February 13, 2006 | Graham

Happy Australians vote John Howard

According to the first electorate-based national index of well-being, compiled by Deakin University, Wide-Bay, one of the poorest electorates is also the happiest, whilst one of the richest, Sydney, is the unhappiest.
In quotes from the researchers in The Australian‘s report it is put down to population density, but has anyone else noticed another possible explanation? Here are the nine unhappiest seats to give you a hint:Parramatta (NSW), Perth (Western Australia), Gorton (Victoria), Hasluck (Western Australia), Werriwa (NSW), Reid (NSW), Rankin (Queensland) and Grayndler (NSW). And in case you haven’t noticed the pattern:Wide Bay, Richmond (NSW), Eden-Monaro (NSW), Ryan (Queensland), Higgins, Bendigo (Victoria), Murray (Victoria), Riverina (NSW) and Mayo (South Australia).
Yes, with the exception of Bendigo and Richmond, all nine happiest voted for the Coalition at the last election. And out of the nine unhappiest, none voted Coalition.
I’d be interested to see the whole data-set, but it does suggest that something other than population density is at work here. In fact, in our surveying we consistently find that the optimistic people are more likely to vote for the Coalition, while the pessimists vote Labor or Greens.
The issue that I’m really interested in is whether this is an effect of the policies being implemented by government. If you think the country is heading in the right direction, then you appear to be more likely to vote for the government at the moment, and I imagine you’d probably feel happier. Will that be reflected in the opposite direction when we have a change of federal government? Will Sydney replace Wide Bay as the happiness capital of Australia?
Or is the optimism a reflection of different personality types predisposing individuals to vote for different parties. Coalition voters certainly appear to be more pragmatic and outcomes oriented than Labor and Greens voters, who are more concerned about process and risk. Does pragmatism make you happier? Concern for due process less happy?
There’s a lot to think about here, but I doubt whether the happiness index really has anything to do with urban density at all.

Posted by Graham at 10:47 am | Comments (7) |
Filed under: Australian Politics


  1. Hasluck in WA was won by the Libs in 2004. Was won by Labor in 2001 when it was a newly created electorate. Not sure what this does to your analysis.

    Comment by rossco — February 13, 2006 @ 2:01 pm

  2. You’re quite right, apologies. And it makes me feel a bit better about my analysis. If you get too neat a fit you start to worry you’re thesis is too tidy. The thing I didn’t look at too closely is the degree of marginality. There seem to be a lot of very safe seats there. But then you get another couple that like Paramatta and Richmond that changed hands last election, so maybe my thesis isn’t worth that much.

    Comment by Graham Young — February 13, 2006 @ 2:27 pm

  3. you pretty much set out my thinking on this.
    it can be easy to leap in and lay interpretations on statistics. not having been asked, i don’t know what questions were asked – or how. both can influence the data.
    it may look at first blush as though libs provide the greatest happiness, but it could also be that people who are happy like things to stay the way they are and vote for conservatives. or gravitate to conservative areas.
    others, dissatisfied because they see nothing happening to address things they believe to be wrong, elect people they hope will chnage things for them.
    more on this survey would be very interesting.

    Comment by maelorin — February 13, 2006 @ 9:33 pm

  4. Graham, I recall reading something similar in the US where Republicans were optimistic and democrats pessimistic. My take is that government is way too big and influential if an election can make half the electorate unhappy.
    That being said, there is a major difference in the way people perceive the two parties. Insular vs outward. Nationalist conservatism and the great and powerful friends of foreign policy vs free market republicanism and international liberalism. Even the Greens have a more globalist view than the nationalist Liberals. Environmentalism is inevitably globalist.
    I can see how Nationalist Conservatist policies and government would tick off the Labor and Green voters, making them unhappy. It makes Australian Republicans unhappy too.

    Comment by Cameron Riley — February 14, 2006 @ 12:22 am

  5. I think it’s got a lot to do with biases in the survey itself. The survey consists of only 7 questions: how satisfed are you with your – standard of living, health, relationships, what you are achieving in life, safety, community connection, and future security.
    I think it’s a bit odd that safety and security make up 2/7th of our happiness.
    I think the main bias is that these are things that make old people happy. You’d get very different results if you asked different questions (Eg, how satisfed are you with your contribution to society / your cultural development / your social life?).
    I’ve written a bit about this here: http://greenomics.blogspot.com/2006/02/happiness-and-wellbeing-in-australia.html

    Comment by David Jeffery — February 14, 2006 @ 1:50 pm

  6. It would be worth doing the comparison for when Labor was in government, whether Labor seats were happiest, wouldn’t it?

    Comment by Vee — February 14, 2006 @ 4:00 pm

  7. You can’t do that retrospectively Vee, so you might have to wait a while until the Federal Government changes. An alternative approach to see how it measures up on a voting basis would be to look at the complexion of the state seats making up these areas.

    Comment by Graham Young — February 15, 2006 @ 3:29 pm

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