Remarkable to see in yesterday’s Crikey how many experts could be found
to tell us that everything was just hunky-dory with the National Party.
Dean Jaensch, for example: “the National Party’s electorate is
absolutely loyal to it … The proportion of their vote has been very
stable over time.” Echoed by Brian Costar: “The Nationals have always
maintained a consistent level of support”.

All very reassuring for National MPs. Trouble is, it’s not true.
National Party support looks fairly stable because, as I explained
yesterday, most of its seats are protected from challenge by the
Liberals. But if you look at where there are contests, you get a
different picture. Here, for example, is the National Party’s
proportion of the Coalition vote in all three-cornered contests for the
last eight federal elections:

Year %
1984 48.6
1987 47.5
1990 44.7
1993 35.4
1996 33.6
1998 28.8
2001 16.8
2004 27.2

Apart from the sudden dip in 2001 (when most of the contests happened
to be in semi-urban seats), the downward trend is remarkably uniform.
State elections tell a similar story: at their peak in the 1940s, the
Country Party won almost four-fifths as many votes as the Liberals in
Victoria. By 1988, that fraction was less than one-fifth. In 2002, the
next time they ran against each other, it was one-eighth.

But Malcolm Mackerras thinks that in Victoria “the National Party has
quite markedly improved its status… In the upcoming state election
the National Party will retain all their seats. They’ll lose one seat
because of a change in the electoral system, but they will gain
Morwell.” On the contrary, they will probably lose three upper house
seats, not one, and if they win Morwell I will eat my Crikey T-shirt.

Mackerras may be right to say that a Costello leadership (if it
happens) will boost the National Party, due to his “city slicker”
image. But that could also mean that Costello will be less willing to
keep feeding them, and their chances of survival on their own are slim.
As a comment on the Poll Bludger
site puts it, “They are like a pig being swallowed by a constrictor,
but being pigs they will not remove themselves from the trough long
enough to extricate themselves from the snake.”