The Poll Bludger’s guide to the South Australian state election is open for business, offering comprehensive overviews of each of the state’s 47 lower house electoral districts including, in most cases, booth result maps (with an upper house guide to follow when I can find time). Labor goes into the election with 26 seats against 18 for the Liberals, with three independents. The numbers are unchanged from the 2010 election, there having been no party resignations or defeats for incumbent parties at by-elections.

Labor did remarkably well to secure the above score line at the 2010 election, given that they were outpolled 51.6-48.4 on two-party preferred. The margins listed on the election guide entry page tell the story, with Labor holding 11 of their 26 seats by 5% or less compared with only three for the Liberals, and the Liberals holding five seats on margins equal to or greater than Labor’s safest seat. This may point to a difficulty for a one-vote one-value regime in delivering balanced party representation when conservative support is strongly concentrated outside the city, Labor’s only substantial basis of support outside Adelaide being in the declining “iron triangle” cities. Of these, only Whyalla continues to furnish Labor with a reliable seat in Giles, with Port Augusta and Port Pirie respectively subsumed in the conservative seats of Stuart and Frome. By contrast, Adelaide is home to swathe of marginal seats which appear, on the basis of the 2010 result, to have a slight natural lean to Labor.

A provision in the state’s constitution requiring that an effort be made to achieve “electoral fairness” has for most of the past two decades resulted in redistributions after each election which have specifically aimed to even up any biases, the target being to guarantee victory to the party that exceeds 50% in the event of a uniform swing. That assumption was seriously confounded by the 2010 result, at which the only two swings to Labor in the whole state happened to be in their two most marginal seats (Light and Mawson, at Adelaide’s northern top and southern tail). Elsewhere, a combined 9.4% swing in Adelaide deflated Labor margins in a brace of seats where blowouts had occurred in their favour in 2010, but only Adelaide, Morialta and Norwood switched to the Liberal column (Norwood, its name now changed to Dunstan, was won from Labor by none other than Steven Marshall, who took less than three years to rise from marginal seat challenger to Opposition Leader).

As I wrote in Crikey last week, this caused the boundaries commissioners to put the uniform swing objective into the too-hard basket, and they proceeded with an unambitious redistribution that contented itself with clipping Labor’s wings in marginal seats where the opportunity presented itself. Consequently, a Liberal Party that starts from a 2010 election base of 51.6% needs to gain still more to win office, so long as the uniform swing assumption holds. Three pieces of low-hanging fruit are available in the form of Hartley (0.1%), Bright (0.5%) and Ashford (0.6%), but beyond that point the Liberals run into the problem of the three independents, all from naturally conservative seats – Don Pegler in Mount Gambier, which was last held by Labor in 1975; Geoff Brock in Frome, where Labor’s base of support in Port Pirie is more outweighed by surrounding country territory; and the naturally conservative seat of Fisher in foothills suburbs in southern Adelaide, which former Liberal MP Bob Such has held as an independent since quitting the party in 2000.

The Liberals have talked up their chances in all three, but Bob Such in particular will surely be very hard to shake loose, having won by 16.6% in 2010. However, a trend against independents around the country over recent years suggests Geoff Brock can take nothing for granted in Frome, which he won narrowly at a by-election in 2009 and retained by 7.5% at the general election the following year. Mount Gambier is hard to predict, as sitting member Don Pegler won by a hair’s breadth in 2010 upon the retirement of another independent, Rory McEwen. Independents generally perform well after they have had a term to entrench themselves, but a mood for majority government might make this time an exception. There appears an outside prospect of independents poaching metropolitan seats from Labor in Lee, where popular local mayor Gary Johanson is targeting a seat where the Labor member is retiring, and Mitchell, where Labor-turned-independent MP Kris Hanna is trying again after retaining the seat as an independent in 2006, then falling short in 2010. There are no major independent threats in Liberal seats that I am aware of; the Nationals lost their only seat to the Liberals in 2010, and do not seem likely to make a comeback this time.

Should Pegler, Brock and Such remain where they are, that leaves the Liberals needing another three seats if they are to go all the way, which the pendulum suggests is likely if they achieve a swing of 3%. That doesn’t seem a particularly high mountain to climb for an opposition facing a 12-year-old government, but it requires a two-party preferred win of beyond 54-46, which is not something the polls have been crediting them with with any consistency. Failing that though, as the 2010 result makes clear, it’s by no means impossible that a smaller swing can give them what they need provided it’s fortuitously distributed.

If one South Australian election guide isn’t enough for you, Ben Raue’s typically thorough effort is available here, and I gather Antony Green’s should be along any day now.

UPDATE (31/1): A fairly comprehensive update to my entry for the seat of Napier will shortly be required following gobsmacking developments, in which a) member Michael O’Brien announced he would make way in the seat for Don Farrell, the principal powerbroker of his Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association faction and a soon-to-be former Senator and powerbroker, b) Jay Weatherill threatened in an ABC Radio to quit politics if this proceeded, invoking Farrell’s involvement in the 2010 coup against Kevin Rudd and agreeing voters might perceive a possibility that Farrell would move against him after the election, and and c) Farrell backed down and announced he would make no further efforts to pursue a career in politics when his Senate term expires in the middle of the year.

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