Brisbane Central by the booths, and the “Shy Tory Factor”

As discussed in my previous post, I am going to take a closer look at the booth counts for the inner Brisbane electorate of Brisbane Central in the recent Queensland state election.

The electorate runs from the Brisbane CBD along the Brisbane River to New Farm and Newstead on the east, goes to affluent Windsor in the north, and runs out to Newmarket and Kelvin Grove on the west. It includes such iconic inner Brisbane suburbs as Fortitude Valley, Spring Hill and Bowen Hills. If there is any part of Brisbane that is not “suburban” in the manner in which it is popularly understood, it would be this electorate.

Most parts of the electorate have been the subject of intensive inner-urban redevelopment strategies, ranging from the redevelopment of warehouses and woolsheds at Newstead to the Urban Village at Kelvin Grove around the QUT campus. These new developments are often accompanied by some form of “creative cluster” rhetoric, and major arts sites such as the Powerhouse Museum are in the electorate, between New Farm and Newstead.

Votes in the 2012 state election by booth in Brisbane Central are shown below.

Putting aside the small vote for the Katter-aligned independent Ruth Bonnett, we can identify some trends. There are strong pockets of LNP support through the electorate, including the small booths (thanks, Antony Green) of Ballymore, Newstead and Wilston, and the larger booths at Windsor, St. Pauls Terrace and the Brisbane CBD. In recent history, they would have been counter-balanced by strong ALP support around Kelvin Grove/Herston, Fortitude Valley and around New Farm. But there are two stories here that I would like to tease out.

The first is in the Kelvin Grove/Herston area, dominated by the QUT campus, and with a high university student population. This is where the Greens poll strongest – 20% + of the vote, and there was a similar outcome in the 2010 Federal election. This would be the electorate where the decade-long discussion of whether Labor is losing votes to the Greens has the most resonance, as the combined ALP/Greens vote at these booths is still well over 50%.

But it is not the same story in the New Farm/Merthyr booths. Here the Green vote is more modest (10-15%) and it is the LNP that is polling over, or close to, 50%. New Farm is something of a “poster child” suburb for being hip and diverse, and most likely has the largest gay and lesbian population of any Brisbane area. It is certainly considered more of a creative zone than Kelvin Grove, and less of a traditional suburb than Wilston or Windsor. And yet it is, or is very close to being, an area where the majority of its residents vote LNP.

A few things could be going on here. It could be that the older, more traditional residents of New Farm are gravitating more strongly towards the LNP. Maybe. Or it could be a manifestation of what is known in Britain as the “shy Tory factor“, where people are reluctant to disclose their intentions to vote conservative lest they be deemed heartless or selfish. Perhaps there is a “shy gay Tory factor” here, as it would be hard to imagine that half of New Farm votes LNP without that including a significant number of gay and lesbian voters. Needless to say, they would not be those vocally picketing LNP events, as occurred periodically during the election campaign.

What I have sought to illustrate is that while the Labor vs. Greens tension is playing itself out in some parts of the inner-city electorate of Brisbane Central, such as Kelvin Grove, in other areas the LNP vote is much larger than would be commonly presumed. The latter appears to be the dynamic in New Farm. It will be interesting to see if it is playing itself out in other inner city areas in Australia. If so, it is unexpectedly good news for the conservative parties, whose reach is moving inwards from the outer suburbs to the inner cities, the historic recruiting grounds of the political left.

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About Terry Flew

I am Professor of Media and Communication in the Creative Industries Faculty at the Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia. I am the author of New Media: An Introduction, the fourth edition of which was published by Oxford University Press in 2014. I am also the author of Understanding Global Media, published by Palgrave in 2007, and The Creative Industries, Culture and Policy, published by Sage in 2012.

4 replies to “Brisbane Central by the booths, and the “Shy Tory Factor”

  1. Jason Wilson

    Hi Terry – just wondering if this could also be a result of empty-nester boomers downsizing to inner-city areas for lifestyle reasons? Not sure if it’s as true of Newtown as it is around Darlinghurst, Potts Point and Elizabeth Bay in Sydney, where it’s very evident, and is changing the demographics of the suburbs markedly. Could be worth further investigation, especially if, as you say, the changes in booth returns is relatively recent.

  2. Kiley Gaffney

    There is also a lot of young, relatively wealthy people without children living in shared accommodation, particularly in the ‘loft lifestyle’ areas. Surely, the deferment of child rearing and suburban life of that lot would also factor into this? It seems like the banal end of the gentrification process to me.

  3. Terry Flew

    Jason, I’ll include something on what happened in Balmain during the NSW election, which the Liberals almost won, later this week.

    Unfortunately I don’t know booth histories in this instance, but you would have to say the LNP would be delighted with those returns, and there is no strong ALP booth in the whole electorate.

    The Brisbane local government elections may be worth watching in the inner cities.

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