Why did Clive Palmer's One Nation party lose so badly in the election?

Several analysts predicted that Clive Palmer's United Australia Party (UAP) and Pauline Hanson's One Nation would do well in this election by snatching up the "freedom" vote and the anti-vaccine vote from voters who were dissatisfied with the way the pandemic was managed.

However, this was not the situation at all.

The parties did experience a slight increase in the number of votes cast for them, but this was not sufficient to translate into significant electoral success. In the lower house, neither party was successful in winning any seats.

Ralph Babet, the candidate for the United Australia Party (UAP), is in a strong position to win Victoria's sixth Senate seat. This is in part due to the preferences of the Coalition, which ranked the UAP in second place on their how to vote cards in the state. However, it's possible that Palmer won't get anything more for his outrageous campaign spending.

Craig Kelly, the leader of the United Australia Party and a former member of the Liberal Party, was unsuccessful in his bid to retain his seat in Hughes, and Clive Palmer was unable to win election to the Queensland Senate.

One Nation was also unsuccessful in gaining any additional Senate seats. In the upcoming federal election in 2019, it is anticipated that Pauline Hanson will cling to her Senate seat by the skin of her teeth, while Malcolm Roberts will continue to serve as a Senator after earning a six year term.

My research focuses on populism, so naturally I've taken an interest in the lesser-known political parties. This is why I believe they performed so poorly:

Learn more about what populism is and why it has such a poor reputation by reading the following:

Democratic Party of Australia

UAP contributed roughly an additional 0 votes. 7 percentage points more of the vote in the national primary for the lower house compared to 2019 (for a total of 4 1%), after shelling out an estimated 70–100 million Australian dollars In Queensland, the party has only managed to win 4 seats so far. 3% of the votes cast in the Senate; in this category, Palmer himself was the leading candidate for the Senate.

In 2019, the party did not have much of a platform other than opposing Bill Shorten; however, this was not the case in 2022. In 2022, the party did have a platform. They had policies that were on display regarding the cost of living, such as making housing more affordable and investing superannuation funds from Australia in companies based in Australia.

The party also attempted to position itself as the voice of the "freedom" movement by opposing COVID lockdowns and vaccine mandates. This was done in an effort to position itself as the voice of the "freedom" movement.

A United Australia Party sign outside Box Hill Town Hall, Melbourne
The UAP positioned itself as the "freedom party" in its platform. Photos by James Ross/AP

It surprises me that none of this appeared to have any impact, particularly with regard to their policies regarding interest rates.

I had anticipated that the populist, anti-major party, and "freedom" agenda of the party would resound in certain regions of the country. For instance, many people hypothesized that the UAP would perform well in the polls in the outer suburbs of Melbourne, which are known for their strong anti-lockdown and anti-Dan Andrews sentiment.

Even though it polled better than it ever has in some of these areas, it did not translate into electoral success, nor did it make much of a dent in preferences like it did in the previous election.

One Nation was unsuccessful despite the fact that it had candidates running for 149 of the 151 seats in the House of Representatives.

The number of votes cast for the party in the national primary for the lower house went up by about 1. 8% to 4 9%, but this was primarily due to the fact that it ran in a significantly larger number of seats than it did in the previous election.

At one point during the vote count, it appeared as though Hanson might lose her Senate seat, but at this point, it appears as though she will just hold on to it.

She had to contend with fierce opposition from Palmer, as well as from Campbell Newman, the former premier of Queensland, and a relatively obscure minor party known as Legalise Cannabis Australia. It was surprising to see Hanson fighting for her political life against a party that was hardly anybody's business, especially considering how well known she is, particularly in the state of Queensland.

Pauline Hanson in front of a blue background and two Australian flags
Near the end of her election campaign, Hanson had a positive test for COVID, which may not have helped her cause. Darren England/AAP

Here are the top six reasons why the UAP and One Nation failed.

The question then is why neither party was able to perform as well as some predicted they could. Some of the most important reasons are as follows:

  1. They were vying for the same fraction of the electorate, which was relatively small. Both parties are on the populist right, and in an effort to distinguish themselves from other candidates, they positioned themselves as leaders of the "freedom" movement. As a result, they likely stole votes from one another.

  2. They were also competing for votes against the right wing of the Coalition, some of the candidates for which hold very similar views in terms of their sentiments regarding immigration and vaccination mandates.

  3. The "freedom" movement has experienced a significant headwind as a result of recent events. Because lockdowns have been lifted and almost all COVID restrictions have been lifted, the situation is not as urgent any longer. This freedom banner brought together various groups, ranging from ultra-conservative organizations to "wellness" and alternative health advocacy groups, but the connections between the organizations were never particularly strong. Since the common foe that prompted lockdowns has been eliminated, it would appear that there are no longer any social, class, or political ties that bind them together. If this election had taken place a year ago – or even just a few months ago – the chances of success for both parties would have been higher.

  4. The "corruption" of the ruling classes is a frequent target of populists' rhetoric in political campaigns. However, it was difficult for UAP or One Nation to get much traction on this issue because virtually every non-Coalition party or candidate – from Labor to the Greens to the teal independents – was also campaigning on the same issue. This included the issue of immigration.

  5. One of the primary tenets of One Nation's policies is its staunch opposition to immigration. The fact that there was almost no immigration into Australia after the pandemic started made it very difficult for the party to campaign on the issue that was considered to be its "bread-and-butter."

  6. In this election, there has been a lot of discussion about parties using "microtargeting," but the United American Party's strategy was completely different. Their use of widespread advertising and enormous billboards was the 21st-century equivalent of dispersing a packet of leaflets from the window of a moving airplane. The results of this election suggest that this strategy is ineffective; you cannot simply overwhelm people with information.

Read more about whether or not this signals the end of the two-party system in Australia here: Is the End of the Two-Party System in Australia Near?

Nothing in this should lead us to conclude that UAP or One Nation are no longer a viable option. Hanson has established herself as a reliable figure in Australian politics, and she has emerged from the political wilderness on multiple occasions.

In the meantime, Palmer has now run for office in three different federal elections, and each time, it appears that he is running on an entirely different platform. Who can say, given his deep pockets, whether or not he will run for office in 2025, and on what platform?

However, these parties did not experience a "populist moment" during the recent federal election. The story that will really be told in 2022 won't be on the right, but on the other side of politics.

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