Debnam’s curve

Last Tuesday’s post on Peter Debnam’s pitch for sympathy by portraying himself as something less than an underdog might have been ahead of its time. He was then only going so far as to say the election should be seen as a chance to "send Labor a message". On Friday, he upped the ante by declaring: "the Labor Party is going to win the election in a week. If the polls today are correct, they’re about to win the election and you’re about to get another four years of the same". Compare and contrast this with the 1996 statement from Geoff Gallop, then the WA Opposition Leader, cited in the earlier post: "Information I have seen in the polls throughout this campaign indicates the Court Government will be returned comfortably on Saturday". Brad Norington and Imre Salusinszky of The Australian nonetheless felt able to report that "publicly admitting to likely defeat is unheard of in politics".

Reaction to the manoeuvre was perhaps not as Debnam would have hoped. An unnamed Liberal MP quoted in yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph described the decision as "stupid". The ABC’s Quentin Dempster was even less charitable on Friday’s edition of Stateline, putting it to Debnam: "I now ask you, in the interests of restoring some healthy democratic competition to this election, to step aside immediately as leader, to allow Barry O’Farrell to lead the party to the election". Debnam has since been trying to have it both ways, arguing that he did not mean what he appeared to mean when he said that "the Labor Party is going to win the election". Yesterday a Liberal election rally was told: "I’m fighting to win this election. There is not one defeatist bone in my body and never has been".

Debnam can at least take heart from yesterday’s editorial in News Limited’s Sunday Telegraph, which made a torturously qualified call for a change of government. It correctly noted that the Liberals would be much better placed if O’Farrell was leader, but concluded that a Debnam-led Coalition "could hardly do any worse" than the incumbents. However, Fairfax’s Sun-Herald went the other way, with a verdict headlined: "Unfortunately, it has to be Labor".

A few more Campaign Updates for the election guide:

Camden (Labor 8.7%): Today’s Sydney Morning Herald carries an ACNielsen poll from an impressive sample of 952 voters in this seat in outer south-western Sydney. The results are relatively encouraging for the Liberals: a 53-47 two-party split in Labor’s favour, or a swing of nearly 6 per cent. The primary vote figures were Labor 47 per cent, Liberal 41 per cent, Greens 5 per cent, independents 3 per cent and other parties 5 per cent. However, the poll was conducted "last weekend" – before the politically bewildering double whammy of the Liberals’ transport policy failure and Wednesday night’s public transport fiasco. On Saturday, Caitlin O’Toole of the Financial Review reported that "polls" showed the Liberals were in fact ahead here: none had been published, so this presumably referred to party polling.

Pittwater (Independent 5.4% versus Liberal): Alex McTaggart, who won this blue-ribbon seat as an independent when John Brogden quit in late 2005, has obviously not been studying his election campaigning textbook. McTaggart modestly informed the Sydney Morning Herald’s Andrew Clennell that he need not bother coming to see him, as he was "going to win anyway". Clennell made the trip regardless and was told by McTaggart that he did not believe in doorknocking, which he considered "in your face" and unpopular with voters. McTaggart also said his own polling showed "a 2 per cent swing from him to the Liberals on primary votes", a hard statement to read given there was no Labor candidate at the by-election. Last Saturday’s Financial Review reported that Liberal polling had them trailing 57-43 on two-candidate preferred.

Hawkesbury (Liberal 14.6%): It seemed an awful stroke of bad luck for Liberal-turned-independent member Steven Pringle when another candidate bearing his surname drew top spot on the ballot paper. However, Steven Pringle says he smells a rat with respect to Australians Against Further Immigration’s Gregg Pringle, telling the Penrith Press: "I was surprised and somewhat flattered, but then discovered he doesn’t even come from within the electorate. Now you have to be suspicious. Why would anyone with the same surname, from outside the electorate, nominate for Hawkesbury, just two weeks out from an election?" One explanation might be that the AAFI, in its determination to field no fewer than 71 candidates, was relaxed about their connections to the electorates they were running in.

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.

27 comments on “Debnam’s curve”

  1. Edward: keep on dreaming! If the Liberals can’t win back Camden, they won’t have a chance of making any dent in the ALP’s majority.

  2. re camden … where does 53/47 split come from?
    ALP plus green 52%
    independents and other 8%
    presume say 2% to ALP from that 8%
    plus some exhausting I get at least 53% ALP 2PP

  3. I told you guys Camden was in with a chance!

    And if an 8% margin seat like Camden is on edge, then maybe others with similar margins are also?

    I’ll be scrutineering at the second biggest booth in Camden on Saturday night, hopefully after 20 years of safe Labor something interesting will finally happen!

  4. An uncharitable put down of Edward’s opinion. None of us know for sure but at least Evan didn’t run the line from his previous posts about the Libs’ concerns in Epping.

  5. Evan,

    53-47 in Camden means a reduction in the margin from 8.7 to 3% on last weekends figures, the Liberal vote will go up from then to March 24 so I think it is reasonable to assume on that poll it will not be a wipe-out and the Libs will do better and still have a shot in Camden.

    Of course people are underwhelmed by the Liberals but campaign and spin can’t beat the substance and there are a lot of people who are angry with the State government.

    One thing though if the Libs can’t win Miranda in this climate something is seriously rotten with the party and a thorough Maoist style purge will be necessary of dead wood in safe seats in the Hills district, North Shore and Cronulla.

  6. 1.8% of Camden’s 54700 electors were polled and they are saying that Camden will be retained by the ALP based on what 952 people said? Let’s wait until election day for the real result.

  7. From Mumble – “Update: Nielsen in SMH has 53 to 47 in Camden, a swing of about five percent. However, primary votes 47 to 41, and Greens on 5, are funny-peculiar in a Labor lead of 6 not increasing after preferences.” Somethings crook in Tullarook with this poll surely.

  8. The CDP and AAFI can be expected to flow strongly to the Liberals so they would just about cancel out the Greens. The three independants standing – are they dummy independents or what “affiliations” have they had in the past does anyone know?

  9. Maybe Greens prefences aren’t flowing to Labor, despite us preferencing Corrigan. There is definitely a trend where Greens votes in rural areas don’t flow as strongly to Labor, or even flow to Libs/Nats. Out of all the places in Sydney, a place like Camden is probably a place where Greens preference would leak the most from Labor, along with places like the Hills.

  10. I can’t believe that the Libs out there are getting excited because you’re ONLY 6% behind of primary votes. Talk about clutching at straws!

    I’ve seen nothing really to suggest that the ALP will get a (no doubt undeserved) landslide on Saturday. I’ve run with this argument before, but the big difference between this election and, say Vic ’99 or Qld ’95 is that in those election the government was front and centre of the campaign. In this one, the state of the Opposition has been much more important. What that means is that when swinging voters go into the booths on Saturday they will be thinking not so much about Iemma (who people seem to broadly like, despite the government’s many problems) but of Debnam (of whom the more people see, the less they like). When the Opposition is the issue, the government always wins.

  11. Hugo,

    The Liberals have 20 seats I think in the current parliament, it was always going to be a big ask to win government, you may recall it took Greiner the second attempt to succeed as it did with Carr.

    The reality is why would anybody good want to be a Liberal opposition member of parliament (hence you cant get good candidates if people dont think you will win) and secondly that you need to be a credible show in the first place to get over the line (to win over media, money etc).

    53-47 would be great because it means the Liberals are a decent show in 2011. The Labor ads were the obvious tactic and they will work but they dont change the fundamentals that people dont like the government.

    Long term governments are always bad news – I think Mumble is right it is going to be closer than people think.

  12. The preference distribution didn’t look right to me at first either, but I figured a high rate of exhaustion might have something to do with it. Even so, 54-46 would likely be nearer the mark.

  13. I reckon in general Nielsen’s two party preferred is more “accurate” than its primary stuff. All the pollsters do things a little differently. Unlike Newspoll at least, who are crap with preferences, Nielsen gives people the option of exhausting their vote under OPV.

  14. I will probably surprise you, Edward, by hoping that you are correct. I don’t think another ALP landslide will do anyone any good. It will make Labor even lazier than they are now and a certain “born-to-rule” mentality will start to take hold (with some justification; assuming an ALP victory on Saturday, in the 70 years 1941-2011, Labor will have been in office for 52 years – NSW is clearly a Labor State). Such entitlement by one party tends to lead to sloth and inaction. A big loss would decimate the Liberals and make it hard for them to attract decent candidates and/or donors for future elections.

    But I still think Iemma will win more than comfortably this week – I think all you Libs out there should start planning for 2015!

  15. As an outsider, it seems to me that the demographics of NSW/Sydney heavily favour Labor with all the Lib voters locked up in the North Shore & Vaucluse, or in islands surrounded by staunch Labor voters (Strathfield, Oatley, Kogarah, East Hills, Camden, Londonderry, Mulgoa all reflect the latter to an extent). And with 6 other conservative seats in independent hands, the Libs probably require 53+ percent of the vote to actually gain a majority.

    In this context, 53-47 to Labor doesn’t really look too hot.

  16. From what I can see 2007, will not be too far different from 1999 &
    2003 in terms of the pattern. The unknown quantity is will the 20%
    cross voting between state and federal figures continue.?
    eg Menai(9% Alp) & Heathcote (over 11% Alp )which roughly equates to
    the federal seat of hughes which has a liberal margin of over 8% on 2004
    figures. I think it very unlikely that many extra independents will win.
    Also I think it unlikely that the Alp can win more than 1-2 extra seats
    (if any) from the non-labor parties. This equates at best to the status quo
    in terms of seats and at worst a loss of 3-4 seats . by labor.

  17. Marcus,

    Personally, I would describe East Hills as a strong Labor area with a light scattering of Liberal voters. In 2003 the ALP won every booth quite comfortable. The Libs best booth was Picnic Point North where they polled 30.8%. Under the new boundaries it requires a 17.9% swing to change hands.

    Voting figures by booth can be found on the NSW Electoral Commission website

  18. Barry

    I think if you were to put all the Georges River frontage suburbs in one seat, it would probably be a comfortable Liberal seat, at least at a normal election. Instead the area is split between 3 seats and swamped by safe Labor voting territory in East Hills, Riverwood and Kogarah. A similar argument could be made about Londonderry (where’s the connection between Richmond/Kurrajong and St Mary’s?) and a few others.

    My point remains that the Libs will probably have to get substaintially more than 50% 2PP to actually win, so even at 47-53 they’re way off.

  19. Marcus,

    I get your point. The river/bay frontage suburbs from Lugarno through to Ramsgate (currently in Oatley, Kogarah and Rockdale electorates) could be grouped together to create a more marginal seat. The leftover parts would result in two seats that are even safer for the ALP. btw Riverwood is entirely in the seat of Lakemba.

    Londonderry is too far from where I live to make any reasonable comments except to say that there was no Lib candidate in 2003, so the ALP margin may be overstated.

    Swings are rarely uniform, so the Libs may need less than 50% 2PP or substantially more than 50% PP to win.

  20. Barry, Georges River had similar boundaries to those you propose after the 1990 (or therabouts) redistribution. Labor was pleased when it was pushed to the north. However if you look at the federal figures some of the traditional Liberal areas in southern Sydney have moved towards Labor, it is the more Anglo areas that have gone the other way. Hence Banks (Labor since 1949) is now more marginal than Barton which was Liberal 1975-83. Londonderry is a strangely designed electorate, it would make more sense to have Windsor and Richmond in Hawkesbury and shed Kenthurst and Dural, but perhaps the 1988 numbers didn’t enable this.

  21. For all those sceptical about my observations that the Liberals might have some trouble holding the seat of Epping – why then was Debnam campaigning yesterday in a supposedly safe blue ribbon Liberal seat?
    Greg Smith is up at the local railway stations every morning, something Andrew Tink never did in previous election campaigns.

  22. Late swings and roundabouts.

    Some people are hoping that history will repeat itself and that the electorate are waiting for Morris with baseball bats. This is based on the perception that the results in Queensland (whenever?) and Victoria, in 1999, saw surpising results that were unexpected from polling.

    Sorry- in the case of Victoria, at least, this was not so. Morgan data is sparse, Nielsen non-existent and Newspoll was 2-monthly.The trend line, that popular weapon of the psephologist, was pointing at a TPP of 49.2% over the period Feb 1999 to September 1999 and the result on election day was 50%.

    No surprises there.

    But, perhaps, next Saturday…..?

    BTW, Morgan appear to have done an “Elvis has left the building” in respect of February- no numbers have appeared yet.

  23. Yes, a status quo result looks the most likely. Mick seems to be right on the money by predicting a result in the range of ALP +2 (Toukley & South Coast, possibility of a shock in somewhere like Epping) to -4 (could be a wildcat swing in any given seat, but it doesn’t look that likely; the best cahnce of taking seats off Labor looks to be in Newcastle, and that’d be to Independents).

    The State Libs are getting their just deserts. They’ve had 4 years to work on having a better campaign than this, but they’ve been too busy fighting amongst themselves. John Brogden, if you’re reading this, you can console yourself with the fact that this ALP voter thinks that you would have been premier next week.

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