2020 ACT election results show levelling of north-south political divide as new party strongholds emerge


The world’s eyes may be elsewhere today, trying to decipher the unpredictable United States electoral college system.

But ACT voters now have access to the final, detailed results of their own relatively convoluted election.

Canberrans returned Labor and the Greens to power last month, but they did something else, too: they bridged a political divide that had split the city geographically.

Four years ago, voters in Canberra’s north — where the light-rail network was to be built — swung sharply in favour of the Government, while the south turned to the Liberals.

This year, voting in the far north and far south was similar for the first time in more than a decade — the city’s political differences now lie elsewhere, instead.

So with the 2020 ACT election wrapped up and a new cabinet governing the city-state, let’s look a little more closely at what happened.

Pick a party and explore how the city voted

Chief Minister Andrew Barr summed up the 2016 result by saying: “Canberra has voted for light rail.”

This year, he said Canberrans had “done it again” — saying a strong Labor result in the south showed residents supported his plans to extend rail to Woden.

But that doesn’t quite explain what happened.

Despite the city-to-Gungahlin tram’s popularity, Labor’s vote was anaemic in the northern electorate of Yerrabi, where the Greens also did relatively poorly (while still winning a seat).

In general, the ACT’s new divide is not north vs south: it’s between affluent parts of Canberra’s suburban fringes, which skew Liberal, and the inner north and Belconnen, where the governing parties thrive.

Canberra Liberals on the outer (suburbs)?

The Liberals won 50 per cent of votes at the small Tharwa booth, the best booth result of any single party.(Wikipedia: Nick-D)

The Liberal Party has long struggled in the ACT, but usually not this badly.

Of the 82 places Canberrans voted, the Opposition only outpolled the combined Labor-Greens vote in seven locations.

Notably, only two of those polling booths were in the party’s traditional stronghold in the inner south — the others were in outer suburbs in Gungahlin and Tuggeranong.

Labor won more first-preference votes than the Liberals in about two-thirds of booths.

It was especially strong in Belconnen and, to a lesser extent, Tuggeranong — particularly in lower-income areas.

Meanwhile, the Greens outpolled the Liberals in nine booths, cementing their place as a major party.

However, the Greens’ success had a very narrow footprint: all of those booths were in Canberra’s inner north.

Tight margins show seats are up for grabs

An aerial shot of a rainbow roundabout.
The Greens almost outpolled Labor in parts of the inner north, where the Liberals received only one in five votes.(ABC News: Greg Nelson)

Despite the concentration of Greens support around Northbourne Avenue, the party did exceedingly well overall, winning six of the 25 Legislative Assembly seats.

Yet the margins of some victories were very thin.

A mere 84 votes (0.15 per cent) in Brindabella saw the Greens’ Johnathan Davis elected above Labor’s Taimus Werner-Gibbings.

Elsewhere, Rebecca Vassarroti (Greens) was just 407 votes ahead of Candice Burch (Liberal), and Peter Cain (Liberal) beat attorney-general Gordon Ramsay (Labor) with a margin of just 167.

The charts below show who benefited from preferences at each stage of the count (choose an electorate and use the navigation buttons to watch).

The outcomes — at least in Brindabella, Kurrajong and Ginninderra — were far tighter than usual.

That’s not to say this was a close election.

For whatever the reason — whether it was the parties’ policies, the Government’s response to COVID-19, or different perceptions of the leaders and candidates — Canberrans overwhelming endorsed more of the same, but Greener.

However, even small shifts in voting and preferences could change the Assembly’s colours next time — a little redder here, greener there, and perhaps even blue, too.



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