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February 17 Resignation 1: Julie wasn't pushed!

The extraordinary thing about Julie Bishop is that she voluntarily walked away from the shadow treasurer position. Indeed, it is one of the most unusual actions ever by any Australian politician.

That's a joke of courseat a certain columnist's expense.

But Peter van Onselen in the Oz is too harsh. Howard and Downer both took many years to admit their wrongdoings. Why does he hate her so? Must be a WA thing.

Resignation 2: Brendan's penny drops

Dr Nelson is going because he realises he will not get another go as leader. Well, there would be a very small chance of resurrection à la John Howard after five years or so, but the odds of such a thing are tiny (as they were for Howard in 1989).

The scenario could be something like: Turnbull and Hockey have both tried and crashed, Costello has left parliament, and so the party looks to the 'next generation', say Peter Dutton, and he bombs like Alexander in 1994-5. So they turn, with little enthusiasm, to trusty old Brendan (who by then has admitted his mistakes the first time around) just in time for the 2013 election, which he wins.

But hanging around for such a minuscule possibility wouldn't make sense.

Who else won't contest the next election? These two, perhaps.

And another thing ...

The idea of Costello saying 'yes' to the shadow treasurer position is a joke. Been there, done that, and what would be in it for him?

February 16 That early election scenario

Antony Green on his blog elaborates on comments here the other day, listing the reasons an early election isn't likely.

Read Antony here; readers' comments with his responses are interesting too.

As he notes, without a double dissolution trigger the only possibility this year is a House of Reps only election, which would not only be difficult for the government to justify and do them no good in the Senate but would probably mean another early HoR election.

We can dismiss the HoR only election scenario. But I reckon in DD terms the year is still young, and triggers can arise. It would probably make the Senate friendlier (assuming the government survived) and give Rudd three more years.

But certainly not, as Antony explains, until after 1 July.

(Steve Fielding would love a DD but would still struggle to survive. Here's an old AFR piece about quotas, with a slightly off forecast at the end.)

February 13 Tragedies and leaders

Some people used to reckon that Jim Cairns' finest hour, at least in terms of perceptions among the wider public, was during Cyclone Tracy in late 1974.
Gough Whitlam was overseas and Cairns as acting PM visited Darwin to survey the carnage. In such tragedies, being visibly upset yet remaining stoic and take-charge is the most natural response for any human being in a leadership position, and they nearly always look good as they comfort people, promise to do whatever is needed etc.

If public perceptions of Victorian premier John Brumby were measured today you'd have to bet his approval would be sky-high. As a non-Victorian, my memory of his time in opposition is patchy, but it was typical of the position: wimpy and whinging,

preposterously emasculated in comparison with the all-conquering premier. Low approval ratings, couldn't take a trick.

As premier he comes across somewhat differently. These are the tricks of incumbency, particularly at times like this.

The current prime minister's immediate predecessor used to annually emote to the nation about the Bali bombings, but generally in the long run these tragedies don't have much effect on leaders' standing.

In Cairns' case he was sacked a few months later and so on and so forth.

February 12 Monkey see monkey do

The man at far right entered the South Australian upper house in 1997 with 2.9 percent. This was due to excellent preference harvesting and lots of luck. At his re-election in 2006 he then received over 20 percent and two quotas.

The reasons for this incredible second result were no doubt many, but an important component was his penchant for pushing himself onto the nightly news with stunts, such as doing silly things in silly costumes in shopping centres.

The other guy, above, snuck himself into the Senate in 2004 with just 1.9 percent of the Victorian vote and Labor and Democrat preference deals and lots of luck and is up again at the next election. He too loves to dress up in funny clothes and do wacky things to get onto the telly. My guess is that it's a conscious, deliberate copy of the first man.

This attention-seeking strategy would account for yesterday's Senate rant. But he's got Buckley's of keeping his seat.

More Newspoll: perceptions of economic prowess

Dennis Shanahan in the Oz on another question from the weekend's Newspoll. Data not up yet, but I've added the numbers he quotes at the bottom of historical data from the pollster's website below.

Date Coalition ALP Date Coalition ALP
7-9 Jul 1989 30 31 17-19 Feb 2006 55 23
8-10 Sep 1989 33 36 13-15 Oct 2006 54 22
2-4 Feb 1990 29 37 16-18 Feb 2007 51 29
2-4 Mar 1990 31 38 15-17 Jun 2007 51 30
16-18 Mar 1990 32 39 12-14 Oct 2007 53 29
18-20 Feb 2005 60 20 15-17 Feb 2008 44 37
17-19 Jun 2005 59 21 11-13 Jul 2008 44 34
7-9 Oct 2005 57 21 24-26 Oct 2008 43 39
      7-8 Feb 2009 40 39
As you can see, there's a gap from 1990 to 2005, during which I think the economic question referred to individuals rather than party, ie the PM versus the opposition leader.

I suggested last October that there are two drivers of perceptions on economic management: an advantage for incumbents and an advantage for the Coalition. [Update, let me rephrase: these are drivers of the starting point. On top of that, other things such as the actual state of the economy, length of time in power and general popularity etc also play a part.]

The numbers above reflect this, with the Hawke government slightly ahead over '89 to '90. (However, t would be interesting to see results for several years earlier, when that government was still highly popular.)

Labor will probably hit the lead in this question the next time it's put, but I reckon given the lopsided voting intention and other data, the Coalition is still doing well on the economy. This is no doubt a legacy of perceptions of the Howard/Costello years.

February 8 10:30pm: Tomorrow's Newspoll says 58 to 42

A big shift from last fortnight but not the one before that, way back in early December. And a discernible movement in Malcolm's satisfaction from 'don't know' to dissatisfied.

Voting intentions etc here. [Update: Mr Shanahan here.]

About that stimulus package

Results here.

Newspoll has lots of approval for the way the government is handling the economic crisis, but the Libs' economic brand is still robust: the proportion who reckon they'd be handling the crisis 'better' than Labor is 33 compared with 39 for 'worse'. There's no way Labor in opposition would be so competitive. Especially considering the gap in voting intentions.

But on the specifics of the package the government romps home. Note, however, the question (with my italics at the end):


If you substituted the last part with 'FOR AUSTRALIA IN THE LONG TERM?' (or something like that) you might get something different.

But in summary the Coalition's stance has been met rather as Malcolm anticipated: not 'poisonous', perhaps, but ... decidedly unappetising.

February 6 pm: Morgan says 56 to 44

Which is 3.5 percent down for Labor (and up for Coalition) from their previous poll.

Morgan is here.


Newspoll will be out in the field (on the phone, anyway) this weekend, asking people not only who they would vote for, but also what they think of the government's package and the opposition's position and so on.

The results will be interesting.

Australians have a tendency to reject tax cuts in opinion polls, and maybe the same applies to hand-outs. But it would be surprising if two party preferred voting intentions did not move towards the government measurably after this week.

That's not a prediction! More a ... rumination.

February 5 Crystal ball time: early election?

When governments are armed with the knowledge that the economy is headed for trouble, or for further trouble, what do they sometimes do? Have an early election.

More so if the other side is having leadership problems. Examples from the not too distant past were Malcolm Fraser in 1983 and Bob Hawke in 1987, with the Hayden-Hawke tussle and Howard-Bjelke-Petersen. (One worked and one didn't.)

It's only a matter of time before the Turnbull-Hockey tensions arrive. Folks will be asked in qualitative surveys over nibblies and drinks "If Malcolm Turnbull wasn't Liberal leader, who do you reckon should be?" "Joe" would get most mentions, Julie would get a few. (Costello as well for sure, but he would only take the job if the polls were friendly, which is not likely.)

How early is too early? One of the shortest terms in recent memory was Hawke's 18 months to December 1984. (Whitlam's 1974 poll was forced on him.) It is generally believed to have been a mistake and is commonly blamed on his family problems. But it was consistent with my thesis that opposition leaders with low approval ratings do well at the ballot box in comparison with their opinion poll voting intention performance, and vice versa.

The logic is pushing towards an early election, but voters are cynical and Rudd would be rightly wary. On the other hand, the longer NSW waits the worse that state will be.

[Update: Antony Green reckons this, but DD triggers can come into being. For example, the current package (if Xenofield doesn't play ball).]

February 3 Newspoll: there ain't none

Either something to do with Australia day weekend, or this week's stimulus package. If the latter, we can expect some extra questions when it comes out next week.

Essential research

You may have noticed the Crikey boys Pollbludger and Possum regularly reporting Essential Research. They come out a lot, and seem to consistently give Labor massive Morganesque (face to face Morgan, that is) two party preferred leads.

They're online, similar to Nielsen's which I wrote about during the last campaign. Their overstating of Labor support compared to other pollsters will be worth watching at the next election.

Will investigate them further at some time.

January 31 Malcolm and John Pt II

The last time federal Labor won an election from government was in 1993 when Paul Keating, after boasting for years that the Liberals were too wimpy to put in place all his great economic reforms, flicked the switch to Social Democrat. 

The Tories, he warned, would if elected slash anything that moved, ripping 'asunder' the nation's social/economic fabric etc, just when we were finally, delicately, poised for growth. 

They were ideological fundamentalists, led by a yuppie personification of 'greed is good' who didn't understand that there is a role for government.

So here we go again

Tinny revisionism

That's ok for the present (although Malcolm's not likely to be there in 2010), but the revisionism part is off. It is silly to try to fit the Howard government up as market fundamentalists; the 'complacent, self-centred, fixated on short-term politics at the expense of long-term policies' line is easily preferable (and closer to the truth).

But for some reason Rudd is keen on all this Hayek stuff.

(Malcolm and John Part I here.)

Opinion polls

Morgan face to face says: 59.5 to 40.5.

There's a Newspoll due on Tuesday. The bad news for Malcolm Turnbull is the flipside of last fortnight's good news: that 54 to 46 gap,which must have given him some encouragement, is likely to widen.

And another thing ...

If Barnaby Joyce is the Nationals candidate in Dawson at the next election, he will romp home.

  • 19 Jan 2009

    January 20 Newspoll says 54 to 46

    Dennis Samantha here, tables here.

    (Quibble: if you do a rough preference allocation, giving Labor 80% of Green primary votes and 50% of 'others', you get 55 to 45. But perhaps it's in the rounding.)

18 Jan 2009 15:33

    January 18 Politicians' self-assessments

    It beggars belief that anyone would want to be NSW Labor premier at the moment, but Mr Sartor evidently does and must think he could turn the tide.

    Professional high-flyers often have preposterously high opinions of their own abilities, not least in politics.

    But there's nothing like an electoral flogging to bring a person down to earth.

Quadrant plug for family member

The current edition of a certain journal was in the news the other week, but not for the reason I'm mentioning it here.

It contains a piece by my father about his time in Saigon in the late fifties/early sixties with the Colombo Plan. My arrival gets a brief mention.

Hopefully they don't mind my scanning and putting it here.

January 15 2009 It's IR, Stupid!

That's the note I would stick on the wall of Mr Rudd's 2010 war-room.

This slogan occurred to me while writing the post below.

Mr Switzer on 'move to the left'

Tom Switzer in the SMH has a point: the Libs shouldn't pay too much attention to cries to 'move to the left'. But it is not quite the one he is making. From 1996 to 2007, Labor was nagged to 'move to the middle'. This was always useless advice, because the party was already in the acceptable middle ground - as evidenced by thirteen years of government. The same for the Liberals today. 

The trick is to be acceptable, electable and even a bit appealing when the incumbent is vulnerable. 

So linear cries of 'move to the centre' can be ignored. But one problem opposition parties face is that they are easy to paint as extreme, out of touch and 'ideological', particularly on sensitive issues. Border protection, for example, was a big problem for Labor in opposition, and had to be neutralised. 

The Liberals' last stint in opposition was prolonged by a perception that they were feral on fiscal issues, wanted to kill Medicare etc. Today, unlike in the 1980s, there is no significant group in the party urging slashes to the government sector. In fact, outside organisations like Tom's new home, the IPA, don't really bother anymore either. 

Pragmatic big government is year to stay, as cemented during the prime ministership of the 'dries' once great hope, John Howard, who once in power taxed and spent like no-one before him. 

But I reckon industrial relations will the Liberals' big challenge at the next election. They are conflicted about it. People like Mr Switzer will be urging them to the right, and indeed the party's instincts - among both the 'conservatives' and 'liberals' - are in that direction. (In fact it may be strongest among urban progressives like Brandis, Hockey etc.) IR is good scare campaign material for an incumbent Labor government.

Other things like climate change probably don't matter that much, although consistently nit-picking at things the electorate broadly, if not particularly strongly, approves of can be alienating.

And the other risk is, of course, disunity. On issues like IR and climate change.

Poor Malcolm is unlikely to be there at the next election. But he is in for a terrible 2009.

January 10 The season to be silly: Howard, Joyce and HoR

This story by Greg Roberts is the Oz is just weird. It has John Howard advising Nationals Senate leader Barnaby Joyce to move to the House of Representatives so that he can "take over the leadership of the Nationals and a senior frontbench portfolio."


On the other hand, Barnaby has already:

"turned down frontbench offers from the Opposition Leader because it would force him to toe the Coalition line in the Senate."

But if he moves to the lower house, so the story goes, it would allow him to reconnect with "Howard's battlers". (Yes, they're still out there.)

Barnaby as Nationals leader would mean Coalition disunity and distress. Is that what the former PM really wishes for his party? And if Joyce went downstairs and didn't become leader he would all but vanish from the public sphere. Or he would quit the party and join the cross-bench. As a Nat he only has a profile in the Senate.

No doubt lots of people on the street tell Senator Joyce he should be leading his party. He probably agrees. Maybe, depending on what the ultimate aim is, they're right.

But how did Howard get roped into this story?

Blast from the past: change the Labor leadership

Apropos of not much, I just came across this post from May 2006 - six months before Rudd topped Beazley - which, given some 'Howard Years' revelations, history has been kind to.

Malcolm and John

A prediction for 2009 is that Malcolm Turnbull will gradually morph into Liberal leader John Hewson from March 1993 (post election) to May 1994.

As things get direr, he'll try harder and harder to placate his Howardesque backbench enemies. This will mean saying things he doesn't believe about 'social issues'. He won't look convincing, and it won't be pleasant to watch.

Then this may happen.

January 5 2009 Mackerras Queensland pendulum

Last week Malcolm Mackerras had a piece in the Oz based on his post-redistribution Qld pendulum. (His prediction for 2009: an eleven seat Labor majority.)

Here is said pendulum (also 500kb PDF), artwork by the Oz.

Antony in Queensland

Antony Green has also done a huuge analysis of the redistribution for the Qld Parliament Library here. Summary here.

December 31 High-profile millionaire recruit quits politics

The Victorian upper house was a booby prize for Evan Thornley. Now he's leaving.

This sort of thing can be contagious.

December 27 This 'n that 

Me in Canberra Times, a republish of last week's Inside Story piece, here.

Malcolm Mackerras in Australian, on USA Presidential election result, here.

Election drought in 2009

There is, sadly, only one Australian federal or state/territory election due next year. That's in Queensland, where there will very likely be a huge swing to the LNP, which may or may not give them government. (I slightly favour a change of government.)

But 2010 will yield a bumper crop: Federal, South Australia, Tasmania and Victoria. 

May 2009 pass quickly.

December 24 - 26


December 19 Me in Inside Story

On Mr Rudd's first year. Here

Newspoll in Victoria: 57 to 43

In the Oz yesterday; tables here.

As you know, Newspoll conducts its state polls at the same time as its federal ones. It waits until it has a large enough sample for each state to publish meaningful numbers. Victoria's come out bi-monthly and Queensland's are quarterly.

Queensland again

From this and this, we can therefore compare the Queensland state and federal voting intentions over the last three months. Like this:

Newspoll federal and state voting intentions October - December 2008

  Labor Coalition Greens Other Labor two pp Coalition two pp














It is difficult to see how Newspoll could both get the same two party preferred numbers from these two sets of primary numbers. (The main difference is in Labor support.)

On Wednesday I suggested Newspoll had forgotten the 'O' in Queensland's OPV. But maybe they see OPV as favouring Labor. The amalgamated Queensland conservative party makes the prospects of three-cornered contests very low.


December 17 Queensland Newspoll: 57 to 43

Queensland's is the second oldest government in the country, at a spritely ten years it's three and a half years younger than the New South Wales one. But surprisingly (to me) it continues to defy gravity. Today's Newspoll in the Oz says 57 to 43, from primary support of 45, 37 and 8 for the Greens. Tables here.

It is, however, difficult to see how Labor gets such a high two party preferred lead from those primary numbers. The last election in September 2006 looked like this:

Labor Coalition Greens Family First Others






Which after preferences was 55 to 45

Adjusting a little off from this similar set of numbers, we would expect today's Newspoll to give Labor a two party preferred vote of 54 or 55, rather than 57.

Is Newspoll again forgetting the 'O' in OPV?

December 16 The longest two years

That is how the 27 months until the next NSW election will feel for everyone concerned. Poor Barry O'Farrell will be hanging on for dear life. Nathan Rees might not make it either, and if John Robertson gets his wish and presides over the 2011 debacle that would contain some justice.

And of course the electors who have to wait three more Christmases.

Newspoll in the Oz says 59 to 41, but also look at the primary votes. Green support on 14 is a little more than half Labor's (26). Is this a first? 

Perhaps a recipe for several Green wins (in Labor seats) in 2011.

[Update: See Antony Green.]

December 15 About me: one chapter closes ...

I submitted my PhD thesis on Friday. Hoorah! Won't bore you with the gamut of my emotions. I feel pretty good about it.

Have things lined up in short term but not in the medium and long. 

Mumble needs much attention to bring it into the 21st century and beyond. A wholesale redesign, while retaining the personal touch. Would be nice to make a small quid from it.

And other things. Remuneration has moved up the list of priorities. 

December 12 Newspoll quarterly

Tables here. Labor's primary vote over October-December is about the same as the last election, the Coalition's is down by several and the Greens up by several. All washing through to 56 to 44 two party preferred. 

Last weekend's survey, the 59 to 41 one, accounts for a little over a fifth of the respondents.

Last Howard Years post (promise)

Thank God the show and its eggshell-thin narrative are over. 

The most interesting and seemingly candid interviewees in the final episode were Costello staffer Nikki Savva and a guy called John Kunkel who was a speechwriter for the then PM.

Of the staffers, Tony Smith was the worst value, probably because he is now a politician. Have sound-bite, will stay on message. (Smith's aping of his former boss's verbal mannerisms is also disconcerting.)

And what can you say about Graham Morris? A professional spinmeister and polished performer who knows how to formulate a phrase and push a line but is never actually going to tell you anything. Perfect for this show.

The mystery is how such formidable production talent could come up with something so shrivelled. It seems to have the hallmarks of fussy meddling from on high, but ABC Managing Director Mark Scott reckons he had no input into the script. 

December 9 Newspoll 59 to 41; Joe firms

Newspoll today is especially diabolical for Malcolm Turnbull and the Coalition. Tables here, Dennis here. Often on this site I posit 'maybes'. Last month's on Joe Hockey was an example, along lines of 'you never know'.

But now I'm going to chance my arm. 

I reckon that unless there's an early election, Joe Hockey will be federal opposition leader at the next poll. He must be: by process of elimination, if Malcolm goes, who else is there? Unless I'm forgetting somebody. (Julie Bishop's done her dash.) 

[Update: I had, funnily, forgotten Peter Costello. But he'd only put his hand up if position looks worth taking - not likely - and even then he may not get it.]

December 8 Italian Diaspora fights back


December 5 What the tide brings in

Every landslide change of government includes a few 'ohmyGod!' seats, ones that no-one in their wildest dreams thought could change hands. Consequently, the new parliament contains a few odd new creatures, because the opposition candidates in such electorates tend to be, well, the sort of people you put in seats you believe you have no hope of winning.

Dawson, in Queensland, was probably the biggest surprise of the 2007 federal election. Enough said.

December 4 Politician caught telling whopper!

Labor heavyweight Graham Richardson was one of the biggest bullshit artists Australian politics has ever produced. Just about everything he said in public was designed to advance people's view of him and his influence, but he was very good at it, feigning a kind of self-deprecating candidness.

Peter Costello, on the other hand, is one of the least accomplished liars in politics. His acting skills are reminiscent of Andrew Peacock's: rudimentary. John Howard is rather skilled, although not in the Richardson league.

But Howard told a preposterous porky on The Howard Years on Monday which the show, naturally, let through to the keeper. 

Liberal 2001 campaign launch

Anyone who knows anything about politics knows that campaign launches are events that are scripted to within an inch of their lives. The 2001 Liberal launch included the prime ministerial phrase 'We will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come', which then went on to appear in advertisements and billboards right up to election day. 

Liberal backgrounders used to claim it originated from a Palestinian-Australian woman in a focus-group (that was always a little suspect) but on Monday night Mr Howard informed the nation that he thought it up on the night. Yes, while he was up on the podium, it just came to him, because he doesn't research, script or test his words. [Update: exact form of words here; search for 'I came up with that line on the spot.']

This is the sort of childish lie you only get away with when everyone around is too embarrassed or polite to say anything. And The Howard Years producers were very polite about it. Pollster Mark Textor was interviewed about the phrase, but only about three of his words made it to the screen.

To me this is symptomatic of one of the show's weaknesses: its determination not to cast the former PM in bad light. I suspect someone up high went through the script with a razor: Gerard Henderson will be watching this, taking notes, we must not be seen to bash Howard.

All politicians lie, but it is not the job of documentary makers to cover them up. This was an important formation of words in our political history, and if other Liberals had different versions of its origin, that would have made for more interesting television.

(Can't find Textor interview on the show's website.) 

December 3 Two two-termers?

These two guys were high-profile 2004 recruits. One of them, I believe, will lose the Liberal leadership before the next election (unless it's early).

The other does not appear to be enjoying himself. The Liberals are much better at handling high-flying blow-ins than Labor, which is institutionally rather hopeless at it. It seems that Peter isn't allowed to scratch his head without first getting permission from the kiddies in the PM's office. That would be depressing.

And would Malcolm stay if he lost the leadership and had no prospect of regaining it in the near future? There's only one job he's really interested in. 

Neither is the type to hang around for the superannuation. From Malcolm's point of view, there's lots more fun and money to be had living in Sydney, buying and selling stuff. For Peter, there must be lots of great waves to catch, music to make and causes to promote. 

So two vacancies in neighbouring Sydney seats in 2010 perhaps?

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