How will the 2016 Australian federal election pan out?

Originally published on the 1st July, 2016; migrated to this site on the 3rd January 2022.


Do you have a moment or twenty? I’m here to talk to you about the election. No, not about who you should vote for, like so many Facebook quizzes.


I’m going to tell you what will happen.


After far too many weeks of politicians wearing fluoro jackets and petting rats, the election is upon us. The prospect of a hung parliament has left the news media salivating, and the rest of us groaning at the thought of another election straight afterwards.


So, with this in mind, I present to you…


THE AUSTRALIAN FEDERAL ELECTION PREDICTOTRON 2016


House of Representatives


The lower house, being the place where the government is actually formed, gets the lion’s share of the attention during the campaign and on election night. Opinion polling is almost exclusively based around the HoR, and from the beginning to the end of the campaign it’s been basically neck and neck, with little variation across the two month slog.


But national polling is actually quite unhelpful in gauging what the HoR will look like after the election, because we don’t vote as one bloc. Each division — all 150 of them — has their own factors which decide who is elected to represent them. In reality, polling can help us get a general feel for the mood of the electorate, and state-by-state polling even more so, but we have to examine what’s going on in each seat to be able to make a reasonable guess as to what the result will be.


New South Wales

2013: Lib 23 (+7); ALP 18 (-8); Nat 7 (+3); Ind 0 (-2)

To the annoyance of anyone who doesn’t live there, Sydney is the centre of political coverage throughout election campaigns. This is perhaps unsurprising given 25 of the 150 seats in the chamber are based in the city. Labor holds 12 of these seats, running in a strip from Kingsford Smith (ALP 2.7%) in the east on the north side of Botany Bay, through to McMahon (ALP 4.6%) in the further reaches of the legendary planet known as ‘Western Sydney’, around which the national media orbits. The Liberals, meanwhile, hold all the seats surrounding the ALP strip. Barton (Lib -4.4%) will be the first seat changing hands, having been redistributed in such a way as to fall safely into Labor territory.


Beyond this, however, it appears little will change in Sydney. The swing is not on enough to move Banks (Lib 2.8%), Lindsay (Lib 3.0%) or Reid (Lib 3.4%) , the three seats which would widen the Sydney Labor strip. Macarthur (Lib 3.3%), covering Campbelltown and some outer Sydney suburbs, is one seat that is up for grabs, and would connect the Sydney strip with Labor’s seats in Wollongong. This will be one of the closer seats on the night, unless something dramatic happens at the eleventh hour. Further down the coast, Gilmore (Lib 3.8%) may also be a tight contest, despite the lack of noise about it during the campaign. One seat that may move in the other direction is Greenway (ALP 3.0%), which the Liberals should’ve won in 2013 were it not for their choice of candidate. The Greens have had their eyes on Grayndler (ALP 18.8%), but it’s going to be a long process for them to top the ALP there.


Further north of Sydney, Labor will have their eyes on Dobell (Lib -0.2%) and Robertson (Lib 3.1%), both on the Central Coast. I suspect there will be little to no movement in either direction here, and as both Liberal MPs being elected in 2013, any movement towards Labor would be negated by the usual swing towards those running for their second term. Continuing up the coast, Paterson (Lib -0.4%), north of Newcastle, has also been redistributed into Labor territory and should return to the ALP. Former independent for Lyne, Rob Oakeshott, is attempting to win Cowper (Nat 13.2%), while fellow Nat-turned-Indy Tony Windsor is up against Barnaby Joyce for his old seat of New England (Nat 19.6%). Much of the talk in the months leading up to the election was on New England, but I believe Oakeshott has a better chance as winning, running against an opponent with little personal support.


Two other seats to watch are even further up the coast from Cowper: Page (Nat 3.1%) and Richmond (ALP 1.6%). Page is another seat suffering from redistribution, but this is combining with the issue of coal seam gas and changing demographics of the region to move it towards Labor, and a return to parliament for Janelle Saffin. Richmond, meanwhile, was once Nationals heartland, but over the past decade has become a seat with very mixed demographics, mostly due to Byron Bay becoming strong Labor/Greens territory, while Tweed Heads remains firmly Nationals. All three parties desire the seat, but Labor will probably keep it — for now. Finally, Eden-Monaro (Lib 2.9%), otherwise known as ‘the bellwether seat’, may finally lose its status with an ALP win, seeing Mike Kelly return to the Parliament. This will occur due to the growth of Queanbeyan in particular, as well as Kelly being more well known than the current sitting member Peter Hendy.


Prediction: Labor can win a number of seats outside Sydney, but without winning marginals in the capital as well they will struggle to form government. They will be relying on all the help they can get from the regional independents in seats they can’t win themselves.

ALP 22 (+4); Lib 20 (-3); Nat 5 (-2); Ind 1 (+1)


Victoria

2013: ALP 19 (-3); Lib 14 (+2); Nat 2 (-); Grn 1 (-); Ind 1 (+1)

Oddly enough, given (historically speaking) Malcolm Turnbull is a very New South Wales-type Liberal (and is, of course, from NSW), it seems that the greatest positive impact of the change of leadership for the Liberals can be found in Victoria. The ideological shift that has occurred between the two states since the 1960s has meant that while the older, potentially Labor leaning suburbs full of manufacturing workers preferred the DLP conservatism of Abbott, the newer suburbs that have sprung up over the last 20 years appear to be more open to Turnbullesque liberalism. As it so happens, Labor holds a number of marginal seats in these newer areas, and they look like swinging towards the Government. This is a particular worry for Labor, as two of these seats — Bruce (ALP 1.8%) and Chisholm (ALP 1.6%) — also have retiring members, removing the benefit of incumbency. The looming issue of the Country Fire Authority will not help either. There were murmurs about Isaacs (ALP 3.9%) and Jagajaga (ALP 3.1%) during the campaign, but both having well known sitting members, who have positions in the shadow cabinet.


Not only is this liberal drift a frustration for the ALP, it may be an annoyance for the Greens as well. After winning Melbourne in 2010, the Greens have had designs on other inner suburban seats, where gentrification is in full swing. The result is a slow squeezing of Labor from the Greens on one side, and from a small-l Liberal party on the other side. But this pincer movement may be enough, at this election at least, to keep the Greens in third, preventing them from using Liberal preferences to leapfrog Labor and gain more seats in the lower house. This will probably lock them out of Wills (ALP 15.2%) and Melbourne Ports (ALP 3.6%), but the seat of Batman (ALP 10.6%) has been consistently delivering worse results for Labor at each election, and is one to watch, especially given sitting member David Feeney’s terrible campaign.


It’s not all good news for the Liberals. The state swing has consistently been towards the ALP in 2PP polling, even though it hasn’t been noticeably high. This leaves three seats — Deakin (Lib 3.2%), Corangamite (Lib 3.9%) and La Trobe (Lib 4.0 %)— potentially vulnerable. Of these, the order of vulnerability is the reverse of the order listed, but I don’t expect any of them to fall. Meanwhile, regional Victoria is set for two of their own three-cornered contests. In Indi (Ind 0.3%), independent Cathy McGowan will be challenged by both Coalition parties, which will probably leave Labor out in the cold in 4th, while Murray (Lib 20.9%) has lost its sitting Liberal member to retirement, allowing the Nationals to put forward former Fremantle coach Damian Drum to take it back from the Liberals. If the Nats cannot win Murray back, they won’t be winning anything back in Victoria in the near future.


Prediction: The government could be in a position to do reasonably well in Victoria, beyond national expectations. Labor will be trying to take at least one Liberal marginal, but may end up losing at least one of their own marginals instead. Of all the states that could buck the national trend, this is the most likely to do so. But if it does so, it will be in seat numbers, not in 2PP vote.

ALP 17 (-2); Lib 14 (-); Nat 3 (+1); Grn 2 (+1); Ind 1 (-)


Queensland

2013: LNP 22 (+1); ALP 6 (-2); KAP 1 (-); PUP 1 (+1)

There are two Queenslands. The first is Brisbane, a city with an inner area dominated by the two forms of liberalism that you find in the two major parties, battling in both inner-city and mortgage belt seats; the second is regional, covering the largest number of cities in any state, dominated by the protectionism and communitarianism you find in the Nationals and old Labor. This makes Queensland more difficult to gauge than the other states.


Queensland is generally seen as critical the state most critical to a party’s chances of forming government. Polling has indicated that the swing in Queensland will be towards the ALP, but will be much larger in regional Queensland than in Brisbane. It is important to note, however, that ‘regional Queensland’ is actually a whole lot of different regions, all with their own communities of interest, and often with a variety of specific issues that affect them, even if they are broadly similar. This means that a large swing in one seat may not translate at all in a bordering seat.


In Brisbane, there are only two seats which I think have a serious chance of changing hands, Forde (LNP 4.4%) on the southern edge, and Petrie (LNP 0.5%) in the north. Of the two, despite the tiny margin in Petrie I suspect that Forde is actually more likely to fall. There are another two seats — Brisbane (LNP 4.3%) and Lilley (ALP 1.3%) — which could fall either way as well, but I suspect on balance the ALP could only expect to break even in Brisbane city, and will have to hope they can nab one seat. In regional Queensland, however, they will fancy their chances far more. The eight coastal seats stretching between Cairns and Maryborough all look like swinging towards Labor, but they may well win none of them. Capricornia (LNP 0.8%)was considered almost guaranteed for them, but everything is pointing to a tight contest. Flynn (LNP 6.5%), though it requires a fairly large swing, may be a close win, while Longman (LNP 6.9%), covering the Moreton Bay Area, may also be under threat. The remainder are probably safe enough for the LNP, but minor parties — particularly Katter’s Australian Party — will look to hoover up votes from former PUP voters, and other voters dissatisfied with the major parties. The LNP will also regain Fairfax (PUP 0.03%) from Clive Palmer.


Prediction: The swing in Queensland will be the opposite of where the ALP will want it. It will be larger in the regions, where the LNP holds every seat by a large margin, except for Capricornia (and Kennedy (KAP 2.2%), but the ALP is no chance there). In Brisbane the LNP holds its seats by a smaller margin, but the swing will probably be minimal. If Labor wins four or more seats, they’ll be happy.

LNP 20 (-2); ALP 9 (+3); KAP 1 (-); PUP 0 (-1)


Western Australia

2013: Lib 12 (+1); ALP 3 (-); Nat 0 (-1)

WA has never been particularly kind to Labor, but since 2007, when the only gains for the Liberals were in WA, it’s been a veritable ALP wasteland. State polling has suggested a large swing to Labor, but given the 2PP at the last election was 58/42 in favour of the Liberals, that’s not exactly surprising, as it’s hard to imagine a 16% margin holding up for long. What’s more important to the ALP is where that swing comes from. If the swing is uniform across the state at 8%, as the polls were indicating for most of the run-up to the election, that means a change of four seats. If, as I suspect will happen, the swing is much larger in seats the Liberals won’t lose (because they don’t hold the seat, or they hold it by an enormous margin), then the ALP will make few gains. Incumbency can often be a factor, and the Liberals have plenty of incumbents in WA. This will be a test of just how important incumbency is. The most recent polls have also reduced the scale of the swing to 4% — barely enough to move the needle in the marginals.


Hasluck (Lib 6.0%) has one of the smaller margins for the Liberals, but has been redistributed further into Liberal territory in the hills and has a well known and popular local member in Ken Wyatt. Cowan (Lib 4.5%) is more traditionally Labor territory, but Luke Simpkins has done very well to hold it since 2007, taking advantage of sky high Liberal vote share. If any seat will change hands, it’ll be this one, particularly as the redistribution has moved it further into traditional Labor territory in the north-eastern suburbs. The one seat where incumbency is not a factor is Burt (Lib 6.1%), and this will be a priority for Labor, with their candidate having run for them at the Canning by-election last year. Armadale was in Canning during the by-election, but has been distributed into Burt, and is often a strong Labor area. The Nationals will be looking to make gains in the two fully regional seats of Durack (Lib 3.9%) and O’Connor (Lib 1.0%), but it seems unlikely they’ll be able to unseat the Liberal incumbents. Sitting MP for Tangney (Lib 11.0%), Dennis Jensen, is running as an independent, but will probably struggle to gain a large enough share of the vote to hold on to the seat.


Prediction: Labor will be disappointed if they can’t nab Burt, and Cowan is probably the most vulnerable Liberal held seat, but will be close. Beyond that, it will take a big effort to unseat the sitting Liberal MPs.

Lib 11 (-1); ALP 5 (+2); Nat 0 (-)


South Australia

2013: Lib 6 (+1); ALP 5 (-1)

South Australia is often neglected on election night, due to its small size and litany of safe seats, but the Nick Xenophon Team throws an enormous, South Australian-built spanner into the works. Having out-polled Labor in the Senate at the last election, Xenophon has decided to throw his weight behind a pragmatic party with his name plastered all over it, and is putting candidates up for every South Australian seat. This has everyone all worked up about the chances of someone other than the major parties gaining a host of seats in the lower house. The thing is, in order to win seats they’ll need to get ahead of one of the major parties on primary vote, and the sweep up the majority of preferences from everyone below them in order to come from behind and snatch victory.


This scenario is much more likely in Liberal held seats than in Labor seats, because Liberal safe seats have larger margins on average between the two major parties — the Liberal vote will simply be too high in Labor held seats, unless there is an enormous swing against them. It appeared that the margin would actually too large in Barker (Lib 16.5%) and Grey (Lib 13.5%) for them to have a shot, but recent polling has made it a closer contest than expected in these regional seats. All the talk for most of the campaign was instead about the Adelaide southern suburbs seats of Boothby (Lib 7.1%), Sturt (Lib 10.1%) and, above all, Mayo (Lib 12.5%).


Mayo, located on the south-east edge of Adelaide and extending out along the peninsula, has a history of voting for third parties, most famously when the Australia Democrats nearly unseated Alexander Downer in 1998, and local member Jamie Briggs is not exactly popular. I would put NXT as favourites to win this seat. NXT’s own polling apparently gives them a chance in Port Adelaide (ALP 14.0%), an ALP seat with a rather Liberal-like margin, but it would take a precipitous drop in the Labor vote. Hindmarsh (Lib 1.9%) and Wakefield (ALP 3.4%), meanwhile, were expected to be more traditional contests, with Hindmarsh a battle between a former sitting member for Labor and the current sitting member for the Liberals. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see little-to-no swing at all in these seats if NXT cannot get into second place, but who knows?

Prediction: It’s all up for grabs. I am only absolutely certain about three of the eleven seats in the state. Of the remaining eight, seven are potential NXT gains, but only in Mayo does it seem safe enough to call it for them.

Lib 5 (-1); ALP 5 (0); NXT 1 (+1)


Tasmania

2013: Lib 3 (+3); ALP 1 (-3); Ind 1 (-)

Tasmania is an interesting place to observe on election night. It has five very distinct seats, which have much more in common with regional seats on the eastern seaboard than any other areas of the country. But its small size also leaves it mostly irrelevant to deciding the government and, unfortunately for its citizens, almost entirely neglected during the campaign. Indeed, governments can quite easily be formed with little to no Tasmanian representation in them. This may well be the case again at this election. Franklin (ALP 5.1%) and Denison (Ind 15.5%) will remain in the hands they are currently in, leaving the three Liberal seats up for grabs. Of these three, I believe Lyons (Lib 1.2%) is the most likely to head back to Labor, although polling is notoriously difficult as it covers a good two thirds of the state. Braddon (Lib 2.6%), on the west coast, is the biggest toss-up of the three, but is marginally more likely to come back down as Labor. Bass (Lib 4.0%), covering Launceston and surrounds, is the seat the Liberals will be most eager to hold on to, given its history of changing MPs at every election, and I believe they will just manage to do so.


Prediction: The balance of probability suggests both major parties will win one of the three marginals on offer, and the the ALP is more likely to win the third.

ALP 3 (+2); Lib 1 (-2); Ind 1 (-)


Australian Capital Territory & the Northern Territory

2013: ALP 3 (-); CLP 1 (-)

One of these territories is occasionally interesting, the other is not. The uninteresting one is the Australian Capital Territory, which has only returned a Liberal MP three times since 1951, all of which came since the territory was given a second seat. That won’t be changing this time. The Northern Territory, on the other hand, is quite happy to swap between its two parties of choice, particularly in the seat of Solomon (CLP 1.4%), which covers Darwin. The CLP is unlikely to hold onto the seat this time, and won’t be getting its hands on Lingiari (ALP 0.9%), having failed to unseat the ever-present Warren Snowdon in 2013.


Prediction: ALP clean sweep. Every seat counts…

ALP 4 (+1); CLP 0 (-1)


Senate


The Senate has been an interesting place in recent years, as preference flows became more and more convoluted once minor parties realised the potential benefits in preferencing each other ahead of the bigger parties. With the new Senate voting system, that’s all gone, leaving us mostly feeling around in the dark, trying to figure out who will be elected in a totally new Senate, with every seat up for grabs. There are some things to keep in mind.


First, the Australian public likes the major parties less than ever before. In 2007 they received 80% of the Senate vote. In 2010, it was 73%. By 2013, it was 67%. In the HoR, it went from 85%, to 81%, to 77%. Some may try to explain away the 2013 drop by pointing to PUP, and to the Liberal Democrat confusion, who between them earned nearly 9% of the Senate vote. However, the Greens lost 4.5% of the Senate vote, and I suspect much of that came out in the PUP vote. It is not a coincidence that the minor party vote was so high at the last election. The habits of Senate voting have changed. In 2007, the Coalition Senate vote was nearly the same as the ALP vote, even though the ALP won the HoR in a landslide. Voters use the Senate as a means of preventing one party dominance. But both major parties have lost the trust of voters, so increasingly they are sending their votes to minor parties. Expect this trend to continue.


Second, the new voting system does not mean the end of the crossbench (particularly in a double dissolution election), it simply means the shape of the crossbench will differ. Minor parties likely to do well at this election will be those that can draw 2–4% of the vote, and get a decent flow of preferences. Because the voters now decide the preference flows, big name candidates can probably get decent flows.


Third, because this is a DD election, minor parties are more likely to do well than they are at a normal, half-Senate election, because the quota of votes they need has been halved. 2–4% probably won’t be enough to get a seat at most elections, as the necessary preference flow will be too great. However, as votes can now exhaust (as voters no longer have to preference every candidate in the Senate), this should mean lower quota thresholds at the latter end of the counting, allowing one of these candidates to sneak in in a normal election.


I forecast two possible scenarios for the Senate, the first of which is more likely. In it, the major party Senate vote stays at around 65–67%, and the Greens vote recovers much of that lost to PUP.


I calculate the Senate will look like this:

NSW — ALP 5; Lib 3; Nat 2; Grn 1; Oth 1 Qld — LNP 5; ALP 4; Grn 2; Oth 1 SA — Lib 4; NXT 4; ALP 3; Grn 1 Tas — Lib 5; ALP 4; Grn 2; Oth 1 Vic — Lib 4; ALP 4; Grn 2; Nat 1; Oth 1 WA — Lib 5; ALP 4; Grn 2; Oth 1 ACT/NT — ALP 2; CLP 1; Lib 1

Total — Coalition 31 (Lib 22; LNP 5; Nat 3; CLP 1); ALP 26; Grn 10; Oth 9


A result like this would mean a Coalition government would not be able to pass legislation with only NXT on side. The rest of the others may be known quantities — in Queensland it will likely be Glenn Lazarus, though One Nation and Katter’s Australian Party may have a shot, while in Tasmania it would almost certainly be Jacquie Lambie — but they may also be a complete surprise. NXT is running a Senate candidate in every state, but how popular Xenophon is outside SA is an unknown. Derryn Hinch is running for the Senate in Victoria and has first place on the ballot, but will be up against John Madigan and Ricky Muir.


The Liberal Democrats may benefit again from a a voter mix-up and now a national profile, but the addition of logos to the ballot paper should make it easier to spot the difference between them and the Liberals (despite the latter barely using their logo in the campaign). The only party in WA that looks like getting up to 4% of the vote is the Nationals, so it’s hard to tell where the votes will go, unless NXT manages to pull something out of nowhere. Outsiders that may have a shot are the Jacqui Lambie Network in Queensland, the Australian Sex Party and Family First in Victoria, the Christian Democrats and the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party in NSW and Australian Christians in WA. The Australian Liberty Alliance has been talking themselves up, but we will have to wait and see how much impact a social media-only campaign can have on vote share.


This isn’t a dream scenario for the major parties, but it isn’t a nightmare either. A nightmare scenario is one where their vote drops another 7% — almost one whole quota in a DD election. If that happens, the Senate may instead look like this:


NSW — ALP 4; Lib 3; Nat 1; Grn 2; Oth 2 Qld — ALP 4; LNP 4; Grn 1; Oth 3 SA — NXT 4; ALP 3; Lib 3; Grn 1; Oth 1 Tas — ALP 4; Lib 4; Grn 3; Oth 1 Vic — ALP 4; Lib 3; Grn 2; Nat 1; Oth 2 WA — ALP 4; Lib 4; Grn 2; Oth 2 ACT — ALP 2; CLP 1; Lib 1

Total — Coalition 27 (Lib 18; LNP 4; Nat 2; CLP 1); ALP 25; Grn 11; Oth 13


For the most part, this damages the Coalition more than the ALP, because the former have further to fall. This would occur despite them getting a greater proportion of first preferences than Labor, and it would leave the Coaltion in a position where they have to negotiate with either almost all of the ‘others’, or with the Greens, in order to scrape together the 37 votes needed to pass legislation (assuming Labor doesn’t back them). To be honest, this is not as fanciful a situation as it first appears. There’s no reason to assume the Palmer vote will head back to the major parties (particularly as a lot of it appeared to come from the Greens), and the majors have done little to enthuse themselves to the public over the last three years. Voter dissatisfaction with politicians worldwide is at an all time high, and our Senate acts as the release valve for dissatisfaction. Do not be surprised if this kind of Senate takes shape.


Final Prediction

At no point during the entire long campaign did Labor look like sweeping the Coalition aside, and the past week has reinforced this sense. Labor should make gains in New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia, but is unlikely to do better than break even in Victoria and South Australia. Any loss of seats to the Coalition, the Greens or NXT would be an enormous blow to their chances of forming government.


The Senate, meanwhile, will be no better for the Government than the previous one. At best for the Calition, the crossbench will look similar, but with slightly less variation due to the dominance of NXT. At worst, it will be even larger than the last one, mostly at the expense of the Government. The justification for a Double Dissolution election made little sense after the first month of polling under Turnbull, and makes even less now. The Coalition will win on the back of being a first-term government that isn’t especially unpopular.


House of Representatives: Coalition 79 (Lib 51; LNP 20; Nat 8); Labor 65; Greens 2; Independent 2; Katter’s Australian Party 1; Nick Xenophon Team 1

Senate: Coalition 31 (Lib 22; LNP 5; Nat 3; CLP 1); Labor 26; Greens 10; Others 9

Result: Coalition government with a reduced majority in the House of Representatives and no majority in the Senate.


Remember to vote tomorrow, and feel free to make use of the fact that we have preferential voting. The major parties don’t need your first preferences, whatever they may say about ‘stability’.