Introduction

On May 21, 2022, voters in Australia will elect the country’s forty-seventh parliament. The incumbent Liberal-National Coalition (hereafter, Coalition) government, led by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, is hoping to win a fourth consecutive term. Recent opinion polls, however, indicate that the country’s principal opposition force, the Australian Labor Party (ALP), is on track to oust the Coalition from power after nearly a decade in office.

One increasingly important demographic group appears to be leaning significantly toward the ALP: Australians of Indian origin. This is the headline finding of a new survey conducted by researchers from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies in partnership with the research firm YouGov.

Caroline Duckworth
Caroline Duckworth is a James C. Gaither Junior Fellow in the Carnegie South Asia Program.
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The Indian-origin population in Australia has historically garnered little attention because its numbers have been too small. However, this population has surged in recent years. Consider three trends.

First, between 2010 and 2020, the number of Indian-born residents of Australia more than doubled from approximately 330,000 to 721,000, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. This dramatic increase means that Indians now are the second-largest immigrant community in Australia, overtaking the Chinese diaspora and trailing only the British diaspora. Indian-born Australians now account for nearly 3 percent of the total Australian population.

 

Devesh Kapur
Devesh Kapur is the Starr Foundation Professor of South Asian Studies at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.

Second, government data also show that 292,000 people born in India migrated to Australia between January 2000 and August 2016, demonstrating that a significant share of the Indian-origin population has migrated to Australia in the last two decades. In recent years, this rate of migration has remained buoyant. According to migration data compiled by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Indians accounted for nearly one-fifth of all new immigrant arrivals to Australia between 2016 and 2019—making them the fastest-growing immigrant group in the country.

 

Milan Vaishnav
Vaishnav’s primary research focus is the political economy of India, and he examines issues such as corruption and governance, state capacity, distributive politics, and electoral behavior.
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Third, the cultural influence of the Indian diaspora is also growing. According to Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the influx of migrants has meant that Hinduism is now the country’s “fastest-growing religion,” and Punjabi has become the “fastest-growing language.” India is also Australia’s second-largest source of international students, accounting for 16.3 percent of international enrollment in 2022.

These data help explain why the Indian diaspora has become the target of considerable electioneering by political parties of all stripes. Morrison, for example, garnered attention for posting an Instagram selfie of himself cooking Indian curries to commemorate the recent signing of an Australia-India trade pact. ALP leader Anthony Albanese, too, has redoubled his party’s efforts to woo the growing community, visiting Hindu temples and showering praise on the community’s contributions to Australian society.

New survey data shed light on three elements of the Indo-Australian community’s political behavior ahead of this pivotal election: the community’s political preferences, leadership preferences, and policy priorities.1

Survey Overview

The data for this study are sourced from the Survey of Indo-Australian Attitudes, an original online survey of 800 Indian-origin residents of Australia. The polling firm YouGov conducted the survey between April 4 and April 21, 2022. To analyze voter behavior, this analysis restricts the pool to a smaller sample of 617 Indo-Australians who are registered to vote in the upcoming general election. Based on this subsample, the survey has an overall margin of error of +/- 3.9 percent, calculated at the 95 percent confidence interval.2

YouGov recruited respondents from its proprietary panel of approximately 340,000 Australian adults.3 For the survey, only adult respondents (ages eighteen and above) who identified as Indo-Australian or a person of (Asian) Indian origin residing in Australia were able to participate in the survey. YouGov employed a sophisticated sample matching procedure to ensure that the respondent pool is representative of the Indo-Australian community in Australia, using data from the 2016 census as a target sample frame. All the analysis in this study employs sampling weights to ensure representativeness. Table 1 provides a demographic profile of the survey sample in comparison to the Indo-Australian population, as captured by the 2016 Australian Census.4 As the table demonstrates, the survey sample tracks the overall demographics of the diaspora population very well, with one exception. The survey sample has a larger share of respondents not born in India relative to the population as a whole (51 versus 36 percent). Because the census data is more than five years old now, it is impossible to know how significantly the composition of the population has shifted in the intervening years. However, it is likely that the sample population includes an overrepresentation of those born in Australia or other countries besides India.

The survey contained more than 150 questions organized across six modules: basic demographics; immigration, citizenship, and family background; election campaigns and voting; Australian politics and foreign policy; cultural and social behavior; and Indian politics. Respondents were allowed to skip questions except in the case of important demographic questions that determined the nature of other survey items.

Political Preferences

Party Identification

The survey finds that a clear plurality—43 percent—of Indo-Australians identified with the ALP (see figure 1).5 The Coalition lagged significantly behind its main rival: only 26 percent of respondents identified with the current ruling bloc. In addition, 15 percent of respondents identified with the left-wing Greens, while 5 percent selected the right-wing One Nation Party and the same share reported identifying with no political party. A mere 2 percent of respondents identified with a smaller third party, and 4 percent did not express any opinion.

In practice, two parties—the ALP and the Coalition—dominate national politics in Australia. In the 2019 general election, the two parties won all but six seats in the 151-seat House of Representatives.

A few things about Australia’s voting system are worth noting. Pollsters in Australia often ask respondents about what is called the two-party-preferred (TPP) vote. Australia uses ranked-choice (or preferential) voting in parliamentary elections, whereby voters rank the candidates in order of preference. In this system, if a candidate secures at least 50 percent of the vote, that person is declared the victor. However, if no candidate secures a clear majority, the candidate with the fewest votes is excluded from the count and their votes are transferred to other candidates, according to voters’ second preferences (as indicated on their ballots). This process is repeated until a candidate earns at least 50 percent of the vote. The TPP vote assumes that after votes are distributed from less successful candidates, the two remaining candidates will tend to come from the two major parties. This is something of a simplification, though it often holds true in Australia.

To gauge respondents’ affinity toward the two major parties, the survey asked respondents who did not report identifying with either major party whether—if forced to choose—they feel closer to either the ALP or the Coalition. Figure 2 demonstrates a strong preference for the ALP: 58 percent of respondents reported feeling closer to the ALP, while only 34 percent preferred the Coalition. Beyond that, 8 percent of respondents reported being close to neither party.

Political Ideology

Survey respondents were asked to place themselves on a standard, seven-point ideological scale derived from the American National Election Studies (ANES) survey methodology—ranging from extremely liberal to extremely conservative.

Because respondents often demonstrate a bias toward selecting the centrist position (identifying themselves as moderate), respondents who selected this option (or who said they have not thought much about this issue) were asked whether, if forced to choose, they would consider themselves to be liberal or conservative. For the purposes of this study, responses from these two questions were combined to array respondents on a single ideological spectrum.

The survey shows that Indo-Australians exhibit a leftward tilt on a standard liberal-conservative ideological spectrum (see figure 3). A total of 58 percent of respondents reported belonging to the liberal end of the political spectrum, whereas 20 percent identified as moderate and 23 percent placed themselves on the conservative end of the scale.

How do the ideological views of Indo-Australians compare to those of the Indian diaspora in other large, English-speaking, Western democracies? Figure 4 draws on comparative survey evidence the authors have collected in three additional countries: Canada, the United Kingdom (UK), and the United States. Indian-origin respondents in Canada are by far the most left-leaning: 73 percent identify with the liberal end of the spectrum while only 15 percent consider themselves conservative.

Australia has the second-highest proportion of liberal identifiers (58 percent) and roughly the same share of conservative identifiers as the United States (22 versus 24 percent). Notably, the Indian diaspora in the UK—which leans left overall—is (relatively speaking) the most conservative group in the four countries, with 43 percent identifying as liberal and 29 percent identifying as conservative.

Parliamentary Vote Choice

In line with their self-reported partisan identities, four out of ten Indo-Australians plan to vote for the ALP in the May 2022 general election (see figure 5). One-quarter of respondents intend to vote for the Coalition, 15 percent for the Greens, and 7 percent for the One Nation Party. In addition, 3 percent plan to vote for an independent candidate, and 2 percent plan to support a smaller third party. Importantly, one in ten registered voters were still undecided in April 2022 when the survey was conducted.

It is worth recalling that a significant proportion of survey respondents (183 out of 800, or roughly 23 percent of the sample) are not registered to vote in Australia, primarily because they are not Australian citizens. Do the political views of this group significantly differ from those of registered voters? The survey indicates that the differences are minimal. Considering the full sample of respondents, including those not eligible to vote, the shares of respondents supporting the major parties are virtually unchanged. The one minor difference is that there is a larger percentage of respondents in the overall sample (14 percent) who are undecided compared to 10 percent in the smaller sample of registered voters.

How do the preferences of Indo-Australians compare to those of Australians at large? Table 2 compares the survey data to data from a public opinion survey of roughly 3,500 Australians aged eighteen and older conducted by Australian National University between April 11 and 26, 2022. Indo-Australians tilt more toward the ALP than the Australian population as a whole does: 40 percent of registered Indo-Australian voters intend to vote for the ALP compared to 34 percent of the general population. In addition, a smaller share of Indo-Australians supports the Coalition, while a roughly identical share plans to vote for a third party. The sample of Indo-Australians, in turn, has a slightly larger share of undecided voters (10 percent compared to 6 percent in the overall population).

Demographics of Parliamentary Vote Choice

Of course, the Indian diaspora in Australia is not a monolith. It is a diverse community that encompasses individuals with different religious beliefs, varied regional origins in India, and different educational backgrounds. It is also a new diaspora with a sizeable share of first-generation immigrants (those born outside of Australia).

Table 3 disaggregates respondents’ voting intentions by several demographic categories: age, education, gender, religion, place of birth, partisan affiliation, date of arrival in Australia, duration of time living in the country, and gross household income. A few key highlights emerge from this demographic breakdown.

First, in many democratic countries, younger voters are more inclined to vote for liberal or left-of-center political parties. As the figures on age indicate, there is no clear correlation between age and voting intentions among the Indian diaspora in Australia. A total of 39 percent of young voters (between the ages of eighteen and twenty-nine) intend to vote for the ALP, but a nearly identical share of respondents between the ages of thirty and forty-nine (38 percent) are similarly inclined. Further, more than four in ten respondents (44 percent) in the oldest age category, those aged fifty or over, intend to vote for the ALP in the general election.

Second, there is remarkably little difference in voting intentions based on religious identity. This is not the case in other large, English-speaking democracies with sizeable diaspora populations. For instance, in the UK, Hindu voters have migrated away from the Labour Party and are voting for the Conservative Party in greater numbers, while Sikh and Muslim voters remain reliable backers of Labour. In Australia, there is little evidence of political polarization across religious groups.

Third, evidence from related studies in Canada, the UK, and the United States has found that newer immigrants and those born in a foreign country (typically India, but occasionally other countries) tend to vote for conservative parties in greater numbers. Australia also appears to buck the trend on this score. It is true that respondents born in India demonstrate the greatest propensity to vote for the right-of-center Coalition (28 percent), but this figure is only slightly higher than the corresponding share of Australia-born respondents (23 percent). Furthermore, native-born respondents do not necessarily lean only toward the ALP, as they appear to split their vote between the ALP and third parties (36 percent apiece). Notably, newer arrivals are not more likely to be Coalition supporters; they are, in fact, nearly twice as likely to support Labor (45 to 23 percent).

Historical Trends

How does the voting behavior of Indo-Australians in 2022 compare to past patterns? There is no systematic data on this community from previous surveys, at least with sufficient sample sizes. But the April 2022 survey asked respondents how they voted in the 2019 general election. The analysis sample was then restricted to only those respondents who reported voting in 2019 and who are registered to vote in 2022 (495 respondents). Analysis of this subsample shows significant continuity between the two elections (see figure 6).

In 2019, 42 percent of Indo-Australian respondents voted for the ALP, 32 percent voted for the Coalition, 23 percent favored a third party, and 3 percent did not recall how they voted. The numbers for 2022 are very similar for the ALP, but the relative share backing the Coalition has declined. A larger share of respondents intends to vote for a third party or had not yet decided who to vote for at the time of the survey.

Assessment of Leadership

Prime Ministerial Preferences

In parliamentary systems, the prime minister is selected by the political party or coalition of parties that manage to form the government. Voters do not have a direct say in selecting the prime minister, although parties regularly project their prime ministerial front-runners visibly before campaigning starts so that voters can factor that into their decisionmaking.

When asked who they would like to see emerge as Australia’s next prime minister, 36 percent of respondents backed the incumbent, Morrison (see figure 7). This is a notable finding because it is at odds with the partisan preferences of Indo-Australians noted above.

Respondents demonstrated a clear preference for the ALP, but Labor’s prime ministerial candidate—Albanese (the current opposition leader)—lags ten percentage points behind Morrison (26 percent). A further 8 percent of respondents supported leader Adam Bandt of the Greens, 7 percent would like to see the One Nation Party’s leader Pauline Hanson as prime minister, and 5 percent backed Barnaby Joyce—the leader of the National Party and deputy prime minister. Just 1 percent of respondents expressed a preference for another candidate, but almost two in ten (18 percent) remained undecided.

A second notable aspect of respondents’ leadership assessments is the intensity of their preferences. After respondents declared their preferred prime ministerial candidate, the survey asked whether their preference for this candidate is strong or not. Across the board, respondents felt strongly about their prime ministerial choices. Among those that have decided, there is little ambiguity. For each of the five candidates the survey asks about, at least 70 percent of respondents reported that they have a “strong” preference for their favored candidate.

Approval of the Prime Minister

In keeping with Morrison’s position as Indo-Australians’ preferred candidate to lead the country, a large majority of survey participants approved of his performance as prime minister to date (see figure 8). A total of 67 percent of respondents approved of his job performance, while 32 percent disapproved. Once again, the intensity of these preferences is noteworthy: 49 percent strongly approved of how he has handled the job. In contrast, 21 percent disapproved strongly of Morrison’s job performance.

Feeling Thermometer

One of the traditional methods of measuring how individuals assess political figures is through what is termed a feeling thermometer—a method popularized by the ANES project. Respondents are asked to rate political parties or individual leaders on a scale from 0 to 100. Ratings between 0 and 49 mean that respondents do not feel favorable toward the person or do not care for the person or entity. A rating of 50 means that respondents are indifferent toward the candidate or party, and ratings between 51 and 100 mean that respondents feel favorable and warm toward them.

Using this methodology, figure 9 reveals that the ALP emerged with a marginally higher rating on the 100-point scale (64) than the Coalition (58). Albanese and Morrison shared similar ratings: respondents gave Albanese a 60 and Morrison a 58. Notably, Bandt also received a rating of 60, far above what either Hanson (39) or Joyce (45) received.

It is worth noting that large numbers of respondents did not feel sufficiently familiar with the parties and candidates to give them such detailed ratings. As the sample sizes in the figure suggest (noted below the individual names on the horizontal axis), between one-half and two-thirds of eligible voters in the sample declared that they were not too familiar with the respective names on the feeling thermometer survey question. This, in part, could explain the discrepancy between Albanese’s and Morrison’s thermometer ratings as compared to their performance on the question of prime ministerial preference. It is also possible that respondents might feel favorably toward Albanese but do not necessarily judge him to be prime ministerial material.

Supporters of the ALP and the Coalition do have often wildly varying assessments of major party organizations and leaders. As figure 10 demonstrates, views are highly polarized based on respondents’ partisan identification. For instance, Coalition supporters granted the ruling alliance a 75 rating versus a 55 mark for the ALP. ALP supporters, on the other hand, gave their own party an 81 and the Coalition a 57. Views on most party leaders are similarly polarized.

However, the degree of polarization in Australia is considerably lower than it is in Canada, the UK, or the United States. In Australia, respondents reliably give leaders and parties they do not prefer ratings above fifty; this means that, while they might not prefer them, they still place them on the warm end of the spectrum. Hanson and Joyce are the exceptions here: both ALP and Coalition supporters gave Hanson ratings below 50, and ALP supporters gave Joyce a 46 rating compared to the 56 rating offered by Coalition supporters. The higher rating for Joyce among Coalition supporters accords with intuition, given that Joyce is leader of the National Party, one of the major parties belonging to the ruling coalition.

Explaining Partisan Preferences

Policy Priorities

The survey asked respondents to rank the top three most important issues that will influence their voting choice in the coming general election. The results indicate that Indians in Australia are motivated by a diversity of issues without any single matter dominating their outlook. Among the issues that respondents rated as their primary concern, three emerge at the top (chosen by 13 percent of respondents each): healthcare, the environment and climate change, and the economy (see figure 11). In addition, 9 percent of Indo-Australians selected housing as their top issue, while another 8 percent reported that they are primarily concerned with taxes. While healthcare and the economy are considered top-tier issues in the other surveyed countries, the environment and climate appear as a high-priority concern in Australia, Canada, and the UK—but not the United States.

Climate change emerges as a top issue in another way as well. Respondents who do not identify with the Coalition were asked why they do not do so, selecting from a list of preselected options (see figure 12). The modal response, given by 24 percent of non-Coalition supporters, was that the Coalition is not sufficiently committed to mitigating climate change. Another 21 percent reported that the Coalition wants to cut public services, and 20 percent believed that the Coalition is intolerant of minorities and Indigenous people. Another 14 percent reported that the Coalition is corrupt, and 10 percent said the Coalition is not good for India. Meanwhile, 11 percent reported that none of these motivations applies to them.

Conversely, 21 percent of respondents who do not support the ALP highlighted that they believe the ALP wants to increase taxes (see figure 13). Aside from that, 20 percent and 19 percent, respectively, said they believe the ALP is too influenced by socialism and overregulates the market. A further 13 percent of respondents said the ALP is corrupt, and 12 percent said it is not good for India. A total of 16 percent had other (unspecified) reasons for not supporting the ALP.

Role of Australia-India Relations

In keeping with the survey findings from other countries, the above figures suggest that members of the Indian diaspora in Australia do not place relations with India atop their list of election-related issues. That is not to say they view this issue as unimportant, but Australia-India ties seem to be only one motivating factor among many others.

Indeed, three-quarters of respondents reported that a party’s position on India is either somewhat or very important for deciding who they will support in the general election. Interestingly, while 75 percent of respondents approved of Morrison’s handling of Australia-India relations, most respondents do not plan to vote for the Coalition.

Although respondents believe that Morrison has handled India policy well, it turns out that respondents believe the ALP would do slightly better if not just as well (see figure 14). When asked which party does a better job of managing Australia-India relations, 36 percent of respondents chose the ALP and 34 percent selected the Coalition. Meanwhile, 20 percent reported that they believe there is no difference between the two, and one in ten did not have an opinion.

Conclusion

Survey evidence shows that Indo-Australians have a clear preference for the opposition force (the ALP) in the forthcoming general election. More Australians of Indian origin identified with the ALP and demonstrated left-of-center ideological proclivities, and more of them intend to vote for the party on Election Day. While this may bring cheer to ALP supporters, the data appear to give three reasons for caution.

First, the Indian diaspora broadly supports Morrison and thinks he has performed well as prime minister. They gave him a strong overall rating and appear to think he has handled relations with India ably. A plurality of respondents would like to see him return as prime minister.

Second, respondents reported that the ALP is roughly on par with the Coalition when it comes to representing the Indo-Australian community. The survey asked respondents to rate, on a scale of 0 to 10, how well the two major parties represent the interests of the Indo-Australian community and how well they perform in terms of nominating diaspora members as candidates. The data show that respondents gave the ALP a small advantage over the Coalition on these two scores—but not a statistically significant one.

In addition, perhaps because the Indo-Australian diaspora is relatively young, the survey uncovered further evidence indicating that no party is seen as unambiguously closer to the diaspora as a whole. The survey asked respondents whether they perceive the ALP or the Coalition to be closer, roughly the same, or not particularly close to a list of seven ethnic and racial groups: Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Asians, Whites, Blacks, and First Nations. As table 4 suggests, no party is perceived to be markedly closer to the Indian community. Roughly equal numbers of respondents reported that the ALP (27 percent) and the Coalition (25 percent) are closer to Indians, while 35 percent felt they are the same.

Somewhat interestingly and in contrast to politics elsewhere, survey evidence from Australia suggests very little partisan polarization on identity grounds across the board. Across all groups, the degree of perceived partisan proximity was muted. For five of seven identity categories, the modal response was that both parties are equally close to those groups.

The net result of the survey evidence analyzed here is that, while the ALP holds a distinct advantage over its Coalition rival among Australians of Indian origin, they should not take this support for granted.

Correction: Some numbers in the original version of table 3 were labeled incorrectly. The table has been updated.

Acknowledgement

The authors are grateful to Ashley Grosse, Alexander Marsolais, and their colleagues at YouGov for their help with the design and execution of the survey. Natalie Brase, Ryan DeVries, and Amy Mellon provided excellent editorial and production assistance. Any errors found in this study are entirely the authors'.

Notes

1 This study is part of a larger project to collect and analyze survey data on the political preferences, social realities, and foreign policy attitudes of the Indian diaspora in four large, English-speaking countries—Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom (UK), and the United States. It builds on a series of empirical examinations of the Indian diaspora in the latter three countries published in 2020 and 2021.

2 The margin of error for the overall sample of 800 Indo-Australians is +/- 3.5 percent.

3 This information was provided to the authors by their research partners at YouGov.

4 Australian Department of Home Affairs Bureau of Statistics, “India-Born Community Information Summary,” Australian Department of Home Affairs Bureau of Statistics, 2018, https://www.homeaffairs.gov.au/mca/files/2016-cis-india.PDF. Additional data provided on request to the authors by the Australian Bureau of Statistics

5 Unless otherwise noted, the data in the figures and tables are from the survey conducted by the authors.