Biden’s lead over Trump narrows

Three months before the November 3 election, Biden’s lead over Trump has narrowed despite the continuing coronavirus crisis.

Guest post by Adrian Beaumont, who joins us from time to time to provide commentary on elections internationally. Adrian is an honorary associate at the University of Melbourne. His work on electoral matters for The Conversation can be found here, and his own website is here.

In the FiveThirtyEight poll aggregate, Donald Trump’s ratings with all polls are 41.4% approve, 54.7% disapprove (net -13.3%). With polls of registered or likely voters, Trump’s ratings are 41.9% approve, 54.5% disapprove (net -12.6%). Since my article three weeks ago, Trump’s net approval has improved about two points.

In FiveThirtyEight’s national aggregate of Joe Biden vs Trump polls, Biden’s lead has narrowed to a 50.0% to 42.5% margin, from a 50.3% to 41.2% margin three weeks ago. In the key states, Biden leads by 7.7% in Michigan, 7.4% in Wisconsin, 6.0% in Pennsylvania, 5.1% in Florida and 3.4% in Arizona.

On current polling, Pennsylvania is the tipping-point state. If Trump wins all states more favourable for him than Pennsylvania, and Biden wins Pennsylvania and other states that are better for him, Biden wins the Electoral College by 278 Electoral Votes to 260. But the issue for Biden is that Pennsylvania is about 1.5% more pro-Trump than the national average.

Trump’s gains come despite a coronavirus death toll that has trended up to over 1,000 daily deaths on most days. There have been over 160,000 US coronavirus deaths. However, the daily new cases have dropped into the 50,000’s from a peak of over 78,000 on July 24.

I believe Trump has gained owing to memories of George Floyd’s murder fading, and thus race relations becoming less important to voters. An improving economic outlook could also explain the poll movement, although the economic data is mostly pre-July, when the second coronavirus wave started. The US July jobs report will be released on Friday.

Despite the coronavirus’ effect on the US economy, Trump’s economic approval is close to a net zero rating according to the RealClearPolitics average. Nate Silver says that real disposable personal income increased sharply in April, contrary to what occurs in most recessions. This increase was due to the coronavirus stimulus, and explains Trump’s better economic ratings.

A danger for Trump is that extending the stimulus is stalled in Congress. This close to the election, Republicans should be eager to stimulate the economy, but there are many Republicans who are ideologically opposed to government spending.

Danger for Democrats in mail voting

Owing to coronavirus, much of the US election will be conducted by mail voting. Trump has been castigating mail voting, and this could depress Republican mail turnout. But there is a danger for Biden and Democrats in Trump’s attacks.

As Cook Political analyst Dave Wassserman says, mail votes can be rejected owing to voter error. Also, while there are some states that conduct elections mostly by mail, the US as a whole does not. There could thus be errors such as voters not being sent their ballot papers in time.

If Republicans mostly vote in person, while Democrats mostly vote by mail, it is likely to distort the election night results as mail votes usually take longer to count. Furthermore, mail errors, whether by election officials or voters, are likely to cost Democrats in close races. If Trump could get within five points in national polls, his advantage in the Electoral College and the mail issue could see him sneak another win.

In the RealClearPolitics Senate map, Republicans lead in 47 races, Democrats lead in 46 and there are seven toss-ups; that situation is unchanged from three weeks ago. If toss-up races are assigned to the current leader, Democrats lead by 51 to 49. If Trump’s numbers continue to improve, Republicans are likely to be boosted in congressional races.

Northern Territory election guide

Introducing the Poll Bludger’s seat-by-seat guide to the Northern Territory election, to be held a fortnight from Saturday.

With polling day a fortnight from this Saturday, I finally have a guide to the Northern Territory election in business, consisting of an overview and guides to the 25 electorates. An except from the former:

The changes in the composition of parliament leave Labor in a position where it can lose no more than three of its existing seats without losing a majority, although it is presumably hopeful of recovering Fong Lim from Jeff Collins. Its position has been further weakened by a redistribution which, though generally limited in its effects, has caused the formerly remote electorate of Namatjira to absorb suburbs in largely conservative-voting in Alice Springs, turning it into a notionally CLP-held seat. However, the CLP’s cause has been gravely hampered by the emergence of the Territory Alliance, which demonstrated its potency by outpolling it at the Johnston by-election.

The next milestone on the road to polling day is the closure of nominations at noon today, to be followed by the draw of ballot paper positions.

What’s next

Not much to report, except that a star is born in Tasmania (maybe), and Northern Territory’s election is looming ever closer.

A new thread is wanted, but for all that’s happening in the world right now, there is not a lot of Australian electoral news for me to hang one on right now – there are no polls this week, and there is nothing to report on the preselection front. However:

• Following former newsreader Jo Palmer’s apparent success in gaining the Launceston region state upper house seat of Rosevears (corresponding with the western end of Bass) for the Liberals at Saturday’s elections, The Mercury reports “political watchers in Canberra are now tracking Ms Palmer’s campaign with interest, with some considering how they could lure their likely new star MP to Canberra”. Both of the elections on Saturday appear to have resulted in seats passing from independents to the major parties, with Palmer taking a vacant seat and Labor’s Bastian Seidel unseating Robert Armstrong in Huon at the southern edge of Hobart (part of the federal and state lower house division of Franklin). This would leave the chamber with five Labor members, three Liberals and seven independents – the first time in its history that the chamber has not had an independent majority.

• I have had too little to say about the Northern Territory election, which will be held in three Saturdays’ time. This will come to an end when I publish my comprehensive guide to the election, which I will hopefully do later today.

Tasmanian upper house elections: Huon and Rosevears

A look at the two contests to be decided on Saturday for seats in Tasmania’s Legislative Council.

Live commentary

Final for night. Labor’s Bastian Seidel appears headed for a comfortable win over independent incumbent Robert Armstrong in Huon, who he has outpolled 31.4% to 19.0%, with the Greens on 17.2% and conservative independent Dean Harriss on 16.3%. According to Kevin Bonham in comments, preferences from the Greens are flowing to Labor with such force that preferences overall are likely to increase rather than reduce Seidel’s existing margin. Conversely, Rosevears, which is being vacated by a retiring independent, might be won either by Liberal candidate Jo Palmer, on 41.4%, or independent Janie Finlay, on 30.8%. Labor’s candidate made no impression, polling 9.1%, with the Greens on 7.3% and the remainder divided between two independents.

9.25pm. The postals are in from Huon, and independent incumbent Robert Armstrong has moved to second place with 19.0%, with the Greens on 17.2% and Dean Harriss on 16.3%, but Labor’s Bastian Seidel still well in the lead on 31.4%. Presumably that will mean a final count between Seidel and Armstrong, with the former’s lead still looking insurmountable.

9.19pm. That pretty much is all the pre-polls actually, except out-of-division ones, which will be negligible.

9.13pm. The promised batch of around 5000 postals has been added in Rosevears, and both seats have had pre-polls added, though I’m presuming not all of them. These have only slightly improved Liberal candidate Jo Palmer’s lead over independent Janie Finlay in Rosevears, which is now at 41.4% to 30.8%. Voters in these elections can number as few as three boxes, so around 10% of preferences exhaust. That leaves Finlay needing a bit more than 70% of allocated preferences, which seems doable, although Palmer may be more popular with minor party voters than the average Liberal. The pre-polls in Huon haven’t changed the situation much.

8.00pm. All booths now in from Rosevears, Palmer’s lead at 30.0% to 16.4%.

7.52pm. Kevin Bonham, who follows all this a lot more closely than I do, says around 5000 postals will be added in each seat later tonight, which should add around a third to the vote totals when they happen. Postals tend to favour major parties, so Jo Palmer (Rosevears) and especially Bastian Seidel (Huon) should still be rated the front-runners. Still one more booth to report from Rosevears.

7.43pm. All but one booth now in from Rosevears — my contention that the Launceston booths might favour Janie Finlay isn’t being borne out, with Jo Palmer now leading 40.3% to 30.7%.

7.38pm. All booths are now in from Huon, and the situation is much as per my last update, except that Labor are back above 30% now. A point I’ve been failing to emphasise throughout this is that there has been a big increase in postal and pre-poll voting. I can’t see that changing the dynamic in Huon, but Rosevears remains up in the air.

7.33pm. Only Blackmans Bay remain to be added in Huon. Labor’s vote is now inside 30% at 29.4%, and the Greens are inside 20% at 19.7%, while little separates incumbent Robert Armstrong and conservative independent Dean Harriss, both a bit below 17%. I would guess that one of the latter two will make it to second place on the other’s preferences, but Greens preferences would then have to behave very strangely to deny Labor a win.

7.30pm. Eleven booths in now from Rosevears, with another two to come (both in Launceston and probably quite big), and Palmer’s lead has actually widened to 41.8% to 30.7%.

7.28pm. Sixteen out of 19 booths in from Huon, situation there much as before.

7.21pm. Now eight booths in from Rosevears, and there has been a significant break in favour of Liberal candidate Jo Palmer, who leads independent Janie Finlay 40.2% to 32.3%. However, the outstanding booths are mostly in Launceston, which is Finlay’s council turf. Too close to call.

7.11pm. A fifth booth in from Rosevears brings a slight narrowing in Jo Palmer’s lead, now at 37.3% to Janie Finlay’s 36.1%, meaning the latter still looks a likely winner to me.

7.04pm. Fourteen booths out of 19 now in from Huon, Greens now down to 19.7% but otherwise only small changes.

7.00pm. With 10 booths in out of 19, the order in Huon is now Labor (30.7%), Greens (21.2%), Armstrong (16.2%), Harriss (14.8%). It may be that Armstrong is appreciating as the urban end of the electorate comes in, but it’s still hard to see how he overcomes the combination of Labor and any normal-looking preference flow from the Greens.

6.56pm. Four booths in from Rosevears, which is very much a two-horse race between Liberal candidate Jo Palmer on 39.6% and independent Janie Finlay on 37.1%. Palmer would need the gap to be wider than that to hold out what will presumably be a strong flow of preferences to Finlay.

6.52pm. Seven booths in now from Huon, and Labor has softened to 30.1%. Greens candidate Pat Caruana doing well with 23.7%, though presumably not well enough. My guess is that there will be reasonably tight preferences between Robert Armstrong and Dean Harriss, both of whom are a bit below 15%, such that one or the other will finish second, but that Greens preferences will ultimately decide the contest for Labor. However, there will be a lot of variables in play requiring local knowledge that I’m not on top of.

6.46pm. First results from Huon are no less surprising, and in this case far happier for Labor. With five booths in, independent incumbent Robert Armstrong is running fourth on 14.9%, and the Labor candidate is well in the lead with 35.4%. Pat Caruana of the Greens is second on 16.5%, Liberal-friendly independent Dean Harriss third on 15.4%.

6.43pm. Two booths in from Rosevears (Kelso and Prospect), showing remarkably weak results for Labor, who are on all of 9.0%. This looks like a contest between the Liberal candidate, Jo Palmer, and independent Janie Finlay, who are on 40.5% and 36.0% respectively.

6.08pm. Make that 45 minutes, because the TEC advises that COVID-19 measures should delay results by around 15 minutes.

6pm. Polls have closed. I guess we’ll get results from some of the smaller booths in Rosevears in about half an hour — this is the more interesting of the two contests for mine, as in the absence of any reason to think differently, I would expect Robert Armstrong to win comfortably in Huon. I’ve got a spreadsheet set up to calculate projections in Rosevears by comparing booth results with equivalents from the federal election, inclusive of a two-party projection, assuming the Labor and Liberal candidates are indeed the ones that make it to the final count.

Overview

The periodical elections for Tasmania’s Legislative Council, normally scheduled for early May but held off on this occasion due to COVID-19, will finally be held on Saturday. The members of the 15-seat chamber are elected annually two or three seats at a time over a six-year cycle. A related feature of the chamber is that it is dominated by independents, with elections often having more of the character of local government elections than highly charged partisan affairs. The Liberals have generally been more relaxed about this state of affairs — as Kevin Bonham puts it, the party “doesn’t run against incumbents who don’t annoy it”. Labor currently holds four seats in the chamber, all of them in and around Hobart, and the Liberals hold two regional seats.

The two seats up for election tomorrow are both held by independents, one of whom is seeking re-election and the other is retiring. Both major parties are contesting the vacant seat, but the Liberals are leaving the field free to the incumbent in the other.

Huon

Candidates in ballot paper order: Debbie Louise Armstrong (Independent); Robert Armstrong (Independent); Garrick Cameron (Shooters Fishers Farmers); Pat Caruana (Greens); Dean Harriss (Independent); Bastian Seidel (Labor).

Huon covers the southernmost parts of Tasmania including Blackmans Bay and Margate on Hobart’s southern outskirts, small towns to the south including Huonville and Cygnet, and the unpopulated southern part of the World Heritage area in the state’s south-west. Seeking re-election is independent Robert Armstrong, who came to the seat at the previous election in May 2014 after being mayor of Huon Valley since 2001.

The seat was vacated in 2014 after Peter Harriss, who had held the seat since 1996 as an independent, was elected as a Liberal for the lower house division of Franklin at the state election the previous March. The highest profile candidate in 2014 was the endorsed Liberal, Peter Hodgman, the 67-year-old uncle of Will Hodgman and the younger brother of his father, the late Michael Hodgman. Hodgman led the primary vote from a field of seven candidates with 26.1%, but preferences flowed to Armstrong with sufficient strength to give him a 6.9% winning margin at the final count, off a primary vote base of 20.4%.

Kevin Bonham’s monitoring of parliamentary votes leads him to conclude that Armstrong is a “conservative independent who usually votes with the Liberal Party”, which no doubt explains the party’s decision not to field a candidate. This leaves Armstrong facing Bastian Seidel of Labor, a general practitioner; Pat Caruana of the Greens, a former journalist and current staffer to Senator Nick McKim; Garrick Cameron of Shooters Fishers Farmers, a rough-as-guts social media celebrity; and two rival independents. The latter are Dean Harriss, a Huonville builder and the son of Paul Harriss, and Debbie Armstrong, a Huonville hairdresser and distant relative of the incumbent.

Rosevears

Candidates in ballot paper order: Jack Davenport (Greens); Janie Finlay (Independent); David Fry (Independent); Vivienne Gale (Independent); Jess Greene (Labor); Jo Palmer (Liberal).

Rosevears includes the western suburbs of Launceston, which provide about 60% of its voters, and extends north-westwards to the coast through rural territory on the western bank of the Tamar River, encompassing the mining town of Beaconsfield and nearby Beauty Point. It will be vacated at the election with the retirement of Kerry Finch, who came to the seat in 2002 after building a high profile in 24 years as a local ABC Radio presenter. The 2014 election was a two-horse race between Finch and Liberal candidate Don Morris, but the latter’s attempt to portray Finch as being “just like the Greens” failed to prevent Finch winning re-election with 60.3% of the vote.

In Finch’s absence, each of the three main players in Tasmanian party politics are in the field: Jo Palmer, former Seven Network newsreader, for the Liberals; Jess Greene, West Tamar councillor and Community and Public Sector organiser, for Labor; and Jack Davenport, a social worker, for the Greens. There are three independents: Janie Finlay, who has been on Launceston City Council since 2000, and was mayor from 2002 to 2005; David Fry, a Cricket Tasmania administrator who held a lower house seat in Bass as a Liberal from 2000 to 2002; and Vivienne Gale, a self-storage business owner with conservative political views.

Nothing succeeds like secession

A new poll finds a certain amount of support for Western Australia to go it alone, as the Federal Court finds facts in Clive Palmer’s constitutional challenge against the state’s border closures.

The West Australian has a poll today from Painted Dog Research showing 34% out of 837 respondents from the state favour secession for Western Australia. However, the utility of this finding is limited by the report’s failure to offer any insight as to how many of the other 66% were actively opposed and how many uncommitted, if indeed the latter was provided as an option. The poll also finds “close to three-quarters” think the federal government has put the needs of the eastern states ahead of Western Australia during the pandemic. I wouldn’t normally consider such a poll front page news, but it’s past time for a new general discussion thread, so here it is.

There is also the following:

• Since Tuesday’s post from Adrian Beaumont on the extraordinary finding of a Reid Research poll of voting intention in New Zealand, the other regular pollster in the country, Colmar Brunton, has produced a somewhat more modest result: Labour 53%, National 32%, Greens 5%, ACT New Zealand 4.8% and New Zealand First 2%. It also finds Jacinda Ardern with a 54-20 lead over the new National leader, Judith Collins, as preferred prime minister. There’s an interesting discussion on polling in the country, the record of which is apparently very good, on Radio New Zealand’s The Detail program.

• As noted in my popular dedicated post on the subject, elections will be held today for two seats in Tasmania’s Legislative Council. One of these at least, for the Launceston region seat of Rosevears, includes both Liberal and Labor candidates, and might be seen as some sort of barometer for the state’s new-ish Premier, Peter Gutwein, who has been recording exceptionally strong poll ratings amid the COVID-19 crisis. Live coverage of the count will, as ever, commence here at 6pm.

Donation drive

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