Deconstructing the election result. Guest Blogger: Walter Hamilton

1. Labor lost the election before the Coalition won it.

2. There was a narrowing in the state-by-state differences in the two-party preferred voting ratios of Labor and the Coalition, which partly accounts for the bigger swings against the ALP in Victoria, SA and Tasmania. That is, where Labor did well in 2010 to hold ground it was more vulnerable this time around.

3. The ALP’s primary vote has fallen to the low 30s, its worst result in a century. In the past six years it has hopped from one side to the opposite on key issues such as climate change and border protection. It has failed to respond effectively to the further hollowing out of manufacturing jobs on which its traditional union base relies. It has talked about itself in the third person, with a regal presumption to rule, and talked down to the electorate. It has talked too much altogether. It has treated policies like play things – to be spruiked one day and cast off the next.

4. Victoria is the only state that will return a (small) plurality of Labor MHRs.

5. In SA and Tasmania, that have Labor state governments, the swings against Labor were greater than the national swing, whereas in Victoria and NSW, with incumbent Coalition state governments, the swing to the federal Coalition exceeded the national swing. This suggests that Labor’s attempt to link an Abbott government to a backlash against state conservative governments did not succeed.

6. The Palmer United Party, with around 10% of the vote in Queensland, exceeded expectations, although it is worth remembering that when One Nation first came on the scene its Queensland result was much better than had showed up in pre-election polls. The PUP result must be set against the fact that there was little or no scope for a rise in the Coalition’s primary vote in Queensland. The 3.4% fall in the ALP vote, down to 30.2%, means Labor will return just 7 seats to the LNP’s 22 in that state. (Labor’s vote in the 2012 state election was as low as 26.7%, but the last time Queenslanders were voting on Kevin Rudd for prime minister, in 2007, the ALP received more than 50% of votes in his state. How the mighty have fallen.)

7. Tasmania recorded a huge swing to the Coalition. This is being attributed to economic conditions in the state and the failure of the Labor-Greens state alliance. The Greens vote is down more than 3% nationally, but in Tasmania it has halved (down by 8.7%).

8. In standing down as Labor leader on Saturday night Kevin Rudd advanced the narrative that he had sacrificed himself to stem a Labor rout and that he had achieved his aim of preserving Labor. Nobody will know whether Labor would have done worse under Julia Gillard, just as nobody will know whether, without the events of 2010, Rudd might have been a three-term prime minister. But any objective observer would not consider Labor well positioned to bounce back into government after a 4.1% swing against it in this election and the legacy of division left behind by Mr. Rudd.

9. The electorate has been more discerning than some pundits gave it credit for. A poor Liberal candidate in Greenway (western Sydney) failed to unseat a Labor member on a very slim majority. In the seat of Banks, on the other hand, the sitting Labor member, Daryl Melham, who had listed among his ‘top priorities’ improving commuter parking (state or local government responsibilities), lost to the Liberal candidate – the first time since the seat’s creation in 1949 that it has gone away from the ALP.

10. The total national vote for ‘Others’ (Katter’s Australia, Palmer United, Family First and various minor parties and independents) in the House of Representatives exceeded 12%. This suggests many disaffected voters were unwilling to side with an Abbott government. Labor’s American-style scare campaign against Abbott probably trimmed the Coalition’s vote below what it might have been in NSW in particular. For its part, the ALP was battling against a hostile Murdoch press. In assessing the impact of the Murdoch factor on the overall result, however, we should remember that Clive Palmer also claimed Murdoch’s ex-wife was a Chinese spy and that seems to have done his cause no harm. The public these days have much more to go on than newspaper headlines.

11. The Senate from July next year will be less predictable than ever, with the arrival of Palmer’s people and whoever else emerges from the metre-long ballot paper fiasco. The size of the vote for the Liberal Democratic Party, for instance, suggests that some electors struggled to fill in the ballot along the lines they intended. Electoral reform in this area (such as a move to optional preferential voting) is overdue. Similarly, the Australian Electoral Commission might need to take a look at the rules governing acceptable conduct in and around polling booths following the noisy demonstrations against both Rudd and Abbott on Saturday. Let these be places for marking ballots, not barking and mallets.

Walter Hamilton is a journalist of 40 years’ experience. This analysis is based on returns as of midnight Saturday.

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