Possums Pollytics

Politics, elections and piffle plinking

Nelson the Future Eater -Dining on the base vote A La Carte

Posted by Possum Comitatus on May 9, 2008

This was me in Crikey earlier today.

After every change of government, dismal polls become a staple for the political misery that is Opposition. But there are dismal polls – essentially temporary bouts of opprobrium and uncertainty unleashed by the electorate on the recently vanquished, and then there are polls so dismal that one must start to question whether they represent some underlying shift afoot in the size and structure of a party’s base vote.

We’ve seen the latter in action before, particularly at the State level, with leaders like Peter Beattie applying some WD40 to rusted on Coalition voters and forever changing the political landscape as a consequence.

But what is happening to the Coalition and Brendan Nelson is unprecedented.

The problem here of course is trying to estimate what the Coalitions base vote actually is, or rather was. With a number of State Labor governments of late carving out pretty extraordinary majorities, it appears that the proportion of the electorate that that will only ever vote for the Coalition over Labor at any level of government has been shrinking for a while. If we look at State and Federal elections over the last decade and for each State take the lowest primary and two party preferred vote that the Coalition has received in an election – we’ll get a fairly good idea of just how big, in practice, that group of the electorate is that will always vote for the Coalition over Labor under any circumstance.

So for NSW, the lowest primary vote achieved by the Coalition was 33.7% in 1999 – however there was a large One Nation effect running through that election which distorts the picture – so if we look at the 2003 State election, we find the Coalition received a 35% primary vote with a TPP of 43.8%. So we’ll use this as our NSW Coalition base vote figure. If we do the same for all the States and use Federal results for Tasmania (because of their Hare-Clark system) while paying particular attention to avoiding any One Nation distortionary effects around 1998, we end up with the following lowest primary and two party preferred results received by the Coalition recently in major elections.





















We can then use state electoral population weights to get a national average of 36% for the Coalition primary vote base and 43.8% for the Coalition two-party preferred vote base – which represents the lowest possible level of Coalition support based on the actual putting of pen to ballot paper by the electorate. Our base vote estimate isn’t meant to compare State and Federal politics; it is simply an estimate of the proportion of the electorate that has never voted Labor over the Coalition in major elections – the truly rusted on Coalition vote.

If we run these two base vote lines against a seven year history of the federal Coalition primary and two party preferred vote estimates (using monthly Newspoll averages to knock out some of the size of the poll to poll noise), something extraordinary happens:

Now remember folks, this base vote is calculated on the sheer thumpings that the Coalition has received in the States of late, so it is probably a little undercooked in real life and would in reality probably be up to a couple of points higher than the red lines given here. Effectively, this is the Coalitions best base vote scenario.

Brendan Nelson is leading a party that is receiving a national vote share lower than all of the State Opposition annihilations of late put together. It makes the polling bleakness of early 2001, and that of March/April 2007 look like a golden age of popularity by comparison.

If that’s not bad enough, if we look at the way those State annihilations of the Opposition played out in practice, a sort of electoral hysteresis was operating. State ALP governments eroded the State Coalition vote to the point where the Coalition base started contracting, leading to an almost natural, lower long-term level of Coalition electoral support as a result – a level of support from which the State Oppositions have found it almost impossible to recover from, consigning themselves to a generation of political failure.

If you lose your base, you lose your political viability.

The Nelson Opposition is losing their base vote in an unprecedented fashion.


Amber wanted to know what these base lines look like when projected over a longer period of Newspoll – just be aware that the base vote of the Coalition in the past was different to what it is now.


Further convo over at LP

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26 Responses to “Nelson the Future Eater -Dining on the base vote A La Carte”

  1. Kwoff.com said

    Nelson the Future Eater -Dining on the base vote A La Carte « Possums Pollytics…

    After every change of government, dismal polls become a staple for the political misery that is Opposition. But there are dismal polls – essentially temporary bouts of opprobrium and uncertainty unleashed by the electorate on the recently vanquished,…

  2. Amber Dekstris said

    Interesting analysis, thanks. I suspect federal coalition support will recover when the coalition settles on a coherent policy platform. At the moment they are incoherent and incomprehensible.

    Any chance of adding the other federal elections to the charts, as you’ve done for 2007?

  3. JP said

    Much I’d love to believe the Coalition was destroying its future, I don’t really believe the current level of dismal support would be reflected at an election.

    Firstly, I think even some of the rusted on are disaffected by Nelson himself. As a leader he really is truly uninspiring – especially compared to Rudd he looks utterly devoid of ideas and sense. But what are the chances of Nelson leading the party to an election? And even if he does, what are the chances of him staying another month after the rout? Businesses do this all the time – hire a CEO who can slash and burn and make enemies, and then get cut loose to make way for the saviour. After Nelson, Turnbull will look good even to those Libs who despised him previously.

    Secondly, I think that this strategy is plainly obvious to a lot of the electorate, and there are plenty of Coalition voters out there who think it stinks and want a real leader installed immediately.

    Add in Rudd’s general lack of scariness, and many of the those who disapprove of the particular brand of silly buggers that the Coalition is playing with the electorate would be happy to express their preference for “anyone but Nelson” to an opinion pollster, after all they want him gone sooner rather than later. But at an election, I suspect a lot of them will still put their “1” in the box that says “Liberal”.

  4. Possum Comitatus said

    JP – I’m generally of the same view as yours, but the thing that makes my ears prick, and the thing that makes me really… well, worried (shit oppositions produce shit governments) is that this argument is the same one that we saw applied to the QLD and NSW and even Victorian governments (to a lesser extent) over recent years and it just didnt work out that way. Thumping majorieties followed the erosion of the Coalition base vote in the polls which basically destroyed the medium term viability of the Coalition in QLD and put the conservatives onto the opposition benches for a near generation in NSW.

    We can say on the polling that “this time its not different, it never is” (i.e. bad polling is expected from poor leadership after an election defeat but they’ll bounce back come the main game) – but the thing about the Australian electorate of late is that it’s happened enough times (Qld, NSW, to a lesser extent in Vic and SA as of now, but may well happen in WA next election) that “this time it’s not different” might well apply to the isolation of the opposition rather than to its recovery.

    Amber- I’ll whack that graph up by tomorrow morning.

  5. Aspirational Aspirationalist said

    Could you look at NSW in some detail, with Iemma & Costa openly defying the party conference and pushing ahead with the Maintaining government ownership of the assets effectively privatisating the generators and they way they have generally carried on with it.

    If an election was held soon, could NSW see the creation of a new party ? Greens get into the Lower house ? More Independents ? or does his actions come from knowing that the ALP isnt going to lose power even if he sticks fingers up at the electorate.

    I still think that NSW will be the first government to stop the wall to wall labor governments.

    If i was asked i would tell the ALP they still own my vote, i’ll just lease it to someone else for 3 years.

    Also i saw something interesting in the Legislative Council Hansard which makes me think Michael Costa is nuts. He said this on 7th May.

    I was going through the list of Liberal Party leaders who support the privatisation. I can advise the House further that today Joe Hockey—a future Leader of the Opposition in this State—said the following on Radio 2UE:

    Why would Michael Costa announce that Joe Hockey will be a future leader of the Opposition in NSW ???

  6. Possum Comitatus said


    The problem with the Greens getting into the Lower House anywhere is their lack of broad support. In any electorate in any election they have to, essentially, beat the ALP into second place and coat-tail off their preferences into first over top of the Coalition – a hard ask by any optimistic yardstick. Apart from the very occasional protest vote (like Cunningham) or a few inner city electorates – it’s a pretty unlikely proposition for the foreseeable future.

    Independents can run rampant through rural and regional Australia particularly as long as they are well known local personalities like Rob Oakeshot in Port Macquarie through to blokes (and it’s invariably blokes) like Katter, Tony Windsor and the late Peter Andren federally. On rare occasions you get metro independents like Ted Mack – but they are extremely rare.

    As far as Iemma is concerened, its simply a contest between Labor and the Coalition in NSW with independents on the fringe unless there’s a hung Parliament.

    There’s been rumors, gossip and general scuttlebutt about Hockey moving to the Bear Pit and taking over the NSW Libs since the 07 election.

  7. Enemy Combatant said

    “But what is happening to the Coalition and Brendan Nelson is unprecedented.”

    Talk about The Mark of Cain! Little Johnny Stableford (the one they called El Rodente) bubonically annointed The Nightwatchman with its imprimatur at a tory fundraiser earlier in the week.
    All Petit Mal has to do now is go through the motions, make the occasional “brilliant” policy initiative but mainly stfu and wait for The Party to come to him.

    Geez, can’t wait to post to see what sort of a groovy mandala gets laid on me……man. JP’s is totally cool. Maybe Huey WordPress will set me up with one that is really far out:)

  8. Enemy Combatant said

    Rather understated, but I like it.

  9. scorge said

    Thanks Poss,

    I didnt think they’d have a high chance of getting up, from watching the count last year i vaguely remember low primaries and certainly no signs of their being a threat to the incumbent parties or independents.

    Maybe it was just Costa’s way of taking a swipe at the opposition.

    Perhaps people will vote for the minor parties or Coalition in the Upper house as a protest vote, but my money isnt on a lot of people doing this.

  10. paul said

    This is really interesting. Will it be appearing in the GG/OO any time soon I wonder?

    I can’t see any labor government, besides WA rushing to the polls as there will be an almighty kerfuffle from the Lationals and Niberals to win any state, if the right loses that, they will be stuffed, maybe for good. New conservative party then, anyone?

  11. […] sifts through Brendan Nelson’s poll ‘results’ to engage in a bit of psephological fortune […]

  12. Rx said

    The Coalition shot themselves in the foot with their handling of the Senate majority they got at the 2004 poll.

    With WorkChoices all about cutting the wages and conditions of the “Howard Battlers”, the very voters they had managed to win over from Labor for a couple of terms, there will be a measure of distrust, even antagonism, in voterland that the Coalition will have trouble living down.

    A portion of those votes is, I am confident, lost to them forever.

  13. Chatswood Statsman said

    I’m a rusted-on non-Coalition voter since 1966, but the NSW ALP is so appalling I might well put Gladys ahead of them next time out, but then there are those religious heavies running the local Libs, so I might just resist the WD40. Not that it’ll matter as Gladys will bolt in and might even end up leader

  14. Bennelong Resident said

    Love your work, Possum. I think your analysis just demonstrates that Rudd is in for several terms. There was a similar shift in UK voting patterns with Blair, and he is still the best analogue and predictor for how Kevin’s reign will pan out. Not that I am expecting him to fall in line with future US adventurism, but maybe Chinese ?

    My point is, “only” after 11 years of Labour’s historic 1997 win, the Tories are riding high again and all the richly deserved opprobrium they endured has evaporated.

    Your analyis is much appreciated, I see it as data to support my gut reaction that Rudd was precisely the right ALP leader. One who could draw in the Liberal voters. Now when will the Liberals work out this trick ? Or was that Howard ?

  15. JP said

    Chatswood Statesman @ 13:

    While I was only *born* in 1966, I’ve never voted Coalition above Labor at any level since then either.


    At the next NSW election I will have no hesitation in preferencing the Nationals ahead of Labor in my rural seat (but still behind the Greens and any credible independents, as usual). Moreover, I can’t see anything happening over the course of the next three years that could change my mind. This NSW Labor government MUST GO.

    Now ten years ago even I would have given you huge odds against me ever effectively voting for the National Party even once in my lifetime, but desperate times call for desperate measures. Frankly, with all the pro-developer corruption of NSW Labor sometimes I wonder if they haven’t swapped procedure manuals with the Nationals of old as some great cosmic joke on the rest of us.

    As for a new party rising on the right to become a credible opposition, I’d have thought the bigger risk to Labor was a credible new party rising on the LEFT. When faced with a choice between the Nats and NSW Labor, that’s what *I’m* looking for, as I’m sure are many others.

  16. B.S. Fairman said

    A new effective party from the Left will come about if and only if the Labour movement tells the ALP to take a hike. They have the organisation and the backing that is needed for success. Also the Unions need their independence or else they look like lame ducks. They can be suprisingly effective when the want to (Your-rights@work is an example). The rest of the Left is generally too disorganised to do anything effectively.

  17. Grumps said

    Poss, nice to see back and in harness.

    Can accept that based on the model you have presented there has been an erosion of liberal primary and TPP base. Further, with you that the base line you have put in is not scientific; but a good indication of the lay of the land.

    The question now is the loss of base permanent or an aberration? If so what factors are affecting the base to run as far as possible from what is termed a Liberal Party.

    Given the skewing effect of the electoral system we have you could say right at this point in time we have an aberration and given time the Liberals will return to where they think they belong. (How long this is seems to be based on the decade time frame, which seems to be norm).

    IMO I think we are moving into a period of fundamental change. I think the biggie will be the splitting of the Liberal party into two or more groupings.

    Forget the froth of the Nats having a love in and joining in frolicking through the tulips and bluebells in an eternal embrace of passion. El Rodent was working to marginalise their relevance and remove them from the scene.

    Social Agrarian values were as foreign to El Rodent, as the social values of the Labor party. (the loss of banking services, changes to Telstra, the Big Splash, etc. all policies that acted against the little business and individual in the bush)

    One cannot see how the radicals (I mean power at any costs) dry arm of the Liberal party can keep sitting alongside the more moderate elements. These moderates concerns being more aligned with the current middle ground that Labor is occupying.

    So where is the loss? I say it is in the wet to damp elements that no longer connect with brand Liberal. This is seen at both state and federal level.

    The night watchman cannot bring this lot back together. The deep divisions within team Liberal, where to El Rodent’s advantage only.

  18. Just Me said

    #10, Paul Says:
    I can’t see any labor government, besides WA rushing to the polls as there will be an almighty kerfuffle from the Lationals and Niberals to win any state, if the right loses that, they will be stuffed, maybe for good. New conservative party then, anyone?

    Not exactly a nationally important political electorate, I know, but there are also signs in the NT of an early election (relatively early, the NT is due is mid 2009). The Labor government has a new leader and treasurer, who have just delivered a reasonable budget, are talking up the already healthy economy, and are tidying up loose ends, etc.

    The CLP opposition have not got a hope in Hades of winning, but should regain a seat or two, if for no other reason than the last election produced such a seriously skewed result (19 out of 25 to Labor, 4 opposition, 2 independents) that political probability is on the opposition’s side.

  19. Charles said

    Looking at the trends it looks as if one nation ( or something) did permanent damage to the Liberal party around 1998, there is a step that they never seem to recover from. And if you fit a 2nd order curve from 1998 it points down, with zero percent around 2012.

  20. Crikey Whitey said

    I don’t see any kind of resurgence of the Libs, federally. Even if Turnbull gets up. It still is the policy thing. The Libs don’t have policies, they have hair raising personal interest. All about personal gain and tax advantage for the wealthy, in short. Any one can see that. Let me not begin, I did start, but deleted that!

    I will mention just one, Work Choices. Representative of an attitude. Which they will not kill. Even though they should do so, as the generation which just helped to vote them out for exactly that is going to figure in the voting patterns for a long time to come.

    And for how many years have we seen survey after survey saying that generally people would prefer that the money go towards the mutual good, such as health and education, rather than to the individual pocket?

    Albeit that such bribery worked for so long a time. Primarily for the reason that the generosity on offer from the larger electorate, and I am not speaking of the wealthy, was stymied and confused by the short term offerings. Not to mention the dog whistles.

    Let me hope that PM Rudd takes up on the generous impulse, in his first budget. This may be the base upon which this country realigns itself. For which we elected Labor.

  21. JP said

    Crikey Whitey @ 20:
    Albeit that such bribery worked for so long a time. Primarily for the reason that the generosity on offer from the larger electorate, and I am not speaking of the wealthy, was stymied and confused by the short term offerings. Not to mention the dog whistles.

    I think it was more that the short-term offerings made people better off, pure and simple (and short-term). The problem came from running short-term policies for so long that people could see the long-term effect, which is basically the destruction of public institutions.

    Even so, people don’t actually care about that either, until it starts to cost them money. And the destruction of public health, removal of public university funding, the non-delivery of promised transport infrastructure, the scarcity of childcare places (all starved of funds in for the sake of posting budget surpluses) is starting to cost people BIG dollars, and the memory of the “sandwich and a milkshake” tax cuts doesn’t make them feel better-off overall (especially as most of the tax “cuts” the Libs gave amounted to little more than indexation against bracket creep.)

    WorkChoices was the same, really. People saw it as a triumph of ideology (as a favour to the Libs’ big business mates) but that’s not why they hated it. They hated it because they could see themselves, or their kids, working harder for less money and less job security. And not in the long term, but pretty much immediately. Short-termism won the day again. If the Libs had introduced WorkChoices in little pieces in each of their four terms, they probably would have got away with it.

  22. Cat said

    Like Chatswood Statesman (my near neighbour) I am a rusted on Labor supporter and have worked to get them back federally. Iemma’s mob however are so on the nose that whilst refusing to contemplate voting for the religious ratbags that currently run the NSW Libs I would happily vote Green or any reasonable third party (if one were to appear).
    As to the death of the coalition federally I will wait to see how both sides handle the budget before I even begin to think about that.

  23. steve_e said

    When you look at the State opposition and how they perform, is it any wonder that support for the Coalition is so low.

    Chair sniffing seems to be not only OK but sniffy remains the best Leader in WA. This is not a deep gene pool!

    Ted seems to have found a fan club in the Victorian Branch. When the people who work with you describe you as reported, there just might be a credability problem.

    Then we have the Federal Leadership team. Not only is “Inflation” not an issue but cutting demand is now a problem (tax on luxury cars is all about envy!). The economic perspective has certainly changed from November 2007. The Economic Conservative mantle is now firmly around Rudd and Swan and the Economic Radical mantle is firmly around Nelson and Turnbull. Even if Turnbull replaces Nelson (this seems a formality) how can Turnbull regain economic credability? Does he not understand that every word he says is reported and recorded.

  24. With regard to state oppositions, I pinch one of Possum’s graphs and add one of my own in a consideration of the next Tasmanian election: http://tasmanianpolitics.blogspot.com/2008/05/liberals-base-vote.html

  25. David Richards said

    What a load of anti muslim twaddle Nightwatchman just read out!

  26. David Richards said

    Aquaman on 7:30 Report – is he living in a parallel universe? About as convincing as a two year old covered in mud claiming “it wasn’t me” when Mum does her block over the mud all through the house.

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