Crimson with embarrassment about Teal results

May 30, 2022
Dr Monique Ryan celebrates winning Kooyong
Monique Ryan, in Kooyong won 41.8 pert cent of the vote. Image: AAP Luis Ascui

Teals prove real, despite not making deals

I was wrong. Quite wrong!

In two articles in Pearls and Irritations in the lead up to the federal election – The preferences conundrum for Independents – Pearls and Irritations (4 May) and Preferences confusion compounded! – Pearls and Irritations (9 May) – I suggested it would be unlikely that the community-based, Holmes a Court-backed “Teals” would gain a single seat. They needed, I said (accurately enough), to have a primary vote of close to 30 per cent, and to reduce the primary vote of their “safe”, incumbent Liberal opponent down to close to 40 per cent. I believed this was too steep a mountain for them to climb.

I also suggested that the refusal of Teals to do preference swapping deals with the candidates they hoped and needed to out-poll on primaries, would see them fall short of receiving the 70 to 80 per cent of the preferences needed from eliminated candidates to get Teals to above 50 per cent in a preference distribution shoot-out. I added, pessimistically, that the primary vote for Teals would be diminished by what I expected to be a high informal vote, resulting from the Teals issuing how-to-vote cards with question-mark symbols (rather than numbers) in the boxes next to the other candidates on the ballot.

Another of the assumptions underpinning my gloomy prediction for the Teals was that they would be unlikely to pull votes away from the ALP, given the seats contested were already strongly Liberal, and the ALP’s vote was probably already close to baseline. I also wondered why Greens voters would desert and move to what is, in large measure, another “climate action” movement.

Notwithstanding up to 20 per cent of the vote is still to be tallied (postals and pre-polls), the available figures strongly indicate that my demise as a pundit, predictor and psephologist is complete, even if the count is not.

Looking at the six seats won by Teals from the Liberals (Wentworth, Mackellar, North Sydney, in NSW; Kooyong and Goldstein in Victoria, and Curtin in WA), we see, first, that the Teal primary vote percentage (current Australian Electoral Commission figures, at the time of writing) ranged from a low of 25.9 (Kylea Tink, in North Sydney) up to an astonishing 41.8 (Monique Ryan, in Kooyong). The other four ranged from 30.1 per cent to 38.9 per cent.

Nor did these six victories rely, to the extent I had expected, on massively reducing the primary vote of the Liberal incumbent. While all the incumbents’ primary votes fell to the low 40s (and Trent Zimmerman’s in North Sydney to 38.1 per cent), the range of losses was from less than seven per cent, to no more than 14 per cent.

Wentworth, won by Allegra Spender, was already a “marginal” seat because of the close contests between Dave Sharma and the independent, Kerryn Phelps in 2018 (by-election, won by Phelps) and at the 2019 general election (won by Sharma). In 2022 Sharma’s vote dropped 6.74 per cent. No doubt, in her 36.6 per cent primary vote, Spender was“inheriting” votes that were previously with Phelps.

In the slightly “safer” Kooyong, Josh Frydenberg’s primary vote dropped 6.6 per cent – hardly enough to explain Monique Ryan’s 41.83 per cent, won from scratch.

North Sydney provides a stat which perhaps proves that it’s difficult to generalise: Kylea Tink, with the lowest primary vote of any of the winning Teals (25.9 per cent), unseated Trent Zimmerman, who lost 13.8 per cent of his primary vote – the biggest loss of primaries of any of the losing incumbents.

In any event, clearly, all the Teals won primary votes from sources other than the incumbents. In Kooyong, the combined Labor and Greens vote dropped by more than 26 per cent from its 2019 level, and a high profile independent from 2019 (Oliver Yates with nine per cent) was missing. In Mackellar, the combined Labor/Greens vote dropped 15 per cent. In Curtin, it was down nearly 11 per cent, and in North Sydney nine per cent. In Goldstein the ALP vote, alone, was down by nearly 18 per cent.

All of this debunks the idea that, in safe Liberal seats, the Labor vote was already at bedrock, and that Green voters wouldn’t switch to Teals. It does raise the possibility, discussed here in Pearls and Irritations, and elsewhere, prior to polling day, that Labor and Greens supporters might vote  “strategically”: realising there was no chance of their party winning the contest, they deliberately voted “1” for the Teal to push them above their own party, rather than the Teal being eliminated early in the count.

All six Teals, after distribution of preferences, now hold their seats (on the “two candidate preferred” basis) with margins between 1.05 per cent (Kate Chaney, in Curtin) and 4.18 per cent (Allegra Spender, in Wentworth). Having declined to elicit preferences from other candidates (or, at least, offered nothing in return for receiving them), every victorious Teal scored 70 per cent or more of the preferences distributed during the elimination of unsuccessful candidates (Spender, Tink and Ryan all received more than 75 per cent of the distributed preferences).

Sophie Scamps in Mackellar and Zoe Daniels in Goldstein received preferences at the lower end of the scale (just over 70 per cent) but had already reduced the incumbent’s primary vote by 11 and 12 per cent, respectively – enough to give them the required two-candidate margin for victory.

And despite the potentially confusing How to Vote cards issued by the Teals, the informal vote, on current figures, was not spectacularly high, ranging from a low 2.3 per cent in Wentworth, to a slightly troubling 4.5 per cent in North Sydney, up slightly on the 2019 figure, as it was, too, in Goldstein. In the other four seats the informal vote was down, slightly.

All these results invite further analysis, including comparisons with seats which Teals contested, but didn’t win (and didn’t even go close, in many cases). The high-profile Jo Dyer, in Boothby, garnered less than seven per cent of the primary vote. The seat will be gained by Labor, off a low 32.5 per cent primary vote, after a preferences distribution which produced a two-candidate-preferred swing of 4.3 per cent against the Liberals. Notably, the incumbent Liberal member for Boothby had retired. The impact of sitting members retiring is another factor to be explored, in other electorates.

However, from a Teal perspective, Boothby never really fitted the “safe Liberal” profile of the seats the Teals won.

In Bradfield (my own electorate) the very energetic and visible, Nicolette Boele, scored a primary vote of 21.9 percent, with the incumbent Liberal, Paul Fletcher, losing 15.3 per cent of his (and Labor and the Greens losing a combined nine percent), from 2019.Possibly because Boele didn’t identify as strongly as a “Teal” as candidates in other seats, her primary vote was not enough to make the preference distribution interesting, and Fletcher retained Bradfield with a two-candidate preferred margin of more than 11 per cent.

Boele had a tougher task, as well, because Fletcher was starting from a 2019 primary vote of just over 60 per cent. All the Liberals who lost seats to Teals in 2022 had 2019 primary votes of less than 55 per cent, with Sharma and Frydenberg on 47.4 and 49.4 per cent respectively.

Finally, on incumbents, what of the two Teals who are said to have inspired all this: Helen Haines, in Indi, and Zali Stegall in Warringah? Haines increased her primary vote to 41 per cent and her two-party preferred by 7.3 per cent, now enjoying a margin of 8.7 per cent. In Warringah, Stegall’s primary vote edged up by nearly two per cent from an already high 43.5 per cent. The Liberal primary vote fell a further 5.3 per cent, from Tony Abbott’s 2019 “low” of 39. Stegall now holds the seat with a reasonably comfortable margin of 7.2 per cent.

It’s a strong indicator that the six newly minted Teals might be hard for the Liberals, or anyone else, to remove (despite my expectation that they wouldn’t be there, in the first place – a rare instance of my sharing a mis-read with the Liberals!).

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