South Australian election minus one day

Late mail on a South Australian election that few now expect the Liberals to win.

We will presumably be seeing a Newspoll this evening, which will be the third test of the poll’s form since the YouGov takeover and the industry-wide failure in 2019. Apart from that, I have devoted a few idle hours this week to fleshing out and prettying up my state election guide, so do take a look if you haven’t already, or another look if you have, and perhaps throw some pennies in the tip jar if you like what you see.

Late news:

David Penberthy in The Australian reports the Liberals remain hopeful, if not confident, that strong local campaigns may yet get them over the line in the four seats the party holds by margins of 2.0% or less: Newland (0.2%), Adelaide (0.8%), King (0.8%) and Elder (although Penberthy also writes in The Advertiser today that “it looks like Steven Marshall is gone”). Conversely, Michael McGuire in The Advertiser says “both sides expect Adelaide to fall to Labor”, and the view in media-land is that the Liberals are vulnerable in such seemingly safe seats as Davenport (8.4%), Black (9.3%), Gibson (9.9%) and Steven Marshall’s seat of Dunstan (8.1%).

• Peter Malinauskas scored an unusually clear win among the 98 undecided voters subjected to the Advertiser-Sky News leaders’ debate on Wednesday, 66 of whom emerged saying they would vote Labor compared with 21 for Liberal and 11 remaining undecided. Some measure of the clarity of Malinauskas’s dominance is provided by the fact that conservative commentator Chris Kenny of Sky News rated that it was “obvious” Malinauskas had won, and that he’d “never seen a better political performance in one of these forums, state or federal”.

• Troy Bell, the once Liberal and now independent member for Mount Gambier, wrote a letter to the SE Voice newspaper earlier this week castigating the Liberal Party for making only $2.7 million in promises for the electorate, and suggesting the party would not have his support to form a government if it did not offer more in the final days of the campaign.

• If the Marshall government does lose tomorrow, it will become the fourth Australian state government to have been voted out after one term since 1990 out of 22 starters, the others being Campbell Newman’s Liberal National Party government in Queensland in 2015, Denis Napthine’s Coalition government in Victoria in 2014 and Rob Borbidge’s Coalition government in Queensland in 1998. All these governments have been conservative, though perhaps the more salient fact is that governments of the same stripe were in power federally at the time. Nine of the 18 re-elected first-term governments increased their shares of the two-party vote, none of which were so encumbered.

YouGov: 56-44 to Labor in South Australia

Labor set to be swept to power in South Australia on Saturday if the second major poll of the campaign is any guide.

Tomorrow’s Advertiser is running a YouGov poll for Saturday’s South Australian state election, and while none of the polling news has been good for the Liberals, this result is something else: Labor leads 56-44, compared with 53-47 in the Newspoll (likewise conducted by YouGov) published in The Australian two-and-a-half weeks ago, for a swing of 8% compared with the 2018 result. The primary votes are Labor 41% (up two on Newspoll, and compared with 32.8% in 2018), Liberal 33% (down four and compared with 38%), Greens 11% (up one and compared with 6.7%) and others 15% (up one).

The poll gauges personal ratings for the two leaders “since COVID”, which put Steven Marshall on 46% approval and 48% disapproval and Labor’s Peter Malinauskas on 51% and 32%, with Malinauskas leading as preferred premier by 45-40. Crucially, health and hospitals has been rated the most salient issue of the campaign, with 39% rating it most important and 26% second most important, ahead of cost of living on 28% and 26%. Labor, which has built its campaign largely around the issue of ambulance ramping, a promise to divert money from other projects to the health system and overall theme of offering the “right priorities”, holds a 42-26 lead as best party to handle health and hospitals.

The poll was conducted last Monday to Sunday from a sample of 835.

South Australian election minus four days

Both parties plan ahead for a potential hung parliament, as the rate of pre-poll and voting doubles from last time.

Not only has the campaign been light on for published polling, which these days is par for the course in elections for the smaller states, but there has also been next to nothing in the news media about internal polling or how insiders think specific seats are playing out. Which leaves:

• Labor’s efforts to win the favour of Liberal-turned-independent member Dan Cregan at least make it clear that they expect him to retain his Adelaide Hills seat of Kavel. David Penberthy in The Australian reports that, “of the four former Liberal independents in the SA parliament, Mr Cregan is regarded as the least indebted to his former party and the most likely to side with Labor”. It has duly showered his electorate with such promises as a $220 million hospital for rapidly growing Mount Barker. The Liberals have made fairly extensive promises for the electorate of their own, but have preferred making an issue of Labor’s “extravagance” to matching them.

Tom Richardson of InDaily reports Advance Australia, a conservative activist group that has also been in the news for advertising crudely linking federal Labor to China, has seen fit to conduct push-polling targeting Heather Holmes-Ross, Mitcham mayor and independent candidate for Waite. The seat is held by Sam Duluk, another of the election’s Liberal-turned-independent incumbents. Nonetheless, the report relates that “major party insiders are sceptical of Holmes-Ross’s chances”.

• Antony Green has a blog post on the rate of pre-poll and postal voting, for which there were respectively 86,515 cast and 149,670 applications received as of Saturday. Elizabeth Henson of The Advertiser reports the former is double the total from the equivalent period in 2018; Antony Green notes the latter figure is 11.8% of the total enrolment compared with an overall total of 6.8%, although it has less room to grow from this point than pre-polls since applications close on Wednesday. In any case, it can conservatively be estimated that their combined number will double this time. Taking into account a further 100,000 or so absent votes, this means maybe 600,000 out of a total of 1,100,000 will be available to be counted on the night, with none of the pre-polls or absents to be counted until Monday.

South Australian election minus one week

With a week to go until polling day, further intelligence to the effect that it’s not looking good for Steven Marshall’s Liberal government.

John Ferguson of The Australian has the following to relate:

The most senior members of the government have been warned that unless there is a dramatic turnaround in sentiment in the next week Mr Marshall will lose on March 19, with community anger over the way the state was reopened late last year and ongoing virus anxiety still driving the backlash. Ominously for the federal government, Scott Morrison is seen privately as a significant drag for a section of voters in SA, who will refuse to vote for Mr Marshall simply because of their distaste for the Prime Minister, sources said.

In other developments, the electoral process has also had a hiccough with the Electoral Commission having to withdraw 80 votes cast in the first hour of business at the Christies Beach pre-poll centre, owing to the fact that an old version of the electoral roll was being used. The commission now has the task of chasing down the 80 voters and getting them to vote again.

For my part, I have now added a Legislative Council guide to my election guide, although I don’t regard it as being in a fully complete state, as it’s lacking in such features as candidate photos and proper proof-reading. Those will hopefully follow at some point over the weekend.

South Australian election minus eleven days

With less than two weeks to go, such polling as is available doesn’t look good for Steven Marshall in South Australia.

Less than a fortnight to go in what’s been a fairly subdued South Australian election campaign, which has struggled for media oxygen in the face of international events. Early voting is under way as of yesterday, with record numbers of voters assuredly set to avail themselves of that option. A leaders debate will take place on Wednesday, although these tend not to generate a huge amount of public interest these days.

Recent news of note:

• The Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association has been hawking small-sample seat polls by Labor pollster Utting Research, the more notable of which shows Steven Marshall trailing 51-49 in his seat of Dunstan, amounting to a swing against him of over 8%. Primary votes are Liberal 44%, Labor 37% and Greens 12%. The other poll, from the western suburbs seat of Colton, is more in line with expectations: first-term Liberal member Matt Cowdrey leads 55-45, suggesting a very slight swing to Labor, from primary votes of Liberal 47%, Labor 34% and Greens 9% in a three-horse race. Both were automated phone polls with samples of 400, and duly wide margins of error.

• Conservative minor parties are directing preferences to Labor in two of the three most marginal Liberal seats. One Nation, Bob Day’s Australian Family Party and Family First are all directing preferences against Liberal member Richard Harvey in Newland, which he holds on a margin of 0.2%, based on how he voted during the passage of abortion laws last year. The two family parties are likewise directing preferences against Liberal member Paula Leuthen in King, where she is defending a margin of 0.8%.

• Without a huge amount of data to work on, a newly published election forecast model at Armarium Interreta credits Labor with a 64% chance of a parliamentary majority and Liberal with 18%.

South Australian election latest

Publication of candidates reveals a number of familiar names under new guises.

With the closure of nominations on Monday, candidates lists in ballot paper order are now available on my election guide, at least for the lower house, my guide to the upper house still being a work in progress. Details of candidates and parties for the lower house are summarised by blog post by Antony Green. The Greens are unusually sitting it out in four rural seats, One Nation are running in 19 seats, and the Nationals are making their biggest showing in a while with eight. The new incarnation of Family First is putting considerable effort in with 34 candidates, but it faces competition for the “family” vote from the Australian Family Party, associated with former Senator Bob Day.

Interestingly, the Liberal Democrats have drawn top spot on the Legislative Council ticket, just as David Leyonhjelm did when elected to the Senate in New South Wales with 9.5% of the vote in 2013, maximising the party’s windfall from confused Liberal supporters. Others of note include former Labor MP Tom Kenyon at the head of the Family First ticket, Bob Day doing likewise for the Australian Family Party, and Annabel and Greg Digance running jointly on an independent ticket ahead of their looming trial on charges of having attempted to blackmail Peter Malinauskas.

Newspoll: 53-47 to Labor in South Australia

The first South Australian state poll in a year suggests Steven Marshall has a lot of work to do over the next three weeks if his government is going to make it to a second term.

Three weeks out from the election, The Australian offers a Newspoll result from South Australia with a striking headline figure of 53-47 to Labor on two-party preferred, amounting to a 4.9% swing to Labor compared with the 2018 result. The primary votes are Coalition 37%, Labor 39% and Greens 10%, compared with previous election results of Coalition 38.0%, Labor 32.8% and Greens 6.7%, with much of the residue accounted for by SA-Best. The poll is particularly encouraging for Labor leader Peter Malinauskas, who unusually for an Opposition Leader holds the lead on preferred premier, by 46-39. He also records a 51% approval rating, with disapproval at 31%. Steven Marshall is at 48% approval and 47% disapproval.

The poll was conducted Friday to Thursday from a sample of 1015. For a whole lot more on the election, my South Australian election guide can be found here.

South Australian election guide

Introducing the Poll Bludger’s guide to a South Australian state election now slightly less than four weeks away.

UPDATE: InDaily reports on the first published statewide opinion poll result in a year, conducted by Dynata for the Australia Institute. It shows Labor with a 51-49 lead, but as you can see from the primary votes, that’s heavily dependent on speculative preference flows: Liberal and Labor have very modest primary votes of 35% and 37% respectively, hardly better than they collectively managed in 2018 with SA-Best accounting for 14.2% (Liberal polled 38.0% and Labor 32.8%). The Greens are on 7% and SA-Best 4%, though I’m not sure if they will actually be fielding any candidates. This leaves fully 17% going to “others”. The poll was conducted online from February 1 to 14 from a sample of 602.

It has also been noted in comments that The Advertiser reported a fortnight ago on two uComms polls conducted for the SA Forestry Products Association for Stuart and Mount Gambier. The former suggested independent Geoff Brock will not be competitive in his bid to move from Frome, with Liberal member Dan van Holst Pellekaan recording 45.1% of the primary vote to Labor’s 17.4% and Brock’s 11.3%, with the Greens on 6.6%, others on 12.7% and 7.0% undecided, and Liberal leading Labor 60-40 on two-party. In Mount Gambier, independent Troy Bell looks safe on 35.7% to Labor’s 22.5% and the Liberals’ 20.2%, with the Greens on 4.2%, others on 8.0% and 9.4% undecided and Bell leading Labor 58-42 on two-party preferred. The polls were conducted from January 31 to February 3, presumably by automated phone polling, with modest sample sizes of 402 and 406 respectively.

The South Australian election campaign officially began on Saturday when Steven Marshall visited the Governor to advise the issue of the writs for an election on March 19, as ordained by the state’s fixed term legislation. Which makes now, give or take a day or two, the ideal time to launch my state election guide, featuring all the attractions familiar from my past work in this field: individual guides to each of the 47 lower house electorates, including written summaries, interactive maps displaying booth results from the previous election, and chart and table displays of past election results; and an overview page that sets the general scene. What it doesn’t have yet is a page for the Legislative Council, but I’ll attend to that over the coming week or so.

The following excerpt from the overview page provides a useful summary of where things stand:

The Liberals lost three seats and their parliamentary majority over the course of 2020 and 2021, with two members leaving the party after becoming embroiled in scandals and a third complaining that the government had failed to address concerns in his electorate, while also likely being aggrieved at having been overlooked for promotion. Conversely, Labor’s parliamentary line-up has remained intact since it retained two seats at by-elections held in February 2019 after the retirements of Jay Weatherill and his deputy, John Rau. The redistribution has weakened the Liberals in two key seats, but has not had the effect of moving any seat to the opposite party’s column, in contrast to the one before the 2018 election. Consequently, the current numbers in parliament are Liberal 22, Labor 19 and independents six.

Labor thus needs five extra seats to gain a majority, and likely has one in the bag after the redistribution prompted Frances Bedford to abandon her naturally safe Labor seat of Florey for its finely poised Liberal-held neighbour, Newland. The shortest path to victory for Labor would involve a uniform swing of 2.0%, which would net the metropolitan seats of Newland, Adelaide, King and Elder. Beyond that lies a big gap in the electoral pendulum out to the Liberals’ next most marginal seat of Colton, where the required swing is 6.2%.

Each of the four ex-Liberal members will be seeking re-election as independents, meaning the Liberals have to either unseat at least two of them or win as many from Labor to recover their majority. They also have an opportunity to gain a seat from the other independent, Geoff Brock, who like Frances Bedford has been confronted by a troublesome redistribution. Brock will now run against deputy Liberal leader Dan van Holst Pellekaan in Stuart, which has gained his home base of Port Pirie from his existing seat of Frome.

One important question the guide leaves unaddressed is who’s going to win. For what it’s worth, Sportsbet is offering $1.75 on the Liberals and $2 on Labor, which if nothing else makes clear that nobody thinks a Western Australian or even a Tasmanian scale landslide is on the cards. Beyond that we’re flying blind owing to the evaporation of state-level polling in recent times, particularly outside the two biggest states. The last published poll that I’m aware of was fully a year ago, by YouGov for The Advertiser, showing a very modest Liberal lead of 51-49. The closest thing to a more recent result was an Essential Research poll covering 443 respondents in October which credited Steven Marshall with a seemingly very healthy 61% approval rating, with only 27% disapproving.

Some acknowledgements are clearly due for the election guide, which leans heavily on a few particular sources. Naturally this includes the traditional news media outlets, notably The Advertiser and the ABC. However, even more valuable was the local online news publication InDaily, which I cannot praise enough: thanks to its efforts, the country’s fifth most populous state is the best served for coverage of state politics. Or to put the case more persuasively than I ever could myself: the Donald Trump-wannabe Liberal Senator Alex Antic reckons the site to be “fake news”. In addition to that, all my election guides draw heavily on the Political Chronicles feature in the Australian Journal of Politics and History, wherein local academics have provided learned summaries of contemporary events twice yearly for every Australian governmental jurisdiction since I-shudder-to-think-when. These have been dutifully compiled over the past term by Andrew Parkin, Rob Manwaring and Haydon Manning.

Finally, some observations worth noting about the rather lackadaisical attitude of the Marshall government towards updating its electoral legislation, and the impact they will have on voting and vote counting. It has been noted previously that the government has failed to legislate to deal with the problem that voters put into COVID-19 isolation after the deadline for postal vote application closes will not be able to vote. The Electoral Commission has cobbled together a fix whereby those thus affected will be able to collect ballot papers from COVID-19 test sites, which will be about the only places where they can legally go.

However, another pandemic-related issue remains unresolved: the fact that South Australia uniquely continues to treat pre-polls as declaration votes that must be lodged in signed envelopes, which precludes them being counted on election night. This means that only votes cast on the day will be counted on election night, which every indication suggests will be unprecedentedly few in number. As a result, it will only be possible to call the winner on the night if there is a particularly clear and decisive result. Even then, some may well point to late-count surprises after last weekend’s New South Wales by-elections as evidence that literally nothing can be taken for granted for as long as an actual majority of votes cast remain in their boxes.