The Liberals have finally managed to piece together a victory in South Australia, at the third successive election at which they won the statewide two-party vote. The election was actually won for them in the redistribution, which made four seats won by Labor in 2014 notionally Liberal, with only one going the other way. If the 2014 election had been held under the new boundaries, the Liberals would have made it to 25 seats out of 47 (albeit with a 0.1% margin in Newland), which as likely as not is where this election will leave them when the dust settles.
The Liberals only went into the election with 20 of the 22 seats they won in 2014, having suffered two defections to the cross bench: Troy Bell in Mount Gambier, who was re-elected yesterday as an independent, and Duncan McFetridge in Morphett, whose seat has reverted to the Liberals (UPDATE: Make that 19 – I forgot about Martin Hamilton-Smith, whose seat of Waite went back to the Liberals with his retirement). To the resulting base of 21 seats, the Liberals have certain gains in two of the four notionally Liberal seats, Colton and Elder. They are ahead in a third, Newland, and are likely to go down to the wire in the fourth, Mawson. With a further gain likely in the new seat of King, they appear all but certain of making it to a majority.
However, the Liberals have once again struggled to gain decisive swings against sitting Labor members. The three actual or potential Labor casualties were all in notional Liberal seats, and there were swings in favour of two of them, albeit insufficient ones. The other very likely gain, the northern Adelaide seat of King, was a new electorate contested by a neophyte Labor candidate. Furthermore, Labor may make a gain in the seat of Adelaide, where Liberal member Rachel Sanderson ended the night 67 votes ahead.
Of the 33 seats where Liberal-versus-Labor counts have been conducted, there has been an average swing to Labor of 1.8%. This suggests the Liberals’ final two-party vote will be around 51.2%, which is slightly lower than they scored at both the last two losing elections. The distortion created by SA Best may have been a bit of a factor here, but the effect overall was modest: Labor scored an average 2.0% swing out of 24 seats where SA Best had candidates, and 1.3% out of nine seats where they didn’t.
SA Best wasn’t the only minor party who had a disappointing night. Cory Bernardi’s Australian Conservatives has flunked its first electoral test, going backwards compared with Family First’s performance in 2014 and almost certainly losing one of its two upper house seats. Its vote fell an average 2.7% out of the 33 lower house seats it contested, reducing to 1.1% in the four seats where they didn’t face competition from SA Best. The Greens vote was little changed, dropping by 0.2% overall, but increasing by 0.6% in the 11 seats that were uncontested by SA Best. The party will clearly retain its upper house seat, maintaining its representation of two seats overall.
There are five seats I have identified as potentially in doubt where I will continue to monitor late counting, which will advance substantially when pre-polls are counted on Monday. If the Liberals win all of these seats, which they certainly may, they will end up with 26 seats. That still leaves open a worst case scenario of 21 seats, with Labor on 22, three independents and one SA Best – hence my suggestion last night that Jay Weatherill was a little too quick to concede. I’m probably being generous to Labor in rating Newland and King in doubt, but with so much of the vote yet to be counted, prudence would seem in order.
The chart above shows the two-party booth votes on the left, which are all that has been counted to this point; projected declaration votes in the centre, based on the difference between booth and non-booth results at the 2014 election; and the sum of the two to produce projected totals on the right. Only the first of these is provided in the case of Heysen, where the Liberals are fighting SA Best, for whom 2014 offers no guide. It’s usually the way of late counting that the Liberals are favoured, and that’s what’s anticipated here of the three seats where they are narrowly ahead. Furthermore, it’s projected that Labor’s narrow lead in Mawson will disappear, although the 2014 precedent may not be a guide here, as Labor’s ground game would have been lacking in much of the electorate last time.
In the Legislative Council, Labor and Liberal have a clear three quotas each with SA Best on two, with the remaining three seats likely to land with the Greens and the number four candidates of Liberal and Labor. Australian Conservatives is on 3.6% of the statewide vote, compared with 4.4% for Family First in 2014, which no doubt reflects the success of SA Best in scoring 19% of the vote. This amounts to 0.43 quotas for the party’s struggling incumbent, Robert Brokenshire, compared with the 0.56 quotas that will be left to Labor after the election of its third candidate. To elevate past Labor from losing twelfth place to winning eleventh, Brokenshire has to close a gap of 1% in late counting and preferences, the most likely path to which is a weak showing for Labor in late counting. Preferences are unlikely to feature, as neither Liberal nor the Greens will be fully excluded at the point where either Brokenshire or Labor’s number four are excluded.