Thirty Thousand Votes And Abbott's Gone


Whichever way you want to look at the result of the recent Federal election, one argument that doesn't stack up is that this is some kind of landslide for the Coalition. That's how the election is being rewritten — but the figures don't support the story.

Fifteen of the Coalition's new seats are held on very thin margins. Eleven seats have margins of less than 4000 voters, according to AEC figures as at 24 September:

Barton (NSW) 493
Petrie (QLD) 971
Eden-Monaro (NSW) 1071
Capricornia (QLD) 1381
Dobell (NSW) 1189
Solomon (NT) 1492
Reid (NSW) 1490
Lyons (TAS) 1605
Banks (NSW) 3169
Braddon (TAS) 3398
Hindmarsh (SA) 3541

If Gilmore, Lindsay, Robertson, and Deakin are included, less than 30,000 voters nationally would need to change their minds for the government to change as well.

So what? There have always been marginal seats. MPs and governments have learnt to live with them. So what's the big deal?

Yes, there haves been marginal seats, but never in quite the quantity before, and never at a time when the electorate is in such a state of flux.

It also places a huge question mark over going to a double dissolution mid term when the Government has such a tenuous grip on the Treasury benches. Hawke tried it in 1984 and we came within a bee's dick of Andrew Peacock as Prime Minister.

The first preference House of Representatives vote for the old parties is its lowest since the World War II. At under 75 per cent of the vote what we are watching, as Guy Rundle has pointed out, is a new normal.

The result is a lot tighter than many pundits predicted. Firstly the dire warnings by pollsters of ALP "wipeouts" in Queensland and western Sydney simply didn't eventuate.

Lazy analysis that took national polling numbers and laid them over the Mackerass pendulum without any understanding of local conditions allowed this Chicken-Little number-crunching to crowd out how policy was affecting people's day-to-day lives.

Eventually someone is going to have to call bullshit on the cottage industry of nationwide polling as anything more than a vehicle for hack journalists to meet a deadline. Regional swings and variations are far more definitive than any blanket national assessment.

Polling has been used by the likes of the NSW ALP under Arbib and Dastyari, and by Kevin Rudd, to push personal agendas independent of the real business of government.

News Corporation threw the kitchen sink at the ALP and they didn't get much bang for their buck. Nationally the Coalition vote was up, but not by much.

People can safely draw a line through News Corporation as being an influence on public opinion. It still plays a role in setting the agenda for lazy TV news producers, but in the big scheme of things the internet is the go-to place for information.

Underlining this is the size of the informal vote, compounded by the significant numbers of people that couldn’t be arsed voting at all. While the informal vote stayed roughly at the same proportion, the turnout was significantly down.

Where people did vote informally was in "safe" ALP seats in western Sydney: Fowler, Watson,, Blaxland, Chifley and Werriwa were all in double digits. If these people aren't going to vote Liberal now, it's hard to see when they ever will.

For many people neither of the old parties is doing much to address their needs, hence the widespread disengagement.

Most of the ALP's "solutions" turn out to be market based bait-and-switch operations like the Job Network or privatised VET that gouge the millions of Australians who earn less than $30,000 a year, while the Coalition offers to make life equally as miserable. None of the major parties is doing anything to push down the price of rent or help the millions of Australian households over their heads in debt – the big reason why so many people feel economically set upon in an age of paper prosperity.

If someone starts engaging with this section of the electorate with economic heresies that help households (and possibly hurt corporations) then they may be surprised at how well such populism sells. Palmer's outsider campaign embodied some of that idea, but he couldn't pull it off successfully.

He needed an ordinary every(wo)man as a front to seriously shake the tree. Let's be honest, is Palmer going to do anything for people living on less than $30,000 except create more of them?

None of this is helped by a media that comes from a privileged narrow demographic that experiences few of the stresses most Australians know on a daily basis, or derisively sniggers at the "bogan" experience of life. It is systemic political failure on an epic scale, and cold comfort for the hardheads around the Coalition who must by now realise that they are far from in a comfortable situation. Unpopular policies will threaten more than their standing in the opinion polls. 

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