level of social development. Northern Cape also has a much smaller White population percentage than Western Cape (7.3, as opposed to 16.4) and a significantly larger Black population percentage (50, as opposed to 39).

Map of South Africa's White Population by Province
South Africa White Population by Province Map

Map of South Africa's Coloured, or mixed-race, population by province
South Africa Coloured Population map

But racial identity is not the only factor in determining voting patterns, and none of South Africa’s racial communities votes monolithically. In the 2024 election, many Coloured voters swung to Patriotic Alliance, which was formed in 2013 to favor the interests of their community. As can be seen in the map posted below, Patriotic Alliance took a healthy 7.8 percent of the vote in Western Cape and 8.6 percent in Northern Cape. As its support comes mostly from the Coloured community, its vote-count elsewhere in the country ranged from small to negligible. Nationwide, it took 330,425 votes, a huge increase from the 6,660 votes it received in 2019.

Map of the vote share of South Africa's Patriotic Alliance in the 2024 Election by province
South Africa 2024 Election Patriotic Alliance Vote Map

Wikipedia describes Patriotic Alliance (PA) as a rightwing party, as its name might suggest. But the same article notes that PA’s economic stance is generally centrist. Some of its social policies, moreover, including those on housing and healthcare, tilt to the left. It also aims to reduce South Africa’s wide wealth and income disparities, which is generally viewed as a left-leaning position. But Patriotic Alliance is skeptical of immigration, takes a hardline stance on corruption, wants to reinstate the death penalty, and favors more socially conservative policies. It has also expressed solidarity with Israel in its struggle with Hamas, which is not a popular stance in South Africa’s Black community. Critics of Patriotic Alliance accuse the party of “gangsterism,” noting that its two founders are convicted criminals and contending that party leaders have worked with criminal organizations in an effort to reduce violent crime. Patriotic Alliance leaders have also advocated using veterans of the former Cape Corps, which had been a Coloured military organization, to help control gang violence.

Overall, it is difficult to classify the political position of Patriotic Alliance. It is not alone in this regard. Over much of the world, parties that defy the traditional left/right division are gaining support. A good example is Germany’s new political party Bündnis Sahra Wagenknecht (BSW), which emerged from the far-left but now takes an anti-immigration, populist, and nationalist stance. In the 2024 European Parliamentary election in Germany, BSW took 6.2 percent of the vote, whereas Die Linke (The Left), the party from which it emerged, took only 2.7 percent. Political realignment seems to be rapidly gaining strength in many countries.

South Africa’s Western Cape Exceptionalism and the Coloured Vote Read More »

Socio-Economic and Demographic Factors in the 2024 Vote for the African National Congress in South Africa

As noted in the previous GeoCurrents post, South Africa’s leading political party, the African National Congress (ANC), suffered major losses in the 2024 general election, although it still significantly outperformed all other parties. Today’s post briefly examines the geographical patterns of the ANC’s 2024 showing, looking for correlations with socio-economic and demographic variables.

ANC vote share 2024 South Africa Election

As comparing the map posted above with the  first map posted below shows, at the provincial level the ANC won higher-than-average levels of support in regions with lower-than-average per capita GDP. It did best in Limpopo and Eastern Cape, the two provinces with the country’s lowest levels of economic output per person. Intriguingly, this pattern is not found with South Africa’s most leftist major party, the communist-oriented Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). EFF’s vote-share was relatively evenly distributed across the country, although it fared poorly in the country’s two most electorally aberrant provinces, Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. Intriguingly, EFF had its highest vote share in North West Province, which has a relatively high level of per capita economic output.

Map of South Africa 'sPer Capita GDP in 2022
South Africa Per Capita GDP 2022 Map

Map showing the vote share of the Economic Freedom Fighters in South Africa's General Election of 2024
Vote of EEF South African General Election 2024 map

Per capita GDP, however, can be a misleading indicator, as it does not necessarily capture differences in basic economic wellbeing. The somewhat elevated GDP figure of South Africa’s North West province, for example, largely reflects its productive mining operations rather than its basic economy. In the more revealing Human Development Index (HDI), North West province falls into South Africa’s lowest category, along with Eastern Cape. In contrast, Western Cape has South Africa’s highest HDI figure – and also had the second lowest level of support for the ANC. At the local level as well, the more prosperous parts of the country tended to vote against the ANC and for its most important rival, the Democratic Alliance. This pattern also has a strong racial component, as we will see in a forthcoming post on the Democratic Alliance party.

Map showing the Human Development Index of South Africa's provinces in  2021
South Africa HDI by Province 2021 Map

The African National Congress is closely associated with South Africa’s majority Black population, and unsurprisingly performed relatively poorly in the two provinces that are not demographically dominated by Blacks, Western Cape and Northern Cape. But the ANC’s performance was middling or poor in several provinces with large Black majorities, as can be seen by comparing the map posted below with the first map posted above. As was noted in the previous GeoCurrents article, ethnic politics help explain the ANC’s low level of support in KwaZulu-Natal.

Map showing the percentage of the Black population in South Africa's provinces
South Africa Black Population by Province Map

By delving down below the province level, we can find an interesting correlation between the ANC’s 2024 vote strength and South Africa’s ethno-linguistic divisions. As the paired maps posted below show, the ANC did very well among two ethnic groups: the Xhosa of the south-central region and the Venda (Tshivenda speakers) of the far northeast. The Xhosa – the country’s second-largest ethnic group, after the Zulu – have long been closely aligned with the ANC. The high level of support among the Venda is linked to the fact that the ANC’s current leader, Cyril Ramaphosa, is of Venda ethnicity, although he has born and reared in Soweto, Johannesburg.

Paired maps showing South Africa's ethnolinguistic geography and the results of its 2024 election
South Africa 2024 Election and Language Maps

Socio-Economic and Demographic Factors in the 2024 Vote for the African National Congress in South Africa Read More »

The Zulu Exception in South Africa’s 2024 General Election

In South Africa’s general election of May 29, 2024, the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party received only 40 percent of the vote. This election marked a stunning reversal of the party’s fortune; in 2019 it took 57 percent of the vote, while in 1994, 1999, 2004, 2009, and 2014 it took over 60 percent. Economic problems, persistently high levels of crime, allegations of corruption, and growing opposition to immigration have turned many South Africans against the once-dominant party that brought an end to apartheid and successfully democratized the country.

Despite its relatively poor showing, the ANC still did much better than any other party. The centrist Democratic Alliance (DA) came in a distant second place, with only 21.8 percent of the vote. The previously third-ranking party, the far-left Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), took less than 10 percent, losing five seats in the National Assembly. Several new parties gained seats, particularly the left-populist uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) party, founded by the disgraced former president and previous ANC leader, Jacob Zuma. Zuma’s MK party took a healthy 14.6 percent of the vote, gaining 58 of the 400 seats in the National Assembly.

The strong showing of the new leftwing MK party coupled with the losses experienced by the African National Congress seem to indicate a profound level of dissatisfaction with the relatively moderate economic policies of the ANC’s current leader, Cyril Ramaphosa. But a geographical analysis of the election reveals a more complicated situation. As the map posted below indicates, MK did not emerge as a new party with national appeal, but rather one whose support is largely limited to the Zulu population. It received 45 percent of the vote in the Zulu heartland (KwaZulu-Natal), 16.8 percent in Mpumalanga, which is 24 percent Zulu-speaking, and 9.8 percent in Gauteng (the country’s core province, containing Johannesburg), which is 23 percent Zulu-speaking. Otherwise, MK’s level of support ranged from small to negligible. Its poor showing among the country’s other ethnic groups is not surprising, as its ideology is based – according to Wikipedia – on “Zulu nationalism” and “Zulu interests.”

South Africa 2024 election MK vote map

uMkhonto weSizwe is not the only South African political party that represents Zulu interest. The long-established Zulu-nationalist Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) did relatively well in the 2024 election, taking over 18 percent of the vote in KwaZulu-Natal and gaining three additional National Assembly seats, for a total of 17. A socially conservative, anti-communist organization, the Inkatha Freedom Party finds most of its support in the more traditional north-central region of KwaZulu-Natal, as the paired Wikipedia map posted below show. It performed particularly well in the municipality of Ulundi. The town of Ulundi was once the capital of the Zulu kingdom and later became the seat of the Bantustan (apartheid-era pseudo-country) of KwaZulu. In no other province did the Inkatha Freedom Party exceed one percent of the vote; in the western third of the country it received less than one tenth of one percent.

2024 South African Election IFP vote map

2024 South African Election KwaZulu-Natal Vote Map

The 2024 election results show that KwaZulu-Natal stands apart from the rest of South Africa, its voters more inclined to support parties that favor Zulu interest than those who focus on national issues. As the paired maps posted below show, the only municipalities in KwaZulu-Natal that did not give plurality support to one the two Zulu nationalist parties are demographically dominated by Xhosa speakers rather than Zulu speakers.

South Africa 2024 election KwaZulu-Natal vote map

But KwaZulu-Natal is not the only South African province that stands politically apart from the rest of the country. As the first map posted below shows, the African National Congress received a relatively low percentage of the vote in three provinces: KwaZulu-Natal, Western Cape, and Gauteng.  Elsewhere, it took a majority or near-majority of the votes cast. As a result, I have divided South Africa into four electorally distinctive regions (see the final map below). Coming Geo-Currents posts will explore these patterns in greater detail.

South Africa 2024 election ANC vote map

South Africa electoral regions map

The Zulu Exception in South Africa’s 2024 General Election Read More »

The Dutch Bible Belt: Religion and Voting in the Netherlands (& Northwestern Iowa)

The Netherlands is one of the most secular countries in the world. In a 2022 survey, 57 percent of its people reported “no religion,” 18 percent Catholicism, thirteen percent Protestant Christianity, and 5.6 percent Islam. Many of those who profess Christianity, moreover, are not very religious. In 2015, 82 percent of the Dutch population indicated that they “never or almost never” set foot in a church. But despite such widespread secularism, religion plays a significant role in Dutch politics. Three of the 15 parties in the country’s parliament officially signal their Christianity and another has roots in Christian democracy. Such a seeming discrepancy calls for further analysis.

Historically, the Dutch people were often noted for their religiosity. In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, they formed the core group of the influential Devotio Moderna movement that sought to revitalize Christianity through devotion to piety, humility, and simplicity of life. Learning was important as well, as exemplified by Erasmus of Rotterdam. In the mid-sixteenth century, conversion to Calvinism, or Reformed Christianity, was widespread, especially in Holland and Zeeland. This religious change helped spark rebellion against Spanish rule and the creation of the Dutch Republic in 1579. Although the Dutch Republic was noted for its religious toleration, it was closely associated with Calvinism, which continued to spread across its seven constituent provinces (Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, Friesland, Groningen, Overijssel, and Gelderland). Territorial gains made with the Peace of Westphalia (1648) brought substantial Catholic territories into the republic, most notably in North Brabant, which were long ruled on a semi-colonial basis. As the intensity of Dutch Protestantism declined in the nineteenth century, religion conflict intensified, pitting Catholics, Calvinists, and post-Calvinists against each other. The main response was the “pillarization” of Dutch society, defined as the “the vertical separation of citizens into groups by religion and associated political beliefs.” By the beginning of the twentieth century, four main pillars had crystalized: Catholic, Protestant, Liberal, and Socialist. As Wikipedia notes:

Each pillar [had] its own social institutions and social organizations. These [included] its own newspapers, broadcasting organisations, political parties, trade unions, farmers’ associations, banks, stores, schools, hospitals, universities, scouting organisations and sports clubs. Such segregation [meant] that many people [had] little or no personal contact with members of other pillars. [Note: quotation edited to put it in the past tense.]

Depillarization began after World War II, but remnants persist, especially in education. The Netherland’s several Christian political parties might also be seen a holdover of the pillarization era, although some of their sectarian lines have blurred over time. The Christian Union party is rooted in the Reformed Church and thus takes a conservative stance on social matters, but it now leans to the left on economic and environmental issues, based on the Biblical precepts of charity and stewardship. The somewhat more conservative Christian Democratic Appeal originated in 1977 through the confederation of three religious-political groups, two Protestant and one Catholic. The third explicitly religious party, the Reformed Party (SGP), represents unreconstructed Calvinism and is decidedly rightwing. It is sometimes even regarded as advocating theocracy, although that allegation is controversial. SGP is the Netherland’s oldest political party, having been established in 1918. One of its founders envisioned a Netherlands “without cinema, sports, vaccination, and social security.” While the antipathy to sports has dissipated, opposition to playing games on Sundays has not.

Although religious affiliation has declined more sharply in the traditionally Protestant parts of the Netherlands than in the traditionally Catholic ones (see the first map below), intense religiosity is more common in the former region. The Old Reformed (strictly Calvinist) congregations have a membership of roughly 400,000, although some sources claim that over a million Dutch people remain affiliated with their version of the Reformed faith. Staunch believers are concentrated in a discontinuous “Bible Belt” that stretches from Zeeland in the southwest to the Netherlands’ center-north. It is often mapped based on support for the Christian Union and Reformed parties (see the map below). Intriguingly, the Dutch Bible Belt is located just north of the historical divide between the Protestant and Catholic parts of the country. This distribution pattern has been used as evidence that the Netherlands’ Bible Belt originated from Protestant stalwarts fleeing Catholic domination before the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, but this interpretation remains uncertain.

In the 2023 general election, the (Calvinist) Reformed Party had its best showing by a wide margin in Zeeland, where it took almost 10 percent of the vote. But it came in first place in only one of the Zeeland’s municipalities. Nationwide, it did so in eight of the 342 municipalities into which the Netherlands is divided. Rather than forming a contiguous belt, these municipalities are widely scattered. One lies in the country’s demographic core (Woudenberg in Utrecht Province) and another, Urk, is found in Flevoland, a land that did not even exist until it was diked and drained in the 1950s and ‘60s. As a new province, it might seem surprising the Flavoland would be home to such a traditional community. But Urk is an old fishing town that sat on an island before the massive drainage projects of the mid twentieth century. It is often regarded as the country’s most conservative municipality. Its politics have long been dominated by Christian parties, particularly the SGP and local offshoots, although in recent years the right-populist PVV and FvD have gained considerable support. The 21,000 residents of Urk have also maintained their own distinct dialect, usually called Urkers As noted in Wikipedia article on Urk:

One of the oldest and most distinctive dialects of Dutch is the language spoken in Urk. Nearly everyone in the village speaks this dialect and uses it in daily life. The dialect deviates considerably from contemporary standard Dutch and has preserved many old characteristics that disappeared from standard Dutch a long time ago. The Urkish dialect also includes elements that are older than standard Dutch  and were never part of the standard language.  … The dialect developed this way because until World War II, Urk was an island and could only be reached by boat. Radio was unknown, and the poor population did not have much money for newspapers and books. Until the modern era primary education for the children typically lasted only two years; afterwards children had to help maintain the family and formal schooling ended.

The hardline Calvinist communities in the Bible Belt have been subjected to harsh criticism in mainstream Dutch society. Opposition to vaccination has long generated opposition. Recent censure often focuses on their steadfast hostility to gay rights and gender ideology.

The deep conservatism of old-school Dutch Calvinism is politically reflected in places far from the Netherlands, most notably among the Afrikaners of South Africa. It can also be seen in the United States, particularly in a few counties in southwestern Michigan and northwestern Iowa that were heavily settled by Dutch immigrants. This correlation can be seen in the paired maps posted below, one showing the prevalence of the (Dutch) Reformed Church in Iowa and the other showing the results of the 2020 presidential election in the same state. Donald Trump is anything but a reflection of Calvinist values, but the overwhelming support that he received in northwestern Iowa does indicate an abiding hostility to liberalism and leftism in this region that has deep roots in the Dutch Reformed Church.

As a final note, it is intriguing that the centrist Christian Union party had by far its best showing in the 2023 general election in Bonaire and the two other special Dutch municipalities located in the Caribbean.

The Dutch Bible Belt: Religion and Voting in the Netherlands (& Northwestern Iowa) Read More »

The Rotterdam Enigma: Dutch Cities in the 2023 General Election

In the United States, electoral patterns increasingly correlate with population density, with voters in metropolitan cores favoring the left and those in more peripheral areas preferring the populist right. Does this pattern hold in the Netherlands? The answer is partially “yes” but mostly “no.” The situation, in other words, is complicated.

As the map posted below shows, in a few Dutch provinces the municipalities with the largest city were the only ones that favored GreenLeft-Labour, with all others giving the plurality of their votes to a conservative party, mostly Geert Wilders’ PVV. Intriguingly, this pattern is limited to peripheral provinces: Zeeland, Groningen, and North Brabant. It almost holds in Friesland, but the province’s – and the country’s –  two most sparsely populated municipalities, Schiermonnikoog and Vlieland, also voted GreenLeft-Labour. It is probably not coincidental that they heavily depend on tourism.

In the Dutch demographic and economic core, however, this electoral pattern breaks down. This region, called the Randstad (“Rim City”), is roughly equivalent to the provinces of North Holland, South Holland, and Utrecht. It is conventionally divided into two subregions, the “South Wing” (Zuidvleugel), anchored by Rotterdam and the Hague, and the “North Wing” (Noordvleugel), anchored by Amsterdam and Utrecht (although the Utrecht area is sometime seen as constituting a wing of its own). The Randstad is home to some 8.4 million people, roughly half of the Netherlands’ population. Between its two wings lies the more sparsely populated Groene Hart (“Green Heart”), a region dominated by farms and wetlands, although it also contains a few cities, such as Gouda and Zoetermeer.

As the map below shows, the North Wing of the Randstad largely fits the electoral pattern found in the United States, with most of its larger cities giving a plurality of their votes to the GreenLeft-Labour Party and with plurality support for Geert Wilders’ PVV mostly confined to more peripheral areas. Amsterdam, Utrecht, Haarlem, Amersfoort, and Hilversum (the Dutch media capital) are all unsurprisingly colored red for the Labour Party on the map to the left below.

It is a different story, however, in the Randstad’s South Wing. Rotterdam and The Hague, the Netherlands’ second- and third-largest cities, both gave plurality support to the populist-right PVV. In this region the only municipalities to support GreenLeft-Labour were Leiden, a university center, and Delft. Gouda, located in the Randstad’s “Green Heart,” also voted GreenLeft-Labour.

The fact that the PVV came in first place in Rotterdam and The Hague does not, however, mean that they are dominated by the populist right. In the former city, PVV received 22 percent of the vote while GreenLeft Labour got 19.8%, center-right VVD 11.2%, pro-immigrant but socially conservative DENK 10.4%, and center/center-right NSC 9.0%. Similar ratios were found in The Hague. Although profoundly mixed, these results indicate “center-leaning” electorates shifting in a right-populist direction. In both Rotterdam and The Hague, Geert Wilder’s PVV Party more than doubled its level of support over that received in the previous election.

The popularity of such a vociferously anti-immigrant party is especially surprising in Rotterdam, a city demographically dominated by recent immigrant and their descendants. Fifty-two percent of its residents have at least one parent born outside of the country. Since 2009, moreover, Rotterdam’s mayor has been Ahmed Aboutaleb, a Muslim of Moroccan descent who represents the Labour Party. Rotterdam is also a relatively poor city, which, by conventional reasoning, would lead one to expect a higher level of support for Labour and other parties of the left.

One theory for Rotterdam’s populist shift focuses on the city’s non-immigrant population, contending that that the influx of migrants and the increased cultural diversity that it entails has pushed them in a xenophobic direction. But some evidence indicates that increasing numbers of immigrants are themselves turning to the PVV. A recent Guardian article, for example, reports that:

Across the street, Hasan Jakh, a recently arrived immigrant from Turkey, confessed he had voted for Wilders, driven by his frustration over the lack of affordable housing. “It’s stupid that he’s so Islamophobic,” he said. “But for the rest, he’s great.”

Housing affordability seems to be a key factor in the growing support for anti-immigration parties, and not just in Rotterdam. Just because a person is of immigrant origin does not necessarily entail support more immigration, especially if it is perceived to be against one’s own economic interest.

Not surprisingly, Rotterdam’s populist turn has generated considerable interest and concern among scholars. As the conclusion to an edited collection on the topic by Steven Vertovec begins:

What’s the matter with Rotterdam? This is a question I asked in a 2017 lecture (available to view at www.mmg.mpg.de), when trying to figure out how and why the city seems to disrupt common contemporary narratives concerning migration and cities. That is, social scientists since Simmel have postulated that cities are largely incubators of cosmopolitanism, or openness (if only indifference) to socio-cultural differences. It is often presumed that such openness goes together with an acceptance of ethnic diversity and immigration. Opinion polls and ethnographic research in cities usually bears out this presumption. Hence, it comes as surprising if not shocking to learn that in super-diverse Rotterdam – with over 50% of its population stemming from some 180 nations – the urban model of cosmopolitan incubator seems to fail. Authors in this collection have pointed to developments in Rotterdam by way of negative reactions to diversity, substantial voting for rightwing, anti- immigrant parties, and an ‘unhappy version’ of super-diversity in which the growth of a disapproving atmosphere has led to sharper ethnic boundaries, retreat into white enclaves, and low levels of white-ethnic minority social contact. Indeed, what’s the matter with Rotterdam?

In this volume we have read of how, despite – or because of? – its remarkable levels and kinds of diversity, Rotterdam is the Dutch city with the highest number of voters for Geert Wilders’ populist PVV (Partij voor de Vrijheid or Party for Freedom), and where the rightwing Leefbaar Rotterdam (Livable Rotterdam) party, heirs of Pim Fortuyn’s anti-immigrant movement, is also the City Council’s largest. How and why has this particular configuration (a high degree of super-diversity combined with strong right-wing sentiments) arisen?

Vertovec’s analysis, however, is rather indecisive, although he does conclude that “there is nothing the matter with Rotterdam.” What I wonder is whether Rotterdam is more a singular exception to a firmly ensconced rule or more a harbinger of things to come. In the United, communities rooted in relatively recent immigrations streams are also showing signs of moving in a right-populist direction, as Ruy Teixeira emphasizes. If this trend holds, we may see major political upheavals and electoral reconfigurations in the coming years.

The Rotterdam Enigma: Dutch Cities in the 2023 General Election Read More »

The Relative Lack of Regional Voting Differences in the Netherlands – And the Partial Exception of Friesland

The Dutch general election of 2023 reveals a low degree of regional political differentiation, with most parties receiving relatively similar vote percentages across the country. The main exception is the special Dutch municipalities in the Caribbean: Bonaire, Sint Eustatius, and Saba.

Consider, for example, the provincial voting patterns for the top five parties (see the maps below). Geert Wilders’ PVV took between 17.6 (Utrecht) and 30.1 (Limburg) percent of the vote everywhere, coming in first place in every province except Utrecht and North Holland. As the first map shows, PVV did slightly worse in the Netherlands’ demographic and economic core (North and South Holland and Utrecht) and slightly better in more peripheral regions, but the differences are relatively small, and South Holland, the most populous province, defies the generalization. The GreenLeft-Labour Party narrowly came in first place in North Holland and Utrecht and also did relatively well in Groningen, historically noted for its labor activism, but again the discrepancies are relatively minor. Regional differences were also relatively muted for the main center-right party, VVD. The new centrist NSC party does, however, have something of a positive outlier in Overijssel; it is not coincidental that NSC is closely associated with its founder, Pieter Omtzigt, who lives in that province. The centrist party D66 also shows relatively minor regional voting variation, with the notable exception of the Netherlands’ Caribbean municipalities.

The Netherlands does, however, have a number of strictly regional political parties, but they generally restrict their activities to provincial elections. But as the map below shows, few of them gained more than a few percent of the vote in the 2023 provincial elections, and in the three core provinces (North and South Holland and Utrecht) their share was negligible. The one outlier on this map is Friesland, where the Frisian National Party took over 8 percent of the vote and the Provincial Interest of Friesland Party a little more than 2 percent. In 2003, however, the Frisian National Party received more than 13 percent of the vote in Friesland’s provincial election.

It is not surprising that Friesland would have the Netherland’s strongest regional party, as it is a culturally distinctive province with its own language, West Frisian. (In Frisian, “Friesland” is called “Fryslân.”) Despite its nationalistic name, the party does not push for independence. Instead, it advocates a federal system of governance for the country, which would allow substantial autonomy for Friesland. It also wants more support for the Frisian language and provincial control of local natural gas reserves. Although most regional political parties in Europe lean decidedly either to the left or the right, the Frisian National Party spans the spectrum. As reported by Wikipedia,  “According to a survey of 554 party members done by the European Policies Research Centre… in 2009, 5.05% of members identified as far-left  on the political spectrum, 13.9% as left-wing, 28.16% as center-left, 17.51% as centrist, 14.98% as center-right, 7.4% as right-wing, and 2.53% as far-right, with 10.47% unsure. Whether such ideological diversity helps or hinders the movement for Frisian autonomy is an open question.

Although the Frisians are not recognized as a distinct national minority in the Netherlands as they are in Germany, the Frisian language is in a much healthier condition in the former country. Whereas roughly half a million people speak West Frisian in the Netherlands, the two Frisian dialects (more properly, languages) of Germany together have only around 12,000 speakers. In schools in Dutch Friesland, instruction in the language is mandatory. But as the map posted below indicates, most people in southern Friesland cannot speak the language, although many more can understand it. Many Frisians fear, moreover, that their language will be gradually supplanted by Dutch.

Frisian was a much more important language a thousand years ago than it is today. As one of the maps posted above shows, it once covered the entire North Sea coast from what is now the Netherlands’ border with Belgium to Germany’s border with Denmark. Frisian is usually regarded as the language most closely related to English, although this interpretation remains somewhat controversial and it holds only if Scots English is reckoned as a dialect rather than a separate language. It must also be noted that English has undergone such profound transformations that its relatively close relationship with Frisian is by no means obvious to native speakers of either language.

The Relative Lack of Regional Voting Differences in the Netherlands – And the Partial Exception of Friesland Read More »

The Shift Toward Rightwing Populism in the Centrist Electorate of the Netherlands

The recent Dutch election sent out political shockwaves that extend well beyond the Netherlands, as noted in media outlets both left and right. A headline in right-leaning Spiked Online reads “The Humiliation of the Dutch Establishment: The Victory of Geert Wilders Shows Voters are Desperate to Hit Back Against the Elites,” while one in left-leaning Daily Beast claims that “Shock Election Triumph Crowns Geert Wilders as the World’s ‘King of Islamophobia: Far-right Populist … Scores Huge Victory in Dutch Election, Despite Previous Conviction and Bans.” Although such interpretations are understandable, they obscure the complexities of Dutch electoral politics and exaggerate the trends that this election revealed. Although Wilders’ right-populist Party for Freedom (PVV) did better than any other party, it still took less than a quarter of the votes cast, giving it only 37 out of 150 seats in the House Representatives. It will be a challenge, and perhaps an impossibility, for Wilders to cobble together a coalition large enough for him to form a government and become prime minister. If that does happen, his Party for Freedom will probably have to moderate if not abandon its most controversial positions. (It is his party, moreover, as he is the sole member.)

With strictly proportional representation and a low threshold – 0.67% ­– for parliamentary representation, the Netherlands has a complex political environment with many competitive parties. In 2023, 15 received enough votes for representation in the House of Representative, down from 17 in 2021. As a result, multi-party coalitions are generally needed to gain a parliamentary majority of 76 seats.

 To get a better sense of the election results, I have arranged the main Dutch parties along a conventional one-dimensional political spectrum, extending from the far-left to the far-right (see below). In doing so, I relied on Wikipedia to categorize their political positions along this axis, as it uses relatively consistent criteria for doing so. I am, however, skeptical of the one-dimensional “left-right” spectrum, omnipresent though it is. It has never adequately captured the essence of political viewpoint diversity, and its misalignment with actual conditions is currently intensifying. What is needed instead is multi-dimensional model of political space. But for time being, I reluctantly retain the one-dimensional scheme. But I do deviate from the norm by dividing Dutch parties into three main categories: left, right, and center. Given the strength, albeit diminishing, of the Dutch political center, this scheme is more fitting than a simple “left/right” bifurcation. In the system used in the diagram below, a party that is deemed either “center-right” or “center-left” by Wikipedia is slotted into the broad political “center,” while one described as “center-left to left-wing” is classified instead as “leftwing,” just as one deemed “center-right to right-wing” is classified as “rightwing.” Several of Wikipedia’s designations, however, are highly debatable, and as a result the categorization scheme found below should be regarded as merely suggestive.

As the diagram shows, although the center parties suffered a sharp rebuke in the 2023 election, together they remain the Netherlands’ largest block by a considerable margin. Overall, the Dutch electorate skews slightly to the right of center, at least according to the classification scheme used here. In the 2023 general election, the political center’s loss resulted in major gains for the populist right. Rightwing populist voters moved toward Geert Wilders’ Party for Freedom (PVV), with two smaller parties of the same ilk losing support. One of these, JA21, portrays itself a “proper” rightwing party, less radical than Wilders’ PVV (although Wikipedia slots them into the same political space). The other, FvD, is usually regard as more radical than PVV, as well as more favorable to Vladimir Putin. The more centrist but still right-populist BBB, or Farmer-Citizen Movement, also registered major gains. It did not, however, perform nearly as well as it had in the Dutch provincial elections earlier in this year, when it took 19 percent of the vote nationwide and gained the largest number of seats in all 12 Dutch provinces. The BBB’s agrarian focus, along with the lack of ambition for national leadership by its leader, Caroline van der Plas, probably contributed to its loss of votes in the general election.

Of the three Dutch electoral segments outlined here, the left is clearly the weakest. It now receives much less support than it had in the late twentieth century, when the leader of the Labour Party (PvdA) Wim Kok served as Prime Minister (1994 to 2002). After poor showings in 2021, the two main “center-left/leftwing” parties, Labour and the Greens, combined to form PvdA–GroenLinks (GreenLeft-Labour). As can be seen, this joint party did relatively well in 2023, winning eight seats more than its two constituent parties had won in 2021. Its gains, however, apparently came at the cost of the Netherland’s more leftwing parties, which collectively lost eight seats. The party furthest to the left, the Marxian, identity-focused BIJ1, did not receive enough votes to retain parliamentary representation.

Despite its solid showing overall, the broad Dutch political center experienced major losses and profound upheaval in this election cycle. Its three main parties, center-right VVD (Party for Freedom and Democracy), center/center-right CDA (Christian Democratic Appeal), and center-center D66 (Democrats 66) saw a staggering collective loss of 35 seats. These three parties, along with the smaller Christian Union (which also lost seats), had formed the Netherland’s governing coalition. D66, which supports European Federalism, lost more than half of its seats, while CDA lost two-thirds. As a result, Christian Democratic Appeal is a now a shadow of its former self; as recently as 2006 it was the Netherlands’ top party, winning 41 seats and taking 26.5 percent of the vote that year. Many of the defections from the parties of the governing coalition went to a new center party, NSC (New Social Contract). Led by Ph.D economist Pieter Omtzigt, NCS grew out of the Eurosceptic wing of Christian Democratic Appeal. In the 2023 election, Omtzigt positioned himself as a maverick centrist, “conservative on immigration and climate change but leftist on reducing poverty and improving healthcare.” Significantly, the centrism of the larger Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) of out-going Prime Minister Mark Rutte is of the opposite order, leaning left on immigration and climate change while advocating small government, laissez-faire economics, and tax reductions. The centrism of the Turkish-oriented DENK party skews in yet another direction, to the left on immigration and multiculturalism, but increasingly to the right on social issues.

European integration, immigration, and climate-change mitigation were key issues in the 2023 Dutch election. Skepticism about all three figured prominently in the losses experienced by the center/center-right governing coalition, with some of its voters moving to the hard right and others to a less-internationalist version of Dutch centrism. Intriguingly, the story on the left was quite different, with its more Eurosceptical and anti-globalist parties losing seats to the more centrist and EU-oriented GreenLeft-Labour party.

Overall, the Dutch electorate clearly shifted to a more nationalistic and climate-skeptical position. Similar shifts have occurred recently in several other countries, although Poland notably bucked the trend, as was explored in previous GeoCurrents posts. This tendency challenges the idea that a single one-dimensional spectrum adequately captures the full array of political thought. It seems likely that we will continue to see the growth of parties and movements, like the Netherlands’ New Social Contract, that lean economically to the left but are more conservative on environmental, social, and immigration issues. Conversely, movements advocating the opposite mix, like the Teal Independents of Australia, could also gain clout, as could other alternative parties with their own eclectic policy ideas. Overall, the populist/establishment divide will probably intensify. As a result, democratic countries could see electoral destabilization with rapid swings in the fortunes of established political parties. Such a situation may be perilous, but it is also extremely interesting. Stay tuned.

The Shift Toward Rightwing Populism in the Centrist Electorate of the Netherlands Read More »

Australia’s Centrist Teal Alternative – and a Possible Center-Populist Alternative to the Alternative

The center-right Australian Liberal Party has long been a major political force, leading Australia’s government, in coalition with the agrarian-focused National Party, from 2013 to 2022. In 2022, however, it suffered a sharp reversal, losing 17 seats in the House of Representatives. Most of these losses were in wealthy inner-suburban electoral division in major metropolitan areas – historically the party’s main bases of power. The residents of these areas, however, have become more leftwing on social and cultural issues than the party as a whole, and they are much more concerned about climate change. Although some of these former Liberal strongholds turned to the center-left Labour Party, others opted for so-called Teal independents. While the Teals are strongly committed to countering climate change and upholding leftwing social values, they retain the Liberal Party’s more conservative economic outlook. Their “teal” label reflects these ideological commitments, as the color combines blue, symbolizing the Liberal Party, and green, symbolizing, of course, the Green Party.

The seven Teal independents who now sit in Australia’s House of Representatives are an interesting group. They are, by U.S. standards at least, relatively young, but they are also very accomplished. Several have had high-level executive careers, and two are scions of noted political dynasties. As befits sports-besotted Australia, a few of them are celebrated athletes. But what is more remarkable is that they are all women. (The slides posted below provide basic information on the seven Teal MPs.)

Although women are over-represented, men are not absent from the Teal movement. In 2022, the Australian Capital Territory (Canberra, essentially) elected a Teal candidate, David Pocock, as one of its two senators. (The Australian Senate is less powerful than the House of Representatives, but it is significant.) Born and reared in Zimbabwe, Pocock fits the Teal model, as he was vice captain of Canberra’s professional rugby union team, the Brumbies, and was twice a finalist for the World Rugby association’s honor of “player of the year.” He is also a noted activist for environmental causes and same-sex marriage.

The Teal surge reveals some interesting and important developments in political philosophy that are not limited to Australia. Historically, most democratic countries have been dominated by two main political parties, one of which primarily represents the economic interest of the elites, and the other those of the working and lower-middle classes. But as the former party has typically been more socially and culturally conservative, it has also attracted some support from working-class voters, particularly those living outside of metropolitan areas. By the same token, as the latter party has typically been more socially and culturally leftwing, it has also attracted support from elite voters, particularly those living in urban areas. Such discrepant bases of support generate tensions and imbalances that can potentially lead to political realignments.

In the United States, the Republican Party has historically been more oriented toward elites and the Democratic Party more oriented toward the working class. These orientations began to shift after the social upheavals of the 1960s, as culturally conservative non-elites – “Reagan Democrats” – turned to the Republican Party while culturally progressive elites flocked to the Democratic Party. In the 1990s, Democratic president Bill Clinton further propelled this realignment by embracing Wall Street and corporate capitalism more generally and by deemphasizing the party’s traditional working-class base. Although both parties now encompass major contingents of both elite and non-elite voters, the balance has shifted. As maverick Democratic Party analyst Ruy Teixeira demonstrates, the Republican Party seems to be emerging as the first choice of the multi-ethnic working class. The Democratic Party, in contrast, now enjoys overwhelming support in the county’s wealthiest inner suburbs, once Republican bastions. (See, most recently, Teixeira & Judis, Where Have all the Democrats Gone?)

Political evolution, however, has worked out differently in Australia, where the Labour Party has remained more focused on working-class voters. As a result, wealthy inner suburbs long remained loyal to the “Tories” (Liberals). But emerging tensions between increasingly green and socially progressive elite voters and the more conservative party base and establishment could not be contained forever. But rather than opting for the more economically leftwing Labour Party, many residents of the country’s wealthiest areas turned instead to the more economically conservative Teal independents. As a result of this exodus, the Liberal Party now finds itself in an uncomfortable situation, with some observers thinking that it might be relegated to long-term minority status.

But Australia’s Labour Party has its own problems, as indicated by the decisive defeat of the Indigenous Voice referendum that it strongly supported. As it turns out, many of its leftwing social and cultural policies have limited support in the working-class and immigrant communities that form Labour’s main bulwarks. Climate policy might become a bigger problem. In 2022, Australia’s parliament passed a far-reaching act that “codifies a 43 per cent emissions reduction target by 2030 (on 2005 levels), requires the Climate Change Authority to provide advice on Australia’s progress against those targets, mandates that the Minister for Climate Change reports annually to Parliament on Australia’s progress, and forces federal government agencies to adhere to the legislative requirements of the Act.” If this act results in significantly higher energy prices coupled with reduced reliability, as conservative critics foresee, significant working-class defections from the Labour Party might follow.

But where could such disgruntled voters go? In the United States, the increasingly right-populist Republican Party is the choice of many who find themselves in the same situation. In Australia, however, the main right-populist party, Pauline Hanson’s One Nation, has been in decline for decades and currently has a negligible presence in government (two national senate seats, one seat in state and territory lower houses, and three seats in state and territory upper houses). Its stridently anti-immigration and anti-Asian stance precludes widespread support in the more socially conservative working-class suburbs that rejected the Indigenous Voice referendum, as they all have large immigrant population.

Perhaps a new party or political movement will emerge to represent the concerns of such voters and communities. The only existing possibility, to my knowledge, is the center-populist Dai Le & Frank Carbone Network, which was registered as a political party earlier this year. Tellingly, its two founders hail from the two main parties. Frank Carbone, formerly of the Labour Party, is currently mayor of the astoundingly diverse city of Fairfield – home to one of the world’s largest Assyrian Christian communities – while former Liberal Dai Le represents the spatially intersecting electoral division of Fowler in the Australian House of Representatives. She won this position in 2022 even though Fowler had been classified as one of Labour’s safest seats. Significantly, Le abstained from the Climate Change Bill of 2022, stating that “I support a cleaner and greener environment, but my main priority is making sure the high cost of living and unemployment rates in our area are stabilised – especially in these very tough economic times.”

Similarly, the stance of the Dai Le & Frank Carbone Network on the Indigenous Voice referendum was “unknown, undecided, ambiguous or neutral.” But after the measure’s defeat, Le, who came to Australia as a child refugee from Vietnam, pushed back at accusations that it revealed a deep strain of racism in the country. As she put it: “Of course, they are people who are racist, but it doesn’t mean Australia is a racist country. Far from it, we are … in the Southeast Asian region and we have become a multicultural country …  We are embracing that.”

Le also proudly embraces Australian patriotism. She symbolized this attitude by wearing an Australian-flag dress for her first Parliamentary speech (see below). In this emotional address, she praised the “freedom” and “endless possibilities” that Australia offers.

But although the Dai Le & Frank Carbone Network potentially represents a new force in Australian politics, its current ambitions are limited and local. As reported in the Wikipedia article on the new party:

The ideals espoused by Le and Carbone have had an emphasis on the Western Sydney region, a majority Labour-aligned area. Le stated to the Guardian Australia in May, following the party’s creation, “Our people… pay tolls and taxes, and yet the money doesn’t come back into building services and infrastructure for our community, we need to come together and build a stronger western Sydney voice for our community.” Further adding: “The end goal is to have representation for western Sydney, from people who are actually from western Sydney, live in western Sydney, understand the issues of western Sydney.” Party co-founder Frank Carbone, in an interview with Sydney’s 2GB said: “Ultimately we’re here for the people in the western suburbs, and, you know, the western suburbs is one of the largest economies in Australia and we just feel that a lot more needs to be done to actually improve the quality of life of people who live out here…”

Mainstream political parties in many countries are currently in some peril, losing voters, suffering from internal conflicts, and undergoing wild swings of fortune. Germany’s center-right Christian Democratic Union is currently polling at only around 29 percent in “national party voter intention,” while its rival center-left Social Democratic Party comes in at a miserable 16 percent. In the United Kingdom, the Conservative Party scored a stunning victory in 2019, gaining 48 seats in the House of Commons while the Labour Party lost 60; today the Conservatives are polling at less than 25 percent. In the United States, the presumptive nominees of both main parties are decidedly unpopular with the electorate at large, opening possibilities for third-party candidates of various stripes.

Although there are many reasons for such instability, I suspect that the dynamics explored above in the Australian context figure prominently. Historically, parties representing the economic interests of the elites were also socially and culturally conservative, regarding radical change in these areas as threatening the status quo that upheld their power. By the same token, parties representing the economic interests of the working and lower middle classes were open to change, and as result tended to be suspicious of conservatism across the board. Today, many working-class voters fear that radical cultural change threatens their standing, while many elites welcome it, viewing it as more liberatory than threatening. If such tendencies intensify, we could see politically mature democracies transform from political systems dominated by center-left and center-right mainstream parties to ones dominated instead by culturally progressive center-elite parties (“Teals”) and more culturally conservative center-populist parties (“Dai Le & Frank Carbonites”?). But it is probably more likely that we will see instead intensified chaos and the growth of parties and political movements of more extremist bents, whether left, right, or unclassifiable on a one-dimensional spectrum. I, for one, hope that the center holds, but I am not confident that it will.

Australia’s Centrist Teal Alternative – and a Possible Center-Populist Alternative to the Alternative Read More »

Australia’s Indigenous Voice Referendum Vote in Greater Melbourne

As noted in previous posts, Australian voters decisively rejected the Indigenous Voice referendum in October 2023. As our electoral analysis of greater Sydney revealed, many areas that usually support the Labour Party, which endorsed the measure, voted against it, some by a wide margin. By the same token, several electoral divisions that have historically supported the center-right Liberal Party, which opposed the measure, voted in favor of it. In general, the more wealthy and highly educated parts of Sydney voted “yes,” whereas the poorer divisions, and those with large numbers of immigrants, voted “no.”

Today’s post examines the same issues in the greater Melbourne region. As was also previously mentioned, Melbourne is considerably more leftwing than Sydney, and as a result it not surprising that it was more favorably disposed to the referendum. In the Melbourne area, as the map below shows, support tended to decline with distance from the urban core, with the central electoral division (Melbourne) voting 77 percent in its favor, the highest figure in the country.  As the second map show, the greater Melbourne region overwhelmingly supported the Labour Party in the 2022 parliamentary election, with the rival center-right Liberal Party taking only four seats, all of which are in the outer eastern suburbs and exurban fringe. The 2022 election, however, was unusual, as several traditionally Liberal-voting divisions turned either to Labour or to “Teal” independents, the latter being left on social and environmental issues, but center-right or centrist on economic and fiscal policies. Central Melbourne, in contrast, voted for the Green Party, as it has since 2010. Here Labour came in second place, with the Liberal party receiving only 15 percent of the vote.

As was the case in Sydney, many Labour-voting divisions in greater Melbourne rejected the Indigenous Voice referendum just as several traditionally Liberal-voting divisions supported it, thus going against the recommendations of the parties that their voters prefer. Such seemingly anomalous divisions are outlined on the map below. Here, Labour-voting districts (in 2022) that rejected the measure are enclosed with a heavy black line. They are found in two contiguous blocks, one to the east and north of the city, and the other to in southeast. To examine traditionally Liberal-voting districts that supported the measure, I turned to the 2019 election, which occurred before the rise of the Teal independents. As can be seen, this set of “anomalous” divisions are tightly clustered in Melbourne’s inner southeastern suburbs.

The same correlations between voting patterns and socio-economic indicators are found in Melbourne as in Sydney, but with a few minor differences. As the map below shows, the divisions that voted Liberal in 2019 yet supported the referendum are all characterized by relatively high median household incomes. Labour-voting districts with higher-than-average income levels also supported the measure, with the exception of peripheral McEwen, where Labour won by a relatively thin margin in 2022. Poorer divisions, whether Labour or Liberal (Flinders), generally voted “no.” An exception here is Fraser, a strongly Labour-voting area with a relatively low level of income that solidly supported the measure. Intriguingly, Fraser is known for its large population of Vietnamese birth (14.6 percent).

The map of educational attainment, showing the percentage of the population with a bachelor’s degree or higher, correlates well with both income and voting behavior. Highly educated divisions, regardless of their party preference, tended to support the Indigenous Voice referendum, while divisions with lower rates of education tended to reject it.

The next map, showing the percentage of the population that reported “no religion” in the 2021 census, corelates poorly with the map of the referendum vote. Highly irreligious districts are found both in metropolitan Melbourne’s center and periphery, with the former voting “yes” and the latter “no.” The most religious divisions, in contrast, voted “no,” even though all of them supported Labour in 2022. As was the case in Sydney, religiously inclined divisions are characterized by high percentages of residents born overseas. But irreligious, yes-voting central Melbourne also has a large immigrant population. But it also has a very young average age (31), and the youth vote was decidedly in the “yes” direction. Not surprisingly, Central Melbourne also has a low rate of marriage. Divisions with low marriage rates, which are clustered in the central Melbourne metropolitan area, voted in favor of the referendum.

The next post, second-t0-last in this series, will consider these finding in the light of Australia’s overarching political divisions, taking a close look at the rise of the Teal independents.

Australia’s Indigenous Voice Referendum Vote in Greater Melbourne Read More »

Explaining Seeming Anomalies in the Indigenous Voice Referendum Vote in Greater Sydney

In Australia’s 2023 Indigenous Voice Referendum (see the two previous posts), a significant number of solid Labour electoral divisions voted “no,” some by a significant margin, even though the Labour Party strongly supported the measure. It was a different story on the other side of Australia’s political divide. Only one division that voted for a party in the country’s conservative alliance in 2022 voted “yes” in 2023. That division was Bradfield in northern Sydney, a traditionally strong Liberal (center-right) constituency. But a handful of historical Liberal strongholds that had bucked the party for “teal” independents in 2022 also supported the referendum. We will examine the rise of Australia’s teal politicians – who are on the left regarding socio-cultural and environmental issues but are center-right economically, in a later post. For today, we will take a closer look at the seemingly anomalous electoral divisions in the Indigenous Voice referendum in the greater Sydney area. As always, we shall do so through cartographic analysis.

The first map shows the “yes” vote in the 2023 referendum. As can be seen, support was highest – by a significant margin – in the central urban area (the divisions of Sydney and Grayndler). The other “yes-voting” divisions are concentrated in the northeastern suburbs. (Reid, to the west of the urban core, is mapped as having supported the measure by a thin margin, reflecting the Wikipedia table used to make this map; many other sources, however, map Reid as having voted “no.”) The second map shows the local results of Australia’s 2022 parliamentary election. As can be seen, the “teal” divisions are also located in Sydney’s northeastern suburbs, all of which voted “yes” in the referendum. In contrast, Labour’s strongholds in 2022 were located in central Sydney and in the western suburbs, as has been the historical norm. The third map takes information from the second map and overlays it on the first, outlining the “anomalous” parts of Sydney in this election (“no-voting” Labor divisions and “yes-voting” Liberal (and teal) divisions. The same overlay will be employed in the remaining maps in today’s post.

As other sources have noted, level of education was a good predictor in the Indigenous Voice referendum. The next map cartographically examines this correlation. As can be seen, rates of college education are much higher in eastern Sydney than in the rest of the region. The most highly educated divisions either supported the measure or narrowly turned it down, with strongly Liberal Mitchell being the only significant exception. In Labour-voting divisions, those with high levels of education supported the referendum whereas those with low levels voted “no.” (The data used to make this map, like the rest others in this sequence, come from the 2021 Australian Census.)


Not surprisingly, the map of median household income correlates closely with that of educational attainment. Centrally located Sydney and Grayndler, however, have lower income levels than would  be expected from their educational profiles. This is partly due to their young populations; at 33, the median age in the Division of Sydney is tied for the lowest in the region mapped. The general message conveyed by this map is that relatively poor Labour-voting areas in suburban Sydney voted “no,” as did relatively poor Liberal-voting areas in the western exurban fringe. Wealthy electoral divisions, in contrast, either supported the measure or narrowly turned it down, with Mitchell again forming an exception. It is not coincidental that the two wealthiest divisions in Sydney form the epicenter of the “teal rebellion” against the Liberal Party.

Religion was another factor in the Indigenous Voice Referendum. As can be seen, the yes-voting areas of the center and northeast all reported high levels of “no religion” in the 2021 Australian census. Strikingly, the most irreligious divisions, Sydney and Grayndler, had the highest percentage of “yes” votes. In contrast, the divisions with the lowest percentages of non-religious residents all supported Labour in 2022 and all voted “no” in 2023.

The religiosity map loosely correlates with the map of people born in Australia. The divisions with the highest percentages of foreign-born residents are concentrated in central Sydney and in the relatively poor western suburbs. Those located in the west rejected the referendum, some by substantial margins. Many of these areas have large Muslim populations. Peripheral districts with high percentages of Australian-born residents also voted “no,” whereas those in the wealthier and more highly educated center and northeast voted “yes.”


The final map, showing marital status, is not as revealing. It does show, however, that divisions with low percentages of married people tended to vote “yes,” although one with a high marriage rate, Bradfield, voted “yes.” (Bradfield was Australia’s only Liberal-voting division in the 2022 election that supported the referendum). Intriguingly, the wealthiest divisions of Sydney have some of the region’s highest and lowest rates of marriage. It is perhaps not coincidental that Mitchell, the richest “no-voting” division, also has the region’s highest marriage rate.

These various patterns and correlations can tell us a lot about both Sydney’s electoral geography and the (changing?) ideological positions of Australia’s major parties. Before delving into these important issues, however, we will examine greater Melbourne through the same comparative-cartographic lens employed in today’s post.


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The Metropolitan Concentration of Support for Australia’s Indigenous Voice Referendum and the Melbourne/Sydney Divide

Australian electoral geography, like that of many other countries, is increasingly structured around the metropolitan-peripheral divide. Consider, for example, the map of the 2022 federal election in Western Australia and South Australia (below), in which Labour victories were limited to Perth and Adelaide. In the 2023 Indigenous Voice Referendum (see the previous post), this tendency was even more pronounced. A casual glance at the nationwide electoral map (second map below) might make it seem that two rural areas supported the measure, one in southern Tasmania and the other in inland southeastern New South Wales, but that is not the case. The sizable Tasmanian electoral division that supported the measure is demographically based in the suburbs of Hobart, the state’s main city. The other easily visible blue splotch on the map is the Australian Capital Territory, based in the relatively large city of Canberra (with a metropolitan population of almost half a million).

As a close examination of the results reveals, all 34 of the electoral division that supported the initiative are located in urban and suburban areas. Consider, for example, the election map (below) of New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state by a considerable margin. Six of the state’s eight division that voted “yes” are in Sydney, while the other two are in Newcastle and Wollongong, sizable cities in their own right that are close enough to Sydney to arguably be within its greater metropolitan ambit. (Newcastle is less than 100 miles from Sydney and has an urban population of half a million; Wollongong is 52 miles from Sydney and has an urban population of over 300,000).

A more interesting feature of this election, however, was the failure of the “yes” vote in some of Australia’s main areas of population concentration. Perth and Adelaide are both major cities, with metropolitan populations of 2.2 and 1.4 million respectively, that supported the Labour Party in the 2022 election. In the Indigenous Voice Referendum, however, only two of Perth’s divisions voted “yes.” None did so in Adelaide.

What is more even remarkable, however, is the concentration of the “yes” vote in just one city: Melbourne. Thirteen of the 34 electoral districts in the country that supported the measure are found in this metropolitan area. In greater Melbourne, all central-city and inner-suburban divisions voted “yes,” as did several outer-suburban ones. The contrast with Sydney, where many relatively densely populated, Labour-voting divisions soundly rejected the measure, is noteworthy.

This election’s voting patterns in both Sydney and Melbourne will be cartographically explored in subsequent posts. For now, I will merely forward some insightful observations on the different political climates of the two cities made by Nick Nicholas and posted on the Quora website in response to the question “Why is Melbourne more left wing/progressive politically than the rest of Australia?” In his reply, Nicholas focuses on the state level, comparing Victoria (VIC), which is demographically dominated by Melbourne, with New South Wales (NSW), which is demographically dominated by Sydney. Wisely shunning “recentism,” he notes that in from 1955 to 1972 “Victoria was the Tory stronghold, and NSW was Labor territory,” and then states that “It was only in 2018 that John Howard memorably said that VIC was “’the Massachusetts of Australia.’”

Intriguingly, Nicholas goes on to contend that “The trend over the last few years has been for both the Liberal and Labor parties in NSW to skew more right wing—the Liberals more outspoken in their social conservatism, Labor more ruthless in their economic rationalism; and for both parties to skew more left wing in VIC—VIC being the last refuge of the old school Liberal moderates, and Labor being clearly leftist, especially in culture war issues.”

Nicholas’s explanations for this difference are also worth quoting. Here is a sample; interested readers are advised to visit Quora to see his full account:

But if VIC is more progressive than NSW, it’s not because Melbourne has an industrial past and pioneered unionism—that wouldn’t explain why NSW was so strongly in the hands of Labor for the first two thirds of the 20th century. It’s not because Melbourne is more multicultural than Sydney—that claim doesn’t make any sense to me. And it’s not a categorical difference, it’s really one of degree: there are plenty of reactionaries in VIC, and plenty of progressives in NSW. NSW has a progressive inner city too—though they vote independents or moderate Liberals in, not Greens.

Sydney does have a much more aggressive conservative pundit culture, particularly on radio: compared to Alan Jones, Australia’s answer to Rush Limbaugh, the best Melbourne talkback radio can offer is the grumbly teddy bear Steve Price. But that’s symptom not cause, and besides, Melbourne is also home to Andrew Bolt, who I guess is our Tucker Carlson.

Other respondents have also pointed out that the topography of Sydney makes it more prone to communities getting balkanised, rather than seeing themselves as a single city as in the better connected Melbourne. (That helped inoculate Sydney against the spread of COVID in 2020—and it helped infect Sydney with the virus of race riots in 2005.) That makes Sydney a more troubled, combative place, but I don’t see that that makes Melbourne a more progressive place; a more optimistic place, perhaps, but for the fact that our weather is so gloomy.

The stereotype that Melbourne was more arty, more bohemian, and Sydney was more blokey, more outdoorsy, is of long standing; that Melbourne was the home of sophisticated comedy and Sydney only made lame sitcoms; that culture was at home in Melbourne and Sydney favoured sport instead—all these were certainly entrenched in the 80s.

I suspect what’s going on is that there’s more thought leadership of progressive politics in inner city Melbourne than inner city Sydney, and that’s leading to a perception of Melbourne being more progressive, which is self-fulfilling in social progress issues—even though Melbourne did vote for a Thatcherite like Kennett, and is host to plenty of reactionaries, as recent rallies outside State Parliament are demonstrating.

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Mapping Australia’s 2023 Indigenous Voice Referendum, Part I

On October 14, 2023, Australian voters decisively rejected a proposed constitutional amendment that would have recognized the country’s indigenous population by creating a federal advisory body to represent the views of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. The 60 percent “no” vote shocked many Australian, as early in the year polling indicated that almost two-thirds of Australians supported the measure. The referendum’s defeat has resulted in a good deal of soul-searching, as well as accusations of misleading campaigning and outright prevarication by those opposed to the measure.

Although these are important issues, the next few GeoCurrents posts will consider instead the lessons that might be learned about Australian electoral geography from this hotly contested referendum. We will also consider what the vote pattern can tell us about the changing nature of Australia’s main political parties and the voting-blocks that support them. As we shall see, although the governing Labour Party strongly supported the measure, many heavily Labour-voting electoral divisions rejected it by considerable margin. At the same time, several important electoral divisions that have historically been strong supporters of the center-right Liberal Party, which opposed the measure, voted in its favor.

Today’s initial post, however, takes on a much simpler and more familiar issue: the tendency for electoral maps to exaggerate support for conservative parties and positions by giving undue visual weight to low-density, rural areas. Consider, for example, Wikipedia’s map of the election results (below). The is a poor example of the cartographer’s craft, as it lacks a key or any other form of explanation. But one can easily infer that darker shades of red indicate a strong “no” vote, whereas the small green area – Canberra, or the Australian Capital Territory – voted “yes.” The overall impression conveyed by this map is that the election was a landslide, with almost all constituencies voting against the measure.

A vastly better map was posted on Reddit’s MapPorn forum – as is so often the case. Unfortunately, however, this map misrepresents the vote in the Northern Territory, where 60.3 percent of voters opposed the measure. But by expanding the few relatively densely populated parts of the country, the map accurately shows widespread support for the referendum in metropolitan areas, where the most Australians live. Melbourne in particular is revealed as a stronghold for the “yes” vote. But the demographic imbalances in Australia are so extreme that this map still does not do justice to the actual vote. As the next set of maps illustrates, Australia’s two largest metropolitan areas, Sydney and Melbourne, together have more than twice the population of the entire western two-thirds of the country. In this vast region, only two electoral divisions, both in Perth, voted “yes,” whereas 17 did so in greater Melbourne and Sydney.

To adequately capture the demographic geography of this election, a cartogram* must be used instead. I was only able to find one example, a mosaic cartogram from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) in which of the country’s 151 federal electoral divisions are depicted as hexagons of equal size (although these divisions vary slightly in population, they all have roughly the same number of voters). The cartogram on the right (below) gives a particularly good visual representation of the demographic patterns found in this election.

The problem with cartograms, however, is that of spatial representation. All cartograms distort size and shape, but the issue is often pronounced in places with extremely uneven distributions of population, such as Australia. In the ABC mosaic cartogram posted above, the “geobody” of the country becomes unrecognizable. As the next map shows, it also misrepresents spatial positions. The electoral division of Griffith, for example, appears to be located in central Queensland, but it is actually situated in the state’s far southeastern corner.

All such problems, however, are intrinsic to electoral mapping. My preferred response is to use a variety of maps, made at different scales, and compare them. The next few GeoCurrents posts will do exactly that for Australia’s Indigenous Voice referendum. For now, however, I would like to note that the ABC article that posted the cartograms discussed above also includes several excellent graphs of the election results. Two of these are posted below. Together, they show that the “no” vote was especially pronounced in remote areas with relatively low rates of educational attainment. These correlations, and more, will be explored in greater detail in a set of maps focused on the Sydney metropolitan area that will be posted on this website next soon.


*As defined by Wikipedia: A cartogram (also called a value-area map or an anamorphic map, the latter common among German-speakers) is a thematic map of a set of features (countries, provinces, etc.), in which their geographic size is altered to be directly proportional to a selected ratio-level variable, such as travel time, population or GNP. Geographic space itself is thus warped, sometimes extremely, in order to visualize the distribution of the variable. It is one of the most abstract types of map; in fact, some forms may more properly be called diagrams. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cartogram

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Journalistic Hyperbole and the Electoral Geography of Poland

Although The Economist magazine is to be commended for analyzing and mapping the role of Poland’s old imperial divisions in its current electoral geography, it succumbs to unnecessary and misleading simplification and exaggeration, as is so often the case when journalists take on intricate geographical issues. Consider, for example, the following assertion:

More remarkable, however, is that rather than following a gradual gradient from east to west, modern Poles’ political loyalties remain firm right up to the edge of a historical line that cuts down the middle of the country.

This vivid statement is incorrect, as is demonstrated by the maps included in the two previous GeoCurrents posts. A detail from one of these maps (below) drives the point home. As can be seen, there is only a vaguely discernable difference in “Poles’ political loyalties” as one cross the old boundary between the German and Russian empires between Łódź and Wroclaw. More significant is the fact that two of the five constituencies that gave the lowest percentage of their votes to United Right, Łódź and Warsaw, and two of the four that give the highest percentage to Civic Coalition (again, Łódź and Warsaw), are located to the east of the dividing line.

The Economist article in question also makes a more interesting observation:

From the air, the former Habsburg and Russian territories look like a patchwork mosaic of small farming plots, whereas the west is divided into sprawling fields designed to facilitate mechanised agriculture.

This assertion is certainly intriguing, but is it true? I tested it by trying to find the old border on satellite images found in Apple Maps. I did so with a modest level of success. Although I could not precisely trace out the divide, I did find a significant general difference in the divisions of agricultural land found in the two sectors. Consider, for example, an image (below) of the Kalisz area, located astride the old boundary. The fields on the left side of this image are larger than those on the right, although not to the extent that The Economist suggests. They are also more irregularly shaped.

If anything, the term “mosaic” fits more closely with the field patterns found in the old German sector, as the various pieces of a mosaic are typically of different size and shape. The two images posted below reveal a more mosaic-like agricultural pattern in the west, and a greater degree of field uniformity in the former Russian zone. What the second image shows is not a “mosaic” composed of disparate pieces, but a rather a patchwork composed of many elongated rectangular pieces of similar size. Such an arrangement reflects the pre-modern farming system that used long, narrow fields to facilitate plowing, as it was difficult to turn plow-teams of oxen or horses around. But although the redivision of the land that occurred in the west facilitated mechanization, it was not a necessary precondition for it.

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