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How Australians think about same-sex marriage, mapped

12 September 2017 6:46 PM
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Polling consistently shows most voters support same-sex marriage — but how do views vary across Australia?

Last year, the ABC's Vote Compass asked Australians whether they agreed or disagreed with this statement: Marriage should only be between a man and a woman.

More than 1.2 million Australians responded, and a majority of people indicated support for allowing same-sex couples to marry.

But those polls don't have large enough sample sizes to provide information about views on a local level. Vote Compass does.

On this map, every electorate is shaded based on voters' support for same-sex marriage: blue seats are less supportive and orange seats are more supportive.

A quick look at the colouring reveals that, even in most of rural and regional Australia, a majority of voters support same-sex marriage.

But this bird's eye view doesn't tell the full story — it over-emphasises a handful of large regional electorates, while the much smaller seats in our big population centres remain basically invisible.

Take Sydney, for instance. It's home to approximately one in every five Australians — meaning this grouping of electorates represents more people than the large rural seats that dominated the previous view.

A number of inner-Sydney suburbs register about 80 per cent support for same-sex marriage, among the strongest in the country, while the middle ring and western suburbs are around 50 per cent support.

However, three Labor-held seats in the western suburbs fall slightly below the 50 per cent support mark, and they are actually among the 10 electorates least supportive of same-sex marriage anywhere in the country.

It's worth noting, though, that in none of these seats does opposition to same-sex marriage rise above 50 per cent either, as voters who said they were 'neutral' are also included in this dataset.

"There's a distinct 'inner city versus the rest' pattern," explains political scientist Shaun Ratcliff. "Outer-suburban areas and rural areas tend to be more conservative on this issue."

And this isn't just about Sydney. The pattern is the same nationwide: the closer you live to the inner city, the more likely you are to support same-sex marriage.

You can see the same thing clearly in Brisbane, where the four seats closest to the CBD register support of 60 to 70 per cent, while surrounding suburbs are closer to the 50 per cent mark.

One of the most striking things about this geographic pattern is it appears to be stronger than any link to party support.

Of those four inner-Brisbane seats that are most supportive of same-sex marriage, the Liberal National Party holds two and Labor holds two.

Similarly, the suburban seats where support drops to about 50 per cent also elect a mix of LNP and Labor MPs.

"It doesn't matter which party represents the electorate, the geography seems to matter more" right across the country, Dr Ratcliff says.

Once you zoom out from Brisbane, it becomes clear that Queensland is our most conservative state on this issue. In fact, the five electorates with the lowest support for same-sex marriage are all in Queensland.

At the top of that list is Maranoa, which has a reputation as the most conservative seat in the country. But even here, the picture is mixed: 42 per cent of voters back same-sex marriage, compared to 44 per cent who are opposed (leaving 14 per cent 'neutral').

At the other end of the spectrum is Victoria, which is considered Australia's most socially progressive state.

In Melbourne, the most supportive seats are almost 80 per cent in favour, and every seat in the state is above 50 per cent support.

But in the eastern suburbs, we see an example of one of the defining characteristics of the politics of same-sex marriage in Australia.

"Parliament has been more conservative on this issue than the [Australian] electorate," Dr Ratcliff says. "Every survey I've seen since 2007 has had majority support for same-sex marriage."

Menzies is an example of this trend. Here, about 60 per cent of voters indicated support for same-sex marriage but the local MP, Liberal Kevin Andrews, remains one its most steadfast opponents.

We see the same thing, most famously, in Tony Abbott's seat of Warringah, where the former PM is a vocal campaigner for the 'no' cause, but most voters are in favour.

On the other side of the country, Liberal MP Andrew Hastie has been another vocal opponent of same-sex marriage. His view is in line with about one-third of voters in his seat, Canning, whereas a small majority backs same-sex marriage.

In a contrast to Queensland, support tops 50 per cent in all of Western Australia's electorates, including those covering remote areas.

In fact, support tops 50 per cent in every electorate in South Australia, the NT, the ACT and Tasmania as well.

Despite everything we can learn from this map, one thing it can't tell us is what percentage of people will back change in the current postal survey on same-sex marriage.

Because it's a voluntary survey, that will be determined by a mix of overall support and exactly which people are motivated to fill out and return their forms by the deadline.

Here's a different view of the same data, showing support for same-sex marriage seat by seat.

These findings are based on 770,394 respondents who participated in Vote Compass between May 8, 2016 and July 2, 2016. The data has been weighted according to respondents; gender, age, education, religion, electorate, and vote choice to ensure the sample reflects the Australian population. Read the Vote Compass data FAQ for more detailed information.

Reporter: Matt Liddy; Designer: Ben Spraggon; Developer: Nathan Hoad; data analysis by Vox Pop Labs.

Also read: Former Australian vice-captain Brad Haddin named Canberra Big Bash League bid ambassador

Source: abc.net.au

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