Aston by-election minus one day

A belated look at the first federal by-election since the Albanese government came to power.

Tomorrow is the day of the federal by-election for Aston, for which I have produced an overview page here. As is now customary, this site will features its acclaimed live results updates, along the format you can see on the seat pages for the New South Wales election, and may very well be the only place on the internet where you will find results reported at booth level. I discussed the by-election with Ben Raue at The Tally Room for a podcast on his website that was conducted on Monday, though there was nothing I said in it that wouldn’t hold at this later remove.

The only polling I’m aware of is a report yesterday for Sky News that Labor internal polling pointing to a status quo result with the Liberals retaining a margin of 52-48. However, the poll also found local voters far more favourable to Anthony Albanese (56% approval and 26% disapproval) than Peter Dutton (21% approval and 50% disapproval).

Essential Research poll and Aston by-election latest (open thread)

A slow decline in Anthony Albanese’s personal ratings continues, as a date of April 1 is set for the Aston by-election.

The Guardian has a report on the fortnightly Essential Research poll, from which I assume we will get voting intention numbers later today. The fact that The Age has a Resolve Strategic state poll from Victoria suggests a federal poll from that outfit should be with us shortly. For now, I can relate that the Essential poll has Anthony Albanese at 53% approval (down two on a month ago) and 34% disapproval (up three). The poll also finds 69% believe the Reserve Bank has overreacted with its interest rate increases, and 71% believe the federal government is largely or partly culpable, though it’s unclear if the question specified the current government. An even 29% believe Labor or the Coalition would do a better job managing interest rates, with 42% opting for no difference. The poll was conducted Wednesday to Sunday from a sample of 1044.

In other news, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Milton Dick, announced yesterday that the Aston by-election will be held on the inauspicious date of April 1, which is one week after the New South Wales state election (and two after the Arafura by-election in the Northern Territory). Labor has announced that it will again field its candidate from last year’s federal election, Mary Doyle, a finance worker and former organiser for the National Tertiary Education Union, who was the only candidate to nominate. The Age reports the Liberals are taking the preselection out of the hands of their unreliable rank-and-file, which presumably shortens the odds on barrister Roshena Campbell and lengthens them on Emanuele Cicchiello, deputy prinicipal of Lighthouse Christian College.

Miscellany: federal Liberal preselections and new Senate numbers (open thread)

Liberal contenders jockey to succeed the late Jim Molan in the Senate and contest the forthcoming by-election for the Melbourne seat of Aston.

We’re not likely to see anything on the polling front this week, but there is other electoral news to relate following recent parliamentary vacancies and party defections:

• The Sydney Morning Herald reports preselection nominees to fill the late Jim Molan’s New South Wales Liberal Senate vacancy are likely to include Andrew Constance, former state minister and unsuccessful candidate for Gilmore, and Fiona Scott, who held the lower house seat of Lindsay from 2013 to 2016, together with reported front-runner Dallas McInerney, chief executive of Catholic Schools NSW. Constance and Scott are associated with the moderation faction, while McInerney is a conservative. Mary-Lou Jarvis, lawyer and Woollahra councillor, has also written to senior party figures staking her claim as a qualified woman and the third candidate on the ticket at last year’s election, while also criticising the party’s apparent intention to leave the position vacant until after the state election on March 25.

The Australian reports the Liberal hierarchy’s hopes of fielding a female candidate for the Aston by-election stand to be complicated by the entry into the field of Emanuele Cicchiello, who is rated a strong chance by sources close to eastern suburbs conservative powerbroker and Deakin MP Michael Sukkar. However, other unidentified sources, “including some with strong Right faction allegiances”, rubbished the notion. Cicchiello is deputy prinicipal of Lighthouse Christian College, a former mayor of Knox and contestant for the seat of Bruce in 2013 and numerous preselections since. All other noted contenders have been women with the exception of Andrew Asten, a former staffer to Alan Tudge, who has since ruled himself out. Anthony Galloway of the Age/Herald reports the matter could be determined by a plebisicite of local members, which have lately proved resistant to female candidates, if the by-election is set for a date that allows sufficient time.

• Victorian Senator Lidia Thorpe’s resignation from the Greens last week marked the first change to party representation in parliament since the election, with the Senate numbers now at Coalition 32, Labor 26, Greens 11, One Nation two, Jacqui Lambie Network two, United Australia Party one and two independents, namely Thorpe and David Pocock. This leaves the government needing two extra votes when the Greens are on board and the Coalition are not, where formerly it needed only one. Thorpe was elected to a six-year term at the election last May, which will extend to the middle of 2028.

Aston by-election preliminaries

Following Alan Tudge’s retirement announcement yesterday, some early preselection talk and historical context for the looming federal by-election for Aston.

Yesterday’s announcement by former cabinet minister Alan Tudge of his resignation brings into view the first by-election of the Albanese government, for the highly marginal Melbourne seat of Aston. The date is yet to be determined, but will presumably be set later this month or early the next for a date in April or May. Tudge held on by 2.8% last year in the face of a 7.3% swing, part of a pattern of poor results for the Liberals in traditional areas of strength for the party in the city’s eastern suburbs that was repeated at the state election in November, together with a swing the other way in Labor strongholds in the west and north.

Aston has a place in by-election folklore as the seat that signposted the Howard government’s return to electoral health in April 2001, when Tudge’s predecessor Chris Pearce defended a 4.2% margin against a 3.7% swing. Labor held the seat for the first two terms after its creation in 1984, but it became progressively stronger for the Liberals after the Victorian landslip that cost Labor nine seats in the state in 1990. Pearce’s retirement in 2010 raised Labor hopes that the seat might provide a gain to balance expected losses in New South Wales and Queensland, but Tudge held out against a 3.3% swing by 1.8% and increased his margin at each of the next three elections.

My results page for the seat for the federal election can be viewed here, and features an interactive booth results map that opens if you click the “activate” button at the bottom of the page. As can be seen, Labor won most of the booths around Boronia in the electorate’s north-east, but not be enough to balance the Liberals’ dominance in Wantirna to the west and Rowville in the south.

Tudge’s announcement was inevitably met with a flurry of speculation as to who might run for the Liberals, with suggestions that Josh Frydenberg might use the seat as a vehicle for a comeback soon shot down. There has been no mention that I’m aware of as to who Labor might endorse, but The Australian reports the unsurprising news that senior Liberals want a “high-profile female candidate”, which they will presumably secure without recourse to a problematic rank-and-file preselection, which are rarely held for by-elections.

Samantha Maiden of wrote on Twitter yesterday that the Liberal front-runner was Roshena Campbell, barrister, Melbourne councillor and wife of News Corp journalist James Campbell, but The Australian’s report names a number of other contenders: Cathrine Burnett-Wake, who served in the state’s Legislative Council last year but failed to win preselection for the November election; Sharn Coombes, a criminal barrister; Andrew Asten, a former staffer to Tudge; and Irene Ling, director of a property investment company.

Given the state of the polls, the by-election presents Labor with a seemingly golden opportunity to bag a handy seventy-eighth seat, and the Liberals with the corresponding danger of a morale-sapping loss. However, Antony Green offered some counterpoints to David Crowe of The Age, noting the Liberal vote was suppressed in the seat by the low profile kept by Tudge during the election campaign as a result of his ministerial difficulties and campaign resources being concentrated elsewhere. I would also add that history is against Labor to the extent that it has tended to have disappointing results in by-elections held the year after taking office:

• The Parramatta by-election of 22 September 1973 followed a bumpy opening year for the Whitlam government, so its failure to poach the seat was perhaps not a surprise. Nonetheless, the 7% swing to the Liberals was presumably in excess of expectations. The winning candidate was a young Philip Ruddock, later to move to the safer seats of Dundas and Berowra and to achieve a high profile as the Howard government’s Immigration Minister.

• Despite the stratospheric popularity of Bob Hawke during his first year as Prime Minister, Labor failed to make ground in any of the six by-elections held in that time, suffering a particularly disappointing failure in the marginal Brisbane seat of Moreton, where the Liberals were defending a margin of 1.6%.

• Labor was generally thought to have a shot in Gippsland when Peter McGuaran vacated it in the wake of the Howard government’s defeat, but a dominant position in opinion polls again failed to translate at a by-election, with Darren Chester retaining the seat for the Nationals with a surprisingly robust swing of 6.1%.

Essential Research, territory seat entitlements, Groom wash-up

The federal government continues to be rated highly for its COVID-19 response, as a plan to save the Northern Territory’s second seat proves to have a sting in the tail for the ACT.

The latest fortnightly Essential Research poll finds 67% rating the federal government’s COVID-19 response as good, unchanged on a fortnight ago, with the poor rating down two to 13% – its strongest net result in this regular series since June. The small sample state breakdowns find the South Australian government’s positive rating down six to 70%, which I believe is the lowest it has yet recorded, although it might not pay to read too much into that given the near double-digit margin of error. The results for the other four mainland state are all up by one point: to 76% for New South Wales, 60% for Victoria, 72% for Queensland and 83% for Western Australia.

Respondents were also asked about their level of interest in various news stories: 69% said they were closely following the COVID-19 outbreak in South Australia, against 31% for not closely; 66% likewise for COVID-19 vaccine trials, and 34% for not closely; 56% closely for Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn his election defeat, with 44% for not closely; and 53% closely for war crimes allegations against Australian soliders, against 47% for not closely. The poll also found 37% felt the government spent too much on foreign aid, down four points since 2017, with spends too little steady on 16% and the right amount up four to 23%. Also featured was a series of detailed questions on climate change and coal-fired power plants, which you can read all about in the full report. The poll was conducted Wednesday to Monday from a sample of 1034.

In other news, Antony Green peruses the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters’ report recommending action to preserve the Northern Territory’s second House of Representatives seat, which otherwise stands to be lost based on the territory’s share of the national population. Significantly, he notes that the proposed removal of an existing tweak to the calculation that was added to help the Northern Territory get over the line back in 2004 now stands to cost the Australian Capital Territory the third seat it gained at the last election – perhaps explaining why the government has been so sanguine about preserving Labor-held seats in the Northern Territory.

The change in 2004 made use of the margin of error the Australian Bureau of Statistics provides for its population estimates for the territories, requiring that the figure at the top end of the range be used in making the determination. Whereas the most recent determination credited the ACT with 2.55 quotas, rounding up to three seats, it would have only have been 2.48 if the ABS’s straightforward estimate had been used. There is no suggestion of changing the existing determination to cost the ACT its third seat at the next election, but a significant growth in population would be needed if the third seat was to be preserved at the next election after.

Antony Green’s submission to the inquiry suggested that, in addition to giving the territories a minimum of two seats, the calculation be made not on the basis of the garden variety arithmetic mean, but on the harmonic mean, which would be less prone to rounding down for the territories and smaller states. This method has the virtue of producing “an allocation of seats with a population per member closer to the national quota than the arithmetic mean”. The committee – apparently including the four Labor and one Greens members as well as the five from the government, since there was no dissenting report – acknowledged the logic of this but cited “problems with the potential for public acceptance”

Mention should also be made of Saturday’s by-election in the regional Queensland seat of Groom, which did nothing to alter its complexion as a safe seat for the Coalition. The LNP candidate, Garth Hamilton, currently has 66.9% of the two-party preferred vote with only a handful of votes outstanding, representing a 3.6% swing to Labor Œ more or less the same size of the swing in the Longman by-election that did for Malcolm Turnbull in 2018, though on that occasion his critics could point to a 9.4% drop in the LNP vote as One Nation surged to 15.9%. The One Nation factor went untested on this occasion, since the party did not field a candidate, although the party’s performance in the recent state election suggested they would only have done a limited amount of damage.

Of perhaps more note than the result is the pattern of turnout in the second by-election held during COVID-19 (the first being in Eden-Monaro only July 4): election day turnout was down 21.3%, from 53,943 to 42,490; pre-poll voting centres were up 0.8% from 25,169 to 25,380; and there have so far been 11,966 postal votes counted, compared with 14,108 at the 2019 election. Voter fraud fans may care to note that the LNP did better on election day votes (a 2.7% swing to Labor) than pre-poll votes (a 4.0% swing) and, especially, postal votes (a 7.3% swing).

Groom by-election live

Projected LNP swing Projected 2PP LNP win probability

9.25pm. All pre-poll voting centres as well as election day booths are now in on both primary and two-party, which I presume is all we’re getting this evening. Labor has a 2.8% swing on election day votes, a 4.0% on pre-polls and 3.1% overall.

8.27pm. The South Toowoomba and West Toowoomba pre-poll centres have reported primary votes, and while the former has swung pretty heavily to Labor, the latter was slightly stronger for the LNP than the election day result.

7.43pm. Apart from one straggler on the two-party vote, all election day results are in now. There were 42,483 votes cast at election day booths, compared with 53,943 at the 2019 election.

7.09pm. My coverage is petering out because the booths coming in are merely confirming what was already known. There won’t really be anything worth commenting in until the pre-poll voting centres report, which presumably won’t be for a few hours.

6.51pm. Very quick count with only four candidates: nearly half the booths in on the primary vote already. Swing looks like about 3%, unless there’s a different dynamic on pre-polls, which the LNP would be pretty pleased with after the 5.2% swing in their favour at the 2019 election.

6.48pm. Of the two minor parties, Sustainable Australia is handsomely outpolling the Liberal Democrats. The former have the donkey vote, but the latter have the “Liberal” confusion factor.

6.46pm. Not so sure about that Toowoomba/rural divide now: apart from the 10.2% swing to Labor in the Toowoomba booth of Harristown West, the swings to Labor in Toowoomba booths are modest.

6.44pm. The two-party swing to Labor is settling in at around 4%, and the gap between the reported two-party result and my projection (which makes use of booth results that have only reported the primary vote so far) is narrowing.

6.37pm. Could be seeing a pattern here of a swing to Labor in Toowoomba but not the rural booths.

6.35pm. Some better results for Labor coming through on two-candidate preferred, including a double-digit swing in the Toowoomba booth of Harristown West. Now projecting a 4.6% two-party swing to Labor.

6.31pm. And let it be noted that it’s already got the LNP win probability at 100%.

6.30pm. Three election day booths now in on two-party preferred, which means by two-party projection is no longer going off estimated preference flows. I’m projecting essentially no two-party swing: there’s a slight two-party swing to the LNP just off the two-candidate preferred count, but that doesn’t make use of booths where there are primary votes in but not yet a TCP count.

6.28pm. Five election day booths now in on the primary vote and a small pre-poll booth in as well, the latter with two-party in as well. It actually records a small two-party swing to Labor, which could suggest my preference estimates are a little too favourable to the LNP, although we’re only talking 103 votes here.

6.24pm. The display error is now corrected, although it may take a hard refresh to get it working. Four booths now in on the primary and it’s still looking like a good result for the LNP, with a double-digit swing on the primary vote.

6.21pm. The display above is stuck on 50% for the win probability, which I’ll look into — the results page has it at 87%.

6.19pm. We have 126 formal votes in from Bowenville, and both parties are up on the primary vote with a much smaller field of candidates, though the LNP particularly so, resulting in the projection of a small two-party swing to the LNP. Until we get a non-trivial two-party count, this assumes the LNP is receiving 75% of Liberal Democrats preferences and Sustainable Australia are going 50-50, based on a rough approximation of their historical form.

6pm. Polls have closed. Note that my results display shows daylight savings time, i.e. New South Wales and Victoria rather than Queensland, which is the AEC’s doing rather than mine. Expect to see results from small rural booths start to come in in about 20 minutes or so.

5.50pm. Welcome to the Poll Bludger’s live coverage of the Groom by-election. The display featured above is a small sample of what will be available tonight on this site’s results facility. The top half of the display features progress vote totals and booth-matched swings, including a New York Times-style “election needle” recording a probability estimate of the final result. This is based on a projection of two-party preferred that combines estimates of the final primary vote shares and preference flows. The latter is the subject of its own table, which will show how minor party and independent preferences are flowing based on the latest two-party count, and how this compares with the corresponding results from the 2019 election. The bottom half features the clearest and neatest display of the booth results you will find, in the form of a table in which you can toggle between vote totals, percentages and swings. Also featured are separate sub-totals for ordinary election day polling booths and pre-poll voting centres, with swings to match — an increasingly important distinction on election night, when the latter come in quite a bit later than the former and don’t always behave the same way.

Groom by-election minus two days

Two days out, a guide for Saturday’s federal election in the safe LNP seat of Groom in Queensland.

The campaign hasn’t exactly been a barbecue stopper, but we’re two days out from the significant event of a federal by-election. This is to be held in Groom, which is centred upon Toowoomba in Queensland’s Darling Downs region, and will result in the election of a replacement for John McVeigh, who has held the seat for the Liberal National Party since 2016. McVeigh’s winning margin in 2019 was 20.5%, which you would normally think would mean Labor would sit the by-election out, but they have in fact done the election-watching community a solid by fielding a candidate. That’s more than can be said for One Nation and the Greens, with the by-election having attracted a meagre field of four candidates, the other two being from the Liberal Democrats and Sustainable Australia.

While an LNP victory is surely a foregone conclusion, the size of the swing will serve as a real world measure of how well the Morrison government is travelling, a particularly notable fact in these days of skepticism about opinion polls. It is also convenient that it will do so in Queensland, which has so often been the crucible of federal elections over the course of the present century, and which recently delivered Labor a morale-boosting win at state level. For more detail, I now have a complete guide to the by-election in business, and will be doing my live results reporting thing as the numbers come in on Saturday evening.

Victorian poll, Queensland election, Groom by-election

A good poll result from Labor in Victoria, an even better election result for Labor in Queensland, and only four candidates come forward for the Groom by-election.

The Herald-Sun reported on Monday on a “privately conducted” Victorian state poll by YouGov that showed Labor maintaining a commanding 55-45 lead on two-party preferred, from primary votes of Labor 44%, Coalition 40% and Greens 11%. This compares with 57.3-42.7 at Labor’s landslide win in 2018, when the primary votes were Labor 42.9%, Coalition 35.2% and Greens 10.7%. Personal ratings are good for Daniel Andrews (65% approval and 32% disapproval) and disastrous for Liberal leader Michael O’Brien (26% approval and 53% disapproval).

The poll nonetheless found that 55% thought it fair to hold Daniel Andrews responsible for the second COVID-19 wave, compared with 40% for not fair. Fifty per cent believed Andrews had been honest and transparent about the hotel quarantine failure against 43% for not honest and transparent; 53% said Victoria was heading in the right direction versus 39% who said it is “time for change”. The poll was conducted from October 29 to November from a sample of 1241.

UPDATE: Now a Roy Morgan poll gives Labor a lead of 58.5-41.5, up from 51.5-48.5 a month ago, from primary votes of Labor 45% (up five), Coalition 34.5% (down 5.5) and Greens 11% (up two). Daniel Andrews’ approval rating split is out from 59-41 to 71-29. The poll was conducted by SMS on Monday and Tuesday from a sample of 818.

In real election news, the Electoral Commission of Queensland has been completing preference distributions for the October 31 state election, and while the numbers haven’t been officially published, Antony Green relates that luck has favoured Labor in the final preference distributions in Bundaberg and Nicklin. These seats have been gained from the LNP with respective margins of 11 and 79 votes, pending LNP requests for recounts.

Confirmation of these results would leave Labor with 52 seats in a parliament of 93, a net gain of four compared with the 2017 result. South Brisbane was lost to the Greens (6.0% margin, 9.5% swing), while five were gained from the LNP Bundaberg (by a 0.0% margin with a 4.2% swing), Nicklin (a 0.1% margin and a 5.4% swing), Caloundra (a 2.5% margin and a 5.9% swing), Hervey Bay (a 2.2% margin and an 11.3% swing) and Pumicestone (a 5.1% margin and a 6.0% swing). These are Labor’s first ever wins in Nicklin and Caloundra, both of which are on the Sunshine Coast.

The LNP is duly reduced from 38 seats to 33, unless you count their recovery of Whitsunday after its previous member was expelled from the party mid-term. Their one piece of good news from late counting was that they managed to retain the Gold Coast seat of Currumbin by 310 votes, a 0.3% margin against a swing to Labor of 3.0% (David Crisafulli will be chosen as the party’s new leader unopposed at a party room meeting today). South Brisbane increases the Greens from one to two, with the party having easily its 2017 gain of Maiwar from the LNP, while Katter’s Australian Party and One Nation achieved status quo results of three seats and one respectively, as did independents with Sandy Bolton comfortably retaining Noosa.

Official results are naturally available from the ECQ; the numbers on my live results facility are emphatically not official, in that I have preserved them as they were a week ago before the ECQ removed the indicative two-candidate preferred counts. This means both the booth-level two-candidate preferred results and preference flow by candidate breakdowns are preserved, albeit in not entirely complete form.

Finally, while the attention of most of us has been firmly elsewhere, the process for the November 28 Groom by-election has continued chugging along, with nominations having been declared last Friday. The by-election has attracted a remarkably thin field of four candidates, which somewhat to my surprise includes one from Labor: Chris Meibusch, a community lawyer and unsuccessful candidate for the Toowoomba mayoralty in March. The preselection of LNP candidate Garth Hamilton was related here. The other two candidates are from the Liberal Democrats and Sustainable Australia – as well as there being no One Nation presence, this must be the first time a while that the Greens have left a federal contest uncontested.