Many who cover federal elections, including some in academia and dare I say those who have some training in psephology, still treat our country as one big homogenous electorate.
The reality is vastly different. Over the last two years, we have spoken to hundreds of voters, from as far north as Cairns, to as far south as Hobart. We have sat there and listened to the concerns of people living in NSW’s regional communities as they detailed their struggles to access services many of us in big cities take for granted.
It’s not hard to realise that the vastness of our country also extends to how people are treated by our governments. If your child requires some specialist assistance, your journey to access that can be as little as thirty minutes to half a day. If you fall into that latter category, that access is also predicated on your social standing. Having the means to make that pilgrimage boils down to what your personal income looks like. There are many regional Australians who choose to forego important screening tests, life changing treatments because the tyranny of distance is just too challenging.
These experiences shape people’s views towards politics. These views cannot be altered by a six week election circus or a series of promises. It’s baked in.
The same dynamic can be seen in our big cities. Merely dropping off the kids at school can be a short run or a huge hindrance. Many who reside in our outer suburbs are constantly brutalised by the tyranny of poorly funded roads. It’s not uncommon to find families who make career decisions based on how many hours they have to spend each day in their car. This challenge alone cuts right through the quality of life for millions. Petrol prices, longer child care sessions, when and how you access other services are vastly different to those who live in our cities’ middle to inner suburbs.
Throw into the mix massive household debt, largely created by this country’s insane property market and many of these electorates are ticking time bombs. No, a nationwide poll will not get a good read on how loud that explosion may end up being.
No amount of election spin, promises or kissing babies will obscure the reality that millions of families will be providing their children with a unique inheritance – debt. They won’t be dying with their Australian dream but a nightmare of debt. If they are lucky, that debt may again explode if they require intensive aged care. There are no nest eggs to fall back on. Any main ‘breadwinner’ falls ill, the income dries up quickly.
Hence, as political analysts, we closely study the number of ‘distressed property sale listings’. It should not surprise any of you that the highest number of homes placed on the market because of bankruptcy or ill health are in our outer suburbs and regions.
To us, this sort of data educates us far more than any poll. We call them electoral red flags. Just like spiking local unemployment rates, or even mental health consultations. When you scan the cross tabs of a particular polling report, there will be a constant, outer suburban and regional women turning violently against major parties. One reason? Check out the mental health consultation statistics for women living Riverstone, South Morang, or Townsville.
You see, it’s not just about the numbers, it’s about looking under the hood and facing the reality that Australians are not treated equally and this inequality does have electoral consequences for the major parties.
Hence, seat-based polling, will not reflect national polls. It will provide nuanced insights into how those particular communities are viewing politics, a temporary snapshot of mood and intent.