How our nation is divided: it's the rich and the rest

IT’S the difference between being stuck or being able to escape when society and politicians have let you down.

High-income earners are half as likely as low-income earners to think that the world is changing too often and too fast, and low-income earners are twice as likely to feel let down by society, according to new research from the Political Persona Project.

The haves and have-nots

One of the most comprehensive attempts to profile different types of Australians based on their lifestyles, social values and politics, the Fairfax Media-ANU survey of 2600 Australians reveals a nation divided into "haves" and "have-nots", divided by income, education and age.

Just 26 per cent of people on incomes of $91,000 or more said things were "changing too often and too fast", compared to 49 per cent of people earning between $15,600 and $52,000, according to the survey.

Low-income earners were twice as likely to say they felt let down by society, with 36 per cent feeling this way compared to 17 per cent of those on high incomes.

"Richer people are able to adapt because they have the means to do so," said Ariadne Vromen, Professor of Political Sociology at the University of Sydney.

"They've got disposable income, they can buy new technology when they need to, they can even buy more education and training when they need. And they're the people who are behind a lot of social and economic change as the leaders of society, as well."

"I wouldn't want to be anywhere else, I'd just like to be a bit better off." - Darryl Coventry, Lavington.

It comes down to a sense of feeling in control, with those who have more economic security enjoying greater control of their futures, Professor Vromen said.

The same dynamic plays out across differences in age and education, with young people and those without university educations more likely to feel let down by society and pessimistic about the future. For example, 52 per cent of Australians whose highest level of education was high school said the world was "changing too fast and too often", compared with 27 per cent of university-educated Australians.

Professor Vromen said pessimism among young people both in Australia and globally was rising.

"Younger people usually tend to be more optimistic … [But] in some ways the sentiments in this survey are a realistic reaction to growing inequality, housing unaffordability, job insecurity and so on," she said.

The statement "Politicians ignore people in rural and regional areas" elicited one of the largest differences in opinion between cities and regional Australia, with 76 per cent of regional Australians agreeing or strongly agreeing compared to 57 per cent of people in capital regions.

DIVIDE: Darryl Coventry, who lives in regional NSW, thinks people in Sydney and Melbourne do not realise the wealth disparity in regional Australia, and that politicians are just as city-centric. Photo: Mark Jesser

DIVIDE: Darryl Coventry, who lives in regional NSW, thinks people in Sydney and Melbourne do not realise the wealth disparity in regional Australia, and that politicians are just as city-centric. Photo: Mark Jesser

Darryl Coventry, 49, who lives in Albury's working class suburb of Lavington, thinks people in Sydney and Melbourne do not realise the wealth disparity existing in regional Australia, and that politicians are just as city-centric.

A former policeman, who spent much of his career in rural Queensland, Coventry now delivers parcels and gets a pension but is struggling to find consistent work, having moved to be closer to his two young children who live with their mother.

"I wouldn't want to be anywhere else, I'd just like to be a bit better off," he said. "But people don't know that once you go out of the big cities to Lavington there's not a lot of people at work, there's a lot of arguments, and even street violence."

"I'm getting sick of the elitism that is everywhere," he said.   "I think Australia needs to work out what it's good at and start learning how to make it, because there's so much talent here," he said.

"People outside the cities are much further away from the centre of power, from the decision-makers. It's probably not a surprise that people in region and rural areas feel left behind or not understood," Professor Vromen said.

However, she pointed out that the difference in attitudes between the capital cities and regions was far less stark than the divisions by income, age and education.

Lavington’s state electorate of Albury is a safe Liberal seat, having been held by Greg Aplin for more than 10 years.

But Albury mayor Kevin Mack, also a former policeman, has flirted with the idea of running as an independent against Mr Aplin in the hope of emulating Cathy McGowan’s successive federal election wins in the neighbouring Victorian seat of Indi.

A swinging voter all of his life, Darryl decided to ditch the two major parties for the first time last federal election.

"I'm getting sick of the elitism that is everywhere,” he said.

"The one that really irks me is the changes to the pensions and defence pensions and the lack of help that people are getting. But I'm not that much into radical change. It's about raising the balance.”

But it is his children who keep him going, and he hopes when they grow up it will be a different Australia, citing uncertain job prospects for the young people of today.

"I think Australia needs to work out what it's good at and start learning how to make it, because there's so much talent here," he said.

"When everyone's gone global instead of worrying about our own backyard, of course someone's going to buy overseas products if they’re cheaper.

"Australia's got to be what it used to be, what it once was."

How the Political Persona Project works

Take the Political Personas test 

Meet Australia’s seven political tribes

Progressive Cosmopolitans are city dwellers. Lavish Mod-cons like to splash the cash. And Anti-Establishment Firebrands? Well they're definitely the most likely to vote for Donald Trump if they had the chance.

Welcome to the Political Persona Project, a comprehensive attempt to examine Australian political attitudes, lifestyles and social values.

It's a joint project between Fairfax Media, the Australian National University's Social Research Centre and digital information analysts Kieskompas.

We surveyed 2600 Australians from all walks of life, from rich to poor, city and country, young to old. And then, through rigorous data analysis, we searched for clusters of like-minded people who gathered around particular issues.Our interactive tool allows readers to compare themselves to the seven distinctive political tribes we have identified.

They are: Progressive Cosmopolitans, Activist Egalitarians, Ambitious Savers, Lavish Mod-Cons, Prudent Traditionalists, Disillusioned Pessimists, and Anti-establishment Firebrands.

It's important to note that very few people will be an exact match for one tribe. There aren't only seven types of Australians! But by representing it this way, and showing you how much you agree with the different clusters, you should get a sense of where you fit in the wider population.

What you find when you visit the Political Persona Project are the results of our research so far.

We hope that as readers engage with our interactive tool we will get an even richer picture of the Australian political landscape. And we hope you will get a better sense of where you sit in the fast-changing political landscape.

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