After the weekend by-elections in which the Liberals easily retained the safe seats of Higgins and Bradfield a spate of commentary alleging a revival of Liberal fortunes. It is difficult to interpret contests in which Labor did not run a candidate, but the argument is that the Liberal margin over the Greens at the by-election increased most over the 2007 Liberal margin over labor in the more Labor inclined booths in both electorates. Did this occur? A problem with Bradfield is that polling places changed for the by-election, but in Higgins the polling places were unchanged and Higgins has more Labor areas. There is a slight tendency for the Liberal swing to increase with the 2007 level of labor support (R-Sq = 0.35) but it is slight and much of it is accounted for one booth. There is a simple explanation for this: in a Liberal-Green contest some Labor voters will prefer the Liberals. In the 2007 Australian Election Survey 18% of Labor voters said they would never vote for the Greens. Not enough time to analyse this group but I don’t doubt they would have been be disproportionately lower-income and less educated. Higgins was a vote against the Greens not a vote for Tony Abbott. The Greens are seen by voters as a radical left party.
Noteworthy to see the rightward drift of the Liberals under Abbott. Sharman Stone soon to be dumped as Immigration spokesperson complains that:
It will be essential that the moderates that remain in the party continue to steer through the middle ground, ensuring that the real grassroots of the party continues to build in multicultural communities…After all, we were the party that abolished the White Australia policy with Harold Holt in 1966.
True, but the abolition of the White Australia Policy was unpopular among many conservatives. The influx of Indochinese refugees under the Fraser Liberal government was tolerated by the right principally because they were preoccupied by the threat of Labor after the Whitlam experience. When in political trouble the Liberals are often inclined to believe that an anti-immigration campaign is the road to political success. A forgotten story of Australian politics is how many Liberals tried to campaign on immigration at the 1972 election, Labor to Power is interesting on this. For Abbott this is a problem because his personal views on immigration and multiculturalism diverge from Liberal conservatives, thus he dumps Stone to appease the right, but he won’t give the position to a conservative.