James Massola of the Age/Herald reports that “expectations (are) growing that former Prime Minister Scott Morrison will quit politics”, probably between the May budget and the end of the year, entailing a by-election for his seat of Cook. Please let it be so, because a valley of death stretches before those of us in the election industry out to the second half of next year, to be followed by a flood encompassing the Northern Territory on August 24, the Australian Capital Territory on October 19, Queensland on October 26 and Western Australia on March 8 the following year (UPDATE: It’s noted that the Queensland local government elections next March, inclusive as they are of the unusually significant Brisbane City Council and lord mayoralty, should rate a mention). A normal federal election for the House of Representatives and half the Senate could happen in the second half of 2024 or the first of 2025, the alternative of a double dissolution being presumably unlikely.
Redistributions will offer some diversion in the interim, particularly after the Electoral Commissioner calculates how many House of Representatives seats each state is entitled to in the next parliament on June 27. This is likely to result in Western Australia gaining a seat and New South Wales and Victoria each losing one (respectively putting them at 16, 46 and 38), initiating redistribution processes that are likely to take around a year. There is also an outside chance that Queensland will gain a thirty-first seat. The Northern Territory will also have a redistribution on grounds of it having been seven years since one was last conducted, although this will involve either a minimal tweak to the boundary between Solomon and Lingiari or no change at all. At state level, a redistribution process was recently initiated in Western Australia and should conclude near the end of the year. The other state that conducts a redistribution every term, South Australia, gives its boundaries commission wide latitude on when it gets the ball rolling, but past experience suggests it’s likely to be near the end of the year.
However, the main electoral event of the foreseeable future is undoubtedly the Indigenous Voice referendum, which is likely to be held between October and December. Kevin Bonham has a post on polling for referendum in which he standardises the various results, which differ markedly in terms of their questions and response structures, and divines a fall in support from around 65% in the middle of last year to around 58% at present. For those of you with access to academic journals, there is also a paper by Murray Goot of Macquarie University in the Journal of Australian Studies entitled “Support in the Polls for an Indigenous Constitutional Voice: How Broad, How Strong, How Vulnerable?” In narrowing it down to credible polls with non-binary response options (i.e. those allowing for uncommitted responses of some kind, as distinct from forced response polls), Goot finds support has fallen from around 58% to 51% from the period of May to September to the period of October to January, while opposition had risen from 18% to 27%. The change was concentrated among Coalition supporters: whereas Labor and especially Greens supporters were consistently and strongly in favour, support among Coalition fell from around 45% to 36%.
Forced response questions consistently found between 60% and 65% in favour regardless of question wording, while non-binary polls (i.e. allowing for various kind of uncommitted response) have almost invariably had at over 50%. Goot notes that forced response polls have found respondents breaking between for and against in similar proportion to the rest, which “confounds the idea that, when push comes to shove, ‘undecided’ voters will necessarily vote no”. However, he also notes that questions in non-binary polls that have produced active majorities in favour have either mentioned an Indigenous Voice or the Uluru Statement from the Heart, or “rehearsed the Prime Minister’s proposal to amend the Constitution”. One that conspicuously did not do any of these things was a Dynata poll for the Institute of Public Affairs, which got a positive result of just 28% by priming respondents with a leading question and then emphasised that the proposal would involve “laws for every Australian”. JWS Research got only 43% in favour and 23% against, but its response structure was faulted by Goot for including a “need more information” option, which ruled the 20% who chose it out of contention one way or the other.