Too close to call

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What the Indian Link election poll reveals about community voting intentions

A survey carried out amongst voters of Australia’s Indian community broadly reflects what the mainstream polls are saying. It is going to be very close, but at the moment the Liberal-National Coalition is ahead by a nose.

Indian Link election poll.Indian Link

Indian Link’s election survey, undertaken online and via phone from 13 to 22 June, gathered data on voting intentions from 958 respondents spread across Australia. A large proportion of responses, almost three quarters of the survey results, came from the eastern states of New South Wales and Victoria. A strong representation of about 15 per cent came from the combined results of Western Australia and South Australia.

ALP vs Coalition

The Coalition was favoured by 43% of the respondents and Labor by 41%. The Greens claimed 8% of the vote, while 2% indicated support for other or independent candidates. Undecided voters accounted for 6% of the sample.

This last statistic of the undecided voters could well hold the key to the Lodge for either the Coalition’s Malcolm Turnbull or Labor’s Bill Shorten.

Indian Link election poll.Indian Link

Traditionally, the Indian community vote has favoured the Labor Party, which is perhaps more in tune with the Indian cultural ethos favouring health and education. As the community has matured from the working class migrant group to those establishing, growing or being involved in small businesses, there has been an emergence of a shift away from Labor towards the Coalition (as indicated by Indian Link’s previous polls). However, with the recent increase in the number of new migrants from the Indian and subcontinent community, their support for Labor’s policies has seen the political dynamics of the community as a whole change substantially.

That the ALP has caught up has been borne out by mainstream polls. Through the weeks of campaigning, Labor has been able to reach out successfully, with certain key marginal seats increasingly looking more and more winnable,  as the Coalition has failed to make inroads into the minds of the people to the extent expected.

It is interesting to see the increasing support for the Greens (8%), numbers never seen before in previous Indian Link polls of state or federal elections. Environment issues are beginning to matter, as climate change concerns come closer to our lives in terms of extreme weather, for instance, and as passions increase for the protection of our natural sites such as the Barrier Reef. Added to this, is the work of some strong Greens personalities in the community such as Alex Bhathal in Victoria and Mehreen Faruqi in NSW, who have impressed with their tenacity and passion. This support, perhaps unsurprisingly, is concentrated in Sydney and Melbourne electorates. The majority of those voters supporting the Greens were either born and raised in Australia or have been living here for more than 20 years.

Indian Link election poll.Indian Link

At this stage, it seems that those who are undecided or voting towards the Greens and others, will be the kingmakers. With a large number of independents in the fray from across a wide range of parties, it will then come down to where these preferences flow. As Greens seem to be favouring the ALP, could there be a surprise Labor victory in the 2016 elections?

The possibility of a hung parliament is also indicative in the numbers which came through the poll. The party machines at the Coalition headquarters are reconciled to losing some of the 21-seat edge they have over the ALP, but perhaps they still believe they can scrape in with a 10-12 seat margin. The Indian Link survey indicates it may be closer than that.

Malcolm Turnbull vs Bill Shorten

From a leadership point of view, Malcolm Turnbull is clearly favoured ahead Bill Shorten (55 to 45). While most agree that Labor and Shorten have run a great campaign, and that by contrast the Liberal-National Coalition and Malcolm Turnbull have been somewhat lacklustre, larger numbers within the Indian Australian community seem to have higher faith in Malcolm Turnbull. One respondent said, “I want Bill Shorten for PM, he’s more trustworthy,” but another declared, “Malcolm Turnbull? Yes, yes, yes!”

Indian Link election poll.Indian Link

Post-election there will a strong need for the Malcolm Turnbull of old to emerge, rather than the one on stage now who seems to be bogged down by internal party politics. By all accounts, if the election result is a hung parliament, then it may be difficult for Turnbull’s true colours to emerge. As Prime Minister, he will have to show courage in his own convictions in various policy areas; if he ends up as Opposition Leader, one suspects his electorate of Wentworth may be in for a by-election soon thereafter.

It seems that the change from Tony Abbott to Malcolm Turnbull last year as leader of the Liberal Party and subsequent Prime Minister of the country has had no impact on voting intentions of the Indian Australian community. More than 51% said this changeover had no influence on who they would be voting for. “It is not a factor. I am more interested in having a leader who will show some leadership.  It does not really concern me if Malcolm Turnbull overthrew Abbott,” one respondent said. Another respondent said, “Bill Shorten was in the fray during the Kevin Rudd-Julia Gillard-Kevin Rudd musical chairs era, so having changes at the top seem to be a way of politics here in Australia. What is the big deal?”

Community concerns

In what perhaps comes as no surprise, it was overwhelmingly felt that the Labor Party is better for the Indian-Australian community. This has been conventionally the case though, at the last election, the Liberals have made ground here as they increasingly reach out to the community.

While the Liberals have been active in the Indian community, Labor leaders such as Bill Shorten, Sam Dastyari and others have made themselves more accessible and have had greater visibility. In contrast, the Liberals’ top brass have been missing in action from many community events.

Indian Link election poll.Indian Link

Labor have been better able to articulate their multicultural policies, perhaps listening closer to the needs of the community. One example is the issue of long-stay visas for parents, which received so much traction in the community that the Liberals quickly followed up the ALP policy with their own announcement of up to 5-year long stay visas.

While Labor are well ahead of Liberals 53 to 40 on the issue of community matters, the Greens could only pick up 7% of the vote. It seems that the Greens need to make more inroads into the hearts and minds of the wider Indian-Australian community – perhaps they could use the younger members of the community to have their message more broadly spread.

Labor has also built on their credentials of positive immigration policies, with 54% favouring them over Coalition. The Liberal Party needs to be more proactive rather than reactive when it comes to migration issues in order to strengthen their position within the community.

India-Oz matters

As to which party will forge better relations with India, it seems to be close, with Labor getting 48% of the votes and Liberals 46%. Julia Gillard was hailed for opening the political and diplomatic doors to India by seeing through the issue of the sale of uranium. This was matched by the close camaraderie between Prime Ministers Abbott and Modi during the latter’s visit to Australia in 2014.

Indian Link election poll.Indian Link

India may have faltered somewhat in its rise as an economic power in recent months, but it is widely believed that the potential is there. The respondents in the survey seem to understand this (perhaps just as much as both the ALP and the Coalition), and have indicated that better relations with India will be forged, whichever party is at the helm.

To further get to know and understand the local Indian community, perhaps a good place for the new Prime Minister to start would be to visit the birthplace of this multicultural migrant community.

Talking points this election

The election themes of both the parties have resonated well with Indian-Australian voters. The Australian economy and employment just edge out education and healthcare as issues that concern most. The Labor Party campaign of putting Medicare front and centre of their messaging has worked well. As one respondent said, “If healthcare is not provided for and someone’s health deteriorates, then the economy or employment is not going to matter much to that person, will it?”

But in the end, it all comes down to the hip pocket. If the economy is strong, all else will follow, said one respondent.

Indian Link election poll.Indian Link

Over the past few years, Indian migrant dynamics have changed. To the established Indian-Australians, the chanted mantra of jobs and growth has worked; to the new Indian-Australians the essentials of education and health care are paramount. There are greater numbers of younger, skilled migrants finding their way Down Under. For them, employment is undoubtedly important, but to have access to public education and subsidised Medicare, both of which are in short supply in India, is a bonus.

The issue of asylum seekers stood out as the lowest rated concern among those surveyed. On the phone surveys, our interviewers noted that a majority of respondents would first relegate this issue to last position, as they then pondered how to rate the other four issues. “It seems harsh to have to say this, but this issue doesn’t directly affect my daily life,” one interviewee noted. Another observed that environment as a matter of concern was missing from our list, and he would have prioritised this over the issue of asylum seekers.

 

As the Indian Australian community is spread in the marginal seats, their votes could be crucial. The Coalition could have reached out to them more strongly. The Labor Party has been making strong overtures and they will reap the benefit of their efforts. Turnbull is still the preferred leader as per the community, but in all other areas which affect the lives of the migrant Indian Australian, Labor seems to have the formula right.

The Coalition by a whisker, or a hung parliament: this seems to be the verdict as of now. But with a week to go – and a week, they say, is an eternity in politics – anything can happen. The Coalition could yet make up ground and secure a more comfortable second term in office.