Former Labor Prime Minister Paul Keating once said that no political party could win an election without a ’ 4’ leading its primary score. However the rise in support for the Greens and the Nick Xenophon Team (which some outlets have polling as high 14% each) and voters swinging away from old ‘rusted on’ patterns has changed the electoral paradigm Keating knew so well.
Indeed, as the recent polls surrounding the UK’s Brexit vote show, there has never been a better time to question the inexact science that is vote polling. Apart from the aforementioned increasing popularity of smaller parties, crucial preference votes are no longer as predictable as they once were, with groups of candidates leaving those options to individual voters on the day.
There are a lot of variables. Not least with the ‘old world’ fixed line telephone technology that is most often used to poll voting tendencies. Technology aside, these pollsters also rely on perusing voting patterns from previous elections to predict swings and preference trends. There has also never been a better time to question those. Along with rise of minor parties with major electoral opportunities, this election has seen significant electoral boundary changes (notionally reducing the number of seats needed to change government – which is partly why we often hear the number 19 used, when the current Coalition majority is 21), retiring local members (nearly all sitting ALP members in WA) and a new seat to muddy the data. Pre-polling and postal votes, we are told, look to be the highest ever this election, causing campaign planners to re-design rules on timing policy releases, advertising sentiment, and old fashioned door knocking techniques.
So what can we say about the likely result? Experienced psephologists claim that the government will be uncomfortably returned. This is thanks in part to the global panic resulting from market shakes after the Brexit vote in the UK. The so-called rage against Prime Minister Turnbull, widely labeled ‘disappointing’ rather than inspirational, appears more a whimper than a roar. Is it enough to sack a first term government? The last time that happened was in 1931. For the reasons above, there has never been a better time to disregard that history.
Whatever the result, it is a fair bet that Malcolm Turnbull will survive a weaker leader of a more divided party. Bill Shorten will emerge stronger, thanks to the opportunities Mr Turnbull’s long, long campaign threw him. The caveat is that Labor is a party that eats its leaders, and a close second is definitely first loser.
The seats to watch, have interestingly included seats that would not normally be considered marginal (that is, held by less than 5%). So, we have Mayo in SA (held by Jamie Briggs who resigned as a minister after an incident in a bar) on 12.5% but considered at risk to Nick Xenophon’s candidate – who once worked for Mr Briggs. That alone should have you riveted to the telly. New England where Barnaby Joyce and Tony Windsor – never the best of friends – are getting further and further into the mud to slug it out for the prized seat. Assistant Treasurer (and former Peter Costello staffer) Kelly O’Dwyer’s safe seat of Higgins – 9.9% – is said to be under threat. Again, for political soap opera lovers, this seat has it all; blue ribbon Melbourne, political stars, and a LGBTI ALP challenger, who is the (half) brother of Queensland Conservative Independent, Bob Katter (the loud bloke in a hat) . It is the Greens who pundits claim will create the upset in this seat.
Then there is the saga of Indi, and arch conservative Liberal (and good friend of Tony Abbott), Sophie Mirabella who lost it to a local independent at the last election in a shock result. That will be fun, not least for the interviews.
If that is not enough to get you excited about Saturday’s vote, then the plethora of accompanying gala events with sausage sizzles and cake stands livening polling booths should. Technology has changed those too, with snappy websites set up to list the voting centres with the best food stalls. Bread and circuses.