Melbourne Vs. Sydney Revisited

Australia is an unusual country in having two metropolitan areas of roughly equal population that overshadow all others. As the tables posted below show, Melbourne and Sydney each have around five million inhabitants, roughly twice as many as third-ranking Brisbane. It is also not entirely clear which metropolis is larger. Although Sydney has generally received the honor, Melbourne is growing more rapidity and has reportedly “snatched back its crown as Australia’s largest city, knocking Sydney off the top spot.” (Different population figures are derived from different way of spatially delimiting the metro area.)

Few other countries have such dual top cities. The only one that come readily to my mind is Vietnam; Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) both have around eight million inhabitants, with the next largest, Haiphong, coming in at only two million. Such urban duality can lead to sharp cultural rivalry, which is indeed the case in both Australia and Vietnam.

Given their shared top position, Melbourne and Sydney’s differences are worth exploring. As a recent GeoCurrents post noted, Melbourne leans much more to the political left. But how else do they differ? Internet queries deliver mostly tourist-oriented information, focused on climate, sights and scenery, and dining and nightlife. Cultural, social, and economic comparisons are more difficult to find. Several sources, however, note that Melbourne is less expensive, which might be one reason why it is growing more quickly:

The rental prices in Melbourne are a lot more affordable than those in Sydney, which is probably the best thing about Melbourne  when compared to Sydney. It is estimated that the rent for a one-bedroom apartment located in the central business district of Sydney will be approximately AUD $2,689 (US $2127) per month. The same thing in the Australian city of Melbourne will set you back approximately $1,725 (or $1,364 in US currency).

Elevated housing costs in Sydney reflect the fact that it is wealthier than Melbourne, as can be seen on the paired maps posted below. Note that the top three categories on the Sydney median-family-income map are missing from Melbourne, while the lowest one is missing from Sydney (in Melbourne it is limited to the far peripheral division of Indi). I also included Perth, Western Australia’s only metropolis, in this map set for broader comparative purposes; its income profile is much more like that of Melbourne than that of Sydney. I was surprised to see these lower income figures for Perth, as Western Australia is the country’s richest state on a per capita basis, with a much higher level of GDP per person than either New South Wales or Victoria (see below). Non-metropolitan regions of New South Wales, however, do generally have lower average incomes than non-metropolitan parts of Western Australia (compare, for example, WA’s sparsely settled but mineral-rich Pilbara and NSW’s agrarian New England on the map below).



The more important distinction in income between Sydney and Melbourne, however, is that of differentiation. Although Sydney’s wealthiest division are richer than those of Melbourne, Sydney’s poorest division are slightly poorer than those of Melbourne. The areas of greater Melbourne with median weekly household income below 1,600 Australian dollars are all located in the exurban fringe, whereas those of Sydney form one the city’s main suburban cores. One might expect such income differentiation to lead to a more leftwing voting pattern in Sydney, but the opposite situation holds.

The remaining set of maps show some relatively muted but still significant differences between Australia’s two largest cities. Regarding educational attainment, central Melbourne and central Sydney look quite similar, but Melbourne’s suburbs have a slightly larger percentage of college graduates. Suburban Sydney is somewhat more religious than suburban Melbourne, which reflects the fact that it has a higher percentage of people born outside Australia (see the first to maps below). Both central Melbourne and central Sydney, however, have large immigrant populations and low levels of religious belief. In both metro areas – and presumable across the country – peripheral divisions have mostly Australia-born populations. Regarding marital states, it is notable that Sydney’s wealthy northern suburbs report higher rates of marriage than any electoral divisions of Melbourne.

Melbourne Vs. Sydney Revisited 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.


Explaining Seeming Anomalies in the Indigenous Voice Referendum Vote in Greater Sydney Read More »

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.

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

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.

Mapping Australia’s 2023 Indigenous Voice Referendum, Part I Read More »

Surprising Findings in a Study of Post-COVID Urban Recovery Rates in the United States and Canada

I recently came across a brief report by the University of Toronto’s School of Cities on the recovery of urban cores in the U.S. and Canada since the COVID-19 pandemic. The study’s methodology is intriguing:

The recovery metrics on these charts are based on a sample of mobile phone data. The recovery metrics on the charts and maps are computed by counting the number of unique visitors in a city’s downtown area in the specified time period (standardized by region), and then dividing it by the standardized number of unique visitors during the equivalent time period in 2019. Specifically, the rankings below compare the period from the beginning of March to mid-June in 2023 relative to the same period in 2019. A recovery metric greater than 100% means that for the selected inputs, the mobile device activity increased relative to the 2019 comparison period. A value less than 100% means the opposite, that the city’s downtown has not recovered to pre-COVID activity levels.

As the results were given in tabular form, I thought that it would be useful to map them to more easily see if there are any distinct regional patterns or anomalies. The resulting map, posted below, has some expected features. Recovery has generally been faster in low-density sunbelt cities, with only Las Vegas showing an increase in downtown activity since 2019.

But there were also some unexpected findings. Columbus, Ohio, for example, has many characteristics of a sunbelt city, despite its cloudy winters, yet it has one of the worst downtown recovery rates. Minneapolis and Seattle also have unexpectedly low rankings. To understand what is going on in these cities one would have to examine exactly how “downtown” is defined in each case. In Columbus, for example, the old central business district has been declining over the past few decades, but a new vibrant urban core has emerged nearby, in a neighborhood dubbed “Short North.” I doubt that it was included in area deemed downtown Columbus.

A few other interesting findings deserve comment. It seems that Canadian downtowns have recovered more quickly on average than those of the northern United States. Is this because they tended to be more alive to begin with? The relatively quick recovery of Oakland, California that is indicated by the study makes little sense. From what I have read of Oakland, and from what I have seen in a few quick visits, the city’s downtown is in a desperate situation, with closing businesses and surging crime. In late September, 2023, Oakland saw an unprecedented strike of business owners. As reported by a local news source:

It’s not business as usual in downtown Oakland on Tuesday morning as store and restaurant owners go on strike over rising crime.

Business owners say the goal of this strike is to send a larger message to City Hall. They want better protection and support so they can safely operate their businesses and make a living.

Many of the participating businesses gathered in front of Le Cheval for a news conference on Tuesday to voice their concerns. The restaurant is closing at the end of the month because of the crime and slow sales post-pandemic.

Participating merchants say, just like Le Cheval, they’re losing customers and foot traffic because of car break-ins, carjackings, robberies and assaults.

In conclusion, I can only fall back of the most tiresome of all academic clichés: more research is needed.


Surprising Findings in a Study of Post-COVID Urban Recovery Rates in the United States and Canada Read More »

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.

Journalistic Hyperbole and the Electoral Geography of Poland Read More »

Mapping the Results of Poland’s 2023 Elections by Political Parties and Coalitions

Poland, like many other countries with parliamentary systems of government, has many active political parties, most of which belong to broader coalitions. Five of these coalitions, one on the left and center-left, two in the center, and two on the right, received enough votes to win seats in Poland’s Sejm, its powerful lower house of Parliament. Two additional stand-alone parties together received 3.5 percent of the vote, which was not enough to gain representation in the Sejm. One of these is a hard-right populist party and the other is described by Wikipedia as being on the center-left, although some of its positions are more centrist in orientation.

This post seeks to uncover some subtle aspects of Poland’s electoral geography by mapping the vote-share of each of these seven parties and coalitions in the 2023 Sejm election. For comparative purposes, all of them are mapped in the same color scheme and with the same categories of vote percentage. As a result of their low vote counts, the five secondary parties and coalitions are poorly represented on these maps. I have therefore re-mapped them on their own terms, using different color schemes. On these maps, low votes counts for a given party can still be mapped with dark shades, indicating relative success in that area.

Let us begin with the right-wing-populist United Right coalition, led by the Law and Justice (PiS) Party. Although it suffered a sharp rebuke in this election, United Right still received more votes (35.4 percent) than any of its rivals. United Right was the only organization to receive majority support in any electoral district. As can be seen on the first map below, its support was concentrated in the southern and eastern areas that had been under Russian and Austrian rule before WWI (see the previous post). United Right did poorly in major cities, getting less than 20 percent of the vote in Poznań. This map also reveals, albeit weakly, an electoral gradient in United Right’s main area of support, with its vote share increasing toward Poland’s southeastern borders. As might be expected, its main rival, the centrist Civic Coalition, exhibited an inverted spatial pattern of support, which is revealed in the second map posted below.

The major new player in this election, the centrist Third Way coalition, did not have strong regional patterning. It performed relatively well in some regions that had been ruled by Russia, German, and Austria before the reestablishment of Poland after WWI. Third Way did not do as well in major cities, however, as might be expected for a coalition that has a strong agrarianist bent. The only electoral district in which it failed to gain more than 10 percent of the vote is Katowice III. Although Katowice is not well-known outside of Europe, it is Poland’s largest metropolitan area, with more than three million people living in a group of closely clustered cities. (Metropolitan Warsaw, in contrast, has around two and half million inhabitants, while Krakow and Lodz, the next largest, have only a little more than one million each). Third Way’s vote-share was highest in the Bialystok district in the northeast; as the maps used in the previous post show, it even received a plurality of votes in a few areas in and near the city of Hajnówka, close to the border with Belarus. It is probably not coincidental that Hajnówka has a sizable (over 25 percent) Belarussian ethnic minority, whose members tend to shun the Polish ethnonationalism associated with the country’s right-wing parties.

As the next two maps show, support for Lewica – “The Left” – was strongest in urban areas and weakest in Poland’s more conservative eastern regions. As can be seen on the second map, Katowice III was again an outlier, giving more than 20 percent of its votes to a coalition than failed to crack 15 percent anywhere else in the country. Katowice’s economy has until recently been based on heavy industry, whose workers formed one of The Left’s traditional political bases. But as has been widely noted, that foundation of support has been slipping. As the Wikipedia article on Lewica notes, the coalition has lost votes because its “pro-LGBT rights platform failed to appeal to working class and economically left-leaning Poles, [who] tend to favour a more socially conservative policy (especially as both economically interventionist and social conservative positions were already being provided by the right-wing PiS party).”

The far-right Confederation Liberty and Independence, or simply Confederation, had a low but relatively evenly distributed level of support, receiving between five and 10 percent of the vote in every Polish electoral district. By mapping its results with a finer set of divisions, however, we can see that its support follows the typical pattern of rightwing organizations in Poland, being lower in urban areas and higher in the east. This geographical pattern is not so clear-cut, however, for the newest far-right party, There Is One Poland. Its elevated level of support in Nowy Sącz is difficult to explain. One of Confederation’s component parties is the monarchist and Russophile Confederation of the Polish Crown, which managed to secure two Sejm seats despite receiving less than one percent of the vote.

Finally, we come to the oddly named movement called Nonpartisan Local Government Activists. As its name implies, it is a highly decentralized organization that advocates increased regional and local autonomy. Many of its more concrete proposals have a leftward slant, but others are more conservative. It also has an environmentalist platform. At any rate, Wikipedia describes this organization as follows:

Formerly associated with the liberal wing of Christian democracy, the party advocates for proposals such as free public transport, free lunches for children and abolition of the personal income tax (PIT). The party also advocates for creation of a powerful ecological agency based on the American United States Fish and Wildlife Service, which would protect nature and its resources, prevent pollution environment and combat poaching and illegal hunting. The BS believes that the Polish government became too centralised and became unable to address local concerns; to this end, the party believes that the central government needs MPs who are “local government officials, entrepreneurs and community workers who are not concerned with political lists and agenda.”

As can be seen in the maps below, support for Nonpartisan Local Government Activists varied little across the county. Not surprisingly, it performed best in Legnica, which is located in Lower Silesia, the party’s birthplace. A Silesian autonomy movement has long enjoyed considerable support, buttressed by widespread suspicions about Polish nationalism and feelings of affinity with Germany and Germans. This is a complicated issue, however, that deserves its own post.

The most important aspect of Poland’s electoral geography is weakness of left-wing political parties in all areas of the country. The Polish Green party, for example, received less than one-third of one percent of the vote in the 2023 election, although, as part of the Civic Coalition, it did gain three seats in the Sejm.

Mapping the Results of Poland’s 2023 Elections by Political Parties and Coalitions Read More »

Former Imperial Boundaries and Population Density in Poland’s 2023 Election

Poland’s October 2023 election saw a sharp rebuke to the country’s illiberal, governing right-wing coalition. The United Right (ZP), led by the Law and Justice Party (PiS), saw its vote share* drop from 44.6 percent in 2019 to 35.4 percent, undermining its ability to form a new government. But this election was not a victory of the left, but rather of the center, or perhaps even the center-right, depending on how one classifies some of Poland’s political parties. The democratic-socialist Lewica Party (“The Left”) also saw a sharp decline, its vote-share dropping from 12.6 percent to 8.6 percent. In contrast, a sizable gain was realized by the main oppositional group, the centrist Civic Coalition, whose vote share rose from 27.4 to 30.7 percent. The biggest change, however, was the rise of the new Third Way (TD) coalition, which secured 14.4 percent of the vote. Although Third Way is usually regarded as centrist, the Wikipedia classifies it as center-right. Such discrepancies arise from the fact that this coalition’s various factions are ideologically diverse, some being much more centrist than others. But as Third Way overall is pro-EU and favors renewable energy, it is perhaps most accurate regarded, at least in the Polish context, as firmly in the center. It is also noteworthy, however, that Poland’s extreme-right did relatively well in this election, with the anti-EU Confederation for Liberty and Independence taking 7.2 percent of the vote, up from 6.8 in 2019, and the new There Is One Poland (PJJ) gaining another 1.6 percent. The PJJ party, which claims to be the “true right,” grew out of opposition to COVID restrictions and vaccine policies; it also seeks to increase coal mining.

Cartographically informed analyses of this election typically note that the imperial political boundaries that were imposed after the partition and annihilation of Poland in the late 1700s are still visible on the country’s electoral map. As The Economist’s article and accompanying map (see below) show, areas that were under Prussian (subsequently German) rule tended to vote for centrist, pro-EU parties, whereas those that were under Austrian and Russian rule were more inclined to support Euroskeptical, populist-nationalist parties. The same correlation was present in several earlier Polish elections. As The Economist explains:

[M]ost of the east belonged to tsarist Russia, where serfdom remained legal until 1861. By 1900 incomes in what is now western Poland were five times higher than in the east. This gap remains today: Poland’s four eastern provinces are all among the EU’s poorest 20 sub-national regions. Young people growing up in the east quickly move to larger cities, seeking education and private-sector jobs. Those who feel left behind have flocked to PiS, which offers both nationalist rhetoric and monetary hand-outs.

Such analysis is complicated, however, by the fact that most of the areas that had been under German rule had also been mostly populated by ethnic Germans. They were expelled after WWII, replaced mostly by ethnic Poles who had lived in the Russian-ruled east. The Economist explains this seeming paradox as follows:

The Soviet Union claimed a chunk of eastern Poland as the spoils of victory, while Germany was forced to relinquish its own eastern borderlands to Poland. The Polish government responded by resettling millions of people from the territory it lost to the areas it gained. Separated from their families’ fields and villages, these “repatriates” developed a more open and cosmopolitan identity, and grew less receptive to fist-thumping nationalism. Meanwhile, Catholicism remained strongest in Poland’s historic eastern heartland, which developed a fiery sense of pride and suspiciousness of change.


But while Poland’s former imperial divisions are an important factor in its current electoral geography, the situation is not a clear-cut as it might seem. The Economist’s featured map, for example, is based on administrative divisions at the powiat level; if one dives down to the more local gmina level, however, the correlation is no longer as obvious (see the maps below). Nor is The Economist’s economic generalizations about these former imperial divisions entirely accurate. As the Statistics Poland regional GDP map posted below shows, the Warmian–Masurian Voivodeship, formerly the southern half of Germany’s East Prussia, has Poland’s second-lowest level of per capita economic production. Another challenge to the imperial-legacy model of Polish electoral geography comes from comparisons of voting behavior and population density. A X-poster Thorongil notes – and maps (see below) – “a normal map shows the historical partition borders but the truth is that the opposition coalition’s most powerful vote centers are in Poland’s cities, big and small.”

As Thorongil’s map is difficult to interpret, I have tested his assertion by making a series of simpler maps. The first simply locates Poland largest cities on a detailed map of the 2023 election. As can be seen, urban gminy** gave a higher level of support to the centrist Civic Coalition than surrounding areas, but the correlation is by no means overwhelming. Comparing the electoral map to one of population density allows more precise assessment. To do so, I extracted spatial information from a detailed density map (below) and overlaid it on the 2023 electoral map; I also added dotted lines to roughly show the old imperial divisions. The first of these maps outlines Poland’s most sparsely inhabited areas, those with fewer than 50 persons per square kilometer. As can be seen, many of these areas in the former German zone supported United Right, seemingly upholding Thorongil’s density thesis over the imperial-legacy model. The next map outlines high- and medium-high density areas. As can be seen, high-density areas, marked with red and pink borders, had relatively high levels of support for the political center, but this linkage is stronger in the German zone than in the former Russian and Austrian zones. The correlation is not as close, however, in areas of medium-high density (200-100 persons per square kilometer). As can be seen, such areas surrounding the city of Poznan in the former German zone voted strongly for centrists, but most of those in the Katowice area, also in the former German zone, supported the United Right. A number of medium-density gminy in the Krakow (former Austrian) and Warsaw (former Russian) regions also supported United Right.

Both population density and imperial legacies were important factors in the 2023 Polish parliamentary election. But the situation is more complicated than it might appear, and other issues, many of which are of a more local nature, must also be considered. The next post will try to tease out some of them.

** This post considers only the election returns for Poland’s Sejm, its more powerful house of parliament, ignoring the senate vote.

** “Gminy” is the plural form of “gmina.”

Former Imperial Boundaries and Population Density in Poland’s 2023 Election Read More »

Neighborhood Stereotypes and Recent Voting Patterns in Auckland, New Zealand

Today’s post employs an unusual strategy for analyzing electoral geography, that of comparing local election results with neighborhood stereotypes. Here we look at the Auckland vote in New Zealand’s 2023 election, doing so in light of popular perceptions of different parts of the city as revealed by a detailed “judgmental map of Auckland” (published in 2017 in Newshub; see the previous post). To make the comparisons easier, I have overlaid maps of the 2023 election on sections of the stereotype map. My analysis of these combined maps is merely suggestive and is not informed by any firsthand knowledge of the city. It should thus be taken with a grain of salt.

We begin in the heart of the city, Auckland Central. The stereotypes of this Green-voting and strongly left-leaning electorate reflect its division into relatively rich and poor areas, an unexceptional feature for a central-city location: “expensive dining,” “hipsters,” “cruise ships,” “shows,” “porn,” “student ghetto,” “intensification,” and “done up.” The only term that I find confusing is “done up.” From a quick investigation of the term’s use in New Zealand, I infer that in this context it means “refurbished” or perhaps even “gentrified.” If this interpretation is correct, it is not a surprising designation for a Green-supporting area. As the map of the Green party-list vote in Auckland shows, support for the party is strongest near the urban core and declines in the peripheries (ignore the essentially unpopulated western expanse of New Lynn on the map).

The two Auckland electorates that selected candidates in the libertarian-leaning ACT Party, yellow-shaded Epsom and Tamaki, are affluent, inner-suburban communities. On the stereotypes map, Epson is prominently labeled “Double Grammar Zone,” a term that I originally thought might refer to a pretentious manner of speaking found among its well-off residents. Actually, the term is much more prosaic:

Three magical words significantly inflate the value and appeal of an exclusive group of Auckland residences. “Double Grammar Zone” is a most alluring catch-cry to many in this already searing hot market. Yes, these words offer the chance of access to the prestigious and successful Auckland Grammar School and Epsom Girls Grammar School. Experts have long pointed to the difference in price for properties located within the DGZ and noticed that gap widening as the city’s average house price continues to hit monthly record highs.

It is not surprising that residents of such an affluent neighborhood would support an anti-populist, economically conservative party. As the party-list vote map (below) shows, support for the ACT Party is highest in the city’s wealthy eastern fringe. In Epsom, the neighborhood labeled “professors” seems out-of-place; I can only assume that the voting patterns of this area are more like those of neighboring Auckland Central. At first glance, I found the “wankers” label mystifying, as I only understood this word as British term of general abuse that that originally denoted “masturbators.” The Urban Dictionary, however, claims that in New Zealand, Australia, and the UK, “wanker” primarily means “someone excessively and annoyingly pretentious and/or false, with a strong likelihood of working in the creative industries, especially ‘new media.’” I would not expect such “creative types,” however, to vote libertarian; perhaps this “wankerish” part of Epsom also has a different voting profile than the rest of the electorate. The label “Jon Ken” is even more mystifying; all that I could find when searching for that name was a nurse at an Auckland hospital.

The other ACT-supporting electorate in 2023, neighboring Tamaki, is labeled with several terms signifying establishment-oriented affluence: “yuppies,” “old-school suburbia,” “quite nice,” and “almost as nice.” The large-font label “Hannover Finance” refers to “a New Zealand non-bank finance company that focused on lending for high-risk property development that failed in 2010…” Its inclusion and prominence on the map perhaps reflect the common concern in Auckland about surging property prices. One label seems out-of-place for affluent Tamaki: “The Projects.” This term calls to my mind urban redevelopment initiatives in downtrodden neighborhoods. But the economic gradient between wealthy Tamaki and poor, Labour-voting Panumure-Otahutu (labeled “P-O” on the electorate map) to its south is steep, leading me to wonder whether the label has been placed a little too far to the north. But then again, the mapmakers have vastly greater knowledge of Auckland than I do.

The only electorate in the core region of Auckland that supported Labour in 2023 is Mount Albert. Its tags on the stereotype map suggest a relatively poor and ethnically diverse area that is changing as younger and more affluent people move in (“more hipsters,” “coffee,” “next to be gentrified,” and “halal.”) Such a district would be expected to heavily support both Labour and the Green Party, and that is exactly what one finds (see the map for the Green Party-list vote). I am confused, however, by the “Butcher’s” label in northern Mount Albert; perhaps it refers to upscale Omak Meats.

Two electorates in the southern part of the Auckland isthmus, Mount Rosekill and Maungskiekie, voted strongly for Labour in 2020 but switched to the National Party in 2023. Some of the labels placed here suggest a stable working- and lower-middle-class social environment: “alright suburbs,” “shabby suburbs,” and “panel beaters” (car-repair shops). “Mecca” and “noodles dumplings” probably indicate concentrations of immigrants from the Middle East and East Asia, respectively. (“McGehan Close,” to the contrary, denotes a street noted for its “hopelessness,” but it is located in Mount Albert, not Mount Rosekill, indicating either an error by the cartographer or one by me when I combined these maps.)

Labour’s main Auckland stronghold is in the southern part of the city (see the maps below). This is a decidedly poor and ethnically diverse area. The stereotype labels here are telling: “cleaners at your office,” “hardcase,” “Apia” (the capital of Samoa), and, in large font, “extra police resources.” The stark “extra police resources” tag, however, also extends into a much better-off electorate (Takanini), which switched from Labour to the National Party in 2023. To the north of Takanini are two relatively well-to-do electorates that have long supported the National Party and shunned Labour. One of them, Pakuranga, also has relatively high levels of support for ACT. Some of the stereotypes for this electorate, such as “bratty teens” and “wealthier bratty teens” are interesting, but I am especially intrigued by “paranoid South Africans.”

West Auckland (see the map below) includes another electorate that supported Labour in 2023, Kelston, although it did so by a relatively thin margin. Some of its stereotypes – such as “P-Labs” (meth labs) and “Tongans” – indicate the presence of rough neighborhoods and of a large Polynesian immigrant community. To its north is Te-Atatu; noted for its low- and medium-cost housing. The prominent label “Cheryl West” found here refers to a character in a popular television show who supposedly typified the “Westie” personality, defined by Wikipedia as someone “from the outer suburbs who [is] unintelligent, undereducated, unmotivated, unrefined, lacking in fashion sense, working-class or unemployed.” The same article, however, also notes that “Westie” has been gradually shifting from a “pejorative to a societal identifier,” based mostly on its prominence in television shows, song lyrics, and comedy routines. The movement of such a working-class redoubt as Te-Atatu from the Labour Party to the National Party in 2023 is therefore of some significance.


Another western electorate that switched from Labour to National in 2023 is New Lynn. Based on the stereotypes applied to it, such results are surprising. Such tags as “faint whiff of pot,” “hippies,” “potters,” and “artisany type people,” would suggest a decidedly left-leaning population. And that is its historical norm. As the non-updated Wikipedia article on the electorate notes, “It has always been held by members of the Labour Party.” But in 2023, the National Party triumphed in New Lynn both in the party-list vote and the electorate vote, albeit by relatively thin margins. The Green Party vote, however, was fairly large in New Lynn, as would be expected from the labels applied to it. Intriguingly, its new MP, Paulo Reyes Garcia, is an immigration lawyer originally from the Philippines.

The five northern electorates of Auckland (see the map below) all favored the National Party in 2023 in both the part-list vote and the electorate-based vote. In contrast, in 2020 all of them favored the Labour in the party-list vote, as did two in the electorate-based vote. The eastern part of this area is notably affluent, as is reflected by its stereotypes, and therefore would be expected to support the National Party. Two of these tags, “decile 10” and “more like decile 8-9,” need an explanation for non-New Zealanders; “decile” refers to a school-ranking system based on the socio-economic characteristics of their students, with “decile 10” denoting those in the top 10 percent. The term “Lorde” might also be mystifying for some people in other countries; it is the stage name of the well-known Kiwi musician Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O’Connor, who was raised in the Northshore electorate in the area under her name label.

The southwestern part of northern Auckland, the Northcote and Upper Harbour electorates, is a mid-income area noted for its Asian immigrants. Such features are indicated by three prominent labels on the stereotype map: “very average,” “Koreans,” and “Chinatown” (although Northcote also includes an area that is evidently populated by “artists too cool for cityside”). Upper Harbour, with its “depressing suburbs,” “car yards,” and “Koreans” saw a particularly sharp drop in support for Labour from 2020 to 2023.

This cursory analysis suggests that New Zealand’s National Party currently now enjoys a fairly broad level of support, extending well beyond its upper-middle-class base. It will be interesting to see whether it will be able to retain working-class and immigrant support in the coming years.

As a final note, in doing research for this post I was also surprised to learn that people from Auckland are often disparaged by other New Zealanders. As the Wikipedia article on the term “Jafa” notes:

Jafa is a slang term (sometimes pejorative  for a resident of Auckland, New Zealand. It is an acronym, standing for Just Another Fucking Aucklander. [I]t is considered to be representative of the boorishness of Aucklanders, or the envy of the rest of New Zealand, depending on the perspective. The term has wider currency than the earlier derogatory term “Rangitoto Yank.” A variant is Jaffa, Just Another Fuckwit From Auckland.  … Auckland is alleged to be full of rude, greedy and arrogant people, having a similar reputation as Mumbai and Kolkata in India, Milan and Rome in Italy, Paris in France, London in the United Kingdom, New York City in the United States, or Moscow and Saint Petersburg in Russia.  …Auckland is alleged to be a culturally alien place due to the much higher proportion of non-Maori and nonwhite populations than the rest of the country. Percentage-wise, Auckland has the seventh largest ethnic Chinese population among all urban areas outside Greater China. In the 2006 census, Asians comprised 18.9% of Auckland’s population but only 7.9% in Christchurch, and 14.4% of Auckland’s but merely 2.8% of Christchurch’s population are Pacific Islanders. Most new immigrants to Auckland are from East Asia and South Asia, while people immigrating to other parts of the country show higher percentage rates of UK and South African origins. Auckland is finding itself increasingly marginalised on sports traditionally identified with New Zealand culture, such as rugby and netball, because of high immigrant numbers from countries with little tradition of such sports.

Neighborhood Stereotypes and Recent Voting Patterns in Auckland, New Zealand Read More »

Auckland’s Electoral to the Right – and Comparisons with U.S. Cities

As noted in the previous post, the Auckland metropolitan area, like New Zealand as a whole, experienced a significant electoral shift to the right in the 2023 election. This swing is glaringly evident in the party-list vote (see the previous post for an explanation of this term). In 2020, the Labour list triumphed in 19 of Auckland’s 20 electorates; in 2023, its count was reduced to five, with the center-right Nationalist Party winning the other 15. Even in its strongholds, Labour’s vote percentage dropped substantially. The separate vote for electorate-based MPs in 2023, however, exhibited much more diversity, as is generally the case. Although Labour still took only five Auckland seats in that contest, the Green Party took another, that of Auckland Central. As the libertarian-leaning ACT Party won two Auckland seats in the electorate-based vote, the National Party’s overall take was 12, but that was twice as many as it took in 2020.

By far the largest city in New Zealand, Auckland is noted as well for its ethnic diversity. It reportedly has the “the fourth largest foreign-born population in the world, with 39% of its residents born overseas” (see the table below).  By the current standards of the United States, it is remarkable for such a large and ethnically diverse city to support a conservative political party. In the U.S., candidates from the left-leaning Democratic Party almost always come out ahead in both urban cores and inner suburbs, with support for conservative candidates mounting only as one moves into the outer-suburban and exurban belts. Although strongest in northeastern and Pacific-coast cities, this pattern is evident to some degree across the country. It can be seen, for example, in Houston, Texas (see below), which is one of the country’s most ethnically diverse large cities.This electoral disparity between New Zealand and the United States is to some extent a reflection of the different characteristics of the two country’s major political parties. It is also linked to the different political environments created by a mixed-proportional parliamentary system of government (New Zealand), which encourages minor parties, as opposed to a “winner take all” system (the United States), which encourages a two-party duopoly.

In the United States, the Republican Party has veered in a populist-nationalist direction since 2016, which has reduced its support in affluent suburbs while increasing it among non-metropolitan and working-class voters. In New Zealand, the populist-nationalist political space has long been occupied by the marginally successful New Zealand First Party. Although situated on the right on social and cultural issues, New Zealand First leans far enough to the left on economic matters for it to have joined a minority coalition government with the Labour Party in 2017. New Zealand’s National Party, with a platform based on “free enterprise, reduction of taxes, and limited state regulation,” is more similar to the American Republican Party before the Trump revolution of 2016 than it is to the Republican Party today. In some respects, the National Party has a more centrist orientation than the Republicans Party has had since the Eisenhour era of the 1950s. Because of such moderation, New Zealand’s ACT Party has staked its ground further to the socio-economic right, highlighting its firm commitment to “classical-liberal and small (or limited) government principles coupled with what the party considers as a high regard for individual freedom and personal responsibility.” All things considered, the relatively centrist orientation of the National Party allowed it to take advantage of the current discontent with the policies of the out-going Labour government, and thus score a decisive victory.

As the various electorates of Auckland saw markedly different electoral results in 2023, it would be useful to see how well the returns correlate with demographic and socio-economic indicators. Let us begin with population density, which was a factor in the national vote (see the previous GeoCurrrents post). In Auckland, however, the role of population density is relatively modest – much less than what one would expect in the United States. As can be seen in the two paired maps posted below, the higher-density areas of the Auckland region generally showed a higher level of support for the Labour and Green parties than did lower-density areas, but the linkage is relatively small. A few relatively high-density areas, moreover, strongly supported the National Party.

Much closer correlations are found for economic class, which is evident in the paired maps posted below. The household income level map on the left is admirably detailed, but it has neither a key nor a textual explanation in its accompanying article; one can, however, deduce that the blue dots indicate high-income levels and the red dots low-income levels. By comparing the two maps, we can see that affluent areas tended to supported candidates in the National Party, whereas the richest ones were more supportive of the libertarian-leaning ACT Party. In contrast, the poorest areas, located in southeastern Auckland, overwhelmingly supported the Labour Party. Such a pattern is reminiscent of that found in the United States decades ago. In an American city like San Francisco, however, the correlation between economic class and voting behavior in national elections has almost entirely collapsed (see the maps below).

In Auckland, some local deviation is found in such class-based voting behavior. The most left-leaning electorate, “green” Auckland Central, includes some notably wealthy areas, although it also has some relatively poor ones. This is not surprising, however, as people who vote for green parties across the world tend to be highly educated and relatively affluent. More surprising is the switch from the Labour Party to the National Party in several relatively poor parts of western Auckland, as well as in some of the more economically mixed areas of north Auckland.

Such patterns deserve further scrutiny, which is difficult to accomplish for someone with limited time, no assistance, no personal knowledge of the city. Fortunately, however, Newshub has published a fascinating and detailed map of neighborhood stereotypes in Auckland that might prove useful in this regard. The next GeoCurrents post will therefore see whether such a “judgmental” view of the city can shed any light on its recent electoral shift.

Auckland’s Electoral to the Right – and Comparisons with U.S. Cities Read More »

New Zealand’s Striking Electoral Shift to the Right

The conservative National Party of New Zealand scored a major victory in the country’s October 2023 general election, with the governing Labour Party suffering a historic defeat. As described by The Guardian, “New Zealand voters have delivered a forceful rejection of the Labour government as a surge in support for the National party delivered what analysts described as a ‘bloodbath, for the government and a new right-leaning era for politics in the country.” But just three years earlier, it was Labour in the victory circle, winning the 2020 election so overwhelmingly that it was able to govern without a coalition partner. But in the intervening period, the country’s mood soured over concerns about high taxes, increasing crime, the rising cost of living (especially of housing), and the government’s highly restrictive COVID policies.

Before delving into geographical analysis of New Zealand’s recent elections, it is necessary to explain the complexities of the county’s “mixed-member proportional” parliamentary system. New Zealand is divided into 65 general “electorates” (geographical voting constituencies) and then redivided into seven special electorates for Māori voters. Each electorate selects one person to serve as its MP (Member of Parliament) in the unicameral parliament, officially known as the New Zealand House of Representatives. But Kiwi voters not only choose an individual to represent their electorate, but also vote a second time for a political party, each of which maintains a list of potential MPs. Parties whose total vote in that contest exceeds a certain threshold (usually five percent) send an additional 48* MPs into the House of Representatives, their numbers proportional to their share of the vote. Minor parties can thus gain parliamentary representation either by having enough voters concentrated in one or more electorate to defeat candidates from the other parties, or by having enough support nationwide to crack the five-percent threshold.

Labour’s overwhelming triumph in the 2020 election is strikingly evident on the map of the “party list vote,” which is on the left side of the paired Wikipedia maps posted below. Astoundingly, the Labour-list came in first place in all but one general electorate. Its rival center-right National Party took only a single district, located in a suburban area of Auckland. The direct electorate results were much more balanced, with individual candidates in the National Party taking seats in both non-metropolitan areas and in the more affluent parts of Auckland (see the map on the right). Three other parties – the Green Party, the Maori Party, and the “classical liberal” ACT Party – also sent MPs to parliament in 2020, based both on their national party-list vote and on their victories in individual electorates. All in all, 2020 was a banner year for New Zealand’s political left, with Labour, the Green Party, and the Maori party (Te Pāti Māori) together holding 78 parliamentary seats, as opposed to 42 held by the center-right National and ACT parties.

On October 14, 2023, however, New Zealand experienced a stunning electoral reversal. As the party-list vote maps for the two elections show, New Zealand went from almost entirely red (Labour) to almost entirely blue (National Party). Even on the more diverse Wikipedia map of the direct electorate results, there is little red to be seen in the country as a whole. But such mapping is misleading; as the inset maps show, the Labour and Green parties won quite a few urban seats, particularly in the country’s second and third largest cities, Christchurch and Wellington. But overall, the 2023 election was a clear triumph for conservatives. It was also a rout for Labour, which went from 62 to 34 seats in the House of Representatives. But the other left-leaning parties, the Greens and the Māori Party, gained seats. So too did the classically liberal ACT Party. The socially conservative nationalist-populist New Zealand First Party also did relatively well, returning to the House of Representatives after an absence of several years.

As conventional electoral maps give undue prominence to sparsely inhabited areas, and therefore tend to visually exaggerate the vote-share of conservative parties, electoral cartographers have devised more representative maps. The usual strategy is to expand more densely populated areas in proportion to their populations. For New Zealand’s 2023 election, The Spinoff devised such a map, converting the country into hexagons of roughly equal population. It also grouped the parties into two categories, one left-leaning and the other right-leaning. As can be seen in the resulting map, in the 2023 election New Zealand was still a mostly blue (conservative-voting) country, although not to the extent seen in conventional maps. This Spinoff map also clearly shows the Māori population, with its special electorates, as strongly supporting the political left.

The Spinoff has drafted another map that divides New Zealand’s electoral hexagons into three categories, one composed of large cities (Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch), one of medium-sized cities, and one of rural areas. Such mapping helps us see the role of population density in voting behavior. To clarify this situation, I have “whited-out” non-rural areas on one iteration of this map, everything but large cities on another, and everything but medium-sized cities on a third. As can be seen, rural electorates supported the conservative National Party, although some by relatively thin margins. Medium-sized cities delivered more mixed results, with some strongly favoring the National Party and others supporting Labour. Dunedin, in southeastern South Island, in particular leans left. Such affiliation is strongest in North Dunedin; as “Just Dave” comments in a Quora query about New Zealand’s most left-wing cities:

The cities in which the most left-wing party that actually gets elected to Parliament (the Greens) receives the largest proportion of the popular vote in the are central Wellington, central Auckland and north Dunedin. All three areas have a comparatively young, wealthy and educated population. North Dunedin is primarily home to university students and university staff, for example.

Surprisingly, New Zealand’s large cities also appear as politically mixed on The Spinoff’s 2023 electoral map. To be sure, Wellington – the capital – is mostly red (Labour) and green (Green), but it is a different story in Christchurch and especially Auckland. Auckland, by far the largest metropolitan area in the country, deserves a more detailed analysis – which it will receive in the next GeoCurrents post.

*This number can be slightly higher due to extenuating circumstances.

New Zealand’s Striking Electoral Shift to the Right Read More »

Small But Densely Populated American Cities & the Transformation of Cudahy, CA

The list of the most densely populated incorporated cities in the United States has some interesting features. The top four entries are all small cities (less than 1.5 mi sq; fewer than 70,000 inhabitants) located just to the west of Manhattan in Hudson County, New Jersey. Three of the top 11 – Kaser, New Square, and Kiryas Joel – are relatively new towns in the New York metropolitan area that are entirely or primarily inhabited by Hasidic Jews. All three have high fertility rates and low levels of per capita income. According to Wikipedia, “Kiryas Joel has the highest poverty rate in the nation” while New Square is “the poorest town (measured by median income) in New York, and the eighth poorest in the United States.”

One surprising revelation in the city-density list is the large number of thickly populated cities that were originally established as low-density suburbs of Los Angeles. Of the 140 U.S. cities with more than 10,000 people per square mile, 28 are in the Los Angeles region. Although still conventionally imagined as a low-density, suburban environment, the L.A. region has been densifying for decades. The sprawling city of Los Angeles itself, covering some 469 mi sq, is now moderately dense by U.S. standards. As the density map of southern Los Angeles County posted below shows, central L.A. is now heavily inhabited, with many census tracts reporting more than 30,000 people per mi sq. Quite a few outlying tracts also post high figures. Many of these areas do not appear at first glance to be densely populated, as they are dominated by low-rise buildings and include many detached, single-family houses. But the number of persons living in each dwelling unit can be high, particularly in areas with large numbers of recent migrants.

Several of small, densely populated cities in the Los Angeles metropolitan area in the northwestern quadrant of a cluster of municipalities known as the “Gateway Cities.” I have enclosed the northern portion of this “Gateway” area on maps posted above and below, excluding the relatively large city of Long Beach. The crowded little cities in this region are relatively poor and have large immigrant populations. In 2019, Business Insider placed Huntington Park in the lowest position in California on its “misery index” and in the tenth lowest nationally. The Wikipedia article on Maywood estimates that one-third of [its] residents live in the U.S. without documentation.” Maywood is also notable for being “the first municipality in California to outsource all of its city services, dismantling its police department, laying off all city employees except for the city manager, city attorney and elected officials, and contracting with outside agencies for the provision of all municipal services.”

The evolution of tiny but densely packed Cudahy, with almost 23,000 residents living in 1.18 mi sq, is particularly interesting. Cudahy was originally designed as a semi-rural garden city. Its founder and namesake, the wealthy meat-packing entrepreneur Michael Cudahy, purchased a large ranch in 1908, which he subdivided and sold off in one-acre lots. As explained in the Wikipedia article on the city:

These “Cudahy lots” were notable for their size—in most cases, 50 to 100 feet (15 to 30 m) in width and 600 to 800 feet (183 to 244 m) in depth, at least equivalent to a city block in most American towns. Such parcels, often referred to as “railroad lots,” were intended to allow the new town’s residents to keep a large vegetable garden, a grove of fruit trees (usually citrus), and a chicken coop or horse stable.

Although gardens, orchards, and farm animals are long gone, the old “Cudahy lots” may still be visible in satellite images (see the image below; I was not, however, able to find a map of the original city lots). At any rate, Cudahy gradually morphed into a crowded industrial town, giving it a legacy of environmental contamination. As noted by the Wikipedia article cited above:

On January 14, 2020, delta Airlines flight 89 dumped jet fuel  Cudahy, while making an emergency landing at Los Angeles International airport. Park Avenue Elementary School suffered the brunt of this dumping. This incident sparked outrage because of the city’s previous history of environmental damage, including the construction of the same school on top of an old dump site that contained contaminated soil with toxic sludge, and pollution from the Exide battery plant.

As a final note, it is intriguing that the two main clusters of small, high-density cities in the United States are located immediately adjacent to the country’s two largest cities, New York and Los Angeles. Populous though they are, these two cities have markedly different built environments and settlement histories. New York is well known for its high population density, but Los Angeles is more commonly regarded as a low-density city anchoring an even lower-density metropolitan area. That vision is longer justifiable.

Small But Densely Populated American Cities & the Transformation of Cudahy, CA Read More »

Capturing the Size and Density of New York City and Environs on a Map of Major U.S. Cities

As mentioned in the previous post, depictions of the population density of major U.S. cities tend to under-emphasize the significance of New York City. New York is clearly the most densely inhabited major city in the United States, with 29,303 people per mi sq (in 2020), a figure that far overshadows that of second-place San Francisco (18,631). San Francisco, moreover, makes a poor comparison, as its total population is more than an order of magnitude less than that of New York (808,437 vs. 8,335,897 in 2022).

The population concentration found in the core areas of New York City is also masked by the relatively low density of some of its outlying areas, particularly of Staten Island. With a population of 8,618 per mi sq (in 2020), Staten Island is comparable in this regard to Los Angeles (8,304.22 per mi sq). In contrast, Brooklyn – which would be the country’s second most populous city if the boroughs of New York had never amalgamated – had a population density of 39,438 per mi sq in 2020, a far higher figure than that of San Francisco. But it is Manhattan that really stands out. Its 1,694,251 residents (2020) are crowded into a mere 22.83 square miles, giving it a density of 74,781 people per sq mi. A century earlier, Manhattan had been even more densely populated. When its population peaked at 2,331,542 in 1910, its density exceeded 100,000 people per mi sq, a figure that makes San Francisco seem sparsely settled in comparison.

In short, when it comes to both urban population size and density in the United States, New York City is in a league of its own, with no real competition. To illustrate this situation, I have redrafted two of the maps that were used to illustrate the previous GeoCurrents post. In the new versions (below), New York is broken down into its five constituent boroughs. A new density scheme was required as well, as four of New York’s five boroughs monopolize the top three categories in the new 2022 map. As the redrafted 1950 map shows, Queens and especially Staten Island were much less densely inhabited than the other boroughs at the time. This map highlights the significance of Brooklyn, the Bronx, and especially Manhattan as the country’s most densely populated urban places in the mid-twentieth century.

But even this redrafted map does not adequately capture the elevated population densities found in the greater New York City region. As the table of the most densely populated incorporated cities in the United States (posted below) reveals, New York City itself ranks in only the sixth position. The four cities with the highest density are all in Hudson County, New Jersey, immediately to the west of Manhattan. The largest city in Hudson County – Jersey City – is not on this list. But if cities that cover very small areas (below five square miles) are excluded, Jersey City ranks in the second position. Yonkers, which is immediately north of the Bronx, also makes this list of the most densely populated sizable U.S. cities. To reflect this concentration of dense urbanism in the New York metro area, I have edited the map once more, this time including Hudson County and Yonkers.


One more GeoCurrents post will examine population density in American cities. After that, this blog will turn to the recent elections in New Zealand and Poland before returning to the historical development of the urban system of the United States.

Capturing the Size and Density of New York City and Environs on a Map of Major U.S. Cities Read More »