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”

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  1. When the bounce occurs for Rudd from this interest rate rise he should go for the jugular. Kck him when he’s down. I’m serious.

    As I’ve said before spend evey cent there is on advertising and marketing and borrow to the hilt and then spend that (okay, may not be the best idea with the interest rate rise). But my point is get the message out there till it hurts.

    I’m predicting a close one but it would be Kevin Heaven if they could get a buffer for 3 terms.

  2. 429

    I agree with you that Howard (and for that matter Costellos) messages are coming across as confused. Maybe this is a deliberate ploy. Nothing the govt. has done in the last 6 months has “cut through” to the electorate. So maybe they are saying if we can’t “cut through” then make it so no-one else can.

  3. 453 – what, confuse the opposition to death? I guess it makes as much sense as anything else they’ve tried. Perhaps if they ran away it would confuse them even more? (As brave Sir Robin said).

  4. 452 – there’s no such thing as a 3 term buffer – people were saying howard had a 2 or 3 term buffer after 2004, and look where we are…

  5. CL de F, it was “I’m sick of the way these b**tards have been b*llshitting the Australian prople. And now I’m goona do something about it.”

    Stern, determined angry.

    The Cold Rage.

  6. Its funny that the Australian scours poll bludger. I have stopped reading their own rag because Shanahan and co are so biased it is an embarrassement to journalism. Maybe they are looking for fresh ideas.

    I say this as someone who regards themselves as neutral. Despite the Oz’s assumption about people who post here, I am not a member of any party, and in fact haven’t given my primary vote to either major party in ten years. I just want to see an end to Howard, like anyone who is not congenitally Liberal-voting. I suspect many who post here are not aligned to Labor.

    The Oz seems to have trouble understanding those they see as their opponents. Because they are incapable of honest self-examination, they assume their own views are flawless, and therefore that any opponent must be some kind of loon. Those who they have demonised most are those who regard themselves as progressive, and whom they label leftists (even when we might be economically conservative!). The mere fact that they talk about “culture wars” shows how narrow, combative and black-and-white is the way they see the world. Alternative viewpoints? Nonsense! We are the Oz so we are right! They are not clever.

  7. Paladin – they don’t have to, it seems Costello is doing that for them. Joe is only the tip of the buffoonery iceberg. I suspect we’re about to see a buffoon onslaught such as has never before been witnessed in this country (well, since Bill McMahon, anyway).

  8. Diogenes (449), as far as the current lie – that increasing interest rates are proof of the Govt’s superior economic management – well, that’s all Howard’s got left. What else can he say? “Yeah, we suck, it’s a fair cop”? Course not. But his saying it doesn’t equate to people buying it. Not this time. Apart from anything else this message is all over the place. It’s not nice and simple, like “boat people are terrorists”. I’d love to be a fly on the wall of Liberal Party HQ to see the gloom and despondency.

    Anyone got a view on the outcome of the Gillard-Hockey debate??

  9. CL de Footscray @ 448
    “…Rate rise proof of good management: Costello”

    huhhh?!? is it so true? then why team Howard-Costello has been tirelessly hammering Hawk/Keating 17% interest rate? After all, along the line of Costello’s argument, 17% interest rate was necessary to keep the inflation go through the roof 🙂

    Sorry Costello, you can’t have it both ways.

  10. I think Costello’s remark is the final nail in the thin veneer that was his credibility. As Keating said “the world’s laziest treasurer”.

  11. Gillard-Hockey:

    Hockey’s line was that you can’t trust Labor, seeing as how they’re all unionists and don’t know how to run a small business. Things are turning to s$#t out there and you need a steady hand at the wheel. Also, under the libs, wage rises will be ‘sustainable’, but under labor there’ll be a wages break-out. Also, you can’t trust Labor. Under the coalition policy, people on AWAs get 94% more than people under awards. And Labor cannot be trusted.

    Gillard: Labor will reintroduce a system that provides reasonable checks and balances and will invite the current head of the IRC (Giudice J.) to head the new Commission they’re establishing. She repeated key ALP policy. She pointed out that people in some sectors (retail, hospitality) have little bargaining power and have been sc$#@ed by WorkChoices. She also pointed out that the Libs 2004 IR policy didn’t mention any of the WoirkChoices stuff.

    Score: Julia by several lengths of the straight. Joe looked miserable and unhappy. Julia looked energetic, sensible, calm and cool.

  12. CL, I didn’t actually see that debate. I heard it on the radio. Both of them sounded much the same, but on content, Gillard absolutely wiped the floor with him. About the only untruth she didn’t take apart was the 70% bit. Was that beneath contempt perhaps?

    Now will the press report that Hockey got taken to task for bullshitting, or not?

  13. mad cow – i watched it on line (how desperate is that?) and my impression was that the press actually feel a bit for Hockey. Will they take him apart – I doubt it, but they can hardly score this as a win for the government. They’ll probably say it was a draw, which means a win for Gillard and the ALP. Julia was very calm and confident after a slightly nervous start, but Hockey was just blustering and stuck on the untrustworthiness of the ALP. At the end, when Julia held up the Libs 2004 IR policy and went through the things that WEREN’T in it, Hockey looked like he wanted to crawl into a hole somewhere and hide. She wiped the floor with him, and didn’t resort to any scaremongering at all (apart from suggesting that the Libs would extend WorkChances if re-elected). Which Hockey was almost supporting, given that under the libs wages growth will be sustainable. In other words, there won’t be any.

  14. 450
    Ashley Says:
    November 7th, 2007 at 2:45 pm
    Pancho @ 446: I heard that PollBludger will soon be acquired by google.
    other way around, ashley: bludging has a big premium on it these days and william will soon rule the world

  15. Julia Gillard ripped Hockey’s arguments to shreds – provided facts, figures and examples for every attack on WorkChoices.

    I will never arbitrarily condemn her again. I do pity Hockey – he was stuck trying to defend the indefensible, and did a fairly good job of it – but not good enough.

    You should see the spin of it here , and the ABC feed here:

    I wonder why provided their so-helpful “analysis” of the debate (one which just happened to declare Hockey the ‘winner’), but not a feed so that people could make up their own minds. Could it be due to the institutional determination of NL to never, ever simply provide the facts and let people make up their own minds? Maybe.

  16. Anyone hear Joe Hockey in the debate something about bricklayers wages in Rockhampton he said “75 grand a year thats a thousand bucks a day” ???? wtf? so where are the brickies that only work 2 and half months a year?

  17. I detect something dark going on in the Liberal camp.Two of there attack dogs,Abbot and Hockey have given atrocious performances at the Press Club in the last week, looking “agenda light” and uncomfortable.And of course Costello putting a positive spin on rising interest rates. Are they imploding? I hope so.

  18. Apparently JWH told Steve Price just prior to the 2004 election that “he’d keep interest rates at record lows … but once we get in we’ll just change it all”.

  19. You could watch the debate via News, although the ABC feed was better quality. What a load of tripe that News commentary is (MC @ 480). there is no doubt that JG cleaned Hockey up.

  20. CL, is there a transcript lurking for that debate?

    Thing is, earlier on I could have sworn I heard Hockey talking about ‘more valuable’ and ‘less valuable’ positions. In other words, code for the Liberal ‘self reliance’ philosophy that goes something like “if you’re poor, that’s your fault”. Or “who cares if your job is wage slavery, you could choose to have a better job, surely?”

    Kinda reminds me of an interview with the creators of South Park.

    When asked why Kenny always has to die, they reply..

    “cos he’s poor”

  21. 481 – he said apprentice bricklayers in Rocky get $75k. Tradesmen get $1000 or more a day. Imagine if that were repeated down south? The spin was that the govt policies will prevent wages going up. Excellent. Interest rates will rise under the libs and we’ll make sure your wages don’t go up as well. Vote for us, we’re complete f$#kwits

  22. The GG seems to have discovered the dangers of the about to be elected Rudd government with its centrist tendencies.(A bad day at the press).And those left left blogs! However this speech of Julia Gilliard’s with its very ‘whitlamesque’ ideas for the formation of a Ministry was given at the Sydney Institute in March 06.The GG apparently sees a Rudd government as little short of a one man band…..a peculiar interpretation. I can’t imagine Julia G or W Swan or Lindsay Tanner or even Kevin Rudd putting up with that.

  23. Lefty E @ 387

    Sounds like a pretty out there kinda theory mate. All the experts at the Gazette seem to saying the exact opposite. Care to elaborate on this crazy idea? Any evidence to support it? You know charts showing Labor’s vote going up after a rate rise or something like that?

    Will @ 392

    Your problem there old bean is that so many of Howard’s ‘battlers’ took him at his word about low interest rates and so didn’t fix. You have to pay a premium to fix – why pay more if the economic genius PM is saying rates are staying low? But keep having thoughts mate – you may end up concluding that someone who so often says things that turn out to completely incorrect is in fact a serial liar.

  24. mad cow, sorry haven’t seen a transcript yet. The ABC will probably have it as a vodcast or something, and they may transcribe it. Didn’t notice the bit you refer to – had to be productively engaged at some moments of the thing … as indeed I do now! Moo.

  25. Wow, I was overseas for a week – just got back and found out Howard’s totally nicked the ALP policy on GP centres at public hospitals.

    its just ‘me-too’ all day long out there. Party convergence, live to air!

  26. David Barnett, this is just a hoot! I am now quite prepared to sit back, relax and enjoy the greatest 2 1/2 weeks of conservative melt down ever seen on the planet, the government is going to be defeated and we all must not forget that this will be a time to be treasured and recounted unto further generations. It will be ugly, it will be bloody and Christ it will be fun!!! If today is any example Rome burning will be mere embroidery compared to the whole stinking edifice of austrlaia’s conservative structure collapsing.

  27. Labor has timed either their mailouts *or* their letterboxing to get in sync with the IR debate today. In my postbox was a handout trashing IR policies ……. and this is a safe Labor neighborhood, so I am sure that marginals and Lib held seats probably have seen similar today too. Anyone else get anti IR stuff in the mailbox today?

  28. ND@491

    I think you must mean: That for Tories, There is an inverse relationship between work hours & effort and pay. The less productive they – are the more they earn. Let’s face it – what the hell does Hockey do?

  29. Seems fair, why shouldn’t we sacrifice our wages to increase business profits so they can invest in China?

    WorkChoices is based on Howard’s rationale that since we have to compete with low paid foreign workers we should make ourselves poor. He wont be happy until we are on $2 a day and can export chopsticks to China.

    GST, WorkChoices and Inflation – Government’s plan to take money away with three hands.

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