During federal elections, much of the accompanying campaign coverage focuses on the dynamics in marginal seats because those results determine whether the Coalition or the Labor party forms government. But the difficulty political strategists confront is voters in marginal seats are not homogenous.
Obviously, some national campaign messages resonate in all marginal seats, and, in fact, the prevailing public sentiment in the determinative marginals often drives and defines what a political national campaign is about. But a message crafted for a seat like Bass in north-west Tasmania doesn’t necessarily resonate in a seat like Parramatta in Sydney’s west.
This is a central campaign conundrum – how do political parties speak successfully to all relevant audiences? In Australia, major-party campaigns are drawing more extensively on data to help with election narrowcasting and micro-targeting, especially in targeted seats. One of the fundamentals in successful political engagement and communication is knowing who you are speaking to, what has shaped them and what matters to them.
Guardian Australia’s election Seat Explorer allows us to explore the incredible diversity of languages, religions and countries of birth across the 151 House of Representatives electorates.
Unfortunately, the data from the 2021 census has not yet been released, so Guardian Australia partnered with academics from Griffith University to adjust the 2016 census data for the latest electoral boundaries.
Some of these populations may have changed significantly in the intervening years. A recent release from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, for instance, shows that the number of Sri Lankan-born Australians increased 50% between 2011 and 2021. But the number of overseas-born Australians declined from 2020 to 2021.
Diving into the seats
With culture wars now an established part of political campaigning, understanding the markers of personal identity is important. For issues like whether there should be a law protecting Australians against discrimination on the grounds of their religion, or even the debate about transgender participation in sport that has surfaced during the 2022 campaign, understanding faith groups adds another dimension.
We can explore the range of cultural diversity in Australia by looking more closely at two hotly contested marginal seats – Bass in northern Tasmania and Parramatta in western Sydney.
Western Sydney is multicultural. 37.33% of the population in Labor-held Parramatta were born in Australia; this is significantly lower than the state and national levels of 65.5% and 66.7%, respectively. By contrast, 74.9% of Liberal-held Bass were born in Australia, slightly less than the state level of 80.7%.
On other cultural metrics, too, the seats diverge greatly. In Parramatta, 60.4% of the population speak a language other than English in the home, significantly higher than the state level (26.5%). Only 5.85% of the residents of Bass speak a language other than English in the home; slightly below the state level (6.5%).
When it comes to faith, in Parramatta, the most commonly listed religion was Catholicism, which 19.64% of residents listed. The rest of the top five were “no religion” at 16.87%, Hinduism at 13.79%, Islam at 8.26% and Anglicanism at 5.91%.
The most commonly listed religion in Bass was “no religion” at 34.49%. The rest of the top five are denominations or forms of Christianity – Anglicanism (18.78%), Catholicism (12.95%), Uniting Church (3.61%) and Presbyterian and Reformed (2.94%).
“No religion” was the most common answer in every state and nationally.
You can explore the data at a more granular level in the following tables.
Country of birth
While 66.7% of Australians were born in Australia as of the 2016 census, the equivalent figure for the states ranges from 60% up to over 80% in Tasmania.
The percentage born in Australia varies much more at the electorate level – from over 83% in Maranoa and Parkes in regional Queensland and New South Wales respectively, to under 40% in several metropolitan electorates including Sydney, Parramatta and Melbourne.
England is the most common country of birth apart from Australia nationally. At the state and electorate level it is very diverse. England, China, New Zealand and the Philippines are all the top countries of birth for at least one state.
New Zealand is the top country of birth in 13 electorates, including several in Queensland. India is the top country of birth in 10 electorates – including 12% of the population of Parramatta.
China is the top country of birth for 23 electorates, including many metropolitan electorates such as Sydney, Melbourne, Kooyong and Canberra.
Of the 13 different religions or belief systems that make it into the top five somewhere, eight are a form or denomination of Christianity. The others are Hinduism, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and no religion.
The largest group in the 2016 census nationally, in every state and almost every electorate, are those responding “no religion”.
There are just 36 electorates where no religion isn’t number one. Islam is the largest religious group in Blaxland in western Sydney. Anglicans are the biggest group in Lyne and New England in regional NSW.
The largest stated religion for the other 33 electorates dotted around Australia is Catholic.
Across Australia, 22.2% of the public speak a language other than English at home. In more than half of the electorates, English is the main language at home for over 80% of people. But there is a lot of variance here.
English is the main language at home for more than 97% of the population in the Tasmanian electorates of Braddon and Lyons. But English is the main language for 30% or less of Watson, Blaxland and Fowler in Sydney’s west.
Parramatta and Barton, also in Sydney’s west, have less than 40% of their populations speaking English as the main language at home.
Twenty-three different languages are the top non-English language in at least one electorate.
Mandarin is the most common non-English language in more than 50 electorates around Australia, including many electorates in metropolitan Sydney, Adelaide, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth.
In Lingiari in the Northern Territory, Indigenous languages including Djambarrpuyngu and Warlpiri, are the most spoken other than English.
German is the most common non-English language in 10 electorates, all of which have over 90% speaking English as a first language at home. These include Lyons, Braddon and Lyne.