Australia’s Knife Edge Election

by Jackie_South on August 28, 2013

Aus ballot iconIn ten days time, Australia votes to decide who will run the country for the next three years. Until Julia Gillard was toppled, it looked likely that the Right, in the form of the Liberal/National Coalition (LNC), would win. But Kevin Rudd’s palace coup has made the race squeaky-tight between the LNC and the Australian Labor Party.

The election mechanics
The Saturday 7 September elections will elect all 150 Members of its Lower House, the House of Representatives, and 40 of the 76 members of its Upper Chamber, the Australian Senate. The former serve for three years, the latter have a six year term of office (the others were elected in 2010).

Members of the House are elected on a sort of AV system for single member constituencies, called Divisions, which are of roughly similar electorates. As well as a first preference, voters rank their other preferences. Any election where no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote will result in an instant run-off, based on those ranked preferences, to give a Two-Candidate Preferred vote (TCP) result to decide the victor.

The Divisions are sometimes named geographically (such as North Sydney or Melbourne Ports), but more often after historical politicians. The division for Darwin, for example, isn’t named for the town but ‘the Division of Solomon’ instead, named after an Edwardian Member for the area.

For the senate, the six full states each have 12 senators, whatever their size, elected on an STV system. Like in the US, that is great news for small states like Tasmania, less good for New South Wales. Each state will be electing six of these senators on 7 September, although unlike the House members they do not take their seats until 1 July next year.  The two territories, the Australian Capital Territory (Canberra) and the Northern Territory, only get two senators apiece who are up for election every three years.

The current balance
The 2010 elections were as close as they could be: Labor won 72 seats in the House, the LNC were also on 72, leading both 4 seats short of an overall majority. The six members holding the balance of power were 1 Green, 1 National Party (Western Australia) (a right-wing partyoriginally based on the National Party that is in the LNC but not part of that Coalition) and four independents. There followed horse-trading with these six, with both Labor and the LNC seeking a confidence-and-supply arrangement.

In the end, Labor was backed by the Green and three independents. It doesn’t get any closer.

2010 Aus House result

Labor held fewer seats in the senate: 31 to the LNC’s 34. But a party needs 39 to have a majority in the 76 seat chamber, meaning that the 9 Green senators currently hold the balance of power in the Upper House. The other two are a Democratic Labour Party (DLC) senator (N.B. Labour with a ‘u’ in this case, a Catholic Labour party that is egalitarian but socially conservative) and an independent from South Australia.

In 2010, the LNC won 18 seats to Labour’s 15, but that represented a loss of three seats for the LNC on their result from six years before, whilst Labor only lost one on that result. The Greens gained four, the DLC one whilst the Family First Party lost its senator.

The chart below shows the current senate, with the 2007 intake in darker colours and white bold figures beneath the 2010 intake in lighter colours and black italic figures.

Aus 2010 senate

The votes favoured the left overall, and this steered the decisions of the independents. Although the LNC received most first preference votes, this was exceeded by Labor and the Greens together, as shown below.

2010 Aus House votes

On the basis of the ‘Two Party Preferred Vote’, where the second preferences for voters backing the smaller parties are used, Labor beat the LNC nationally by a mere 30,00 votes: 50.12% to 49.88%.

The States and Territories
Queensland and Western Territory tend towards the right, Tasmania, Victoria and the Capital Territory towards the left. South Australia is slightly more left-leaning than the country as a whole whilst New South Wales and the Northern Territory are critical swing territory. In 2010, New South Wales cast more votes for the right overall, but elected more Labor members than LNC ones.

The map below summarises those results, with the colour of the state/ territory showing the lead for each party (on two-party votes – i.e. using the second preferences of voters giving their first vote to a smaller party). The small squares show the members elected in each state or territory.

Aus house map 2010

As you might expect, Labor does better in the cities, the LNC in rural areas. Some of those rural divisions are vast: the Division of Durack in Western Australia is the second largest single member constituency in the world, covering almost 1.6 million sq km. That’s larger than the UK, France, Low Countries, Spain and Portugal combined.

The chart below shows the senators by state and territory. The state senators elected in 2007 are up for election this time around, as are the senators from the two territories.

Aus 2010 state senators

The polls
The polls are very tight this time around as well, giving every chance of a replay of 2010. The LNC have a slight edge in the vote, but this has closed significantly since Julia Gillard was bundled out the door. Up until June, Labor had been behind by around 10 percent for three months consistently. That deficit vanished overnight with Rudd taking back control.

Aus 2013 polls

My guess is that the LNC’s Tony Abbott will end up Prime Minister, possibly in a minority government. But that is only a hunch – this one really is too close to call.


{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

George_East August 28, 2013 at 8:36 am

Fascinating election. Labor looked dead and buried before the Rudd coup. I did see one poll though that suggested that Rudd might be in trouble in his own constituency – if Labor did pull it off and Rudd lost his seat, that would be an irony indeed….

Vote Rudd get Gillard
Vote Gillard get Rudd
Vote Rudd get God Knows Who


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