Writing Electorate Profiles


These notes are for people writing profiles of any of the electorates that make up the House of Representatives.

Covering electorates is a nice way to report on elections because it allows us to explore local stories about local people and issues, which together tell us a great deal about politics on a national level.

Electorates are also known as…

Electorates are also known as electoral divisions and as seats, and occasionally, as constituencies. They are the geographical areas that members of the House of Representatives represent. Electorates range in size and population. The smallest ones cover just a few suburbs, while the largest cover vast areas.

The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) is a useful starting point to understand how the country is divided into electorates and where the electorate you are covering is located. You’ll also find loads of other useful information, including details about the seats’ history and former members and how people voted at previous elections.

How seats are classified

The AEC classifies federal seats in several different ways. They are described as either:

  • Inner Metropolitan
  • Outer metropolitan
  • provincial or
  • rural

Seats are also described as either:

  • safe
  • fairly safe or
  • marginal,

This classification depends on the winning margin of the incumbent.  Seats can move from fairly safe to marginal, or visa versa, based on election results or redistributions.


Redistributions are a regular feature of the Australian electoral process. To ensure our electorates remain fairly representative of the Australian population and that people’s votes are relatively equal, the Australian Electoral Commission undertakes reviews of electoral boundaries and makes recommendations for changes before elections. So make sure you are aware of the latest boundaries and that the seat you are describing is the seat you think it is. It’s best to check the AEC website, which gives useful details about previous election results and maps. But make sure you cross-reference that historic data with the current boundary (and name) of the seat today. Some seats have changed names. Several have changed boundaries. But not all of those have done both.

It is important to acknowledge redistributions wherever they have occurred because they mean that some of the widely held assumptions about the seat might be wrong. Have a think about the consequences of the redistribution on voting patterns. Will there be more conservative Coalition voters in the seat now? Will there be more recent arrivals or mortgagees or sea-changers or retirees in the seat this time? If so, what effect might they have on the electorate? Is the seat likely to be more or less marginal as a result of the changes?

State and federal seat boundaries

It’s common to find several state electorates within, or intersecting, the boundaries of federal electorates. The exception to this rule is Tasmania where there’s a form of proportional representation and multi-member voting for the state parliament, meaning the boundaries of the state and federal seats are identical.

Be sure you have the right electorate. Don’t be confused by state electorates, which are generally smaller and usually have different names, although there are several state and federal seats with the same name.

Ideas for stories

You could write a piece that gives readers a really good understanding of:

  • The things that matter to the people of the electorate…and
  • Why the electorate matters in the federal election.


The things that matter to the people of the electorate

There’s a saying that all politics is local. Candidates standing for office soon discover that local issues – even those not dealt with by the federal government – can dominate an election campaign and change normal voting patterns. Is there such an issue in your electorate? It might be about a new freeway or a plan to demolish a much-loved building or the introduction of coal seam gas mining or the imminent closure of a local swimming pool. If it is a significant issue and candidates are using the issue to gain political mileage – or if the issue is hurting a candidate’s prospects – it is worth mentioning.

Also, consider the ways that government and opposition policies are impacting – or threatening to impact – on the electorate. For example, if a major party is planning to reduce subsidies to the wind power industry, this might have a serious affect on a local company that employs 200 people to build wind turbines. This in turn could have a devastating effect on a small town and lead to the closure of a school and healthcare centre. As a result locals might be organizing rallies and threatening to change the way they vote. If there’s an issue like this, and it’s significant enough, you should include it in your profile.

Many electorates are made up of people from different types of communities. Within one electorate there might be brand new suburbs with highly mortgaged young home-owners, as well as valuable farmland, where dairy farmers are angry because a mining company wants to open a mine. There might also be old manufacturing industries that have closed down next to towns that are losing younger people to the bigger cities. There might be areas where English is largely a second language or where retirees make up a significant proportion of the population. In most cases the electorate will have many different needs and issues. Can you sum up some of these so that readers get a good sense of the place and what matters to the voters of this area? Be specific. Generalities tend to lack impact, whereas examples and case studies and quotes from real people bring these issues to life.

Why the electorate matters in the federal election

The party, or coalition of parties, that have the majority of seats in the House of Representatives forms the government, so what happens at a local level ultimately determines the government of the day.

Your electorate might matter to the whole country because it was where something controversial or interesting happened – or is about to happen. It might be where something will be built – or not built – depending on which party wins office.  Or it might be where a battle is being played out.

Maybe the candidate is a celebrity or colorful…

Often seats are notable because either the incumbent or their challenger is newsworthy. Consider whether a celebrity candidate has been endorsed by a party to increase its chances of winning the seat? If so, are they likely to succeed because of their celebrity status?

If the seat is marginal…

 If the seat is classified as marginal it matters automatically because it could “swing” one way or the other. If enough of these seats swing together the government changes hands. This is why political parties concentrate on marginal seats. This is why they throw money at local problems and why local candidates get so much attention. If your seat is marginal take a look at a few things closely. How much money are the parties spending? What sort of advertising are they using? What are their tactics? It might be interesting to look at how the sitting member (the MP) has positioned themselves on controversial issues. Have they positioned themselves in a way that wins or loses them votes in their marginal seat? Has the local MP stood up against their own party’s policies in order to win over the support of their local electorate? If so, tell the readers about it.

If the seat is safe…

Safe seats are not necessarily boring seats. Because the parties are pretty clear about whether they will win or lose, safe seats can be very interesting. Is the party that holds the seat complacent? Do voters feel that the MP has taken them for granted for too long? Do they even bother campaigning, and if so, how do they do it differently? Other parties often select interesting (or strange) people to stand as candidates in unwinnable seats. Sometimes up-and-comers from other parties are tested for the first time in these “unwinnable” electorates. Sometimes safe seats just get “missed” by the national media, meaning there are really interesting issues that the electorate is especially keen to talk about.

Electorates have a past.

The list of previous incumbents tells you a great deal about the seat’s history. The list of former members will tell you whether the same party has always held the electorate, or whether there have been shifts -which might suggest that the demographics or boundaries have changed. Was there a famous or infamous former member? Did an independent hold it for a term or two? Did a former prime minister occupy the seat? It is nice to mention these details and perhaps you could link that colorful past to its present in a meaningful way? Was the electorate the scene for a major moment in Australian political history? The odds are that it was at some point. Did a current politician have a formative experience in the electorate? For example, Bill Shorten gained a national profile in the seat of Lyons in Tasmania as a union official in the wake of the Beaconsfield mine disaster.


Perhaps your electorate is a bellwether seat? This is a term that really only describes one or two electorates in the whole country. Bellwether seats change hands when the government changes. Eden Monaro was such a seat for eons, until it was changed in a redistribution. Avoid the cliché of calling your seat a bellwether, because the odds are it isn’t one.

Consider these sources

There are plenty of other sources of information.

  • There’s no substitute for talking to real people. They are often the best source for what’s happening at a local level.
  • Local authorities
  • Experts at local universities
  • The Australian Bureau of Statistics provides a wide range of data. Sometimes this is grouped under Local Government Areas, but the information can be transposed onto federal electorates with some careful work.
  • Non Government Organisations
  • Political party members
  • Unions
  • Chambers of Commerce
  • Business Associations
  • Businesses
  • Interest/Advocacy groups
  • Lobbyists
  • Activists
  • Charities 

Style of profile

Discuss with your lecturer/editor whether your electorate profile should be a news story or a feature. Either way, make the lead and the “precede” strong to attract readers into the story. Write clearly, without clichés and flowery adjectives.

Check your facts

Check your facts

Re-check your facts.

Re-re-check your facts.

Take photographs of the electorate

Photographs are very important as they bring the electorate to life and make your story more interesting for readers, If you can, photograph people and places that help your readers’ understanding of the area and the issues and challenges and opportunities of the electorate. We can include galleries for images so free up your imagination. How can you tell a story about the electorate through pictures?