The division of Batman has become the seat to watch this election season.
Aside from the local MP David Feeney routinely making news headlines, there’s a very real chance that the inner-north Melbourne electorate will deliver a second Green into the House of Representatives on July 2nd.
As a result, veteran Green candidate Alex Bhathal is waging a relatively well funded and aggressive campaign – the likes of which her party have previously reserved for Melbourne MP Adam Bandt.
The target is Labor, who hasn’t had to take a challenger in the seat seriously for the better part of a century and is struggling to appeal to the rapidly gentrifying southern parts of the electorate.
This phenomenon has created an intriguing divide in the electorate that can quite literally be driven across.
North vs. South: The Bell Street Divide
Bell Street runs horizontally from Batman’s western border with Wills to its eastern border with JagaJaga. It’s situated almost perfectly in the centre of the seat – a reality that has more than just geographical significance.
In 2013 the Greens won a higher share of the primary vote than Labor south of Bell St, and have also been significantly increasing their share of the primary vote in the north. This has coincided with Labor losing ground in both the north and the south, although they still command a significant lead in the north.
However, when Liberal preferences are thrown into the mix the contest becomes incredibly close.
In 2013 David Feeney received 63% of preferences after Liberal candidate George Souris was eliminated to the Greens’ 37%. If Alex Bhathal had received at least 78% of preferences before the final count she would have been elected.
2013 saw Labor take the 2nd position on the Liberal how-to-vote card, but in 2010 the Greens snagged the spot, benefitting from 79% of preferences following the elimination of the Liberals.
The importance of these figures has not gone unnoticed amongst the contenders. Feeney was previously outspoken about an alleged preference deal between the Greens and the Liberals, something that Bhathal denied.
Since then Labor has struck a deal with the Liberal party to edge the Greens out of the coveted 2nd preference on Liberal how-to-vote cards.
Although preferences can only go so far in lower-house contests, ultimately the voters of Batman will decide who represents them in parliament after the election.
Voting patterns and demographic differences
Analysis of Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) data from the 2013 election and Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) census data highlights the electoral divide in Batman alongside demographic differences.
The graph above illustrates the distinction between Greens support in southern postcodes and Labor support in northern ones.
However, in areas of the electorate where Greens support is stronger a higher proportion of residents are from high income households. The opposite is true for Labor, who exhibit stronger support in postcodes characterised by a higher proportion of low income households.
Preston (3072) is split into two categories (north (A) and south (B)) as Bell Street runs horizontally through the suburb.
The Labor Party poll better in parts of the electorate where a higher proportion of residents have vocational diplomas and certificates. Whereas the Greens are stronger in areas where the proportion of residents who have tertiary level qualifications are significantly higher.
Interestingly, the Liberal party follow a similar pattern to the Labor Party, even overtaking the Greens in some areas where vocational non-tertiary training is more prevalent.
Postcodes are organized by SA-1 statistical regions to avoid areas that flow into other electorates, however it should be noted that residents may not vote at a polling station in the same postcode as their residence.
In terms of occupation, the graph above reveals that the prevalence of jobs that require a higher level of physicality is higher in parts of the electorate where Labor is strongest. In contrast the proportion of managerial and professional roles is much higher in the south of the electorate where the Greens poll better.
Here we see that there’s a much weaker relationship between the prevalence of over 55s and primary vote than with other metrics. Although the Greens do poll higher in areas where the proportion of people aged over 55 is relatively lower.
Overall, analysis of 2011 census data indicates that the southern areas of Batman —where the Greens maintain the largest primary vote share— are populated more heavily with affluent professionals who have attained tertiary qualifications.
The rapid gentrification of the southern part of Batman over the last decade has also coincided with a substantial increase in the popularity of the Greens in Batman – from 11% in 2001 to 26% in 2013 (primary vote).