Archive for December, 2008

Yet more maps: South Australia

I’ve finally finished off my electoral map of South Australia. The map is based on the new boundaries for the 2010 election and can be found at the maps page. Next stop, Queensland’s new 2009 boundaries.

2009 election preview: India

At the recent US election, over 131 million people cast votes in the presidential contest. Yet Indian elections take place on a much larger scale.  The last federal election, in 2004, saw 389 million votes cast for 543 seats in the Lok Sabha, the Indian lower house.

The world’s largest democracy goes back to the polls by May 2009. The last election in 2004 saw the government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, of the Bharatiya Janata Party, and his allies in the National Democratic Alliance, defeated by the United Progressive Alliance, dominated by the Indian National Congress, led by Sonia Gandhi.

Following the election Gandhi declined to become Prime Minister, with the Prime Ministership going to former Finance Minister Manmohan Singh.

The Indian party system is simultaneously fractured and coalesced into two major party alliances. The 2004 election saw 39 parties win seats in Parliament. Yet the election was a clear contest between the UPA and the NDA, which between them covered 21 of those 39 parties, and the result was a clear majority for the United Progressive Alliance. The two alliances are dominated by the Indian National Congress, a centrist party dominated by the Gandhi family, and the Hindu/nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party respectively. In addition, 60 seats are held by a variety of communist and socialist parties who have lined up as a third alliance. Many regional-based parties run independently of the alliances and collectively hold over a quarter of the Lok Sabha’s seats.

Elections take place over a number of stages. In 2004, four election days were held between April 20 and May 10, with constituencies being allocated to different election dates. Counting did not commence until the final votes had been cast, with ballot boxes being opened on May 13.

The Indian general election isn’t the typical sort of election I would cover. However, it is a Commonwealth country using a similar first-past-the-post electoral system. Add that to the fact that it is the world’s largest electoral contest, and it is a fascinating demonstration of Westminster politics outside its Western habitat. Clearly I’m no expert on Indian politics, so if anyone is an expert, please comment below.

Canada electoral map finished up

As a late Christmas present, I have finally completed my Google Earth electoral map of Canada. I haven’t completed the three territory ridings of Yukon, Western Arctic and Nunavut. These ridings cover a huge amount of territory and would take me a lot longer to complete. Since I am hoping to complete the new boundaries in Queensland, South Australia and the UK, I’m gonna leave those three ridings for a later date. You can find the Canadian map along with my other electoral maps at my maps page.

2009 election preview: United Kingdom

The next UK general election must be held by June 2010, so strictly it may not take place within 2009. All UK general elections since 1979 have taken place within the April-June period, so the only two likely election date possibilities are in the spring of 2009 or the spring of 2010. There is intense speculation in the UK at the moment of the prospects of an early election in 2009. While Brown remains well behind in the polls, there is an argument that his increased popularity in recent polls gives him his only shot of securing another term in office.

Gordon Brown has had a bumpy time as Prime Minister. He led early in his term, which led to speculation in late 2007. The first half of 2008 was dominated by disastrous polls and by-elections for Labour, losing two safe seats (one to the Conservatives and one to the SNP) and performing poorly in other races.

Because of the large number of seats held by parties other than Labour and Conservative, there is a significant possibility of a hung parliament at the next election. It is estimated that a swing of between 1.6% and 6.9% would result in a hung Parliament. The Liberal Democrats hold 62 seats, the SNP holds seven with prospects of large gains, and seats are also held by Plaid Cymru in Wales and all 18 seats in Northern Ireland are held by local parties. Collectively a party can win a substantial lead in seats without winning a majority.

Furthermore, electoral geography substantially favours Labour. It is estimated that the Conservatives would need to win by at least 6% in order to be the largest party in Parliament.

Opinion polls have favoured the Conservatives since October 2007, when polls turned against Brown. Conservative leads became solid in early 2008, with Labour failing to poll over 30% in any poll from May to September. The Glenrothes by-election in November happened as Labour gained ground in the middle of the global financial crisis.

The latest polls still put Labour well behind the Conservatives, but within range of winning a minority government at an early election.

Prospects for minor parties vary. The Liberal Democrats polled 22% in 2005, their best result since polling over 20% in the 1980s as the SDP-Liberal Alliance. However, nearly all opinion polls in the last two years have put the LibDems in the high teens, well below the heights of 2005. This does not necessarily mean that the Liberal Democrats will lose ground at the next election, but their rise appears to have been blunted by the resurgence of a credible Opposition.

The Scottish National Party currently hold seven seats in Westminster, six won in 2005 and a seventh won at the Glasgow East by-election. The SNP won office with a massive swing at the Scottish election in 2007. Despite falling short at the Glenrothes by-election, it appears that the SNP are on track to win a substantial number of Scottish seats, making them a player in their own right in Westminster, akin to the Bloc Quebecois rising in Canadian federal politics.

Plaid Cymru, the Welsh nationalist party, have made nowhere near as much gains as the SNP, but could be expected to pick up extra seats at the expense of Labour in the next election.

Considering the positions of the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish Nationalists, an interesting scenario that is entirely plausible is that we could see a similar situation in the UK as we currently are seeing in Canada, with a strong left-of-centre minor party and left-of-centre separatist party controlling the balance of power. It will be fascinating to see the consequences in the UK if the LibDems and the SNP are finally given a taste of power.

2009 election preview: Queensland state election

The Queensland Labor government will be attempting to win a fifth term in office at the state election in 2009. The election must be held by September 2009, three years after the last election in 2006, but could be held at any time in 2009. In particular, the Bligh government may decide to avoid a nasty budget in May by calling an early election. In addition to attempting to win a fifth term in office, Anna Bligh is also aiming to be the first female Premier to win an election in her own right.

The current government was first elected at the 1998 election, led by Peter Beattie, before winning re-election in 2001, 2004 and 2006. With the exception of a shortly-lived National minority government in the mid-1990s, the ALP has held power for the last two decades. The September 2006 election saw a slightly-reduced ALP majority, with Beattie remaining dominant. Beattie resigned one year later in September 2007, succeeded by Anna Bligh.

The biggest political news of this year in Queensland was the merger of the two Queensland conservative parties into the Liberal National Party (the “LNP”), led by former National leader Lawrence Springborg. After years of intermittent coalition conflict, the two parties will be going to the 2009 election as a single unit.

The only regular opinion polls in Queensland state politics are performed by Newspoll, who bring out a poll every second month. Labor has remained dominant in the polls, with the Opposition’s performance peaking at 49% 2PP in the first post-merger poll. However, the recent December poll has pushed the ALP back to a 57-43 2PP lead over the LNP.

The 2006 election resulted in the ALP holding 59 seats to the LNP’s 25 seats, with 4 Independents and 1 remaining One Nation MP. A loss of 15 ALP seats would result in the government losing its majority, while the LNP would need to win 20 seats to form a majority. According to the pendulum, such a seat change would require a swing of between 7.2% and 8.3%.

Labor is facing many of the same issues as every long-term Labor government, although the Queensland government seems to be performing better compared to the similarly-aged Labor governments along the east coast. However, it remains clear that, with the exception of the Joh Bjelke-Peterson era, the ALP has dominated the last ninety years of Queensland politics.

Despite the merger, many of the central issues holding the coalition back from government remain in place. The Liberal Party consistently outpolled the Nationals in terms of primary votes, and most of the ALP marginal seats were contested by the Liberals. This resulted in the problematic position where the Nationals, as the senior coalition partner in Parliament, were in a position where they would fall into the position of junior coalition partner in any new coalition government. As long as the Nationals dominated the coalition, many natural Liberal voters refused to vote for a government that would be led by the Nationals. Despite the LNP attempting to claim the Liberal mantle, it doesn’t seem to be capable of overcoming the difficulty in a rural-dominated party trying to win government in suburban seats. The LNP was effectively a National takeover of the Liberal Party.

As the only state without any proportional representation, Queensland has always been difficult for the Greens. The Greens have never managed to win a single seat in Queensland, and the first Greens MP, Ronan Lee, defected from the ALP earlier in 2008. While his electorate of Indooroopilly is a strong Greens electorate, it will be extremely difficult for Lee or any other Greens candidate to win in the upcoming election. Lee holds a traditionally Labor Liberal electorate and would have found it difficult to be re-elected as a Labor candidate. In all likelihood the Greens will lose Indooroopilly and will again be reduced to no representation in the Queensland state parliament.

2009 election preview

With Christmas coming up soon and little in the way of electoral news, I thought I’d spend this week going through the major elections expected in 2009. At the moment, the big ones from my perspective are:

  • Queensland general election, expected by September.
  • Indian federal election, expected by May.
  • European Parliament election, in June.
  • United Kingdom general election, which must be held by mid-2010 but could be held in 2009.
  • German federal election, to be held in September.
  • Indonesian presidential election, in July, and legislative election in April.
  • British Columbia provincial election in May, along with a referendum on introducing the Single Transferable Vote electoral system.

I’ll get started with Queensland later tonight.

Minnesota Senate update

I’ve avoided trying to properly cover the ongoing count to determine the winner of the Senate seat in Minnesota, between Republican Senator Norm Coleman and Democrat Al Franken. The best place to follow it all has been FiveThirtyEight.com.

In the last day the Canvassing Board have been resolving challenges, and the trend seems to be towards a significant advantage for Al Franken. FiveThirty Eight predicts Franken leading by 251 votes at the end of the count. I’m still not sure how long this is going on for, but Franken has to now be considered the favourite.

However, the Canvassing Board must now consider 5000 withdrawn challenges on ballots and restore the ballots to their original pile. As Franken withdrew about 300 more challenges than Coleman, you would expect this would reduce the margin down to a handful of votes either way.

Queensland redistribution prospects

In addition to New South Wales losing a seat, Queensland will be gaining one. For the purpose of analysis, I broke up the state’s 29 districts into six regions. Because 29 is a prime number, one of the six regions has four seats instead of five. All six regions are over quota, the largest being the northern Queensland region, with the five northernmost seats clocking up 5.25 quotas, while the five seats around the Gold Coast and south of Brisbane clocking up 5.23 quotas. Looking at the numbers, it would be most likely that the new seat would be on the southern edge of Brisbane, pushing the seats in South-East Queensland further out. However, there isn’t as much of clear trends in Queensland as there are in NSW, where the options are clear.

NSW redistribution prospects

There will be a redistribution this year which should see NSW lose its 49th seat to Queensland, which will require one seat to be abolished and the state distributed into 48 districts.

Using the enrolment statistics of 28 November this year, I have done some analysis of each seat’s enrolment levels. Of course, these will change before the redistribution is completed, but it can give us an idea.

First of all, I divided the state into seven areas of seven seats each. This demonstrates that the seven seats in the centre of Sydney, as well as the seven on the north shore, both have significantly more votes than the average. In particular, Wentworth, Kingsford Smith and Bennelong, which have all got more than 5% more than the average voters per seat. The seats of Sydney and Lowe have fallen well below the average, but can be compensated by the neighbouring seats without the need to abolish any seats. The fourteen seats covering the eastern suburbs, inner west, north shore, northern beaches, and out to Berowra and Mitchell, make up a total of 13.94 quotas under the new 48-seat model, meaning that it’s unlikely a seat will be abolished in the eastern half of Sydney.

I also grouped the seven seats covering southern Sydney. This includes the seats covering Sutherland, Bankstown, Liverpool and the Macarthur region. This is the only part of Sydney with falling quotas, with the seven seats making 6.77 quotas. In particular, Fowler, Werriwa and Macarthur are all well below a quota, and if no seat is abolished Macarthur will have to pick up territory from Hume to its south.

In contrast, the North-Western Sydney region, including Macquarie and Reid, is much closer to seven quotas, with high voter numbers in central Western Sydney around Reid and Parramatta.

The seats to the south of Sydney are also below quota, like South-West Sydney. The Illawarra seats of Cunningham, Throsby and Gilmore are well below quota, and indeed Malcolm Mackerras in yesterday’s Crikey argued for the abolition of the seat of Throsby, in southern Wollongong. Hume, covering the rural territory between Macarthur and the ACT, also has fallen significantly below the quota.

The seven seats in the Central Coast and the Hunter is lying right on average for all seven seats, which translates to 6.85 quotas once the 49th seat is abolished.

The seats in northern NSW and inland NSW are also falling, particularly Calare and Parkes, covering the former seat of Gwydir, abolished in 2006. Three of the four north-coast seats are falling as an average, particularly Lyne.

So what are the options? Seats in northern Sydney, central Sydney and the Hunter are on track to maintain their 28 seats in those regions. It seems the three main options for a seat to be abolished are:

  • Throsby/Gilmore – As Mackerras has argued, both of these seats are well below quota and either could be abolished, which would simultaneously push Hume and Eden-Monaro further in towards Wollongong and allow the Hume-Macarthur border to be pushed further south of Picton, providing the extra numbers needed to shore up the seats in South-West Sydney.
  • Macarthur – Macarthur is the least populous seat in NSW, and is bordered by below-average seats in Hume and Werriwa. However, Macarthur, Werriwa and Fowler cover the new South-West Growth Area, which would mean a significant increase in voters in the near-future, which could require creation of a new south-west Sydney seat. It would also drag Hume into Campbelltown, resulting in a seat stretching from the outskirts of Canberra to the outskirts of Sydney. Macarthur also covers the newest NSW state seat of Wollondilly, created before the 2007 election, demonstrating that the region will overall be increasing in size.
  • Calare/Parkes – Despite losing a seat in the last redistribution, the numbers of voters in the northwest of the state continue to fall further behind the pace. However, it was highly controversial in local communities when Gwydir was abolished, and the redistribution will likely try to avoid repeating the experience.

Gordon Brown coming back in the UK

Gordon Brown had a pretty awful year, with losses of safe seats in by-elections and massive poll leads for David Cameron’s Conservatives. But since the beginning of the global financial crisis, Brown’s seemingly successful attempts to get his plans adopted by other western countries, and his recovery in the Glenrothes by-election, Gordon Brown has appeared to be back in the game. This has been reflected in the latest Guardian/ICM poll, which has reduced the previous 45-30 lead for the Tories to a bare 5-point lead, with the Conservatives on 38, Labour on 33 and the Liberal Democrats up one to 19.

Julian Glover at the Guardian predicts that this could be the trigger for an early election in 2009. Since Brown cancelled plans in late 2007 for an early election, it has been expected that his long-suffering government would push out the next election to mid-2010, the latest time to hold a general election. Yet it appears that Brown’s handling of the financial crisis has given him a window to have a shot at holding onto power. The latest poll would suggest Labour coming out as the largest party in a hung parliament, which would likely lead to a second election not much later, and would likely resemble Canada’s recent history, which saw a Prime Minister replaced by his finance minister who then lost his government’s majority and forced to an early election.

However, the point remains that, while Brown could call an election any day, it remains hard to see him staying in power, and a late election in 2010 remains the most likely outcome.