South Australian election minus two days

Nick Xenophon wins debate, but loses favouritism in Hartley; Liberals told off by Electoral Commissioner; Labor cuts deal with Australian Conservatives.

Nothing new on the polling front, but other developments worth noting:

• A leaders’ debate last night, which was deemed to have been won by Nick Xenophon by 30% out of the audience of 106 undecided voters, compared with 22% for Steven Marshall and 19% for Jay Weatherill.

• Electoral Commissioner Mick Sherry has ruled in favour of a Labor complaint against Liberal Party electoral material promising a $302 cut in household power bills, and a Liberal complaint against Labor Senator Alex Gallacher’s claim that the Liberals had a “secret plan” that would cut the state’s GST revenue by $577 million. The rulings arise from the state’s unique provision against “inaccurate and misleading” election advertising, which places the Electoral Commissioner in the awkward position of having to adjudicate on matters of political controversy.

• Labor has cut a preference deal with Australian Conservatives in which the latter will direct preferences to Labor ahead of the Liberals in the crucial seat of Lee, and run split tickets in two other tight Labor marginals, Light and Newland. In return, Labor will recommend the party be given third preference after the Greens in the upper house, although the experience of the 2016 election suggests this will have very little impact. The Conservatives’ state leader, Dennis Hood, told the Advertiser the party was not directing preferences to the Liberals in Lee because the Liberals hadn’t asked.

• Betting markets have been leaning towards Labor as party to form government, but Ladbrokes has recently shortened the Liberals in a number of seats where they are under challenge from SA Best. Most notably, Vincent Tarzia is now a $1.72 favourite in Hartley, with Nick Xenophon out to $2. Liberal odds have also been shortened against Labor in Mawson, Elder and Black.

YouGov Galaxy SA seat polls: Hartley, Taylor, Mawson, Dunstan

Four seat polls bring bad news for all: Nick Xenophon struggling in Hartley, Liberal struggling in Mawson, Labor in danger in the heartland seat of Taylor. But Steven Marshall looks okay in Dunstan …

The Advertiser has another four seat polls by YouGov Galaxy for Saturday’s South Australian election, conducted on Saturday:

• Nick Xenophon trails Liberal incumbent Vincent Tarzia by 51-49 in his bid for Hartley, from primary votes of 38% for Tarzia, 30% for Xenophon, 22% for Labor and 5% for the Greens – although that preference flow seems a little favourable to the Liberals. Sample: 590.

• Better news for SA Best from the normally safe Labor seat of Taylor in Adelaide’s north, which is being vacated by Leesa Vlahos. SA Best is credited with a 51-49 lead (UPDATE: Other way round, sorry) from primary votes of Labor 39%, SA Best 29%, Liberal 23% and Greens 6%. Sample: 505.

• Bad news for the Liberals from the must-win seat of Mawson on Adelaide’s southern fringe, where Labor incumbent Leon Bignell is tied with Liberal candidate Andy Gilfillan, which, taking the redistribution into account, amounts to a 3% swing to Labor. The primary votes are Liberal 37%, Labor 30%, SA Best 20% and Greens 7%. Sample: 538.

• Steven Marshall is credited with a 53-47 lead in his seat of Dunstan, which he holds with a margin of 3.9%. The primary votes are Liberal 44%, Labor 30%, SA Best 15% and Greens 8%. Sample: 576.

South Australian election minus one week

Preferences, promises and pre-polling, as the South Australian election campaign enters the home strait.

Miscellaneous South Australian state election news:

• I had a piece in Crikey yesterday (paywalled) about the loss of momentum, actual and/or perceived, in Nick Xenophon’s campaign. Among the issues covered are the harsh treatment SA Best has received from preferences, including from the Greens, who have the Liberals ahead of them in 15 of the 36 seats in which they are running. This includes the seat of Waite, where the SA Best candidate is Graham Davies, a former vice-president of the South Australian Conservation Council and chair of the Sustainable Engineering Society. Labor has SA Best behind the Liberals in around half the seats where they are running, although these tend not to be the ones SA Best appears most likely to win. Thanks to South Australian electoral law, you can see all the preference orders that the parties have registered here, for purposes of “saving” votes from ballot papers where not all the boxes were numbered.

• The major point of policy differentiation between the major parties relates to Labor’s proposed tram extensions to North Adelaide and Norwood, for a combined cost of $538 million, and its longer term vision of a network of tram lines through the inner suburbs. The extensions are directly of interest to the seats of Adelaide, which Labor is hopeful of taking from the Liberals, and Dunstan, the marginal Liberal seat held by Steven Marshall. A North Adelaide extension is one of four proposals the Liberals say they will look into in government, the other three of which involve loops within the central business district. Marshall says residents in his electorate fear the loss of street trees and parking from a Norwood line, and the Liberals’ broader position is that trams are “not viable, workable or needed beyond the Adelaide Parklands and North Adelaide, except for the existing Glenelg line”.

• Pre-poll voting has been in swing since Monday, a fact Steven Marshall unusually chose to highlight by casting his own vote on Thursday. The Liberals clearly think they are on to something here, as they have launched a voteearly.com.au website to publicise pre-poll booth locations and the eligibility requirements (Marshall went with work commitments). By the reckoning of Tom Richardson of InDaily, the motivation is to ensure as many votes as possible are cast before the Oakden nursing home scandal fades from view.

• With the apparent decline in SA Best’s fortunes, betting agency Ladbrokes now has Labor very slight favourites to form government. Its seat polling has the Liberals as favourites in 22 seats, Labor in 20, SA Best only in Hartley and Heysen (just barely in the latter case), and independents in Florey, Frome and Mount Gambier. Aside from Labor’s Tom Kenyon being favourite to retain Newland, which has a 0.1% Liberal margin post-redistribution, no seat is favoured to change hands between Liberal and Labor, although little separates them in Lee and Torrens (Labor-held), Adelaide (Liberal-held) and Mawson (Labor-held, but Liberal post-redistribution). There remains a wide zone of uncertainty in relation to SA Best, who are at $3 or less in Chaffey, Davenport, Finniss, Kavel, Morialta and Colton – all Liberal seats, though Colton is only so on the post-redistribution margin.

• A model for projecting seat outcomes from statewide party vote totals based on Senate preference flows at the 2016 federal election has been developed by Jack Larkin. A similar effort was made before the Queensland election by Alex Jago, and while a thoroughly worthy experiment, it ended up badly overestimating Labor, who did not do nearly as well on One Nation preferences at the state election. The Jack Larkin model’s projections look pretty extraordinary in their expectations for SA Best, who end up with twice as many seats as the Liberals based on their supposedly disappointing numbers from the recent Newspoll.

YouGov Galaxy SA seat polls: Frome, Florey and Morphett

Polls of the independent-held seats find Geoff Brock and Frances Bedford set for re-election in Frome and Florey, but Duncan McFetridge facing a tough fight in Morphett.

The Advertiser has YouGov Galaxy polls targeting the three seats held by independents, which show Geoff Brock and Frances Bedford headed for re-election in Frome and Florey, but Duncan McFetridge struggling in Morphett. In Frome, the Liberals lead the primary vote 44% to Geoff Brock’s 36%, which almost exactly reverses the result in 2014, but preferences from Labor on 15% and the Greens on 3% boost him to a 52-48 lead. Frances Bedford leads in Florey by 36% to 31% and 57-43 on two-party preferred, with the Liberals on 21%, the Greens on 5% and others on 7%.

Morphett is more complex, with the Liberals’ 39% short of what would guarantee them victory, but with the rest of the vote shared by Labor on 22%, SA Best on 17% and Duncan McFetridge on 16%. The Advertiser provides a 55-45 two-party lead for the Liberals against Labor, but there would seem a strong chance that one out of SA Best and McFetridge could pass Labor with the other’s preferences, then defeat the Liberals on Labor preferences.

The polls also have preferred premier results that find Steven Marshall on 31%, Jay Weatherill on 24% and Nick Xenophon on 20% in Frome; Marshall 39%, Weatherill 29% and Xenophon 18% in Morphett; and Weatherill 28%, Xenophon 28% and Marshall 18% in Florey. The polls were conducted on Wednesday and Thursday, from samples of 513 in Frome, 525 in Morphett and 506 in Florey.

Newspoll: Liberal 32, Labor 30, SA Best 21 in South Australia

Nick Xenophon comes down to earth, but the South Australian election picture is otherwise looking no clearer than ever.

The Australian has a South Australian state Newspoll result that is headlined by a 21% reading for SA Best, compared with a 32% result at the last Newspoll in December. However, half of the drop is down to the fact that SA Best will only be contested 36 out of 47, and the option is no longer being made available to respondents in seats where the party isn’t running. The two major parties are both up three points, to 32% in the Liberals’ case and 30% in Labor’s. The Greens are up a point to 7%, while Australian Conservatives are on 6%.

Jay Weatherill is down a point on approval to 33%, and up one on disapproval to 54%, while Steven Marshall is up one to 28% and up four to 54%. Weatherill leads as preferred premier by 38-31, shifting from 37-32 last time. In a three-way contest, Xenophon has crashed from 46% to 29%, but remains one point ahead of Weatherill, who is up six points, and five ahead of Marshall, who is up five points.

The poll also finds the parties evenly matched on energy policy, with the Liberals favoured by 37% and Labor by 36%. Thirty-two per cent said they were more likely to vote Labor due to their 75% renewable energy target, 22% less likely, and 34% no difference.

The poll was conducted Tuesday to Thursday from a sample of 1078.

YouGov Galaxy: Liberal 51, SA Best 49 in Heysen; Labor 50, SA Best 50 in Giles

Two more seat polls produce two more knife edge results involving SA Best.

The Advertiser has another two seat polls from YouGov Galaxy – one from a Liberal seat and one from Labor, with the incumbent parties under pressure in both cases from SA Best. In the Adelaide Hills seat of Heysen, to be vacated with the retirement of former Liberal leader Isobel Redmond, the Liberals are on 39% of the primary vote compared with 22% for SA Best, 16% for the Greens, 15% for Labor and 8% others. That would leave SA Best in need of 72% of preferences, and the respondent-allocated two-party result has them not quite getting there, with the Liberals leading 51-49.

In the Whyalla-based seat of Giles, where Labor have been making life difficult for themselves recently, Labor incumbent Eddie Hughes is on 37% with SA Best on 31%, the Liberals on 23%, the Greens on 3% and others on 6%. With SA Best needing 60% of preferences, the poll calls it lineball on two-party preferred. The polls were conducted on Wednesday and Thursday, from samples of 501 in Heysen and 504 in Giles.

We’ve also had the declaration of nominations for the lower house today, and there turn out to be 264 candidates for an average of 5.6 per seat. Labor, Liberal and the Greens are contesting every seat, SA Best are contesting 36, the Conservatives 33, the Dignity Party 30, and there are nine from small minor parties and 15 independents. The upper house will be done tomorrow.