Where the action is (country edition)

The Poll Bludger is no statistician, but he’s slowly reaching the For Dummies level on capacity on Microsoft Excel and has managed to extract some figures demonstrating the relationship between the decline of One Nation and the rise of the Coalition at the federal and Queensland state elections. At the federal poll, there were 18 Queensland seats that One Nation contested in both 2001 and 2004. Removing Dawson and Rankin due to the corrupting effects of large fluctuations in support for independents and other minor parties, the Pearson R measure (which produces a figure between -1 and 1) of correlation between the primary vote swings for One Nation and the Coalition is a highly significant -0.51, while the figure for Labor of 0.09 is significant only in that it is positive, suggesting there is no reason to expect an improvement in Labor’s vote where One Nation collapses.

Both results are supported when similar exercises are conducted for Western Australian federal seats (-0.31 for the Coalition, 0.11 for Labor) and seats at the Queensland state election (-0.45 for the Coalition, 0.03 for Labor). In case of the latter election, generally reckoned to have been a disaster for the Coalition, there were 10 seats where the Coalition vote was up and the One Nation vote down by at least 10 per cent, out of a mere 19 seats in which the two election results could easily be compared. What this means in rough terms is that if you cut two-thirds out of the One Nation vote in every seat in Western Australia and hand two-thirds of it back to the Coalition (from whence it no doubt came), you will if anything be erring on the side of conservatism. This is particularly significant outside Perth, where hostility has been roused by the government’s ardent pursuit of one-vote one-value reforms. Assuming the One Nation vote behaves as expected, the following marginal Labor seats outside Perth are gone for all money:

Bunbury (0.2 per cent): Ominously for Labor, Robert Taylor of The West Australian reported of this classic bellwether electorate that "both sides are pretty well ready to call (it) for the Liberals". It’s not hard to see why. The redistribution cut the margin by 1.3 per cent, and Antony Green estimates 10.3 per cent of the redrawn electorate voted for One Nation in 2001. If they behave in anything like a predictable fashion, the Liberals will easily recover the seat.

Murray (0.7 per cent): Murray mostly consists of the abolished Liberal electorate of Murray-Wellington, being made notionally Labor with the addition of urban territory in and around Mandurah. The estimated One Nation vote for the new electorate is 19.5 per cent, a figure that dwarfs Labor’s margin.

Collie-Wellington (2.6 per cent): This electorate consists in roughly equal measure of voters from abolished Collie, a traditionally Labor seat held by the National Party from 1993 to 2001, and Murray-Wellington, a seat long held by retiring Liberal member John Bradshaw. Labor would be hoping the loss of Bradshaw’s incumbency factor over much of the electorate might help them remain competitive, but would be nervously contemplating the likely destination of the 15.9 per cent One Nation vote.

Geraldton (2.7 per cent): Labor won Geraldton in 2001 with a mere 26.8 per cent of the primary vote, the secret of their success being the 21.7 per cent recorded by One Nation. The Liberals were badly damaged in the final week of the election campaign when it emerged that member Bob Bloffwitch had failed to declare a pecuniary interest in a local company for which he had been lobbying for public funding. Applying the usual broad strokes, and assuming no unusually prominent independent emerges, the Coalition can expect to be boosted well over 40 per cent with little or no improvement for Labor.

Albany (3.7 per cent): Labor won this seat at the 2001 election for the first time since 1971 with a 15.6 per cent two-party swing. This result seems particularly aberrant, having been heavily influenced by the mortgage broking scandal due to a high retiree population and a local member who had been embroiled in the affair. Here also, Labor will struggle to improve substantially on its 31.6 per cent from 2001 while reversion to old habits can be relied upon to push the Coalition vote back over 40 per cent.

These five seats alone are one more than Labor can afford to lose. Nor are they the only non-metropolitan seats which might be identified as endangered. Although the following have safe-looking margins, it needs to be remembered that non-metropolitan seats in Western Australia have little more than 10,000 voters and are accordingly more prone to volatility than city seats:

North West Coastal (5.4 per cent): Some of the government’s actions in recent times suggest either a blasé attitude to this seat, or a belief that it might be sacrificed to shore up votes elsewhere. Specifically, in an electorate where recreational fishing is a way of life, the government has courted the Greens with local marine park sanctuary zones and talk of having the entire area placed on the World Heritage register.

Murchison-Eyre (7.7 per cent): The popularity and high profile of local member John Bowler might save the day for Labor here, especially given some unhelpful confusion in the Liberal camp in December over whether their candidate Colin Brand had withdrawn or not (it eventually became clear that he hadn’t).

Kimberley (8.5 per cent): Carol Martin won considerable kudos for becoming the first aboriginal woman ever elected to an Australian parliament in 2001. But she was boosted at that election by local issues which have since lost currency, and has suffered a redistribution that might be worse than it looks, having cost her the largely aboriginal area of Fitzroy Crossing.

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.