Richard Farmer, like many mainland journalists and commentators, misunderstands the make-up of the Denison electorate in his article for Crikey yesterday.

I think a fair bit of wishful thinking, or to be more charitable, misunderstanding about local politics has led some journalists to wonder if Denison can be won by the Greens at the upcoming federal election.

Fran Kelly writing for the ABC’s The Drum thinks that with long-time sitting Labor member Duncan Kerr retiring “… it’s just the sort of inner-city seat that’s vulnerable to an attack by the Greens …”

I never say never in politics, but I would put the probability of a victory other than Labor in Dension at less than 5%. Labor will win, with a lesser margin than the one that Kerr has been able to build, but win it nonetheless.

The idea that the Greens have a chance stems from some similarities on primary vote at the 2007 election with other capital city Labor seats such as Melbourne (Lindsay Tanner), Grayndler in Sydney (Anthony Albenese) and Adelaide (Kate Ellis).

The nearest comparison is Melbourne. There in 2007 the Liberals finished third after minor party preferences were distributed, and when the Liberal candidate was eliminated, her preferences flowed to the Greens over Labor at a whopping 83% to 17%.

Much of the speculation that the Greens can take Dension centres on a Melbourne scenario: that the Greens can do better than the Libs, then will out-gun Labor on Liberal preferences. Let’s put that one to rest now. There is no way on God’s earth that Denison Liberal voters will preference the Greens anything like 85%. It would be lucky to be 30%. Can anyone seriously see a Liberal party in Tasmania, led by Eric Abetz and Will Hodgman, fresh from shunning the Greens at the March state election, suddenly beseeching the faithful to favour the Greens now? And even if they did, Tasmanian voters are notoriously difficult to direct on preferences.

In addition, this scenario relies on a big drop in Labor’s vote. Many pundits see a large Kerr personal vote up for grabs. Won’t lefty, greenie types, who have stuck with Kerr now be free to vote with the Greens?  Well, they might, but I don’t think in any numbers enough to put the seat in doubt.

The first reason is that the “incumbency factor” is rarely as great as many commentators and journalists think. Stanford University’s Simon Jackman found a “retirement slump” of only 2.5%-3% on average for ALP seats across the country. This is supported by Denison’s neighbour, Franklin, in 2007: there a popular, long-term sitting Labor incumbent in Harry Quick retired, yet Labor lost just 5% on primaries.

My feeling is that Labor will shed somewhere about the 5% mark on primaries in Denison this time. (In 2007 the Labor primary was 48%). I can’t see a compelling argument that the drop will be more. The Labor candidate, Jonathan Jackson, comes from the Kerr’s Left faction, he is heavily endorsed by Kerr and is the son of trendy leftie and ex-state minister Judy Jackson. Some Labor votes will drift to the Greens and to the Libs, particularly if the swing against Gillard is on, but I can’t see the Labor primary vote dropping below the low 40s.

And even if Jackson has a horror time and drops 10% off the primary support, he will still win. He would be elected on the preference of the third last candidate be it Liberal or Green.

Fran Kelly (and Richard Farmer now) are wrong: Denison is not the sort of inner-city seat that’s vulnerable to an attack by the Greens. Denison has not got the demographics of Melbourne, Grayndler or Adelaide. For example, of Australia’s 150 electorates, the ABS ranks Melbourne as the 24th most socio-economically advantaged  and Grayndler the 26th. These are small geographically, affluent electorates with professionally educated voters. Not the mix of traditional welfare, working class and public service Labor faithful you see in Denison, where the ABS ranking is way down in 78th.

Dension is not a trendy, tight-knit, gentrified enclave inhabited by educated professionals. It has some of those elements, sure, but is comprised mostly of either blue collar, welfare-dependent Labor voters in the sprawling northern subs, or rusted-on Liberal voters in Sandy Bay.

For the record, here is my prediction of the primary vote in Denison:

  • Labor 43
  • Liberal 31
  • Green 18
  • Ind 8

I won’t be far wrong. Don’t be fooled by the mainland hype. Denison is Labor’s in 2010.