Batman by-election minus three weeks

Ten candidates take the field in Batman, as the first published poll of the campaign shows a better-than-expected result for Labor.

Two notable developments in the Batman by-election campaign:

• The Age has results of a poll conducted by Lonergan Research which, unusually these days, targeted only landline phones. The poll of 700 respondents found Labor leading 53-47, from primary votes of Labor 40%, Greens 39%, others 16% and don’t know 5%. However, it might be thought the lack of mobile phone polling could skew the result in favour of Labor. It should also be noted polling ahead of the Northcote by-election in November understated support for the Greens. The poll also found 36.2% of respondents had the impression Labor supported the Adani coal mine, 28.3% believed it did not, and 20.3% did not know, with 76% saying they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who opposed the mine, against 24% for less likely.

• With this week’s closure of nominations, it emerged that ten candidates had come forward, which is at the low end of normal for federal by-elections these days. The ballot paper order runs Yvonne Gentle (Rise Up Australia), Ged Kearney (Labor), Alex Bhathal (Greens), Kevin Bailey (Australian Conservatives), Tegan Burns (Australian People’s Party), Debbie Robinson (Australian Liberty Alliance), Teresa van Lieshout (Independent), Adrian Whitehead, Mark McDonald (Sustainable Australia) and Miranda Smith (Animal Justice).

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.

33 comments on “Batman by-election minus three weeks”

  1. There isn’t much information online about Adrian Whitehead, but came across a short bio.

    Kevin Bonham has updated his coverage of Batman with a comment about the Lonergan poll:

    Aside from the modest sample size, causing the 53-47 to Labor result to be within the notional margin of error, the poll has numerous red flags. No-one in their right mind would poll landline-only in an inner-city seat anymore, after the numerous robo-polling failures in such seats in recent times (it’s risky enough in any seat!)

  2. ESJ, if they lose Batman, I highly doubt Labor manages to hold Brunswick. You would think someone of Kearney’s stature might find a berth somewhere a bit better – maybe in the new seat that will be created in the Victorian federal redistribution.

  3. There is a major different between Batman and the state seat of Northcote in that Batman is much bigger and more northern. There is a lot more older people in the north of the seat.
    Also let’s not forgot that there is the issue of personal vote. The previous member for Northcote had a large personal vote and following. If anything, Feeney had a negative personal vote effect, having been shoe horned into the seat, hopeless as a local member and forgetful on issue of property ownership.
    It will be close but I doubt it will be the walk over that Northcote turned out to be.

  4. Are you actually suggesting no Greens voters in Batman have landlines? Or that only Labor voters have landlines? That’s the old saw usually applied to Lib/Lab square-offs, where anyone with a landline is seen, probably wrongly, as being a doddering old conservative. Are we really saying in this poll Labor voters are cast as role-playing cliched Tories? The poll, like any research, would be weighted for age. As it is the only public poll available so far, the result is newsworthy.

  5. Bookies continue to have the Greens $1.25 to $3.25 favourites, so I think I’m on safe ground in saying a 53-47 to Labor result is unexpected. No doubt the poll was weighted by age, but what kind of young people are they contacting? I tend to think there might be a bias towards people from migrant families living with their parents at the northern end of the electorate.

  6. Kevin Bonham describes this as a “poll-shaped object” and explains his technical concerns with it - – besides which it simply a matter of record that electorate level polling in Australia does not yet have a track record of reliability – reputable pollsters now do a good job at the national and state level. Electorate level research is just that much more difficult.

  7. Another thing which will be different to the Northcote by-election is the Australian Conservatives are running and may be seen by Liberal voters as a proxy. It will interesting to see how they perform. For comparison at 2016 the Liberals got just shy of 20%, so I reckon they might be able to crack double figures.

  8. Donkey voters who start at Box 2 with a 1 and number down the paper in sequence, forgetting to mark Box 1, will lodge a valid vote for Labor.
    Donkeys who miss the top two boxes will cast an invalid vote.

  9. BSF,

    Also factor in that RDN grew up in Reservoir and went to school in Bundoora – Batman born, bred and educated. He campaigned with Bhathal in the north during the 2016 election.

  10. I live in Batman and campaigned actively for Clare Burns at the Northcote byelection last year.

    This byelection seems very different. I door knocked a small segment of Thornbury today and saw more Ged Kearney corflutes in that small area than I saw for Clare Burns in the entire Northcote electorate last year.

    Worse for the Greens, they do not have a single Alex Bhathal coreflute on Arthurton Road (a very busy east west arterial). There were at least eight for Lidia Thorpe on that strip last year.

  11. I can’t wait to read all the lengthy and convoluted explanations for the failure of some polls and betting agencies to predict the Labor win in Batman…. Keep up that creativity, it’s good for your brain!

  12. The volume that Sportsbet takes on a by-election is not massive. They limit how much one can place on a candidate too (as they do with novelty bets…. it is a way of getting non-bettors to sign up). There are higher odds elsewhere at the moment.


    If the Greens do not win this time, Bhathal can be expected to run again. She says she “never thinks about” the next campaign but each time, during the off period, something happens to make her angry enough to run again.

    “I live in quite a poor street,” she says. “The problems with pensions, lack of funding, for health, especially preventative health, hospitals … they’re all in my face constantly because of my neighbours, who I love dearly.

    “Their lives are just stymied because of government policy, basically. So that keeps my momentum going.”

  14. Does anyone have any comment on the Labor on-the-ground campaign in Batman? What is happening? Ged Kearney seems a good candidate, but bookies now have the Greens at $1.14?? I cannot recall such a big difference between polling and betting.

  15. Socrates re polling and betting.
    The poll – if we are still calling it that – is actually very good for the Greens. Considering the landlines issue and the heavy sampling of older voters, it still had the Greens 3% away from winning, a remarkable poll for the Greens.. This may be a landslide if the Over 35s with landlines are splitting nearly evenly for the Greens.

    In terms of Ground game, the Greens machine is a well oiled machine and has been outperforming Labor over many years, when Labor didn’t have to do much or have enough vollies. So the ground game infrastructure of Greens vs Labor is stark as evidenced by Northcote.

    Labor hasn’t had to campaign in these “safe” seats for a while and it shows. The betting market is correct. the 10 cents back is a better bet.

  16. Damian24 the polling sample would be corrected for age, so the reason it’s suspect is because the small number of young people with landlines it sampled might not be representative, not that it’s ignorning the intentions of the youth entirely. Don’t get me wrong, I still think it’s a bad poll, but I’d say it just adds further uncertainty rather than being explicitly good news for the greens.


    Batman by-election: Greens’ hopes of winning bolstered by youth influx

    The challenge faced by mainstream parties in inner-city areas is revealed in figures showing how more than 20 per cent of voters in the federal seat of Batman ­enrolled after the 2016 election.

    Campaigning in inner-city seats has been turned on its head by soaring property prices that are leading to a younger, more mobile demographic taking over former heartland booths. Interim elec­toral roll numbers for the Melbourne seat of Batman show that of the more than 123,000 enrolled there, more than 26,000 had ­enrolled in just over 18 months.

    A by-election on March 17 will make it hard for Labor to hang on to the seat, in part because old Labor heartland voters have ­either cashed in their properties in the southern end of the seat or been forced out by high rents. It means the by-election is ­increasingly being contested in two halves — the south where the Greens dominate and the north where more traditional Labor ­voters live in cheaper housing. The ALP holds the seat with a margin of 1 per cent.

    There is a growing sense in the Labor Party that leader Bill Shorten will face a significant rebuff in Batman as his candidate, Ged Kearney, fights to retain the seat.

    The most likely result is that the former ACTU federal president will lose. Greens candidate Alex Bhathal has been a serial candidate in the seat and has a high recognition rating, despite internal battles.

    The challenge of the high churn rate of voters means it ­has become increasingly difficult for political parties to survey people because many newcomers do not have phone landlines. It also means political parties have ­access to much less ­information on their databases. The Australian understands that Labor has ratcheted up its focus on mainstream factors such as jobs, the economy and health, while the Greens are battling principally on their core issues such as the environment and offshore detention.

    The Adani coalmine development is one of the key issues backed by the Greens, but Labor sources said the Greens were also borrowing from ALP policy. In last year’s Northcote state by-election, Labor campaigned unsuccessfully on issues such as housing affordability, including rents. The Greens at next month’s by-election appear to be following the ALP. Ms Bhathal says on her website: “The Greens will make our economy work for everyone by protecting renters and tackling housing affordability. We will ban corporate political donations and break the link between big corporates who buy off the old parties.’’

    The core issue affecting the ­result is likely to be the decision by the Liberals not to run in ­Batman, with the ALP desperately needing their preferences in order to secure a win. A Labor loss will pose a short-term challenge for Mr Shorten,­ ­although the relentless instability in the federal ­Coalition is likely to limit any fallout.

  18. Areaman.
    People under 35 who would have a landline would be still living with their parents. I know it was weighted, but I don’t know any one of my friends who do not live with their parents who have a landline. Come to think of it, I don’t know any of my friends who answer their mobile let alone their landline (especially if it is a private number). So these polls really are not getting a good read of how young people are intending to vote.

    The only people I know who have a landline are over 70 years old.

  19. I live in the much aligned Reservoir, the ALP’s last bit of heartland in Batman. I have been door knocked by the greens last weekend (no sign of the ALP), see far more Alex posters around than Ged, and have got in the mail info from both the ALP and the Greens. Ged’s add kept interrupting my online viewing (so the ALP is spending some $$$). I have seen Alex at Rezza station, but not Ged.
    I think 2018 is Alex’s time to shine, Ged will hopefully get the new Vic safe federal ALP seat (I am personally insulted that talented ALP women are given marginal seats, while the boys get the safe seats).

  20. Damian24 you’re literally repeating the same point I made back at me. As I said people with landlines may not be representative of the you people as a whole.

  21. The 17th of March is St Patrick’s Day…

    There’s going to be an awful lot of green around as a result. I wonder what impact this might have on the by-election?

  22. Unfortunately this will be another easy Greens win.
    The Greens have preselected a poor candidate but the demographics are very much in their favor.
    Means Labor starts at -2 at the next Federal election.

  23. Right now I am 50-50 between a Labor or Greens victory in Batman, although I believe the margin of victory for either party is going to be narrow (4% or even less). A Labor loss to the Greens in Batman would seriously embarrass Bill Shortern and scare Labor MP’s in both Wills and Melbourne Ports. I suspect the Liberals stayed out of the by-election to allow a Green victory and put pressure on Bill Shorten on leader.

  24. The Liberals never ran a candidate at the Batman by-election following the death of Alan Bird, the incumbent ALP member, in 1962. The Liberals thought, given Bird’s big win in 1962, that the seat was ultra-safe. The DLP ran with their State Leader Jack Little, later to become a Senator, and a proxy for the Liberals was an Ivanhoe solicitor named McLeod no one had ever heard of. McLeod polled badly. He was backed by the Darby group in New South Wales, Darby being an Independent Liberal MP for Manly in the New South Wales Parliament. His views were to the right of the Tea Party but his anti-Communism was more than matched by the DLP. What lessons can be drawn? 1962 is a long time ago. Batman at that time included the Ivanhoe area, with East Ivanhoe being solidly Liberal. It did not go north of the Latte line, as present day Batman does. Northcote then was ALP heartland, despite the fact that the ALP Northcote Councillors were largely clowns. It was not a safe seat for the ALP at all. Only the ALP and DLP campaigned to any great extent, and corflutes then were relatively unknown. While Sam Benson, the ALP candidate, was parachuted in from outside he turned out to be a good local member after his election. In 1963 at the general election Benson retained his seat by only about 300 votes. Had the Liberals run in Batman in 1962 they would probably have won in 1963. This time boundary changes would have meant a certain ALP victory were it not for gentrification, with newer middle-class voters in the southern part of the electorate voting Green. In the past Batman was a classic study of ethnic politics. The ethnic factor is still there, but it will not influence the vote. ALP factions in Batman have previously stacked branches for internal representation at ALP Conferences. The ALP obtained loyalty from Greek voters, and to a lesser extent from other ethnic groups. That loyalty seems to be fading.

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