As Labor recovered in the polls in the latter part of last year, talk faded of an election result so apocalyptic for the ALP that an Abbott government would be able to get its legislative agenda through the Senate without recourse to a double dissolution. However, that's changed with the renewed Labor slump recorded in recent polling, and internal tensions that have been ignited as a result.
Helpfully, it emerges that Essential Research has been gauging Senate as well as House voting intentions over the past month and has now accumulated a sample of sufficient size to produce largely credible state-level breakdowns. I have traditionally had my doubts about Senate polling questions, based on past such exercises by Morgan. These invariably inflated support for the Democrats, suggesting the procedure of asking firstly about House intention and then about the Senate failed to replicate real-world decision-making and instead introduced a bias in favour of "Senate parties".
I'm not sure what Essential Research might have done differently, but this issue does not seem to have emerged on the numbers it has published. If anything, the Senate figures in the poll cleave too closely to those of the House. They have also come up with a credible-sounding result in South Australia for Nick Xenophon, for whom support would be difficult for a pollster to measure accurately.
However, the 7% recorded for Bob Katter's Australian Party in Queensland appears on the low side -- particularly if Katter takes the reins as the party's lead Senate candidate himself, as it has been suggested he might. It should also be remembered that the results don't account for possible curve balls such as a Julian Assange candidacy.
Nonetheless, the figures look robust enough to make it worthwhile considering what seat outcomes they would lead to. To deal with the states in turn ...
New South Wales
The numbers point to a repeat of the 2010 result of Coalition three, Labor two, Greens one, but on present form they feel a little too generous to Labor. If the combined Labor and Greens vote were a little lower, there could be a result of four seats for the right and two for the left, with the Greens losing out. That could present an opportunity for right-wing minor parties to take the fourth seat. With the poll having Katter's Australian Party on only 1% in the state, the most likely candidates would be Shooters and Fishers and the Christian Democratic Party.
These numbers point to a fairly straightforward result of three right and three left. With the Coalition vote up, there is no prospect of a repeat of the Democratic Labor Party's win of one of the three right seats, which occurred in 2010, as this time around all three seats are likely to go to the Coalition. In the race for the last of the three left seats, the Greens would start with about 0.8 quotas against 0.6 for Labor. The Greens might nonetheless get frozen out on preferences, the main sources of which would be right-wing parties that would preference Labor ahead of the Greens.
As noted, pollsters appear to have had trouble accurately gauging support for Katter's Australian Party, and the 7% recorded here feels too low. What the numbers suggest is a clean three seats for the LNP and two for Labor, with a race between Katter's Australian Party and the Greens for the sixth seat. The former would have 0.5 quotas and then another 0.1 from the LNP's surplus, while the latter would have 0.7 plus 0.2 from Labor. In that case, probably enough of the 0.5 quotas for minor candidates would go to the Greens to get them over the line. But with only slightly more support for the KAP and less for Labor and/or the Greens, a Katter win would produce a result of four seats for the right and two for the left.
Bearing in mind that these results are off a low sample of 352, they show Labor doing too well to be reduced to one seat, as has been canvassed in the grimmest scenarios for the party. However, there would still be a chance of the Coalition winning a fourth seat, something that has only been previously achieved in Queensland in 2004 since era of six-seat half-Senate elections began in 1990. The final seat would in fact be a close race between a fourth Coalition candidate (either a Liberal in the normally unwinnable fourth position or the leader of the Nationals ticket) and the Greens. The former would start on 0.8 quotas and the latter on 0.7, which would grow to 0.9 with the distribution of Labor's surplus. That would leave the 0.3 for micro-parties and independents, whose preferences would determine a very close result.
As with Katter's Australian Party in Queensland, Nick Xenophon is a wild card here and makes polling difficult to entirely trust. Nonetheless, the 18% "others" vote, which is entirely unmatched in other states, suggest Essential has indeed picked up the strong support for him that undoubtedly exists. With both parties solidly clear on two quotas and well short of three, the likely result would be a repeat of the 2007 election: two Liberal, two Labor, one Greens and Xenophon. That sounds entirely plausible, however the sample was small.
Samples were too small to allow for consideration of Tasmania and particularly the territories, but the best guess at this remove is three Liberal, two Labor and one Greens in Tasmania, with the usual result of one each for Labor and the Coalition in both the territories.
Taken together, the most benign reading from a Left perspective (remembering that the result would not take effect until mid-2014) would be a combined 39 seats for Labor and Greens, with the Greens retaining the balance of power on either 11 or 12 seats depending on the final seat in Victoria. That's quite a bit better than the consensus view of how the Greens are likely to perform.
At the other end of the spectrum is a result of 36 seats for the Coalition and three for right-wing minor parties, giving them a collective majority of 39 seats, even without accounting for the harder-to-pigeonhole Xenophon. The Greens would win only two or three new seats to add to their ongoing six Senators, with Labor on 27 or 28.