Narrow election win hurts Turnbull

22 August 2016


The 2016 Federal election has come and gone.  The Liberal-National Coalition Government of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull ended up winning narrowly.  A close result had been tipped, and some even predicted a hung result, with neither the Coalition nor the Labor Party winning enough seats to govern alone, but the Coalition just made it home.

With the results in for the 150-seat House of Representatives, the Coalition won 76-69 over Labor, while the other seats went to a quintet of crossbenchers.  Therefore the Coalition had exactly the number of seats needed to govern alone.  Before the election, the tally had been 88-57 to the Coalition, reduced by electoral redistributions from 90-55 at the previous election, in 2013.

As for the Senate, where the Coalition hoped to see the end of many crossbenchers who were holding the balance of power, the result was actually a bigger crossbench.  Just as the Coalition was needing support of Senate crossbenchers to pass legislation before the election, it still needs that support now.

This election was tipped to go either way.  Despite a good win in the 2013 election, the Coalition didn’t really win the trust or support of voters, who went for the Coalition largely because they were fed up with Labor after years of internal instability relating to leadership.  And Tony Abbott, who’d led the Coalition to its 2013 win, was never liked as leader.  Labor didn’t do much to show voters that it was capable or deserving of victory, but various unpopular actions by the Coalition left it badly trailing Labor, to the point where Abbott lost the leadership to Turnbull in an unexpected challenge in 2015.  While Turnbull had long been considered more popular among voters than Abbott, he made some poor decisions as well, particularly in relation to economic management and the perception of all but wealthy people losing income in order to help with paying off major budget debts, and Turnbull ended up leading the Coalition to a near-defeat.  Labor was probably never going to win a majority in its own right, but it came close to forcing the Coalition to need crossbench support in the House of Reps in order to govern.  This was a scenario that few would’ve predicted late last year, particularly after Turnbull had replaced Abbott as PM.

In terms of my predictions as an election enthusiast, they were mixed, like the election result itself.  The election confirmed my cynicism of uniform swings, whereby all seats on or below a given swing margin fall.  The polls predicted an overall swing of 3-4 per cent against the Coalition, and there was an overall swing of about 3.1 per cent in the end, but the Coalition was able to hold numerous seats on margins of less than that, whilst also losing seats on margins of more than that.  Mind you, I’d tipped this to happen, bearing in mind local factors which mightn’t have been picked up amid major polling, but I got many seat results wrong.

Coalition seats within the uniform swing range falling to Labor were Lyons, Solomon, Hindmarsh, Braddon, Eden-Monaro, and Lindsay.  Seats falling from above that swing were Macarthur, Bass, Macquarie, Cowan, Burt, Herbert, and Longman.  The Coalition also lost Mayo to a candidate affiliated with popular Independent Senator Nick Xenophon, meaning fourteen seats lost in all.  But the Coalition won Chisholm from Labor and Fairfax from an outgoing crossbencher.  These results equated to a net loss of twelve seats.

But the Coalition managed to hold Petrie, Capricornia, Banks, Robertson, and Page in spite of the fact that they were on or below the uniform swing.  Several other seats above the swing also stayed with the Coalition while others fell.  This was an erratic result.

I got Petrie, Capricornia, Robertson, Page, Reid, Bonner, and Brisbane wrong in terms of tipping seats to fall.  And I got Braddon, Bass, Macquarie, Burt, Herbert, Longman, and Mayo in terms of tipping seats to stay with the Coalition.  I also tipped the Coalition to win McEwen and Bruce from Labor, but Labor held both.

This narrow election win has been a setback for the Coalition, and especially for Turnbull, given how popular he seemed before the election.  But how much it hurts Turnbull is perhaps anyone’s guess for the moment.  The question will be how long the Coalition holds office with a narrow majority, capable of disappearing in one moment.



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