How Millennials are reshaping the NSW election

We’ve curated a selection of key stories as NSW voters head to the polls on March 25 in the closest election since the Coalition swept Labor from power in 2011. See all 17 stories.

Millennials have emerged as an electoral force in Sydney, where they now make up the biggest share of the voting age population in 35 of the city’s 57 state seats.

The growing political clout of Millennials, also called Generation Y, comes as stark generational and age differences arise across NSW electorates.

Millennials, born between 1981 and 1996, are now the biggest voter group in a band of seats that rings Sydney Harbour and stretches into west and southwestern Sydney, analysis of customised census data shows.

In the marginal seat of Parramatta, the Millennial share of the voting population has reached 48.5 per cent, the highest in the state. Every electorate in western Sydney, a key electoral battleground, has an average age below the statewide average of 39.7 years. Among the youngest 20 seats in the state, 17 are in western Sydney.

When the Coalition swept to power in 2011, Millennials accounted for just 17.9 per cent of the NSW voting age population, but that share has now reached 28 per cent. Members of Generation Z (born 1997-2010), who were not old enough to cast a ballot in 2011, now make up 8.1 per cent of the voting age population.

In 2011, Baby Boomers (born 1945-1964) and the so-called Silent Generation (born before 1946) together accounted for 53 per cent of the voting age population, but that has now dwindled to 38.8 per cent.

The widening age differences between some state electorates are set to create political and policy pressures as parties attempt to cater to constituencies with very different demographic profiles. In older seats, health and aged care services are likely to be a very high priority for voters, while in younger seats many voters are likely to prioritise different issues including housing affordability, childcare, education and public transport.

Millennial Dan Watts, 33, recently started his own tech business, but said the greatest election issue for him and his peers is housing affordability.

“The average Millennial is right at home-buying age, and they’ve spent basically their entire life watching property prices soar, so you can understand the anxiety,” he said.

“They’re also becoming an increasingly larger slice of the voting block, so it’s no wonder that the Libs have proposed to scrap stamp duty taxes in order to try and win some votes.”

Watts also said he believes Premier Dominic Perrottet has recently worked to bring more progressive policies to the table, but says the effort won’t be enough to secure the Millennial vote.

Millennial Dan Watts says housing affordability is the greatest election issue for him and his peers.

James Brickwood

“Too little too late from where I’m standing,” he said.

Renters are a growing percentage of NSW voters, with the share of tenants climbing from 31.3 per cent of households in 2011 to 33.8 per cent in 2021.

There is a strong correlation between electorates with a high concentration of Millennial voters and a high share of renters. The inner-city electorate of Sydney, held by independent Alex Greenwich, has the state’s highest share of renters (65 per cent of households) and the third-highest share of Millennial voters (46.2 per cent). The marginal Liberal-held seat of Parramatta has the second-highest share of renters (61 per cent of households) and the highest share of Millennial voters.

University of Technology, Sydney law student Boris Tam, 26, believes neither party has done enough to convince Millennial voters, who are eager to see more being done about the cost of living and environmental concerns.

Student Boris Tam outside UTS in Sydney. He says neither major party is doing enough to attract Millennial voters.

Dominic Lorrimer

“I definitely think Labor just feels pretty confident that [it] will win, and I don’t feel they are pushing very hard to get the votes of my peers,” he said. “Their policies are very insubstantial; a lot of promises but not much mechanism.”

A Resolve Political Monitor survey conducted last month for this masthead showed one in three of those aged 18-34 will reject the two major parties at this month’s election, compared with one in four voters over-55s.

There was a stark generational difference in support for the NSW Greens, with 17 per cent of 18-34 year-olds saying they would vote for the party compared with only 3 per cent of those aged over 55 years.

NSW Labor had a primary vote of 39 per cent among voters aged 18-34 compared to the Coalition’s 28 per cent.

Resolve director Jim Reed said there was evidence younger voters were shifting the “centre ground” where elections were won.

“Put simply, the younger you are, the more likely you are to vote to the left-of-centre, so we find both a high Labor vote and increasingly a high Greens and progressive minor party vote there as they become less loyal to the major parties,” he said. “This is about aligned values and transactional policy, so it’s a less tribal politics.

“With younger voting groups growing in proportion to their older counterparts in many urban electorates, this makes hanging on to those seats all the more difficult for the Liberals. This is not a sudden teal wave, but a gradual rise in the tidal power of younger voters.

“Long term, it’s the age split that will be more of a concern for the Coalition than any gender difference. That’s harder to fix because younger people are no longer becoming more conservative as they grow into adulthood.”

In the seat of Heffron in Sydney’s south-east, Millennials and Gen Z together make up over 60 per cent of the voting age population. It is one of four NSW electorates where Millennials and Generation Z are a majority of the voting age population, all of them in Sydney.

At the other end of the age spectrum is the South Coast seat of Bega where Millennials and Gen Z account for less than 20 per cent of the voting age population. In that electorate, Baby Boomers (born 1946-1965) dominate with 44.2 per cent of voters, the highest share in NSW.

The used customised census data compiled by the Bureau of Statistics to estimate voting age populations in each state electorate. Census data on voting age includes a relatively small number of people who are not eligible, or not registered to vote.

There are also stark differences in average ages between many city and country electorates. In Bega, the state’s oldest electorate, the average age has reached 47.9 years, census data shows. That’s more than 15 years older than the north-western Sydney seat of Riverstone, the state’s youngest electorate with an average age 32.5 years.

There are seven electorates with an average age over 45 years, all of them in regional areas, and seven electorates with an average age under 35 years, all of them in western Sydney.

Census data on the prevalence of chronic health problems underscores the differing demand for health services across electorates.

In four of the state’s oldest electorates – Myall Lakes, Port Macquarie, Port Stephens and South Coast – more than 45 per cent of the population had a long-term health condition in 2021.

However, in the state’s six youngest seats – most of them in western Sydney – the population share with a long-term health condition was under 25 per cent.

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