Making sense of the polls

Making sense of the polls

SA and Tasmanian Election Previews

Elections will be held in both South Australia and Tasmania on Saturday 15 March. It is likely that the Liberals will win government in both states.

All Australian mainland states use the same general electoral system that is used for Federal elections for their lower house elections. However, NSW and Queensland use optional preferential voting, under which the voter is only required to number one candidate to have their vote count. At Federal elections, it is compulsory to number all candidates.

Unlike the mainland states, Tasmania uses a proportional system called the Hare-Clark method. The same five electorates are used for both Tasmanian state and Federal elections, but at the state level each electorate returns five members. The lower house of the Tasmanian Parliament thus has a total of 25 members; currently there are 10 Labor, 10 Liberals and 5 Greens.

Labor has held government in Tasmania since 1998. For the first 12 years, Labor governed in its own right. However, the 2010 election forced Labor into an unpopular alliance with the Greens, and the Liberals have been polling at or above 50% for the last two years. A ReachTEL robopoll conducted in mid-February did have the Liberals down to 47%, with Labor on a dismal 25%, the Greens 17% and Palmer United Party (PUP) 8%. The Liberal vote was below 50% because of PUP taking away some of their votes. Update 7 March: a ReachTEL robopoll of 2600 respondents taken Thursday night 6 March finds the Liberals steady on 47%, Labor down 1% to 24%, the Greens up 1% to 18% and PUP down 1% to 7%.

It is likely that the Liberals will win three of the five seats in each of the three northern Tasmanian electorates of Bass, Braddon and Lyons, and win at least two seats in each of Denison and Franklin. That would give the Liberals 13 of the 25 seats for a bare majority. Tasmanian analyst Kevin Bonham’s current prediction is Liberals 13, Labor 7, Greens 4 and PUP 1.

SA Election

In South Australia, Labor has held government for 12 years. At the last election, Labor somehow managed to win a comfortable majority of 26 of the 47 lower house seats, despite losing the statewide two party preferred (2PP) vote by a decisive 51.6-48.4 margin. The SA Liberals currently have 18 seats, with three seats for Independents, so the Liberals need to actually gain six seats to win an outright majority.

The latest SA poll is a Newspoll taken last week that gives the Liberals a 54-46 2PP lead. This result is in good agreement with Galaxy and ReachTEL polls from mid-February that both gave the Liberals a 55-45 lead. It is hard to see the Liberals not winning an outright majority with these wide 2PP leads, even if the SA electoral boundaries do somewhat favour Labor.

If you want to know more about the South Australian electoral boundaries, I suggest reading Kevin Bonham’s article here.

Polling in Other States

First a note on Newspoll’s state polls. Rather than take their state polls over a few days, Newspoll builds up a sample over months. State polling is usually, but not always, done as supplementary questions for Newspoll’s Federal polls. Due to this method, Newspoll usually releases results for Victoria and NSW once every two months, and for the other mainland states once every quarter. Tasmania is ignored by Newspoll, except for a final pre-election poll. Occasionally, a major change in party standings will occur late in a Newspoll polling cycle; in this case, the change will not appear until the next polling cycle.

Now for a state rundown.

  • In NSW, a Nielsen poll taken last week had a shock 51-49 lead for Labor. Considering that Labor was hammered by about 64-36 at the 2011 election, and has not come close to a lead in Newspolls since that election, this finding was certainly startling. The Jan-Feb Newspoll gave the Coalition a 58-42 lead, but much of this poll would have been taken before the Independent Commission Against Corruption began investigating three Liberal MPs, who voluntarily withdrew from the party. Although this investigation may have had some impact, the Nielsen result seems unbelievable. We will need to wait another two months for the next bi-monthly Newspoll. The next NSW election is due in March 2015.

  • In Victoria, a Nielsen and a Galaxy poll both taken last week give Labor respectively leads of 53-47 and 51-49. Although the 2PP varies by 2% in these polls, they are based on similar primary votes, suggesting rounding error. Labor currently has 43 of the 88 seats in the lower house of the Victorian Parliament, with 44 Coalition and one ex-Liberal turned Independent who holds the balance of power. Labor has been ahead in the Victorian state polls for the last six months, and needs very little to regain power after just one term out of office. At this stage, I believe Labor is favoured to win the next election, scheduled for November 2014.

  • Queensland is the one state that has semi-regular polling other than Newspoll, with Galaxy and ReachTEL both doing Queensland polls. The latest Galaxy poll in early February had the Liberal National Party (LNP) leading Labor by 53-47, a 10% swing to Labor since the March 2012 annihilation left Labor with just seven seats out of 89. Since then, there has been a trend back to Labor, but the LNP is still favourites for the next election, due by early 2015.

  • In WA, the Oct-Dec quarterly Newspoll had the Liberal/Nationals ahead of Labor by 51-49, a 6% swing to Labor. WA Premier Colin Barnett’s approval rating was 34% and his disapproval 54% for a net approval of -20. Kevin Bonham writes here that of 16 premiers to have had a worse Newspoll net approval, only one has triumphed at the next election (Bob Carr in NSW). The next WA election will not be held until early 2017.

Relationships between State and Federal Politics

If a party holding one branch of government becomes very unpopular, this can have an effect on the other branch of government. We can see this in the Tasmanian Federal 2013 result, where the swing against Labor of 9.4% was far bigger than in any other state. Similarly, the 4.8% swing against Labor in NSW in 2010 was probably at least partly due to the unpopular Labor NSW government. The reverse can also happen, as Queensland Labor surprisingly lost the 1995 election; the next year Federal Labor was reduced to two seats in Queensland.

Other than when one branch of government is very unpopular, there does not tend to be much of a relationship between state and Federal politics. In the eatly 2000’s, the Coalition held many seats Federally that would have been won by Labor on state results, especially in NSW, Victoria and Queensland.


Further reading: South Australian election: Labor set to slide out of office