One term? I wonder

Waleed Aly’s long piece in today’s Fairfax press about Tony Abbott is thoughtful, but the headline it carries: No Way Abbott Can Now Budget For Second Term is too strong.

Every reader fell greedily upon that story, I assure you, but the headline hints at far more certainty than the excellent Mr Aly projects.  Here’s three reasons why “one-term Tony” will win the 2016 election, and one reason he might not…

1. Parliamentary majority. 

Source: ABC

In the lower house, the Coalition leads Labor 90 to 55. Labor needs to peg back 21 seats to win. If you look at the pendulum, that means they need to win every seat that the Coalition holds be a margin of 4.3 per cent or less, while not losing any of their own seats.  That’s a lot.

Winning a lot of seats will be hard for Labor, because it requires not just a swing but a lot of good candidates, a lot of organisation and a lot of money.

2. Sophomore surge

In theory, someone who was an unknown at their first election becomes familiar at the second (sophomore) election. They enjoy a surge in popularity. This effect, if it exists, will help the Coalition a lot – they introduced 19 new MPs.

As the name implies, the sophomore surge is a US concept. Is it real in Australia?

Some bloggers argue yes.

This book written about the 2010 election thinks so:


That means that even if Labor gets 51 per cent of the vote in 2016, it can easily lose a lot of important seats and be stuck in opposition.

3. Budget trickery

Tough budgets now lay the foundation for easy budget later. I wrote about this last week. 

To most people, the grumbling of early 2014 [will be] as relevant to the political situation as the result of the 1974 VFL Grand final. Labor can’t get over the broken promises and keeps talking about the past, while Mr Abbott is focused on the future.

The evidence for the efficacy of this approach is mounting. Not only Victorian Premier Denis Napthine but also NZ PM John Key have unveiled more generous budgets on the eve of elections. (NZ is introducing free doctor’s visits just as we abolish them. Time to move to Wellington?)

4. But the polls are very bad.

55-45 is BAD.

I can see just one good example of a government coming back from that, in the early 90s. Keating took over a very unpopular government and won the next election.

Source: News


Howard was losing by almost as much prior to the 2001 election. I also commend to you this graphic of the newspoll:


If this polling continues, expect newspapers to push the idea Malcolm Turnbull should take over from Mr Abbott. Not only would it likely help the Liberals, the media have clearly learned that a good leadership challenge narrative attract eyeballs and, crucially, elevates their (our?) own importance.

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Thomas the Think Engine is the blog of a trained economist. It comes to you from Melbourne Australia.

3 thoughts on “One term? I wonder”

  1. My prediction, subject to unknown unknowns, is that the libs will win a second term but not with Abbott at the helm. I’m not sure of Abbotts real beliefs or politics but his strategies, tactics and personality are well known and they are more liabilities in government than they were strengths in opposition. We are also in an era that is fundamentally different from the 90’s or any period before that although the media is stuck in the old narratives.
    Both major parties are now without a significant social base or in the ALP’s case a coherent ideology as well. This makes appeals to popularity and populism much stronger than they would have been in the past – see PUP. The media still haven’t figured out the real reason why Rudd, despite his failings was so popular and Gillard, despite her abilities so unpopular. It comes down to the vagaries of popularity not policy and direct appeals to the electorate.
    There may not be the traditional clear left/right divides any longer but there are boundaries that if politicians cross the public will not follow and the budget crossed a few of them. The reason they did this is perhaps a foolhardy belief that what their core supporters believe is shared by the general voter public. Catering to the small party base is after all how Abbott fell unexpectedly into the leadership in the first place.
    If you are prone to conspiracy theories then this budget might have been engineered by Hockey to do in an already low popularity Abbott so he can have his tilt at the leadership. Stranger things have happened.


    1. Michael, great comment. I like your analysis of why appeals to popularism are more important these days. This budget seems like the opposite of that and that may sink Abbott.
      But to my mind the “chaos” narrative is the most powerful in modern politics, and changing leaders – or even talking about changing leaders – opens up libs to accusations they are “in turmoil.”
      I suspect that as with Mr Howard, they will stick with Mr Abbott until the ship hits the ocean floor.


      1. Thanks. I wish I could take credit for the ideas in my comment but alas they are just a pale, less articulate version of what much smarter people have written elsewhere. The leadership change/disunity thing is an interesting one. I’m not sure it’s the killer it’s often portrayed as. The Rudd coup was a shock because he was popular and the justification for it was really an internal party one that they were rightly not going to sell to the public. I was surprised at how little disruption there was after Ted Baillieu was replaced in comparison to Rudd. That still has me a bit baffled.


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