Taverner: 56-44 to Coalition in NSW

Hot on the heels of a New South Wales state Newspoll headlined 52-48 in the Coalition’s favour (but which Antony Green says should have been 54-46), the Sun-Herald today carries an even worse result for Labor from Taverner. This has the Coalition surging to a 56-44 lead after trailing 51-49 in February. No sample size is given, but the February survey was 550. On the primary vote, Labor has dropped from 39 per cent to a disastrous 29 per cent, with the Coalition up from 37 per cent to 46 per cent (it’s possible the undecided have not been distributed). Hats off to Fairfax’s Lisa Carty for having noted Antony’s recent sermon on the increased importance of the primary vote under optional preferential voting. The accompanying article speaks of a looming leadership change, with Labor MPs “hardening in their resolve that Mr Iemma must be sacrificed to give them a chance of holding on to government in 2011”.

UPDATE: A scanned copy of the full results courtesy of James J in comments. The sample was 602; the undecided had indeed not been distributed, but there were only 3 per cent of them. Also featured are questions on privatisation, the Labor leadership and the Belinda Neal episode.

Newspoll: 52-48 to Coalition in NSW

The latest bi-monthly Newspoll survey of New South Wales state voting intention has the Coalition pulling ahead to a 52-48 lead on two-party preferred, after they trailed 51-49 in March-April. Morris Iemma’s ratings have worsened still further since the sobering results last time: his satisfaction rating is down two points to 26 per cent and his dissatisfaction is up seven to 63 per cent, while Liberal leader Barry O’Farrell has opened up a 39-32 lead as preferred premier – the first such lead for a New South Wales Opposition Leader since 1992. On the primary vote, the Coalition leads Labor 41 per cent to 32 per cent.

UPDATE: In comments, Antony Green says the headline of this post would read 54-46, but for the fact that Newspoll has “stuffed up the 2PP”:

In 2004 using gross 2PP preferences, of the 24% minor party and Independent vote, 26.9% flowed to Labor as preferences, 18.6% to the Coalition and 54.6% exhausted. Use those numbers then round the percentages up for the exhausted votes, you get a Liberal 2PP of 54%. However, say you excluded the exhausted votes. Then of those minor party and independent votes that had preferences, 59% flowed to Labor and 41% to the Coaltion. Apply those percentages to the minor party vote and you get a Coalition 2PP% of 52%. But that’s the wrong calculation method!!!

However, he also warns that two-party determinations in the context of a New South Wales state election are “meaningless”:

There were 22 of the 93 seats that did not finish as 2PP contests in 2007. On this poll’s primary figures, 27% with other parties and Independents, you can bank on 30 seats not being 2PP contests. On those primary results, Labor losing votes to the Greens would deliver the Liberals seats like Coogee on exhausted preferences even if the Liberal primary vote is unchanged. With optional preferential voting and a very low Labor primary vote, the Liberals get the advantage from exhausted preferences for the first time in two-party contests, and like 1988, you’ll see Labor lose votes in safe seats to Independents. And Labor losing votes to Independents in safe seats does nothing to aid the Liberal 2PP vote but hammers the Labor Party’s ability to campaign or end up with more seats than the Coalition.

Newspoll: 51-49 to Labor in NSW

Newspoll has released a survey of New South Wales state voting intention, showing Labor pulling ahead to a narrow two-party lead in March-April after the parties were locked together on 50-50 in January-March. However, the headline figure is Morris Iemma’s satisfaction rating of 28 per cent, which is the lowest recorded for a Premier of New South Wales since Newspoll began in 1985 (compare it with Brendan Nelson’s current rating of 38 per cent). This has transferred directly to his dissatisfaction rating, up from 52 per cent to 56 per cent. However, Iemma still retains a narrow lead over Opposition Leader Barry O’Farrell as preferred premier, of 36 per cent to 33 per cent. The Coalition has maintained a lead on the primary vote, of 38 per cent of 35 per cent. The Greens account for most of the balance, being on 14 per cent compared with 9.0 per cent at the March 2007 election. This is the first poll conducted entirely after the Wollongong City Council scandal became known to the public.

Newspoll: 50-50 in NSW

Newspoll has released its first New South Wales state poll since the March 2007 election. The poll was half conducted before the Wollongong City Council scandal broke, and half after. It shows the two parties locked together at 50-50 on two-party preferred, with the Coalition on 39 per cent of the primary vote and Labor on a dismal 34 per cent. The two-party figure might be subject to the Labor bias which Peter Brent at Mumble noted in respect to last week’s ACNielsen poll. Newspoll has Morris Iemma’s approval rating down to 32 per cent from 47 per cent at the time of the election, which is very close to ACNielsen’s 52 per cent to 34 per cent. The Australian’s article hints intriguingly at a five-point turnaround on preferred premier after the Wollongong story broke, but says nothing about voting intention. The Australian’s graphic possibly has more, but my browser crashes when I try to open it (UPDATE: No, I wasn’t really missing anything).

Also from Newspoll today are comprehensive figures on perceptions of the two party leaders, which show Kevin Rudd wiping the floor with Brendan Nelson on every measure.

ACNielsen: 51-49 to Labor in NSW

ACNielsen has followed yesterday’s Victorian state poll with the one we’ve all been waiting for: the first New South Wales poll to follow the series of disasters that befell Morris Iemma’s 12-year-old Labor government last week. Unfortunately, the poll was conducted “from February 15 to 19 – significantly, before the worst of the Wollongong corruption scandal”. Labor is still in front, leading 51-49 compared with 52.3-47.7 at the March 2007 election, but this reduces to 50-50 following “analysis of the figures based on the allocation of preferences at the last election, under the optional preferential system”. Iemma’s approval rating has slumped to 34 per cent from 52 per cent at the time of the election, which was presumably the last time ACNielsen conducted a state poll.

In other poll news, things aren’t looking good for Helen Clark. Note the recent parallels between Australian and New Zealand poll trends in this chart covering the year up to last September.

By-election bloodbaths

The Pittwater by-election stands as a disaster of historic magnitude both for the New South Wales Liberal Party, which has lost its third-safest seat, and for the Poll Bludger, who has lost $25. Apologies are due to Alex McTaggart and to various journalists whose prescient remarks about the Liberals’ troubles received short shrift on this site.

In my defence, I was in good company – my assessment was echoed by Antony Green, whose recent Parliamentary Library background paper on New South Wales by-elections from 1965 to (early) 2005 provides historical perspective on the scale of the disaster. The paper notes that major parties have often declined to nominate candidates because they felt that leaving the field vacant for independents was the best chance of depriving their opponents of the seat. Until yesterday, the tactic had not been particularly successful. Antony lists 24 "one-sided" by-elections held in New South Wales between 1975 and 2004, to which two more were added at the triple M by-elections of September 17. Of these, the only defeat for a major party candidate was at last year’s Dubbo by-election, and this did not represent a loss for the relevant major party (the Nationals) because the previous member had also been an independent.

This should not come as a surprise, because newcomer independents traditionally win their seats on the back of major party preferences. Once they are privy to the advantages of incumbency it is not uncommon for independents to turn in results as good as that achieved yesterday by Alex McTaggart, but getting their foot in the door normally involves finishing second and then surging ahead on preferences from a third-placed major candidate. That McTaggart was able to skip this phase and outperform Paul Nicolaou on the primary vote underscores the magnitude of the catastrophe for the New South Wales Liberals.

As the Sun-Herald puts it, "the result has left poll specialists reaching for history books to find when a safe seat had swung so demonstrably against one of the major parties". In the Federal arena, the examples that spring to mind are Bass in 1975 (when Labor’s primary vote fell 17.5 per cent), Canberra in 1995 (when it fell 21.8 per cent) and Cunningham in 2002 (down 6.1 per cent, but with the result being a historic loss to the Greens). At State level, the Sunday Telegraph quotes Antony Green citing the Coffs Harbour by-election of 1990, when the National Party vote fell from 67.3 per cent to 37.4 per cent. But this was partly influenced by an increase in the number of candidates from two to seven, and the Nationals still won the seat by a two-party margin of 5.4 per cent.

Since my command of the subject is sketchy, I would be grateful if readers can help me put together a list of noteworthy State by-election massacres. Major disasters only please – as a rough guide, it will take a primary vote swing of at least 15 per cent to make the cut. To get the ball rolling, here are three examples that do spring to mind – note the home state bias.

Benalla, Victoria (13/5/2000). Locals were not pleased when Nationals leader Pat McNamara quit parliament not long after the unexpected defeat of the Kennett Government, and reacted by sending the party’s vote down from 57.4 per cent to 41.0 per cent and delivering the seat to Labor for the first time in its history. Unsuccessful Nationals candidate Bill Sykes would go on to narrowly recover the seat from Labor’s Denise Allen at the otherwise disastrous 2002 election.

Floreat, WA (16/5/1991). Now the member for the successor electorate of Churchlands, Liz Constable came to parliament in this safe Liberal seat at a by-election brought on by the death of Andrew Mensaros. Constable was the popular local choice for a Liberal preselection that instead went to the favoured candidate of controversial powerbroker Noel Crichton-Browne. She contested as an independent and scored an easy win with 49.0 per cent of the primary vote, with the Liberal vote falling from 63.3 per cent to 37.0 per cent in a field vacated by Labor.

Geraldton, WA (13/4/1991). Carmen Lawrence’s Labor Government was already reeling from the WA Inc fiasco when a botched reshuffle caused three dumped ministers to quit the Labor Party, depriving it of its parliamentary majority. Geraldton MP Jeff Carr quit parliament altogether, prompting a by-election at which the Labor vote fell from 47.6 per cent to 16.6 per cent, leaving the Liberal and National candidates to fight it out for first and second place. The narrow winner was Liberal candidate Bob Bloffwitch, who would go on to suffer an electoral meltdown of his own at the 2001 State election.

Surfers Paradise, Queensland (5/5/2001). Upon conceding defeat after the disastrous 2001 election, at which he had taken his party from 23 seats to 12, Nationals leader Rob Borbidge told supporters that his own seat of Surfers Paradise was among the casualties. This puzzled election watchers who correctly believed him to be about 5 per cent in front. It may have amounted to wishful thinking, as his resigned his leadership and parliamentary seat immediately upon his re-election. The resulting by-election reduced the National Party from a near primary vote majority (49.7 per cent) to the status of a minor party (8.0 per cent). Votes were lost to the first Liberal Party candidate in the seat since 1992, John-Paul Langbroek (21.2 per cent), and to Gold Coast mayor and independent candidate Lex Bell, who won the seat with 35.9 per cent of the vote. The result meant the end of the National Party as a force on the Gold Coast, although they still won’t admit it. The seat returned to the Coalition fold at the 2004 election partly because Bell had became mired in local scandals, but also because the Nationals left the field free to the Liberals, who again ran with Langbroek. Tip: Darryl Rosin.

Bass Hill and Rockdale, New South Wales (2/8/1986). The writing was on the wall for Barrie Unsworth’s Labor Government after the two by-elections marking the departure of his predecessor, Neville Wran (Bass Hill), and another MP in a safe seat, Brian Bannon (Rockdale). Unsworth used Rockdale to make the necessary switch from the upper to lower house a la John Gorton in 1968, but received the shock of his life when a 17.1 per cent dive in the primary vote combined with hostile independent preferences to bring him to within 54 votes of defeat. The result in Wran’s old stronghold was even worse, with a 22.2 per cent drop on the primary vote delivering a 103 vote victory to the Liberal candidate. Although Unsworth was swept from office at the subsequent State election in 1988, both Bass Hill and Rockdale reverted to type and were easily won by Labor. Tip: Geoff Lambert.

Pittwater by-election live

. McTaggart Nicolaou CDP IND GRN DEM
Primary 40.2 38.2 8.2 6.0 7.5 0.9
Swing -22.3 +5.3 -6.5 -1.2
Two-Candidate 56.1% 43.9% 82% COUNTED

8.36pm. News report on ABC Online.

8.32pm. The last reporting booth, Avalon (the electorate’s second biggest), has added insult to injury – the only booth with a primary vote majority for McTaggart, his two-candidate vote was 65.6 per cent. His overall raw two-candidate vote is now up to 55.9 per cent, so it seems my calculations were doing their job.

8.30pm. Only the two-candidate result from Avalon still to come. I have McTaggart on 56.1 per cent, compared with a raw figure of 54.6 per cent.

8.23pm. I somehow failed to notice that the large (9.5 per cent) Avalon booth had yet to submit its results earlier. It’s the biggest booth in McTaggart’s Northern Ward and its result has further widened his lead.

8.15pm. Most of the two-party count is now in. The SEO has McTaggart with 54.4 per cent and Nicolaou on 45.6 per cent. Special votes evidently lean particularly in the Liberals’ favour because my projection has McTaggart on 53.0 per cent. Either way, the outcome is not in doubt. After earlier having laughed off Liberal talk of a primary vote below 40 per cent and a 46.5-53.5 defeat on two-candidate, I now promise never to disbelieve a politician again.

7.58pm. An ordinary night at the office for the Greens, whose supporters have evidently jumped on the Alex McTaggart bandwagon. Those who thought the Democrats had already hit rock bottom have been given cause to think again. Patricia Giles and Robert Dunn both polled disappointingly.

7.55pm. The last primary vote figures for the night are in, from Mona Vale (10.2 per cent) and Mona Vale Beach (3.4 per cent). Nicolaou at least led on the primary vote in these booths, but in both the Liberal vote was down 23.1 per cent.

7.50pm. Now to survey the damage. The Liberals did not do quite so badly outside of the Pittwater Council area – the lost about 15 per cent of the primary vote in Narrabean and 12.7 per cent in Terrey Hills. But within the council area their vote was down almost half, generally moving from the sixties to the upper thirties.

7.44pm. Well, I got one thing right – my preference estimates were all but perfect. Results from four booths show McTaggart getting 49.5 per cent (I gave him half), Nicolau getting 16.1 per cent (my guess was 16.6 per cent) and 34.4 per cent exhausting (33.3 per cent for me).

7.41pm. Another flurry of results leaves only two booths to be counted, one of which is Mona Vale, the electorate’s largest. But with McTaggart ahead on the primary vote, nothing can save the Liberals now.

7.22pm. Eight booths are in all of a sudden and it’s clear we have a boilover here – barring a miracle in the larger booths, McTaggart has won.

7.15pm. It might also be worth mentioning that the actual two-candidate vote at War Vetarans Home (616 votes) was 59.7 per cent for Nicolaou and 40.3 per cent for McTaggart.

7.11pm. Presumably the SEO is maintaining its habit of providing booth results in indigestible bursts. Allow me to while away the time with two small observations – a) the exhaustion rate is almost certain to be lower than the War Veterans Home reults suggest; b) the Scotland Island booth actually had an increase in turnout, from 198 to 219 voters, and dit not record a single informal vote.

7.00pm. There were 86 votes for the four minor candidates at War Veterans Home – of these 32 went to McTaggart, nine went to Nicolaou and 45 exhausted. A tiny sample, but if representative, it will mean that my two-party calculation flatters McTaggart. I will wait for another booth before I replace my estimates with the actual results.

6.41pm. Results from two quirky small booths are in. Scotland Island is particularly eccentric, having voted 47.7 per cent for the Greens in 2003. This time both their vote and the Liberal vote (from 30.1 per cent to 19.6 per cent) is way down. In the smaller War Veterans Home, the Liberal vote is down from 66.8 per cent to 53.6 per cent, enough to almost make it interesting if played out over the whole electorate. Also interesting to note that the booth is not in Pittwater Council.


Click for full-sized image

Welcome to the Poll Bludger’s live coverage of the Pittwater by-election. Providing my internet connection behaves, the site will provide updates every few minutes on the progress of the count as each booth result comes in. The first of these should be in a little after 6.30pm EST. The table above will provide raw figures for the primary vote along with a two-candidate preferred calculation which assumes that a) the primary vote swing for or (more likely) against the Liberal Party will be the same in uncounted booths as in those for which results are available, and b) that half of the preferences of the four minor candidates will go to independent Alex McTaggart, a sixth will go to Liberal candidate Paul Nicolaou and a third will exhaust.

The above map provides a rough idea of Pittwater’s council ward boundaries, which should shed some light on local variations in voting patterns. The electorate also includes populated areas of neighbouring Warringah Council around Terrey Hills (part of which is beyond the western limit of the map) and Narrabean. The map also includes the locations of polling booths and provides percentages figure indicating each booth’s share of the total vote at the 2003 State election. There will be one change in the booth arrangements for the by-election, with the Lagoon Street booth (located a short distance north of the Narrabean booth) replaced by Narrabean Beach (located further south). The percentage figure provided for Narrabean Beach is that for Lagoon Street, hence the asterisk.

Both McTaggart and Greens candidate Natalie Stevens represent the Pittwater Council’s Northern Ward, where the tickets they led respectively polled 25.7 per cent and 18.6 per cent of the vote at last year’s council election. Christian Democratic Party candidate Patricia Giles is a former mayor who represents Central Ward, where her ticket polled an impressive 49.2 per cent. The remaining candidates are independent Robert Dunn, another former mayor, and Democrats candidate Mario Nicotra.

Pittwater dispatches

Those with a particular interest in Saturday’s Pittwater by-election are encouraged to drop by to this site after 6pm EST, from which time the numbers will be crunched booth-by-booth within seconds of their appearance on the State Electoral Office site (for some idea of how this will look, see the coverage of the triple M by-elections of September 17).

The by-election is being taken a lot more seriously than I had earlier anticipated, particularly after last week’s reports of internal polling showing the Liberals headed for defeat at the hands of independent candidate Alex McTaggart. This would not normally have been taken so seriously, but the figures came attached to a narrative widely favoured among the media: that the religious right has subverted the NSW Liberal Party in the wake of the Federal election outcome, and is about to get its come-uppance courtesy of environmentally conscious small-l Liberals of Sydney’s northern beaches. This sounds very much like a reprise of the unsuccessful "doctors’ wives" theory at the Federal election, which posited that affluent and educated voters were so disaffected over Iraq, Kyoto and asylum seekers that senior figures in the Government were in danger of losing their seats.

If the leak of internal polling was a tactical manoeuvre by a Liberal Party genuinely concerned for its hold on the seat, it might well have backfired by giving McTaggart a monopoly of media attention at the expense of a field that includes two other former mayors. It now seems certain that McTaggart will indeed harvest most of the purely negative anti-Liberal vote, whereas the Liberals would have been better served if this had split amongst as wide a range of rival contenders as possible. That at least will be my excuse for getting it wrong if McTaggart wins, but my prediction remains nonetheless.

A summary of noteworthy campaign shenanigans in the final week:

  • Alex McTaggart has lately been promoting himself as a man who can do business with the Government, and the Premier helped him demonstrate the point with an hour-long meeting followed by promises on "Mona Vale Hospital, the Currawong site and Careel Bay Marina". Many have questioned McTaggart’s judgement here, given the Liberals’ efforts to paint him as a Labor stalking horse. Christian Kerr of Crikey was particularly appalled by McTaggart’s decision to indulge in a photo opportunity with Roads Minister Joe Tripodi, almost going as far as to say it had single-handedly cost him the election. Tripodi’s popularity is such that Nationals MP Andrew Fraser received a sympathetic response following their recent confrontation on the floor of parliament, which most interstate obervers assumed would end his career.
  • Piers Akerman has weighted into the campaign for a second time in today’s Daily Telegraph, taking an ideological cudgel to those who would paint the NSW Liberal Party’s recent upheavals as a coup by right-wing extremists. After arguing that Brogden was responsible for his own demise, Akerman dismisses Alex McTaggart as "a political one-trick pony who was elected to the council after blocking Baywatch’s plans to film at Avalon, where he surfs".
  • Last week, Alex McTaggart reckoned leaked Liberal polling showing him ahead of their candidate was "a plot to scare the little old ladies into voting Liberal". Now, he says polling that he himself has done "anecdotally" shows he will "outpoll the Libs, we don’t even need preferences". McTaggart shocked readers of Saturday’s Manly Daily with the revelation that "if this was not a by-election and John Brogden was still the member, I would not be running".
  • Antony Green concurred with this site’s assessment when he told The Australian that the Liberals would "take a big hit with their vote", but would "probably win".
  • All minor players are specifically recommending a preference to McTaggart over Nicolaou.
  • The Poll Bludger’s form guide tip of the week: Paul Nicolaou. Centrebet is offering $2.20 for a Liberal win against $1.61 for McTaggart.
  • UPDATE (25/11/05): The Daily Telegraph’s Liberal sources say their position has "improved slightly since it became clear Mr McTaggart was ‘cuddling up to the Premier’"; the Sydney Morning Herald’s Liberal sources say they fear their primary vote will drop below 40 per cent; Centrebet’s Gerard Duffy says there has been "renewed interest in the Liberal candidate", and they are now offering $2.oo for a Liberal win against $1.72 for McTaggart.

    UPDATE (26/11/05): The flurry of late money for Nicolaou (including a $25 punt from the Poll Bludger) has continued, with Centrebet now offering $1.85 for both Nicolaou and McTaggart.