Donation drive

At the end of every second month, this site issues a plea to its valued readers for contributions. Three particular reasons you might want to help out on this particular occasion: I have now rounded out my characteristically comprehensive federal election guide with a characteristically comprehensive guide to the election for the Senate; the beloved BludgerTrack poll aggregate facility has now been expanded with state-level federal voting intention trends for the five mainland states; and it’s Christmas/New Year, which is never a brilliant time for site revenue, presumably because interest in politics is subdued and people have other demands on their money.

Donations can be made through the “become a supporter” buttons at the top of the page and the bottom of each post.

New year news: Gilmore, Pearce, Mayo

The Liberals get candidates sorted in two key seats, while a poll suggests Rebekha Sharkie has little to fear in Mayo.

First up, please note two other important posts above and below this one: the former asking for money, the latter offering an opportunity for on-topic discussion about the Senate election to mark the happy occasion of the publication of my new Senate election guide, complementing the already published seat-by-seat guide to the House.

With that out of the way, three new items of federal election news to ring in the new year:

• State MP Andrew Constance is now effectively confirmed as the Liberal candidate for the key seat of Gilmore on the New South Wales South Coast, which forms a major part of the government’s re-election strategy given its hope that Constance can recover a seat that was lost in 2019. His main rival, Shoalhaven Heads lawyer Paul Ell, withdrew from the race last week, saying he had formed the view that Constance was best placed to win, a view that was backed by a Liberal source quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald based on party polling. Others to withdraw over the past fortnight were Jemma Tribe, a charity operator and former Shoalhaven councillor, and Stephen Hayes, a former RAAF officer and staffer to Christopher Pyne, who said he was concerned he would face Section 44 issues due to his business dealings with the government.

• The Liberal candidate to succeed Christian Porter in the northern Perth seat of Pearce is Linda Aitken, a nurse and Wanneroo councillor who has run unsuccessfully three times for the state seat of Butler. Peter Law of The West Australian reports Aitken won a ballot of local party members ahead of Miquela Riley, a former navy officer who ran unsuccessfully for the state seat of Fremantle in March, by 31 votes to 23. Aitken is a member of the Victory Life Church, founded by tennis champion and noted social conservative Margaret Court. Riley had conservative credentials of her own, with earlier reports suggesting she had support from The Clan, the factional group that achieved notoriety after an extensive WhatsApp discussion between its principals was leaked to the media.

• Elizabeth Henson of The Advertiser reports a uComms phone poll of 828 respondents for the Australia Institute suggested Centre Alliance MP Rebekha Sharkie to be headed for another comfortable win in her Adelaide Hills seat of Mayo, with a 58.5-41.5 lead over the Liberals on two-party preferred, compared with her 55.1-44.9 winning margin over Liberal candidate Georgina Downer in 2019. The primary vote figures quoted are 30.9% for Sharkie, 30.8% for the Liberals, 13.3% for Labor, 7.7% for the Greens, 6.5% for One Nation, 3.3% for the United Australia Party and 3.0% for independents, with the spare 4.5% presumably being undecided. As reported on the Australia Institute website, the poll also found overwhelming support for an integrity commission and truth in political advertising laws.

Senate election guide

Introducing the Poll Bludger’s Senate election guide, rounding off a facility that further offers lower house seat guides and the BludgerTrack poll aggregate.

The Poll Bludger’s comprehensive guide to the federal election has now attained something resembling completeness (though naturally it will require frequent updating) now that it comes with a guide to the Senate election, featuring an overview and a complete exposition of everything worth knowing about each of the state and territory contests, bringing together analysis, historic background, charts and tables aplenty and full detail on the candidates and how they got there. This is despite the fact that a number of the preselections are yet to be concluded, although it’s clear in most cases which way the wind is blowing.

In the hope of getting a thread of substantive electoral discussion happening, I offer over this post to discussion specifically of the Senate contest. A new thread for general discussion can be found here.

Newspoll and BludgerTrack breakdowns

Newspoll state breakdowns point to swings to Labor of between 3% and 5%, with the extraordinary exception of Western Australia.

Courtesy of The Australian, Newspoll brings its regular Christmas present of quarterly breakdowns, combining results from its polls from October to December, allowing for state and other breakdowns with plausible large samples and tolerable margins of error. It shows Labor with leading substantially in each state with the distinct exception of Queensland: by 53-47 in New South Wales, out from 52-48 in the previous quarter, for a swing of about 5% compared with the 2019 election; 56-44 in Victoria, in from 58-42 last quarter, for a swing to Labor of about 3%; 55-45 in South Australia, a swing of about 3%; and, most remarkably, by 55-45 in Western Australia, out from 54-46 last quarter for a swing approaching 11%. The Coalition retains a lead of 54-46 in Queensland, in from 55-45 last quarter, which still amounts to a Labor swing of about 4.5%.

The gender breakdowns are unchanged on last quarter with Labor leading 54-46 among women and 52-48 among men. However, Labor’s lead among the 18-to-34 age cohort from 65-35 to 69-31, with the others little changed (54-46 to Labor among 35-to-49, 53-47 and 60-40 to the Coalition among 50-to-64 and 65-plus. Labor appeares to have gained particularly among lower income cohorts over the past year, with current leads of 55-45 among those with less than $50,000 household income and 56-44 among those with between $50,000 and $100,000. These figures compare respectively with 51-49 to Labor and 51-49 to the Coalition in the April-to-June result. Labor’s deficit among those with more than $150,000 is down over this time from 56-44 to 53-47, but its 52-48 lead among those on $100,000 to $150,000 is down from 53-47. The breakdowns combined the results of four polls conducted between September 29 to December 4 from an overall sample of 6102.

The Newspoll release provides new data for the BludgerTrack poll aggregate, which I am pleased to announce now includes its own state breakdowns that you can explored by clicking on the tabs (if it isn’t working for you, hard refreshing and trying again later seems to do the trick). Those of you who saw this before I added the Newspoll numbers will note that they have softened what was previously a double-digit swing in Queensland, which points to a disconnect between Newspoll’s numbers for the state and those of Essential Research, which have generally credited Labor with a two-party lead in the state.

Also yesterday from the Age/Herald was a piece on Resolve Strategic’s policy and political performance data, which I don’t believe adds anything to what was included with the regular monthly result, though it’s served in a form that shows how these often-ignored numbers have tracked over time. Specifically, the Coalition has weakened in its strongest areas, with leads diminishing on economic management, national security and COVID-19, while holding steady on the weaker ground of jobs and wages, health care and environment.

Essential Research leadership ratings and end-of-year review

Scott Morrison’s personal ratings maintain a downward trend, as the government scores middling ratings for its overall performance for the year.

Essential Research has published its final fortnightly poll for the year, which includes its monthly leadership ratings. Scott Morrison is down two on approval to 46% and up two on disapproval to 44%, his weakest numbers since the onset of COVID-19 and a continuation of a downward trend since March. Anthony Albanese is steady on 40% approval and up one on disapproval to 36%. Essential’s numbers for both leaders are consistently more favourable than those for other pollsters. Morrison’s lead on preferred prime minister is down from 44-28 to 42-31, the narrowest it has been all term.

The federal government’s ratings for COVID-19 response have deteriorated after a three-month improving trend, down six on good to 41% and up seven on poor to 32%. The equivalent results for the states record a one point drop in the New South Wales government’s good rating to 54%, an eight point drop in the Victorian government’s rating to 43% and a three point drop for Queensland to 57%. The Western Australian government is up four to 78% and the South Australian government is down three to 57%, with due caution to the tiny sample sizes in these cases.

Respondents were asked about the Coalition’s performance on various matters since it came to power in 2013, and were interestingly given the opportunity to indicate whether the issue was important or unimportant to them in addition to evaluating the government’s performance. Its worst results came for handling sexual assault and misconduct, with 35% from the 50% who rated it poorly considering it an important issue, and handling of corruption allegations, rated likewise by 35% from 49%. However, the government now records neutral ratings on the vaccine rollout and is rated very favourably for the legalisation of same-sex marriage.

As it does at the end of each year, the pollster asked if had been a good or a bad year for various actors, with the federal government deemed to have had a good year by 34% and a poor year by 38%. Thirty-eight per cent considered it had been a good year for them and their family compared with 23% for poor; 37% rated their personal financial situation favourably compared with 30% for unfavourably. As usual, large companies and corporations were deemed to have done best of all, at 52% for good and 21% for poor. The poll was conducted Wednesday to Sunday from a sample of around 1000.

Another poll worth noting is a Western Australian survey for Painted Dog Research, published today in The West Australian, which found more respondents considering the state’s recently announced opening up date of February 5 to be too soon (36%) than too late (18%), with 46% deeming it right. Mark McGowan was credited with a 77% approval rating, down from 88% in a previous survey in February. The poll was conducted Monday and Tuesday from a sample of 811.

Yuletide polling detritus

A Tasmanian state poll, issue salience and COVID management polling, and a voting intention data dump from Essential Research.

Unless Roy Morgan is feeling ambitious, we’re unlikely to see new polling until mid-to-late January, although The Australian should have Newspoll’s quarterly breakdowns immediately after Christmas. If breakdowns are your game, Essential Research now provides a mother lode of them for all its polling going back the start of 2020, with voting intention broken down by (mainland) state, gender, age cohort, work status and region (categorised as inner metro, outer metro, provincial and rural). With the availability of this data, it will become worth my while to again provide state-level polling trends in BludgerTrack, as was done before the 2019 election. So stay tuned for that. For the time being, Essential’s state and gender results are now included in my poll data archive.

A few other polling morsels to report:

• The latest EMRS poll of state voting intention in Tasmania snuck out last week without me noticing. It found little change on the last poll in August, with the Liberals steady on 49%, Labor down two to 26% and the Greens steady on 13%, which in turn differed little from the March election result of Liberal 48.7%, Labor 28.2% and Greens 12.4%. Peter Gutwein’s 59-28 lead over Rebecca White as preferred premier is likewise hardly changed from 59-29 last time. The poll was conducted November 28 to December 5 from a sample of 1000.

• JWS Research has released its latest True Issues survey on issue salience. Ratings for the government’s performance across a range of 20 issues are down across the board by zero to five points since July, with defence, security and terrorism and immigration remaining its strongest suits and cost of living and environment/climate change its weakest. Among many findings about COVID-19, the federal government is deemed to have performed well by 40% and poorly by 28%, while state and territory governments in aggregate are on 60% and 12% respectively, with both maintaining downward trends from a peak late last year. Cost of living and health are rated effectively equal as the issue the government should be most focused on, with 59% and 58% respectively including them among five choices out of a list of 20. The survey was conducted November 22 to November 24 from a sample of 1000.

• Recommended reading: Kevin Bonham on “the overrated impact of party preferencing decisions” and Alan Kohler on the Australian Electoral Commission.

Preselection latest: NSW edition

The Liberals labour to get candidates in place in key seats of New South Wales, while a complex Labor preselection battle brews in Parramatta.

I’ve been a bit lax in keeping up on federal preselection developments of late, which have naturally been gathering pace as the big event gets closer. To keep things manageable, I will focus in this post on developments in New South Wales, which is where most of the action has been.

Things have been particularly lively in the Liberal camp, where Scott Morrison finds himself in the thick of factional warfare between his centre right faction and its principal numbers man, Mitchell MP Alex Hawke, and an alliance of the moderate and the hard right factions. As Mike Steketee at the Saturday Paper relates, the latter have accused the former of obstructing the process so as to avoid rank-and-file ballots that may not go their way, potentially endangering Hawke himself. Steketee reports expectations that the end game will be a deal that leaves all sitting members undisturbed, with ballots to proceed in a number of important seats where it may have been prudent to have had candidates in place quite a bit sooner.

Jim O’Rourke of the Daily Telegraph reports the failure of Scott Morrison’s seemingly desperate attempt to recruit Gladys Berejiklian in Warringah leaves Jane Buncle, a “high-flying junior barrister who believes in climate change”, as the favourite to run against independent Zali Steggall. However, James Massola of the Sydney Morning Herald reported party polling tested the prospects of Berejiklian, Buncle, former Premier Mike Baird and management consultant Alex Dore (who according to the Telegraph is still considering running), and found only Berejiklian would win the seat.

• In a particularly helpful account of the broader state of play, Linda Silmalis of the Daily Telegraph reports three candidates have nominated in Parramatta, which the party is hopeful of knocking over with the retirement after 17 years of Labor member Julie Owens. These are Maria Kovacic, co-founder of Western Sydney Women; Felicity Findlay, acquisitions manager for property investment firm Merc Capital; and Charles Camenzuli, engineer and unsuccessful candidate for the seat in 2010 and 2019. Silmaris notes the party has extended nominations in the hope that a stronger candidate might come forward. Former Parramatta councillor Martin Zaiter is “being wooed”; efforts to interest Geoff Lee, who holds the state seat of Parramatta, have come to nothing.

• One of the preselection challenges Alex Hawke is keen to head off is that against Environment Minister Sussan Ley in Farrer, where she is threatened by Christian Ellis, a public relations specialist who has made a name locally campaigning for water rights. Linda Silmaris’s report says “Mr Ellis’s supporters believe their candidate has the numbers, triggering panic among those backing Ms Ley”.

• Hawkesbury councillor Sarah Richards has been preselected to run against Labor member Susan Templeman in Macquarie, where she fell short by 371 votes on her first attempt in 2019.

On the other side of the aisle:

Sarah Martin of The Guardian offers a revealing account of the complex state of play in Labor’s preselection for Parramatta. Local branches are dominated by the soft left faction associated with Laurie Ferguson, which duly favours a rank-and-file ballot. However, the faction is split between supporters Julia Finn, member for the state seat of Granville, and Durga Owen, criminal lawyer and Western Sydney University lecturer, neither of whom are “seen as acceptable to the federal executive”. This would appear to include Anthony Albanese, who may be about to sanction a push for the executive to take matters into its own hands due to familiar concerns about branch stacking. Albanese’s own branch of the Left favours Abha Devasia, legal director of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union. However, the Right seemingly wants in as well, demanding compensation for the selection of the unaligned Daniel Repacholi to replace Joel Fitzgibbon in Hunter.

• Also noted in Sarah Martin’s article is that a rank-and-file ballot to choose Sharon Bird’s successor in Cunningham is expected to be won by Alison Byrnes, a staffer to Bird and the wife of state MP Paul Scully.

• Labor’s candidate for Lindsay, which Melissa McIntosh won for the Liberals from Labor in 2019, will be Trevor Ross, a firefighter of 36 years.

UK North Shropshire by-election minus two days

Conservatives slumping in polls over sleaze scandals. Also: coverage of developments in the US, France, Germany and New Zealand.

Live Commentary

3:55pm The Lib Dems have GAINED North Shropshire by more than a 15% margin over the Conservatives. This will be very bad for Johnson’s standing among Conservative MPs, but it was hardly a good result for Labour; their vote was down over 12% from 2019.

1:28pm Friday: Turnout in North Shropshire is 46.3%, down 21.6% on the 2019 general election. A Lib Dem source is claiming they will win by at least 1,000 votes.

Guest post by Adrian Beaumont, who joins us from time to time to provide commentary on elections internationally. Adrian is an honorary associate at the University of Melbourne. His work on electoral matters for The Conversation can be found here, and his own website is here.

A UK parliamentary by-election will occur in Conservative-held North Shropshire, with polls closing at 9am AEDT Friday. This seat has voted Conservative at every election since the 1830s, and voted Leave at the 2016 Brexit referendum by 60-40. In 2019, the Conservatives won by 63-22 over Labour with 10% for the Liberal Democrats. Despite finishing third, the Lib Dems are seen as bigger threats in the by-election.

Local MP Owen Paterson resigned in early November after it was found he breached paid advocacy rules by working for two companies. The Conservative government initially protected him by overruling the independent commission, but was forced into a u-turn by a public backlash. The initial protection was a blunder as it drew attention to other shady practices by Conservative MPs.

The 2020 Downing Street Christmas party, held during lockdown, has further damaged the Conservatives. Even normally pro-Conservative newspapers savaged Boris Johnson. An Opinium poll had Johnson’s net approval crashing 14 points to -35, from what was already a record low approval in late November, and 57% said he should resign.

From January, the Conservatives held a significant lead, but fell into a tie with Labour after the Paterson fiasco. The Christmas party scandal has given Labour a high single-digit lead, with ten polls in the last week having Labour ahead by 4-9 points. Nigel Farage’s Reform UK is up to 7% in two polls owing to opposition to vaccine mandates.

A by-election was held in Old Bexley last fortnight, with the Conservatives retaining by a 51.5-30.9 margin over Labour, down from 64.5-23.5 in 2019. 99 Conservative MPs rebelled against vaccine mandates for entry to large venues in a Commons vote Tuesday, and it was only carried with Labour support. Left-wing Labour MPs and the Lib Dems were also opposed.

US: Democrats make legislative progress, but Biden’s ratings still poor

Shortly after Democrats’ dire performance in the November 2 Virginia and New Jersey elections, the US House passed the bipartisan infrastructure bill (BIB) by 228-206, with 13 Republicans supporting while six left-wing Democrats were opposed owing to decoupling from the Democratic infrastructure bill (DIB). The BIB had already passed the Senate, so it became law with Joe Biden’s signature.

Later in November, the House passed the DIB, and this can pass the Senate with a simple majority using “reconciliation”. While Democratic senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema are concerns for their party in a 50-50 Senate, it’s likely the DIB will pass by early next year. Congress has also averted an early December government shutdown and a mid-December debt limit default.

Biden’s ratings in the FiveThirtyEight aggregate have improved slightly in the last fortnight to 50.7% disapprove, 43.3% approve (net -7.4). His ratings are poor owing to US inflation, which was up 0.8% in November for a 12-month rate of 6.8%, the highest since 1982. As a result, real wages were down 1.9% over the last 12 months.

French, German and New Zealand developments

The first round of the French presidential election will be held April 10 with a runoff between the top two candidates on April 24 in the likely event nobody wins a first round majority. After winning the nomination for the conservative Les Republicains on December 4, Valérie Pécresse has surged in the polls to be just ahead of the far-right’s Marine Le Pen, behind incumbent Emmanuel Macron. In runoff match-ups, Macron easily leads Le Pen, but is barely ahead of Pécresse.

On December 8, more than two months after the September 26 German election, a new government was formed. The government will be a coalition of the centre-left SPD, the Greens and the pro-business FDP, and will have a combined 416 of the 736 parliamentary seats. The conservative CDU/CSU had been a party of government for the previous 16 years under former chancellor Angela Merkel.

A New Zealand Morgan poll, conducted during November, had Labour and the Greens trailing National, ACT and Maori by a combined 47-46.5, the first time Labour plus Greens have trailed since before COVID hit. The right-wing ACT won just 0.5% of the party vote at the 2017 election, but surged to 7.6% in 2020, and was up to a record 17.5% in this poll.