Jan Sciberras, Peter Andrews, Noel Durnsford, Julieanne Gilbert, and Marcus Pillhofer are distributing flyers outside the Dawson pre-polling booth.
Jan Sciberras, Peter Andrews, Noel Durnsford, Julieanne Gilbert, and Marcus Pillhofer are distributing flyers outside the Dawson pre-polling booth. Emma Murray

Exit polling reveals clear front runner for Dawson

ANALYSIS: Incumbent Dawson MP George Christensen has emerged as a clear front runner in the battle to secure the seat.

Exit polling at the Mackay, Proserpine and Bowen polling booths awards 46 per cent of the primary vote to the Nationals MP while Labor candidate Belinda Hassan sits at 24 per cent of the vote.

Of the remaining seven candidates, One Nation's Debra Lawson is next closest at nine per cent.

A smaller Capricornia sample, and therefore less statistically significant, puts incumbent Nationals MP Michelle Landry only just ahead of One Nation's Wade Rothery.

Political scientist Paul Williams said research into the "relatively new" pre-poll voting showed early voters tended to be "rusted on one of the major parties".

But the Griffith University professor said if George Christensen had that share of the primary vote at 8pm on election night, he would likely win the seat for a fourth term.

"Pre-poll voters have a clear indication of where their vote is going. Their minds are made up well before election day. In fact, the campaign couldn't shift their vote, they're rusted on," he said.

"So no matter what Pauline says, they'll vote One Nation, no matter what Clive says, they'll vote for Clive, and so on.

Prof Williams said the roughly 30 per cent of undecided and minor party voters in each seat tended to vote later.

"So these exit polls are not necessarily indicative of the exit polls we're going to see on Saturday afternoon on May 18," he said.

"Having said that, that's obviously good news for George Christensen. If that primary vote holds up, he'll need very few preferences.

"He might need a few One Nation and Palmer votes to get him across the line but that's an enviable place to be.

"Not only does he have the advantage of incumbency but most of the preferences, because the right is fracturing ... most of the votes would have come off the LNP anyway and most would go back."

Prof Williams said One Nation was the exception, with the 2017 Queensland election showing the party's voters were "undisciplined in their preferences".

"About 40-50 per cent of One Nation voters in some seats will preference Labor ahead of the LNP just by coming from the LNP," he said.

"All of these LNP candidates would hope these right-wing candidates didn't exist because one vote leaving the LNP, going to a minor party, and then going straight to Labor as a second preference, is one too many in a tightly-fought election.

"Anecdotally, you might say 70-80 per cent of Palmer voters would come straight off the LNP but the problem for Palmer is that not all of those are going to preference back to the LNP. I'd say about the same number of One Nation would come off the LNP but maybe 40 per cent would preference Labor over LNP so that's bad news.

"A party like Fraser Anning's (Conservative Party) would all come off the LNP."

Prof Williams said he was not surprised Mr Christensen was in front in the Daily Mercury's exit polling, nor was he surprised One Nation was not polling well because the party had "come off the boil".

But he was surprised Clive Palmer's United Australia Party candidate Colin Thompson was not polling better.

"George is an extremely high-profile candidate, he works the electorate well, he's what I call a maverick politician and that goes down well in regional Australia," he said.

"You might say he out One Nations One Nation.

"He engages with sufficient populist rhetoric to marginalise other wannabe populists, he sews up that vote well.

"On paper he's vulnerable at 3.4 per cent but in reality he's much safer than that because when George is on the ground, he's a good retail politician

"I'm surprised Palmer hasn't overtaken One Nation but pre-polling is not necessarily indicative because they are rusted-on voters. The swinging voters (who tend to vote late) are much more susceptible to these populist pop-up parties."

Prof Williams said he was surprised early polling in Capricornia showed One Nation polling well given the party's "traumas" but suspected Wade Rothery's high profile locally could be a factor.

"There's a premium on the ethos, the personal credibility and likeability of a candidate which you don't see in capital cities," he said.

"Most capital city voters don't have a clue who their local candidates are and they might not even know which seat they are in because they are small and people drive across half a dozen seats just to get to work. Whereas in the regions, many people do all their business in that seat and they get to know their member.

"That's called connectional politics. In the regions, everyone's lives intersect with everyone else's, it's much more pronounced."

Numerous voters told Daily Mercury reporters they were doing donkey votes - numbering in order of those listed on the ballot - or informal votes, drawing smiley faces or leaving a ballot paper blank.

Some cannot remember who they voted for, others said they voted for 'Greg', possibly mistaking George Christensen for Mackay Mayor Greg Williamson.

Prof Williams said many voters had disengaged.

"You get uninformed voters who disengage because they think all politics is rubbish and then you've got informed voters who are disengaged because it's such an uninspiring campaign," he said.

"I think anyone would agree this has been a poor campaign. It's politics of personalities and conflict rather than of ideas; stage-managed by two fairly uninspiring leaders, it's the perfect storm for boring."

"It is warming up now, some heat in it, but it took a long time to wind up."

The Daily Mercury will continue to poll voters over the next week as more pre-polling stations open and, of course, on Election Day to bring you a bigger sample of results.

Sample size: 405 voters

Locations: Mackay, Bowen, Prosperpine