Think back over the last two years of the Rudd government and keep in your thought orbit the never ending commentaries of Labor facing some “political crisis” or  “increased pressure” or dangerous “political test” which was inevitably going to end in failure. Think back on the multitude of dour proclamations by the usual suspects – for some reason routinely published in The Australian – that the Labor government is/was/always will be on the precipice of some public revolt.

Now compare that….. quality insight …. to the reality – using Newspoll quarterly data (click the charts to expand)


Yeah, I know – why do these people bother?

Anyway, while that chart says a lot – such as the absence of movement telling an important story all of its own – it also hides a lot of seriously major things happening underneath the headline figures, things which we’ll have a bit of a squiz at over the next few posts.

First up, we’ll look at the capital cities, as it brings up a question worth pondering: Who do you think would be more politically popular in the capital cities – Malcolm Turnbull or Tony Abbott?

While we don’t have the answer for that yet – we’ll find out in due course –  if Turnbull is more popular, to the point where the capital city vote for the Liberal Party is higher under a Turnbull leadership then it ordinarily would be, here’s a chart to send shivers down the spine of Liberal supporters everywhere. It’s the latest Newspoll quarterly results of the Coalition primary vote, by state and geography.


Around 1 in 3 voters in the nation’s capitals would have given the Coalition their first preference were an election held in the last 3 months of 2009 – which in this case would be the Liberal Party since the Nats don’t really run in the cities.

If Turnbull was holding that up, it will be nightmare territory if it drops further.

However, for those that answered Abbott to the question – there’s some evidence to support the view.

The capital cities have been a big problem for the Libs generally, but Turnbull particularly, since 2007. If we track the Coalition vote in the capitals since the last election, we see Brendan Nelson started increasing the Coalition voteshare after the election washout – although some of that was inevitable as the “honeymoon” started to unwind. Yet under Turnbull, the Coalition capital city vote started to erode after his first three months as leader (2008Q4 figure) and never really stopped.


I suppose the big question for that chart and the Liberal Party capital city vote generally, is how much if any of the erosion was due to Turnbull and how much if any was due to the circus of the broader party and the Nats. I’m sure Minchin and Turnbull would have two completely separate answers on that.

While the Libs are having trouble in the cities, the Labor party on the other hand are pretty stable.


The Labor primary vote appears to have stabilised in the capitals between 45 to 47, giving a two party preferred of 58-60.

Something the Coalition might want to pay attention to federally is the way the Queensland conservatives managed to play themselves out of electoral success for 20 years. The Coalition (and later the LNP) in Qld allowed Labor to dominate the Brisbane city vote in much the same way that Rudd is doing now with capital cities across Australia.

Labor cannot lose while it has a strong city vote. But worse, the stronger Labor becomes in the cities, the fewer metropolitan representatives the Coalition ends up with in a given Parliament – forcing the policy and leadership choices the Coalition takes to any later election being mostly designed and supported by non-metropolitan interests.

That generally alienates any metro voters that have even a slight interest in political modernity – which usually happens to be most of them.

Lawrence Springborg as LNP leader getting flicked the bird by Brisbane voters for 3 elections on the trot now is a good case study. If the Coalition loses too many metro seats this year, their political problems will have only just begun.

The other interesting thing about the capital city vote is the way the increase in the Greens vote since the last election has been a part of a broader voter shuffle, with voters moving from the ALP to the Greens and from the Libs to the Greens in roughly the same proportions as Greens preferences were distributed in 2007 – which is around 75% of new Green voters coming from the ALP and 25% coming from the Libs, give or take a few percent.

Both Nielsen and Morgan in their polling ask voters how they would distribute preferences in order to get a two party preferred result, as well as distribute just the primary vote estimates on the basis of the 2007 election result. Ultimately, the difference between the two distributions for both pollsters is not statistically different from zero, even though the Green vote has increased from around 8% to as high as 13% and 14% depending on the poll. That’s very handy, because knowing that the Greens growth is coming from both parties in the same proportion as it historically flows as preferences, allows us to use the Newspoll results (which allocate prefs on the basis of 2007 rather than ask respondents) in the following way.

If we look at the ALP leads in the primary and two party preferred vote and then take the difference between the two, this is what we get:


That “gap” between the two leads is very stable at 7 to 8 points regardless of the size of the ALP two party preferred. This suggests that in net terms, there is close to a 1 for 1 movement in swinging voters between Labor and the Coalition.

If a substantial number of Coalition voters were ‘parking’ their vote with the minor parties, we would see that come out in the Morgan and Nielsen figures with a lower ALP two party preferred vote when respondents allocate preferences themselves compared to the two party vote we get from allocating prefs on the basis of the 2007 election results – since more minor party respondents than usual would be preferencing the Coalition over Labor. But since we see no difference between respondent allocated and 07 election allocated preferences, it suggests that there isn’t any “Parked Vote” phenomenon at play in net terms.

That means that votes gained or lost by the majors are generally coming from the other major party in net terms – which will have some pretty important consequences in the election campaign when it comes to voter targetting.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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