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Can Turnbull expand the Liberal constituency?

By Graham Young - posted Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Malcolm Turnbull  will need to redefine the Liberal constituency in order to win an election.

Every time I have tested Turnbull as leader against Abbott in one of our polls he has been preferred leader, but by Labor and Greens voters, not Liberal voters.

When he was then put up against the ALP Prime Minister, it was a case of “Thanks, but no thanks, we already have someone to vote for.”


I haven’t tested him against Shorten yet, but my suspicion is it will be the same result.

Turnbull is a centrist and pragmatist, which means he will struggle to carry the hearts, although he may capture the votes, of the grass roots of the Liberal Party.

He is also a plutocrat, and that gives him problems with the non-Green minor party voters, who have demonstrated that while they might loathe Green Labor, they are prepared to give them their preferences, after first preferencing the latest maverick like Palmer or Katter.

Of course some of them have already voted for a plutocrat in Palmer, but Palmer is untidy and the class buffoon, while Malcolm is dux. That creates an entirely different dynamic.

At the moment it is these voters’ preferences that are determining most elections in Australia, and it has been that way almost as long as I can remember. They were Howard’s battlers, and Menzies “forgotten people”.

So if Turnbull is not to be wedged from the right and the left he is going to have to expand the centre.


Is that possible when Shorten has retreated from the left, allowing the Greens to keep that flank for him, and has expanded into the popularist centre right with campaigns against virtually everything?

I doubt it, but am happy to be proved wrong. If Turnbull wins the leadership ballot, time may tell.

He may be our John Key, who seems to have a centrist appeal (but I haven’t polled NZ so could be entirely wrong on that).

The trick for him won’t be polling well in the beltway, it will be out in Western Sydney, the outer suburbs of Brisbane and Melbourne, and further out in the regions, under the Milky Way.

The risk is that having been seduced into wresting the prize for himself he may find the elite electorate’s embrace fleeting and cold.

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About the Author

Graham Young is chief editor and the publisher of On Line Opinion. He is executive director of the Australian Institute for Progress, an Australian think tank based in Brisbane, and the publisher of On Line Opinion.

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