Call of the board: the territories

Zooming in on the federal election results for the three seats of the Australian Capital Territory and the two of the Northern Territory, all of which were won by Labor.

Wherein we finally wrap up the Call of the Board series, a slowly unfolding state-by-state round-up every seat result from last year’s federal election. Here we tie up the loose ends of the territories, where Labor achieved a clean sweep of five seats – an essentially foregone conclusion for the Australian Capital Territory (which went from two to three seats at this election), but a strong result for them in the Northern Territory (which may be set to lose its second at the next). Previous episodes of the series dealt with Sydney (here and here), regional New South Wales, Melbourne, regional Victoria, south-east Queensland, regional Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia and Tasmania.

Solomon (Labor 3.1%; 3.0% swing to CLP): The always marginal seat that covers Darwin has only gone the way of the winning party once out of the last four elections (in 2013), this time returning Luke Gosling after he gained it for Labor in 2016. Gosling’s 6.0% winning margin off a 7.4% swing in 2016 was the clearest win in the history of a highly marginal seat, the previous record having been Dave Tollner’s 2.8% win for the Country Liberal Party in 2004. This meant he had enough change to record the seat’s second-biggest margin even after a 3.0% swing back to the Country Liberals. As the map to the right illustrates, the pattern of swings in the seat reflected broader themes from the election: the affluent area around the city centre swung to Labor, but the lower-income suburbs of the north went the other way, and the more conservative new suburbia of Palmerston went further still.

Lingiari (Labor 5.5%; 2.7% swing to CLP): Warren Snowdon retained the remainder-of-NT seat of Lingiari, which he has held without interruption since 2001, his closest shave in that time being a 0.9% margin in 2013. The swings in the two Northern Territory seats have been closely matched at the last election, with a 7.5% blowout in Lingiari in 2016 followed by a 2.7% correction this time. There have been occasions in the past where swings varied widely between Alice Springs and Katherine on the one hand and the remote communities in the other, but not this time.

Bean (Labor 7.5%; 1.3% swing to Liberal): The ACT’s new third seat was created entirely from territory that was formerly in the Canberra electorate, whose member Gai Brodtmann did not seek re-election. David Smith, who had previously filled Katy Gallagher’s Senate vacancy when she fell foul of section 44 in May 2018, had no trouble holding Bean for Labor in the face of a slight swing. Left-wing independent Jamie Christie scored a creditable 8.3%, contributing to solid drops on the primary vote for both major parties.

Canberra (Labor 17.1%; 4.1% swing to Labor): The Canberra electorate covers the central third of the capital, and might be regarded as the true “new” seat since it drew territory from both of the previous electorates. Like Darwin, Canberra offered a miniature reflection of national trend in that the city’s inner area moved solidly further to the left, while the suburbs swung to the Liberals. This was reflected in a 4.6% primary vote increase for the Greens, reducing the gap with the Liberals to 27.8% to 23.3%. This is the lowest yet recorded in an ACT seat, but with the Liberal how-to-vote directing preferences to Labor ahead of the Greens, they would probably have remained out of contention if they had made up the difference. With the departure of Gai Brodtmann, its new Labor member is Alicia Payne, who dropped 2.0% on the primary vote to 40.5%.

Fenner (Labor 10.6%; 1.3% swing to Liberal): Labor’s Andrew Leigh suffered a slight swing from similar primary vote numbers to 2016, the main disturbance being the appearance of the United Australia Party with 4.1%.

Call of the board: Tasmania

Some overdue insights into what went wrong for Labor in Tasmania, whose five seats accounted for two of the party’s five losses at the federal election.

Welcome to the penultimate instalment of the Call of the Board series (there will be one more dealing with the territories), wherein the result of last May’s federal election are reviewed in detail seat by seat. Previous episodes dealt with Sydney (here and here), regional New South Wales, Melbourne, regional Victoria, south-east Queensland, regional Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia.

Today we look at Tasmania, which has long been noted as a law unto itself as far as federal electoral politics are concerned. The Liberals managed clean sweeps of the state amid poor national results in 1983 and 1984, and the state likewise went all-in for Labor at their losing elections in 1998 and 2001. The state’s form more recently, and especially last May, suggest a normalising trend – in this case, Labor’s defeats in the northern seats of Bass and Braddon were emblematic of their poor show in white, low-income regional Australia (and they can probably count themselves likely that Lyons wasn’t added to the list).

Conversely, another easy win for independent Andrew Wilkie in the central Hobart seat of Clark (formerly Denison) confirmed the uniquely green-left nature of that seat, while a predictable win for Labor in Franklin typified the party’s ongoing hold on low-income suburbia. It may be worth noting in all this that the state’s economic fortunes appear to be on an upswing, and that this coincides with one of its rare periods of Liberal control at state level. It’s tempting at this moment to speculate that the state has a big future ahead of it as a haven from climate change, with electoral implications as yet unforeseeable.

In turn:

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Slap on the writs

Challenge against Liberal federal election wins in Chisholm and Kooyong rejected, but questions to answer for the party’s former state director.

Yesterday’s Court of Disputed Returns rulings on the May federal election results in Chisholm and Kooyong have disappointed the by-election enthusiasts among us by declining to void the results. However, the judgement delivers a rebuke to the Liberal Party in finding it effectively engaged in “interference with the casting of the vote”, as prohibited by section 329 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act. Its then acting state director, Simon Frost, has been asked to explain to the court why he shouldn’t be referred to the High Court for an offence under the Electoral Act. However, the court has ruled there was no real chance the infractions changed the results – always a foregone conclusion in Kooyong, but less so in finely balanced Chisholm.

Section 329, relating to “misleading or deceptive publications etc.”, prohibits conduct “likely to mislead or deceive an elector in relation to the casting of a vote”. The part in italics entails a distinction between “the formation of the political or voting judgment of the elector, and its recording or expression”. In the latter case, section 329 may be activated; in the former, voter beware. Complaints about false claims in political advertising reliably fall foul of this distinction, but this time it was deemed that Chinese-language exhortations of the “correct way to vote” were in no way “concerned with political choice”.

However, it was also deemed that this would only apply if the signs were exhibited in close proximity of actual Australian Electoral Commission material. Absent that context, the average voter would not recognise the commonality between the signs’ white-and-purple design and AEC branding. Since this was only known to have happened in a limited number of places, the court ruled that only a “very small group of people” had been misled in the meaning of section 329, and that a handful of these at most would have been silly enough to have imagined that the sign constituted a formal instruction they had no choice but to act upon. It was thereby ruled that the issue did not clear the threshold of section 362, by which the result should only have been voided if “the result of the election was likely to be affected”.

Hands off Sankey

A visual representation of how votes flowed between the parties at the 2016 and 2019 elections, plus other observations from the Australian National University’s post-election survey.

First up, note that you can find Adrian Beaumont’s latest British election post immediately below this one, and that The Guardian has preliminary details of what will presumably be the last Essential Research poll for the year, which I will blog about this evening when the full report is available (suffice to say for now that it still doesn’t feature voting intention numbers).

Now on to some further observations from the Australian National University’s post-election Australian Election Study survey, at which I took a preliminary look at the tail end of the previous post. Over the fold at the bottom of this post you can find a Sankey diagram showing how respondents’ vote choices in 2016 and 2019 compared, based on the slightly contingency of their recollections of what they did three years ago.

These suggest the Coalition actually lost a sizeable chunk of voters to Labor – 5.1% of the total, compared with only 1.6% going the other way. I might take a closer look at the survey responses for that 5.1% one day, but presumably they were the kind of Malcolm Turnbull-supporting voter who drove the swing to Labor in affluent inner urban areas. The key point is that the Coalition was able to make good this loss out of those who were in the “others” camp (i.e. everyone but the Coalition, Labor and the Greens) in 2016 – both directly, in that fully 30% of “others” from 2016 voted Coalition this time (or 4.1% of voters overall, compared with 1.6% who went from others to Labor), and indirectly, in that their preference share from what remained went from 50.8% to 56.3%.

Before that, some other general observations based on my reading of the ANU’s overview of its findings:

• The survey adds context for some intuitively obvious points: that the Coalition won because self-identified swinging voters rated them better to handle the economy, taxation and leadership, and rated those issues the most determinants of their vote choice. Labor’s strengths were, as ever, health and environment, which rated lower on the importance scale, and education, which hardly featured.

• Coalition and Labor voters weren’t vastly in their opinions on negative gearing and franking credits, with support and opposition being fairly evenly divided for both. However, there were enormously divided on their sense of the importance of global warming, which was rated extremely important by 64% of Labor voters but only 22% of Coalition voters.

• A drop in support for Labor among women caused the gender gap to moderate compared with 2016, although the unchanged 10% gap on the Liberal vote remains remarkable by recent historic standards. The new normal of Liberal doing better among men and Labor among women only really goes back to 2010 – back in the Keating era, it was Labor who had the women problem.

• Scott Morrison trounced Bill Shorten on popularity, their respective mean ratings on a zero-to-ten scale being 5.14 and 3.97.

• The number of respondents professing no party identity reached a new peak of 21%, maintaining a trend going back to 2010.

• The 2018 leadership coup was received as badly as the 2010 coup against Kevin Rudd. The 2013 and 2015 coups were less badly received, but both scored over 50% disapproval.

• Long-term trends show a steady erosion in trust in government, satisfaction with democracy and belief government is run for “all the people”, although the 2019 results weren’t particularly worse than 2016. Satisfaction with democracy is poor compared to the countries with which Australia is normally compared – though slightly higher than the United Kingdom, which is presumably one symptom among many of Brexit.

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Winners and losers

Reading between the lines of the Liberal Party’s post-election reports for the federal and Victorian state elections.

In the wake of Craig Emerson and Jay Weatherill’s federal electoral post-mortem for Labor, two post-election reviews have emerged from the Liberal Party, with very different tales to tell – one from the May 2019 federal triumph, the other from the November 2018 Victorian state disaster.

The first of these was conducted by Arthur Sinodinos and Steven Joyce, the latter being a former cabinet minister and campaign director for the conservative National Party in New Zealand. It seems we only get to see the executive summary and recommendations, the general tenor of which is that, while all concerned are to be congratulated on a job well done, the party benefited from a “poor Labor Party campaign” and shouldn’t get too cocky. Points of interest:

• It would seem the notion of introducing optional preferential voting has caught the fancy of some in the party. The report recommends the party “undertake analytical work to determine the opportunities and risks” – presumably with respect to itself – “before making any decision to request such a change”.

• Perhaps relatedly, the report says the party should work closer with the Nationals to avoid three-cornered contests. These may have handicapped the party in Gilmore, the one seat it lost to Labor in New South Wales outside Victoria.

• The report comes out for voter identification at the polling booth, a dubious notion that nonetheless did no real harm when it briefly operated in Queensland in 2015, and electronic certified lists of voters, which make a lot more sense.

• It is further felt that the parliament might want to look at cutting the pre-poll voting period from three weeks to two, but should keep its hands off the parties’ practice of mailing out postal vote applications. Parliament should also do something about “boorish behaviour around polling booths”, like “limiting the presence of volunteers to those linked with a particular candidate”.

• Hints are offered that Liberals’ pollsters served up dud results from “inner city metropolitan seats”. This probably means Reid in Sydney and Chisholm in Melbourne, both of which went better than they expected, and perhaps reflects difficulties polling the Chinese community. It is further suggested that the party’s polling program should expand from 20 seats to 25.

• Ten to twelve months is about the right length of time out from the election to preselect marginal seat candidates, and safe Labor seats can wait until six months out. This is at odds with the Victorian party’s recent decision to get promptly down to business, even ahead of a looming redistribution, which has been a source of friction between the state and federal party.

• After six of the party’s candidates fell by the wayside during the campaign, largely on account of social media indiscretions (one of which may have cost the Liberals the Tasmanian seat of Lyons), it is suggested that more careful vetting processes might be in order.

The Victorian inquiry was conducted by former state and federal party director Tony Nutt, and is available in apparently unexpurgated form. Notably:

• The party’s tough-on-crime campaign theme, turbo-charged by media reportage of an African gangs crisis, failed to land. Too many saw it as “a political tactic rather than an authentic problem to be solved by initiatives that would help make their neighbourhoods safer”. As if to show that you can’t always believe Peter Dutton, post-election research found the issue influenced the vote of only 6% of respondents, “and then not necessarily to our advantage”.

• As it became evident during the campaign that they were in trouble, the party’s research found the main problem was “a complete lack of knowledge about Matthew Guy, his team and their plans for Victoria if elected”. To the extent that Guy was recognised at all, it was usually on account of “lobster with a mobster”.

• Guy’s poor name recognition made it all the worse that attention was focused on personalities in federal politics, two months after the demise of Malcolm Turnbull. Post-election research found “30% of voters in Victorian electorates that were lost to Labor on the 24th November stated that they could not vote for the Liberal Party because of the removal of Malcolm Turnbull”.

• Amid a flurry of jabs at the Andrews government, for indiscretions said to make the Liberal defeat all the more intolerable, it is occasionally acknowledged tacitly that the government had not made itself an easy target. Voters were said to have been less concerned about “the Red Shirts affair for instance” than “more relevant, personal and compelling factors like delivery of local infrastructure”.

• The report features an exhausting list of recommendations, updated from David Kemp’s similar report in 2015, the first of which is that the party needs to get to work early on a “proper market research-based core strategy”. This reflects the Emerson and Weatherill report, which identified the main problem with the Labor campaign as a “weak strategy”.

• A set of recommendations headed “booth management” complains electoral commissions don’t act when Labor and union campaigners bully their volunteers.

• Without naming names, the report weights in against factional operators and journalists who “see themselves more as players and influencers than as traditional reporters”.

• The report is cagey about i360, described in The Age as “a controversial American voter data machine the party used in recent state elections in Victoria and South Australia”. It was reported to have been abandoned in April “amid a botched rollout and fears sensitive voter information was at risk”, but the report says only that it is in suspension, and recommends a “thorough review”.

• Other recommendations are that the party should write more lists, hold more meetings and find better candidates, and that its shadow ministers should pull their fingers out.

Call of the board: South Australia

Yet more intricate detail on the May federal election result – this time from South Australia, where normality was restored after the Nick Xenophon interruption of 2016.

Welcome to another instalment of the now nearly complete Call of the Board series, a seat-by-seat review of the result of the May federal election. Now is the turn of South Australia, previous instalments having dealt with Sydney (here and here), regional New South Wales, Melbourne, regional Victoria, south-east Queensland, regional Queensland and Western Australia.

So far as the two-party swing was concerned, South Australia was largely a microcosm of the national result, with the Coalition picking up a swing of 1.6% (compared with 1.2% nationally) and no seats changing hands. Similarly, Labor did particularly badly in the regions, suffering big swings in Barker and Grey, compared with a highly consistent pattern of small swings in the metropolitan area. Labor won the statewide two-party preferred vote, as they have done at four out of the past five elections, albeit by a modest margin of 50.7-49.3.

As in previous recent instalments, I offer the following image with colour coding of swings at booth level. Compared with other metropolitan capitals, the divide between Labor swings in inner urban areas and Liberal swings further afield is somewhat less clear here, although the Labor swings are a fairly good proxy for general affluence. This would be even more apparent if the map extended further afield to encompass the Adelaide Hills areas covered by Mayo, where, as noted below, the tide seems to be running against the Liberals, and not just in comparison with Rebekha Sharkie.

On the primary vote, comparisons with 2016 are complicated by the Nick Xenophon factor. The Nick Xenophon Team scored 21.3% statewide in 2016, but its Centre Alliance successor fielded candidates only in the non-metropolitan seats of Mayo, Barker and Grey. Rebekha Sharkie was comfortably re-elected in Mayo, but the party’s vote was slashed in Barker and Grey. Primary votes elsewhere followed similar patterns – to save myself repetition in the seat-by-seat account below, the Xenophon absence left between 16.7% and 20.0% up for grabs in Kingston, Makin, Spence and Sturt, which resulted in primary vote gains of 5.1% to 6.2% for the Liberals, 5.2% to 6.6% for Labor and 2.6% to 3.9% for the Greens.

The other factor worth noting in preliminaries is a redistribution that resulted in the abolition of a seat, part of a trend that has reduced the state’s representation from 13 to 10 since 1990. This caused Port Adelaide to be rolled into Hindmarsh, creating one safe Labor seat out of what were formerly one safe Labor and one marginal seat. The eastern parts of Port Adelaide and Hindmarsh were transferred to Adelaide, setting the seal on a seat that has grown increasingly strong for Labor since the Howard years, while the Glenelg end of Hindmarsh went to Boothby, without changing its complexion as a marginal Liberal seat.

The table below compares two-party results with corresponding totals I have derived from Senate ballot papers, the idea being that this gives some sort of idea as to how results may have been affected by candidate and incumbency factors (two-party results for Labor are shown). This shows a clear pattern of Labor doing better in the House than the Senate in the seats than they hold, whereas there is little distinction in Liberal-held seats. My guess would be that there is a general tendency for Labor to score better in the House and the Senate overall, which is boosted further by sitting member effects in Labor-held seats, while being cancelled out by those in Liberal-held seats. Taking that into account, it would seem Labor’s sitting member advantages were relatively weak in Adelaide and Hindmarsh, which stands to reason given the disturbance of the redistribution.

On with the show:

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