Road to nowhere

The past few days have seen a lot of discussion in the media about the state of play in all-important Queensland. On Monday, Michael McKenna of The Australian reported that the Liberals’ internal polling was worse in blue-ribbon Ryan than in any other Coalition-held Queensland seat, apart from Bonner. Liberal member Michael Johnson reportedly blames this on the government’s determination to solve western Brisbane’s traffic problems by building the Goodna bypass rather than upgrading the Ipswich Motorway, a decision made with a view to shoring up the Ipswich-based seat of Blair. As Graham Young puts it at Online Opinion: “People in Ipswich refer to the current motorway, which serves as their major link to Brisbane, as a carpark, and people in the western suburbs of Brisbane are happy to live in a quiet cul-de-sac and don’t want another link road with connections to them put through their area”. The Australian report also brings us the surprising news that Liberal polling has Gary Hardgrave leading in Moreton, held on a margin of 2.8 per cent.

Elsewhere, Labor strategists quoted by Dennis Atkins of the Courier-Mail say polling in regional Queensland points to “two party preferred votes north of 55 per cent”. Presumably this refers to the target marginals of Blair (5.7 per cent), Herbert (6.2 per cent), Flynn (7.7 per cent) and Hinkler (8.3 per cent). Also in the Courier-Mail, Madonna King says Liberal insiders “struggle to dispute” Labor talk that Bonner, Moreton, Blair, Herbert, Flynn and even Leichhardt (margin 10.3 per cent) are “in the bag”, although Labor is apparently less confident about Longman and Petrie. King says three-cornered contests in Leichhardt and Flynn are an “electoral gift to Labor”, while Lisa Allen of the Financial Review quotes a Liberal source lamenting the departure of Leichhardt MP Warren Entsch and his “98 per cent name recognition in that electorate”.

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.

378 comments on “Road to nowhere”

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  1. There’s also the fact that any Coalition funds will be split between the two candidates. Also, it leads to a less focussed campaign in those seats when compared to Labor…

  2. I wonder if the Rodent can promise to build a new road in North QLD, because it seems he might need to spend a lot of money to hold seats like Leichardt.

  3. HH,

    Didn’t he promise an upgrade to the Bruce Highway recently? Or did I imagine that in the billions of dollars of pork he’s announced over the last fortnight?


    There are two effects that happen in a three-cornered contest, both of which are in opposite directions and tend to neutralise each other, meaning no net damage to the overall Coalition vote.

    One effect is an increase in the total number of people voting Liberal and National. Two campaigns equals twice the effort to convince voters not to vote Labor. Two candidates means a broadening in the appeal of the non-Labor side as there are some voters who won’t vote National, but will vote Liberal, and vice-versa.

    The other effect is for preferences not to flow through perfectly, which decreases the percentage of the vote eventually caught under the two-party preferred system. This is more of a problem if the National Party candidate is ahead on first preferences because there are more Liberal voters who won’t vote National than vice-versa, reflecting the first effect.

    Only thing I could find, seems to be a bob each way, would be interesting to see some hard figures on this (paging Mr Antony Green :P)

    Wondering if it just another popular opinion rule (ie like polls always narrowing)

  5. Thanks for the posting William. I have this picture of Queensland as a winner-takes-all State. If you’re up, you’re going to win by a mile and if you’re behind you’re going to eat dust every step of the way. Queensland should be getting a lot more attention from the pollbludgers: it is vital but it’s hard to figure out.

    You’d have to think that 2004 was a high-water mark for the coalition in Queensland and that there is quite a bit of pent-up demand for change. I am told that the swing to Labor is strongest in outer-metro and regional seats. This matches the polling and has to augur well for Labor.

    I wonder how strong the respective parties are on the ground in Queensland: whether all the machines have the horsepower to run a thorough campaign. This has to be vital if you need to scrape up every last vote.

  6. The second paragraph backs up the somewhat common assertion that inner urban and rural Australia is swinging strongly against the Coalition, but outer suburbia not so much.

    I think that Moreton poll in the first paragraph comes from the same place Howard’s Eden-Monaro poll came from.

    Allen also cites a Rural Press Marketing Services poll of “720 farmers” in Leichhardt, which shows 50 per cent support for Liberal candidate Charlie McKillop and 24 per cent support for Ian Crossland of the Nationals.

    Surely the Libs will continue their inexorable march to conservative domination. Will seats like Page and Richmond be next on the three cornered target list?

  7. I think the main effect of 3-cornered contests is on resources: you have spend scarce $ and commit equally scarce workers to trying to defeat your own ally, while your real opponent can presumably better-focus their resources. If these contests really changed results, there would be 3- or 4-cornered contests in every seat.

    But this is just my guess. I’ve never seen anything empirical.

  8. From a posting of mine a few days ago:

    A $5 billion federal government roads package to be unveiled this week will reportedly include plans for a $2 billion upgrade of the Bruce Highway from Brisbane to Cairns, and a $1 billion upgrade of the Pacific Highway from Sydney to Brisbane.

    The PM has today made an announcement about the Pacific Highway, but I’m not seeing anything about the Bruce Highway.

  9. Re 3 cornered contests.

    “One thing that cannot be levelled to me as a criticism is that I don’t listen to people. …. So, the National candidate can say what he likes but … that kind of criticism is just water off a duck’s back ”

    ABC transcript of a Liberal candidate responding to a reported comment by a Nationals candidate.

    It illustrates the potential for intra-Coalition differences and fighting when there is a 3 cornered contest.
    In this case, Grey, the Nats did not run a candidate last time, so whatever infighting between Libs and Nats that does occur is presumably to the advantage of the ALP.

  10. It does seem that much of the seat level polling is at odds with the overall 2PP lead to the ALP. With a 2PP of >55% it should be impossible to find concurrent data that has the ALP struggling. Yet we have polling in SA and QLD showing the ALP has a modest lead in key seats or is even behind. At the same time there is interal ALP polling showing the budgeted 5 seats from QLD is in the bag. What gives?

    I’ve little knowlede of seat level polling but my guess is the sample size would be small and the margin of error high. Hence, even if the overall data shows the ALP clearly in front the seat level polling can keep throwing up contrary signals.

    Bottom line is that if the high 2PP for the ALP persists to the election no amount of pork, spin or appeals to rednecks with make a difference. Exactly which seat will fall may remain a mystery untill polling day.

  11. There would be no hard and fast data on the effect of three cornered contests in the Reps. If the Libs and Nats are both competing, there will be a waste of resources in opposing Labor (or a strong independent). Preferences don’t always flow to ‘plan’. It’s surprising that there are many voters who don’t understand preferencing – preferences are entirely in the hands of the individual voter who often does not follow the card. The media talk so much of parties ‘giving’ their preferences to such and such which is not accurate (in the Reps). Queensland really is the key to this election – it is going to so interesting on election night

  12. The Libs and Nats should merge because the Libs have more rural seats than the National Party…they should just be one party…like call themselves the United Australian Party the old tory party of the 1930s-40s…its about time i reckon…

  13. I mentioned that Rural Press poll on this site a week or so ago. My understanding is that it was a poll of 721 farmers NATIONALLY, not 721 farmers in the seat of Leichhardt. It would be amazing to find 721 individual farmers (or any other occupation) in a single seat, and poll them all.

    I’d be surprised if there were many Leichhardt farmers polled at all by Rural Press. I got the impression that most of them were in NSW and Victoria, where most Rural Press agricultural readership is. And the issues nominated as the biggest concern (apart from hospitals) were water and drought – these are hardly concerns for Leichhardt.

    Overall, I think there’s a strong swing on to Labor in some rural areas, over things like petrol prices, shortage of rental accommodation, rising house prices, drought and water shortages, and WorkChoices affecting low-paid agricultural and hospitality workers. There may also be a bit of a correction to the very strong pro-Liberal swing in the bush last election.

  14. Capricornia 2004 is another interesting example.

    Liberals were excluded. Only 82% of their prefs went to the National and ALP got over the line.

  15. Yes, prefs are given on the party’s how-to-vote cards. They are not binding when Jack Voter goes into the booth.

    Anecdotally, there are reports of traditional Lib voters refusing to vote for the country-bumpkin Nats, and choosing the ALP when it’s a 2-way choice between the ALP and the Nats. Thing is, with so many coastal seats becoming urbanised (or suburbanised) with the influx of seachangers, more ‘traditional’ Nat seats will become home to rusted-on Lib and ALP voters. It’s going to be even tougher for the Nats in future electoral cycles. You can’t blame the Libs for trying to keep these seats in Coalition hands. Pick up the slack, so to speak.

  16. merging Libs and Nats?!
    well, don’t forget to invite / add Pauline Hanson’s party to the bunch as well 🙂
    Hasn’t she prepaired/adviced K.Andrews on immigration policy?

  17. I am a tory that means whenever i think the tories can do better as one party than as divided ill say it…the Libs have more country seats than the Nats…thus they should merge

  18. Remember the days when the Country Party (and Labor) would sometimes put up two candidates from the same party?

    Maybe Anthony or Adam can jog memories further on that. I always assumed the tactic was for largish rural electorates only, to put up someone popular at different ends of the electorate, or in two distinct towns.

    This happened before ballot labelling: would be a confusing look today.

  19. SL I would object, but its certainly more likely to be Labor’s after the election than ours…still anything can happen between now and polling day…

  20. Six seats in the bag in Queensland leaves only 10 to be found in the rest of the country. Not an impossible ask I would’ve thought.

    We may be living in the dying days of the rodent regime.

  21. If they lose this election, the Nats are finished at the Federal level. They’re being assaulted by the Libs, ALP and rural Independents. The Libs are by far the biggest threat. A close second is the drought. Seachangers come in third.

  22. Glen they should merge, Turnbell should be leader and the extreme right should be marginalized as the extreme left has been in the labor party, but none of it is going to happen.

  23. Also of note is that the number of ‘three-cornered’ contests where preferences have been required has halved since 1984. Three-cornered contests are no longer as important as they once were in determining the number of divisions where preferences are required to be distributed. Of more significance in the last two elections has been the decline in first preference votes received by the major parties.

    At the 2001 election preferences were required to be distributed in 87 divisions, but in only six divisions (Cowper, Paterson, Chisholm, Melbourne Ports, Brisbane and Hasluck) did a party win after trailing on first preference votes. In two divisions, Cowper and Paterson, the ALP lost in a ‘three-cornered’ contest while in the other four divisions the ALP won. The number of divisions where the result was changed by preferences was the lowest since 1987 (see Table 1).

    Table 1 Coming from Behind

    Divisions Where Preferences Required

    Three-Cornered Contests
    Divisions won from Behind








  24. TW Says:

    If they lose this election, the Nats are finished at the Federal level.

    I don’t think that is the case, the national seats are held with bigger margins. The Liberal party is on a bigger mess.

  25. October 10th, 2007 at 4:26 pm

    TW Says:

    If they lose this election, the Nats are finished at the Federal level.

    I don’t think that is the case, the national seats are held with bigger margins. The Liberal party is in a bigger mess.

  26. Charles: “I don’t think that is the case, the national seats are held with bigger margins. The Liberal party is in a bigger mess.”

    That’s just incumbency at work. Most Coalition rural seats will stay in Coalition hands, and with big margins. They’ll just switch from Nat to Lib when the sitting Nat member retires. It’s happened so often, and continues to happen. As somebody has already said, the majority of rural seats are already in Lib hands. The Nats these days have lost the plot.

  27. It seems the Liberals/Nats are in danger of losing all the seats of retiring MPs, even something as supposedly safe as Grey or Forde.
    I wonder if today’s promise to upgrade the Pacific Highway will save Page and Cowper for the Nationals?

  28. The Nationals need to differentiate themselves by reinventing themselves as a country party. I believe they’ll do this easier in opposition, although I think they’ve wasted opportunities in government.

  29. Reading the AFR article more carefully, I believe you might be correct, Antonio. I have chopped that line altogether.

    Graeme, the CLP still does field multiple candidates in some Northern Territory electorates. Usually they field both a white and an Aboriginal candidate to take advantage of the fact that NT ballot papers feature candidate photos. In last year’s Stuart by-election they fielded two Aboriginal candidates from different language groups.

  30. I’m not sure if the Pacific Highway announcement will save the Nats in Page and Cowper – however, what I do believe is that if Labor had announced the same thing (and got the state Labor government to back it), it would have guaranteed the retention of Richmond, whilst putting Labor in a very strong position in Page and making Cowper very competitive.

    As it is, this helps the Nats, but whether it’s enough the save those seats is another matter entirely…

  31. The seats of Page and Cowper are in that area specifically excluded by the Rodent, ie Woolgoolga to Ballina. Are these the workings of a genius?

  32. Responding to William’s original post, I think the coalition does have a problem beyond three cornered contests in Queensland. There is a strong perception in Queensland that the Liberal party organisation is weak. It is not hard to see why. In the fiasco of the last state election, Labour under Beatty should have been savaged for a string of scandals. Yet two coalition leaders couldn’t even agree on who would be Premier if they actually won. Stories of financial weakness and misuse of electoral funds by federal members (Laming still not in the clear) haven’t helped since then either. If the state vote translates Federaly, Labour will pick up many seats.

    I find it amazing that the Liberals haven’t done more to sort Queensland out. There is no law of physics that says Queensland must swing to Labour under Rudd. In the last two Brisbane Mayoral elections Campbell Newman has won well for the Liberals. Yet candidates of that quality seem to be lacking in Queensland Federal Liberals. With 14 members in parliament, the Liberals in Queensland can muster just two ministers (Brough and Mcfarlane) and two assistant ministers. Who can even name all the rest? Yet there seems little effort to bring in fresh blood.

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