A small, affluent group in Labor’s sights

The Coalition’s latest offerings to seniors may give it a leg up in the key New South Wales electorate of Macquarie, where voters angered by the PPL grab are overrepresented in swing booth areas.

The Coalition’s official campaign launch in Brisbane yesterday contained an important piece of back-pedalling by the Abbott team – a couple of sweeteners thrown in to calm the retirees angered by the paid-parental-leave tax grab on share dividend payments.

That was wise, as self-funded retirees are indeed angry that 1.5 cents in the dollar will clawed back to fund young parents through the Coalition’s levy/tax jiggery-pokery (Sneaking through a $1 billion tax hike, August 23).

The new measures announced yesterday were a pledge to spend an extra $200 million on dementia research, and a bumping up and re-indexing of the income threshold for the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card, which will cost an estimated $100 million over four years.

But is that enough to stop the grey army sacking the polling booths and giving power to that nice young dentist, or whatever he is, Kevin Rudd?

The question is being brought into sharper focus by an apparent narrowing of the polls. From a disastrous 34 per cent primary vote in last week’s Newspoll survey, this week the Labor vote is up to 37 per cent – just 1 percentage point below the level from which Julia Gillard was able to form minority government with the Greens and independents in 2010.

That figure is a little deceiving for two reasons – firstly, as with all polling data the margin of error swings both ways. If last week’s figure was a point or two on the low side, the 37 per cent figure might, if an election were held today, come out a point or two lower in actual votes counted.

Secondly, the Greens vote is, according to Newspoll, just 9 per cent at present, when at the 2010 election it was 11.8 per cent. That’s when Saint Bob (Brown) ruled with angelic aplomb – often talking complete cobblers, but doing it with such beguiling self-righteousness. Current Greens leader Christine Milne is much sharper on economic issues, and so says much more sensible things most of the time. But voters miss Bob. Simple as that.

So from a 37 per cent primary vote, Labor is still losing by a good margin. Newspoll puts it at 53 per cent to 47 per cent in two-party preferred terms, based on preference flows at the last election.

Of course, preference flows this time around will be quite different, with the Liberals putting the Greens last in most seats and senate tickets. Also, the Katter-Palmer preference deals add a level of complexity, meaning the flows on the night of September 7 will contain a few surprises.

That’s all the more reason for the conservatives to shore up their current lead – as Alan Kohler points out today, that means keeping most of their policies secret for just another 12 days, and allowing Rudd to lose, rather than Abbott to win (Abbott's secret Fightback plan, August 26).

One seat where there could be a few tussles between Libs and Labor staffers trying to help an oldie across the road, or carry their shopping home, is the ultra-marginal seat of Macquarie in far-western Sydney.

The seat extends up into the Blue Mountains, and as the map below reveals, has strong pockets of socio-economic/family groups that traditionally favour the Liberal and Labor parties. The large yellow areas are 'mid-status suburban', which are balanced with the large red areas of 'high-status family'. 

Graph for A small, affluent group in Labor’s sights

Political strategists don’t care much about those areas. It’s the swinging voting booths that matter and in Macquarie, it turns out that those angered by the PPL dividend-grab are over-represented in the swing-booth areas.

Analysis conducted for Business Spectator by Torque Data shows, counter-intuitively, that some marginal booths are in high-status areas. And drilling down into demographic data supplied by RDA Research, Torque found two groups over-represented.

From RDA’s 58 standard demographic profiles, two were prevalent in these areas: ‘established high status families’ and ‘mature affluent communities’.

Whereas both groups represent only 1.8 per cent of the population nationally, in some swing booth areas they form a substantially higher proportion of voters.

For instance, at the polling booth of Blaxland East, which is held by the Libs on a tiny 0.27 per cent margin, ‘established high status families’ comprise 25.3 per cent of voters and ‘mature affluent communities’ 14.2 per cent.

Swaying only a few of those voters will see the booth fall to Labor, and in a seat where so many seats are safe, or safe-ish for one or the other side, those few people are likely to decide the fate of the seat.

Whether the latest Coalition offering to retirees will make a difference on polling day is yet to be seen. But smart strategists have some very small pockets of the Macquarie electorate’s population to target in the next 12 days.