I was recently in coal country and was surprised by the political attitudes of the people I met. They weren’t surprised by the election result at all. They felt it was obvious.
One conversation in particular has stuck in my head. The person I was speaking to said that coal is found all over the world, and that the only thing closing Australian production would do is to destroy Australian communities. The world would burn other coal; and as coal isn’t scarce the price would fall back to normal pretty quickly. This person worked in mining, and added proudly that their coal was extracted according to the highest standards, and was among the cleanest burning coal in the world — cheekily concluding that the most globally responsible thing Australia could do was to mine more!
While I’m not sure about the veracity of those claims, I am sure I don’t hear these views in the capital cities (where I spend most of my time).
It made me think … perhaps there’s something to this? Attitudes to environmental policy are sufficiently intense that it might also explain why voters didn’t say how they were feeling in the polls.
To test this theory I first plotted the two-party-preferred vote swing (red = swing to labor; blue = swing to LNP) against the Australian Government’s coordinates for open mines (black dots). I made one change to the Government’s xls: adding approximate coordinates for Adani’s Carmichael mine (S -22′ & E 146′).
This seems to be a promising start.
Voters swung to the ALP in the cities, and swung away from the ALP in regional areas (where the mines are). There are few mines in Victoria and the ACT, which are regions the ALP enjoyed a swing. There are many more mines in the rest of the country, particularly in regional areas, which swung to the LNP. And of course Queensland had Adani, which was the lightening-rod issue — so they got the biggest swing.
Also, note that this chart shows swings: keep in mind that the level of the LNP vote is higher in WA and Queensland, where there are more mines.
So we are off to promising start: but the first chart is too busy for my taste. To makes things easier to see, in the below chart I filtered the data to include only booths that had big swings (of 10 percentage points or more, either way). Finally, to protect against small booths getting emotional, I also removed all booths that had less than 250 votes cast in total.
The revised chart is below.
I think this chart does a reasonable job of highlighting the places where it went right for the Government. Queensland coal country is very blue. As is the north of Tasmania.
I appreciate that this isn’t very scientific (I’ll do some distance to mine regressions later), but one striking fact is that the swings were similar in QLD and NSW coal country.