Saturday, February 11, 2017

Queensland Galaxy Says Game On For PHON Balance Of Power

Queensland Galaxy: Labor 31 LNP 33 PHON 23 Green 8 KAP 3 Other 2

A Queensland state poll by Galaxy, published in the Courier-Mail, tells a story that should have both major parties quite concerned.  If this poll is correct and typical, it is 1998 all over again and a bit more.  Perhaps the current One Nation polling bubble will burst before an election that is possibly still most of a year away.  If it doesn't, then a weakened minority government facing an unpopular opposition presents a dream scenario for Australia's number one nineties nostalgia party to break through at state level and obtain some serious power there.  Whether it would manage to remain remotely united this time if it did, nobody knows. 

 The high One Nation vote should be considered no surprise following polls showing the party at 16% in Western Australia, 16.3% in NSW and 9.4% in Victoria.  Queensland always was the party's strongest state.  It's possible even that the figure is an underestimate, but I am not that convinced that One Nation voters are all that shy anymore.

Sample size issues aside (and I haven't seen the sample size for this poll yet) there is one big reason to treat this poll with unusual caution.  It comes during a lousy news cycle for the government following the resignation of Transport Minister Stirling Hinchcliffe in response to a damning report on the failings of Queensland Rail.  I would expect that event to be deflating Labor's primary vote, and everything I say below should be taken with that caveat.

Other results of the poll show Annastacia Palaszczuk's lead as preferred premier over Tim Nicholls down from 46-28 to 39-27.  It can be inferred from this that the One Nation surge is producing an increasing neither-of-the-above reaction.  However, the Courier-Mail goes too far in taking the 34% uncommitted vote on the preferred-premier metric as "an unofficial vote for Senator Hanson as preferred premier" and the headline "Poll points to Pauline as people's pick" is silly.  A bedrock uncommitted figure of 15% was seen in the early days of Palaszczuk's premiership and Tim Nicholls is still a relatively unknown quantity as Opposition Leader.  Therefore to credit more than 15% to any One Nation figure - or even that much in my view - would not be justified.

Indeed, while the Courier-Mail claims Premier Palaszczuk's popularity has "nosedived", it is making the usual irritating mistake of confusing preferred leader scores with actual measures of leader popularity.  Palaszczuk's net satisfaction is down only from +5 (44-39) to +4 (41-37), a probably meaningless change, and the leader really struggling on that measure is Tim Nicholls, who is down from -4 (31-35) to -12 (27-39).  

1998 Comparison

As the One Nation vote is basically what they polled in 1998, it is useful to compare the poll figures with the 1998 result as a rough indication of what might happen in seat terms if votes like these were polled at an election now.  

In 1998 Labor won from Opposition, winning 44/89 seats and forming government with the initial support of independent Peter Wellington.  One Nation won eleven seats, but disintegrated to such an extent that by the next election not one of their MPs recontested as a One Nation candidate.

The following table shows comparisons between the Galaxy poll and the 1998 election result.  I have also noted the current balance of seats in the parliament compared to that existing after the 1998 election.

While it may seem that the current poll result is 1998-ish after accounting for the movement of votes from Labor to the Greens, the above table shows it isn't really so.  Collectively parties that might be described as left or centre-left (ALP, Greens, Democrats) are 3.9 points worse off while parties that might be described as right or centre-right (LNP, PHON, KAP) are up 5.  

In a 2PP context (Labor vs LNP) this means that Labor comes out about three points worse than if the primaries were the same as in 1998 (I get 50.9% vs 54.1%).  Applying this swing to the 1998 results without considering any other changes since, about five seats won by Labor would have been won by the LNP (or in those days, combined Liberals and Nationals).  

Furthermore, Katters Australian Party now holds one seat won by Labor in 1998 (Mt Isa) and would presumably either retain it or else cede it to One Nation.  What now remains of KAP support is very locally concentrated and competes with One Nation support, so all else being equal One Nation might be a shade higher compared to 1998 everywhere else.  This then brings into play seats in the areas where Labor only narrowly defeated One Nation in 1998 (in that case there were two of those).

All up if we ignore voting system changes, redistributions and preference flow changes since 1998, Labor's position based on the current poll would be about 7-8 seats weaker, with the LNP picking up most of those and some going to One Nation or KAP.  

Compulsory Preferencing

One change there has been since 1998 is the return of compulsory preferential voting.  This was brought in by Labor in the far off days of, um, last April, when it must have seemed like a good idea to try to boost the party's share of Green preferences.  The stunning tactical move left the LNP opposition red-faced and was the beginning of the end for Lawrence Springborg as its leader, but now the joke is possibly on Labor.  

In a classic-seat 2PP sense, the impact of the change has probably always been overrated.  Minor party voters who exhaust their votes are probably unrepresentative and their preferences should flow more weakly than those of those who do preference.  Even if that isn't so, then yes, One Nation's primary is high, but their preferences split weakly and are difficult to direct, while Green preferences flow strongly to Labor.  In 1998 the Coalition had a 23-point edge on One Nation preferences with optional preferential voting (47.3 to 23.7 with 29% exhausting); it's unlikely it will be that much at the next election even with compulsory preferencing.  

Where the change could really bite Labor is in non-classic seats where the LNP is excluded.  The Coalition parties contentiously preferenced One Nation ahead of Labor in 1998 and the blowback from that probably cost them office. These days nobody much will bat an eyelid if the LNP does it again.  In 1998 One Nation enjoyed a 30-point preference advantage on Liberal preferences (52.2-22.6 with 25.2% exhausting) and a 42-point advantage on National preferences (60.8-19.1 with 20.1% exhausting).   Possibly excepting inner-city Liberals (whose seats won't come down to Labor vs One Nation anyway), Coalition voters are strong card-followers.  We might conceivably see 45% (72.5-27.5) or even 50% (75-25) advantages to One Nation in such seats.

On the other hand, Labor has the advantage of sophomore effect going into the next election, especially if the election is held early on the old boundaries rather than following the expansion to 93 seats.  This advantage, arising from new Labor MPs acquiring personal votes in place of those held by LNP MPs who they defeated, is likely to be worth about a couple of seats.

All up though, for Labor to win more than about 40 seats off the primary votes shown in this poll would be a tall order.  The hope for the government would be that this poll is unrepresentative because of the week it was taken in, or that if it is accurate then they can gain a few points by election time and obtain another 1998-style result.  With an unpopular Coalition government in Canberra, I don't think that chance should be written off.

There has been some speculation about One Nation being on for 20 seats off its polled 23%.  I think they could win a few more than the 11 won in 1998 off such a figure, but 20 seats off 23% seems far-fetched.  In 1998 there were not many seats where One Nation narrowly missed out on the final two-party contest.  One Nation will still do poorly on Labor and Green preferences in seats where they are fighting the Coalition, and I don't see One Nation challenging the LNP seat tally until they can at least match the LNP's primary vote.

One Nation Are The Good Guys Now?

Something that puzzles me is the rationale being trotted out by some Coalition forces around the nation to justify preference deals with One Nation.  The argument is that dealing with this party is OK because they are not as "bad" (primarily meaning racist, or less excitably, xenophobic) as they used to be.  

Firstly I'm not convinced there is any actual truth in the factual claim being made.  There's no evidence I've seen that One Nation have abandoned concerns about levels of immigration from Asia, or that they have walked back their former position on native title.  Rather, it's just that they don't need to talk about those things to get votes anymore.  It's much easier to raise concerns about Muslim immigration without sounding like a racist or irrational xenophobe, because of the perceived connection to the risk of terrorism.  So have One Nation really become more mainstream, or just more careful how they present themselves?  Or has the mainstream just become more them?

Leaving that aside, the line just seems strategically odd.  If you're a really disenchanted Coalition voter who is toying with voting with One Nation, and you hear your own party saying that One Nation are actually not that bad, that's got to sound like an open invitation to vote for them.  

More Queensland polls will be watched for with interest.

Update (Feb 14): ReachTEL

Seven News reported a ReachTEL with 53-47 to the LNP, but there was a long wait for primaries, which have been posted here by William Bowe as 30.9 ALP 33.2 LNP 22.3 PHON 7.0 Green.  These are only slightly worse for Labor than Galaxy's figures but the respondent-allocated 2PP is much, much worse.  Respondent preferences are a problem because they are volatile, but they also tend to skew to Labor, so this is an interesting result that casts still further doubt on Labor's majority government prospects.

Indeed, if it really were 53-47 to the LNP, they would be knocking on the door of a majority, PHON or no PHON, themselves.  


  1. Yes, I agree that Coalition preferencing ON would legitimize the party and send the message that it is ok for Coalition voters to vote for it. It may save the day but in the long run turn out to be a strategic mistake.

  2. It's not really the decision to preference PHON I had the issue with but rather the decision to flatter them in the process. An alternative would be to declare that PHON are actually a horribly unstable rabbble which still has some seriously dodgy ideas but that even they are less of a threat to whatever the LNP holds dear than the policies of Labor and the Greens. On that basis the LNP could announce it was going to put One Nation third last, Labor second last and the Greens last and thereby still preference them but without praising them so much in the process.

  3. My suspicion is that Libs around the country believe that PHON will get their support evenly from both sides of the political spectrum, but if the Libs are "kinder" to the PHON voters they can get a strong preference flow.

    There hasn't been a strong preference flow one way or the other from PHON, but then we haven't seen a major party doing deals with them. Also, in WA for example we can expect to see Liberal volunteers handing out PHON how-to-vote cards, which means more cards saying to preference the Libs. Where PHON has handed out its own cards it probably hasn't handed out so many and hence the more even split of preference flows.

  4. One hassle worth noting with PHON in WA that was pointed out by William Bowe in Crikey today is that they're not running in every seat, and there are a lot of ALP target seats they've not bothered with. So in those seats the Libs won't get any PHON preferences, they'll just get whatever blowback there might be from voters. A tricky issue for seat-by-seat modelling!

    1. Comment from Andrew Bartlett (originally posted to incorrect thread):

      At this stage One Nation aren't indicating they will run in every seat, so that does confuse some of the statewide modelling/predictions.

      But it is pretty much certain that the LNP will preference One Nation ahead of Labor and Greens in any seat that matters. (They may not do this in some Brisbane/SEQ seats to try to save face, although I doubt that would help them to alleviate any damage anyway). The only caveat to that is if it turns out that the WA Lib's decision to do a preference deal with One Nation for their pending election turns out bery badly for them. This may lead to a rethink - although being a Queenslander seeing the Murdoch media enthusiastically giving One Nation coverage pretty much every day, I think it will be almost impossible for the LNP to back out from their One Nation embrace now.

      Also, there is the issue that Labor has to defend 2 or 3 SEQ seats which the Greens are credible contenders in. Pushing policies/messages to hang on to these seats whilst also pushing policies/messages to hang on to important regional seats will be a challenge for Labor.

      Having said that, the LNP is under bigger threat from One Nation. They are already accepting the prospect that their most likely hope of getting back into government is with One Nation backing them as a minority government.


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