Seat of the week: Braddon
UPDATE: Essential Research has the Coalition two-party lead up from 55-45 to 56-44, although nothing has changed on the primary vote: 33% for Labor, 49% for the Coalition and 10% for the Greens. Further questions relate to the National Disability Insurance Scheme, which party has the better policies for various groups of disadvantaged people (Labor comfortably ahead in each case), and the Olympic Games (among other things, 58% think $39 million of government spending per gold medal too much).
To commemorate the occasion of Mark Riley’s report on alleged Labor internal polling, we visit the scene of what would, assuming the poll to be authentic, be its biggest surprise: Tasmania, where Labor is said to be looking at a devastating swing and the loss of all four of its seats.
The hook for Riley’s report on Channel Seven was that Tasmania was among four states and territories where Labor was set to be wiped out, the others being Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory. The first did not come as a surprise, as the picture of a 9% swing taking all in its path is entirely familiar from state-level breakdowns from Newspoll and Nielsen and Queensland-specific polling from Galaxy. However, the implied swing in Western Australia of 6%, as would be required to knock over Stephen Smith in Perth and Melissa Parke in Fremantle, is at odds with Newspoll, which has showed Labor holding its ground: 57-43 in October-December, 54-46 in January-March and 55-45 in April-June, compared with 56.4-43.6 at the election. Riley’s numbers do accord with Nielsen, whose last three monthly results for WA average to 62-38. However, even after combining three polls their sample is a very modest 390 (with a margin of error of about 5%), compared with about 900 (margin of error about 3.4%) for Newspoll.
In the case of Tasmania, together with the Northern Territory (where Labor is in danger of losing Warren Snowdon’s seat of Lingiari), no such basis for comparison is available. The state is excluded from Newspoll and Nielsen’s breakdowns for inadequate sample sizes, and the state’s one public pollster, EMRS, usually contents itself with state politics. In relating that Labor faced a two-party deficit of 56-44, the Riley report thus presumed to tell us something we didn’t already know – and quite a remarkable thing at that, given that the last election gave the Liberals their worst result in Tasmania since the modern party was founded in 1944 (33.6% on the primary vote and 39.4% on two-party preferred).
It hadn’t always been thus. At the consecutive elections of 1975, 1977, 1980, 1983 and 1984, it was not Labor but the Liberals who enjoyed clean sweeps of the state’s five seats. Certainly the state has form in turning on Labor over environmental controversies, the Franklin Dam issue of the early 1980s and Mark Latham’s forestry policy at the 2004 election being the cases in point. It could be that the another environmental issue, the carbon tax, has alienated Labor from the blue-collar base that sustains it outside of Hobart. While it seems hard to believe that this alienation could be so fierce as to power a swing of 17%, it should be remembered that the 2010 result forms an artificially high base, owing to a half-hearted campaign waged by a Liberal Party that had its strategic eye elsewhere.
The most marginal of the five seats, Bass, was dealt with in an earlier post, so today naturally enough we move on to the second, its western neighbour Braddon. Confusingly known before 1955 as Darwin, Braddon covers the north-western coastal areas of Tasmania, plus King Island in the Bass Strait. The redistribution before the 2010 election extended the electorate along the full length of the thinly populated west coast, which benefited Labor by adding the mining towns around Queenstown. The dominant population centres are Devonport and Burnie, which respectively supply about 25% and 18% of the voters.
Demographically, Braddon is distinguished by the lowest proportion of residents who completed high school of any electorate in Australia (and, relatedly, the eleventh lowest median family income), and it ranks second only to neighbouring Lyons as the electorate with the smallest proportion of non-English speakers. The timber and mining industries that have traditionally provided a solid base for Labor are balanced by beef and dairy farming, which contribute to a more conservative lean in the western parts around Smithton. Labor’s strongest area is Burnie, although Devonport also traditionally leans its way.
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