Top Endings

By Kerry Ryan

Ten days or so into the drive from Melbourne, we pulled into a shopping strip in Katherine to pick up some lunch and a book or two to keep the kids amused for the final three-hour stretch into Darwin. I wandered into what I would probably call, if pressed, a newsagent. Perhaps it was a souvenir shop, perhaps an emporium. In any case, it was the type of place – typical of outback Australia – where you can mail a postcard to Grandma and then pick up a canister of propane, a packet of shortbread creams and a Johnny Cash CD.

I was flicking through a magazine when a shirtless man brushed past in a semi-naked blur. Near what looked like the water sports section, he stopped abruptly at a rack of souvenir t-shirts and singlets. With no need of a changing room, he tried on a couple of different items right where he stood. Less than two minutes later, and for a modest outlay, he strode out of the shop wearing a brand new navy blue singlet, complete with NT tourism logo.

I wondered what had moved him to go NT formal like that. Perhaps he was feeling the cold. It was the dry season, after all, and the temperature was in the low twenties. Perhaps he had a meeting to go to. Either way I wasn’t all that surprised. I’d seen it all before, years earlier.

The first time I arrived in the Territory was in the wet season of 1992. I’d been surfing Brisbane’s couches through the recession we had to have, and despite the less than hectic schedule, life on the dole had worn thin. So too had Queensland. I’d spent an entire lifetime in Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s Queensland, and in late 1991, when his perjury trial imploded because of a resolute juror with connections to the National Party, people cheered.

This was the post-Fitzgerald era, when Queensland was supposed to be all shiny and new, and on the move. In that moment, it felt pretty much like the Queensland of old. Worse than that, too many of the locals were proud of it.

A friend suggested that there might be jobs in Darwin when the tourists hit town during the dry season. Perhaps he just wanted me off his couch. Nonetheless, it was a good idea.

When I flew into Darwin I learned that fifty years earlier, almost to the day, 188 Japanese aircraft had done the same, though with considerably more intent. On the morning of 19 February 1942, fresh from a successful attack on Pearl Harbor a couple of months earlier and buoyed by the fall of Singapore just days before, the Japanese navy launched two air raids on Darwin and its surrounds, signalling the beginning of a series of attacks that would continue until November 1943. By the time they’d finished, the Japanese had raided the north sixty-four times.

I was a little surprised, and a little embarrassed, that I had no real clue about the scale of the bombing. But I could draw comfort from the fact that I wasn’t alone, and that the government of the day had planned it that way. Careful not to spread panic across the country, and determined to avoid crediting the Japanese with a victory of any significance, the Curtin government deliberately kept the news low-key and vague.

It didn’t take long for other surprises to surface. Darwin wasn’t like anywhere else – not even a bit – and the signs came steadily.

My first job was behind the bar at one of the city’s upmarket hotels on the Esplanade. There, where a level of decorum among the guests was assumed, I learned that propriety didn’t necessarily extend to the staff. On my first night in the cocktail bar, in white shirt and bow tie, I polished wine glasses and wiped down available surfaces in an earnest display of how to be a new and keen employee. Down on the floor, doing push-ups, was the hotel’s reservations manager. She was in her fifties; everyone was impressed.

One Friday I joined the maintenance guys for lunch. The pub around the corner was doing fish and chips and a ten-ounce beer for a fiver. Half of Darwin’s tradies were there and it was hard work even getting to the bar. Joe Cocker’s “You Can Leave Your Hat On” was blaring at somewhere near eleven on the dial. I could tell by all the hollering and cheering that Darwin’s tradies really liked their fish and chips. The attractive young lady up on stage with the can of shaving cream and the dance moves was popular too.

Later that year, Roy – a thirty-something Queenslander who’d come to Darwin a decade earlier “for a look around” and had forgotten to go home – invited me to join him for a round of golf. I knew enough about golfing etiquette to spend the morning before tee-off cobbling together a suitable costume: collared shirt, tailored shorts, longish socks. On the ride out in the car, I began to wonder if the finer points of golfing had eluded Roy, who wasn’t wearing much more than a pair of shorts. This wasn’t all that alarming; Darwin is hot, after all, and he was prone to general shirtlessness anyway, despite the ravages that a decade-long diet of beer and cigarettes had visited upon his physique. He probably had a shirt in his golf bag, I thought. After he entered the pro shop and paid for the round, played eighteen holes, and celebrated the end of the game with a beer at the nineteenth, all without a shirt, I began to suspect that not only did he not have one in his golf bag, but he might not even have one at home.

In Roy’s defence, it was November, during what Territorians call the “build-up,” that time of the year before the rains come, when the heat and humidity combine to inspire statistically significant numbers of locals to drink more, fight more and generally engage in more antisocial behaviours. In 2014, researchers from Charles Darwin University said this about the effect of the Top End’s annual troppo season on locals’ mood: “We accept the fact people are more aggressive and there are more fights and more alcohol use.”

The first worrisome feature of such a statement is that there is a particular time of the year when the locals drink more. The second is that it’s accepted. But Darwin’s that kind of place, and much else is accepted too. In 1992, at least, I noticed an unusually high proportion of people with just one name. Surnames, it seemed, were not compulsory, and in many cases not advisable; not for tax purposes anyway. I didn’t meet anyone called Sebastian or Tristan, though, nothing that flamboyant. I did meet a Rat and a Mongrel. I kept my gaze low and brief.

Occasionally I met a born-and-bred Territorian. One of them was called George. I got to know him pretty well, well enough to be invited into his home. While George didn’t have a surname, he did have a small saltwater crocodile and a pet python in his yard. He told me he’d been banned from his local pet shop for buying guinea pigs and mice with unusual regularity.

George told me about Christmas in 1974, when Cyclone Tracy came to town. He was just six years old at the time, so he couldn’t remember much – only that there were lots of presents strewn about the streets and that he and his mates had fun investigating on their bikes. Others I met along the way had more harrowing tales of Tracy. One long night behind the bar, I passive-smoked a pouch and a half of prison-issue White Ox – the tobacco of choice among those for whom old habits linger – while listening to a crumpled and damaged drunk recall his night in the harbour on a boat that went down with his friend on it.

Tracy wasn’t, of course, the first cyclone to ravage the Northern outpost. Notwithstanding the Larrakia people and what they must have known and experienced over thousands of years, death by cyclone was also not totally unknown to the white interlopers. In 1875, Palmerston, as it was then called, lost around a third of its entire population – many of them high-ranking public servants – to a cyclone. Oddly enough, they were off the coast of North Queensland on a steamship headed for Adelaide at the time. In 1897, 1917 and 1937, cyclones again caused death and widespread destruction to the area.

I left Darwin in late 1994 in a hurry. I’d been warned it might go that way. A friend had told me I’d wake up one morning and decide it was time to go. I didn’t take him seriously at the time, but on the walk to work one morning I skipped the front door and headed to a travel agent. She told me that if I waited two weeks I’d save a couple of hundred dollars on the fare. “No thanks,” I said. “I need to go now.”

It was the booze of course. No great story there. Not in the Territory, anyway. I just knew that if I didn’t leave then I might never leave at all. The evidence of that possibility was everywhere.

After twenty-one years, Darwin in 2015 is almost unrecognisable. It’s been unrecognisable before, only this time the change has been gradual, not cataclysmic. Somewhere along the line, the Gold Coast aesthetic arrived. High-rise apartment blocks, once scarce, now dominate the skyline, so much so that the hotel I once worked in – then the second-tallest building in town – is now difficult to spot, obscured by a four-tower beast next door offering “Darwin’s most spectacular views of the harbour and esplanade.” My hotel used to say that. I guess it doesn’t anymore.

Since the mid 1990s, the population of Darwin has increased by around 75 per cent. The city now sits just a mining project or two short of 150,000 people. It certainly looks like it has the apartments for them. But the housing market is soft in 2015 and a sizeable chunk of the apartments are empty. Darwin has the highest vacancy rate of any capital city in Australia. I got that from the NT News, so it must be true.

Rupert’s NT News, so the blurb goes, “represents the people of the Territory with fair, investigative and quirky journalism… is unconventional, bold, unique and unashamedly Territorian, and allows readers to escape the daily grind and to be informed while also enjoying the lighter side of life.” Much of that seems like fair comment. Few papers in Australia straddle the sublime and the ridiculous quite like the News.

On cue when we arrived, the Museum and Art Gallery Northern Territory was holding an exhibition entitled Yes, It’s Real: Legendary Covers of the NT News. As I wandered through the show, I had the opportunity to explain some of the paper’s past headline triumphs to my young children; not an easy task with pearls such as “WHY I STUCK A CRACKER UP MY CLACKER,” “Man arrested after cops spot suspiciously small package in his undies” and “HORNY GHOST HAUNTS HOUSE: If you thought Casper was friendly, you should meet Kevin.”

I left the exhibition keen to grab a copy. Outside a newsagent in Fannie Bay, I saw the day’s headline: DEATH ROW COW FALLS INTO DARWIN HARBOUR. I didn’t buy the paper. I didn’t need to. All was well in Darwin.

I dropped in for a haircut in a barber shop just off the Smith Street Mall. Gianni, the barber, who I didn’t recognise when I first sat down, told me that he’d cut my hair before. Indeed he had, though in his old salon a street behind, more than twenty years earlier. I remembered the last haircut he gave me too; it cost me a coffee. A day earlier, under duress, he’d agreed to fashion for me what might have been termed an experimental mullet. In my defence it was the early nineties and mullets were a popular accoutrement for the gentlemen of the day. But Gianni regarded the style of mullet I had requested as particularly objectionable. I should probably have heeded the warning; instead, I thanked him for his concern and paid the bill.

Doubts set in rather early. As I left the salon, a shop window next door afforded me a glimpse of the new do in full flow. Oh dear. The mullet, of course, is more an attitude than a hairdo. I didn’t have the swagger to pull it off. The next morning at opening time, I was back there pleading for remedial action. Gianni took to it with the clippers – and a degree of vindication – and sent me out for a cappuccino.

I remember the coffee because a cappuccino was an unusual request in Darwin in the nineties. Darwinites like their coffee, that’s for sure, but in those days it came in a carton and sat in the flavoured milk section at supermarkets and burger joints. Hot coffee, in a cup, just wasn’t the thing to do. These days, if the proliferation of coffee shops is an indication, Darwin’s just like every other city in Australia – teeming with rock-star baristas and customers with strong views about crema.

I drove past the block of flats in Smith Street where I used to live. It hadn’t changed much. Buildings made of besser block tend not to, I guess. I was getting my bearings, though, and Darwin was feeling comfortable again. As I sat in an idling car outside the flats, I remembered a wet and wild night watching one of the Top End’s celebrated wet season thunderstorms. It was early January and my neighbour and I had both been woken by thunder in the early hours. I joined him in his flat to watch the show.

While it is customary to hyperbolise when describing the intensity of storms, it really was like nothing I’d ever experienced, even in a lifetime in Queensland. It wasn’t just the ridiculous heft of the rain – which hadn’t even bothered to form into droplets – but the lightning that set it apart.

For a few months every year, Darwin is a meteorologist’s theme park. There are few, if any, more lightning-prone locales on the planet, so lightning shows are close to a nightly event from November through to January. In the 2002 wet season one fabled storm produced “1634 lightning flashes in just a few hours.” That’s a lot of lightning. While I didn’t get an accurate count of the number of flashes that wet January night, I remember well the last one I saw before scurrying inside. It landed just across the road and shut down the city for most of the next day.

With only a few days left of this visit I thought about ticking off the tourist list, but realised there wasn’t much else that I needed or wanted to see. Instead I wandered about the city, meandering in and out of bookshops and art galleries. David Gulpilil was in the mall outside a bookshop chatting with tourists while he worked on a painting. He had a polite note near an upturned hat asking for a donation for photos. Business was going well.

On the last Thursday evening in town I went to the Mindil Beach Market, got some Indonesian food and sat on the beach for the sunset. I took a beer down with me too. I felt I had to, for cultural reasons as much as nostalgia. In 2013, NT chief minister Adam Giles told an Australian Hotels Association awards night crowd that “having a coldie” was a “core social value” in the Top End. If there is anything that politicians have schooled us in tirelessly over the past couple of decades, it’s the importance of observing local values.

This time I left Darwin by car, a far less ignominious exit than the 1994 airlift. I told the attendant at the petrol station on the way out that I was heading home to Melbourne. “Oh yeah? You’ll want to turn left at Adelaide then.”


This post originally appeared in Inside Story. Kerry Ryan is a lecturer in politics and history at Swinburne University.

Why voter demographics are the key to the White House

By Bryan Cranston

This article is the second of a two-part feature, which aims to provide an understanding of the US presidential election process.

The first article of this two-part feature, Predicting the Outcome of 2016 US Presidential Election, examined the Electoral College, and the use of probability to reasonably predict which party will win the presidency. This second article will examine the role of voter behaviour and electoral demographics to understand why the Democratic Party is favoured to win a majority of the ‘toss-up’ states, and just who the major-party presidential candidates will be.

Forecasting election results requires analysing historical voter trends, and applying elements of probability to electoral trends. One of the fastest growing Election Day trends is exit polling, where voters are surveyed as they exit the voting booth and asked to identify how they voted, along with identifying demographic factors such as ethnicity, age, annual income, and highest level of education. Although Gallup has undertaken exit polling since 1952, exit polls have only really been widely engaged since 2000.

Table 1 is a summary of exit poll data undertaken by The New York Times over the past three presidential elections.

Table 1 – Summary of NY Times Exit Poll data – US presidential elections 2004, 2008 and 2012

Table 1

Why the “War-on-Women” Matters

Democrats have consistently won the women’s vote with an average margin of 53-47%. This demographic is extremely important, as women currently comprise 53% of the electorate. The Republican Party tried to bridge this gender divide in 2008 by nominating then-Alaska governor, Sarah Palin, for vice president. Ironically, Palin’s much-deprecated candidacy actually resulted in a decline in the Republican female vote, from 48% in 2004 to 43% in 2008, rising slightly to 44% in 2012. The Republican Party has spent much of the past four years arguing that they are not waging a ‘war-on-women’, as this is one of the key demographics that they must start making positive inroads if they are to have any chance at winning future presidential elections.

An examination of the generalised voting patterns of the four major ethnicities in the United States – white, black, Hispanic and Asian – over the past three elections reveals that only one (white) votes Republican, with all others consistently voting Democrat, in significant majorities. The average Democratic vote percentage for each of the four ethnic groups is White 41%, Black 92%, Hispanic 64%, and Asian 64%.

Again, the problem for the Republican Party is two-fold: white voters, as a proportion of total population, are declining, whilst Hispanics are the fastest growing ethnic group, who vote Democrat two-thirds of the time.

This recent two-fold issue is having a major impact on presidential elections, and does not bode well for the short-medium term future of the Republican Party.

Example 1 – California

Prior to the 1992 presidential election, California was a ‘safe’ Republican state, but the Republican Party is no longer remotely competitive there. Democrats currently hold every statewide office (eg governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, both US senate seats, etc), both houses of the state legislature, and 39 of the state’s 53 congressional seats. Since 1992, California has voted for the Democratic presidential election in every one of the past six elections. The 2016 Republican presidential nominee will not actively campaign in California, as the state’s media market is exorbitantly expensive, and there is no value in spending millions of dollars in a state they have absolutely no chance of winning.

The reason for this dramatic and sudden political shift is the rapid rise in California’s Hispanic population. In fact, in 2014, California became only the second state (after New Mexico) in the US where ‘white’ is no longer the largest ethnic group, with Hispanics now comprising 39% of the population.

Example 2 – New Mexico

In many ways, New Mexico mirrors California in that prior to the 1992 presidential election it had voted had voted for the Republican presidential candidate in every election since 1968, thus earning the moniker of a ‘safe’ Republican state. Since 1992 though, the Democratic candidate has won it in five of the past six elections.

Figure 1 shows the population by ethnic group of a number of key states; demonstrating that as that the white vote decreases as a proportion of a state’s population, that state then trends favourably to the Democratic Party.

Figure 1 – Racial/Ethnic Population for Selected States (Source: Pew Research Centre)

Figure 1

In the first article, Predicting the Outcome of 2016 US Presidential Election, I identified five ‘toss-up’ states that will determine the outcome of the 2016 presidential election: Colorado, Florida, Nevada, Ohio, and Virginia.

Colorado and Nevada

The past two presidential elections saw the Hispanic wave reach Colorado and Nevada. Like California and New Mexico, prior to 1992, Nevada was a ‘safe’ Republican state, but it has now voted Democrat in four of the past six presidential elections. Due to its geographical location, Colorado has been the most recent state to experience the political shift. Prior to 2008, it had only voted for a Democratic presidential candidate once in the past ten elections, but it has voted Democrat for the past two elections in a row. Colorado cannot yet be considered a Democratic state, but it is no longer a Republican state, hence it is true ‘toss-up’ status. However, based on historical trends, it’s more likely than not to follow the path towards ‘likely Democratic support. For example, the 2010 mid-term elections were a nationwide Republican landslide, yet in Colorado, the Democrats still managed to win highly contest races for governor and US senator.

Based on the mathematics of the Electoral College, if the Democratic presidential candidate wins both Colorado and Nevada, then they will win the presidency.


Between 1952 and 2004, the state of Virginia voted for the Democratic presidential candidate just once (in 1964 as part of Lyndon Johnson’s landslide victory); however, since 2008 it has voted consistently Democrat. This political shift is not due to the Hispanic vote though.

The District of Columbia is the most Democratic region in the country. In 2012, Barack Obama won D.C.’s three Electoral College votes with 91% of the vote. One of the major factors for this is that African-American’s comprise almost 50% of the population, and as shown in Table 1, African-American voters support Democratic presidential candidates at a rate of 92%. Between 2010 and 2014, D.C.’s population grew at a rate of 9.5%, more than three times the national growth rate. This growth is pushing large numbers of D.C. residents’ into the suburbs of northern Virginia, and the result is that Virginia has swung sharply to the Democrats.

Based on the methodology of forecasting Electoral College outcomes in the first article of this two part series, Virginia is rated as ‘toss up’; however, it is heavily favoured once again to vote Democrat in 2016, whereupon it will then move into the ‘likely’ column for 2020.

Florida and Ohio

Although I have rated only five states as technically ‘toss up’, in fact the only states where the result is difficult to forecast are Florida and Ohio. Both of these states favour the Republican Party at presidential elections. Over the past twelve elections, Florida has supported the Republican candidate on eight occasions, and seven in Ohio. The importance of these states is that they are worth 47 Electoral College votes (Florida = 29, Ohio = 18). In 2016 though, the Democratic Party does not need to win either state to win the election, but the Republican Party must win both, plus either Virginia OR Colorado AND Nevada. It is no accident that the 2016 Republican National Convention is being held in Cleveland, Ohio.

Who will be the presidential nominees?

Just as probability modelling can forecast the result of the 2016 presidential election, it can also be used to make reasonable forecasts in predicting who the presidential and vice-presidential candidates will be for each of the major parties.

Hillary Clinton is all but assured to be crowned as the Democratic presidential nominee at their National Convention in Philadelphia, but who will her number-two be? It’s actually a VERY short list. Much like 2008 when Barack Obama selected a middle-class white man to appeal to the broader electorate, Clinton will almost certainly do the same. The heavy favourite at this point is former governor of Maryland, Martin O’Malley. This helps to explain why he has formally announced his is running for president. Unless the Clinton campaign utterly implodes, O’Malley has no chance at winning the nomination; he is running in order to go through a public vetting process. Pay no attention to his early jabs at Clinton; when Joe Biden ran for president in 2008, he did the same thing to Obama before joining the Democratic ticket. A second name to keep an eye on in veep-stakes is Tim Kaine, current US senator and former governor of Virginia.

Much like Clinton, the Republican National Convention will be a dynastic coronation, where John Elis “Jeb” Bush, son of President George H.W. Bush, and brother of President George W. Bush, will be confirmed as the Party’s presidential nominee.

Jeb Bush has two major factors in his favour. The first is that as a former two-term governor of Florida, he would be favoured to win that state in the Electoral College. The second is that Jeb is married to Columba Bush, a naturalised American born in Mexico. In other words, she is Hispanic. And a woman. Naturally, Jeb’s children are half-Hispanic, and are almost certain to play a major role in his campaign as he seeks to tap into the Hispanic vote. Undoubtedly, Democrats will remind voters that in 1988, then US vice-president George H.W. Bush referred to his grandchildren as, “the little brown ones.”

The last time the Republican Party won the presidency without a Bush or Nixon on the ticket was in 1928. 2008 was the first time since 1972 that a Bush or Dole didn’t appear on the presidential ticket. The message here is clear: Jeb Bush will be the nominee; the real question then is who will be his vice-president? There are few contenders.

Who will be the vice-presidential nominees?

With Bush likely to win Florida, Republican focus will turn to Ohio. Much like Martin O’Malley mentioned earlier, current governor of Ohio John Kasich, recently launched his presidential campaign in order to go through a public vetting. There is another Ohio republican who would be more palatable – Rob Portman – but he is running for re-election to the US Senate in a close race. If he was the vice presidential candidate, his national campaigning would jeopardise his seat, and the Republican majority in the Senate.

The Republican’s need to counter their ‘woman problem’, but are wary of repeating the Palin fiasco. In 2014, Susana Martinez won re-election to a second term as governor of New Mexico. Martinez is a former US attorney, favourite of the TEA Party, Hispanic and a woman. Her name is all but guaranteed to be on the final shortlist of vice presidential candidates, and could quite possible be the nominee. Martinez’ place on the ticket would not change the outcome for New Mexico’s Electoral College vote, but it could help the Party to make inroads into both the women’s and Hispanic vote.

What all this suggests is that there are few surprises in US politics, and even fewer in presidential politics. Look to America’s political history to find a path to its future.

Critical Encounters: An ASSH Conference run for and by Postgraduate Students

Call for Papers

Critical Encounters: A Conference for and by Postgraduate Students 

A one-day event for students in the School of Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (ASSH)

Wednesday 4th of November, 8:30am-4:30pm

AGSE Building, Swinburne University of Technology

Hawthorn campus, Melbourne

This conference is for postgraduate students based in ASSH which includes Education, Film and Television, Games and Animation, Languages, Media and Communication (including Writing), Philosophy, Politics, Sociology, and Swinburne Institute. The conference will enable higher degree students at all stages to present their research in a supportive, friendly, inclusive and collegial environment, and foster interdisciplinary research networks within ASSH.

We invite abstracts of 200 words for presentations of 15 minutes duration (accompanied by brief biographical notes of 50 words or less) by Friday the 14th of August, 2015. Presentations can be on any theme associated with your research (including methodology). Please advise the proposed format  of your presentation with your abstract (e.g. PowerPoint presentation, script reading, short film etc.). Successful presenters will be notified by Friday the 4th of September, 2015.

If you would like help with writing abstracts and biographical notes, or presentation techniques, we suggest you attend the workshop ‘Giving Conference Papers’ on Thursday the 30th of July at 1:30pm in AMDC206. Writing and journal article coaching will also be provided after the conference, to assist you with preparing your work for peer-reviewed publication.
Conference registration is free and morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea and refreshments will be provided. Further details about registration will be advised upon notification about abstracts.

For more information or to submit your abstract please email

Cultural Study Tour: Nepal for 2016

The official closing date for applications for the Cultural Study Tour: Nepal for 2016 was last Friday (19th June)…but if you get your application into the system by COB this Friday (26th June) your application will still be considered in this first round of applications.

If you have questions/concerns please don’t hesitate to get in contact with Paula.

Apply for the study tour here.

See Matthew Rowland’s description of his experience of the trip.

Predicting the Outcome of the 2016 US Presidential Election

By Bryan Cranston

This article is the first of a two-part feature, which aims to provide an understanding of the US presidential election process.

On the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November 2016 (Tuesday, 8 November 2016 [US time]), the voters of the United States will elect their forty-fifth president. We know there will be a new president because under the twenty-second amendment of the US Constitution, Barack Obama is ineligible to seek a third four-year term.

Although it is almost a year-and-a-half until Election Day, by analysing historical election results and trends in voter behaviour, the result is highly predictable. Despite this, presidential contenders will raise, and spend, billions of dollars in pursuit of a forgone conclusion.

The Electoral College

The President of the United States is elected via a highly complicated and unique system, known as the Electoral College (EC). Each of the USA’s fifty states has votes apportioned to the EC based on their state’s representation in the US Congress. The US Senate comprises 100 senators (two from each state), and the US House of Representatives comprises 435 members, apportioned by population, with each state having a minimum of one representative, regardless of population size. For example, California sends fifty-five delegates to Congress (two senators and fifty-three representatives); whilst Montana sends three delegates (two senators and one representative, known as ‘at-large’ because they represent the entire state). In addition, although the District of Columbia (Washington, D.C.) is not a state and has no voting representation in Congress, it is recognised in the Electoral College with the same number of EC votes as the smallest state (which is always three).

Whichever presidential candidate wins a plurality of the popular vote in each state (ie ‘first-past-the-post’), receives all of that state’s EC votes (with two exceptions). Example, if ‘Candidate A’ receives 40% of the popular vote in California, but that is more than any other candidate (in a multi-candidate field); then ‘Candidate A’ will win all of California’s 55 EC votes.

This ‘winner-take-all’ approach applies to forty-eight states, with the two exceptions being Maine and Nebraska. These states award one EC vote to whichever presidential candidate wins each House district; they then award their two senatorial EC votes to whoever wins a plurality of the statewide popular vote. Example, Nebraska has three congressional districts, which means the state has five EC votes. In 2008, the Republican nominee John McCain won the vote in two of the state’s districts, and received an overall vote in the state of 56.5%, whilst Barack Obama won one district. McCain was therefore awarded four EC votes (two ‘House’ EC votes, plus two ‘Senate” EC votes), and Obama was awarded one EC vote (one ‘House’ EC vote).

The EC therefore consists of   100 + 435 + 3 = 538.

To win the EC, a candidate needs a majority of the EC vote* (ie half plus one); thus, the magic number is 270 EC votes.

(* If no candidate achieves a majority of the EC, the election of the president is passed to the US House of Representatives. This has occurred twice: 1876 and 1888.)

270 to Win

Despite its confusing system, US politics is highly predictable, largely because of voter behaviour. If one looks at how each state has voted over the past four presidential elections (2000, 2004, 2008 and 20121), we have a good idea of what to expect in 2016. To do this, I have allocated each of the fifty stated plus the District of Columbia (D.C.), into three categories:

  • Safe – has voted for the same party in each of the past four elections
  • Likely – has voted for one party in three of the past four elections
  • Toss-Up – has voted for each party on two occasions over the past four elections

‘Safe’ States

In each of the past four elections, 18 states plus the District of Columbia, have voted for the Democratic candidate, for 242 EC votes, whilst 22 states have reliably voted Republican, for 180 EC votes (See Figure 1). It is inconceivable that any state that has consistently voted for one party in each of the past four elections would vote for the other party next year. The Democrats only need another 28 EC votes to win the presidency, whilst Republicans need to win another 90 EC votes. The Democratic Party therefore starts as the clear favourite for 2016.

Figure 1 – ‘Safe’ States – states that have voted for just one party in each of the past four elections

Figure 1 Safe States

‘Likely’ States

In this category, five states have voted Democrat in three of the past four elections, for 15 EC votes; whist two have voted the same way for the Republican candidate, for 26 EC votes. If we assume that the ‘likely’ states will continue to vote per their majority, then the running EC total is (See Figure 2):

Democrat       242 + 15 = 257

Republican     180 + 26 = 206

This means that almost a year-and-a-half out from Election Day, the Democratic candidate needs just 13 EC votes to win the presidency.

Figure 2 –  ‘Safe’ plus ‘Likely’ States

Figure 2 Safe States

‘Toss-Up’ States

Five states have voted for each party twice across the past four elections (EC votes in brackets): Colorado (9), Florida (29), Nevada (6), Ohio (18), and Virginia (13). These five states are where the 2016 presidential election will be concentrated.

What does all this mean?

The Democrat candidate does not need to win either Florida or Ohio to win the presidency, but the Republican candidate must win both! In fact, if the Democratic candidate wins Virginia, or Colorado and Nevada, then they win the election. The Republican candidate needs to win Florida and Ohio, plus Virginia, or Colorado and Nevada. One interesting historical note is that no Democrat has ever won the presidency without winning Ohio.

The Democrats are heavy favourites to win Virginia, strong favourites to win Colorado, and better than average favourites to win Nevada.

Part two of this two-article feature will explain why voter demographics and voter behaviour is the key to understanding US elections, and why the Democrats are favoured to win at least three of these ‘toss-up’ states.

Internship at the US Consulate Melbourne

For students considering enrolling in POL30003 Internship in Political Research in semester 2.

U.S. CONSULATE GENERAL MELBOURNE FOREIGN NATIONAL STUDENT INTERNSHIP PROGRAM   Are you considering a career in foreign affairs? The U.S. Consulate General Melbourne is looking for non-American undergraduate students to experience working alongside the Consulate’s American and Australian employees as they work on the day-to-day business, political, economic, media, and organizational issues of the United States and Australia. This program will run during the second semester with opportunities for internship within the Public Affairs Section of the Consulate. The Internship will provide students with a valuable educational and practical experience by assisting the U.S. Consulate General in accomplishing its mission goals. In the long term, this program aims to establish, promote and maintain relationships between young Australians and Americans as each becomes leaders in their respective countries.

Qualification Requirements

  1. Must be able to work as a volunteer, full time (08:00am – 05:00pm, Monday to Friday) from 24 August, 2015 – 31 October, 2015.
  2. Must be a non-U.S. citizen and have the right to work in Australia
  3. Must be over 18 years of age
  4. Must be in good academic standing with Swinburne University (i.e. are currently not required to show cause for poor academic performance)
  5. Must have private medical insurance for the duration of the internship (only for those not covered by Australian Medicare)
  6. Must be returning to university studies after completion of the internship
  7. Must receive credit towards their degree for completing the internship

To Apply                                                                                                                                                                                                    Please include the following documents in your application:  

Please send applications to: Julie Kimber – Politics & History T: (+61 3) 9214 8103                 E:  

Questions regarding the U.S. Consulate General Melbourne Foreign National Student Intern Program can be forwarded to Julie Kimber. See the statement of duties for further information.  


Please note that all volunteers must successfully gain a security and medical clearance prior to commencement of the internship.

The U.S. Mission in Australia provides equal opportunity and fair and equitable treatment in employment to all people without regard to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, political affiliation, marital status, or sexual orientation. The Department of State also strives to achieve equal employment opportunity in all personnel operations through continuing diversity enhancement programs.

If you need help

If you need any help with your study please contact us via the links below:

Enquiries relating to Politics and International Studies

Enquiries relating to International Relations and Security

If you can’t manage your enrolments via ‘My Study Plan’ complete an online ‘Application to Add a Unit to my Study Plan’ at the following location:

Please check your semester two enrolments

It appears that some students have accidentally enrolled into the online rather than the on-campus units for next semester. This is something that is easily done in error because the codes are the same.

One way to check this is to log into Student One and see if the Study Period says ‘Semester 1 or 2’, rather than ‘Teaching Period 1 or 2’. It should say Semester 1 or 2 for on-campus study. If you are in doubt at all, please send us an email and we will check it out for you.

PS: A special prize goes to the first person to identify someone in the photo. An extra special prize goes to anyone who can put the photo into its historical context.

Charlie Woodward and Daniel Nilo

Charles Andrew Woodward, “The State of Deception & The Time Bomb: Evaluating Torture as Counter-Terrorism”, in E-International Relations Students.

CharlieCharlie’s major essay for POL30009 Critical Perspectives on Terrorism was published  by E-International Relations (E-IR), the world’s leading open access website for students and scholars of international politics. The website was established in November 2007, and is recommended by leading academics and practitioners from around the world. It receives around 220,000 unique visitors a month and is peer-reviewed.  Charlie’s essay, titled “The State of Deception & The Time Bomb: Evaluating Torture as Counter-Terrorism”, examined how governments circumvent rather than suspend the rule of law regarding torture in counter-terrorism practices.  Well done, Charlie!


Daniel Nilo won the Baylis and Smith Prize in 2014 for his coursework in POL20010 International Relations and Security Studies. The prize is awarded to the best student in a course on international relations and the winner receives $150 of books from Oxford University Press. The prize is named after the major international relations textbook The Globalization of World Politics.