NOTE: With less than a week to go until polling day, I have changed the time stamp on this post to return it to the top of the page.

Wednesday, July 18

John Ferguson of The Australian reports the ReachTEL poll mentioned in the previous entry produced the following results on the primary vote, with minor candidate preferences said to be evenly divided between Labor and the Greens:

Cathy Oke (Greens): 38.1%
Jennifer Kanis (Labor): 36.5%
Fiona Patten (Australian Sex Party): 6.1%
Stephen Mayne (Independent): 4.3%
Ashley Fenn (Family First): 3.8%
Others: 11.2%

The sample on the poll was 400, resulting in a margin of error approaching 5%. However, we are also told that 25% of those who voted Liberal in 2010 were backing Stephen Mayne and 17% were backing Family First, which raises a difficulty: given the Liberals polled 28% at the election, it should lead us to expect at least 7% for Mayne and 5% for Family First. (UPDATE: Nick Adams from ReachTEL responds in comments. In fairness to them, recollections of past voting behaviour are notoriously unreliable.) The poll also reported that 70% would be influenced one way or the other by the performance of the federal government, and that 50% expressed opposition to the Baillieu government’s East West Road Tunnel project against 28.3% who supported it.

Tuesday, July 17

George Hasanakos at Poliquant offers a very handy analysis of the by-election, including a table laying out the various candidates’ preference recommendations, present or former party affiliations, and, where applicable, shares of the lower and upper house vote at the 2010 election. The post further evaluates past by-elections where the Liberals did not field a candidate, federally and across all mainland states, going back as far as 2005. It finds that on average the Labor primary vote fell slightly while the Greens went up 7.4%, with other candidates taking up the 20.9% balance. Projecting that on to the 2010 results for Melbourne points to a lineball result: assuming minor candidates’ preferences will flow 70-30 in favour of the preferred party on their how-to-vote card, results range from 52-48 in favour of the Greens to 53-47 in favour of Labor, depending on how votes spread among minor candidates of the left and right.

However, this strikes me as being at the high end for Labor, as it assumes the Greens’ yield from a Liberal absence to be unrelated to its base level of support in the relevant electorate. In fact, experience indicates the Greens tend to stay becalmed in by-elections held in Labor’s low-income heartland, whereas they mount strong challenges in seats behind the proverbial latte curtain. This is borne out if the results from the 11 relevant by-elections are charted to show the relationship between the Greens vote at the previous election (the x-axis) and the swing to them at the by-election (the y-axis).

This shows a statistically significant relationship (though statisticians would no doubt quibble that there are too few observations) in which every percentage point of existing support for the Greens is worth about half a point of swing to them at a Liberal-free by-election. On that basis, a “par for the course” primary vote result for the Greens would be in the mid-forties (as it was in the by-election for Fremantle which I keep going on about, which is represented as the top right data point on the scatterplot), rather than the 38% calculated by Poliquant. Like Poliquant, I should stress that this is intended to illustrate what result might be considered “par for the course”, rather than an actual prediction.

For that, we are better served by opinion polls. On that note, Andrew Crook of Crikey reports ReachTel conducted an automated phone poll of the electorate last night, to be published in an undisclosed newspaper over the next few days – remembering that ReachTel’s last by-election poll, for South Brisbane, had a small sample and overstated the Labor vote. Josh Gordon of The Age further reports that a poll conducted, for some reason, by the Liberal Party in late May suggested a very close race: the Greens had 40% of the primary vote compared with 39% for Labor, with 21% for others or undecided. It is interesting to note that whereas supposed Labor polling suggested Julia Gillard was an encumbrance for them, supposed Liberal polling found her to be very popular in the electorate. Daniel Andrews on the other hand was said to be recognised as Labor leader by only two-thirds of respondents.

Sunday, July 15

The by-election campaign having been sucked into the vortex of national politics, Canberra press gallery journalists have been having their overheated way with its federal implications. Geoff Kitney of the Australian Financial Review writes: “The idea that the toxic unpopularity of the Gillard government has seeped so deeply into the Labor brand that it could lead to the loss of an iconic state seat to the Greens will add urgency to debate about Gillard’s leadership and about the challenge Labor faces from the Greens.” Similar themes were pursued by Michelle Grattan in The Age under a piece headlined, “A byelection defeat will cause shock waves in Canberra”.

Certainly the loss of a seat which has been in Labor hands since 1908 (outside of an interruption during the 1955 split) would be a significant electoral milestone. However, as the Greens came within 2.0% in both 2002 and 2006 before being poleaxed by Liberal preferences in 2010, the suggestion that a win this time should in and of itself cause “shock waves” is pure hyperbole. As I noted at the start of proceedings, this by-election has a lot in common with that in Fremantle in May 2009, in that it confronts a state ALP still recovering from an unexpected election defeat with a struggle to retain a once-safe seat where the rise of the Greens has changed the game. The results at the preceding general elections were very similar in both cases: in Fremantle, 38.7% for Labor, 30.2% for Liberal and 27.6% for the Greens; in Melbourne, 35.7%, 28.0% and 31.9%. Then as now, the decisive factor was how homeless Liberal voters would divide between Greens and Labor. In the case of Fremantle, the split was sufficiently in the Greens’ favour to deliver them a 4.0% win after preferences – with nary a word from anyone about implications for a federal Labor government which enjoyed towering opinion poll leads at the time.

Weeks before elements of the ALP launched their rhetorical offensive against the Greens at federal level, a small-sample Morgan poll of Melbourne voters found the Greens headed for a very similar result to the one they enjoyed in Fremantle, which has been consistently reflected in the betting markets. It therefore seems a bit rich for Michelle Grattan to crash the party at this late stage with claims a Greens win would amount to “an existential moment for the deeply depressed federal Labor Party” – something which is being served up on a weekly basis by the polls in any case.

Thursday, July 12

The offensive launched by elements of the ALP against the Greens has cross-pollinated with the by-election, with Daniel Andrews joining the assault. This raises questions about how many votes Labor stands to gain from Liberal supporters and lose on the soft left. The Australian has reported Labor internal polling is “understood” to have Labor’s primary vote in the low 30s and the Greens “well ahead on the primary vote”. Labor has publicly accused four candidates of being “stooges” of the Greens: Berhan Ahmed, African refugee, former Victorian of the Year and a former Greens candidate at both state and federal elections; climate activist Adrian Whitehead; public housing advocate Kate Borland; and Stephen Mayne. However, Ahmed has in fact lodged a how-to-vote card recommending Labor be put ahead of the Greens. The deadline for registering how-to-vote cards is tomorrow. Sportingbet has the Greens at $1.25 and Labor at $2.50.

Thursday, July 5

Stephen Mayne has lodged a complaint over a “smear sheet” which targets his activities as a Manningham Councillor (which can be viewed on Mayne’s website). Speaking on Jon Faine’s ABC Radio program yesterday, Mayne said the material was being circulated in Docklands and East Melbourne “anonymously and in breach of electoral laws”, and pointed to its accusation of a “grubby deal” between himself and the Greens as evidence it came from Labor. Labor state secretary Noah Carroll rang Faine’s show and condemned the dissemination of material without authorisation notices, but appeared to intimate that Mayne might have been responsible for it himself. The full audio from Faine’s program can be heard here.

Wednesday, July 4

Review of the by-election campaign from Adam Brereton in New Matilda.

Wednesday, June 27

Chris Hingston of the Melbourne Times Weekly reports Stephen Mayne has announced he will direct preferences to the Greens ahead of Labor, not unexpectedly given the centrality of the poker machines issue to his campaign. Labor has been distributing how-to-vote material which puts Stephen Mayne at number 12 and the Greens at number 15, with Family First (number seven) well ahead of both.

Friday, June 22

Nominations closed yesterday, with a huge field of 16 candidates emerging which, unsurprisingly, does not include a Liberal. The candidates in ballot paper order are independent Berhan Ahmed; Michael Murphy of the DLP; independents Gerrit Hendrik Schorel-Hlavka, David Nolte and John Perkins; Jennifer Kanis (Labor); independents David Collyer and Patrick O’Connor; Michael Murphy of the DLP; independents Joseph Toscano, Stephen Mayne, Kate Borland and Adrian Whitehead; Fiona Patten of the Australian Sex Party; Cathy Oke (Greens) and Maria Bengtsson of “Australian Christians”, who are news to me.

Tuesday, June 12

Roy Morgan has published results of a phone poll of 365 respondents (for a margin of error of about 5%) conducted from Thursday to Sunday which gives the Greens a fairly solid 54-46 lead on two-party preferred, from primary votes of 48.5% for the Greens, 37.5% for Labor and 7% for Stephen Mayne. Somewhat ballsily, respondents were offered the option of “Independents or Others including Gary Morgan and Kevin Chamberlain”, the former being the principal of the firm conducting the poll, who was a candidate for the last lord mayoral election and evidently plans to nominate for the by-election. This option received the support of 7% of respondents. Meanwhile, NineMSN reports that Family First’s state director, Ashley Fenn, will be a starter.ber

Wednesday, June 6

Crikey founder, shareholder activist, anti-pokies campaigner and serial candidate Stephen Mayne announced earlier this week he will run as an independent.

Tuesday, May 29

The election timetable has been published. The closure of nominations, followed by the ballot paper draw, will be at noon on June 22.

Sunday, May 27

July 21 has been set as the date for the by-election. I’ve promoted this to the top of the page and added a link to the sidebar in the hope of reactivating the comments thread.

Wednesday, May 16

The Greens have preselected Cathy Oke, and her council colleague Jennifer Kanis has been confirmed as Labor’s candidate. Kanis was elected to the City of Melbourne council in 2008. NineMSN says Oke “was elected to the City of Melbourne council in 2008 and is senior project manager at education organisation Kids Teaching Kids”. She was chosen ahead of Rose Iser, a former Moonee Valley councillor and staffer to Adam Bandt, and Sonny Neale, said to be involved with “environmental and arts businesses”.

Tuesday, May 8

A diverting by-election looms in the Victorian state seat of Melbourne, former minister Bronwyn Pike evidently having made the not unusual decision that opposition is not for her. This electorate is of course a dead zone for the Liberals, such that the parliamentary balance of 45 pro-government and 43 anti-government members is certain to go undisturbed. However, it offers a golden opportunity for the Victorian Greens to achieve what they have never quite been able to manage: victory in a state lower house seat.

Bounded to the south by the Yarra River, the electorate of Melbourne extends north through the city centre to the suburbs immediately to the north and north-west. The more easterly part of what is generally considered the inner-city constitutes the equally Greens-friendly seat of Richmond, and the two together constitute most of federal Melbourne. The map below shows two-party Labor-versus-Greens polling booth results from the 2010 election, with the font size varying according to the number of votes cast. As you can see, only in one booth did the Greens score a two-party majority, that being the Carlton booth nearest to the University of Melbourne campus.

Electorally speaking, three tendencies can be observed within the electorate. About 60% of the voters are in the inner northern suburbs (together with the booths in the CBD itself, which are presumably used by many voters who don’t live there), where Labor and the Greens were each worth about a third of the vote and the Liberals roughly a quarter. In Docklands and East Melbourne, high-powered city centre types drive the Liberal vote well into the 40s, although these booths only count for 12% of the total vote. The remaining quarter of the voters are in Flemington and Kensington which, being on the far side of the CityLink motorway, mark the beginning of Labor’s western suburbs heartland – albeit that the gentrification of Kensington has complicated this picture in recent years. Flemington however remains high in public housing and low in median income, and the area collectively shares a voting pattern of weakness for the Liberals (barely 20%) and strength for the Labor (over 40%, and approaching 50% in Flemington).

Emphasising the point that the Greens are a very recent phenomenon in Victorian state politics, the party did not bother to field a candidate in Melbourne as recently as 1999, when Labor was worth 59.3% of the primary vote. In the wake of a breakthrough result at the 2001 federal election, the Greens well and truly had their act together by the 2002 state election, when the strength of their performance in the inner-city was the only complication in a picture of electoral triumph for Labor across the state. In Richmond, Northcote and Brunswick as well as Melbourne, the Greens gouged double-digit shares of the primary vote from both major parties, overtaking the Liberals and landing short of victory by respective margins of 3.1%, 7.9%, 9.3% and, in the case of Melbourne, 1.9%.

This inevitably engendered high hopes for the party at the next two elections, but they were met both times with disappointment. A late-campaign publicity blitz by Labor in 2006 was credited with keeping Bronwyn Pike’s slender margin intact, and Labor also held its ground in Richmond. Then in 2010 came a disturbing development for the Greens, with the Liberals jettisoning their practice of directing them preferences ahead of last-placed Labor. This resulted in a comfortable 6.2% win for Pike, despite the primary vote gap between Labor and the Greens shrinking from 17.2% to 3.8%.

With the Greens achieving near equality with Labor on the primary vote, the behaviour of Liberal voters is now the decisive factor in all circumstances. The maths behind the 2010 result are demonstrated by ballot paper studies conducted in the electorate by the Victorian Election Commission after the last two elections, which both found about 40% of Liberal voters adhering to the how-to-vote card (those who went their own way split about 60-40 in the Greens’ favour in 2006, and 55-45 in 2010). As a result, the Greens’ 78% share of Liberal and other preferences in 2006 shrunk disastrously to 44% in 2010.

What remains unknown is how those voters would behave if the absence of a Liberal candidate denied them the cue of their favoured party’s how-to-vote card. Notwithstanding state party director Damien Mantach’s assertion to The Age that the party was “considering its options”, it seems intuitively unlikely that a party that wasn’t game to take on the Niddrie by-election in March (margin 6.9%) would chance its hand in Melbourne. That being so, the best pointer which exists is Western Australia’s Fremantle by-election of 2009, which also involved a senior minister in a defeated government pulling the plug in a seat where the Greens had been emerging over time into a serious threat to Labor. On the primary vote, Fremantle produced a similar result at the 2008 state election to the one in Melbourne in 2010: 38.7% for Labor, 30.2% for Liberal and 27.6% for the Greens, compared with 35.7%, 28.0% and 31.9%. The one important difference was the slightly weaker position of the Greens, which caused them to fall short of a Liberal Party which might otherwise have delivered them the seat through their preferences.

It’s presumably an ominous sign for Labor in Melbourne that the Greens were able to prevail at the Fremantle by-election in the absence of a Liberal candidate, and by a reasonably solid margin of 4.0%. There may have been factors peculiar to the election which will not apply in Melbourne, such as Greens’ choice of a candidate with considerable appeal to Liberal voters (however much they may have come to rue that choice since). Nonetheless, the precedent strongly suggests that many voters deprived of a Liberal candidate will instead take whatever opportunity to kick Labor happens to be available.

Andrew Crook of Crikey reported yesterday that Jennifer Kanis, a Melbourne councillor and Holding Redlich lawyer, was considered the front-runner for Labor preselection. Moonee Valley councillor Rose Iser was mentioned as a possible candidate for the Greens (UPDATE: Bird of Paradox points out in comments she ceased to be a councillor in 2010, and is now a staffer for Adam Bandt), though it evidently remains to be established if the candidate from 2010, barrister and former Liberty Victoria president Brian Walters, is interested in another run. Walters defeated Iser in a preselection vote before the 2010 election.