Is the inner city becoming more conservative?

With the Liberal National Party landslide win in the March 24 Queensland state election, where the number of Australian Labor Party (ALP)-held seats in greater Brisbane went from 34 to 5, there is much talk of the sorts of unexpected seats no in LNP hands. Its certainly news that Ipswich and Logan are now held by the LNP, as well as every electorate north of the Brisbane River.

The idea that the outer suburban electorates in Brisbane are prone to large swings is not new. With population growth from other parts of Australia, new housing developments, and high levels of self-employment, the demographics and political allegiances of suburban Brisbane can be quite volatile.

But voting patterns may be no less volatile in the inner city. I live in the electorate of Brisbane Central, running from New Farm through Fortitude Valley, to the Royal Brisbane Hospital and the sprawling QUT Kelvin Grove campus. In 2004 was held by the Premier, Peter Beattie, with a 25 per cent margin. In 2009, the ALP member Grace Grace held it with a 6 per cent margin.

It is now an LNP seat, held by Robert Cavallucci with a 4 per cent margin. The 2012 election saw a 7.6 per cent swing against the ALP, and a 2.4 per cent swing against the Greens candidate, as Cavallucci got a 10 per cent swing to win almost half of the first preference vote, and almost as much of the vote as the ALP and the Greens combined.

And it is not a one-off result. The Federal seat of Brisbane, which was the last seat decided in the 2010 Federal Election, went to Liberal Teresa Gambaro with 46 per cent of the first preference vote, after being held by the ALP since 1980. After that election, which saw high-profile Greens candidate Andrew Bartlett receive over 20 per cent of the vote, it was certainly clear that this was an area with increasingly volatile voting patterns.

So what? The interesting point is that Brisbane Central, and Anna Bligh’s electorate of South Brisbane on the other side of the river, exemplify a certain type of inner-city electorate. The natural home of university students (and staff), urban professionals and creative types. Gay friendly, with plenty of bike paths, small bars, independent book shops, and of course restaurants and coffee houses, they are the sorts of places that Richard Florida and others saw as the havens of the “creative class”.

So while the suburbs may have heard the siren call – or, as it was more commonly called, the dog-whistle – of conservatism during the Howard government years. Very often, a kind of “suburban realism” was countered to the values of the elites, the “latte set”, those in the inner cities. This was often embraced by those in the inner cities themselves, seeing themselves as beacons of humanity, tolerance and progressive social and cultural values in the face of “Kath & Kim” like suburban philistinism.

What I will be arguing over the next week is that, whatever the “imagined geography”, this is not borne out by voting trends. Using Brisbane Central as a case study, I will look at the voting patterns on a both level to suggest that the LNP is strong in areas where this may not be expected. I’ll also look at patterns in the seat of South Brisbane, where Anna Bligh experienced a 10 per cent 2PP swing, as well as some results in other elections, such as Balmain in the NSW state election.

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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.