The fortnight before Christmas

Another pre-Christmas election theory, a court ruling brings some clarity to Labor’s preselection process in Victoria, and the latest on New South Wales’ looming bonanza of state by-elections.

Seemingly nothing doing on the polling front this week, though I would have thought we were due the monthly Resolve Strategic poll from the Age/Herald. That may yet come – perhaps even very shortly – given the publisher’s unpredictable past treatment of it. I need a new post sooner than that though, so here are some relevant recent developments:

• Anthony Albanese has reportedly told his party to be prepared for the possibility that Scott Morrison will call an election for December 11 after he returns from the Glasgow climate summit early next month. Andrew Clennell of Sky News describes this as a “ploy”, and says the genuine view within Labor is that the election will most likely be held in March. Kevin Bonham notes that the proximity of this date to Christmas and New Year would complicate the protracted process of Senate counting, and that it would not allow time for new laws requiring registered parties to have at least 1500 members to take effect.

• The Victorian Supreme Court has thrown out a legal challenge against the Labor national executive’s takeover of the Victorian branch’s federal preselection process. This had been pursued by the factional bloc of the Right associated with Bill Shorten, which The Age reports is considering an appeal. Assuming the ruling holds, it confirms the preselection of former state party secretary Sam Rae in the new seat of Hawke, and allows the party to proceed with other federal preselections that have so far been in limbo.

• The Sydney Morning Herald reports that candidates for Liberal preselection in Hughes are likely to include Jenny Ware, moderate-backed director of legal services at Georges River Council, and that there is also likely to be a factional conservative in the field. This complicates matters for Melanie Gibbons, who will quit her state seat of Holsworthy to run, and has the backing of Scott Morrison.

New South Wales by-election latest:

• There is now a fifth state by-election on the way in New South Wales, and the first in a Labor-held seat, after Jodi McKay announced her intention to resign five months after losing the leadership to Chris Minns. This will create a vacancy in her seat of Strathfield, which she held at the 2019 election by a 5.0% margin. Anton Rose of Inner West Courier reports potential preselection candidates include Sravya Abbineni, multiculturalism adviser at NSW Government Health and former staffer to McKay; John Faker, mayor of Burwood; and Jennifer Light, the party’s national assistant secretary.

• The Nationals have preselected Nichole Overall, a local historian, communications consultant and freelance writer, to succeed John Barilaro as the party’s candidate in Monaro.

• In addition to the previously noted Gail Giles-Gidney, the mayor of Willoughby, the Sydney Morning Herald reports candidates for the preselection to succeed Gladys Berejiklian in Willoughby will include Tim James, factional conservative and executive general manager of the Menzies Research Centre.

US off-year elections minus three weeks

November 2 elections in Virginia, New Jersey and two US House seats as Biden’s ratings fail to recover. And can Democrats pass their infrastructure agenda?

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.

Most US states hold their elections concurrently with federal elections, but a few hold theirs in November of an odd year; federal elections occur each November of an even year. State elections this November 2 include contests for the governor of Virginia and New Jersey. There are also two federal House by-elections in Ohio.

In Virginia, which Joe Biden won by 10.1% in 2020, Democrat McAuliffe is ahead of Republican Youngkin by just 2.5% in the FiveThirtyEight aggregate. Biden won New Jersey by 15.9%, and two September polls gave incumbent Democratic governor Murphy a nine to 13 point lead.

For the US House by-elections, Biden won the Ohio 11th by more than 60%, while Donald Trump won the Ohio 15th by 14% according to Daily Kos elections. While both districts are expected to be held by the incumbent party, swings from the 2020 results will be interesting.

Many expected Biden’s ratings to recover from Afghanistan, but this has not occurred. Two months since the fall of Kabul, his ratings in the FiveThirtyEight aggregate are 49.6% disapprove, 44.6% approve (net -5.0). Biden’s ratings are worse than for any past president since Harry Truman at this point in their presidencies except for Trump and Gerald Ford, who took over after Richard Nixon resigned.

I previously suggested that Biden could suffer long-term damage from Afghanistan owing to undermining his core strength of competence. Other factors are the continuing US COVID crisis and inflation in the economy. In four of the five months from April to August, real disposable personal income contracted. Biden’s RealClearPolitics net approval on the economy is -5.6.

If Biden’s ratings do not recover, they will be a problem for Democrats in the November 2022 midterm elections, in which the whole House and one-third of the Senate is up for election.

Can Democrats pass Biden’s infrastructure agenda?

In my introduction to live coverage of the German election, I covered key US Congress votes on infrastructure, the budget and the debt limit. Congress has procrastinated both the budget and debt limit fights until at least December. Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell came to a deal that would raise the debt limit enough that the US will not default until at least December.

Democrats control the House by 220-212 and the Senate 50-50 with Harris’ casting vote. But it takes 60 votes for most legislation to pass the Senate as this is needed to shut down filibusters (get “cloture”). Despite McConnell’s support for the debt limit increase, the cloture vote was 61-38, just one above the required threshold. Republicans were opposed by 38-11, so McConnell’s leadership could be under threat if he makes further concessions.

Democrats want to pass both a bipartisan infrastructure bill (BIB) that previously passed the Senate with a filibuster-proof majority and a Democratic infrastructure bill (DIB) that would rely on a special process called “reconciliation” to circumvent the filibuster.

The problem is that House progressives won’t vote for the BIB before the DIB has passed the Senate. And two Democratic senators, West Virginia’s Joe Manchin and Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema, are resisting the DIB. Manchin has the excuse that WV voted for Trump by 39% in 2020, but Biden won Arizona by 0.3%, and it has been trending Democratic.

A major problem for Democrats is the Senate, where there are two senators per state. The US has become far more polarized along rural/urban lines in recent times. Analyst Nate Silver said that 52% of the US overall population is in a big city, suburbs or small city, while 48% is either rural or in a small town or exurban. However, the average state’s population is 61-39 towards rural, exurban and small town areas.

Late counting updates

With counting final for the September 14 California recall election, Democratic governor Gavin Newsom defeated Recall by a 61.9-38.1 margin, down from 63.9-36.1 after election night. The Newsom margin is the same as in the 2018 regular election, but down from Biden’s 29-point margin in California.

The Liberals won an additional seat at the September 20 Canadian election, after a Quebec Bloc win by 286 votes in one seat became a Liberal win by 12 votes after a recount. The Liberals won 160 of the 338 seats, ten short of the 170 required for a majority.

Morgan: 53-47 to Labor

The latest fortnightly federal poll from Morgan, plus updates on looming state by-elections in New South Wales, which could potentially be forfeited by Labor.

The latest fortnightly federal voting intention poll from Roy Morgan finds the series continuing to bounce around within a range of 52.5-47.5 to 54.5-45.5 in favour of Labor, as it has through seven polls since July. The result this time is 53-47, in from 54-46 last fortnight, from primary votes of Coalition 37.5% (up one-and-a-half points), Labor 36% (steady), Greens 11.5% (down one) and One Nation 3% (down half).

The state two-party breakdowns, which range from respectable sub-samples in the case of the large states to a tiny one in the case of Tasmania, have Labor leading 53.5-46.5 in New South Wales (unchanged on the last poll, a swing of about 5.5%), 56-44 in Victoria (unchanged, a swing of about 3%), 55-45 in Western Australia (out from 54.5-45.5, a swing of about 10.5%), 54.5-45.5 in South Australia (in from 58.5-41.5, a swing of around 4%) and 53-47 in Tasmania (out from 52-48, a swing to the Liberals of about 3%). In Queensland, the Coalition is credited with a lead of 55-45 (out from 52.5-47.5, a swing to Labor of about 3.5%). The poll was conducted over the past two weekends from a sample of 2794.

Also of note, particularly in relation to state politics in New South Wales:

• There is now a fourth by-election on the way, following yesterday’s announcement by Holsworthy MP Melanie Gibbons that she will seek preselection for the federal seat of Hughes, where former Liberal incumbent Craig Kelly has defected to Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party. Holsworthy is far the most marginal of the four seats that will be vacated, having been retained by Gibbons in 2019 by 3.2%. However, the Sydney Morning Herald reports that Labor leader Chris Minns has said Labor “needs to consider whether to run in Holsworthy”, having “already suggested to his shadow cabinet that they should not run a candidate in Monaro or Bega”.

• The Sydney Morning Herald further reports that Willoughby mayor Gail Giles-Gidney is the front-runner for Liberal preselection in Gladys Berejiklian’s particularly safe seat of Willoughby. Based on the comments from Chris Minns noted above, it can presumably be taken as read that Labor will not run.

• As for Melanie Gibbons’ hopes for Hughes, both the Sydney Morning Herald and Daily Telegraph today report a view among senior Liberals that she would, in the words of the latter, “face difficulty securing preselection in a vote of party members”.

• If my thoughts on the federal election landscape are of interest to you, I have lately been providing material to CGM Communications’ state-by-state analyses, which have recently covered New South Wales and Victoria, and was interrogated for an election preview that aired on Nine News over the weekend.

Essential Research: leadership ratings, ICAC, emissions targets

An improvement in both leaders’ personal ratings from Essential Research, plus strong support for a federal ICAC and more ambitious emissions targets.

The Guardian reports the fortnightly Essential Research survey includes the pollster’s monthly leadership ratings, which find significant improvement in both leaders’ ratings. Scott Morrison is up four on approval to 54% and down three on disapproval to 37%, while Anthony Albanese is up four to 41% and down two to 34%. Morrison’s lead as preferred prime minister is 45-29, down from 47-26.

The poll also finds 78% would support a federal anti-corruption body, with only 11% opposed. Contrary to suggestions Gladys Berejiklian’s resignation would sap enthusiasm for the idea, 47% said it had made them more supportive, compared with 21% for less supportive.

Other questions focus on carbon emissions targets and climate change, including a finding that 68% support of a more ambitious target for 2030 and net zero by 2050, compared with 13% who did not favour targets and 19% who were unsure. Fifty-nine per cent agreed climate change was caused by human activity while 30% favoured the alternative of a normal fluctuation in the earth’s climate, which in both cases is up three since June (Essential asks this question on a semi-regular basis), presumably reflecting a drop in an uncommitted response. Forty-two per cent said Australia was not doing enough (down three) compared with 31% for enough (up one) and 15% for too much (up three).

The Guardian’s report relates further results on climate change, and the poll presumably included the regular questions on federal and state government COVID-19 management. All will be laid out neatly in Essential Research’s report later today.

UPDATE: Full release here.

A matter of time

An early federal election either likely or not likely, depending on which papers you read.

Writing in InQueensland, press gallery veteran Dennis Atkins lays out the case for a November 27 election, observing that the imminent passage of technical electoral law legislation will “put the final duck in place for Morrison to call an election from the next weekend, with an announcement on either Saturday, October 23 or the following day”. With New South Wales’ super Saturday of state by-elections sure to be set for December 4, this would be the only feasible date for an election this year, at a time when “the balance of risk tilts further and further towards a poll in 2021” – at least in Atkins’ assessment.

Conversely, James Morrow of the Daily Telegraph reckons the by-elections have “dramatically shrank (sic) the chances of an early federal election”. Unspecified “insiders” point to the risks of “election fatigue”, together with the hope that the government’s stocks might be boosted by the opening of national borders early next year and summer weather keeping case numbers within acceptable limits.

Other news:

• As noted in the post below, Andrew Constance will resign from his state seat of Bega to contest preselection for the corresponding federal seat of Gilmore, which Fiona Phillips gained for Labor in 2019 by a 2.6% margin after a 3.3% swing against the trend. Constance is particularly helpful for the Liberals in this seat due to the sympathetic media attention he received after nearly losing his Malua Bay house in the 2019/20 bushfires, which devolved into a public relations disaster for Scott Morrison. However, he will first have to face a local preselection ballot, which the state party is loath to deny its members after imposing Warren Mundine on them in 2019, only for him to lose the seat. He has a rival contender lined up in Paul Ell, an associate with law firm RMB Lawyers. The Guardian reports Ell has “strong support of moderates in the branch”, such that “some senior party sources say an intervention will be needed to ensure Constance is preselected”.

• There has been much speculation that Gladys Berejiklian could line up as the Liberal candidate for Warringah, which Tony Abbott lost to independent Zali Steggall in 2019. However, David Crowe of the Sydney Morning Herald reports a consensus that this will not be feasible until the Independent Commission Against Corruption brings down the findings of investigation into her, presumably under the assumption that such findings would be favourable, which it is not likely to do for several months. The Daily Telegraph reports the preselection front-runner is Jane Buncle, a Manly barrister and factional moderate who is “understood to believe climate change is real”, although a number of others are named as potentially competitive starters.

The West Australian reports Liberal MP Melissa Price had no trouble seeing off a preselection challenge for her seat of Durack from Busselton councillor Jo Barrett-Lennard, winning the party ballot by 47 votes to three.

• Karen Grogan, national political coordinator with the United Workers Union and Left faction convener, has been officially confirmed to fill the South Australian Labor Senate vacancy caused by the death of Alex Gallacher on August 29.

• The Age/Herald have published Newspoll-style quarterly breakdowns of federal voting intention by state from their regular monthly Resolve Strategic polling. This might have been interesting if they had included results from the smaller states, but they are in fact only provided for New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland, breakdowns for which are already provided in the regular monthly release.

New South Wales leadership vote and by-election bonanza

As the New South Wales Liberal prepare to anoint a new Premier, the state faces three by-elections with expectations of more to follow.

Developments aplenty in New South Wales, starting with today’s Liberal party room vote to choose a successor to Gladys Berejiklian as party leader and Premier. This will pit red-hot favourite Dominic Perrottet, a conservative, against dark horse Rob Stokes, a moderate. However, Yoni Bashan of The Australian reports concern among Perrottet supporters that Stokes “could conceivably gather a bloc of votes by making promises for coveted cabinet positions”, despite “a pact brokered between conservative and moderate factions of the Liberal Party over the weekend to shore up Mr Perrottet as leader”. The Sydney Morning Herald reports Perrottet’s moderate backers include ubiquitous factional powerbroker Michael Photios.

A conservative leader would go against the state Liberals’ usual practice, but former adviser Peter Shmigel offers some insight into the party’s tactical thinking in the Sydney Morning Herald: Perrottet, it is argued, would win back support that is seemingly being lost in western and south-western Sydney, where many swinging voters will be receptive to his religious faith and determination to move out of lockdown, and to the fact that he “personifies economic management”. The emphasis on Sydney is further enhanced by the addition of Penrith MP Stuart Ayres to the Perrottet ticket as candidate for deputy, displacing arch-moderate Matt Kean, who it was thought wouldn’t play well there.

It seems that the new leader, whoever he might be, will face a “Super Saturday” of by-elections arising from a rash of parliamentary resignations running at three so far, with suggestions of others to follow. It is anticipated these will be held on December 4, coinciding with local government elections that have twice been delayed due to the COVID-19 outbreak. This could potentially further weaken the Coalition’s position in the lower house, in which it presently governs in minority with 46 seats out of 93, political difficulties having forced two Liberals elected in 2019 to the cross bench. To start with the known knowns:

Willoughby (Liberal 21.0%): Gladys Berejiklian’s lower north shore seat has existed in name for all but one term since the end of the state’s multi-member regions experiment in 1927, being won by Labor only with Neville Wran’s once-in-a-lifetime landslide in 1978. Berejiklian’s margin over Labor in 2019 was 21.0%, though there was a 3.4% swing against her, unusually for a member at their first election as Premier. James O’Doherty of the Daily Telegraph reports “strategists” fear the seat will be lost to an as-yet-unspecified independent.

Monaro (Nationals 11.6%): The retirement of Nationals leader John Barilaro means a by-election for Monaro, which has traditionally been a marginal seat by virtue of balancing Labor-voting Queanbeyan against conservative rural and small town territory further south. Barilaro’s margin blew out by 9.1%, much of which is reckoned to be personal vote that now stands to be lost.

Bega (Liberal 6.9%): Liberal member Andrew Constance will resign from state politics to run for federal preselection in the corresponding seat of Gilmore, which Labor gained with a 3.3% swing against the trend in 2019 and holds by a margin of 2.6%.

James O’Doherty of the Daily Telegraph reports Liberal concerns that they could be shortly joined by Rob Stokes, member for Pittwater (Liberal 20.8% versus Greens), in the seemingly likely event that he is not elected leader; Melanie Gibbons, member for Holsworthy (Liberal 3.3%), who has been “touted for the federal seat of Hughes”; Health Minister Brad Hazzard, member for Wakehurst (Liberal 21.0%); and Local Government Minister Shelley Hancock, member for South Coast (Liberal 10.6%).

Newspoll: 53-47 to Labor

No real change from Newspoll, except perhaps to its release schedule.

The Australian has dropped a new Newspoll a fortnight rather than three weeks after the last, perhaps portending a quickening of the schedule as the federal election approaches. Labor’s two-party lead is unchanged at 53-47, from primary votes of Coalition 37% (steady), Labor 37% (down one), Greens 11% (up one) and One Nation 2% (down one). Scott Morrison is up two on approval to 48% and disapproval to 49%, while Anthony Albanese is steady on 37% and down one to 47%. Morrison’s lead as preferred prime minister edges from 47-35 to 47-34. The poll was conducted Wednesday to Sunday from a sample of 1545.

UPDATE: The poll also found 59% approval and 31% disapproval for Australia “building and operating nuclear-powered submarines”, which was put to respondents after an introductory spiel explaining the AUKUS deal. Forty-six per cent felt it would make Australia more secure, compared with 14% less secure and 29% for no difference. Seventy-five per cent rated that China posed a significant threat to Australia’s national security, compared with 15% who did not.

Gladys Berejiklian resigns

Situations vacant: Premier of New South Wales and, shortly, member for Willoughby.

Gladys Berejiklian announced her resignation today after a few months shy of five years as Premier of New South Wales, after the state’s Independent Commission Against Corruption announced it would investigate her in relation to the activities of former MP Daryl Maguire. This makes her the third Liberal Premier to have fallen foul of ICAC since it was established by Nick Greiner’s government in 1989, after Nick Greiner himself in 1992 and Barry O’Farrell in 2014.

There will now be a Liberal leadership contest to determine who replaces her as Premier, which the Sydney Morning Herald reports is likely to be between Treasurer Dominic Perrottet and Planning Minister Rob Stokes. She will also shortly quit parliament, which will mean a by-election for her safe Liberal seat of Willoughby.