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Libs could lose 10 seats to Xenophon: internal party research

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Internal Labor Party analysis suggests the Liberals are in danger of losing 10 seats to the fledgling SA Best at the March election, while the ALP fancies its own chances of snaring at least two Opposition-held seats, InDaily can reveal.

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The revelation comes as a new opinion poll by Essential Vision suggests Labor is leading the election race on a 34 per cent primary vote, with Nick Xenophon’s start-up trailing both major parties on 22 per cent – a far cry from the 35 per cent it garnered in a separate Newspoll only last month.

But research conducted by a senior Labor insider – circulated within the party’s inner sanctum, and seen by InDaily –  maps the Xenophon party’s hopes based on a projection of Senate results across all South Australian polling booths at the last federal election in July 2016.

On the senate numbers, the Liberals would lose 10 seats to SA Best – and likely fall behind Xenophon’s party in terms of overall lower house numbers

Based on the location of the then-Nick Xenophon Team’s first-preference votes in 2016 transposed onto the new state electoral boundaries, there are 11 seats in which SA Best already outpolls one of the two major parties – and all but one of them are Liberal-held.

Bizarrely, Xenophon’s own prospective seat of Hartley is not one of them, although it is only marginally outside the range, with the NXT vote in Hartley booths trailing Labor in third place by only 526 votes in 2016.

Nonetheless, it is enough for some Labor insiders to hold out hope that former ALP frontbencher Grace Portolesi might emulate the “Nat Cook effect” – reproducing the feat of Labor’s candidate in the 2014 Fisher by-election – and overtake Xenophon, buoyed by Greens and other third party candidates’ preferences, to snare the seat on a two-party-preferred basis.

But InDaily understands it is the central seat of Adelaide, held by Rachel Sanderson, and David Speirs’ southern suburbs seat of Black that the ALP are most hopeful of snaring from the Liberals, again based on voting patterns in relevant booths at the 2016 poll.

The Liberals currently hold only 19 House of Assembly seats, although three more – Waite, Morphett and Mount Gambier – were won by the party at the last state election, with the incumbents (Martin Hamilton-Smith, Duncan McFetridge and Troy Bell) subsequently going independent for various reasons.

The two-party pendulum model for the recently redrawn boundaries would have the Liberals sitting on 27 seats with the same statewide result (although that counts Frome, held by independent Geoff Brock, on the Liberal side of the ledger).

But on the 2016 senate numbers – which, given Xenophon’s subsequent explosion in popularity, might be considered conservative – the Liberals would lose Chaffey, Finniss, Hammond, Heysen, Kavel, Morialta, Mount Gambier, Narungga (formerly Goyder), Schubert and Stuart to SA Best – and likely fall behind Xenophon’s party in terms of overall lower house seats.

On the same numbers, the only state Labor seat in which NXT finished second (and would thus take the seat after the distribution of preferences) was the Whyalla-based stronghold of Giles, where NXT ran a federal candidate in 2016 (Andrea Broadfoot, who almost ousted Liberal incumbent Rowan Ramsey in Grey).

It’s understood the figures would hold only on the assumption that Labor preferences SA Best above the Liberals in each seat – which they are yet to commit to doing.

Xenophon is yet to announce candidates for all the electorates, and has thus far committed to contest only around 20 of the 47 lower house seats.

But while the figures – if replicated in two months’ time – would send shivers up Liberal spines, they do raise (again) the potential folly of Xenophon nominating for Hartley, instead of neighbouring Morialta. It’s understood Portolesi intends to redistribute campaign material she used in 2014, which contained a glowing endorsement from then-supporter Xenophon that she was “an outstanding local member in getting things done”.

Labor heavyweights also believe the fact the redistribution saw strong Liberal booths in Kensington Park and Auldana shifted out of Hartley, while Newton – a hub of Adelaide’s Italian community – was shifted in, will benefit both Portolesi and the ALP.

While the figures may give Labor insiders some cause for optimism, the strong consensus remains that they will be unable to govern in their own right, and will need to negotiate with either SA Best (with or without Xenophon winning his seat) or a raft of prospective independents, including McFetridge, Bell, Brock and somewhat estranged Labor MP Frances Bedford.

However, the Essential poll, published yesterday, gives further credence to Jay Weatherill’s view – first reported by InDaily in November and restated this week – that Labor will win more seats than any other party at the March election.

The poll of 876 respondents puts Labor ahead on 34 per cent of the primary vote for the final quarter of last year, with the Liberals trailing on 31 per cent ahead of SA Best on 22 per cent – up just 4 points on the previous quarter, despite Xenophon announcing his own candidacy in October. The discrepancy between that and the Newspoll, which had Xenophon’s party a mile in front on 35 per cent, will raise some eyebrows about the methodology, although it still puts SA Best higher than it was in the 2016 Senate result, when it finished with 19.27 per cent.

The Essential poll puts the Greens on 8 per cent – a significant showing given their preferences traditionally flow strongly to Labor.

Interestingly, while the Newspoll did not calculate a two-party result given the strong showing for three competitors, the Essential Poll tentatively suggests a 2PP that would see Labor win the statewide vote – 51 to 49.

According to Essential, that two-party projection is “very much dependent on the flow of SA Best preferences” which are “approximated at 60/40 to the Liberals, which is the pollster’s estimate based on current polling”. At the federal election, however, NXT’s preferences flowed 60/40 the other way, in Labor’s favour.

The Essential Vision website says of its methodology that its data is “gathered from a weekly online omnibus conducted by Your Source… [an online panel] Essential Research has been utilizing… to conduct research on a week-by-week basis since November 2007”.

The sample of 876 is larger than the 800 polled for the Newspoll, and covers the same period (October to December 2017).

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