Possums Pollytics

Politics, elections and piffle plinking

Margin of terror!

Posted by Possum Comitatus on July 14, 2007

A new Newspoll today, this time marginal seat polling. You can see it over in The Oz.

To start off, Newspoll considers seats held with a margin of 6% or less as “marginal”.

I’m going to use 4 data points. The 2004 Election, Jul-Sep 2006, Oct-Nov 2006 and Jan-Mar 2007.

Let’s look at the most uninteresting aspect first (yes, the most uninteresting) – marginal seat polling using primary votes: The ALP and the Coalition primary votes can be read from the left hand side of the graph, the “others” as in, ‘everyone else’ can be read from the right hand side.



The ALP primary vote under Rudd has moved from 40 to 50%, while the Coalition primary vote has moved from 41 to 37 over the same period. As you can see, in the marginals the ALP has clipped the Coalitions wings, but they’ve decimated the “Others” vote. This is consistent with other data that suggested the Coalition lost 5% from their primary vote to the minor party +undecideds camp after the 2005 budget, which then moved across to the ALP under the Rudd leadership.

Since the last election, there has been an estimated swing away from the Coalition primary of 8.3% and a swing to the ALP of 9.2%.

This probably won’t hold as some homogenous pattern across all the marginals because there are a lot of local factors in play that protect some members against even large swings – but this looks like a blood bath. There are 23 Coalition held marginals according to the Mackerras Pendulum

Labor needs 16 seats.

Now let’s get onto the really interesting thing – safe government seats.

Below are two graphs, the first looks at the ALP vs Coalition vs Others primary votes in the safe government seats, the second looks at the ALP vs Liberal vs National primary votes in the safe government seats. These results have profound ramifications for the geographical distribution of where seats will likely fall at the next election if anything like this swing pattern holds.


As we can see from the first graph, the ALP has nearly completely closed the gap with the Coalition in those safe government seats in terms of the primary vote, and if you throw in the minor party preference flows, the two party preferred would be neck and neck. But if we look at the breakdown of that Coalition vote in the second graph, the Nats have dropped their vote by 2.8% since the last election (and the Nats do seem to get underestimated a bit in the polls – just my opinion), but the Libs vote has slumped by 8.6%!

The swing away from Coalition in the safe government seats has been 11.4%, and the swing to the ALP is 13.7%

Yes, that isn’t a joke, it says 13.7%.

If that pattern holds, you are talking about 40 Coalition seats being in play including some of the most blue ribbon Liberal seats in the country. These figures are absolutely disastrous for the Coalition.And taking into consideration the earlier quarterly newspoll data where the capital and non-capital city swings were roughly the same, the seats in question aren’t isolated to the capital cities, but are much much broader in geography.


This isn’t some “Oh yeah, we’re behind in the polls but we have a cunning plan” moment, this is staring down the barrel of an electoral execution.


Realistically, 40 seats wouldn’t change hands as swings aren’t homogenous, but those Liberal held outer suburban, mortgage belt seats where Interest Payments to Disposable Income are hitting (both in terms of housing stress and reducing discretionary spending budgets), and where Workchoices is impacting upon perceptions of job security and working conditions, especially for the second income earner – if anything like these swings persist through to the election, the capital cities will be surrounded by a sea of red Labor seats, all the way out until you run into a Nat.

Even the larger regional centers appear to be in danger of becoming red dots.Surely that cant be the case? Surely large parts of regional Australia wont return to their early history and support a Labor party?

These results aren’t just an ALP raid into the Coalition held marginals, these are an ALP assault on Coalition heartland. Or what has been since 1996 for suburbia, and decades for the regions.

I’ve been waiting for this poll for a few weeks now, expecting to see the marginals behaving the way they are, but I didn’t expect the safe government seats to be doing anything like this. A bit of movement, sure.

A 13.7% swing to Labor just wasn’t in the picture.

People are making comparisons between 2007 and 1996, and 2001 and 2004.But this is different in every aspect. The satisfaction rating differentials are different, the primary vote swings are different, the patterns of the swings are different.

Statistically, the relationship between the satisfaction levels of the government and their primary vote has completely broken down.

Over the last few days, the marginal seat patterns have shown themselves to be different, the State by State breakdown has been different. I’m convinced that insight wont be found for the forthcoming election by looking at the past – this is a different kettle of fish altogether.

That’s not to say that I’m writing the Coalition off (although it’s getting to point where I’m about too) nor do I expect these patterns to hold to their current level, but this is a completely different level of trouble they have found themselves in compared to the 1998 One Nation assault, the 2001 pre-Ryan by-election slump and the few months following the election of Latham to the ALP leadership.

No wonder the Coalition is creating a War Room , the question is whether it will become another Berlin bunker.

Continue on to Part 2

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15 Responses to “Margin of terror!”

  1. Aristotle said

    I agree Possum. I have never seen anything like it.

  2. gusface said

    Canada 1993 anyone?

  3. Rx said

    Possum, your work is riveting. Thanks for the effort you put in.

  4. Adam said


  5. Aussie Bob said

    As a movie buff, Possum, I have to congratulate you on the Gone With The Wind reference as the title of your last post. Well done!

    Have only just started following your musings in recent weeks (yes, I’m fallout from Bryan’s blog’s closure, and all the better for it, too… it was getting claustrophobic over there) and I must say your writing style and dedication to what seems to be rigorous statistical analysis combined together are a joy to behold (as are your conclusions).

    I’ll probably post about this at Surfdom when I can wrap my thinking gear around how to write it up, but I believe this week was a tipping point in Australian politics.

    I think Shanahan’s dummy spit was a last hurrah, a kind of swan song. Since Wednesday the old hack has been positively sanguine about the government’s chances of winning. OK, so he slagged off some bloggers and his own – invited… “What do you think?” – contributors, but since then he’s been more measured in his writing.

    I believe that has a lot to do with, in part, your postings and analysis and, in general, with the ferociousness of the blogosphere’s reaction to his drivelish writings and News’ clumsy attempts to control the agenda (in particular the pulling of the Tim Dunlop article on Thursday).

    In short, Shanahan had his last big flying f**k at the moon and has now had to accept that he’s being watched.

    This is a great thing and a great victory.

    I know about Godwin’s Law and all that, but I can’t help parallelling the last week of Australian Dreaming with the Battle Of The Bulge, Mr. H’s own last hurrah before defeat became certain (and accepted). In both caes it looked grim for a few days and then sheer weight of force (on the part of the Americans) and sheer weight of logic (on the part of the bloggers) became too powerful and accurate to ignore.

    So, congrats on a wonderful few days of posting and a great week of careful, well-argued and – dare I say – correct analysis from this site.

    All the best…

  6. watt said

    Not a comment, just thanking you yet again for your riveting work.

  7. sondeo de opinion said

    Not a comment as such Possum,but you do a fantastic job of explaining the polls without the bullshit.Thanks

  8. […] to an analysis at Possums Pollytics, the latest polls show a 14% swing to Labor in safe Coalition electorates. That means in the […]

  9. barney said

    Love your work.
    Excellent analysis.
    The only thing that might upset the apple cart in the Margin of Terror might be a new Committee of Public Safety scare. Let’s hope Robespierre Howard reverses history and goes to the guillotine before Danton Rudd. 🙂

  10. The regional swing bears some comparison with the Victorian election in 1999. There an assault on the rural Liberal heartland won an election for Labor where it made little impact on the traditionally swinging seats in the Eastern suburbs. There are differences of course – not the least that the coming Ruddslide would include suburban marginals. But Workchoices would clearly be a factor if 1999 is any indicator. The working class in country towns wre given a sharp does of neoliberalism under Kennett. Unionised, for the most part, they were even less able to resist Keennett’s attacks and turned on the Liberals in the election.

  11. michael said

    Outstanding analysis Possum! But, really it is really an over engineered response to the question of whether the Libs are on the nose.

    Whether it adds to the sum total of knowledge is debatable.

    The Lib supporters who follow the blogs are either disbelieving of the numbers, convinced that the community won’t let the PM down when it comes to the crunch on vote day or expect some policy or event to resonate so much with the electorate to act as a circuit breaker to turn the “ship” around.

    Personally, I think the age of the PM, Work Choices and the rises in interest rates since the last election are driving the polls.

    Can the Libs get out of this hole. Not without a change of leadership in the next few days!

  12. steve said

    I heard that the Queensland Libs are thinking of rolling the State leader this week. A good burst of infighting on the eve of any election is always par for the course with Queensland Libs. Who knows who the next scapegoat will be if Flegg is rolled but I hope they manage to make your figures look conservative.

    The whole fiasco should be good for a further drop in the Conservative primary vote in Queensland.

  13. swio said

    This weakness in the co-alition heartland needs explaination.

    Is it the effect of Workchoices? Its unlikely coalition voters are personally worse off but are they worried about its effect on their children?

    The environment, particularly global warming? Has Howard’s global warming policy failed to convince co-altion voters?

    Perhaps its Howard’s social conservatism. Howard has been able to grab Labor heartland votes by appealing to xenophobia and bashing sub-groups, but perhaps its coming back to bite him by putting off his own wealthier and more educated wet Liberals. We know that things like David Hicks were killing him with this group.

    Has the Petro Georgio section of the electorate switched to Rudd? You don’t hear about them much in the commentary but they are a big enough group to explain these numbers.

  14. Possum Comitatus said

    I’m glad you like the movie references, I was hoping that they’d be picked up. There’s lots of headline fodder in the history of cinema.

    Last weeks nonsense in The Oz was interesting, as is the sudden media “realisation” of the state of the polls. Now these polls haven’t changed in 6 months, why suddenly have the usual suspects started pointing at the naked emperor, and why weren’t they for the last 12 polling cycles?

    Last weeks fairly widespread blog assault on the reality of the polls and the fantasy world of some journos may well have thrown a big bucket of cold water over the collective orthodoxy of the Canberra press gallery. At least insofar as they might now be a little more wary of the ability of the hated “online commentariat” to make them look like dills in front of a large and growing audience when they carry on with pure piffle unsupported by observable reality. I’ve noticed Ace Stenographer has taken off his nylon cape and unitard to adopt a double breasted suit – his recent couple of columns were all very “just the facts ma’am”.

    Thanks for the congrats, and congrats to you AB. Congrats to everyone , RTS, LP, Pollbludger, Ozpolitics, Mumble, Crikey, the many many other sites and the readers of those sites that reacted when the pollyweb collectively went “What a load of horseshit”.

    Let us hope it is a sign of things to come.

  15. I think Labor is picking up at both ends of the spectrum; high-income professional managerial types in the private sector (issue here is not green left themes (contra swio) but Howard looking old and Rudd safe, broadband global warming etc.) (is the GG hysteria an attempt to hold this group?); low income manual and clerical/service workers (WorkChoices etc.). There have always been plenty of low-income rural conservative voters, but they have become softer for the right (agree with Robert Bollard), in 1998 some of their votes came to Labor via Hanson, but now perhaps they are shifting directly. Andrew Leigh’s research shows a secular drift to Labor among low income voters.

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