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.