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The Coalition’s potential paths back to power

May 30, 2022 - 10:00 -- Admin

Since the election, there have been numerous arguments from right-wing Liberal Party figures that the party should give up on winning back the inner city seats they have lost, and instead look elsewhere to rebuild their numbers.

Former prime minister Tony Abbott published an op-ed in the Telegraph urging the party to look to the suburbs and the regions to replace the seats lost in the inner cities. Yet the Coalition are increasingly dominant in rural Australia, so the alternatives to the inner cities are slim pickings.

So what are the seats that have the smallest margins for the Coalition after this election, and how would this path to victory change if the Coalition gave up on the inner city seats they lost?

For this blog post, I’m assuming that Labor wins Macnamara and the Liberal Party wins Deakin and Gilmore. In this scenario, the Coalition would’ve lost ten seats I’m defining as “inner city”, including the six teal gains, two Greens gains, and the Labor gains in Higgins and Swan. This made up more than half of the Liberal Party’s eighteen losses. The Coalition also lost four seats I would define as being “multicultural middle” seats: Bennelong, Chisholm, Reid and arguably Tangney. Labor won two other seats in the Perth area (Hasluck and Pearce), as well as Boothby in the Adelaide area and Robertson on the NSW central coast.

Assuming the current seats stay with the current leading party, the Coalition will be left with 59 seats, and thus will need seventeen more seats for a majority.

This first table shows the eighteen seats with the slimmest majority against the Coalition. I have assumed a 2.0% margin for the Greens seat of Brisbane, since we don’t yet have a proper Greens vs Liberal 2CP margin there. I’ve added one extra since the election is never about trying to achieve the slimmest possible majority.

Seat
Margin
Geography

Lyons (TAS)
ALP 0.50%
Rural

Bennelong (NSW)
ALP 0.98%
Middle suburbia

Curtin (WA)
IND 1.04%
Inner City

Lingiari (NT)
ALP 1.28%
Rural

Ryan (QLD)
GRN 1.71%
Inner City

Tangney (WA)
ALP 1.73%
Middle suburbia

Higgins (VIC)
ALP 1.87%
Inner City

Brisbane (QLD)
GRN 2.00%
Inner City

Robertson (NSW)
ALP 2.19%
Outer suburbia

Mackellar (NSW)
IND 2.24%
Inner City

Boothby (SA)
ALP 2.41%
Middle suburbia

Goldstein (VIC)
IND 2.74%
Inner City

Paterson (NSW)
ALP 3.17%
Rural

Kooyong (VIC)
IND 3.25%
Inner City

North Sydney (NSW)
IND 3.25%
Inner City

McEwen (VIC)
ALP 3.30%
Rural

Hunter (NSW)
ALP 3.81%
Rural

Wentworth (NSW)
IND 3.90%
Inner City

This list includes nine inner city seats (all of the Coalition losses except Swan), three “middle suburban” seats, five rural seats (including two that border Newcastle) and just one outer suburban seat: Robertson. The seventeenth seat on the list, Hunter, has a margin of 3.8%.

This list is mostly a mix of conventional marginal seats and the shock losses from 2022.

So what does the path look like if you exclude those nine inner city seats? This table shows the top eighteen seats excluding inner city prospects.

Seat
Margin
Geography

Lyons (TAS)
ALP 0.50%
Rural

Bennelong (NSW)
ALP 0.98%
Middle suburbia

Lingiari (NT)
ALP 1.28%
Rural

Tangney (WA)
ALP 1.73%
Middle suburbia

Robertson (NSW)
ALP 2.19%
Outer suburbia

Boothby (SA)
ALP 2.41%
Middle suburbia

Paterson (NSW)
ALP 3.17%
Rural

McEwen (VIC)
ALP 3.30%
Rural

Hunter (NSW)
ALP 3.81%
Rural

Parramatta (NSW)
ALP 4.22%
Middle suburbia

Hasluck (WA)
ALP 5.14%
Outer suburbia

Werriwa (NSW)
ALP 5.17%
Outer suburbia

Reid (NSW)
ALP 5.22%
Middle suburbia

Blair (QLD)
ALP 5.25%
Outer suburbia

Shortland (NSW)
ALP 5.37%
Provincial suburbia

Dobell (NSW)
ALP 6.49%
Outer suburbia

Isaacs (VIC)
ALP 6.5%
Middle suburbia

Chisholm (VIC)
ALP 6.57%
Middle suburbia

    The seats added to the list are pretty much entirely suburban seats, mostly in the capital cities but also including Shortland, which is basically a suburb of Newcastle.
    The various seat categories now include:
    5 seats in the Hunter-Central Coast region of New South Wales (every seat except Newcastle itself).5 seats in multicultural middle suburbia in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth5 rural seats (with Hunter overlapping between categories).4 other middle-outer suburban seats: Boothby, Isaacs, Blair and Werriwa.

Some of these seats are conventional marginals and have often been in play, but others have always been in Labor’s camp, such as Shortland, Blair and Werriwa. The seventeenth seat, Isaacs, has a 6.5% margin, which is quite a stretch.

So is there a theoretical path to victory without the inner cities? Yes, there is, but it won’t be easy. There is some evidence that Labor is slipping in places like Werriwa, but the Coalition would need a lot of things to go their way, and significantly shift demographics that have traditionally not voted for the Liberal Party to gain some of these seats.

I’d also note that the Coalition didn’t only lose seats thanks to alienating inner-city voters. They also alienated Chinese-Australian voters, and there are five multicultural seats with large Chinese-Australian populations on this list of targets.

Finally, what are Labor’s prospects for increasing their numbers beyond the likely 76 seats they seem likely to win? There are a bunch of conventional marginal seats where they didn’t break through in 2022 that remain on the table as prospects for Labor to increase its majority in 2025. While Labor has the potential to take some of the seats won by the Greens in inner Brisbane, it seems unlikely they will have any room to grow with the independent seats, thus limiting prospects for growth in the inner cities.

This list shows the most marginal fifteen seats where Labor came second. A majority of these seats are either in Victoria or Queensland. It’s worth noting Griffith and Brisbane don’t appear on this list, since Labor won’t make the two-candidate-preferred, but they will end up being quite close.

Seat
Margin
Geography

Gilmore (NSW)
LIB 0.12%
Rural

Deakin (VIC)
LIB 0.36%
Middle suburbia

Menzies (VIC)
LIB 1.00%
Middle suburbia

Sturt (SA)
LIB 1.16%
Inner city

Moore (WA)
LIB 1.25%
Outer suburbia

Casey (VIC)
LIB 1.59%
Outer suburbia

Bass (TAS)
LIB 1.88%
Provincial

Dickson (QLD)
LNP 1.93%
Outer suburbia

Fowler (NSW)
IND 2.45%
Middle suburbia

Flynn (QLD)
LNP 2.57%
Rural

Monash (VIC)
LIB 3.07%
Rural

Bonner (QLD)
LNP 3.14%
Middle suburbia

Aston (VIC)
LIB 3.18%
Middle suburbia

Leichhardt (QLD)
LNP 3.35%
Provincial

Longman (QLD)
LNP 3.37%
Outer suburbia

This list only includes one inner city seat – Sturt, in Adelaide.

The list also includes five middle suburban seats: Aston, Deakin and Menzies in Melbourne; Fowler in Sydney and Bonner in Brisbane. Another four are on the outskirts: Dickson and Longman in northern Brisbane, Casey in outer Melbourne and Moore in Perth. That’s ten out of fifteen seats in the big cities.

The other five seats are in the regions. They include Bass and Leichhardt (both of which are dominated by a single regional city) and more rural Gilmore, Flynn and Monash. Monash is an interesting inclusion: the seat under its former name of McMillan had been held by Labor as recently as the 2001 election, but had since ceased to be a key seat.

So while this has election has been focused on the inner suburbs, Labor’s prospects for growth lay elsewhere: mostly in the middle and outer suburbs, but it also includes some regional seats. It does include one seat in central Queensland, but the other central Queensland seats are much safer, with Dawson and Herbert having margins over 10%. But it also includes a number of other seats that have not been serious marginal seats in recent years: Aston, Menzies and Casey in eastern Melbourne particularly come to mind.

There certainly are plausible gains for the Coalition if they decide to eschew the inner cities, but they won’t be that easy, and Labor will have the advantage of not having to defend a slew of inner city seats. The alternative path to victory for the Coalition isn’t as easy as some Liberal members make it out to be.