I see red

The Advertiser has today published a poll of South Australian upper house voting intentions taken from the same sample as yesterday’s lower house poll, which was conducted on Wednesday night. The most striking result is the 10 per cent recorded for No Pokies MP Nick Xenophon, who was elected in 1997 from 2.9 per cent of the vote. As remarkable as this may be for a micro-party candidate, it is consistent with the popularity and profile Xenophon has built as a media-savvy adjudicator between the major parties, a position that was emphasised after each of the lower house independents came to various accommodations with the Labor government. An extra 1 per cent can be added to this score after distribution of the undecided, putting Xenophon almost 3 per cent clear of the quota required for election – enough to put his running mate Ann Bressington (described in The Advertiser as a "drug rehabilitation pioneer") into contention in her own right.

Of particular interest is the wide gap between the collective non-major party vote in the two polls, which is at 17 per cent for the lower house and 32 per cent for the upper house. The respective figures at the 2002 election were 22.1 per cent and 26.2 per cent. While the genuine popularity of Xenophon will no doubt widen the gap (the No Pokies ticket polled 1.3 per cent in his absence in 2002), a degree of scepticism is in order here. For one thing, survey respondents will be more likely to give different answers to questions about lower and upper house voting intention for fear of appearing unsophisticated. Furthermore, undecided voters tend to be politically disengaged and are unlikely to make distinctions between the houses when they determine their vote. A similar exercise on Senate voting intention conducted by Roy Morgan before the 2004 federal election (note their less-than-prescient headline, "L-NP Could Lose Up To Three Senate Seats and Greens Gain Four") put the non-major party vote at 26.5 per cent, which compared with the actual result of 20.0 per cent.

Consequently, there is reason to be cautious about The Advertiser’s estimation that Labor will win only four of the available 11 seats, contrary to the general expectation that they are set to win five. Similarly, the smart money should remain on a fourth seat for the Liberals, which the poll suggests is in jeopardy. It is certainly possible that one party or the other will fall short of their final seat, but surely not both. That will leave two or three seats remaining for the minor parties, and whatever other reservations might be raised about the Advertiser poll, it seems clear that one of these will go to Xenophon. That leaves the remaining one or two seats as a lottery between various minor party candidates, for which there is little point in making predictions until the parties’ preference allocations for above-the-line votes are made available on Tuesday. When this happens, readers would do well to pay a visit to Upperhouse.Info, which will feature a ticket calculator that will convert votes into seat outcomes based on the enormously complicated preference flows. As well as Bressington, contenders for the final one or two seats will include the leading candidates for the Democrats (Kate Reynolds), Greens (Mark Parnell) and Family First (Dennis Hood). For what it’s worth, The Advertiser’s poll provides encouragement for the struggling Democrats, who are on 5 per cent, and a disappointment for the up-and-coming Family First, whose 3 per cent compares with the 4.1 per cent they scored at the 2002 election.

Also in The Advertiser’s poll is a question on attitudes towards the Legislative Council, which Mike Rann proposed to abolish in November pending a referendum to be held in conjunction with the 2010 election. The results were exactly as would be expected – widespread support for an end to eight-year terms and a reduction from 22 members to 16, but little enthusiasm for either abolition or the status quo.

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.

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