August 7 – the God that failed

So, no August 7 election then. The next hypothesis to face the test is the one involving an August 14 election announced after a cabinet meeting next Tuesday, but this is not where The Poll Bludger is putting his money. In the midst of uncertainty, the best we can do is continue our usual game of wildly exaggerating the significance of fractional shifts in meaningless opinion polls.

Yesterday the least meaningless opinion poll of them all, Newspoll, added a further increment of evidence to the general picture of a gradual Coalition improvement, though perhaps too gradual to soothe the frayed nerves of Government back-benchers. Labor’s vote was down two points from 43 to 41 per cent, with the Coalition steady on 43 per cent. On two-party preferred the Coalition has cut the gap from 48-52 to 49-51. The headlines instead focused on a fall in Mark Latham’s satisfaction rating from 54 to 49 per cent, with dissatisfaction up 29 to 35 per cent. The poll was taken immediately after reports emerged of Latham’s altercation with a disgruntled constituent and with over-heated rumours circulating regarding the content of Channel Nine’s Sunday report.

Other intelligence has come to light courtesy of the Courier Mail, which has run a poll conducted by TNS of 937 respondents in three key Queensland electorates. In Dickson, held by Liberal Peter Dutton with a margin of 6 per cent, Labor led 54 to 46 per cent on two-party preferred. While this seems a bit much, it may at least be counted as further evidence that this seat is more marginal than it looks, owing to the fact that Cheryl Kernot held it going into the 2001 election. There was better news for the Government from the other two seats. In Hinkler National Party member Paul Neville held 50.5 per cent of the two-party preferred vote, despite trailing 36 to 37 per cent on the primary vote (figures suggesting that undecided voters had not been assigned, as was the case with TNS’s polls during the Queensland state election). This is not plausible, but it may at least be taken as a broad indication that Neville is still the hunt, and that the Coalition may be able to contain the damage in Queensland. Further evidence to that effect came with the results for Longman, held by Employment Services Minister Mal Brough on a margin of 2.5 per cent. Brough was found to have widened the margin to 4 per cent.

The weekend before last the Canberra Sunday Times ran a poll of about 200 local voters which had Labor on 43.5 per cent, the Coalition 31.5 per cent, the Greens 6 per cent, Democrats 4 per cent and a remarkable 15 per cent for “others”. While the outcome in the lower house seats of Canberra and Fraser is not in doubt, the poll has led to further speculation that one of the two Australian Capital Territory Senate seats could be won by Greens candidate Kerrie Tucker at the expense of Liberal incumbent and former Chief Minister Gary Humphries. To prevent this Humphries needs a third of the primary vote or very close to it (and it should be remembered that the Liberal vote for the Senate is usually 1 to 2 per cent lower than for the House), since he will receive few minor party preferences.

Since the ACT was first granted its two Senate representatives in 1975 there have been 11 elections, each of which has produced a result of one seat each for Labor and Liberal. While Labor have never had any trouble scoring a third of the primary vote, there have been three occasions when the Liberals needed preferences to make it over the line. In 1998 former Senator Margaret Reid survived with 30.9 per cent, but that was under a preference regime more favourable for the Liberals than what they can expect now, due to a 4.7 per cent One Nation vote that split evenly between Reid and the minor parties. In 1984 the Liberal vote was 31.9 per cent and Reid just made it to a quota by picking up half of independent candidate Allan Nelson’s 4.1 per cent share of the vote. Had her vote been much lower, Democrats preferences could well have delivered the seat to the Nuclear Disarmament Party. The only time Labor came within range of winning the second seat was in 1983, but back then the Australian Democrats dominated the minor party vote and returned a reasonable proportion of it to the Liberals. Although the idea is not being entirely ruled out, Labor would need a substantial primary vote improvement to be in contention for the second seat on this occasion.

The marginal seats in Adelaide continue to be polled to within an inch of their lives, and many thanks to Phil Robins for calling my attention to two recent Advertiser polls that had previously escaped notice. On June 26 a poll was published from an impressive sample of 691 showing Labor behind 51 to 49 per cent in the seat of Wakefield, which it notionally holds with a margin of 1.5 per cent. Wakefield has been altered so dramatically by the redistribution that it does not bear comparison with the existing seat, retained by Neil Andrew for the Liberals at the last election on a margin of 14.6 per cent. The formerly rural seat is now largely urban and will be contested for Labor by Martyn Evans, member for the abolished seat of Bonython, with Neil Andrew to retire. Robins notes that "the working class area around Elizabeth may not be as reliable for Evans as the country towns are for the Libs. Many of the Poms who are strongly represented in Elizabeth don’t like the republic (which Latham is pushing). The Greens and Democrats are weak in Wakefield, too. And it seems the Budget has been more favourably received in Wakefield than in other marginal SA seats".

The other marginal Labor Adelaide seat, Kingston, was the subject of a poll a week earlier. It showed a slight strengthening in Labor’s position, with David Cox recording 53 per cent of the two-party preferred compared with his post-redistribution majority of 1.3 per cent. Together the polls point to a very uncertain picture in Adelaide, given the results that have been coming out of the Liberal-held seats showing sitting members like Trish Draper in Makin under threat.

Author: William Bowe

William Bowe is a Perth-based election analyst and occasional teacher of political science. His blog, The Poll Bludger, has existed in one form or another since 2004, and is one of the most heavily trafficked websites on Australian politics.