Broken circuits

The Poll Bludger’s Runs on the Board tally has remained stuck in a very narrow band since week two of the campaign, when the Coalition opened up a slim lead as polling trends suggested soft support for Labor in decisive Queensland marginals. There were a few occasions when potential circuit breakers looked set to prompt a substantial revision in favour of one side or the other, but each time ambiguous poll results suggested it was safer to favour the status quo.

However the early evidence suggests that Labor’s snappily branded Medicare Gold package, promising to eliminate waiting lists for the elderly, has cut through more effectively than the Coalition’s more expensive but also more diffuse bag of tricks from their launch on Sunday. Centrebet promptly slashed its odds for a Labor victory from $3.30 to $2.70, and here apologies are in order for my failure to have mentioned before now the remarkable research conducted by Andrew Leigh of the Australian National University showing betting markets to be more accurate at predicting election outcomes than opinion polls.

The Poll Bludger is no expert on demography, but thanks to the Australian Parliamentary Library’s electorate demographic rankings (of which Alan Ramsey had a fair bit to say in the Sydney Morning Herald) he doesn’t need to be. The target audience for this one is clear – older voters on lower incomes. Below are Coalition marginal seats and their proportion of voters aged 65 or over, with their ranking among the 150 House of Representatives seats in brackets (percentages calculated by Peter Brent at Mumble).

Solomon (0.1%) 5.3 (149) Hinkler (2.3%) 13.5 (66)
Dobell (0.4%) 15.5 (29) Moreton (2.5%) 13.4 (69)
Canning (0.4%) 9.3 (122) Longman (2.5%) 12.9 (77)
Adelaide (0.6%) 16.9 (15) Gippsland (2.6%) 16.3 (22)
Hindmarsh (1.1%) 20.6 (1) Page (2.8%) 16.4 (20)
Parramatta (1.2%) 12.2 (92) McMillan (2.9%) 12.2 (91)
Paterson (1.5%) 16.9 (14) Bowman (3.1%) 12.1 (95)
Herbert (1.5%) 9.2 (124) Petrie (3.5%) 15.2 (34)
Deakin (1.6%) 15.6 (27) La Trobe (3.7%) 8.4 (129)
Eden-Monaro (1.7%) 14.3 (52) Makin (3.8%) 10.1 (114)
Richmond (1.7%) 19.3 (4) Kalgoorlie (4.4%) 7.8 (136)
McEwen (2.2%) 8.6 (127) Cowper (4.8%) 18.0 (9)

The Poll Bludger knocked up a similar table for average taxable income shortly after Labor’s tax cuts for lower income earners were announced, and a cursory comparison of the two shows why Labor has chosen to make the bigger play out of the health policy, launching it later in the campaign and preceding it with Mark Latham’s declaration that the election was "a referendum on Medicare". Where one had to venture beyond 2 per cent territory to find electorates with a significant proportion of winners from Labor’s tax policy (though the family benefits may have been another matter), Medicare Gold hits hard where it matters most – Dobell, Adelaide, Hindmarsh, Paterson, Deakin and Richmond, every one a knife-edge marginal and many among those where they were looking in danger of falling short.

Of course, Labor’s best yield of all should come in seats where both target groups are in abundance, and here a clear pattern emerges – the five outstanding examples are coastal electorates outside Sydney and Melbourne, and no less than four are held by the National Party. These include Richmond, located on the New South Wales side of the Queensland border, renowned for its caravan parks and sea-change retirees, and held by junior minister Larry Anthony; its neighbours Page and Cowper, held by back-benchers Ian Causley and Luke Hartsuyker; and the Victorian seat of Gippsland, held by Science Minister Peter McGauran, a once rural conservative electorate that absorbed the depressed Labor-voting towns of Morwell and Traralgon in the redistribution. The one Liberal-held seat is also on the New South Wales north coast – Paterson, held by back-bencher Bob Baldwin (pardon the alliteration).

There are a number of seats here currently assessed by the Poll Bludger as wins for the Coalition where a rethink will be in order if the next polls show a substantial bounce to Labor. If last week’s pattern is followed, Morgan will today release a phone poll conducted Wednesday and Thursday, with an ACNielsen poll taken from Tuesday to Thursday to follow tomorrow. But regardless of what these polls show, it would be prudent to bear in mind the precedents of 1980 and 1993 when scare campaigns in the last week over Bill Hayden’s "wealth tax" and John Hewson’s GST helped secure one last term for the Fraser and Keating governments.

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.