Dark side of the Mooner

Former West Australian editor and current Perth talk radio king Paul "Mooner" Murray has stirred up a psephological pshitstorm with the following remarks in his regular Saturday column for his old paper:

Over the next few weeks, you will be bombarded by endless streams of so-called information about what are seen by the media as marginal seats. Much of it will be rubbish, because the media rely solely on one source of information to determine the swinging seats. That source is Antony Green, the competent psephologist employed by our state-owned national broadcaster (sometimes called the ABC – PB). Even the WA Electoral Commission uses his pendulum of swinging seats as its published guide. The problem is that the Green pendulum will not help you make sense of what is likely to happen in the election … his swings are calculated on the two-party preferred results of the 2001 election. That takes no account of the peculiar flow of preferences in that election which will not be reproduced in this one …. And that’s what makes the pendulum worthless.

Murray is certainly laying it on with a trowel with his contention that the two-party preferred measure is "worthless", which suggests that voters are idiotic automatons with no intellectual capacity to grasp the importance of their relative ordering of Labor and Coalition candidates – surely only true south of the river. But newspaper editors and talkback hosts do develop different ways of expressing themselves from academics and election wonks. Stripped of its provocativeness, Murray’s contention that the primary vote figures from the 2001 election will be a more useful guide than two-party preferred is worth examining. Constructing an alternative pendulum based on the difference between the parties’ post-redistribution primary vote from 2001 is easily done, since two-party preferred figures are not the only ones that Antony Green has calculated – they are however the obvious ones to use in ordering a table of the electorates, since two-party preferred is the only measure that puts Labor seats on one side and Coalition seats on the other.

The following table ranks electorates by order of primary vote majority, cutting out at the 10 per cent mark, with Labor majority seats on the left and Coalition (literally speaking since several of these seats had both Liberal and Nationals candidates) on the right. Which of the two tables proves more useful will be easily verifiable once the results are in. The seats are colour-coded according to who actually holds them on the notional post-redistribution two-party measure, with the difference between the major parties’ primary vote listed in the inner column and the total non-major party vote in the outer – the higher the latter figure, the more dangerous it is to draw conclusions from either the primary or two-party result (also note the pendulum at Mumble, which is padded out
with various other figures in recognition of what both Brent and Murray recognise as an unusual result from 2001). Alannah MacTiernan’s seat of Armadale, which is being factored into the Liberals’ best-case scenarios, is listed with its notional two-party margin of 6.6 per cent because the Liberals did not field a candidate in 2001.

22.4 0.4 MINDARIE
23.8 1.2 RIVERTON ALBANY 1.4 35.4
23.8 2.5 JOONDALUP MURRAY 1.9 29.7
24.2 2.6 WANNEROO BUNBURY 4.5 24.7
25.1 3.0 COLLIE-WELL. DARLING RANGE 5.1 32.4
26.9 6.4 KIMBERLEY SWAN HILLS 6.0 32.8
14.2 8.2 BALLAJURA GERALDTON 8.5 38.3
22.8 9.6 N.W. COASTAL SERP.-JARRAH. 9.2 24.6

It may thus be inferred that under a first-past-the-post system (assuming such a system would not have prompted voters to have behaved differently), Labor would have fallen one seat short of a majority. It’s also interesting to note that the one seat they would have picked up at the Coalition’s expense would have been Kalgoorlie, held by Liberal leadership hopeful Matt Birney.

Author: William Bowe

William Bowe is a Perth-based election analyst and occasional teacher of political science. His blog, The Poll Bludger, has existed in one form or another since 2004, and is one of the most heavily trafficked websites on Australian politics.