The Senate: part two

Tasmania will require a good hard think, so that will have to wait for tomorrow. The situation in the other states not yet covered is as follows:

South Australia: With the Liberals certain of three seats and Labor certain of two, the final place will be a contest between Labor and the Democrats. The crucial point of the count is who drops out first out of the Democrats and Family First, a finely poised contest in which Family First currently appears to have a slight edge. If the Democrats can get ahead, the Family First-Democrats preference deal will then put their candidate John McLaren ahead of the Greens and then over a full quota with their preferences. Otherwise the Greens’ preferences will be deciding the issue between Family First and Labor – predictably, they have favoured the latter.

Western Australia: A refreshingly straightfoward outcome of three Liberal, two Labor and one Greens. The Greens’ quota will be built upon a primary vote of 7.73 per cent plus Labor’s surplus (4.4 per cent) and preferences from the Democrats (1.97 per cent).

The Senate: part one, sub-section A

Antony Green has offered the astounding assessment that the Coalition could achieve the unprecedented feat of winning four seats in one state, namely Queensland, with both Nationals candidate Barnaby Joyce and the Liberals’ Russell Trood set for victory (other readers who concur include Bryan Palmer of Oz Politics and regular contributor Geoff Lambert). Since they also appear set to win three seats in each state plus one each from the territories, this suggests that the Coalition will emerge with the first absolute majority in the Senate since 1981. If so, it appears that the scale of the Coalition’s triumph at this election has yet to be fully appreciated. Green’s perspective on the Senate election was one of many the Poll Bludger received from various readers, which have collectively exposed a few wonky assessments in yesterday’s posting. Updates appear in order:

New South Wales: Here at least it looks the Poll Bludger had it right yesterday in calling it as three Labor and three Coalition. If 100 per cent of votes were above the line (the real figure being more like 90 per cent), on current figures the last three standing in the battle for sixth place would be Liberals for Forests (0.81 of a quota), Labor (0.66) and the Greens (0.53). Since the Greens have put Labor ahead of Liberals for Forests, their elimination would result in the re-election of Labor Senator Michael Forshaw.

Victoria: An apparently wrong call by the Poll Bludger in writing off Family First, which was based on the assumption the third Labor candidate would finish ahead of the Greens and then win the seat on their preferences. On present figures the Greens would be leading Labor 0.69 of a quota to 0.59. That would leave Labor preferences deciding the outcome between Family First and the Greens – and perhaps contentiously, they are delivering them to Family First. The Greens have thus been doomed in being frozen out by both Labor and Family First. Ironically, if they had done slightly less well their preferences would have given the seat to Labor, which they would surely have preferred.

Queensland: It appears that Hetty Johnston (apologies to serious Senate watchers for yesterday’s rather strange conclusion that Johnston was in with a chance), Liberals for Forests, the Fishing Party and the Democrats will progressively drop out leaving the third Liberal and Labor candidates, the Nationals, Pauline Hanson, One Nation, the Greens and Family First. Labor and Pauline Hanson will then drop out in quick succession – somewhat surprisingly, this means One Nation will have done better than its founder. The next to be eliminated will be either Family First or the Nationals – the result is very tight with the Nationals just a shade ahead. If the Nationals prevail they will aborb Family First’s preferences which will put them about even with One Nation, again just slightly ahead. Since most of One Nation’s support comes from last-minute fine-avoiding impulse voters, it seems reasonable to assume that this gap will only widen as absentee votes come into play. When One Nation and the various components of its accumulated vote scatter at this point, Antony Green calculates that the Liberals will have 1.08 of a quota and the Nationals 1.03, with the Greens stranded on 0.89.

The Senate: part one

At this stage, the Poll Bludger’s inkling is that the Coalition will indeed reach the "magic 38" and that this, along with maybe one seat for Family First, will produce the first clearly conservative Senate since 1981. That said, he has yet to fully think through the results for the three smaller states (although the result in Tasmania is a clear 3 Liberal, 2 Labor and 1 Greens). The rest are looking as follows:

New South Wales: A clear three quotas for the Coalition, with the inevitable two for Labor. Since the combined Coalition, Labor and Greens vote was 88.2 per cent, leaving less than a quota to spare, it does not appear that talk of a micro-party harvesting enough preferences to be in contention is likely to be borne out. Instead the final place is looking like a battle between Labor (with a surplus of 0.6 over the second quota) and the Greens (with 0.5 of a quota). Of the substantial players, the Greens will get the Democrats’ 0.15 per cent of a quota plus the Coalition’s negligible surplus, while Labor will get preferences from Fred Nile and One Nation, collectively amounting to 0.3 per cent of quota. Worth noting is the poor performance of Family First (0.5 per cent of the vote) compared with Fred Nile’s Christian Democrats (2.5 per cent). So it looks like the result here will be 3 Labor and 3 Liberal, whereas the Poll Bludger had predicted 3 Liberal, 2 Labor and 1 Greens.

Victoria: A not dissimilar outcome to New South Wales, barring a turning of the tables for Family First (1.9 per cent) and the Christian Democrats (0.3 per cent). That leaves Labor (a 0.57 surplus over the second quota) competing with the Greens (0.61 of a quota) for the final place. In this contest, Labor will get preferences from Family First (0.13 of a quota), Family First, the DLP and Liberals for Forests (all of whom got 0.13 per cent of a quota) while the Greens will have to make do with the mildly pitiful Democrats (who also got 0.13 per cent of a quota). Maybe the micro-parties will make a difference, but the Poll Bludger’s best guess is that here too the seats will split evenly between Labor and Liberal.

Queensland: On the basis of the Poll Bludger’s slightly rough and amateurish assessment, it appears that Hetty Johnston might actually get up, producing a result of 3 Coalition, 2 Labor and 1 Hetty Johnston. As for the make-up of the three Coalition members, it does appear that the third Liberal candidate, Russell Trood, has the edge over the National Party’s Barnaby Joyce.

Call of the board

In keeping with the spirit of self-flagellation that makes Australian democracy what it is, the Poll Bludger calls to public attention the various wrong calls he made in his electorate assessments.

Greenway (Labor 1.5%): The Poll Bludger defied conventional wisdom to an extent by giving Labor the benefit of the doubt in the seat, and while he may yet be vindicated, Liberal candidate Louise Markus led by 0.53 per cent at the close of counting.

McMillan (Notional Liberal 2.9%): Only when the margin is over 5 per cent does the Poll Bludger feel cause for embarrassment, and so it was here. His tip was that the advantages of incumbency would allow Christian Zahra to make up the 2.9 per cent gap that an unfavourable redistribution had burdened him with, but he was quite incorrect and Liberal Russell Broadbent, who lost the seat to Zahra in 1998, recovered it with a margin of 5.3 per cent at the close of counting.

Herbert (Liberal 1.5%): That Labor’s position could hardly be any worse in Queensland was a widespread item of conventional wisdom, and a lot of media chatter suggested that the Townsville-based seat of Herbert was a particularly vulnerable seat for the Coalition. The value of conventional wisdom was clearly demonstrated here with a 5.45 per cent swing to Liberal incumbent Peter Lindsay, who ended the evening on a margin of 7 per cent. Labor candidate Anita Phillips will no doubt be spending the evening rueing her decision to abandon her seat in state parliament to tilt at this particular windmill.

Moreton (Liberal 2.6%): A lot of late-campaign media chatter suggested Labor was hopeful and the Liberals worried. In the event Liberal incumbent Gary Hardgrave picked up a 1.24 per cent swing to lead by 3.8 per cent at the close of counting.

Stirling (Labor 1.6%): Having lived there for the first 20-odd years of his so-called life, the Poll Bludger ought to know a thing or two about this Perth northern suburbs seat. Instead he withdrew his call that the Liberals would gain the seat on Wednesday. Why? Because state Liberal Party director Paul Everingham said so. Slap, slap, slap. At the close of counting Liberal candidate Michael Keenan led by 1.58 per cent.

Adelaide (Labor 0.6%): The only seat the Poll Bludger wrongly picked for the Coalition, Labor challenger Kate Ellis ended the evening with an insurmountable 2.09 per cent lead over Liberal incumbent Trish Worth. Adelaide voters appear to have dispensed with the wrong Trish.

Wakefield (Notional Labor 1.5%): Liberal David Fawcett led by just 0.63 per cent at the close of counting, so this one was forgiveable. But it should be noted here that Labor member David Cox, also tipped by the Poll Bludger to hold, leads by just 0.28 per cent in Kingston.

Braddon (Labor 6.o%): This one was much agonised over, but it seemed sensible to err on the side of conservatism. Instead Liberal challenger Mark Baker led Labor incumbent Sid Sidebottom by 1.4 per cent at the close of play.

Solomon (Liberal 0.1%): The Poll Bludger is happy to admit that he has a fair bit to learn about Darwin, whose residents voted for Country Liberal Party member David Tollner in sufficient numbers to give him a 2.02 per cent lead at stumps.

All that said, 141 (perhaps as much as 143) out of 150 is not too bad an effort and, relatively speaking, slightly better than his call for the Queensland election in February. At this rate, a perfect showing can be expected some time around 2010.

A late poll and one change of mind

The West Australian today carries Westpoll results from five marginal Western Australian seats. No seat-by-seat breakdown could be located (and the samples were only 200 each) but the Sydney Morning Herald reports the aggregate outcome was 43 per cent Liberal, 35 per cent Labor and 5 per cent Greens. In accordance with the Poll Bludger’s existing assessments, pollsters Patterson Market Research concluded the Liberals would pick up Hasluck and the result would otherwise be status quo. Contrary to earlier promises the Poll Bludger has found only one seat to withdraw as a gain for Labor, that being the New South Wales central coast seat of Dobell which has an ageing demographic that Medicare Gold does not appear to have been successful in winning over. The Runs on the Board tally is now final and definitive.

The Senate and the Greens

There were so many things the Poll Bludger meant to deal with before now, so apologies to those who have already done their bit for democracy without having been privy to the wisdom contained herein. However there are things that should be on the record before the polling booths close shop at 6pm this evening, so for the benefit of posterity here are some last-minute odds-and-ends.

Firstly, the contest for the territories’ Senate seats has not been given the late-campaign treatment despite rash promises to the contrary. However there is little to add here to what was already said in the pre-campaign Senate election guide (updating this with the information contained in recent postings was another thing that was sadly left undone). The Northern Territory contest does not warrant discussion; to the Australian Capital Territory may be added Antony Green’s assessment that there will need to be a combined Liberal-plus-Christian Democratic (that being the only party giving them preference) vote of 33.3 per cent, suggesting more Canberrans vote above the line than the Poll Bludger would have guessed. The other race will be between the Greens and the second Labor candidate, with the Greens needing to outpoll Labor’s surplus over their 33.3 per cent quota.

The Poll Bludger’s final predictions: New South Wales: Coalition 3, Labor 2, Greens 1. Victoria: Coalition 2, Labor 2, Greens 1, Family First 1. Queensland Coalition 3, Labor 2, Greens 1. Western Australia: Coalition 3, Labor 2, Greens 1. South Australia: Coalition 3, Labor 2, Democrats 1. Tasmania: Liberal 2, Labor 2, Greens 1, Family First 1. The Coalition will thus be two seats short of its "magic 38" unless one takes the view that Family First (two seats) are their willing lackeys. The Greens will add five seats to their existing two, and while the Democrats will be pleased with anything they can get, on this assessment they will still be down from seven (eight including Meg Lees, who has no chance) to five. Also with no chance is One Nation’s Len Harris, while the other cross-bencher, Tasmanian independent Brian Harradine, is going quietly.

Another aspect as yet unmentioned is the prospect of the Greens winning seats off Labor in the House of Representatives. There is no reason to think that Cunningham, won by them at a by-election in 2002, will not follow the usual pattern of the quirky by-election result that is corrected at the following general election. Their real chances are in Sydney and the neighbouring electorate of Grayndler, plus Melbourne. The threat facing Labor is that the Greens will absorb enough votes from the declining Democrats and formerly Liberal-voting "doctors’ wives" to overcome the Liberal candidates, most of whose supporters will put Labor last. Ever prone to optimism, the Greens are loudly hopeful of winning all three while holding Cunningham. However, the 2001 result in seats like these saw a substantial shift to the Greens due to the Kim Beazley Opposition’s perceived complicity in the Tampa episode. If anything those votes are likely to drift back to Labor this time – failing that, they should at least hold their ground. That will give them a high enough primary vote to hold back the tide for Lindsay Tanner in Melbourne and Anthony Albanese in Grayndler.

In Sydney however, Labor’s vote was 44.3 per cent in 2001 compared with 49.1 per cent in Grayndler and 47.6 in Melbourne, which are both close enough to the half-way mark that preference leakage can be relied upon to do the rest. Here the Greens have two hurdles to jump – overcoming the Liberals, who polled 30.1 per cent last time compared with a combined 25.6 per cent for the Democrats, and then hoping that there aren’t enough preferences leaking from Liberal to Labor to save the day for Tanya Plibersek. It’s certainly possible, but the Poll Bludger’s inkling is that Plibersek’s strident leftism combined with inner-city enthusiasm for Mark Latham will see her over the line.

The Poll Bludger’s remaining tasks for the day as follows: have breakfast, vote (no editorial direction here I’m afraid), read the morning papers, probably deliver a seat or two back to the Coalition on the Runs on the Board tally, give the election guide one last update and head off to the National Tally Room to watch the action unfold.

Late polling

Taken together, there’s an impressive symmetry between three of the late opinion polls – Newspoll has it at 50-50, Galaxy have the Coalition ahead 52-48, while ACNielsen continues its recent trend of stronger showings for the Coalition with a remarkable 54-46 split and Coalition primary support at 49 per cent. Only Roy Morgan bucks the trend, reverting to its traditional ways with a 51-49 lead for Labor, though the state of play in the marginals is such that such a result might not win them the election. Yesterday the Courier Mail ran TNS polls for Queensland marginal seats (sample sizes about 300 each) that had the Coalition leading well in every one – by 56-44 in Herbert, 61-39 in Hinkler, 56-44 in Longman, 59-41 in Dickson, 53-47 in Moreton. They also covered Petrie but appeared not to provide a result, although Liberal member Teresa Gambaro was apparently in the clear. The Gold Coast Bulletin also ran a poll for the Brisbane Labor seat of Rankin that had Craig Emerson set to hold on with 42 per cent of the primary vote (after distribution of the undecided) against 40 per cent for the Liberals. They also spread their tentacles across the border with a poll of the New South Wales border seat of Richmond that had Nationals member Larry Anthony on 42 per cent (again after distribution of the undecided), Labor’s Justine Elliot on 36 per cent and the Greens on 15 per cent, which would give Labor a slight edge in a seat they desperately need to win. Sample sizes here were around 450.

The trees from the wood

This week’s competing forestry policies have delivered an unambiguous win for the Coalition in terms of the media contest, with Dennis Atkins offering a particularly noteworthy assessment in Wednedsday’s Courier Mail:

It looks like Howard has performed a successful rope-a-dope strategy on Parliament’s most avid Muhammad Ali fan, Mark Latham. Howard let a story run from early on in this election capaign that he was going to come over all green for Tasmanian forests – even to the extent of locking up 290,000ha, as the ABC breathlessly reported three weeks ago. But Howard was always careful to keep his forestry powder dry … Howard’s game plan was for the Labor leader to jump first. A cat-and-mouse game continued for the next few weeks but Howard refused to blink, despite the urging of some of his colleagues who have a strong Greens presence in their electorates. The real political consequence of a Tasmanian forests policy was always going to affect Labor more than Liberal, as we’ve seen by the brawling and splits of the past two days. Howard was able to make three succinct points: this was a sell-out of workers, proof that Labor was in bed with the Greens, and it was financially irresponsible.

However, it’s also possible that the controversy has provided concentrated benefits for the Coalition against diffuse benefits for Labor and that the reason the former have attracted more attention is that angry forestry workers and militant unionists embracing the Prime Minister make for better copy than the deliberations of late-minute deciders in metropolitan seats. But it’s here that Labor will be hoping for its dividend, as they now offer a product differentiation that could prove very appealing to young voters who are over-represented among those who do not engage until late in the campaign. Here it may be worth noting the following assessment on the state of play among young voters from Rod Tiffen at Australian Policy Online:

The polls tend to under-sample the young, not least because they are less often at home. Polling organizations are well aware of this, and weight their findings accordingly, but one suspects there is less reliability in recording the views of younger voters. This is borne out by the greater volatility over time in the findings for polls in this age group. This election also has the greatest age difference between leaders in living memory. Of all recent democratic elections, the coming Australian election is most like the 1992 US election between old, established George Bush senior and the young and relatively unknown Bill Clinton. In that battle between leaders from different generations the American punditocracy, most of whom were older than the Democratic candidate, underestimated Clinton and his appeals to the electorate. Having an older leader against a younger contender also highlights an asymmetry in the way commentators test leadership capabilities. It is considered quite legitimate to question the experience of the younger contender, but courtesy demands that elders be treated with respect. As long as the older leader is not obviously infirm it is considered bad taste to probe whether he is still up to the job. Old age, as such, will never lose votes, but a sense of not being on the current generation’s wavelength will. Although the Liberals think the difference in age and experience counts in their favour, it is not clear that this is so, especially for voters younger than Latham. It is arguable that it may be in Labor’s favour among younger age groups to sharpen the lines of generational difference.

That, at least, will be the Poll Bludger’s rationale if his prediction of a Coalition victory – which is in little danger of being withdrawn before Saturday – does not play out. For the time being the smart money says Labor has been outmanoeuvered and that the Coalition goes into the election with a decisive edge. Today’s lesson ends with some miscellaneous electorate updates:

Richmond (Nationals 1.7%): For reasons best known to herself, Labor challenger Justine Elliot called on John Anderson and Larry Anthony to apologise after the National Party’s Western Australian website was "infiltrated" with "explicit messages about children". Her attempt to get Queensland independent Senate candidate and anti-child abuse campaigner Hetty Johnston to endorse her concerns backfired when Johnston said she had "the utmost respect for Larry Anthony" and felt it was "really cruel and damaging to the cause of child protection to play such trivial games".

Gippsland (Nationals 2.6%): CFMEU-backed independent candidate Peter Kelly – "predicted to receive more than 10 per cent of the local vote", according to Brad Norington of The Australian – has registered his protest against Labor’s forestry policy by directing preferences to National Party incumbent Peter McGauran.

Various seats in Queensland: Michael McKenna of the Courier Mail reports that while Herbert is "still within grasp of Labor", "the Liberals believe it is ‘relatively safe’ given Prime Minister John Howard’s popularity among the high military population". The report also contradicts other intelligence suggesting the Coalition is safe in the Bundaberg/Gladstone seat of Hinkler, which National Party sources are apparently describing as "line-ball", and says that other Brisbane marginals – Longman, Dickson and Bowman for Liberal, Brisbane, Rankin and Bonner for Labor – will stay with the incumbents. Reportedly, Labor has been concentrating its advertising on what it perceives to be its best hopes, Moreton and Petrie – "Liberal strategists concede Moreton is ‘in trouble’, more recent polling shows that Petrie has rebounded in the past week".