Wentworth by-election minus one week

Reported internal polling from Wentworth suggest the Liberals have a nervous week ahead of them.

With one week to go, two polling snippets to launch a dedicated Wentworth post and discussion thread:

Andrew Clennell of The Australian reports Liberal internal polling shows Kerryn Phelps is “likely” to finish ahead of Labor’s Tim Murray, and that Phelps emerges “a fraction of a percentage point ahead” of Liberal candidate Dave Sharma after preferences.

• Both Kerryn Phelps and Tim Murray are credited with two-party leads of around 55-45 over Dave Sharma in an online poll conducted for Voter Choice, a research project by James Cook University doctoral candidate Kathryn Crosby. While the poll has a respectable sample of 736 and appears to use judicious weighting, the self-selecting nature of the sample warrants a degree of caution. UPDATE: Kevin Bonham has looked at this more carefully, and advises still more caution.

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.

115 comments on “Wentworth by-election minus one week”

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  1. Toff

    Comparing by elections with by elections can have many problems. What we can say however is that a trend of the LNP primary vote collapsing is clear.

    This was the reason given by Dutton’s group for the leadership push. Fear of losing votes to the right.

    The split in the right is on and its delivering government to Labor if those polls continue to follow that trend.

  2. Seat polls. Yeah nah.

    About the best we can say is that Dave is going to need some prefs to get home. A win on primaries is very unlikely on the polling we have. If the polling is close to right and he drops under 40% it gets really interesting.

    I don’t think we can make much more out of it than that at this stage. We can only guess as to who out of Labor and Phelps will make the last distribution and how close Sharma will already be to a majority at that point due to leakage of prefs.

    I’d speculate that there will be quite a few notional Lib voters that will send a protest to an indie but still pref the Libs over Phelps and Labor. I don’t have any faith that the polling will pick these voters up.

    So my gut feeling is still that Sharma will make it. Trumble certainly had a strong personal vote, but talk about the seat being almost a marginal before him overstates things. He had a bit of baggage from the way he took out King and then having King stand as the incumbent as an independent. This is a Liberal seat. More socially progressive than most Liberal seats, but still heartland.

  3. ‘guytaur says:
    Saturday, October 13, 2018 at 2:32 pm


    I note you love to dance on someone’s grave when they admit to a mistake.’

    Uh huh. Not only were you wrong but you were calling me an ‘idiot’ for being right. I try to help the Greens get their tactics right to defeat Morrison and this is what I get in return. It is the sort of behaviour that invites grave dancing.

    Mind you, the Greens’ polling at Wentworth is sinking rapidly towards the MOE, so all this is not all that important.

  4. BW

    Yeah yeah You were right I was wrong got it.

    Edit: In case you missed the sarcasm. Greens saying vote Labor before the LNP is Sooooooo advocating a vote for the LNP

  5. @ ratsak

    Excellent summation. We can speculate all we want but seat polls as we know are not reliable. Leonie Short (the lady in Red) who won Ryan ever so briefly – let’s hope Murray’s vote falls the same way. But I have my doubts – unfortunately.

  6. Even, as is likely, he win the TPP, if Sharma – a social progressive, intelligent and ‘human’ lib – gets a 20% primary vote swing against him in such a blue ribbon seat, the libs are heading for a wipeout of biblical proportions. The government have had a comparatively ‘good’ fortnight, but when parliament resumes on Monday labor has numerous lines of attack – I suspect climate change, banking royal commission, and maybe even treatment of refugees (labor should negotiate an agreement for NZ to take those on Nauru and Manus with Arden and put this to the house) will feature. ScuMo ranting about how great coal is, dissing climate science, and ‘BOATS!’ could be all that is needed for Sharma to lose. The Dutton-Abbott forces will be ready to move if Morrison tries to be a moderate this (or any) week and plotting again if they lose wentworth.

  7. With LNP billboards appearing over last few days across the nation, is this a sign that the coalition is expecting to lose by election and go to a full election asap?

  8. BW,

    I do think you’re being a bit too dogmatic about the Greens preferences though. This isn’t Mayo.

    Especially after Phelps’ volte face on preferencing the Libs I don’t think they could sustain and argument for supporting ‘a Liberal in sheep’s clothing’.

    They quite rightly get massive stick for their same-same bullshit. To preference someone who has clearly come out as supporting the continuation of this government would have been a massive cost to them across the nation. Labor campaigners in Melbourne would have cheered that decision.

    I agree that preferencing Phelps probably increases the odds of a Liberal loss. But the data is simply not robust enough to assume it is a marginal advantage and that there isn’t at least as significant a chance that doing so would backfire.

    In such situations I think it is much better that the Greens put their same-same bullshit to bed and clearly work to put real AND faux Libs last.

  9. Ratsak@2:49pk
    You beat me to it.
    Even I think Sharma will win the seat although following happened:
    1. MT is dumped as PM and resigned from seat
    2. Ruddock religious report was leaked strategically to imply that discrimation against gays in schools in a couple of states will be legislated to include whole country
    3. Sydney Opera House billboard scandal, which implicated Gladys B and Morrison
    4. ALP has a good candidate especially with business credentials, which are acceptable to Wentworth voters
    5. Murray is a local of Wentworth and Sharma is not.
    6. Sharma not attending community meeting, where all other candidates attended, is not a good look on Sharma.
    7. Federal government out right IPCC report on climate change effects
    8. Morrison refused to explain the reason why he is the PM and MT is not.
    9. ALP posters are removed and replaced by Sharma’s posters.

  10. ratsak

    Given that if its close that Greens preference could decide between Phelps and Murray I think the Greens have the right preference position for Labor.

  11. Boerwar says:
    Saturday, October 13, 2018 at 3:18 pm
    Hmm… I posted a link but it has been censored: it was to an image of Dogmatix.

    How funny you should cite Dogmatix right now. I am reading Adrian Goldswothy’s biography of Julius Caesar ATM, and right now I’m in the thick of Caesar’s campaigns in Gaul. Plus, Asterix and Obelix was one of my favourite reads in primary school. Really strong flashbacks right now!

  12. ratsak
    “So my gut feeling is still that Sharma will make it. ”

    Me too. I visited Wentworth early in the week (had an errand to run), and large swathes of the electorate scream wealth and privilege. It’s a blue-ribbon Lib seat. The 2.5% margin of 2007 was artificially low, not a baseline.

  13. “With LNP billboards appearing over last few days across the nation, is this a sign that the coalition is expecting to lose by election and go to a full election asap?”

    ScuMo is a practiced bullshit artist with a massive ego, and I think he reckons he can win an election campaign against shorten. It will be a dirty campaign focusing on shorten. If they win in wentworth he will claim momentum and that “The Australian people have shown they do not trust Bill Shorten”.

    Given they have no policy agenda I think he knows parliament sitting is not good for them, and that every week they get through without a fuck up is an exception rather than the rule – he might figure things are as good as they can get and just go for it.

    If they lose to Phelps, they can survive as a government, and I suspect would be more inclined to hold off on an election. If they lose to labor, my guess is they will put up a heap more tax break legislation or try to put up legislation to enshrine ‘the right’ for dividend imputation refunds in the hope their first loss in the house was on these and then campaign on “Labor = Tax”. Labor will still not have the numbers for a vote of no confidence without some of the indies will they?

    I suspect if he calls an election it’ll be as short a campaign with the election in november if possible – with the Melbourne cup sucking oxygen during the campaign.

  14. Boerwar says:
    Saturday, October 13, 2018 at 2:27 pm

    Don’t ask me. Ask the Liberals. They are GLAD that the Greens are preferencing Labor ahead of Phelps.
    Greens/Liberals same old, same old.

    So you took what the Liberals said as gospel, and didn’t think about it. And you think green voters are crazy?

  15. Hi Kevin!

    I don’t know if you’re inclined to have people pick your brains here, but if you are, I have a question.

    Do you think there is any way of establishing a TPP ALP-Coal “lean” in a given seat, based solely on historic election results and not at all on opinion polling? In the US, Cook Political Report and others do this for both states and districts, at least for elections at the Federal level.

  16. This is the story:

    Because as things stand now the Liberals are in front, Phelps is second, Labor third and the Greens fourth. This means the Greens will be the first of the four to get knocked out and have their preferences distributed. And if their preferences get distributed to Labor as the party directs then the ALP will overtake Phelps and Phelps will be knocked out. And if even just half of her voters preference Liberal then the Libs are home and hosed.

    So it is
    Libs 33
    Phelps 32
    Labor/Green 35 ( has to add to 100%)
    Phelps eliminated enough preferences go to Libs to win
    Libs 51 labor 49. Phelps split 17% to Liberals and 14% t0 Labor, not a 50%/50% split but lets ignore that. We have the story.

    lets make the green vote 10%.
    Libs 33
    Phelps/Greens 42
    Labor 25 ( has to add to 100%)

    Labor eliminated; Labor to Phelps; Phelps 67.
    I concede defeat and apologize

  17. BW, there is one sure way a voter can make sure their vote supports Labor: vote 1 Tim Murray, Labor for Wentworth. Then make sure they rank Phelps ahead of Sharma in their lower preferences. You’d agree with this?

  18. Michael
    The tactical victory here is to knock Sharma off by getting Phelps in.
    The assumption is that Phelps will collecting a larger primary than Murray.
    The correct tactic here is to either vote Phelps 1.
    Yes, there are known unknowns and unknown unknowns.
    But the known known is that if Phelps has a small primary than Murray then that maximizes Sharma’s chances.
    The strategic victory for Labor should Phelps get up is that the Liberals will be emboldened to gut each other in the run up to the election.

  19. Michael, I’ve sometimes looked at seats as LNP+(x) or ALP+(x) by simply comparing the 2PP with the election-wide 2PP. This could be averaged over time with the more recent results weighted more heavily. The main difficulty is that x can change a lot as a result of redistributions, so if you don’t know the redistribution history of a seat and have the data to adjust for it, x could be misleading.

    Wentworth is an interesting one on that measure because it has come up from single figure LNP+s in the 90s and 2000s to LNP+15, +14, +17 at the last three elections (in isolation). The question is how much of this is Turnbull.

  20. It’s clear the Gs do not want Phelps to win. Third voices such as Phelps are a direct competitive threat to the Gs. If Independent candidates can win seats, there is a less-persuasive case for voters to support G candidates.

    The very interesting thing about Independent candidates is their ability to draw votes away from the LNP, something the Gs have been singularly incapable of doing. This is barely a surprise, as the G campaign is overwhelmingly aimed at wedging Labor-leaning voters.

    The Right-leaning bloc in the electorate is disintegrating. Part of it is breaking towards the Crazies. And part of it is now breaking towards the centre, especially on social issues and on climate change. While this disintegration may pose an existential threat to the LNP, it is of almost not benefit whatsoever to the Gs. If anything, the rise of centrist 3rd voices is also a menace to the Gs, who could lose up to 1/3 of their voter base to non-aligned “moderate” centrist Independent candidates.

    If this also translated into weaker support in Senate elections, the rise of Independent voices could not only help break up the LNP, it could help to frustrate G Senate representation, at least in some States.

    The Gs will be anxious to ensure that Lib-leaning Independents do not succeed. Though they whinge endlessly about it, the status quo also works to sustain the Gs. They will seek to defend it.

  21. Frankly, I’m really hoping the Wentworth electorate responds to the current situation by abandoning the Liberal Party in large numbers. It’s conceivable – not necessarily likely, but conceivable – that the Liberal vote will drop into the low 30s, or even less, as a reaction to their idiotic positions/non-positions on climate change. Their position is about the greatest insult to the intelligence and the interests of Australian voters in the history of the Federation. They really deserve to lose nearly everything they have.

    If the Liberal PV drops below 35% they will certainly lose the seat. This should encourage other Lib-reformers to run against RW Liberals in other supposedly safe seats. Abbott would be vulnerable. Morrison and a swag of others may also be at risk. They would all richly deserve rejection.

  22. “It’s clear the Gs do not want Phelps to win.”

    Noone left of far right should want Phelps to win, she endorsed the Liberals, in the current environment, they’d just dumped a PM, dumped the very best climate change response they had (yes it was rubbish but it was the best they have had in about 10 years) and make that total FW Morrison our PM. Then she endorsed them by loudly and unnecessarily directing her preferences to the muppets.

    She is as bad as those Red state Democrats who the democrats need to dump because they are total FRAUDS.

    Only a total fool would be arguing for Phelps preferences from the Greens, or Labor or any intelligent candidate, she needs to be last before the Libs. And if there is someone who dislikes the Government but is still stupid enough to support her, they need to preference contrary to her endorsement of this Muppet Government and direct them to Labor.

  23. “It’s clear the Gs do not want Phelps to win. Third voices such as Phelps are a direct competitive threat to the Gs. If Independent candidates can win seats, there is a less-persuasive case for voters to support G candidates.”

    I’m a Labor supporter and I also agree that the Greens look to wedge Labor but I have no problem with Greens preferncing Labor. Simply speaking Phelps says she is for action on climate change and then cyncically trys to have a bet each way by preferencing the Liberals over Labor. It was disingenuous and the Greens rightly chose to preference Labor over Phelps because of it. Nope no complaints from me on the Greens on this one.

  24. There seems to be a myth developing that the Liberal Party have changed from being liberals to conservatives. The truth is they have always been conservatives and have changed to being idiots.

  25. Huge if true…

    7 News understands that at this stage Opposition Leader @billshortenmp will not be campaigning with the Labor candidate for Wentworth next week. The party accepts it’s a two way race between the @LiberalAus’s @DaveSharma & Independent @drkerrynphelps. @jenbechwati #auspol #7News

  26. Kevin, thanks for that.

    I guess it is best to look at past results for the individual booths that are currently located in the seat, rather than electorate level results, to bypass the effect of redistributions.

    I also wonder if the partisan lean is better inferred from the difference in Senate votes in the relevant booths from that party’s Senate vote statewide, rather than House votes, to eliminate the effect of the personal vote of any incumbent candidates.

  27. A problem with using Senate votes as an indicator of lean is that there are parties that take primary votes from majors much more successfully in some areas than others. This especially applies to parties like Shooters, Fishers and Farmers and One Nation, which both tend to do much better in the bush. People who measure personal votes as Reps minus Senate have sometimes overestimated rural personal votes for this reason. Perhaps a way could be found to flatten Senate results into a notional 2PP with some sort of reliability to combat that. It’s difficult because some quite successful Senate parties don’t run in the Reps or don’t run widely, so you’d probably need to estimate a 2PP from their 2016 Senate flows.

  28. Sprocket:
    Saturday, October 13, 2018 at 8:50 pm

    I don’t think it makes any strategic difference to Labor whether Phelps wins or Murray, as far as the havoc wreaked upon the Morrison Liberal Government is concerned, so if this is their decision, it is one without very many negative consequences for them, even if they are premature in writing off their own chances – as I think they are.

    Sure, they will forgo the extra $273.45 in election funding for every vote they fail to harvest because they have run dead, but if they calculate they will spend more campaigning for those votes than what they think they would thereby harvest, I get why they would make the decision that report would indicate they have.

    I just hope they haven’t just succumbed to groupthink in judging themselves to have no hope of winning, but that they have considered how they assess ALP-Lib TPP support premised upon a Lib candidate other than Turnbull, if that’s the judgement they’ve made.

  29. Kevin, thanks again. I’m starting to appreciate how much more difficult it is to infer a partisan lean (meaning, a measure of how “Labor” or “Coalition” a seat is relative to the state/nation as a whole, irrespective of the incumbency status of candidates) for seats in Australia than it is in the US, where the two majors dominate the vote much more than here.

  30. Boerwar:
    Saturday, October 13, 2018 at 7:11 pm

    Thanks for this exposition of the reasoning. I do think it it based on the premise of the impossibility of a Murray win, which I don’t think is quite warranted by the sum total of indications we have thus far. However, I do get the appeal for Labor of the havoc that would be unleashed in the Coalition following a Sharma defeat, whether at the hands of Murray or Phelps.

    I just think a positive possibility for Labor is being ignored by the analysis you cite. If Murray did win on Oct 20, there is a good chance he would be returned in the ensuing general election. All of the variables which would have been present to propel him to victory now (should that happen) would still be present at the general: an ineffective, socially conservative Liberal Government in Canberra, and no incumbent MP as the Liberal candidate in Wentworth. Add to that the extra chaos and disunity that would likely ensue in the Coalition post-defeat; and add to that some sort of incumbency bump for Murray. It would be hard for the Liberals to actually lift their vote in those circumstances.

    Plus, the ALP does forgo election funding by running dead in the campaign, by virtue of the votes forgone they would have otherwise obtained. I can’t even begin to guess the figures, but it would not be nothing.

    Anyway, nobody will ever know whether or not a full campaigning effort from Labor would have resulted in a Murray victory, if such an effort is not made and Phelps wins. So, if Labor does run dead as you suggest they should, the reputations of those who made that decision will rest secure.

  31. Liberal internal polling shows Kerryn Phelps is “likely” to finish ahead of Labor’s Tim Murray, and that Phelps emerges “a fraction of a percentage point ahead” of Liberal candidate Dave Sharma after preferences.

    That sounds like the sort of “result” you publish when you’re hoping to trick your wavering former voters into coming back to the flock. The actual numbers must be really bad.

    The Coalition’s normal tack is to project unwavering confidence.

  32. To me the interest in Wentworth is that it is Liberal heartland – the seat of the former Liberal prime minister no less

    Prime ministers do not contest marginal seats – they are in safe seats (noting Howard who was only the second pm to lose his seat, so the exception)

    So the expectation is that the Liberal Party will hold the seat – easily

    What we have seen during the course of this Parliament is a succession of by elections – where the seat of the former pm Howard was retained and the seat of the former Deputy pm was held

    Then we had 5 by elections, all non government seats and remaining non government seats (albeit that 3 of those seats were Liberal seats in the immediate past, so “swing” seats which saw the government majority reduced to just the one seat)

    So the status quo maintained

    However, in one of those 5 by election seats the Liberal vote collapsed to unprecedented levels and, since then, in a State election in NSW (so Federal relevance?) the Liberal vote equally collapsed, returning an Independent

    So the question for me is this evidenced collapse in the Liberal vote and if that trend is maintained in Wentworth making the seat marginal but for an Independent aka the State seat in NSW

    And if that is the trend, at the upcoming Federal election how many other high profile Liberal leaning Independents may be tempted to stand aka Mirabella – citing a more progressive agenda on, for example, climate – or refugees which would be really interesting

    Labor will not come to government by winning Wentworth

    Labor will come to government by retaining its existing seats, including the benefit of redistributions plus wining a handful of other seats – and where Queensland and WA are in play

    Then if the Liberals lose seats to Liberal leaning Independents where does that lead noting Windsor and Oakshott

    Do these Independents support a minority Coalition Government – with Labor holding more seats in the Lower House than the Coalition?

    No doubt there is confidence in play in Wentworth – but given it is a blue ribbon Liberal seat even that is fraught in the real world because the Liberals will resort to “normal” anti government by election swings

    Wentworth will be interesting – but that is all

    The other issue to me is the cost to the Liberals – noting that the fundraising in Victoria is such that Kroger has had to donate from his own pocket as did Turnbull in the last Federal election

    So what are the financial resources of the LIberal Party State Divisions and nationally and how depreciated are they from this by election

    Reporting is that it is the Liberals under funding pressure – noting the Hayne RC and the Aged Care RC target their donors

  33. Phelps out of left field decided to preference the libs ahead of labour…..I cannot understand why>……. unless she is walking both sides of the road…; and is certain she will finish second….// this will lose her primary votes and preferences…………….. no one here really knows how the 60 to 65 non liberal vote will split…. I would expect labor greens and heath will preference each other on the basis of their htv…..

  34. Like ratsak, I think this is Sharma’s to lose, the voters here are engaged and aware that the government has a 1 seat majority,which will be lost, if they lose Wentworth, so this fact will stay enough of a protest vote to prevent a loss.

    If the Libs had a 5 seat majority they would be toast.

    Given the large number of candidates and a diverse electorate allocating preference swings is impossible.

    If the Liberals lose this, nothing in Parliament will change, given the cross bench they would survive no confidence motions, what it will do is incite internal turmoil.

  35. The following article states 12% of Wentworth population is Jewish. I ever worked closely with 4 jews in my working life. Guess what all of them were/ are from Wenworth and all are/were Lib voters. Coincidence, I think not. About 90% of jews in US are left wing and over 90% of Jews in OZ are right wing. A lot of jews live in Wentworth and they support and vote forSharma and providing funds to Sharma according to this article

  36. The by election I omitted was Batman – where the Liberals did not contest leaving a Labor v Greens contest comfortably won by Labor – so retained also

    So the exclusive result is retained – except for a State seat

    Of interest tho is the presentation of Greens pressuring Labor in Labor held seats

    Conversely, and not given coverage by media (due to bias?) is that in the Parliament we have the former Liberal Katter, an Independent who took out Mirabella, the loss of Mayo being another former Liberal blue ribbon seat and we had Windsor and Oakshott – and, yes, there is Wilkie in Tasmania in a nominal Labor seat

    And now we have the Independent candidate in Wentworth said in with a chance if she can get to a run off v the Liberals

    So how many other higher profile (local) Liberal moderates are out there thinking of nominating?

    Will a Phelps win embolden them?

    And will a gaggle of Liberals, Nationals, Liberal Nationals (in Queensland) and Independents who have taken Liberal seats be on the other side of the Chamber from Labor (and a Green if they hold Melbourne and Wilkie)?

    For this reason the Liberal vote in Wentworth will be of interest

  37. Murray to come over the top in an all over the place by-election. Everyone is exasperated with the Abbott/Turnbull/Morrison thing. Voters are resigned to the expectation that having tried a jock, a toff and now a dumb-arsed skater kid from the shire, the need to turn to unelectable Bill from those horrible unions and the Labor rabble, take the medicine while getting back to flat whites and making money, is the next step in maintaining a ridiculously selfish lifestyle and condescending outlook.
    Alan Jones is becoming too familiar and the thought of a Labor local member is not something that a long overseas sojourn won’t remedy.
    No need for locally produced Australian content when the state of Australian politics is available.

  38. Strange then Ven, my branch president and secretary are Jews. The presidents cousin from Armidale currently visiting us is a Labor voter. El prez formerly lived in Wentworth, and she felt that more jews than not voted Labor, except the Rabbis ,who all voted Liberal.

  39. Maybe you have to draw a distinction between the post-war/pre-apatheid jews and the recent arrivals from Sith Afrika. There are quite a few strong lefties in the jewish community in the Eastern Suburbs.

  40. I hope labor plant the meme after the wentworth swing (whether Sharma gets up or not, they are looking at 20% fall in PV ) that “The LNP is now travelling worse than they were when they decided to knife Mr Turnbull – Perhaps the libs would have been better off with Dutton as leader, and must be reconsidering their options” – just to make mischief. Dutton is a vindictive prick, and I’ll be he’s stewing and plotting to get even ever since ScuMo tricked him into being his stalking horse.

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