Sunday, December 18, 2016

What Chance One Nation Seats In The Tasmanian Parliament?

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.)


  1. Pretty sure this comment by Andrew Elder that turned up on the Trump thread belongs here:

    Part of the problem parties have is the quality of candidates. It's easy to separate parties vs candidates but candidate selection and management is part of basic competence in running parties.

    Part of the reason why minor parties stay minor or don't survive is because they live or die on the candidates they select. Major parties can claim "no individual is bigger than the party" and not only have more/better candidates to choose from, but are often smarter about who they put up.

    One Nation will need to put up attractive candidates to win in Lyons, Braddon or wherever else they might contest. Equally importantly, they will have to avoid selecting the sorts of ding-dongs they chose in Queensland in 1998 (turning 11 seats into a one-term aberration), or Culleton more recently. Major parties make selection errors too (eg Labor's Peter Knott in 1993 or Liberal Jaymes Diaz in 2013) but their reputations and institutional base carry them past these aberrations. One Nation and other minors lack that buffer, ensuring that any candidates of quality and potential have more to fear from loose units in their own ranks than from their clearly identifiable opponents.

    Psephology doesn't really assess candidate quality (except perhaps stunts like putting popular candidates down the ticket for multi-candidate elections), and takes whomever parties put up as given. There is some scope to model the impact of particularly popular candidates. Only in retrospect can you assess the impact of an undisclosed bankruptcy/conviction or other voter-repellent behaviour by a candidate, which reflects upon (if not sinks) their party. This was certainly a problem with assessments of Trump, where his voter-repellent behaviour did not appear to have repelled actual voters at the election.

  2. Yes, this was a big problem for the Palmer United Party which ran some candidates who were extremely rough around the edges last time and were given a great amount of grief by me and by the Liberals, among others, for doing so. This may have played some part in bringing their polling down from about 7% to their final result of 5. The perception however is that suddenly for a certain kind of voter candidate quality might not be a thing - if they are angry enough they won't care. Hence Trump, as you point out.

    Peter Brent has made some good attempts to measure candidate quality for major party candidates from past results (differences between a party's House vote and Senate vote in a seat can be a useful indicator) but it is more difficult to do it for minor party candidates.

  3. I Doubt One Nation could really make a dent in Tasmania. Their room for growth has now been taken up by Lambie with a similar outspoken nature and working class populist ideas. Another problem for One Nation in Tasmania is the lack of a stand out candidate and Leader. Quite frankly One Nation will only ever be about Pauline Hanson and will have a large deal of trouble gaining support outside of Queensland and Regional NSW & WA.

    Looking into the future, also assuming ON support doesn't plateau or crash completely, the most they could hope for outside of Queensland is the Mining & Pastoral and Agricultural Regions in WA, a good chance for at least one seat in the NSW Upper House and outside chances for the SA Upper House and the Northern and Western Vic regions.

  4. Thank you Kevin and season's greetings/happy Hannukah/merry Christmas.
    I have a question for you: what do you think will be the effect, statewide in Tasmania and nationally, if a new Conservative party were formed from a breakaway in the existing Coalition by elements such as Bernardi and Christensen? Do you think it would ultimately alter the 2PP and translate into a change in the number of seats?

    1. I don't think that Bernardi leaving by himself would be all that damaging. But if lower house MPs such as Christensen defected to the new party as well (causing the government to lose its majority) - especially if it was more than just one MP - then I would expect the government to be heavily defeated at the next election. In this case the new party would probably quickly show with at least 3-4% in polling and make 2PP calculations difficult, though probably over 80% of its preferences would flow to the Coalition. At state level I'd expect the party would need to attract high-profile sitting MPs (state or federal) to be a threat at state elections.

    2. This could be interesting in LNP Vs One Nation seats in Queensland if Christensen defects and some sitting state MPs follow, I'd imagine that this new party would preference One Nation ahead of the Libs

  5. Normally I'd say Christensen is putting some stick about to get himself noticed as a standard-bearer for the conservative wing (with a view to a frontbench position once Turnbull is gone), and that nothing will come of it. But after such a year in politics generally I don't entirely rule out that we could be witnessing the beginning of a radical upheaval.

  6. Hi Kevin, do the preference flows or comparisons between elections tell a consistent story about where the micro right vote is coming from in Braddon and Lyons - i.e. Labor or Libs? Cheers

    1. The cast of minor parties running at Tasmanian state and federal elections has chopped and changed a great deal in recent years and has been overshadowed by large movements of votes on a two-party basis between the major parties. Preferences are not sampled in state polling because 2PP is a meaningless concept in Hare-Clark and there hasn't been any federal Tasmanian polling breakdown since the 2016 election. An additional complication is that the Recreational Fishers Party polled very well in the federal Reps election but that some voters seemed to have confused it with the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers. So it is difficult to determine anything from vote or preference patterns. However my best guess from party breakdowns of preferred leader scores and other such issues polling is that the micro right vote at state level is presently coming mainly from the Liberals, and represents voters who are dissatisfied with the Liberal government but do not want to go back to a Labor/Green alliance.


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