February 10, 2004

Independents and Greens

Our research suggested that there was much more volatility in rural and regional Queensland than in the southeast corner. This, with some notable exceptions like Currumbin, was true. Our research also led us to believe that Independents in these areas would poll well but win little, while Greens in the southeast corner would poll well and win nothing. We didn’t believe that antagonism to the government would go in any substantial way to the Opposition in either area. This was not as generally true as the first two propositions.

Sugar seats

On Saturday night at the tallyroom there was a confrontation between Bob Katter and Ron Boswell. We had a new category of seat this year called “sugar seat”. I suspect that it got its name from Bob Katter, because everyone referred to “his” independents as the “sugar” independents. It’s pretty flexibly defined and no-one really seems to be clear exactly who is and isn’t a sugar independent. If anyone has a precise list, please email it to David Fraser and me and we will put it to good use, but in the meantime these paragraphs are based on my sense of what could properly be called a “sugar” seat.

The argument from Bob was that his string of candidates had performed well, given everyone else a lesson and as a result the sugar industry was going to be rescued. Boswell interjected that Katter had cost the National Party seats which meant he had achieved nothing. Who is right? The answer appears to be neither really. With the exception of Andrew Lancini in Hinchinbrook and Jeff Knuth in Burdekin, none of the independents in seats dependent on sugar did particularly well. And in both Hinchinbrook and Burdekin the National Party won.

Just Vote 1

Why did the Nats do so well when our polling showed that voters in these areas were not happy with the Opposition? It might be that we didn’t understand our polling properly, always a possibility. It might also be an effect of the “Just Vote 1” strategy. Last election this strategy worked in Labor’s favour and disadvantaged the Coalition, One Nation and Independents. The non-Labor parties divided the anti-government sentiment between them, but because preferences didn’t flow they split what might have been a majority into a collection of minorities.

This election the Coalition took a calculated risk. It told its supporter to “Just Vote 1”. Their strategy was then to leverage their likely size as the largest non-Labor grouping and argue that if you voted for an Independent you would just waste your vote. Quite possibly Boswell’s interjection was a deliberate reinforcement of that strategy. That doesn’t mean that voters responded to the mandate and enthusiastically voted National, I think they did it grudgingly. This might be one reason why the votes of the six established independents (with the exception of Lex Bell who lost) and Rosa-Lee Long, an independent-like member of One Nation, increased substantially. In areas where a popular Independent was likely to have the largest non-Labor vote, they received a huge local endorsement as voters abandoned both the Coalition and Labor would-be electoral duopolists. Liz Cunningham won 54.93% of the first preference vote, beating the Nats down to 7.3%. Peter Wellington did even better with 59.73%. We’ll never know how well Chris Foley did because his 65.29% first preference vote was partly due to the fact that the National Party disendorsed their candidate for his seat.

As an aside (I’ll follow up on this tomorrow) the National Party also used the optional preferential system to blackmail the Liberal Party into not ceding them a number of seats and avoiding three-cornered contests altogether.

Greens

As predicted the Greens did do well in a couple of seats, but not well enough to win. It would have been difficult for them to win because of the Liberal Party’s “Just Vote 1” strategy and they probably needed to achieve around 40% in a seat to have a chance of winning without a flow of preferences.

They should have been able to get close to that figure in Mount Coot-tha or South Brisbane judged on the New South Wales results, but failed. I would tend to put that down to the lack of a high profile respected leader, newspaper reports of internal wrangling, and no effective on-the-ground campaigns. We did get signs of this in our focus groups. While Drew Hutton is the most high profile Green, he does not command respect the same way that someone like Bob Brown does, and participants will tell you this.

There were attempts from sections of the Liberal Party to negotiate preference deals with the Greens in key seats, with a suggestion for a while that the Liberal Party would not run in South Brisbane. If the Liberal Party had left South Brisbane to the Greens there is a possibility that Anna Bligh could have been pushed hard with a decent campaign. Bligh only polled 53.41% on primaries, not good in such a safe seat. It would have been a real coup for the Liberal Party if the apparent leadership succession in the ALP could have been disrupted, not that Labor appears to need to think about a succession until sometime after at least the next election.

Tomorrow I’ll have a look at One Nation and the Liberals…

Posted by Graham at February 10, 2004 12:00 AM
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