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Crikey election book chapter

seat 2pp graphs '07

Seats to watch!

Federal pendulum (old)

margins since 1983

Historical results

Margins 1949  2001

See the lemmings!

two decades of Newspolls

state votes at federal elections

Votes and seat
1949 - 2001


Newspoll &
Morgan graphs

preferential voting

Newspoll Opposition leader approval ratings

Newspoll Opposition voting intentions



Nicholson (clipped) in The Oz                  

2007 election results->  AEC    ABC   

July 4 2007 election: a global warming 'what if? scenario

As the political problems of implementing a carbon trading scheme become increasingly apparent, let's consider a counterfactual: that in 2006, rather than caving in to popular sentiment and half-heartedly accepting the reality of global warming, the Howard government had dug in with its denialism.

They then, in 2007, could have run a humungous scare campaign on carbon trading.

Imagine the opportunities, on petrol and everything else under the sun. Demand the opposition lay out its plan in detail: "what have they got to hide?" "It's not worth the risk."

Sure, the country would have been an international laughing stock (although hero to a few fringe ratbags) but that pretty well describes the 2001 campaign and, in fact, was a large part of the appeal: standing up for the country's interests against meddling, trendy foreigners. Playing to Howard's strengths.

"We decide the carbon we emit ..."

Last weekend's by-elections

Brian Costar sets record straight at APO. He estimates the Kororoit two party preferred as 73.9 to 26.1, a tiny swing against the Brumby government. [Update (inside word from Pollbludger): official numbers are 71.5 to 28.5, a pro-Liberal swing of 4.1 percent from 2006.]

Mayo flashback to 1998

With his Lordship pulling up stumps, it behooves us to recall the night he nearly lost his seat to former Redgum frontman John Schumann. 

Candidates Party Votes % Swing
  SCHUMANN, John DEM 18791 22.43 9.99
  COOMBE, Howie F IND 598 0.71 0.71
  EVANS, Jade ALP 18290 21.83 -3.34
  WYNN, Ian CDP 1360 1.62 1.62
  COOMBE, Anthony M NLP 360 0.43 -0.16
  DOWNER, Alexander LP 38246 45.64 -11.37
  PEACOCK, Lee HAN 6146 7.33 7.33
Full Distribution of Preferences Party Votes % Swing
  SCHUMANN, John DEM 40437 48.26  
  DOWNER, Alexander LP 43354 51.74

The way all those preferences accumulate to turn a 23 point primary vote deficit into a 3.5 point two party preferred one is one of the characteristics of compulsory preferential voting. Under optional PV Downer would have won comfortably. (He would have won 59.9 to 40.1 if the ALP candidate had nudged ahead of Schumann on primary votes.)

July 3 McEwen federal court decision

McEwen goes to the Libs, a decision contra to general expectations of either to Labor win or a re-election. Pollbludger has good summary, including a comment from MP Fran Bailey on the 100% nothing-whatsoever-to-do-with-the-price-of-tea-in-China issue of voter ID.

Antony Green blog

Have you seen Antony Green's blog? It's got some great  postings.

July 2 Taverner in NSW following Newpoll's lead?

A Taverner poll this week said 56 to 44 in NSW. A reader of pollbludger supplied the newspaper's graphic, from which I took this list of primary votes.

Along similar lines to this, a reader (of Mumble) alerts me to funny looking Taverner 2pp, and sure enough a reasonable estimate from those primary votes (and assuming Taverner didn't get preferences from respondents), gives 58 to 42 or even 59 to 41. Quite likely Taverner, too, is forgetting the O in OPV.

July 1 Newspoll

Tables here, Dennis here.

June 30 10:30pm tomorrow's Newspoll says 55 to 45

From primaries of 44 to 39, Greens 10 others 7.

Short-term, headline-wise, the drop from 59 to 41, on top of Gippsland, will be great for Brendan. Slightly longer-term, it decreases the likelihood of an improvement next fortnight. It's a trade-off.

Don't blame me, this is the world we live in.

Gippsland by-election "swing"

People who should know better are calling the swing eight point something. That is of course the primary vote swing, and the trouble with that number is that the swing against the Nats was almost identical. 

As tempting as it is to beat things up, the two party preferred swing of (currently) 6.5 percent is the correct number to use - and it is big enough to warrant comment.

Peter Hartcher might be overly fond of his own pen (and voice) at times, but he at least understands these things.

Over in the state by-election in Kororoit, the concept of the swing won't really exist until the Vic EC calculates the Labor-Liberal 2pp.  Pollbludger estimates about "70/30 and a no-big-deal swing of 5 or 6 per cent".

Or you could say the swing is 41 percent to Twentyman - up from zero in 2006.

June 29 Gippsland by election result: 63 to 37

  • About seven percent is a bigger swing to the Nats than anyone had a right to expect.

  • Let us assume that Gippsland voters, when polled about general election voting intentions, behave like other Australians and show a swing to Labor of 4 percent or so from the 2007 election. But when given a chance to give the government a boot up the bum without the risk of tossing them out, 11 percent more vote National (after preferences). Why? - that is the $64k question. 

  • Ryan's 10 percent swing in early 2001 was, by contrast, consistent with national polls at the time.

  • This will help Dr Nelson cling to leadership a little longer than otherwise, but whether it's good for the Coalition is one of Mr Rumsfeld's known unknowns.

  • Try to shield yourself from silly analyses along the lines of of "if that seven percent was repeated at an election .."

  • Imagine the ALP had not bothered running a candidate, as the Howard government did not bother after 2001. The stories people could tell: Labor might have taken the seat, you never know ... 

  • Labor did Brendan a favour by running in Gippsland  - but see Nelson/Rumsfeld point above.

June 28 Internet journal makes wild allegation

According to Crikey, "it is not the case" that "Crosby Textor engage in racism and thuggery".

As an exercise in the magic of the WWW, try googling the words: Crosby Textor push polling.

Essential Research

Poll Bludger has gotten hold of full results of recent Essential Research survey.

June 27 Morgan face to face says 61 to 39

Carbon trading of petrol

In this real world of ours, there is no way the federal government will put petrol prices up. Malcolm Turnbull's policy of simultaneously cutting the excise (if that's what it is) looks, therefore, the go.

Gippsland tomorrow

Brian Costar has a nice piece in Australian Policy Online on tomorrow's Gippsland by-election. He bravely predicts not just who will win, but primary votes for all candidates and two party preferred (43 to 57).

Brendan Nelson and friendly media (and John Black!) have been raising expectations of a Labor win, but most sensible observers are with Brian.

Note that this is the first two-party federal by-election since July 2001 - seven years is surely some sort of record?

Goodbye doctor? 

Will Brendan make it through winter? By the time the HoR sits again on August 26 there will have been 4 federal Newspolls - and others - with no QTs to break the momentum.

Drip drip drip drip. I put his chances of survival at 50-50.

June 26 NSW Newspoll 52 to 48?

Had almost finished a little post on yesterday's too-close-looking NSW Newspoll two party preferred, of 52 to 48 from primary votes of 41 to 32, Greens on 13 and others on 14. Then saw on pollbludger that Antony Green had already done it.

However, in my scribblings I had given Newspoll maximum benefit of doubt in the rounding process, by assuming unrounded primary numbers were 40.5, 32.5, 13.5 and 13.5. (Note to pedants: yes a couple of those .5s should be .49999). But even then I get numbers that round to 53 to 47.

In same comment, Antony suggests how Newspoll stuffed it up. If he's right, that's quite a mistake.

Not for the first time, Antony also plays down the importance of 2pp under OPV, but I reckon calling it "meaningless" overdoes it. It's surely still a better indicator of who would win an election than just the (state-wide) primary numbers.

Anyway, you know the Iemma (or whoever replaces him) government will go down, and badly, at the next election.  Unfortunately for the people of NSW and the Rudd government, that's not until 2011.

In the meantime, the NSW government will only get more unpopular, and if Mr Rudd is considering a double dissolution the sooner might be the better.

June 24 More Gippsland fever - the problem with "modelling"

Beware of sentences beginning with "We know from modelling ..." What they mean is: "We want to predict human activity using a few sets of numbers that we have managed to get hold of, so we're making a bucket-load of assumptions, some exceedingly heroic, allocating values to things that don't really lend themselves to it, taking a leap of faith, and ... "

John Black reckons in the Oz that Labor should take Gippsland this Saturday. As evidence of form he cites his correctly predicting the Cowan result last November (who didn't?), but neglects this earlier one which, at least via the pen of Mr Milne, had Peter Beattie losing in September 2006.

The missing ingredient

In both cases, Black's modelling howlingly omits a fundamental ingredient: that byelections tend to swing substantially against the government of the day. Leaving out any allowance for this dwarfs all his other components, and is why the 2001 Ryan comparison is inappropriate.

It's also why he misinterpreted that 2006 Queensland byelection.

Comparative swings - a graph

Black writes that Gippsland, "since 1983, has been swinging about 1 1/2 times as much as the national average." Can we visualise this? Below graph has national, and Gippsland 2pp (adjusted for redistributions) votes from 1983 to 2007.

Gippsland swung substantially below the national average in 2007, and went the wrong way in 2001, but overall it does look like a rather jumpy seat.

Which might mean we can expect a larger than usual swing against the government on Saturday.

[Update: Antony Green comments.].

June 23 Commentator succumbs to Gippsland fever

Mr Milne concludes that "if the Coalition holds [Gippsland] next Saturday, Kevin Rudd has some serious thinking to do".

People do write strange things. I am willing to be corrected, but don't believe any federal government, ever, has achieved a six percent swing at a byelection.

[Update: Malcolm Mackerras indeed corrects me: a byelection in the ACT in 1970 saw a swing to the Gorton government of some 14 percent. Given the result at the next general election, perhaps not a feat worth trying to emulate.]

Nielsen's petrol questions revisited

A couple of quick sums indicate that both parts of Q7 together suggest that 51 percent of people reckon petrol taxes should be cut against 43 percent who say they should not. A less one-sided headline.

But by same token, only  24 percent are in favour of FuelWatch. 

(Of course, the question did not tell people they could have both FuelWatch and petrol tax cut.)

Life after Kevin?

We all know Brendan Nelson is for the jump before the election. But yesterday on 'Insiders' Andrew Bolt raised the possibility of Kevin Rudd also being replaced by then. 

Is that too silly to contemplate? Maybe, or - if Kevin remains stranded in that strange place he's in, spinning like a top but too scared to actually move anywhere (pardon all the metaphors) - maybe not.

The ALP should not be misty-eyed about the guy who allegedly brought them back from the wilderness. The Hollywood narratives favoured by observers tend to weave fantastic tales around one person: only they could have won the election. In this way, if it weren't for John Howard, Paul Keating would still be PM today, and only Rudd had what it took to beat Howard. 

As you know, I believe in "it's time", and reckon Kim Beazley would have won last year, and so might a few others, eg Tanner, maybe even a Smith or a Swan.

But today would the alternatives be any better as PM? Both in the job they'd do and in electoral appeal? The obvious replacement would be Julia Gillard. She would be popular, and has the talent, but could she wean herself off the Carr-Crean cabal? A cabinet full of lemmings would be a bad look. 

Paradoxically, perhaps Crean would be ok. Or Tanner.

End of thought bubble. Normal coverage now resumes.

June 20 Brendan Nelson's Newspoll support in perspective

Brendan Nelson's average Newspoll two party preferred vote, since taking the job last year, has been 41.3 percent (to Labor's 58.7). 

Would it surprise you to learn that the hopeless, much ridiculed Simon Crean, Labor leader from late 2001 to late 2003, averaged a healthy by comparison 48.6? 

(Newspoll and the Oz didn't publish  two party preferreds for about half of Crean's time, so the 2pps are mine. This AFR column five years ago attracted an informal complaint to the paper from the then Oz editor, but they began publishing 2pps from the next outing.)

Kim Beazley in 2005-6 averaged 49.4 (and 50.3 over his final six months).

Lord Downer's rollercoaster adventure averaged 49.9 in 1994-5 (and 48.4 over the last four months).

But the most relevant comparison is Beazley's first stint, the seven months from March 1996. That was 45.2. (His approval averaged 42.8, and better PM 24.5 - both much better than Brendan's.)

Actually, October 1996 saw a drop for Beazley after recent gains, and it wasn't until September 1997 that Labor hit the lead. After that he was usually in front and at the 1998 election got a higher two party preferred vote than Bob Hawke's winning 1987 and 1990 ones (and Howard's in '98 and 2001). 

But Bomber Mk I was secure in his position and never really expected to become PM anyway and so was able to think beyond tonight's headline. (GST didn't hurt either.) Dr Nelson is more like the second Beazley instalment - struggling to survive, taking it one day at a time.

June 18 ACNielsen questions from last weekend

For people who enjoy observing sausage-making, here are Nielsen questions, including instructions to interviewers, from last weekend. (From back of same truck as below.) 

Voting intention, approval etc questions came first, then the ones listed here. Note the order, ensuring that the general economy question was not polluted by petrol ones.


June 17 He who lives ...

... by the fortnightly fluctuations in an opinion poll ... 

June 16 10:30pm Tomorrow's Newspoll (in Oz): 59 to 41

That's right, 59 to 41 - do not adjust your screen.

(That noisy truck hurtled past again this arvo ...  )

I challenge anybody to weave a good tale for Doc Nelson out of these numbers. His preferred PM (which lots of people consider important)  is back down to 13; his approval is static at 36.

No indeed, opinion polls don't read scripts.

Here are tables.

Nielsen in Fairfax says ....? [update 56 to 44]

Quite a few things, but it seems the most important, voting intentions, will have to wait until tomorrow. (We do learn that "primary and two-party support for both parties is virtually unchanged since a month ago".)

[Update: voting intention tables are apparently in hardcopy. And here.]

Interestingly, Labor trails the Coalition a little on who is best to handle the economy, despite a recent Newspoll putting Swan ahead of Turnbull. (Different questions, yes.)  Probably petrol-influenced -  perhaps literally. Will try to get hold of tables and see if the petrol questions were asked before or after economic ones. [Update: economic question was asked before petrol one.]

Stating the obvious: petrol prices is the political problem for governments around the world today.

Mr Milne joins the One Term Club

Possum Comitatus alerted us recently to a Queensland writer's suggestion that ... you never know ... Kevin Rudd might lose after one-term! Glenn Milne now suggests the the same.

This is just wishful thinking for so many reasons, not least of which is that the government is still a mile ahead in voting intentions.

Even if they reckon Rudd runs a "bad" (whatever that is) government, there is little correlation between governments being "bad"/"good" and losing/winning elections.

Why should there be? Most of the "correct" things governments can do are not popular at the time, and the benefits usually take years to appear.

Only a world recession would make a Coalition win possible in 2010, and even then not likely.

June 13 Morgan: 58.5 to 41.5


Is it Kevin who needs counselling?

The week before last, when Kevin Rudd got bogged down in the ridiculous politics of petrol prices, lots of people advised him to give the PR stuff a rest. Forget about the bells and whistles, they said: Start governing!

Kevin got the message - he got it ok? -  and since then he's been .... rolling out the PR about how much he's governing. 

Mr Rudd is stuck in some strange place and can't get out. He's (and I know I'm repeating myself) still Kevin Rudd the opposition leader. 

As Hugh White says, he "fails to understand the difference between a real policy and a press release"; as Mr Sheridan writes: "who would have thought it of Rudd?"

The fellow needs a good talking to. But how do you counsel someone who knows he's smarter than everyone else?

Word for the year?

Start polishing the word "megalomania": it might get a good workout over the next few years.

June 6 Morgan says 63 to 37

June 5 Me in Australian Policy Online

On House of Reps question time, here.

Obama officially wins Democratic nomination

Recently I  reckoned that Obama won't become president, because (without mincing words) he's black. 

Let me add that an Obama-Clinton ticket would be even less likely to win, because Hillary is widely loathed in her own right. [Update: Jimmy Carter is spot on - it would be "the worst of both worlds".]

The tendency of many people, when discussing these things, to simply project their own political views - or those of Democratic primary voters - onto the general population is often surprising. 

(Between now and November it will surely get very ugly, with McCain disowning a Republican slur a week. And of course the chance of an assassination.)

Chalk it up to experience, Tanya

Watching QT online yesterday, was surprised to see Ms Plibersek get partisan over domestic violence. Her "answer" (to a government question) had until then been the only one heard in silence by the opposition. Obviously too touchy a subject; even Wilson Tuckey held his tongue.

Then, Julia-like, she brandished a prop. Oh dear. 

We live and learn from our mistakes.

June 3 JSCEM submissions

The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters has posted submissions for its Inquiry into the 2007 election. There are 159 of them, including at a glance Antony Green, William Bowe, Democratic Audit, Sally Young and me.

I reckon finance reform, although not my area of expertise, is most urgent. The Audit sub deals with it from page 7.

Perhaps one of the most important components is on the demand side: how to limit TV advertising without falling foul of the 1992 High Court Ruling.

[Update: Reader Joshua Saunders responds.]

Newspoll in the Oz

Tables here, Dennis here. Some journos are adding together Rudd's approval rating drop and his rise in disapproval to give a "14 point turnaround!" Neat trick.

Like Howard in 1995-6, Rudd made so many negative promises (not to do this and not to do that) on his way to the ballot box that he's now left with little. Howard wisely broke some of his. 

The PM's timidity precludes the possibility of actually doing much, but with energy to burn it is no wonder he gets bogged down in the fluff and spin.

The future

Is also worth recalling that the eventual nature of both the Hawke-Keating and Howard governments were formed by challenges beyond their control. A turbulent international economy and plummeting terms of trade for the first, the war on terror for the second. 

At the moment the hand being dealt Rudd and co is inflation and sky-high petrol prices, but in six months, who knows? We await with interest.

June 2 10:30 PM Newspoll says 57 to 43

Late today, a truck screeched by at high speed before careening around the corner. When the dust had settled, a folder lay on the ground, with the words "Newspoll, commissioned by The Australian".

I walked over, bent down and picked it up ... 

On the most important number, headline two party preferred voting intention, nothing has changed since the last Newspoll: 57 to 43.

But Brendan Nelson can find some joy. His preferred PM rating - which is what commentators have been obsessing about - jumped from 12 to 17. You could call that an increase of "almost 50 percent!"

Preferred PM being a zero sum game, Rudd's has gone down by about the same amount. And while Brendan's approval hasn't moved, Rudd's has gone down.

Contrary to my suggestions below, it probably does constitute a discernible by-product of the previous fortnight. But a tiny one.

A special question on fuel has most people reckoning Rudd did promise to keep petrol prices low.

Usual questions in press release here, fuel questions here.

5pm Newspoll numbers will be here tonight at 10:30

I think I'll be the first to get 'em.

June 2 When does populism become demagoguery?

Perhaps one answer is when you move from opposition to government. Last week's public service bashing might fit the bill.

I've said it before: Kevin Rudd is Prime Minister but still behaves like an opposition leader. There might be an interesting thesis about successful opposition leaders making poor PMs, and, perhaps (although we never get to find out) vice versa.

After a fortnight that slipped from his manic control, flaying the shiny bums probably made him feel good about himself. It is true that his predecessor as PM left a low bar regarding such behaviour, but the people Howard picked on when he was in trouble were generally not in a position to retaliate. 

It's two years until an election and he's still got plenty of political capital left. Perhaps it's time to give the market research and PR micro-managing a rest for a while. 

In end, longevity in office is mostly about luck anyway - in particular the economic hand that is dealt. 

Tomorrow's Newspoll

Am looking forward to it, for what it will show, how it is presented by the Oz, and how the rest of the media picks it up.

Laurie Oakes reckons "If Nelson does not get a bounce in the next Newspoll there is no justice", but opinion polls rarely behave as they are supposed to in an easily discernible cause and effect manner. So my best bet is: little change. Which doesn't mean the last fortnight hasn't been  politically damaging for the government.

And if there is little change, we'll be back to Brendan Nelson's leadership and the last fortnight will be forgotten.

FuelWatch in the long term

Nelson and co are also over-occupied with the short term, but Nelson has the excuse that his position is insecure. They ignore the fact that people in WA seem to like FuelWatch - for whatever reason; perhaps they think it's cool to be able to look prices up online. FuelWatch will probably go down well when introduced nationally too, and what will the Libs do then? And at the next election? On top of having to find $2bn to pay for the 5c petrol cut. (Of course, Nelson won't be leader then.)

This site 

I am working to make this site into a blog, with every post linkable. Might even introduce something called RSS feeds (when I learn what they are). Finding the time is the main hurdle. But these things will come.

May 30 The timidity of Mr Rudd

I'm in Crikey today, agreeing with folks like Peter Hartcher in SMH that our PM seems scared of the Australian people, and suggesting that it's not conducive to his political health.

(Talks tough to public servants, but. John Bolton was described as "a kiss up, kick down kind of guy" - a good phrase.)

Morgan poll

Face to face taken last weekend, says 61 to 39.

Bill Leak in The Australian

May 29 Tuesday's Newspoll can't come quickly enough

Mr Shanahan

"The Rudd Government's credibility on petrol prices is in tatters, its ability to function as a sophisticated modern federal government is under question, and it's stretching credulity on economic management."

This is because some public servants leaked cabinet documents showing various ministers/departments arguing differing views on one of the most trivial issues under consideration.

Just a little over the top, Dennis. 

Next Tuesday's Newspoll can't come quick enough. If all this hard work, with big screamers on front pages, produces no bounce for Brendan ... well, there's little point in trying.

Western Sydney reality check

Marn Ferson's cnet ter (cabinet letter) reminds us yet again that people in western Sydney are assumed more equal than others.

The political class carries on about the place no end - the dreadful Mark Latham in his day would never shut up about hailing from there - but the rest of Australia could not care less, and why should they?

Commentators seem to think that western Sydney "decides" federal elections, but that's rubbish. At last year's poll Labor took only took two seats (Lindsay is one; for the other take your pick of Macquarie, Liberal-held but notional Labor after a redistribution, or Parramatta, Labor-held but notional Lib) there off the Libs. They already held nearly all the rest; it's only the relatively wealthy ones there that swing.

Queensland, with less than twice the number of electorates as western Sydney, handed nine to Rudd on November 24. Without that nine Labor would probably still be in opposition. (Each side would have 74, with two independents.)

Can't we put the western Sydney violins away?

(Anyone know what possessed Martin to put the thing in writing?) [Update: reader informs me it was simply the department's submission, signed off by Marn.]

May 27 Can Barack Obama win? (Answer: no)

Caught former Clinton guy Robert Reich on 7:30 Report last night. "Wishful thinking" is the best description of his analysis of Barack Obama's chances against John McCain: something like "Americans are ready to do this". 

I just cannot believe Barack Obama can win the presidential election. He is black, his wife and children are black and his perceived "blackness" will increasingly predominate as election day approaches. A black family in the White House? No way.

This is not an anti-American rant. America is approximately no more or less racist than other societies. Bush has had two black people in high positions, plus a Latino Attorney-General. That's better than lots of other countries, including Australia. 

But lots of people do make subterranean associations with race.

So far, for example, Obama has been able to cast his youthful cocaine use in safe, "white" terms: middle-class, preppy-boy misbehaviour.  But once seen through the prism of his "blackness", that'll be different.

I reckon he's going to lose. Badly. 

Simon Jackman's research indicates something similar. [Let me rephrase, so as not to verbal Simon: Simon Jackman has conducted surveys on this.]

(It is also simplistic to believe that just because most Americans recognise the invasion of Iraq was disastrous an anti-Republican vote will follow. Promising to withdraw holds its own risks.)

Alright alright, Brendan Nelson is a joke

As you know, I have so far avoided "piling on" to Brendan. He's in the wrong place at the wrong time, making a fist of it. So what if he's opportunistic, schmaltzy and corny and always looks glum? There are worse things an opposition leader can be.

But in taking up the idiocy in Mr Milne's Gippsland article, he's jumped some kind of shark. Behaviour like that from pollies misreads and wrongly caricatures Australian voters.

Mind you, PM Kevin "is that grapeshot in the air? Sound the retreat!" Rudd is just the kind of guy to capitulate to such silliness.

May 26 Lordy Lord: Alex prepares for a second run

According to reports anyway - specifically Mr Milne. The story is about his coveting the Treasury portfolio, but none of these people just want second banana. 

Peter Costello is also hanging around like a bad smell, plus of course there are Abbott and Turnbull. And this guy with too much time on his hands (and also presumably an eye on the top job) won't stop throwing toys around until he's gotten another seat in parliament. (Note: his former electorate was the eighth largest swinger to Labor in November 2007.)

Everyone wants to be Liberal leader. The theory must be that the economy is going to tank badly, and with it the fortunes of the new government. Worth hanging around for, just in case.

With the PM still behaving like opposition leader, you can't rule anything out. Mr Rudd is scared of the Australian people; a year from now his record approval rating will have vanished, with nothing to show for it.

Next Liberal leader?

Julie Bishop is often spoken of as a possible future leader. But never, it surprises me, as Dr Nelson's immediate replacement.

I reckon something like the Latham coup of 2003 can't be ruled out. A fair rump of Labor Caucus back then could not abide Beazley and were livid at the destabilisation of Simon Crean by the"Roosters" on his behalf. In the end a combination of Beazley-haters, callow Caucus kiddies and Latham's funster mates combined to give the country the worst opposition leader in many a decade.

Much of today's Liberal partyroom - the Howard rump - can't stand Malcolm Turnbull - he's a trendy republican, urban progressive etc. So who might slip through the middle?

Bishop probably would not be the disaster Latham was, however.

(Cartoons above cut out from Nicholson and Moir)

May 21 What was the cut-off on November 24?

You will recall that in the lead-up to last year's election, several commentators reckoned that the Howard government could hold on with only 48 percent of the two party preferred vote.

In September, I pondered this in the AFR, concluding that this was not likely, and that "a stab in the dark might be that 50 probably won’t get [the ALP] there, but 51 should." Also made a graph of those historic cut-offs here.

So what vote, assuming uniform swing, could Howard & co. have survived with last year? It turns out that if the government had received 48.8 (to Labor's 51.2), both sides would have had 74 seats, with Tony Windsor and Bob Katter holding the balance of power. That could have gone either way and might result in fresh elections.

(A Labor person once told me they felt they could rely on Windsor in such an event. But surely his electorate would lynch him if he did such a thing? Katter's seat, on the other hand, has been known to vote Labor; he has said he would support the highest bidder.)

For the Coalition to get 75 seats - surely enough to form government - they would have needed 49.4 percent (to Labor's 50.6).

So that 48 percent was never realistic.

Parliament House library on last year's election

Was reminded of all this in this great post-mortem by Scott Bennett and Stephen Barber of the APH library, here.

May 20 Newspoll unchanged at 57 to 43

Brendan Nelson's Newspoll preferred PM rating has increased by a quarter(!)

Perhaps most importantly, the budget has finally moved Wayne Swan to what should be the neutral position for incumbents: seen as more capable of running the economy than his shadow.

Tables here, Dennis here.

[Update: Nielsen data here.]

(Is it realistic to expect something called a "budget bounce" from such high support? Is there such a thing at all? Suspect I'll be re-using this line from a couple of years ago.)

  • Mr Shanahan's reckoning that before the Turnbull email leak the opposition had been "making headway in the polls on the budget" is a wee stretch. The vast majority of both these polls were taken before the leak became known.

Gerard watch: four more terms!

Gerard Henderson takes out his crystal ball again.

This time, in the SMH: "If Labor can increase its vote at the next election, it should be able to ensure a long-term government of at least four terms."

"At least four terms" is an absurd call from one election result. Such a rush of blood to the head is unusual for our Gerard. 

May 19 Malcolm's new Western Australia pendulum

Malcolm Mackerras unveiled his new WA pendulum in the Weekend Australian on Saturday. Here is online version; also an 800KB PDF. Artwork by The Oz.

And here's the accompanying article. (Malcolm predicts a "landslide win" for Labor.)

May 17 Strange reporting of spending surpluses

According to Lenore Taylor in The Australian

"During the Howard years, surpluses were usually handed back to voters in the form of government payments and tax cuts. During the Rudd years, a lot of the surpluses will be spent as the Government sees fit."

I'm no economist, but ... simple maths suggests that if you "spend" or "hand back" a surplus, then you don't have a surplus.

In similar fashion, no less than the editor of the Wall Street Journal Asia (approvingly quoted twice in the Oz) complains that the government didn't "give (the surplus) money back in the form of tax cuts".

$21 billion more in tax cuts and a budget surplus of zero! The RBA would have loved that.

[Update: the Oz has its own fun with some weird stuff at The Age.]

May 15 The AEC's permanent DROs

I have a wee paper at the Democratic Audit, explaining why it's time to get rid of the AEC's DROs. 

Here. (Did I mention it's not very long and easy to read?)

A philosophical question ...

Should we feel sorry for politicians? No-one forced them to join an occupation so bruising on the ego. 

It's probably like pitying teenage Hollywood starlets whose every inch is diagnosed on magazine covers around the world. It's sad, it screws them up, but it's part of being successful in their profession and it's unrealistic to expect them to choose another one.

So, yes, it is ok to feel sorry for Dr Nelson. He is our brother.

Tonight's script

I think we know the post-mortem: yes, he put in a good budget reply - Malcolm Turnbull says it was the best he's ever heard! - this should give him some breathing space, Kerry/Barrie, but I think it's still a matter of when, not if ...

May 13 Morgan says 58 to 42

The telephone survey more or less agrees with the latest Newspoll's 57 to 43.

From the outer to the inner stratosphere. Liberal supporters should be assured that earth will approach one day - but not soon.

Budget warning

It is my understanding that no other country in the world makes nearly such a fuss about its budget as Australia. 

Tomorrow there'll be liftouts and graphs and tables and interminable blaah blaah. It's largely just a bunch of aspirations and estimates for the coming year(s); governments actually make decisions all year round.

And in electoral/political terms, despite the hoo-haah, it's not greatly insignificant either.

Still, watching Swan and Turnbull afterwards should be interesting ... 

May 12 That eggshell-thin economic narrative

As you know, the Rudd government is, perhaps belatedly, trying to get an economic narrative going. It goes: Hawke-Keating Labor from 1983 to 1996 did bucket-loads of economic reform, the benefits of which we are enjoying today, while The Howard government (1996-2007) did bugger all. So from 2008 onwards it again falls to Labor to do the hard yards.

This is ok as far as it goes, but it is Story Telling 101. It has no versatility, no depth or reason, nothing to take hold in the imagination. It's just a line, which can't resonate unless it stands for something more. 

We need to know why Howard & co dropped the ball on economic reform. 

Dear Kevin, Lindsay and Wayne: a suggested story

So here's a possible story to start with. 

From the get-go in 1996, the Liberal government was obsessed with its leader. It talked about nothing but John Howard: how brilliant he was, and by extension how brilliant they all were. 

This unhealthy self-absorption led to policy paralysis, and if you are incapable of formulating policy, you do politics instead. They became very good at politics - the bells and whistles - which became the end in itself.

Wonderful international economic conditions, and the open economy left by Labor, allowed the Howard government to sit back, dole the money out, and of course talk about themselves.

In this way they were good at politics but bad at policy.

Who has the gift of the gab?

Ok, that was just a suggestion. They need something, and someone to tell it. But who in this government is able to draw the strands together? Not Wayne.

How about Julia Gillard? It would have been a dreadful mistake to make her shadow treasurer, but government is different. 

From the government's point of view, it is a pity Julia's not front and centre of the economic story.

May 6 Newspoll says 57 to 43

Dennis here, tables here

Belated notes on London council elections ....

I. Finally, Lynton Crosby gets an election win under his belt. He and Mark Textor have had nothing but losses since 2004 - 11 by my count, including in the UK and NZ. 

Congratulations Lynton. Pop over to Wellington later this year and you'll find another.

II. My bet with Peter Tucker (made when Kim Beazley was ALP leader) still looks healthy.

III. Since 2000, elections for the the minority of Mayors in England and Wales who are directly elected have been by supplementary vote, a version of preferential voting. Similar to Queensland's 1890s contingent vote, it replicates the two round French/Russian etc system, but on one ballot paper. Sample ballot from the previous election looks like this.

April 30 Two Ex-Ministers

In 1996, when the nation put in a five percent swing to replace one government with another, the Sydney seat of Hughes contributed a big 11.3 percent to unseat Aboriginal Affairs Minister Robert Tickner.

Twelve and a half years later, a  5.7 percent national swing changed government again, with Aboriginal Affairs Minister Mal Brough losing his seat of Longman with a 10.3 percent shift.

What is it with these guys? It is surely just coincidence that each was in the "sort of seat" that swung. Tickner's 1996 swing for example was smaller than in some of his neighbouring electorates, but that didn't stop lots of folks filling columns with all sorts of variations of the theme that the Hughes result was a repudiation of the Keating government's approach to Aboriginal Affairs.

Longman in 2007 didn't attract similar tales, probably because the NT intervention was quite popular (if seen as a political stunt), and also because the agenda-setting Australian remains besotted with Brough. 

As does Mal himself, from recent performances.

April 27 Expectations in Gippsland

Only once in history has a federal ALP government achieved a swing at a byelection, and that was when Carmen Lawrence went federal in Fremantle in 1994. It was a touch over one percent.

[Update: a reader points out in 1929, shortly after the landslide Labor win that (now famously) swept the previous PM out of his seat, the independent member for Franklin died, causing a byelection which the ALP won. I don't count that as a two party preferred swing.]

[Update: another reader adds an extra condition to my original assertion: the seat must be already Labor-held. For example, when Charles Blunt replaced Doug Antony in Richmond in early 1984 there was probably a miniscule 2pp swing to Labor (see Adam Carr). Preferences were only distributed back then when necessary.]

For example, in May 1983 (I'm quite sure, although I don't have the data) the still-popular Hawke government went backwards in Wannon after Malcolm Fraser's retirement.

Yet many expectations seem to be not only that Labor should get a swing in Gippsland, but that it will be more than the 5.9 percent margin. According to Michael Bachelard in the Sunday Age. "Labor should easily be able to achieve such a swing."

I've previously suggested Labor might win, but the context was the assumption that they wouldn't, because governments usually suffer byelection swings. That is, I reckoned the idea of a Labor win shouldn't be dismissed.

But given the current context - what seems to be a general assumption that Labor has a very good chance, or even "should" win the seat -  my message is the opposite. If I had to put money on it, I would give it to the Nats (or maybe even the Libs.)

Repercussions of the result

Expectations take on their own life. The result in Gippsland will have almost zero influence on future electoral outcomes, but it is seen as important. 

Bachelard may be right that a Coalition win would end Kevin Rudd's "halo", but that's just a meta-thing, something the political class tell each other. The end of the perception that Rudd is unbeatable does not influence reality, except in indirect and unpredictable ways - the framing of news stories etc. 

Yet many seem addicted to the idea that if you can get the media to believe you're doing well, it will become so.

And a Labor win would probably hasten Brendan Nelson's inevitable demise (if he's still opposition leader in June). The ultimate effect of that is impossible to tell.

April 25 First past the post on 24 November

Had occasion to look at seats, at last year's election, in which the candidate who won the primary vote lost the two party preferred one (and hence the seat).

There were eight in total, and all of them went to Labor. They were: Bass, Bennelong, Braddon, Corangamite, Deakin, Hasluck, Robertson and Solomon. We can crudely suggest that if Australia used the first past the post voting system, Labor would have won only 75 of 150 seats, the Coalition 73 and two independents. A fun result (hullo Bob Katter!), from votes of 43.4 to 42.2.

Until the last decade, seats used to go both ways after preferences. (From 1955 to 1972, the DLP days, they favoured the Coalition somewhat.) For the last two elections (and maybe three), it's all gone Labor's way. (Excluding three-cornered contests, although in none of these in 2007 did either Coalition candidate trail in primaries but win after preferences.) The reason is, of course, a high Green vote, of which 75 to 80% flow in preferences to the ALP.

The half-way between the compulsory preferential and FPP is, of course, OPV. Such a system on November 24 would have produced a half-way result as well. 

April 22 Newspoll: 61 to 39

According to the poll in the Oz, most voters would prefer different Coalition leadership arrangements to the current ones, but the Nelson-Bishop combo is preferred by more voters than any other. This differs from the big headline, which comes only from the views of that rare species of respondent (one in three) who say they will vote Coalition. But the rusted ons are not the voters who matter, of course.

(Why has Newspoll lumbered Malcolm Turnbull with Andrew Robb ("Andrew who?", respond most voters) as running partner? The Peter Costello option, on the other hand, includes Malcolm as deputy.)

Worryingly for Wayne Swan, five months in he is seen as inferior to his shadow.

Graphic here.

[Update: naturally, the Costello beatup is doing the rounds of other papers, radio and telly. Read the opening par of this in the Tele. Newspoll actually has Turnbull as still the most popular choice as leader.]

April 22  Another leadership contender?

Manoeuvring for the Liberal leadership is tricky. You don't actually want to be the next leader, but the one after that. 

Lord Downer gave a bravura performance to the monarchists yesterday. But why are he and Peter Costello still hanging around? There seems little point to it all. 

Perhaps they reckon this will be a one-term government. 

April 21 Two weekend TV lowpoints

(1) The whole 'Insiders' show, a-snickering and a-smirking like schoolchildren about the 20-20 Summit.

(2) Hugh Jackman at the Summit running around with microphone like Phil Donohue.

Perhaps Jackman and Andrew Bolt deserve each other.

My big idea: one constitutional change

"Fixing our federal system", as Great Leader desires, will be very difficult without a constitutional referendum. And I make this prediction: we will not become a republic until the British Monarchy has ceased to exist, and it is forced on us.

Yes, most Australians want a republic. But Australians don't pass constitutional referendums.

So here's my big idea. Get rid of this stinker, S128 of the Constitution, which stipulates the referendum requirement for constitutional amendment. A couple of decades ago, when I looked at the topic of in detail (since then many new countries have appeared, so the situation may have changed), only we and Switzerland required referendums to change our constitutions. Americans, for example, do it with large majorities both in national legislature and in a majority of state ones. 

Something like that would be good for us: sufficient barriers to ensure bipartisanship and that it isn't done at whim.

The Swiss practically invented the referendum. They treat it with consideration and maturity. Australians, on the other hand, are political babies. Referendums bring out the worst in our politicians. 

Maggie Thatcher called the referendum a "tool of demagogues and dictators". She had a point.

Too much democracy

I assert that none of the following reforms would pass a national referendum:  RBA independence, daylight saving, lowering tariff protection, floating the dollar, a GST, moving from dialup to broadband, ... most things you can think of (including, of course, recycled water).

People look at individual Australian referendum results and attempt to explain why they passed or failed. That's pointless. Those with bipartisan support nearly always pass, those without never do. In 1988, for example, four questions on as diverse a set of topics imaginable all got about the same 'yes' vote - around the 30s. Does that indicate consideration of the questions, or something else?

Of course, it's Catch 22: you need a referendum to get rid of the monstrosity that requires you need a referendum. 

But is the situation really hopeless? Isn't there anything wall to wall Labor governments can do? Or can her Majesty the Queen do it for us?

April 17 New ANU quarterly poll

This new ANU quarterly poll was launched yesterday by Andrew Leigh and other important people including the VC Ian Chubb. They're throwing lots of resources into it and it looks like something worth watching. See Andrew's blog

Media questions all focussed on the results of the first survey, see eg Canberra Times and SMH.

Furphy watch: Bill Clinton never actually said that (stupid)

Was reminded yet again yesterday of a popular misbelief: that Bill Clinton in 1992 used, as an official or unofficial campaign slogan, the phrase "it's the economy, stupid".

Not true. As anyone who saw the doco "The War Room" knows, it was instead a reminder on a note stuck on wall (or mirror?) in campaign headquarters. Its purpose was to keep the troops "on message".

It was not for public consumption. Politicians don't often call their audiences "stupid".

Thank you for your attention.

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