Saturday, 12 April 2014



So the good news is we only got one wrong. Aaand the good news is also the bad news. For the last week the expected results have been sitting at LIB: 3, ALP: 1, GRN: 1, PUP: 1. The last Liberal seat is looking pretty firm but could cave to the ALP. Initially close, the Palmer candidate for the penultimate seat is leading by almost 2% of the vote by count 35, so this is pretty certain now.

I could point to the sudden, meteoric rise of the PUP, which makes predictions difficult (especially based on past trends). Or I could indicate just how counter to the normal trend it is for WA to elect two candidates not from the two major parties. Or I could stress that the low voter turnout (as low as 69.82 in the division of Fremantle) means a lot of the less politically-engaged – a traditionally rich hunting ground for the major parties – skewed things a little. But I wont. Instead, I'll just mention that I could mention these things so that I don't look like I'm just making excuses and hope no-one notices that in the process I did mention them and I am just making excuses.

So, with only 6 seats we had no tossups to play with and each error is roughly 16% of the prediction. Since I matched the baseline we get no points there; instead we just have a rating of 84% which is quite poor in general. But Senate elections are a nightmare anyhow, so whatever. I don't need to get things 100% right to feel validated in the way I spend my spare time.

Stupid flippin' senate...

So, here's how the upper house looks now:

And here is how the Carbon Tax repeal is looking:

Also note, the MEP will – since they have so few policies of their own – be voting largely alongside the PUP, making the repeal look more like 40:35 with 1 unknown.

This is why Tony Abbot has declared the result a validation of his climate policy, even though there is a suggestion that as a referendum on the carbon tax, the results reflect an anti-repeal sentiment with the shift against the Libs and to the Greens. (Personally I think this is ridiculous, since the swing from the Liberals will be largely to PUP, while the swing to the Greens will come mostly from the ALP, but in the interests of a fuller coverage I bring you these opinions anyway.)

So, no mid-year double-disillusion election for us. Which is a little disappointing from a recreational psephological perspective, but probably a huge relief to the not-turning-up sector of WA who have had local, state, federal and federal re-run elections all in close succession.

What's up with PUP?

Curse you for foiling my predictions Mr Palmer. This is not the first time I have had occasion to say this, and it seems the Australian public is determined that it will not be the last. In February I typed that

'I personally think the PUP … was a joke vote... I think that this makes the Palmer brand into a one-hit wonder for two reasons: firstly, now that Palmer holds the federal seat of Fairfax he has begun to look like an almost credible voting option, and secondly, jokes are only funny the first time.'

However, I also observed that:

'That said, if the Internet has taught me anything (and I doubt it has) it is that people will keep running with a joke or meme for years after its peak.'

If I were to summarise my response to the Palmer victory in WA as a meme, it would be a cross between Picard Facepalm and First World Problems Woman and look something like this:

I'd also occasionally add the word 'face' between Clive's first and last names...

Now just to be clear, I don't object to Clive creating a political party or running for office. And I don't object to people exercising their right to vote for whomever they support.* And compared to some of the other groups that have run for – and won – seats, I don't even really object to his policies.

I also want to stress that, despite his media image, I do not think Mr Palmer is an idiot, an incompetent or a madman. He has, evidently, tapped into the zeitgeist of the modern political landscape. Sensing a growing dissatisfaction with both major parties and the diminishing view of the Greens as a protest vote, Palmer was not the only political aspirant to attempt to emerge as the new 'others' vote last year.

Most notably, Katter's Australia Party did almost as well as Palmer's United Party despite being eclipsed in the media by the latter. Had Palmer not been on the stage, the KAP would now be in the same position as the PUP today or better. Instead, Katter's party has largely fallen by the wayside, and Palmer's has gone on to more or less monopolise the votes of the uninterested and the fed-up. By being the harmless, blundering buffoon who rebuilds the Titanic and Jurassic Park, Clive has become the darling of the media, receiving huge swathes of media space and time -- and far less difficult and probing questions -- than other minor or major parties.

I have not seen anything to suggest that Palmer is a particularly savvy political operator. But I have seen enough to convince me he is taking advice from one.

Palmer is not an idiot; he is merely a man who understands the value of wearing the jester's hat. That will, I suspect, prove to be a difficult crown to wear. Too little exposure or odd-ball statements will see him fade from centre-stage as quickly as Katter and the other aspiring protest vote parties. Too much, and he will become as unpalatable as the major players.

Having demonstrated his appeal is closer to that of the enduring meme than the soon-forgotten bon mot of polite dinner conversation, Palmer could linger for some time.

But the reason I consider the rise of the PUP to be so unfortunate is that it demonstrates a persistent apathy and insincerity among voters. This is not another criticism of compulsory attendance. Well, it is, but it is not just another criticism of compulsory attendance. It's also a criticism of the quality of discourse between the major parties, and the level of informative reporting (on major and minor party policies) in the media, and political (particularly youth) engagement, and the appeal of an amusing candidate whose policies are largely unknown, and people unwilling to put in the time to find a minor party they support, and a thousand other ills niggling at the ballots. None big enough to undermine our political system, but all of them disappointing.

It is not the presence of Palmer in Canberra that concerns me. But I suspect his primary vote is probably larger than the number of people who know what he stands for, and that can never be a good sign.

* By support, however, I mean agree with the policies and positions of the party. Not just thinking 'Hahaha, Candidate. Welp, lets put a '1' in that box then...'

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