Focus research beat ups

Apr 13, 2024
A hand inserts a vote card into a polling box with Australia flag blended in background

In journalism and politics there are beat ups every day of the week. But some are so outrageous that they make a zephyr breeze look like a tornado.

The ABC and others recently reported that Labor was losing support in the Calwell seat due to what they see as Labor’s support for Israel.

The evidence – two focus groups with 18 people in each conducted by the Redbridge Group. The conclusion from this massive sample was that Labor is rapidly losing support among Muslim voters over Canberra’s support for Israel and its war on the Gaza Strip and its citizens.

The ABC said the Redbridge Group found that people from the Arabic and Turkish communities of the Calwell area in Melbourne, where the Labour party has historically enjoyed strong support, “were ready to swing hard against the government.”

The ABC went on to say that Muslims number more than 810,000 in Australia’s 25 million population as of 2021, forming important voter constituencies in some areas, including Calwell, where they make up 13% of residents.

Now the Redbridge Group is one of Australia’s best political research organisations but it is doubtful they would die in the ditch over two focus groups comprising 36 people.

Moreover, there is no information about what the research found about attitudes to the Liberal Opposition, particularly its increasingly hardline support for Israel. In the last few days the Dutton Opposition has doubled down on its defence of Israel and its attacks on Labor for its recent criticism of Israel following the killing of an Australian citizen and aid worker, Zomi Frankcom.

So, if Calwell voters are going to ‘swing hard’ against the government their swing at the Liberals would be more like that of a champion heavyweight boxer.

The Liberals are also taking a line which is out of step with the British Government and a very significant number of other countries.

Indeed, UK Foreign Minister (Lord) David Cameron had already stated a policy which is exactly the same as that outlined by Penny Wong. The US position, which the Liberal Party (and sadly the ALP) usually follow slavishly, is similar.

There is now one almost universal view of the current situation – if not articulated publicly by the US and Australia – that there needs to be a ceasefire and that Netanyahu has to go before any progress is made. It has now reached a crescendo in Israel though.

As for Australian voting patterns the behaviour of various ethnic and national groups is complex and ever evolving. Many groups from former communist countries who migrated post-war came with assumptions about political parties which pushed them towards conservative voting.

As we were never too fussed about letting former Fascists – like the Croatian Ustashi – into Australia there were a fair number of very, very reactionary and violent voters as well. Others became rusted on Labor supporters through their work in various industries and their membership of trade unions.

Successive generations, many of them gentrifying, shifted toward conservative parties. By the third and other generations voting behaviour was more probably influenced by economic and educational factors and was probably not radically different from the voting behaviour of Australians as a whole.

These historic changes are never going to be captured by the views of 18 people in two focus groups let alone the ABC’s over interpretation of results which Redbridge itself is probably embarrassed about.

This is not so say that ethnic voting behaviour is not very significant in some circumstances. Dai Le’s defeat of Kristina Keneally in the 2022 Fowler election was significant. But equally significant was that Keneally was parachuted into the seat by the NSW Labour head office to replace an excellent Vietnamese Labor candidate.

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