Who is winning the war of words on WeChat in the NSW election?
Dr Yang said while NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet had a historically larger WeChat footprint, with mentions in 103 articles to Mr Minns’ 43, he had not appeared to have paid for advertising during the election campaign.
Mr Perrottet, whose seat of Epping has the second-highest number of people with Chinese ancestry in the state (31,758), according to ABS data, has not adopted a Mandarin name and is referred to in English on the platform.
He appears in more right-leaning WeChat accounts, like Australian Financial News, which gained notoriety during last year’s federal election after demonstrating strong support for former treasurer Josh Frydenberg.
The NSW electorate with the highest number of people with Chinese ancestry is Ryde (33,361), held by outgoing cabinet minister Victor Dominello on a margin of 8.9 per cent.
ABC election analyst Antony Green believes that, based on federal election results, Ryde will be closely contested between the new Liberal candidate, Jordan Lane, and Labor’s Lyndal Howison. Other key battleground seats with large Chinese populations include Willoughby (22,229), Parramatta (21,033), Oatley (18,568) and Drummoyne (14,437).
Dr Yang’s research was completed with Dr Luke Heemsbergen, also from Deakin University, and Dr Robbie Fordyce from Monash University, who said the volume of political advertising on WeChat could be linked back to how secure the major parties felt in their public support.
“Frydenberg was in a very risky position during the federal election, which led to him being one of the most aggressive advertisers at the time,” Dr Fordyce told the Financial Review.
“Minns now sees the election within striking distance, and he’s putting in not just dollars, but also some culturally aware political strategy that may well work for him given the current political climate.
“What we are seeing now is a higher spend on culturally aware campaign strategies. The NSW election is seeing more planning and tactical work for WeChat campaigns, and shows an increase in strategic thinking over the bulk fire-and-forget advertising of last year’s federal election.”
Electorates with large numbers of voters of Chinese heritage turned against the Coalition at last year’s federal election, in a sign the Liberal Party’s hawkish anti-China rhetoric cost it dearly at the ballot box.
Headache for Libs
Nine of the 10 electorates with the largest Mandarin-speaking populations recorded swings against the Liberal Party that were above the statewide average.
The Liberals suffered an 8.7 per cent decline in their primary vote in the Victorian seat of Chisholm, which has more Mandarin-speakers than any other electorate in Australia, even worse than the party’s statewide negative swing of 5.6 per cent.
This could prove a major headache for the NSW Liberals, given they hold six out of 10 of the electorates with the highest proportion of Chinese ancestry.
Mary Doyle, who is Labor’s candidate for the byelection in the east Melbourne seat of Aston, where roughly 15 per cent of voters has Chinese ancestry, hopes to tap into this trend.
“The former government ramped up anti-China rhetoric which cut off opportunities for local business, hampered our economy and divided rather than brought people together,” she said.
“I want to be part of the Albanese Labor government, which has restored Australia’s reputation on the world stage, particularly with key trading partners like China, opening up opportunities for local businesses.”
Her opponent, Liberal candidate Roshena Campbell, will soon communicate with voters through WeChat. She visited the Knox Chinese Elderly Club along with federal Opposition Leader Peter Dutton on March 2, and attended a morning tea with Chinese community leaders on Friday with Keith Wolahan, Dan Tehan and Jane Hume.
“My parents came to Australia in the 1970s. They worked hard to build a small business, raise a family, and contribute to their community,” Ms Campbell said.
“That migrant story is one shared by thousands of families across Aston. I want families and small businesses across Aston to be able to get ahead and be rewarded for their effort and community spirit. If elected, I will be a strong voice for them.”