Covering the spread

Simon Jackman at The Bullring has done as I did in an idle moment a few weeks ago, deriving various measures of spread from an election’s worth of swing results at national and state level. If Jackman’s interpretation is correct, a state-level poll is little better than a national one as a pointer to a given seat result:

We see that there is less variation in swing within states than there is overall. But not that much less. The measures of spead of the swings (range, standard deviations, the mean absolute deviation around the mean) for each state are still quite large relative to corresponding national figure … There is still an awful lot of variability in swings out there, and I’d be reluctant to start applying uniform swing models within states.

However, he does add “just one caveat to all of this”:

It could well be that when average swings are large (or dare I say massive), there is greater uniformity or even less uniformity than when average swings are relatively small. I haven’t looked at data from previous election to know the answer to that, but it be helpful to know the answer to that.

Which is easily done if you have a spreadsheet full of swing figures, like I do. These three tables replicate Jackman’s for the 1996, 1998 and 2001 elections, two of which saw heavy traffic from one party to the other.

2001 Nat’l NSW Vic Qld SA WA
Mean 1.9 3.1 1.4 2.1 0.2 1.2
SD 2.4 2.8 2.0 2.4 2.3 1.4
MAD 1.8 2.2 1.5 1.7 2.1 1.0
Minimum -5.5 -4.0 -5.5 -3.3 -2.7 -2.4
Maximum 10.1 10.1 4.7 7.9 3.3 3.3
Range 15.6 14.1 10.2 11.2 6.0 5.7
N 142 45 37 25 11 15
1998 Nat’l NSW Vic Qld SA WA
Mean -4.8 -4.5 -3.2 -7.1 -4.0 -6.2
SD 2.9 2.2 2.3 3.2 2.8 2.7
MAD 2.3 1.9 1.8 2.4 2.2 1.7
Minimum -15.3 -10.2 -9.8 -15.3 -9.0 -11.1
Maximum 0.3 -0.3 0.3 -0.5 -0.2 0.0
Range 15.6 9.9 10.1 14.8 8.8 11.1
N 139 48 35 25 11 12
1996 Nat’l NSW Vic Qld SA WA
Mean 5.2 7.0 1.7 8.3 4.5 2.2
SD 3.3 2.4 1.4 2.5 1.3 1.4
MAD 2.7 2.0 1.1 2.0 1.0 1.2
Minimum 0.1 2.3 0.1 4.4 2.2 0.2
Maximum 14.0 12.0 4.9 14.0 6.5 3.9
Range 13.9 9.7 4.8 9.6 4.3 3.7
N 138 48 34 25 12 11

And what do you know. The last time there was a big swing and a change of government, the gap between measures of spread at state and national level was significantly higher than in 2004. However, this was not true of the 1998 election, which saw a substantial swing to Labor but no change of government. That might be due to the effect of One Nation in polarising the cities and the regions, most evidently in Queensland. The even messier picture from 2001 provides support for Jackman’s suggestion that a relative lack of state-level uniformity might be a phenomenon of status quo elections.

UPDATE: Geoff Lambert, who knows way more about these things than I do, offers a well-made point about the leptokurticity (here, use my hankie) of swing distributions in comments.

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.

587 comments on “Covering the spread”

Comments Page 12 of 12
1 11 12
  1. Julie @ 540: I don’t really think Glen’s a troll. Just becasue he doesn’t agree with most of us doesn’t make him a troll. He might stir us a bit but he also has some substantive things to say from time to time.

    Last night for example he put forward some pretty damn good posts (not that I agree with him on things) but they were well thought out at least and stated his case.

    Tabitha is a troll, but imo she’s just funny, as well as fatuous (spelling?).

    ESJ likes to provoke but again he puts his points across in the face of some sometimes personal attacks, and sticks to his guns.

  2. I love Julia’s accent, just like Hawkey’s.

    A little irritating, yes, but a nice foil to K-Dogg’s educated modern Australian accent. Sounds genuinely Australian, without being forced, like John Howard’s.

  3. Edward,
    No,some of us regret voting for John Howard instead of Keating ,and want to amend the error of our ways! These past few years have been the least comfortable I have ever been and my “sorry” is heart -felt!!

  4. Hockey has finally announced the coalition’s long-awaited childcare policy. It’s a week’s unpaid leave for grandparents.

    And can I put in a word for ESJ, Glen and Tabitha. I love them.

  5. Burgey

    Have you checked out the quality of the right wing blogs. They’re pretty much the blogsosphere version of the bar scene in Star Wars. I’m not surprised some of them come over here..

  6. Will @ 502

    I suspect there are plenty of wives of Bludgers who feel the same way.

    I sure you’re right about those who did guess correctly and and locked in, but those who locked in a while ago will be coming up near to the end of their fixed periods and looking at a jump of a couple of percent. I don’t know they’ll be looking too kindly at that jump.

  7. Matthew

    Julia is a social democrat. That’s just social democratic left – and our social democracies are heaps more right wing than most others if you look at it. Its only because of the Radical Right have infected both parties (neoliberalism). Her practical politics would be centre/left – of course, socialism is dead, its about social democracy. They say socialist left to marginalise it and scare people

  8. Pi @535 Tabitha a university student? I think that she is most likely a third grader. She has a very child-like quality of expression, don’t you think? But it’s nice seeing the little ones contribute to the political debate.

  9. 542
    Edward StJohn Says:
    November 7th, 2007 at 4:20 pm
    Julie 540 and Socrates 534

    And what does that say about the day bloggers – they are all unemployed Labor voters?

    No, to the contrary. We just happen to be lucky enough to have a situation where we can use the internet freely ;-).

  10. [1. Gillard is very publicly from the Socialist Left faction of the ALP.]

    This is incorrect. Gillard is now a member of the Ferguson Left faction.

  11. ShowsOn #562,

    This isn’t sarcasm – what’s the difference? I don’t understand the internal politicking of the ALP (or the LP, for that matter, but that’s not at discussion). Please enlighten my ignorance.

  12. Don’t know if anyone else has commented on it, but the Labor ad attacking Howard over interest rates is getting a very good work out on Fox this afternoon.

  13. I agree with Matthew Cole. I think Gillard is a fantastic, intelligent performer who will be a great asset in the Rudd Ministry. Unfortunately, in Western societies there is a huge bias against women who are not photogenic and dont have a mellifluous voice. This does not apply for men. Look at the newsreaders, all the women are young and attractive, the men are not. Its sad but its a fact of life.

  14. Dolly says The Libs need WA.

    [Western Australia is enormously important in the federal election and the Liberal Party is placing a great deal of emphasis on the state, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer says.

    Mr Downer said despite the fact WA had only 15 out of 150 of the country’s lower house seats, it did not make it less important to the campaign and he denied the prime minister was neglecting the state.

    “Mr Howard has been here,” Mr Downer told reporters in Perth, where he was campaigning in the Labor-held marginal seat of Cowan.

    “Australia is a big country and he can’t be here everyday. Western Australia is enormously important in terms of the election and certainly the Liberal party is placing a great deal of emphasis on Western Australia.”]

  15. Julia not photogenic? She looked positively gorgeous this afternoon.

    And her voice is the voice of pure Australia, undiluted.

    Your taste is all in your a*se, Diogenes.

  16. yes, julia used to turn me right off, with the voice and the look. but she’s refined the look, got the hair sorted (handy having a hairdresser partner, eh what?) and the voice seems less grating when everything else is looking good. and she’s extremely articulate and sharp. she has el rodente’s team for breakfast.

  17. Resurrecting something I wrote on another site during the 2004 campaign about interest rates. I’m feeling much more optimistic in 2007!


    The Lindsay Electorate
    Despite our extensive leaflet dropping and handouts, the Lindsay voter turnout for the ‘Defend Your Democracy’ forum in Penrith on 18/9 was very disappointing.

    That was quite a stark contrast to the full house the following day at the same venue when John Howard (along with Tony Abbott, Jackie Kelly, Ross Cameron etc) was there to bribe all the western seats. (BTW it was the first time I shouted at someone in Australia – Shame, Howard shame)

    Labor is unable to counter the scare campaign on interest rates and the economy in this area. I have plans to drop leaflets on interest rates and the economy as part of our grassroots campaign. There is only a handful of us helping. I have a good article from The Age on ‘The Truth about John Howard and Interest Rates.’ Does anyone out there have any other articles I can use? Unfortunately, Truth in government is not high up on the local electorate’s priorities. They are worried about their mortgages.

    It is really depressing as most of the locals should really be pro-public health and education. I am feeling rather desperate and helpless in Lindsay.

    HA: You’re a trooper. Lindsay will be a tough nut, but, in the words of Aragorn, ‘There is always hope’. A letterbox campaign specifically targetting the interest rate issue sounds like an excellent strategy. Can anyone help? Email me if you want me to pass your contact details on to …….

  18. I think the Libs underestimate Julia because she tends not to dress and shimmy like the staring Julie Bishop (my granddaughter asked of her ‘why does that lady stare at me with weird eyes!) But why should Julia be judged on appearance and voice. I thought she was great today and won hands down. Joe looked like the buffoon he is and his face said it all – why can’t he be judged on his size and the way he looks. Perhaps he was upset because you guys hadn’t supplied his pies!!
    Thought Kevin said it all very well at his Press Conference – David Speers looked a bit stunned afterwards and didn’t know where to start commenting. Of course he tried to spin everything in the Government’s favour as usual.

  19. 303 MAX said: “I would reply, but that generalisation says to me that I, as a Liberal and thus “Team Howard” supporter, have already been labelled, thus there really isn’t much point, is there? Then again, I generalised in calling you all ‘plotters’, so I will give the benefit of the doubt that such a line was not aimed at me, and give a few ramblings.

    If you have read my posts before, you will have noticed that I have on occaison criticised the government. I hate the new electoral laws. The IR laws were good in theory, went a touch too far and probably need to be tinkered with, but the scare campaign by the union has frankly made me disbelieve everything that they now have to say on the matter. All in all, the reforms will end up having a positive effect. I think the rate rise ‘promise’ of 2004 by Howard was idiotic. The price is now being paid. Whether or not rates would have gone up higher under Labor is a matter for debate, who knows what type of spending a Latham governmenmt would have embarked upon?”

    MAX, thanks for your cogent and courteous response. My point about people making bogus excuses was not directed at yourself, but to other posters who repeatedly deny Team Howard’s mistakes or breaching of commitments. Obviously, we’re not so very far apart on what we expect of our side of politics in government, but do you have the ticker that it takes to vote for Labor on the 24th like I did in the NSW election this year when voting Liberal first time ever?

    I didn’t think Debnam was a better leader or his policies any improvement, but it’s a certainty that no Party ever starts to listen again to its rank and file unless it has copped either a defeat or a genuine near-death experience. Each and every failing of the too-long-in-power-and-out-of-touch state Labor governments has its direct equivalent in the Howard government. Especially galling is that all have thrown hundreds of millions of our tax dollars down the toilet on self-promotional advertising and a plethora of spin doctors.

    Perhaps a fair portion of this Ministerial arrogance and cognitive dissonance stems from Parliamentary Question Time being a bully session with zero pressure for any Minister to come within cooee of a straight, accountable response (saw Turnbull do it once, but he’s not fully House-trained yet!). Small wonder that Howard early in this campaign, when under pressure from the crowd at a rally, actually shouted, “Mr. Speaker!”

    As to your point about the Coalition’s I.R. laws going a “touch too far”. First, please check out Ross Gittins’ article 6 months ago in which he details why WorkChoices is a “try-on” to give employers an excessive degree of power. Then, for its first year Team Howard ardently rubbished all the evidence that WorkChoices needed serious modification (far beyond “tinkering”) until forced to accept reality and bring in a fairness umpire, Uncle Joe Hockey etc. Do you think nobody notices that Team Howard uses the same spurious arguments which they insisted were true for the “perfect” Mach I before they hastily cobbled together their “perfect” Mach II version? Do you think nobody cares that Team Howard never mentioned any elephantine I.R. changes like WorkChoices during the last election?

    As for Howard’s “idiotic” rates promise, it seems that you still don’t quite accept the significance of it to today’s rate rise. Mate, it’s totally irrelevant whether rates would be worse if Latham had won because it wasn’t Latham who made interest rates THE “trust” issue. Ironically, even without the promise, Howard would have surfed to victory just by getting credit for the low 2004 rates and prosperity.

    Thanks to Latham’s blunders (Tassie Timberworkers, the only Noble True Blue Thug-free Union, mobbing Howard their Hero—pure campaign gold), Team Rudd will still require a boatload of luck to win 16 marginals seats (perhaps 18 after loss of 2 in WA) should Labor win the national popular vote. Do you reckon Rudd will be the new model of the ’98 Beazley?

  20. Just saw Rudd’s press conference – nailed it with the exact right amount of seriousness, conern and professionalism. But only useful if lots of people get to see it.

  21. My mother in law has been interviewed on AM for tomorrows show about interest rates. Asked if they would affect the way she votes, she said no. She was then asked if they would affect the way she votes if there was another rise she said no, but John Howard has been there far too long and she was sure all her children were voting him out.

  22. 575 PJK,
    Delighted to hear WA is solid, but what’s the story that some newspaper there had a random sample poll showing Beazley’s and another one heading Howard’s way? Was it a bogus survey, or what?

  23. 580 – There is only one WA newspaper – The Worst Australia and Beazley’s not standing! His former seat has a margin of 9% or so. Cowan is being called close due to loss of Edwards as sitting member but odds are we will win Hasluck and Stirling. Westpoll is always bollox.

  24. Thanks PJK for WA news we don’t get in the Far East! I knew Beazley had retired, so I’m relieved to hear that losing one of Labor’s most revered MP’s doesn’t seem to place his former seat in danger. As Hawkie once said, Kim Beazley is the best Prime Minister we never had, and I would have felt a Labor victory all the more sweet if luck had gone Kim’s way in either of his two campaigns.

  25. Surely there are plenty like me who vote out lousy,complacent govts regardless of party? I wanted to vote out this smug NSW government (with it’s bruvvers..Costa,et al)but couldn’t vote for Debnam….why did the Libs chose him over the steady O’Farrell, who was known to voters and who WAS electable? Sometimes wonder if it was pressure from JWH camp to keep NSW as Labor so as not to threaten the current Federal incumbency.
    Surely the extreme swing to the right is what needs correcting with Fascism snapping at our heels?

  26. If, as I suspect, the campaign managers for Labor have been hanging onto the best grenades in the advertising box to lob in the final fortnight, following the campaign launch, they will have played their hand perfectly.

    Think about the contrasting images on the news at their launches. The Tip does the intro, Rattus strides out, they shake hands and pretend they like each other, Rodent then launches into lengthy discourse on why interest rates are going up is out of his hands, but vote us in again and we’ll promise not to use our Senate majority to make sure your pay packet can’t keep pace with price rises, or better still make it even easier for your boss to f**k you off any time he feels like it.

    A few lines about Labor and the unions planning to eat your children, then close by thanking your team. “Go For Growth” slogan nowhere to be seen, massive Australian flag will play well down Cronulla way but Cook’s a safe Liberal seat so it makes no difference. Hyacinth stands next to him beaming proudly, thinking in the back of her mind that if he loses she will actually have to live with the guy 24/7, 365 days a year for another 25 years.

    Rudd strides out after ensuring that no member of the NSW Government is within a ten block radius, wife and young kids in tow, some hip rock song plays in the background, Hawkie shakes his hand in the front row (Gough and Paul are welcome to attend but can watch from a private suite away from the cameras) and he strides onstage with ‘New Leadership’ in the background of every shot.

    Tells the assembled that in order to keep productivity going we need to invest in education and skills training, so we shelved the tax cut for the rich pricks. Howard wants to build new technical colleges, we want to fund your kid’s local school properly be it public or private. Think you’re packing it over interest rates now? Wasn’t life a bit better when you had something called job security? The boss already has you bent over, vote Howard back in and he’ll hand your boss the black one with the 12 inch shaft to finish the job. Mortgage going up and house price going down? Just wait till Howard’s buddies build their nuclear reactor down the road from you.

    Standing ovation, hug from the wife and kids, beautiful. Cue a solid fortnight of 50% ads selling your plan for the future, 50% reminding you that in 2004 you voted for the bloke selling the magic beans, turns out the beans he sold you are worth 70% of what they were then, and the mate he sold your cow onto at a profit just raised the price of milk. But then again the bloke says he can’t control the beans, and what his mate does with the cow in the privacy of his own home is none of his business.

    Saving the bulk of the advertising push until the home stretch will do much to counteract the oodles of mud that’s no doubt about to be slung.

    All the above being said, something tells me a couple of curveballs on the night of the 24th like one or two WA seats going the other way will spoil the Labor party.

  27. I’ve been noting the media bias towards Howard the past couple of days
    -2GB (Home of Alan”I have a urinary problem” Jones) at 7:00pm had the interest rate increase at story 5
    – On Sky News I have seen better/more coverage to the Libs over Labor

    I will list more

  28. I too have been thinking recently about the standard deviation of swings by electorate. I started out thinking about applying standard deviations to poll results either nationally or by state to get some idea of the distribution of the swing. I didn’t get far in proving anything useful. However, as often happens in scientific endeavour, I happened on something interesting by accident.

    I was able to download an Excel spreadsheet with 2004 swings by electorate from the AEC website. Because there was no equivalent spreadsheet for 2001 results, I was compelled to enter 2001 swings manually from an AEC table. The electorates were listed in swing order, and I noticed that a number of the electorates we have been canvassing lately in the blogosphere crop up at the swing-to-Labor end of the 2001 spectrum. For example Warringah, Kooyong, Ryan, Higgins & Kennedy.

    With my interest piqued by the 2001 swings in some of those safer Coalition seats, I decided to test the swing in each seat to see how many standard deviations they were away from the mean electorate swing for the State. I did this for both 2001 & 2004, and then added the results together as well for good measure.

    A number of Coalition seats stand out for having gone hard (in relative terms) against the pro-Government trend in the last two elections:

    Bennelong – 1.4 standard deviations of the NSW swing in the Labor direction in 2004
    Berowra – almost 1.5 NSW st dev towards Labor in 2004
    Bradfield – 1.18 & 1.15 st dev towards Labor in the last two elections (but at 68% 2pp last time its very safe)
    Cowper – 1.5 NSW st dev towards Labor in 2001
    Mackellar – averaged .9 NSW st dev towards Labor at the last 2 elections (but over 65% 2pp)
    North Sydney – .9 and 1.36 NSW st dev towards Labor
    Warringah – 1.18 and .97 the last two elections
    Wentworth – .95 and 1.05
    Kennedy – 1.6 and 0.7 st dev better for Labor than the mean swing in Qld
    Ryan – averaged .8 Qld st dev towards Labor in 2001 & 2004
    Boothby – averaged .91 SA st dev better for Labor
    Corangamite – 1.5 Vic st dev better for Labor in 2004
    Higgins – more than 1.3 Vic st dev in each election
    Kooyong – .96 and 2.1 Vic st dev better for Labor
    McMillan – 1.67 st dev better for Labor in 2004

    The extent of these swings was disguised by the State and national swings to the Coalition the last two times. For example, the 2001 swing to the Libs in Wentworth of 0.5% looks unremarkable, but its not a good result when you realise the mean swing in NSW was 3% with a standard deviation of 2.6%.

    My hypothesis about a number of these seats is that it represents the revolt of the small-l Liberal heartland against the Howard marginal seats strategy involving lowest-common-denominator racism, xenophobia, global warming denial, detention without trial etc. The statistics reinforce Possum Comitatus’ analysis of the quarterly Newspoll results which points to a huge swing in safe Coalition seats.

Comments are closed.

Comments Page 12 of 12
1 11 12