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.