Recently there have been some noises about Pauline Hanson's One Nation trying to break into Tasmanian state politics at the next election. The next state election still could be 15 months away, if the parliament goes full term, and before then we'll have the WA and probably the Queensland elections, which both look like fertile ground for the resurgent party. But anywhere might be fertile ground if a recent ReachTEL in Victoria that had the party on 9.4% there is to be taken even half-seriously. One Nation's current national surge might fall in a big heap by the time Tasmanians next go to the polls, but let's suppose it doesn't. I thought it was worth a detailed look at the sort of chances the party might have, supposing that it makes a serious effort.
The case for One Nation as a threat is pretty easily stated. The party very nearly won a seat in the state at the Senate election, albeit when competing for one of twelve seats rather than one in five per electorate. Its primary vote was low (2.57%) but it received about another 2% in preferences from micro-parties that might reasonably be expected not to contest the state election. Throw in regional variation and it's easy to project One Nation above 6% in both Lyons and Braddon. Throw in that the party's national polled support is running close to double what it polled in the Senate and something like 10% in these seats starts to look pretty viable.
One Nation might appeal to some voters who are displeased with the current state government but would hate to go back to another minority government where the Greens hold the balance of power.
Two Recent Populist Failures
With a Hare-Clark quota of about a sixth of the vote, though, 10% might well not be enough. We have two cautionary tales from the recent past. Although One Nation themselves have not contested Tasmanian state elections, a party sometimes compared to One Nation, Tasmania First, did so at the 1998 state election. Tasmania First objected bitterly to the comparison, insisting that although they shared One Nation's aversion to gun control, they did not agree with One Nation's race policies, and saw themselves as more comparable with Brian Harradine.
Tasmania First polled 5.1% statewide, peaking at 9.9% in Lyons. However, 0.6 of a quota in Lyons wasn't enough. The ALP with 2.80 quotas and the Liberals with 2.00 quotas cleaned up the five seats, leaving the Greens (0.61) and Tas First (0.60) with nothing. But even had Tasmania First been more competitive on raw quotas, they still would not have won. Their lead candidate, David Pickford, had only a third of the party's primary vote, and as a result the party had lost almost a tenth of its vote in leakage by the time he was excluded.
The 2014 state election saw a vaguely similar outcome involving the Palmer United Party. The PUP polled 5.0% statewide, peaking at 7.2% in Braddon where its state leader, Kevin Morgan, was a candidate. In theory PUP (0.43 quotas) would have seemed competitive off that modest vote with the Liberals (3.53 and susceptible to leakage), Labor (1.39) and the Greens (0.42) for the final seat. What happened actually was that PUP also had a poor concentration of vote in its lead candidate (just under half) and as a result PUP leaked a lot of votes. Candidate effects prevented them from overtaking either Labor or Liberal candidates for the final seats, but even had this not been the case, Labor were much better at picking up leakage from other parties than PUP, while the Green vote leaked less in the first place. In the end PUP were eliminated before the Greens.
These cases highlight the potential challenge for One Nation. A fourth party polling a reasonable share of the vote but without high profile candidates has a lot of paths to defeat. They might get frozen out by the totals of other parties. They will sooner or later be down to one candidate and prone to getting stuck behind the totals of other candidates. And even ignoring all this they will still lose more votes to leakage than the other parties.
On The Other Hand ...
There are a few reasons to think One Nation could be much more competitive than I've outlined above.
Firstly, One Nation didn't campaign much in the state at the Senate election. Apart from some media brouhaha about Pauline Hanson coming to the state to launch the campaign, I saw almost nothing of them beyond a banner of Pauline Hanson draped at a prepoll voting centre. Therefore, there is the potential for them to do better with a bigger and better-resourced campaign,
Secondly, it might be that a lot of potential One Nation voters voted for Jacqui Lambie at the federal election. The impact of the Lambie Network is one of the bigger wild cards for the state election. There have been noises about a possible Jacqui Lambie Network run in the state campaign, but the Senate result provides some room for doubt about how much of her vote transfers to candidates endorsed by her. A massive 18% of Lambie's surplus leaked rather than flowing to her running mates in the Senate election, which is amazing given that a vote had to be below-the-line to leak in the first place. Without above-the-line boxes - as in state elections - presumably even more of her vote would have leaked from the ticket. It's therefore likely that a JLN state candidate will poll nothing like what Lambie herself polled. If they held on to even 60% of the Lambie Senate vote they would have a fair chance of a seat in Braddon, but that would be an impressive feat.
The following table shows the Senate vote by electorate for One Nation and various parties that I think have something in common with it.
All these parties (Jacqui Lambie Network, Shooters Fishers and Farmers, Palmer United, Derryn Hinch Justice and Australian Liberty Alliance) were pretty strong preference sources for One Nation, though SF+F not nearly so much as might be expected. Generally these parties were strongest in rural/regional Braddon and rural Lyons, and weakest in urban Denison and mostly urban Franklin. Of these parties, the Shooters are registered to run in state elections, while the rest at this stage are not.
If we imagine that the Lambie Network either doesn't run, or doesn't do too well without Lambie herself as a candidate, then One Nation would be happy about the thought of a big chunk of that 14% in Braddon floating around for them to have a shot at. However, the most independent-minded Lambie voters are more likely to send their vote to candidates they like on the major parties. The intra-party contests in Tasmania also provide room for candidates within the major parties to run different flavours of campaign, and we've already seen Adam Brooks positioning himself for the Trump supporter vote.
The History Of Fourth Party Wins
Defining a "fourth party" in a way that excludes minor parties that appeal to urban middle-class voters (the Greens, the Democrats and the proto-Green independents), the history of fourth-party (mostly independent) wins in Tasmanian state elections says a lot about the value of having an established political profile:
1996: Bruce Goodluck: Goodluck had been federal MHR for Franklin for 17 years, retiring three years before this state election. He was only narrowly successful.
1982: Doug Lowe: Lowe had been Premier at the previous election before quitting his party after being rolled.
1969: Kevin Lyons (Centre Party): Lyons was a sitting MP of 21 years' standing who had quit the Liberal Party.
1959: Reg Turnbull: Turnbull was a sitting MP of 13 years' standing who had quit the Labor Party.
1950 (also elected 1959): Bill Wedd: Wedd was a Legislative Councillor who switched to the Lower House.
We have to go back to the 1946 election when Rex Townley and George Gray were elected to find cases of such candidates winning without having already been an elected representative. That said, Andrew Wilkie had a very near miss in Denison in 2010. A Harradine-like independent, Brian Miller, also came fairly close in Denison in 1986.
One would think proportional representation would give better chances to new parties and independents. One possible reason that it hasn't is that most high-profile potential independent winners have tended instead to run for Tasmania's Legislative Council, where parties are not very competitive. For smaller parties, it is just not as easy to win under Hare-Clark as under other proportional elections, where the party vote is most important and candidate profile matters little.
Tragedy Of The Commons, Hare-Clark Style
When I look at the potential for Lambie Network, One Nation, Shooters Fishers and Farmers and perhaps even Nationals to run in the next state election, I am reminded of the problem seen in the recent ACT election. The ACT also uses Hare-Clark, and a total of seven minor parties (other than the Greens) and 17 independents contested the recent ACT election.
With the exception of the Sex Party getting quite close to winning one seat, these minor parties and obscure indies were completely wasting their time. Preferences flowed weakly between them, and the semi-optional nature of preferencing in Hare-Clark meant that votes exhausted as micro-party candidates were chopped. Eventually these parties and independents, which together had polled 14.6% of the ACT vote, won none of the 25 seats on offer.
Filling the ballot paper up with micro-parties and obscure indies is even less effective under Hare-Clark than it is under the new Senate system. Under the new Senate system those micro-parties with half-decent portions of a quota may manage to beat the bigger parties for the final seats, but under Hare-Clark the major parties will often have more competitive candidates than their quota total implies.
To minimise this problem, if One Nation saw a JLN candidacy and possibly other fourth-party challengers coming in Braddon, they might be better off focusing on trying to win Lyons. Another strategy might be for populist small parties to cooperate by running small slates of candidates each to deliberately prevent their voters from just voting 1-5 for a single party and then stopping.
Why Hasn't One Nation Done Better In Tasmania?
The history is that Tasmania just isn't one of One Nation's better states. In 1998 for the Senate they polled 3.7% statewide and 9.0% federally. In 2001, it was 3.3% compared to 5.5%. In 2016, 2.6% compared to 4.3%. Yet Tasmania's economy is frequently poor, which would seem to make it fertile pickings for One Nation. Why hasn't it been so?
Some of this might just be down to the history of these particular contests. 1998 was a Harradine year and 2016 a Lambie year, while in 2001 under the popular Jim Bacon government the state's economy appeared to be travelling well. But I think there's more to it. The kind of racial and ethnic anxiety that often animates One Nation isn't such a big thing in most of Tasmania. Tasmania is very white and it just doesn't seem to see the kinds of ethnic-tension issues seen elsewhere in the country. Tasmania is also often seen as economically underpopulated, and this tends to lead to a more welcoming attitude to refugees than in some places. Even Jacqui Lambie's own brand of populism, while initially very Islamophobic, has broadened to the point of being mainly economic, and overall rather Labor-ish.
Despite the party's poor track record in the state, a case can be made that One Nation do have a chance of picking up a seat or two in Tasmanian state elections should their present national polling boom persist. The most likely target seats would be either Braddon or Lyons. However, Tasmania's Hare-Clark system, as it currently operates, is simply not as friendly to One Nation as are PR systems where the party has had success. Hare-Clark is about candidates and not just parties, and One Nation would want to attract high-profile candidates to be competitive.
(PS: Not related to One Nation, but those interested may now vote in my sidebar Not-A-Polls on the best and worst Tasmanian government ministers. As these probably won't get much traffic over the festive season they are open for two months.)