Possums Pollytics

Politics, elections and piffle plinking

Don’t blame the Nats for Failure.

Posted by Possum Comitatus on January 30, 2008

crikey1.jpg

This was me in Crikey earlier today.

The motives behind the proposed merger of the Liberal and National parties may be many, but one of the questions that needs to be answered is who is saving whom from what here?

If we look at the period back to 1996 and tally up the total number seats held by the parties in all 6 States and the Federal lower houses, a few surprising things emerge.

Firstly, the general context; this is how the total number of seats held by Labor and the Coalition have changed over the last 12 years.

totalseats.jpg

The conservative side of organised politics has changed from holding 329 seats at the end of 1996 (a 58.1% share of total seats) to a relatively paltry 202 today (a 36.8% share of all seats). Labor on the other hand has increased its total seat holdings from 225 (a 39.8% share of total seats) up to 324 (a 57.2% share of all seats) over the period. Interestingly, the total number of lower house seats in these Parliaments has reduced from 566 in 1996 down to 549 today. Not only are the conservative side battling Labor and losing, but they’ve been taking the brunt of seat losses associated with the move towards smaller Parliaments.

If we focus just on the Nationals and the Liberals, and look at how both their total respective seat numbers and associated seat share have changed over the period, we’ll need a couple of spiffy charts.

libshistory.jpg natshistory.jpg

The total seats held are read from the left hand side, the percentage of seats held can be read from the right hand side.

The Liberal Party, a party that likes to see itself as the true party of the Right and the natural competition to Labor (if only those pesky cow pokes would get with the program), aren’t in a particularly glorious position – holding only 26% of the total seats in the 6 State and Federal lower houses, down from 44.2% in 1996. Compared to the current Labor share of 57%, the Libs might want to have a quiet word with Graeme Samuel since there doesn’t appear to be a whole lot of competition going on here.

The Nats on the other hand have seen their total seat share fall from 14% in 1996 (79 seats) down to 9.7% (55 seats) today. This brings us on to the most important part of who is saving whom with any merger.

If we look at the seats held by the Nats and the Libs respectively as a percentage of total Coalition held seats, something interesting pops up:

coalitionshare.jpg

The Nats are read from the left (yes, yes – the irony) and the Libs from the right.

The nadir of the Nats occurred in 2001, where they held only 22.4% of all Coalition seats. But over the intervening years, the Nats share of Coalition held seats has jumped up to 27.2%, their highest share of Coalition seats over the period measured.

So while the conservative side of politics has been in general decline since 1996, the Liberal Party is the Party that is bleeding the most. It is they, rather than the Nats which are the primary cause of the great conservative reprimanding the electorate has been dishing out.

The Liberal Party are responsible for losing 81.1% of all Coalition seats lost since 1996; a loss which far outweighs the Liberal party share of Coalition seats, especially when the Liberal Party is the only party in the Coalition that can win metropolitan divisions.

Quite frankly, the Liberal Party aren’t pulling their weight in the Coalition – why would a merger change that?

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26 Responses to “Don’t blame the Nats for Failure.”

  1. kwoff.com said

    Don’t blame the Nats for Failure. « Possums Pollytics

    The motives behind the proposed merger of the Liberal and National parties may be many, but one of the questions that needs to be answered is who is saving whom from what here?

    If we look at the period back to 1996 and tally up the total number seats …

  2. There’s only one logical conclusion the various reviews underway should draw:

    Springborg for PM!

  3. Vee said

    Given the Liberals in the Liberal party are weak, the party is really the Conservative party and it makes sense for them to amalgamate under a Conservative banner.

    Sensible Liberals have joined Labor or LDP if they’re bent that way.

    I’m happy to admit I’d vote Nationals in QLD, hell I did last NSW election too but I’d never vote for them in a Federal election.

  4. Possum Comitatus said

    Mark… Brilliant!

    Vee, when I read your comment “I’m happy to admit I’d vote Nationals in QLD, hell I did last NSW election too…” I chuckled because it sounded like you’d voted for the QLD Nats in the NSW election :mrgreen: – which got me thinking!

    On the QLD Senate ballot there was a “One Nation WA” Group which I thought was pretty funny. But there were apparently 4,174 QLD voters that either had a far better sense of humour that I did, or didnt get the joke at all.

  5. Will of Kooyong said

    A more telling thing though is that until the federal election, the coalition was making gains albeit slowly. They’re back to the lows of 2002/2003. It’s probably not going to help them that it’s been over 8 years since they’ve had more seats than the Labor party.

  6. HarryH said

    How about a coin flip to decide who runs the new “unified” Conservative Party……

  7. feral sparrowhawk said

    The right handside of your graphs doesn’t appear on my screen.

  8. Possum Comitatus said

    Sparrow, could you let me know the resolution your monitor is running at?

    That will help me fix it up, and hopefully prevent the same from happening in the future?

  9. philiptravers said

    In this electorate Ian Causley ,although a non voter,didnt seem a real headache to have as a sitting member when Labor also put up its hand for another 30,000 smackaroos to show how much they were doing for the electorate whilst in opposition.I dont know how they choose their people,Labor in the country,but,I find them normally pretty boring and tedious.So I wouldnt be surprised if the Nats continue to do better than the Libs.After all country people generally do not find upheaval necessary,just justice.In opposition to well organised Nats mean you have to present policy that helps directly their constituent votes.It is both hard and easy..they ,when they, like their job travel the distance to even hear their opponents.And thankfully they are unwilling to sound like a version of the U.S.A. because within the ranks are some genuine hostility to U.S.A. practices.

  10. feral sparrowhawk said

    Sorry possum, would love to tell you, but I don’t know. It’s a big screen donated to me by a mate who was going to toss it out, so I have no manufacturer’s info. If there is some way to work it out from the screen I fear it is beyond my birdbrain (but if it helps at all its an IBM and it says P200 on the front)

  11. Possum Comitatus said

    Sparrow, I’ve just linked each chart to itself in isolation – so if you click on the graphs that you cant view properly, they’ll open out into a page with just the diagrams.

    Hope that helps.

  12. steve said

    Feral Sparrowhawk
    Click on Start/control Panel/display/settings
    There will be two numbers before the word ‘pixels’ under a heading of screen resolution.

  13. Paul said

    Has Labor hit its peak? 2010 could be very interesting to this graph, is it possible to plot the results of a notional uniform swing to and against Labor in seats held?

  14. Ron said

    Seeing most of the seats up for grabs are metropolitan & provincal seats , most of the seats to be won or lost will be Libs seats not Nats seats anyway.

    In good conservative times the Libs will win more than the Nats,
    and in bad the Libs will lose more.

    So I do not see your point. The Nats will always be the very junior partner & population movements have & will continue to erode the number of natural Nats seats

    If the Nats delay merger negotiations too long , they’ll have insufficent seats to be able to negotiate a reasonable merger Australia wide. You have been too influenced by the unique Q’ld only Nats historical domination

  15. Ungrateful Troublemaker said

    Excellent, Possum C.

    Now for something that would be difficult to quantify: the number of quality potential candidates for the Liberal Party who are taking a hard look at that party – and wisely declining to nominate. Further, there does not seem to be any great increase in the quality of Nationals candidates.

    So I wonder why these figures are the way they are? Is it bad policies, bad candidates, a major shift in Australian society or a combination of these?

  16. Possum Comitatus said

    You have to look beyond the obvious Ron.

    One of the big problems Howard had over his term in office (shared by some of his State Coalition counterparts) was the balancing of the twin conservative support bases of rural voters and heartland metro supporters. These groups have virtually nothing politically in common except for happening to support the same side of politics. But when that support becomes shaky on one side of the support base, any shoring up that gets done runs the risk of weakening the other support base because the politics that each group broadly believes in stands in polar opposites to the other (with the last election think Howards reconciliation spiel for the heartland metro and how well that went down in Forde, or think the politiking over Haneef for the dog-whistle and how well that went down in Bennelong)

    This feeds into the geography and demographics of the seat declines happening. The Liberal Party has been slowly taking over National Party seats to the point where the Nats hold 9 rural seats compared to the Libs 18. But every time the Libs take over a Nats seat (and keep in mind, this poaching of Nats seats by the Libs actually gives the impression that the Libs have been doing better electorally than would ordinarily be the case) it further polarises the twin support base of the Liberal Party. The Nationals can get away with running socially conservative moralising, dog whistling and a couple of dollops of agrarian socialism to shore up their own constituency without it affecting the Libs metro base because most of the coverage of that type of politics – when the Nats do it – is run at the local level in rural seats.Likewise, when the Nats do it, it’s accepted in the metro heartland simply as those neanderthal Nats doing what they do. But when the Libs take over those rural seats, any shoring up they do with that rural support base using those same mechanisms not only becomes national news because the Libs have the LEADERSHIP of the Coalition, but the metro heartland see THEIR PARTY engaging in this piffle. As a result, they get backlash from the Libs metro seats.

    The further inroads the Libs make into rural areas, the greater this problem becomes for them and their heartland metro seats end up on ever diminishing margins. Not only that, but the Libs end up spending so much time f*cking around in their heartland seats, seats they shouldnt really have to worry about at all, that the ALP enjoy a turkey shoot in the outer suburbs.

    The Nats can manage rural seats without polluting the conservative metro seats, the Libs cannot – and IMHO this is a fair chunk of the reason why the seat changes of the Nats and the Libs not only look like they do, but why the geographical distribution of those losses is as it is.

  17. Chade said

    “Compared to the current Labor share of 57%, the Libs might want to have a quiet word with Graeme Samuel since there doesn’t appear to be a whole lot of competition going on here.”
    That’s gold. :)

  18. Don said

    (Poss at 16)
    “The further inroads the Libs make into rural areas, the greater this problem becomes for them and their heartland metro seats end up on ever diminishing margins. Not only that, but the Libs end up spending so much time f*cking around in their heartland seats, seats they shouldnt really have to worry about at all, that the ALP enjoy a turkey shoot in the outer suburbs.”

    So doesn’t that mean that they need each other? And that the libs would have far fewer problems if they gave away country seats to the Nats if that were possible, even if it meant fewer seats (initially) for the libs?

    So how come there’s talk of amalgamation?

  19. Possum Comitatus said

    That’s exactly right Don, especially if the Nats weren’t in Coalition during opposition periods and acted more independently from the Libs when in power.

    The amalgamation push is bewildering, it’s like an army of deranged conservatives have been unleashed, looking for anyone and anything to blame but themselves. They’re so caught up with pursuing these simple solutions that let them absolve themselves from any responsibility (you see, it wasnt us! – it was the disunity in the Coalition wot did it!) that they cant see the inherent stupidity of their proposals.

    The whole of them need to be seriously medicated.

  20. Ron said

    We are I think talking at cross purposes

    I suggested ACADEMICALLY if the Nats delayed merger negotiations they’d end up with no leverage as regards a merger.

    My actual views are it is NOT in the Libs political interests to merge at all because the voter bases are different.

    Its been politically insane for the Lib to pinch Nats ‘natural’ Country Party seats and even questionable to pinch some Nats Provincal Country Party seats because of policy differences
    of those voters to Liberal Metrop. voters views

    A merger is more likely to reduce the total conservative vote
    than increase it. I contend this principle applies IRRESPECTIVE
    of the relative seat numbers held by the Libs and the Nats.

    Which is where I disagreed with the basis of the article highlighting the greater loss of seats by the Libs since 1996 but then generally mentioning mergering and whose pulling their weight.For the Libs , the 2 points are NOT connected

    In ‘bad’ lib times the Libs always lose more seats than the Nats and in ‘good’ Lib times they’ll win more seats than the Nats.

    We will now never know for sure however I think the Election loss and the distribution of those losses were caused by Howard policy & political errors: the interest rates in mortgage seats , change to single mums seats , Workchoices , CC and only a Queenslander would know the Rudd ‘queenslander’ factor & gambling the last rate rise would not occur during the campaign (thanks Costello)& the botched APEC leadership ‘discussion

    Had these errors not been made Howard may have just won and were even still a chance with the tracking polls 3 days out showing narrowing before dear ‘Jackie’ husband’s pamphlet

  21. dawson said

    Some observations based on over ten years intense involvement in the politics of a rural electorate —
    (i) The Nats are literally dying off. The demographic of their members, like that of farmers, appears to be 60+. In this electorate, a very effecient system of retention and recruitment (an individual was employed to personally visit each and every member to collect their annual fees) has been abandoned.
    (ii) the age of the Nats membership means a paucity of candidates of eligible age BUT also means that the preselection votes come from people who want to be represented by someone like themselves – so at the last three cornered contest, the Nats chose a candidate OLDER than the retiring member over a vibrant and charismatic younger candidate.
    (iii) Labor’s support base in electorates such as this is slim, and consists mainly of teachers (past & present), who are either too old to run (ALP has a strict upper limit for the age of candidates) or would have to resign to do so. You can’t run unionists because farmers hate them. This limits the pool of potential candidates.
    (iv) Every regional town, however, has its fair share of businessmen, lawyers etc. Moreover, to a small town businessman, a politician’s salary looks more appealing than it would to a capital city businessman.

    Thus, the Liberals are more likely to come up with a reasonable candidate in a rural Federal electorate than either Labor or the Nats.
    (Amazing how often they fail to do so, however).

  22. J-D said

    ‘The Liberal Party has been slowly taking over National Party seats to the point where the Nats hold 9 rural seats compared to the Libs 18.’

    Exactly! Isn’t that the point? Is there any reason to expect this trend to reverse itself? And if it doesn’t, doesn’t that mean that the National Party is doomed to go out backwards, eventually, leaving us with only one conservative party anyway?

    I’m not sure whether this is an argument for or against amalgamation. Perhaps it’s an argument in favour from the point of view of the Nationals (because anything they get from an amalgamation is, from this long-term perspective, gravy), but against from the point of view of the Liberals (since they don’t need an amalgamation to acquire anything that, from this long-term perspective, is bound to fall in their laps like ripe fruit anyway).

  23. I have a look at the decline in conservative support in the country over the past 20 years here: http://tasmanianpolitics.blogspot.com/2008/02/change-in-voter-behaviour-1987-2007.html

    1996 was the high point; all down hill after that.

  24. […] new information, whether that’s revisiting the election results with new analytical tools, or using statistical methods to consider the prospective merger of the conservative parties. They can develop talking points in ways that don’t necessarily depend on the agenda of the […]

  25. […] new information, whether that’s revisiting the election results with new analytical tools, or using statistical methods to consider the prospective merger of the conservative parties. They can develop talking points in ways that don’t necessarily depend on the agenda of the […]

  26. Jaeger said

    Erratum: the (ironically) green National Party history graph is labelled “Liberal Party Representation”.

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