Trouble and strife

Judith Brett, professor of politics at La Trobe University and author of Australian Liberals and the Moral Middle Class, let fly with her handbag yesterday at those of us who have employed the term "doctors’ wives" to characterise voters who are deserting the Liberal Party in their safest urban electorates (the Poll Bludger’s defence is that he has always employed quotation marks). Among Brett’s numerous well-made points:

Women have always been more sensitive than men to the moral dimensions of politics. They first left their homes to enter public politics in large numbers in the 19th century to support moral causes such as temperance and the abolition of slavery … It was the fear of the moral power of women voters, in particular their opposition to the male pleasures of drinking and gambling, that motivated much of the opposition to the female franchise … Until feminism and the 1970s, the Liberal Party was the natural home of the morally concerned woman looking to cast her vote in the national interest … That Liberals would even use a term such as "doctors’ wives" to describe morally motivated, well-educated middle class women shows the depth of their conviction that self-interest is the main political motivator, that no matter what they say about values, politics is really about class and these women are too woolly-minded to realise it.

That said, it must be granted that class obviously has a fair bit to do with it since these are specifically "middle class" women under discussion; women lower down the social spectrum are as likely to be shifting their votes the other way. Certainly Newspoll’s demographic analysis graphs in Thursday’s Australian, which span results from the past three years, do not suggest any seismic shift on either side of the gender divide since 2001. If Liberal voters in safe urban seats are abandoning their party, there doesn’t seem any particular reason to think that women are driving the phenomenon.

Whatever the reason, it is indeed being seriously suggested that the Liberals harbour fears for members up to and including John Howard in Bennelong, Peter Costello in Higgins and Tony Abbott in Warringah. It was reported last weekend that in Joe Hockey’s seat of North Sydney, a traditionally safe Liberal electorate that was nevertheless won by independent Ted Mack in 1990 and 1993, Liberal internal polling had the combined Labor and Greens vote at 52 per cent. The Poll Bludger suspects that the Liberals are playing games here in a move to scare supporters out of registering a protest vote, just in case. George Megalogenis and Elizabeth Colman of the Australian are on the money when they say the members for these seats are merely "comparing notes on the rumblings from formerly rusted-on supporters" and that a post-materialist anti-Howard backlash can only prove decisive in the more marginal city seats of Adelaide and Deakin in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs, as well as the wild card of Wentworth.

An innings and 300 runs

For the second week in a row ACNielsen has produced an eyebrow-raising primary vote for the Coalition. Speaking on Sky News this evening, Margo Kingston revealed that the poll to appear in tomorrow’s Fairfax broadsheets will have the Coalition on 50 per cent, solidly higher than for any of Howard’s three previous victories and indeed for any major party since 1975. Also today, Roy Morgan produced its first poll in living memory (phone rather than face-to-face) showing the Coalition with a two-party preferred lead, of 51.5-48.5. This nugget of information was buried inside Morgan’s report on the findings for its very interesting poll rating the various opposite numbers in major portfolios. The polls might reflect what were seen to be intemperate displays by Mark Latham in his dealings with reporters on Sunday.

Another one bites the dust

Very bad news for Labor today with The Advertiser running a poll from a remarkable sample of 1,114 showing Liberal incumbent Trish Draper – she of the European travel rorts – leading her quality Labor challenger Tony Zappia 52-48 in the Adelaide electorate of Makin. Primary vote after distribution of 12 per cent undecided: Liberal 46.5 per cent, Labor 41 per cent, Family First 4.5 per cent, Greens and Democrats 2 per cent each). Makin is one of three Adelaide marginals that Labor desperately needs to win if as expected they fail to make substantial inroads in New South Wales and Queensland. The Poll Bludger’s assessment had been the Labor would indeed win all three – one who thinks otherwise is Michelle Wiese Bockmann of The Australian who yesterday criticised "a rudderless, under-funded state campaign marred by factionalism and underwhelming candidates", the latter assessment directed mostly at Adelaide candidate Kate Ellis who "has let state Labor MP Tom Koutsantonis, a key adviser, launch personal attacks on sitting member Trish Worth". That said, the accompanying Newspoll geographic and demographic analysis survey (based on the last two weekend polls that produced national results of 50-50 and 52.5-47.5 in Labor’s favour) indicated a 6 per cent swing to Labor in South Australia. However, this would have been based on a smaller sample for the entire state than the Advertiser poll has for just one electorate, which is sufficient evidence for the Poll Bludger to withdraw Makin as a projected Labor gain. Runs on the Board accordingly shifts another notch in the Coalition’s favour.

Morgan and the Senate

Praise be to the Roy Morgan organisation, which has apparently been asking respondents a bonus question on Senate voting intention since mid-August and has only now chosen to unload the results. The cumulative outcome favours Labor even more heavily than their House of Representatives surveys, with the Coalition down 5 per cent from 2001 to 37 per cent and Labor up 2.4 per cent to 36.5 per cent, while the Greens are up 4.9 to 12 per cent. The big surprise is that the Australian Democrats are on 6 per cent, three times what they have managed in Morgan’s normal polling this year. What follows are Morgan’s takes on these figures, followed by the Poll Bludger’s explanations of why they’re wrong.

New South Wales: The Senate seats would most likely remain unchanged, with the L-NP winning three of the six seats up for election and the ALP winning two seats. The Greens would retain their seat.

Firstly, there is no seat for the Greens to retain. It is Aden Ridgeway of the Democrats who is up for re-election. Secondly, Morgan’s figures have the Coalition on 37 per cent, well short of what they would need to secure the third seat which Morgan predicts here (compare and contrast with their finding for Western Australia). The Coalition’s surplus over their second quota would be 9 per cent, with which they would have to fend off the combination of Family First, One Nation, the Democrats and Liberals for Forests, who have all put each other ahead of the Coalition. That would add up to at least 12 per cent on these figures. Fred Nile also favours Family First ahead of the Coalition. The real outcome would be two Coalition, two Labor and one Greens, plus one from the others – probably Family First.

Queensland: The ALP and L-NP would each have won two seats with Pauline Hanson also winning a seat, resulting in the loss of an L-NP Senator. The remaining seat going to either the Greens or the Democrats – preferences following a vote for Pauline Hanson will be important.

Again Morgan appears not to realise that it’s the Senators elected from 1998 rather than 2001 who are up for re-election. The Coalition in fact only won two seats in 1998 and thus would not "lose" a Senator on the basis of this result. If Hanson indeed wins a seat, her preferences will not be "important" as she will be elected by a narrow margin and will have only a small surplus to pass on. If she fails narrowly, making it through to the the final round as she did in 2001, her preferences will not be distributed at all. But Morgan’s figures in fact give good reason to think she won’t be elected, their assessment to the contrary being based on an apparent spike in the "independent/other" vote from 7 to 13.5 per cent in the most recent weekend’s opinion polling. Firstly, the 13.5 per cent figure would be based on a sample of about 100; secondly, it would still include support for Hetty Johnston and Family First, among others. With just about everyone putting Hanson and One Nation last on preferences, there’s not enough there for her to match the combined vote of the Democrats (7 per cent), Johnston and Family First, who are all preferencing each other. This is a hard one to pick, but the Poll Bludger’s reading of Morgan’s figures is three Labor, two Liberal and one Democrat (namely John Cherry).

Western Australia: The ALP and Liberal Party would each win two seats with the Greens also winning a seat, resulting in the loss of a Liberal Senator. The remaining seat would fall to either the ALP or the Australian Democrats.

Morgan’s Coalition vote from the past two weekends is 43.5 per cent, which is three quotas with 0.5 per cent to spare. How on earth were they able to conclude that the Liberals would not win a third seat, and that Labor, with 30 per cent of the primary vote, might? The outcome based on Morgan’s figures (and indeed on most other reasonable assessments) is as plain as plain can be – Liberal three, Labor two, Greens one.

South Australia: The Liberal Party would win two of its three seats up for re-election, the ALP would win two seats. The remaining two seats would be a contest between the ALP, Australian Democrats, Greens and an Independent – not the Liberal Party.

What independent? Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and say they mean Family First. We then move on to the problem of their figures, the most recent of which show Labor with an unlikely lead over the Liberals of 45 to 31 per cent. In failing to predict Labor will win three seats, Morgan are either confessing that they have no confidence in their figures (and here the Poll Bludger sympathises with Morgan, as he does not begrudge them providing such figures despite the small samples), or demonstrating a failure to understand the Senate election system. If the results are accurate, Labor would win three seats and the Liberals two, with the other going to the Democrats or Greens – the "independent/other" vote of 6 per cent being too low to sustain Family First, despite this being their home state.

Tasmania: The Liberal Party would retain two seats and lose one seat, with the ALP winning two seats (unchanged) and the Greens retaining their one seat. The remaining seat would be contested between the ALP and the Greens.

One more time: this election will replace Senators elected in 1998, not 2001. The result in 1998 was Labor three and Liberal two, plus Brian Harradine. Two seats for Labor would not be "unchanged"; there is no seat for the Greens to retain; and if the Liberals "retain two seats" they will not also "lose one". The Greens’ "one seat" – that of Bob Brown – will remain no matter what happens on October 9. As for the figures, once again the Poll Bludger sympathises with the small samples and will not mock the enormous discrepancy between the results from August and those from during the campaign. But assuming the current results are correct, Morgan appears to be over-rating Labor as well as the Greens, who have been known to fantasise about winning two Tasmanian Senate seats at one election, and missing the combined effect of the mutually preferencing Democrats (4 per cent) and Family First (surely a large part of the 7.5 per cent "independent/others" and the natural inheritors of a part of Brian Harradine’s base). Bearing in mind that a preference deal between Family First and Labor has confused the situation horrendously, these figures if accurate would produce a result of two each for Labor and Liberal plus one for the Greens, with Labor, Liberal, Family First and the Democrats all in contention for the final place.

Victoria: The ALP and L-NP would have each won two seats with the Greens also winning a seat, resulting in the loss of an L-NP Senator. The remaining seat would either go to the ALP or the Australian Democrats.

Correct. Well done.

UPDATE: It appears I did not make it sufficiently clear that the above assessments are an interpretation of Roy Morgan’s figures, rather than what I believe to be the actual state of play. An insight into where the poll might have gone wrong is provided by the "analysis by House of Representatives voting intention" table at the bottom of the page, which indicates implausibly large numbers of people voting for different parties in the House and Senate. Respondents would have been asked about Senate voting intention after they had already given an answer for the House, and many would have felt compelled to nominate a different party because they did not wish to appear unsophisticated. In many cases the Democrats would have been the first name that entered their heads. Having been conducted early in the campaign, these results would also under-estimate Family First, who have been building what Lisa Simpson might reluctantly describe as "the momentum of a runaway train".

Electorate snippets

When the Poll Bludger gets around to adding his next batch of federal election guide updates, they might look a little something like this:

Wentworth (NSW, Liberal 7.9%): Fairfax and ACNielsen have provided us with a poll which has Malcolm Turnbull on 34 per cent, Labor’s David Patch on 27 per cent and Peter King on 25 per cent. The accompanying article notes that "after the distribution of preferences from Mr King and the Greens, the two-party preferred vote is 50-50", but this assumes Labor will finish ahead of King after the distribution of Greens preferences. A very good source of a very good source informs the Poll Bludger that "some of the harder-headed members of the Greens and the Democrats have realised the symbolism of
preferencing direct to King over Patch" – namely the prospect of defeat for Turnbull if Patch is eliminated first, since his preferences would flow overwhelmingly to King. However, it seems more likely that Greens voters will favour Labor over King regardless of what the how-to-vote card says, and that King will need to do rather better than this poll suggests if he is to be in serious contention. Otherwise the real contest will be between Turnbull and Patch, and Turnbull will indeed be in bigger trouble than he would have been had King agreed to go quietly. On this evidence, King’s excuse for refusing to direct preferences to Turnbull over Patch on the grounds that Patch has no chance of winning looks very flimsy indeed, and could end up damaging him in the eyes of local conservative voters who may already have been alienated by his courting of the Greens.

New England (NSW, Independent 19.9%): Independent MP Tony Windsor told a Tamworth radio station that he had been offered a diplomatic post as an inducement to abandon his seat. Windsor would not say who the offer came from, but his departure could only conceivably benefit the National Party who would most likely recover the seat if Windsor were to stand aside. The Prime Minister responded yesterday saying "if Mr Windsor has something to say, instead of slurring my party, instead of smearing the Coalition, which he’s doing, he should name who the person was. It is not fair to make a generalised smear clearly suggesting it’s our side of politics". Windsor has since spoken with the Australian Federal Police and has said he would name those responsible if made to do so at an inquiry. The situation is reminiscent of the events that led to the downfall of NSW Premier Nick Greiner in 1992, after he was found to have offered a lucrative public service position to a Liberal-turned-indepedent MP with a view to recovering his seat at the ensuring by-election.

Werriwa (NSW, Labor 8.5%): The Orange Grove shopping centre controversy that has bedevilled the Carr Government recently has spilled over into the federal arena, and specifically into Mark Latham?s own seat. Among those contesting Werriwa is Sam Bargshoon, a former ALP member who was among those burned by Carr?s decision to close Orange Grove in a move seen to have benefited a rival centre owned by generous Labor patrons Westfield. Speaking with the protection of parliamentary privilege at a New South Wales parliamentary inquiry, Bargshoon claimed to have conducted a branch-stacking operation under Latham?s direction a few weeks before he became party leader in December 2003.

McMillan (Vic, Notional Liberal 2.9%): The Liberal Party is calling for the resignation of Labor member Christian Zahra because he enrolled to vote in 1991 before becoming an Australian citizen, which is a criminal offence. It is not yet clear if the Liberals plan to make an official complaint. Zahra was the victim of a damaging electoral redistribution that made the seat he won by 2.5 per cent in 2001 notionally Liberal, with a margin of 2.9 per cent. Labor would have little chance of retaining the seat without Zahra?s personal vote.

Canning (WA, Liberal 0.4%): Speaking just before the Prime Minister launched his campaign at the Perth Christian Life Centre last Wednesday, Don Randall said that Australians "want to know that they have got a Christian at the head of the Australian government", as distinct from the agnostic Mark Latham. The Prime Minister failed to back him up, telling reporters that "although I come from a Christian tradition myself, I respect fully the secular nature of our society".

Greenway (NSW, Labor 3.2%) and Parramatta (NSW, Liberal 1.2%): A report quoting Labor internal polling on ABC Radio?s AM program showed them trailing in Greenway, while poised to win Parramatta.

Solomon (NT, Liberal 0.1%): The aforementioned report also said Labor were "looking strong" in this knife-edge Darwin-based seat.

On the road

The Daily Telegraph has conducted a poll which combines 600 phone responses conducted by Galaxy Research with 400 face-to-face interviews conducted by Telegraph journalists during a road trip through some of the most contested electoral territory in New South Wales. Where the Telegraph’s last such effort focused entirely upon the bellwether electorate of Eden-Monaro, this time the Liberal electorates of Dobell, Lindsay, Parramatta and Paterson are covered, along with the Labor seat of Greenway. The Coalition are ahead 52-48, but the diversity of the electorates is such that it’s hard to read too much into the results. Labor does not expect to win Lindsay, and a particularly strong Liberal performance here could be distorting the overall outcome.

Another place

Many thanks to the various readers who pointed out that I had failed to appreciate the significance of Liberals for Forests in my first version of this post. What follows is a revised version, now even longer than the original.

The Poll Bludger’s Senate election guide is starting to show its age, and what better time for a review than with the release of the group voting preference tickets by the Australian Electoral Commission. These record the preferences that the 90 per cent of people who vote above-the-line will be agreeing to whether they realise it or not, and which will have a crucial bearing on the final outcomes. That so much should ride on this little-understood process, in which private negotiations between the interested actors are everything and the conscious choices of voters are nothing, raises obvious questions about its democratic merits. Furthermore, the architects of this fiddle (namely the first Hawke Government) allowed parties to submit three separate tickets and have their supporters’ votes doled out proportionately, like so many poker chips.

That however is a matter for another post. Today we look at what this particular set of deals means for the 78 Senate hopefuls in New South Wales (with other states to follow in posts over the next fortnight or so). Leaving out obscure independents and micro-parties, the following list presents the various groupings and how they have ordered the parties who can realistically win (being generous here to the Democrats and One Nation):

Labor: Two-thirds: Liberals for Forests; Greens; Democrats; Fred Nile; Family First; Coalition; One Nation. One-third: Fred Nile; Greens; Democrats; Family First; Coalition; One Nation.

Coalition: Fred Nile; Family First; Liberals for Forests; Democrats; Greens; Labor; One Nation.

Greens: Democrats; Labor; Liberals for Forests; Coalition; Family First; Fred Nile; One Nation.

Family First: Fred Nile; Democrats; Liberals for Forests; One Nation; Coalition; Labor; Greens.

Fred Nile (Christian Democratic): Family First; two-thirds Coalition, one-third Labor, with Liberals for Forests in between; One Nation; Democrats; Greens.

Democrats: Family First; Liberals for Forests; Fred Nile; Greens; half-Labor, half-Coalition; One Nation.

Liberals for Forests: Family First; Democrats; Fred Nile; Labor; Coalition; One Nation; Greens.

One Nation: Family First; Fred Nile; Liberals for Forests; Coalition; Democrats; Labor; Greens.

Socialist Alliance: Greens; Labor; Democrats; Liberals for Forests; Coalition; Fred Nile; Family First; One Nation.

David Ettridge: Liberals for Forests; Family First; One Nation; Democrats; Fred Nile; Coalition; Labor; Greens.

Firstly, some political observations. The Australian Democrats seem to have had a death-bed religious conversion, with Family First and Fred Nile favoured ahead of all comers. This is frankly a rather sad sign of the weak position the party finds itself in, and the party can only hope that its liberal support base fails to notice that their votes are almost certain to be passed on in full to strict social conservatives who stand a real chance of getting elected. Fred Nile also seems to have cut an interesting deal with Labor where Nile gets a third of Labor preferences ahead of the Greens and only two-thirds of Nile’s preferences go to the Coalition ahead of Labor.

Now on to some psephological observations (readers with interesting lives might care to skip to the next paragraph). The above list obscures some unimportant technicalities, such as preference sequences that pick favourite candidates within given party lists, or between them by jumping around from one party to another. A number of groups seem to have it in for lead Greens candidate John Kaye, who has been put behind all his party colleagues by Labor, New Country, the Non-Custodial Parents Party and the Outdoor Recreation Party. It also appears that the New Country Party have tried to make it look like they are preferencing the Coalition ahead of Labor when they aren’t really – the top two on the Coalition ticket are ranked much higher than the third place-holder, who is the one that matters since those in the top two places will be elected long before preferences come into play.

So what will all this mean on election night? Labor and the Coalition will as always have no trouble scoring two quotas on the primary vote. That established, the count will move to the other end of the ledger where the dozens of under-performers will be eliminated and their preferences distributed. Antony Green, whose efforts in examining these entrails put the Poll Bludger’s to shame, notes that those who will be first to go will mostly send their preferences to Glenn Druery of Liberals for Forests, who has emerged as a "huge dark horse". Druery has form as an unapologetic but unsuccessful player in the game of preference-harvesting that has blighted elections for the New South Wales Legislative Council, where parties with names like "Wilderness Party" and "Gay and Lesbian Party" have appeared on ballot papers and funneled preferences to entrepreneurial candidates with miniscule public support (more on that from Scott Bennett and Gerard Newman at the Australian Parliamentary Library). Reader John Humphreys has passed on a list of 14 minor players who are giving Druery their preferences, mostly single-issue parties with catchy grievance-based names like "No GST" and "Australians Against Further Immigration". Also on the list is the Fishing Party, with whom Druery ran as a candidate at last year’s state election – they have evidently parted on amicable terms. The Poll Bludger would love to know how Druery ended up with the Liberals for Forests handle, as this is the name of a group of Perth "doctors’ wives" plus male fellow-travellers that won a seat in the 2001 Western Australian state election at the expense of a senior Liberal minister.

Taking the combined micro-party vote from 2001 and factoring in a bonus for his politically effective new brand name, Druery could well gather as much as 5 per cent of the vote. That should bring him through to the final few rounds along with the third place-holders on the Coalition and Labor tickets, plus those heading the Greens, Fred Nile, Family First, Democrats and One Nation tickets. On present indications the latter two will not last long beyond that, and their preferences should ensure that Family First candidate Joan Woods finishes clear of Nile and Druery (Antony Green puts it mildly when he says preference harvesting is "much more difficult with the 14.3% Senate quota", which compares with 4.5 per cent for the NSW Legislative Council). Woods will then be in contention for one of the two final positions along with the Labor Senator Michael Forshaw, the Greens’ John Kaye and the National Party’s Fiona Nash. No permutation of the four is technically impossible, but the most realistic scenarios involve a left-right cleavage with the Greens against Labor for one position and the Coalition against Family First/Fred Nile for the other.

Many observers of this contest will be assuming a normal outcome in which only one seat will be won by a minor party, but there are good reasons to think otherwise. The non-major party vote in New South Wales was 25 per cent in 2001, which could well have been enough to have deprived the Coalition as well as Labor of a third quota given the right circumstances. Instead the Coalition’s only natural predator on the right, One Nation, was ruled out of contention as no significant party would touch them when it came to preferences. The contrast with the Family First/Fred Nile bloc, which is ahead of the Coalition on every conservative voting ticket plus that of the Democrats, is quite stark. Unless the Coalition can maintain its primary vote at or near the 41.6 per cent it recorded in 2001, Fiona Nash will struggle. By the same token, Labor will need to improve substantially on its 33.4 per cent from 2001 to take the seat now certain to be lost by Democrats Senator Aden Ridgway.

Newspoll, Morgan and Galaxy

Three new polls have provided three doses of good news, in varying degrees, for a Labor Party desperate for a boost from last Sunday’s debate. Most encouraging is tomorrow’s Newspoll, which shows Labor leading 52.5-47.5 after two successive weeks at 50-50. News Limited tabloids today ran a poll from Galaxy, whose results have previously been renowned for an apparent bias towards the Coalition, which had the Coalition with a relatively slender 51-49 lead. After being caught on the hop at the start of the campaign, Roy Morgan conducted a face-to-face poll over the weekend with an unusually small sample of 933, showing Labor ahead 53-47. Labor would not be disheartened that the result shows a 1.5 per cent improvement for the Coalition on the previous poll, which was partly conducted before the election had been announced.