Monday, February 18, 2019

Australian elections - why the loss of Mr Green's election calculator is a good thing!

I am, in case you hadn't worked this out already, I'm a political junkie .And events have given me lots of stuff to feed that addiction.

In Australia, the Australian Government has reeled from crisis to crisis flowing from its minority position in Parliament. It's difficult to explain to an international reader without  going into excessive detail. I think only a few things need to be noted.

The first is that everybody is really just waiting to get through the next few weeks until the formal election campaign begins in advance of a May election. Nobody is listening anymore. The Government is trying to dust of old nostrums such as border protection that may have some impact, but there is no way that it can cut through.

The Poll Bludger bludger track presently suggest an election result of 91 ALP, 54 Coalition, six minor party or independents in the lower house. I suspect that's about right, although the vote might tighten during the campaign. In this context, the latest poll results do suggest an improvement in the Government's position.

Starting from the premise that the ALP will win, the things I am watching for are:
  • The Green note. I expect this to be down. 
  • The size of the small party vote and especially One Nation.. I expect this to be lower than expected, although regional variations will be important. I say this partly because smaller party votes tend to be lower in polarised elections. Still, we will see.
  • The size of the independent vote. 
The last is worth looking at in more detail.

A lot of emphasis has been placed on the rise of the independents on the centre, those who are centre left on social issues, centre right on economics. This group is mainly city based, targeting the hard men of the Liberal Party like former PM Tony Abbott. I really have no idea here, but suspect that it's just too hard in the atmosphere of a general election for them to get any traction given the structure of city electorates. I say that for practical reasons.

Country campaigning is far more exhausting than city campaigning because of travel time. However, it is also easier. In the city, local candidates struggle to get any media coverage outside the local free throw away newspapers. In the city, candidates going to functions or just mounting a stand at the shopping centre face an audience that may include very few who actually live in the electorate.

Within the electorate itself, local social cohesion is lower. Fewer people are involved. It becomes harder to identify and target those who might shift votes. For all these reasons I'm not really expecting independents to have much of an impact. They will attract votes, but not enough for them to get to the critical second or even third position on the ballot paper that will then draw preferences from excluded candidates,

 The position in regional areas is a little different. There an independent or minor party candidate finds it easier to get media coverage, to become known, to identify people who might support in general or on particular issues. Issues tend to be more focused.

This doesn't make it easy. You have to travel and campaign and that takes time and costs. But you have a chance. You also have a better chance to influence other candidates and campaigns, to influence the agenda.

While attention is presently focused on the national campaign, NSW will hold its next election on Saturday 23 March. Here the fluidity in the vote and especially in regional areas has forced ABC election commentator Antony Green to abandon his lower house election calculator. To Mr Green's mind, the number of variables now involved makes it very difficult to develop a meaningful computer model to project results.

I am happy with this. In fact, really happy. In recent years, reporting of Australian election results has become really boring. It focuses on a single question of the winner. Once this is established, or more or less established, the talking heads focus on what it all means at a very macro sense. They talk and talk, often trying to find things to say, to defend positions.

Elections are about electorates. The current focus loses sight of this. The nuances in particular seats are lost, the local battles vanish from sight. The only seats talked about are already defined swing seats. When something slightly different happens, it is rarely picked up or picked up late in the coverage. Then, after the night, coverage diminishes. Each election has unexpected results,  but you would be hard pressed to realise this outside the most extreme examples. It has all become very boring - and sometimes quite misleading.

Maybe this year things will be different. I hope so!



2 tanners said...

The loss of the calculator is good because it now oversimplifies the effect of minor parties including the Greens. His analysis that the main impact will be in regional areas is pretty convincing. The corollary may be that the moderate conservative independents will (for a price) sign on to agreements of budget and confidence.

Anonymous said...

"91 ALP, 54 Coalition" and you "think that's about right".

Wow! is all I can say.


Jim Belshaw said...

It does sound extreme, kvd, and its tightened a bit and may tighten some more. That tends to happen as the election gets nearer. It is "brave" of me. I don't especially want a wipe-out, that would not be good for the country. One thing we don't know is the size of the independent minor party vote. Alp may get less with balance taken by up by independents/minor parties. But if I'm right about the polarised nature of the electorate, that tends to work in favour of the major parties.

2t, you are right on the calculator because it is based on 2pp and that has been breaking down.

Anonymous said...

A competent "loyal opposition" is always good but just think about how many deputy assistant ministers for nothing much that Bill will have to create to keep all those injuns on the reservation.

I hope you are wrong by at least 8-10 seats on the turnaround. Thanks Jim.


marcellous said...


apparently idioms about off (or, obviously, on) the reservation are out of bounds. Can't say I knew until very recently but see here:


Anonymous said...

Thank you marcellous - I have self-reported for immediate re-education. Mind you, I think my careless usage ranks fairly low on the totem pole.


Jim Belshaw said...

Actually, kvd, I'm not absolutely sure that you usage in the context is incorrect. But, still. I had not known of the sensitivities although perhaps I should have. When we both report for re-education I hope the place has some good red wine.

2 tanners said...

Pfft! The outrage industry working overtime again.

Jim Belshaw said...


2 tanners said...

Sorry kvd, I missed your totem pole reference the first time through. :)