Elections are about policy, popularity … and maths.

As Hillary Clinton well knows, governments in democracies like the USA and Australia are determined by an accumulation of individual electoral wins – not the overall popular vote.

While the polls are currently putting Labor ahead of the Coalition in a two-party preferred nationwide race, Australia’s next government will be formed by the party that wins a 76 seat majority of the 151 electorates.

The majority of electorates across Australia won’t change party status, but about 35 seats are worth watching more closely. They are the seats Labor needs to retain, the seats the Coalition is at risk of losing, the seats currently held by independents and minor parties, and the seats being targeted by strong campaigns against the sitting members.

Some background

In 2016, Labor won 14 seats from the Coalition parties – taking its total from 55 to 69 seats out of the, then, 150 seats in the House of Representatives. The Coalition’s representation dropped from 90 to 76.

After a number of by-elections and resignations, the current split in the House is:

 20132016Current
COALITION907674
ALP556969
GREENS111
INDEPENDENT3 (Wilkie, McGowan, Palmer)2 (Wilkie, McGowan)4 (+ Phelps, Banks)
XENOPHON 11 (CA)
KATTER AP111

A redistribution of electorates by the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) in 2018 resulted in two new seats being created (Bean and Fraser) and one being abolished (Port Adelaide). The ALP is expected to win Bean (ACT) and Fraser (VIC), and drop one seat in the removal of Port Adelaide (sitting ALP MP Mark Butler has become the candidate for Hindmarsh).

ALP 70  + Coalition 74 + 7 other = 151

With a new total of 151 seats, the magic number for majority government (with a speaker) is still 76. The nomination of a speaker reduces the number by one, but the speaker can cast a deciding vote in the case of a 75/75 tie.

Obviously, winning 77 seats would provide for a more comfortable majority.

Seats Labor needs to retain

Labor won 14 seats in 2016 – many with slim margins. They held onto a few seats by just a handful of votes. The seats they will be working hard to retain in 2019 include:

  • NSW – Lindsay, Eden-Monaro, Macquarie, Barton, Macarthur, Dobell
  • QLD – Longman, Herbert
  • TAS – Braddon, Lyons, Bass
  • NT – Solomon
  • WA – Cowan

Seats the Coalition is at risk of losing

The Coalition holds a number of seats with very slim margins based on the 2016 results and the 2018 redistributions (the notional margins from the AEC based on new boundaries and previous election results, as well as the sitting government members, are in brackets). The margins are the swings required for the seats to change hands.

  • Corangamite VIC (0.03% in favour of ALP) (Sarah Henderson)
  • Dunkley VIC (1.03% in favour of ALP) (Chris Crewther)
  • Capricornia QLD (0.63% in favour of Coalition) (Michelle Landry)
  • Forde QLD (0.63% in favour of Coalition) (Bert van Manen)
  • Gilmore NSW (0.73% in favour of Coalition) (Warren Mundine, Liberal candidate)
  • Flynn QLD (1.04% in favour of Coalition) (Ken O’Dowd)
  • Grey SA (1.04% in favour of Coalition) (Rowan Ramsey)

Note the concentration of these seats with the smallest margins in Victoria and Queensland – two very different states with potentially different electoral priorities.

Seats currently held by independents and minor parties

  • Chisholm VIC (2.91% in favour of Coalition) (Julia Banks)
  • Indi VIC (5.52%) (Cathy McGowan)
  • WentworthNSW (1.22%) (Kerryn Phelps)
  • Mayo SA (2.92%) (Rebekah Sharkie)

Four seats are currently held by female independent MPs. Julia Banks, who is currently the Member for Chisholm, has announced she will run as an independent candidate in the seat of Flinders against sitting MP Greg Hunt.

Cathy McGowan is retiring at the election and independent Helen Haines will run in Indi.

Kerryn Phelps has held Wentworth since October 2018 following Malcolm Turnbull’s retirement from politics, and Georgina Downer is the Liberal candidate in the seat of Mayo, although Sharkie had a comfortable win against Downer at the July 2018 by-election.

Seats being targeted by campaigns against the sitting members

  • Dickson QLD (1.69%) (Peter Dutton)
  • WarringahNSW (11.55%) (Tony Abbott)
  • MenziesVIC (7.91%) (Kevin Andrews)
  • KooyongVIC (12.82%) (Josh Frydenberg)

The Agehas reported that Labor is also targeting the Victorian seats of Casey (4.54%),Deakin (6.44%),Flinders (7.01%)and Aston(7.41%) – margins in brackets. La Trobe(3.22%) will also be interesting to watch.

There are also the challenges to fend off from the Victorian Greens in Macnamara(formerly Melbourne Ports, 1.21%) and Wills(4.93%).

Electoral pendulum

The 35 seats mentioned above are worth watching for different reasons. There may be other seats where local campaigns or individual candidates make the contest close.

The electoral pendulum below lists all of the federal seats in order of the current notional margins – with ALP on the left and Coalition seats on the right. Seats held by independents and minor parties are at the very bottom.

Targeted or marginal seats are highlighted in bold. Large swings have been increasingly common at recent state elections, but the pendulum is useful in understanding which seats are, currently, most likely to determine who holds government after the 2019 election.

  • ALP = Australian Labor Party
  • LP = Liberal Party
  • LNP = Liberal National Party
  • GRNS = Greens
  • NP = National Party
  • KAP = Katter Australia Party
  • CA = Centre Alliance
 Margin (AEC) Held by ALP Margin (AEC) Held by Coalition
Herbert0.02QLDALPCorangamite0.03V
I
C
LP
Cowan0.68WAALPCapricornia0.63QLDLNP
Longman0.79QLDALPForde0.63QLDLNP
Lindsay1.11NSWALPGilmore0.73NSWLP
Macnamara1.21VICALPDunkley1.03VICLP
Cooper1.27VICALPFlynn1.04QLDLNP
Griffith1.43QLDALPGrey1.07SALP
Braddon1.73TASALPRobertson1.14NSWLP
Macquarie2.19NSWALPBanks1.44NSWLP
Eden-Monaro2.93NSWALPPetrie1.65QLDLNP
Isaacs2.98VICALPDickson1.69QLDLNP
Perth3.33WAALPHasluck2.05WALP
Lyons3.83TASALPPage2.3NSWNP
Bendigo3.87VICALPNicholls2.49VICNP
Richmond3.96NSWALPBoothby2.71SALP
Moreton4.02QLDALPLa Trobe3.22VICLP
Hotham4.21VICALPDawson3.37QLDLNP
Dobell4.81NSWALPBonner3.39QLDLNP
Wills4.93VICALPBarker3.43SALP
Bass5.42TASALPSwan3.59WALP
Jagajaga5.6VICALPPearce3.63WALP
Lilley5.68QLDALPLeichhardt3.95QLDLNP
McEwen6VICALPCasey4.54VICLP
Solomon6.09NTALPCowper4.56NSWNP
Greenway6.31NSWALPReid4.69NSWLP
Burt7.11WAALPSturt5.39SALP
Ballarat7.36VICALPBrisbane6QLDLP
Fremantle7.52WAALPStirling6.12WALP
Parramatta7.67NSWALPDeakin6.44VICLP
Blair8.14QLDALPCanning6.79WALP
Lingiari8.19NTALPFlinders7.01VICLP
Werriwa8.2NSWALPBowman7.07QLDLNP
Corio8.2VICALPHiggins7.38VICLP
Barton8.3NSWALPAston7.41VICLP
Adelaide8.3SAALPMonash7.51VICLP
Macarthur8.33NSWALPMenzies7.91VICLP
Hindmarsh8.43SAALPHinkler8.38QLDLNP
Kingsford Smith8.57NSWALPNew England8.52NSWNP
Bean8.85ACTNEWWide Bay8.91QLDLNP
Oxley9.01QLDALPRyan8.98QLDLNP
Shortland9.94NSWALPWannon9.15VICLP
Holt9.94VICALPFisher9.15QLDLNP
Maribyrnong10.4VICALPHughes9.33NSWLP
Franklin10.73TASALPWright9.62QLDLNP
Paterson10.74NSWALPBennelong9.72NSWLP
Makin10.79SAALPHume10.18NSWLP
Rankin11.3QLDALPFairfax10.87QLDLNP
Brand11.43WAALPMoore11.02WALP
Fenner11.84ACTALPDurack11.06WALP
McMahon12.11NSWALPTangney11.07WALP
Hunter12.46NSWALPFadden11.24QLDLNP
Canberra12.94ACTALPWarringah11.55NSWLP
Cunningham13.32NSWALPLyne11.63NSWNP
Kingston13.55SAALPMcPherson11.64QLDLNP
Whitlam13.72NSWALPCalare11.81NSWNP
Newcastle13.84NSWALPForrest12.56WALP
Bruce14.05VICALPGoldstein12.68VICLP
Lalor14.19VICALPKooyong12.82VICLP
Gellibrand15.12VICALPNorth Sydney13.61NSWLP
Sydney15.31NSWALPMoncrieff14.61QLDLNP
Grayndler15.82NSWALPO.Connor15.04WALP
Spence17.17SAALPParkes15.1NSWNP
Fowler17.49NSWALPGroom15.31QLDLNP
Watson17.58NSWALPCook15.39NSWLP
Gorton18.49VICALPMackellar15.74NSWLP
Chifley19.19NSWALPMaranoa15.86QLDLNP
Blaxland19.48NSWALPRiverina16.44NSWNP
Scullin19.58VICALPBerowra16.45NSWLP
Calwell19.73VICALPMitchell17.82NSWLP
Fraser19.79VICNEWGippsland18.21VICNP
    Mallee19.8VICNP
    Farrer20.53NSWLP
    Curtin20.7WALP
Melbourne19.04VICGRNSBradfield21.04NSWLP
Clark17.77TASINDEPChisholm2.91VICINDEP
Mayo2.92SACAWentworth1.22NSWINDEP
Kennedy11QLDKAPIndi5.52VICINDEP
  • ALP = Australian Labor Party
  • LP = Liberal Party
  • LNP = Liberal National Party
  • GRNS = Greens
  • NP = National Party
  • KAP = Katter Australia Party
  • CA = Centre Alliance