During his time as a sitting member, Xenophon has been an activist for a range of issues aside the elimination of pokies, speaking out on consumer rights, essential services, the environment, taxation, and perks for politicians. Xenophon was also vocal in the Eugene McGee hit-run affair, becoming an advocate for the victim's wife, with public opinion eventually forcing the Kapunda Road Royal Commission that led to harsher laws for hit-run offences. He is best known for his many media-friendly publicity stunts that have gained him both deep respect and ardent criticism. Xenophon has also suffered severe health difficulties that at one stage forced him to take leave.
The result was unprecedented in Australian political history; an Independent had never before been so significantly endorsed statewide. His Legislative Council vote of 20.5 percent was 5.5 percent short of the vote recorded by the Liberal Party, with some polling booths Xenophon polling higher than the Liberals. Xenophon outpolled the Liberals for the upper house in the electoral district of Enfield. Xenophon's vote at the election came approximately equally from both major parties. This series of events led some commentators to call Xenophon the new "third force" in South Australian politics.
Following the announcement, ABC election analyst Antony Green had already stated that Xenophon would easily win a seat, with Centrebet speculating he would begin on a favourable $1.50 for and $2.70 against. Nick Minchin had "urged people not to vote for Mr Xenophon", with the Liberal Party's 2006 upper house vote only 5.5 percent higher, and polled lower than Xenophon in some booths. Although the quota is higher in the federal upper house, Xenophon could have lost half of his 20.5 percent vote and still gained election on preferences. By this time the Greens and Family First had also indicated they would preference Xenophon. There were also predictions he could repeat 2006, gain two seats, and potentially hold the balance of power.
Unlike the state upper house where he ran under the ticket of Independent Nick Xenophon - No Pokies, his name did not appear above the line as part of the party name. No Pokies is not a registered federal party, meaning he was represented only by a letter above the line, with voters having to search for his details. This required more effort with How To Vote cards in order to get elected. An AEC spokesman stated that to be represented above the line by a letter, a non-party group of at least two members must be formed. Mr Xenophon declared rules made by major parties were "stacked against independents". The senate ticket order was drawn on November 2, with Xenophon drawing last spot, Group S, with voters able to select one of two tickets containing differing preferences. Ticket 1 was a "left of centre" ticket, (Greens, Democrats, Family First, Labor and Liberal, in that order), while ticket 2 was a "right of centre" ticket (Family First, Greens, Democrats, Liberal, and Labor, in that order).
Xenophon had initially canvassed the idea of running for the Division of Sturt as an independent with the Labor Party around April. Xenophon however stated that it was never a serious option. Labor sources supported his decision to run for the Senate, hoping he would emerge as a "Brian Harradine". Xenophon said he only considered the move a few weeks before his announcement, dismissing reports he and Labor knew for six months, stating that his conversation with Christopher Pyne was 'just a joke'.
After controversy broke out as to who should replace Xenophon in the state upper house, the state Labor government eventually agreed with Xenophon that his third candidate on the ticket, former valuer-general John Darley, should be appointed as Xenophon's replacement. Ann Bressington also had an extraordinary turn of face, lashing out at Xenophon during the joint sitting, questioning his integrity and suitability for federal parliament. Bressington claimed Xenophon demanded she contribute $50,000 towards his campaign expenses (for which Bressington had to take out a loan), mismanaged campaign funds, implied that he had made requests to State Treasury for illegal funding, and that she was ignored by Xenophon once she entered parliament. Xenophon denied these claims. Bressington also questioned why Xenophon had avoided the media scrutiny that other Politicians are subjected to, alluding that many of his core 'anti-politician' promises warranted further investigation.
Xenophon had lodged a complaint regarding political advertisements claiming he would not support a rollback of WorkChoices laws, which was likely to lead to legal action. The advertisements were alleged to have been released by the AMWU.
Xenophon's final stunt before the election was walking a large mule down Rundle Mall.
Xenophon received a primary vote of 14.78 percent (with one in five voting below the line), a swing against him of around six percent from 2006. His vote secures him around $300,000 in electoral funding. His addition resulted in holding the balance of power in the Senate along with the Australian Greens and Family First. Xenophon has also indicated his plans to work closely with coalition renegade Barnaby Joyce.
From highest to lowest, Xenophon's vote came from: Boothby (19 percent), Sturt, Mayo, Hindmarsh, Adelaide, Makin which were above his statewide vote, and below were Kingston, Port Adelaide, Wakefield, Barker, Grey (9 percent).
Xenophon has indicated general support toward Labor's sweeping changes to Mandatory detention in Australia.