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October 19  A little more on Marky Mark

I've now finished the diaries. The last part of the book, post-election, has a different style. One humorous passage describes dinner with Tom "Schieffer brains" Schieffer, US Ambassador to Australia:

The Ambassador dropped three clangers:

  • He reckons that Bush would have beaten Clinton in 2000 if Clinton had been allowed to run for a third term. (Were we supposed to laugh?)

  • He reckons that Bush would have been okay if he had lost in 2000, and got on with things in a carefree way, whereas 'Al Gore has been destroyed by this defeat. His life is a wreck.' (How would he know?)

  • He acknowledges that Bush comes across poorly on television but reckons, 'He is absolutely brilliant in small groups; his ability to master detail is amazing'. (Did someone mention a conga-line?)

But for someone who can't stand spivs, Latho greatly admires Dick Morris, whose main claim to fame is his self-alleged responsibility for Bill Clinton's electoral successes. (More likely, Ross Perot (under preferential voting Bush Snr would probably have won in 1992), the recession and Clinton himself had more to do with them.) [Update: a reader corrects me on the Perot part.] This is related to Latho's fondness for gimmicks like "The Third Way" and "triangulation", the latter being, as far as I can tell, a fancy way of saying left of centre politicians must avoid coming across as captured, bleeding-heart lefties, and it doesn't hurt them to say something interesting and a little complex from time to time.

Latham's Werriwa prowess

On the trivial side, Latham kids himself about his electoral success in his own seat. Of 1996, the Lad writes: 

Some of the seats lost were similar to mine in socioeconomic profile, such as Lindsay in outer Western Sydney with a 12 per cent swing against Labor. So I was happy to retain Werriwa with a margin of 6.2 per cent. My hard work had paid off.

Latho's correct about the socioeconomic similarities: the outer parts of his seat border with the outer suburban terrible trio of Macarthur, Hughes and Lindsay, which swung by 12, 11 and 12 percent respectively. But to see heroism in his own performance requires calculating the swing from the 1994 byelection result that saw him enter the house, rather than from the 1993 election (as the other three are). The 1993-96 Werriwa swing was 10 percent, slightly better than the three outers. On the other hand, Werriwa's two other neighbours, Fowler and Prospect, only went by only 4 and 5 percent respectively. Werriwa also shares characteristic with those two; you could say it is a half-way house between/combination of outer suburban four-wheel drive land, and low-income, traditional Labor voting western Sydney.

Two points to this: local members like to overestimate their personal contribution to their seat's margin, and (once again) the idea that "blue collar voters"/"Howard's battlers" provided the backbone of Howard's win is nonsense. It was the wealthier, self-employed "aspirationals". Hughes, for example, - just a stone's throw from Sylvania Waters - drips with affluence.

October 17  Ridgy Didge Latham Diaries

A late starter, I'm now four-fifths through. Quick comments:

  • Everyone says ignore the rubbish and address his serious points, so I'll start with the big one: there's plenty of dills, deadwood, factional hackery and political timidity in them there Labor ranks. As the Lad might say: Hooley Dooley, I never would have guessed. Peter Walsh lamented same in his Confessions of a Failed Finance Minister over a decade ago, which stretched back to the Whitlam era. But let's concede Latham has a point (which probably applies to all state Labor governments and the current Coalition federal one.)

On less substantial issues (ie 90% of the book)

  • His assertions that he was relatively sparse leaker/backgrounder, more willing than most colleagues to put his name to his public interventions ("like an Australian male"), do have credibility.

  • He hates Beazley, but makes a couple of perceptive points: (1) Bomber is at his worst discussing economics, at his best drawing on an ethical well. (2) Contrary to received wisdom, his prolixity is probably part of what punters like about him.  

  • A diary is of course a lazy format, as the author doesn't have to bother with stringing themes together or any sort of narrative or even extracting clunky sentences. But these diaries are highly readable. Much of the colloquialism seems forced to me, as it tended to be in person (on the box). Some seems deliberately and consciously Keatingesque, eg about "the show".

  • There is evidence of retrospective rewriting.

  • Everyone in the ALP apart from our hero is either treacherous or stupid. His one or two mates aren't exactly policy wonks, but they share his puerile sense of humour.

  • Only two Australian journalists/commentators are worth feeding, and they happen to be the two who only say nice things about our man. (Alan Ramsey and Michael Duffy.) Anyone who criticises him at any level, even tactical, has an agenda of some kind or other. (Of course, paranoid people can have enemies.)

  • Every 6 months Latham rediscovers how two-faced Matt Price is. Matt must be pretty charming to suck him back in repeatedly.

  • For someone highly intelligent, Latham is an emotional toddler in what he expects his readers to buy into. It was the same in the recent round of interviews. There must be a medical term for where he positions his self in the universe and his total inability to either understand that it doesn't all revolve around him or to take responsibility for anything. As a layperson, I'll stick with psychopath for now.

That's all for the time being.

More on above the line senate voting

Meaty discussion includes several heavy-hitters at Pollbludger. Pretty detailed stuff. (Insofar as I understand it all, I'm with Simon and Antony.)

October 13  Antony Green on above the line voting

In case you missed it, here at Crikey.

October 12  South Australia: Kerin challenged

Some poor South Australian schmuck wants to be opposition leader. What sort of person fights for the honour of presiding over possibly the biggest Liberal loss (or the largest Labor win) in South Australia's history? Anyone who doubts a thumping Labor victory in March 2006 (with little anyone can do about it) hasn't been watching state elections recently. Victoria's Robert Doyle is similarly masochistic in hanging on, determined to make it two in a row. But the NSW Liberal leader Peter Debnam has a good chance in 2007, and Queensland's Larry Springborg a fair one.

October 11  Newspoll

I have a dream: that political journalists interpret Newspoll via their own noggins, rather than regurgitating whatever Dennis Shanahan reckons is important. And what Dennis means by the following is anyone's guess:

On the first anniversary of the election, the ALP's primary support is the same as when Labor had its worst primary vote in 98 years and lost nine seats.

Labor lost a net three seats in 2004. 

My other dream is that Newspoll gets their preference distribution together. 

October 10  Latham sighting: depleting social capital

A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine was playing with his son on a beach on the Illawarra coast, near Wollongong. A half hour drive from Campbelltown, it's a popular spot with western Sydneysiders. Another boy is on the beach, and he kicks friend's son's ball into the ocean and ball is swept away, never to be seen again. Friend had been subliminally aware that second boy's parents had been sitting on the grass watching, and was a little peeved that they didn't do what was the socially done thing - make some acknowledgement of what had just happened, say something, apologise, offer to buy another ball (which he of course would have refused) etc. Just do something, one of the myriad of reflexive rituals that glue communities everywhere. He looks towards them, and woman is looking elsewhere, possibly actually oblivious to the scene - maybe not - but hubby has certainly witnessed it and is almost belligerent, half-heartedly looking away but also with an attitude that says: "who gives a shit about you and your son and his stupid ball, arsehole?"

The couple on the grass were, as you've guessed, Mr and Mrs Latham. Not really consistent with all that stuff about community-mindedness you couldn't shut the Lad up about for twelve months. He's a multi-layered fellow, to be sure.

Joint Select Committee on Electoral Matters

As you know, Senator Abetz's proposed changes to the Australian Electoral Act arise from the JSCEM, the Inquiry into the Conduct of the 2004 Federal Election and Matters Related Thereto ( here). I've been reading some of the public hearings (here) which are often enlightening and even interesting if you're that way inclined.

Here's the PDF from 8 August 2005, which includes evidence from Labor National Secretary Tim Gartrell. Panelists include two of the Liberals' higher profiles, "Gorgeous George" Brandis and Sophie Panopoulos. Gartrell is complaining of government spending on IR advertisements and Panopoulos is accusing him of hypocrisy in remaining silent on Victorian ALP government's ads, on the same topic, in Albury/Wodonga's Border Mail.

Ms PANOPOULOS—Would you not criticise the Victorian Labor government more for using funds on an issue over which they have ceded the jurisdiction?

Mr Gartrell—Firstly, I would say that one ad in the Border Mail does not add up to the $100 million that will possibly be spent by the government on this debate—unless I have some really skewed understanding of the cost of putting an ad in the Border Mail, a paper which has created some very good journalists and even a former national secretary to the Labor Party.

Ms PANOPOULOS—I take your point; you have answered the question.

Mr Gartrell—You took a while to get to the point yourself.

Ms PANOPOULOS—I have to say that you are very consistent with other senior members of the Labor Party in ridiculing country newspapers and in ridiculing people that live in non-metropolitan areas. You may not think—

Mr Gartrell—I just said that the Border Mail produces incredible journalists. What are you talking about?

Senator BRANDIS—That is because the Labor Party does not like country people.

And so on. Well, I said it was often enlightening. 

Closing the rolls

Anyway, one of the government's proposed changes is in closing of the rolls when the writs are issued. There is some confusion over the issue, and even Mike Steketee was less than clear on this the other day: 

One [proposed change] would close the electoral roll on the day writs are issued for an election. Last year this was two days after Howard announced the election, whereas now the rolls stay open for seven days after the writs are issued. The change would prevent potentially several hundred thousand people from voting. 

What he meant was this. The electoral rolls currently stay open for seven days after the writs are issued. During this time people can get on the roll or change their details. Last year the writs were not issued until two days after the election date was announced, which was unusual, as the rule in recent years has been for the writs to be issued on the same day. So last year people had nine days (seven working days) from the day the election was called to get on the roll or change their details. The government now wants (well, it always has, but hasn't had the Senate numbers) to close the rolls the day the writs are issued, which is the day the election is announced.

There's also a bit of misunderstanding of the pre-1984 situation. It is true that before then the rolls were closed on the same day the writs were issued. However, with the exception of the 1983 election, the writs were not issued on the day the election was called, there was always a decent gap, generally longer than a week, for changes to be made to the electoral roll. Like Howard's two day delay last year, only longer.

(I'm open to being corrected on all this.)

There's a new Commonwealth Electoral Commissioner in town, who professes sanguinity about these proposed changes, but (and I'm open to persuasion on this too) there seems no doubt that the new laws are designed for party political purposes.

[Update: Antony Green elaborates: 

"On the close of rolls, the government tends to announce the election up to two or three days ahead of the issue of the writs. The main reason for this is it usually takes a day or two to arrange for the State Governors to sign the Senate writs. But the writ is always issued on the Monday five weeks out from polling day, the minimum 33 days of the campaign. There are all sorts of legal issues that click over on the status of MPs and Ministers once the writ is issued, so government always issue the writ as late as possible, whenever they announce the election. Since the 1990 the election has always been announced a day or two earlier, but the writs were always issued on the Monday.


"Prior to 1990, the elections tended to be announced in Parliament, and it may have been some time before the writ was issued. In the usual way that the Executive has usurped the traditional roll of Parliament, this has not occurred since 1987. Of course, 1983 was also an odd one out, being a snap double dissolution. Note that with the recent New Zealand election, the date was announced 10 weeks out in a statement to Parliament, but the formal writ was only issued for the minimal election campaign about six weeks later."]

Finally, in an edited transcript of Senator Abetz's Sydney Institute talk he claims that

"about 27,000 voters who cast provisional votes at the 2004 federal election - and had their votes accepted into the count - were subsequently unable to be put on the electoral roll because they failed to qualify. There are nine seats in the House of Representatives held by a margin of less than 1 per cent."

This does sound alarming, and I'm trying to work out what he's on about, but in the meantime I'm sceptical. For one thing, if any votes are discovered that shouldn't have been cast, and that, in theory (assuming they all voted this way or that), could have changed the result in an electorate, then the Electoral Act mandates a supplementary election in that seat. This has never happened. If anyone can tell me what Abetz is referring to I'd appreciate it.

This is getting convoluted, so I'll stop for now. 

Above the line: credit where due

However, credit where due: the government's proposed changes to the Senate voting - the voter allocating preferences above the line - are a jolly good idea. For a refresher on why, see my PDF paper for the Democratic Audit. (Last par suggests something along the lines of what is proposed.) Optional preferential - not having to number every square - would have been better, but the Coalition believes (wrongly in my opinion, because of high Green support) that OPV still benefits the ALP.

[Update: Antony Green has convinced me that I hadn't really thought this one through. This solution, with CPV, is almost the equivalent of going back to pre-ticket days, pre 1984, and is likely to see a jump in informal voting. Up-update: others (eg Simon Jackman) have helped convince me further - it will be dreadful. I hadn't anticipated the large numbers above the line (plus was possibly trying to find something nice to say about this government's approach to electoral matters). But with OPV it would be ok, wouldn't it?]

October 8 Poll Bludger

He's gone all techno. Watching with interest.

October 6  More on changes to Electoral Laws

Excellent piece by Mike Steketee in the Oz on electoral law changes and how both sides can't help but play politics with them. (Pity he includes the furphy about "the Liberals progressively increasing their vote among traditional Labor voters".)

Steketee hints at a reason the Coalition is rather distrustful of the Australian Electoral Commission and election management bodies in general.  All else being equal, right of centre parties tend to see their electoral interests served by having as few people voting as possible, while left of centre parties reckon the more registering a vote the better. The reasoning is that young/ poor/ underclass/ disaffected etc people are more likely to drop off with tighter restrictions, and/or less state proactivity in vote-gathering, and these are more likely, in the Australian context, to vote (after preferences) ALP. 

The AEC, meanwhile, sees part of their role in society as getting as many people on the electoral register (of those who are entitled to be) as possible and making voting convenient. They think enrolment drives etc are pretty good stuff, for the health of democracy and so on. So in a general sense they share some aims with the ALP (of course in some specifics, eg getting postal votes to farmers, the two would have different interests), and this helps explain the current government's antipathy towards the AEC. (Disclosure: I think the AEC helps fund my PhD research (not sure really); in any event, I have little to do with them and these views are mine and not theirs.)

Australian Election Study: young voters

Mike reports Senator Eric Abetz telling the Sydney Institute the other night that more young people voted Liberal than Labor at last year's election. Abetz was presumably using a portion of the 2004 Australian Election Study which got a media run several weeks ago. AES is a rather detailed survey asking how and why people voted (plus various socio-economic demographics), completed by respondents in the days after a federal election and mailed in. Below is table of 18-24 age cohort that's been widely quoted, which shows Liberal 42.5 percent and Labor on 32.3. At first blush Abetz is right.

Labor

Coalition

Dems

Green

Other

didn't vote

32.3%

42.5%

0.8%

17.3%

2.4%

4.7%

However, some points

  • The sample size for this subset is 127, which is pretty bloody small, (about a ten percent error margin).

  • There's no weighting (as far as I know).

  • These numbers include those who didn't vote. Extracting the non-voters gives the following:

Labor

Coalition

Dems

Green

Other

33.9%

44.6%

0.8%

18.2%

2.5%

  • As you might expect with young people, the Green vote is very large; it actually puts the total left-of centre vote at over 50%. At the last election 80% of Green preferences went to Labor (AES only gets primary votes), and a reasonable estimate from the above numbers of a two party preferred comes to about 50 to 50.

  • This AES, as with most in the past, in totality overstates the winner's lead. The whole sample (all age-groups), extracting the non-voters, gives the Coalition 50.4 percent of the primary vote (they actually got 46.7) to Labor's 36.9. (Labor got 37.6). Calculating two party preferred for the whole sample gives you  54.4 to 45.6, compared with the true election result of 52.7 to 47.3

  • Using this discrepancy to adjust the 18-24 two party preferred gives about 52 to 48 in Labor's favour. That is, according to these numbers, if everyone in Australia had voted as 18-24 year olds did last year we would now (probably) have a Labor government.

  • But the main point is the first one: a sample size of 127 is too small to make much sense of.

October 5 Abolish the referendum

Crikey's newsletter yesterday noted that Steve Lewis was misinformed about the 1988 referendum including fixed terms and Glenn Milne's supposed compromise solution (the "hybrid model") is just the same old same old: minimum of three maximum of four years, ie what the PM's in favour of.  As the national broadsheet seems incapable of non-partisan analysis of the topic, I've reproduced the two crikey items below, by Charles Richardson and Malcolm Mackerras. 

14. Will Beazley sell out again?


Crikey psephologist Charles Richardson writes:

Tonight Eric Abetz will present his manifesto on electoral reform in a speech to the Sydney Institute (excerpted here). The future of most of his plans, good or bad, will depend only on whether they have enough support in the newly-fractious government parties to get them through the Senate.

The founders, however, did remember to put three-year terms in the constitution, so any move to four years would require a referendum. Bob Hawke attempted one in 1988 and was defeated by a margin of two to one. John Howard, however, is being encouraged to try again, notably by Costello cheerleader Glen Milne in yesterday's Australian, who in turn draws on a 2000 research paper by Scott Bennett of the parliamentary library.

A few years earlier, in his book Winning and Losing: Australian National Elections (MUP, 1996), Bennett seemed confused about the 1988 referendum, saying (p. 73) that it "included a fixed parliamentary term question." That was probably just a slip of the pen, but it was repeated last Friday by Steve Lewis: "the referendum failed because it included fixed terms." No, it didn't: Hawke's proposal was for fully-flexible four-year terms.

Milne, citing Bennett, is now pushing "a hybrid model. This would see the term of the Lower House set with the first three years fixed, and with a four-year maximum." But that's just what John Howard has already proposed, as Milne points out: "[Howard] is in favour of four-year terms. But only if the prime minister has the flexibility to call an election in the fourth year."

Apparently without realising that this puts paid to the idea that Bennett's proposal is some sort of "middle way," Milne then says "Labor is also in favour of four-year lower house terms – but wants those terms fixed. There is not much difference between the parties here." He can't blame Bennett for the stupidity of that remark; it's a Milne original.

Governments almost never want to cut their term short by more than a year; flexibility in the last year is all they need. The difference between that and fixed terms isn't a side issue, it's the whole issue.

17. Tony Smith puts one over on Lewis and the Oz


Leading psephologist and academic Malcolm Mackerras writes:

In yesterday's Crikey Christian Kerr made this comment under the heading "Spinning, leaking and the debate on four year terms": "Steve Lewis seemed well across the detail of reports last week, going by his report in Friday's Australian." 

Maybe, but one error in the Lewis article struck me: "Labor tried in 1988 to increase parliamentary terms but the referendum failed because it included fixed terms and changes to the Senate."

It is true that the 1988 proposal included changes to the Senate, but it is not true that it included fixed terms. So why did Lewis insert this error? My theory is that Tony Smith (who chairs the powerful joint standing committee on electoral matters) briefed Steve Lewis. In his desire to sell the Liberal Party's preferred position Smith put one over Lewis.

Liberal Party propaganda has it that the inclusion of a fixed term reduces the chance of voter acceptance. Consequently they are keen to sell the idea that the 1988 proposal failed "because it included fixed terms." Quite false. It would be more accurate to say it failed because it did NOT include a fixed term.

So my question to Steve Lewis is a simple one: "Why did you fall for that trick?" If Lewis had rung me I could have told him the real reasons why the 1988 proposal failed so dismally. 

Quite so. Fixed terms might scare pollies but why would the public object? And on Australian Constitutional referendums generally,  here  here and here are me from a few years ago. Australia is one of the few countries in the world silly enough to have this device built in to their constitution, and that last piece calls, a little tongue in cheek, for a referendum to get rid of the bloody thing altogether. It'll never happen, of course, and would fail if it did. Unless ....

A loopy suggestion

The referendum is the in the constitution, but who gets to vote is in the hands of parliament (federal and state ones). They could conspire to once and once only allow to vote only people who promise to support the 'yes' case (perhaps a hand-picked dozen or so), get the referendum change through, and then change the franchise back afterwards. Yes, imagine the outcry, but how else to get rid of this turkey, Section 128 of the Australian Constitution?

October 3 Four More Years!

Mr Milne today in Oz quotes this Parliament House Library Research Paper on prospects of a four year term referendum, with reference to the 1988 experience. The bits Glenn uses deal with aspects of the referendum question (such as simultaneous election etc) which supposedly made things difficult for voters and led them to vote 'no'.

1988 Referendum results

Question

Yes vote%

Rights & Freedoms

30.62

Parliamentary Terms

32.80

Local Government

33.48

Fair Elections

37.41

I don't believe the content of the question had much to do with the result at all. It was part of a set of four put by the Hawke government in 1988, on hugely unrelated topics, shown in the table at left in ascending order of national 'yes' vote.

Support levels for all four proposals were at a similar (dismal) level, in the 30s. Now, unless you believe each was roughly of equal obnoxiousness to the common sense of the average Aussie, the logical conclusion is that consideration of the question ran a poor second to other factors. Chief among these was, of course, the opposition of the Coalition (the federal Coalition has never, when in opposition, supported a Labor-sponsored referendum), and others would include a heap of other electoral intangibles, such as the (lack of) popularity of the Hawke government at the time. Yes, the variance that exists indicates some voter discretion, but not enough to make the difference between success and failure.

Now, those who see our PM as a conviction politician! will expect him to press on with this reform, because he knows it's right for the nation etc, but sensible heads will anticipate his natural timidity leading him to cut and run. Yes, the opposition would probably support it, but that would just muddy the campaign waters.

On the other hand, Howard might enjoy lumping his successor with a tricky  obstacle, so watch out for that bit of engineering. But if Howard is still PM at the next election, we'll get no accompanying referendum on anything, don't you worry about that. Accentuating the positive ain't his strong suit.

From the vault: states' relative support.

Been re-visiting this page from several years ago. Immediate responses: did I really do all that? (it's messy and hard going); and I must have had time on my hands.

The graphs were constructed before the last election, but some of the points remain, such as that unpopular state governments can be disastrous for federal counterparts of same party colour. But it is a bit of a slog, so enter at own peril.

September 30 A referendum on four year terms

"Likely", according to the Oz. Is it my imagination, or does the PM suggest these things about once a year before sending them nowhere? It's called making contact with (gullible) parts of your support base. [Update: it was gone by lunchtime.]

Fixed three (or four) year terms would be a better idea (for everyone in the country except whoever's in government at the time), but Howard's not in favour.

On "reforms" that can be enacted in parliament, closing the rolls the day an election is called and tightening eligibility requirements are nothing but partisan vote-maximising exercises and would probably be highly effective. People recently turned 18 and those who move a lot would be especially hit and, despite nonsense you might have read, they still predominately vote left of centre (which means they vote Labor after preferences). Voluntary voting, it is widely believed, would favour the Coalition, but in Australia's electoral architecture that ain't necessarily so. Consider the typical outer suburban swinger- self-employed young families etc - who usually vote Liberal but occasionally Labor. The seats they live in usually largely decide elections. Would they necessarily vote, or might they be more likely than the wage/salary earner to be too busy on a Saturday?

  • See also the always worth reading Malcolm Mackerras at Crikey

September 26 
Napalm in the Morning: biographer and subject

Here's a weird Michael Duffy SMH analysis/glorification of his former biographical subject's Diaries.

Duffy buys into a corner of Mark's World that curiously few commentators have pulled the diarist up on:  the delusion that leaving the Labor leadership in January this year was his idea, that he'd had enough of the hopeless, undeserving rabble and so, for once in his life, was putting himself and his family first. Writes Michael:

It remains the most extraordinary thing about Latham that he voluntarily walked away from the leadership of the Australian Labor Party. Indeed, it is one of the most unusual actions ever by any Australian politician.

("No no Mark, don't go!", they cried. "I must", replied he, etc.)

Folk back on Planet Earth will recall nothing "voluntary" about the whole dismal episode. Calls for Latho's head were coming left, right and centre, caucus support had crumbled and his resignation, which had been all but inevitable, simply put everyone out of their misery.

The columnist also deeply interprets the Lad's private video-watching habits, seeing in them a reflection of his view of his party, rather than just his general mindset or perhaps even simple entertainment.  The ALP as a fat Marlon Brando, scoffing sweet and sour in Chinatown? An ok idea, but doesn't really go anywhere.

Let's face it, Apocalypse Now has long been a favourite of yobby Aussie blokes of a certain age-group. Mark's probably especially keen on the Robert Duvall bits, and indeed there was a report several years ago of the larrikin leaving a funny and well judged message to a Canberra Vietnamese restaurant, something like "Charlie can't surf, but he sure can cook." 

September 21 Tim Colebatch on what doesn't swing elections, ...

... in The Age, is worth a read. Oppositions bearing tax-cuts not necessarily winning isn't new of course, otherwise practically every Australian federal poll in the last three decades would have seen a change of government. (1987 and 1993 particularly spring to mind.) And the idea some are putting around that Latham should have promised radical tax-cuts last year is pointless too.

On "race", it's probably one of those things that you can only do really effectively from incumbency. Howard played the card dismally in his first opposition leadership stint (1988), Peacock had a go with the MFP in 1990. But it worked in 2001 because Howard was PM, and so possessed legitimacy. Imagine an opposition leader behaving as Howard did during that campaign: they'd be viewed as desperate, a little grubby and perhaps a little unhinged. OK, so the first two applied anyway, but it's difficult to fit up someone who's been in power for five years as unhinged/unworthy/too much of a risk. (This difference was a problem with Lathamites who thought callisthenics the ticket to the Lodge.)

On proportional representation: it has its pluses and minuses. Personally, I would love to see it in the Australian House of Representatives, but opponents say it produces unstable government. However, it might also induce our major parties to grow up a little: they've long been the most partisan in the democratic world, maybe it's time to give those childish games away.

September 20 Marky Mark

This is the guy who always thought Labor would have won in 1998 and/or 2001 if he, rather than the ticker-deficient flip-flopper, had been leader. But with 2004 the worst result since 1996, his alleged strategic nous and whole political raison d'être are absolutely nullified. No wonder he hates Bomber.

September 19 Opposition leaders' satisfaction ratings

  • Here's Saturday's Fin Review Lies and Statistics (with a subbing error fixed: a number returned to negative status). 

  • And here's more on the subject, in technicolour. See for example Mark Latham's record high approval ratings, moderating before the election and then sinking afterwards.

September 16 Boofhead diaries

Diaries that read like they were written for public consumption are pretty sus. (Bob Carr's was like that.) Or maybe Latho's inner life really is as thin and cliched as his public persona. Is that a psychopath?

This man is possibly the only remaining Latham devotee in the country. Looking forward to tomorrow's column. [Update: there wasn't one.]

New Zealand

Centrebet's odds for Labour have blown out to a distressing $2.10 against Nationals $1.65. I still reckon Clark will probably form government. If she does, it should put paid to those silly articles about betting punters always getting it right.

September 15 Fush'n chups update

With two days to go, certain online agency has both Nationals leader Don Brash and Labour leader Helen Clark on $1.85 to be next PM (nice profit margin), the longest odds for Labour since books opened. This disappoints for two reasons:

  • The odds I got for a Labour win weren't as good as that

  • The main reason for betting behaviour change is a Nielsen poll that has the Nationals six points ahead. Makes me nervous. 

September 13 Herr Schroeder, Newspoll

  • Been waiting for a certain online agency to open books on German election, but still waiting. Like most, I expect Gerhard Schroeder and his SDP/Green government to go down. The Christian Democrats should form government with others, but no 'grand coalition'. [Update: wrong call.] The Mackerras law "they who win the unwinnable election hit the wall the next time" doesn't always work, but should in this case.

  • Newspoll in the Oz again says 51 to 49. Kim's belly-aching on everything under the sun over the last couple of weeks might be reflected in his improved satisfaction rating (which, as I've said before, has little to do with electability). Speaking of which ....

September 12 Approval ratings

Currently composing for next week's 'Lies and Statistics' column in the AFR, on, for want of better term, over-rated opposition leaders' approval/satisfaction ratings. Beazley's, it is often pointed out, have been crook lately. I've made a quick graph of Newspoll net approval/satisfaction ratings (satisfaction minus dissatisfaction) for both PM and opposition leader from Howard's election in March 1996 to last fortnight's Newspoll. (Another one due tomorrow.) Below is a shrunken version; click it or here for full enchilada.

 

September 7 Foreman material?

It is a curious thing: there appears to be zero average correlation (or perhaps even a negative one) between the strength of people's self-proclaimed religiosity and their actual exhibiting of what we might think of as"Christian values". You know, things like empathy with fellow  humans, concern for people in distress, acceptance of others' foibles ... 

Anyway, Mr Abbott obviously remains the best press gallery-handler in the business. In the Tele, Malcolm Farr explains that this was really out of character for the sensitive Tony, and perhaps Brogden even asked for it by mentioning that adoption at a function last year. Wrote Malcolm, "[i]t was not until earlier this year that Abbott discovered he had not fathered a boy, a loss almost as deep as that felt after the death of a child." Oh please. Matt Price was also rather understanding, as was - no surprises - Gerard Henderson

From my point of view it just makes a Nelson prime ministership a smidgen more likely - good for my nine to one bet.

August 25  Nelson and his donkeys

The donkeys are in the Liberal partyroom, to whom the good doctor plays. Brendan's chances of becoming leader just get better and better. Poor Peter: must try harder.

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