Tony Abbott Could Win Because Too Many People Don't Want Him To
A growing field of opponents are lining up to take on Tony Abbott -- but the Member for Warringah could be saved by the sheer number of people who want to battle him for his spot in parliament.
Abbott, the former Prime Minister and representative for the Manly-based seat since 1994, is facing a stiff challenge to retain his seat for a 10th term at the coming federal election, tipped for May.'
He held the North Shore Sydney seat at the last election with 62 percent of the two-party vote, even despite suffering a nine percent swing against him, and held off a field of nine challengers.
But in 2019, Abbott comes up against a concerted opposition from a variety of sources.
Progressive advocacy group GetUp! is expected to pour resources into the seat, while a number of anti-Tony groups -- variously titled Get Rid of Tony Abbott, Out With Abbott, Times Up Tony and Vote Tony Out -- look to mount grassroots campaigns against him.
Having seen the independent Kerryn Phelps snare the seat of Wentworth, several groups are hoping a well-known local resident might have similar success at the ballot box.
Former world champion and Olympic skier Zali Steggall is the latest to inject herself into the race, joining Indigenous activist Susan Moylan-Coombs and Alice Thompson, a former staffer for Malcolm Turnbull.
"Warringah has for too long had someone who is set in his ways, unwilling and unable to change," Steggall said.
But experts have warned that a crowded field of candidates, no matter how well-meaning, could thin the chances of ultimately unseating Abbott.
"It is very important that one candidate would a good share of the primary vote. You're not going to beat Tony Abbott by having a bunch of people getting a few votes each," polling analyst Dr Kevin Bonham told 10 daily.
Bonham said that despite a field of 16 candidates in Wentworth -- including 10 minor parties and three independents -- Phelps managed to win because of widespread "strategic voting".
In Australia's preferential voting system, preference flows matter, Phelps supporters pushed voters to place her name above Labor on the ballot paper, as she had a greater chance of ultimately defeating the Liberal candidate Dave Sharma than the Labor candidate did.
In Warringah, ABC election guru said Labor could not be confident of "any chance" of victory and floated the idea the ALP would direct its preferences to Steggall.
Professor Rodney Smith, of the school of government at the University of Sydney, said it was "highly unlikely" an independent could knock Abbott over in this election.
"Once the campaign properly starts, there will be more policies on the table. When that happens, maybe you'll get people thinking Tony has been there too long, but they may well go back to their natural home and vote Liberal," he predicted.
Political scientist Dr Sarah Cameron, also of the University of Sydney, said "anything is possible" with the current level of voter dissatisfaction with major parties.
"Support for major parties has never been lower, and voters have largely disapproved of leadership changes between elections," she told 10 daily.
"We could expect to see a protest vote against the government, including in Warringah. Whether the protest vote is strong enough to elect an independent in what has been a safe Liberal seat remains to be seen."
Bonham said anti-Abbott forces could benefit by coordinating communications and resources or at least focusing their attacks on Abbott rather than one another.
"Another possible issue is if they fight with each other. If there are a few front-runners fighting hard competing for resources, that doesn't help," he said.
"It's important that the groups campaigning to unseat Abbott mostly unite behind one candidate and push the same arguments as in Wentworth, that you strategically vote one for a certain candidate."
Ian McAllister, a Distinguished Professor of Political Science at Australian National University, said a sitting member in a seat as safe as Warringah would need an almighty campaign to be booted.
"You can have a lot of minor candidates but it won't have much effect on who wins if they start distributing preferences back to the major candidate," he told 10 daily.
"People might make a protest, but preference the major party candidate at two or three, and then the vote ends up with them anyway. Preferences will make all the difference."
"A lot depends on whether they're totally pissed off with Tony and preference all the other independents at the top, instead of Tony."
But while floating the possibility of Abbott being unseated by a challenger and a mounting campaign against him, Cameron said it was impossible to ignore the sitting member's high levels of local popularity.
"Abbott is unpopular nationally, although that doesn’t translate to the same degree within his own electorate," she said.