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. I think one of the biggest incongruencies in the attack by the wider right wing of Oz politics is the characterisation of Gillard as a liability for the ALP. She’s the best media performer the Labor team has, Rudd included.

  2. Ratsak, I did fix my mortgage, and recommended to my children as well to do so, and I pointed out the pitfalls of not doing so. You see, I used to work for a bank, in lending, and knew how it worked.
    I also knew that we have a lying little scumbag in charge of this country, so could not afford the chance of a spike in rates, and was therefore prepared to pay the extra .15% premium. But I take your point.
    My point however, was that if the bulk of borrowers have locked in their mortgage for some years, would they be particularly concerned with this rise and therefor vote ALP?
    I feel that it’s the credibility factor here that may come into play for those who have locked-in rates.
    But I do enjoy this site immensely, although my wife thinksI have better things to do.

  3. DP #500

    Gillard has two liabilities regarding her public image.

    1. Gillard is very publicly from the Socialist Left faction of the ALP. Due to JWH’s successful demonising of the left wing of politics, this will negatively influence perceptions of her.

    2. While she is articulate and intelligent, her voice is a liability in politics, where appearances count above all else.

    Other than these, she is indeed a positive for the ALP.

  4. StanS, thanks for that link to the past. I haven’t heard anything as funny as that since I heard Billy Wentworth argue that we needed to stay close to Britain to remain protected by the British nuclear umbrella. Maybe DB is channelling the spirit of Billy?

    Apparently the Lib slogan is no longer Going for Growth. I think we should have a competition to come up with a new one. My entry is ‘Apocalypse NOW’

  5. # 503 Deo Says: November 7th, 2007 at 3:41 pm

    The liberal party (and the Nats) must be furious at Howard for holding off calling the election – especially Costello. Hahahaha.

    ’twas madness, and I said it at the time. Taking a chance with an interest rate rise two and a half weeks out from an election.

    The way the conservatives have run this campaign is amazing. Time after time they’ve wrong-footed themselves. At every opportunity they’ve given the ball back to the ALP to have another whack. I can’t believe how badly they’ve run their campaign, when compared to previous ones.

    The mind boggles.

  6. StanS

    I hope that’s part of the “satire” part of the site.

    The first line is

    “The second federal election of the 21st century is like no other in Australian history. We are heading towards a change of government for the sake of change, and for no other discernable reason.”

    Ummm, Count with me here, 2001, 2004, 2007….

  7. Bushfire Bill, good on you! seriously, in terms of physical side-effects you’re over the worst of it – but the cravings will continue… I related it to the ‘phantom-limb’ phenomonon…

    I stopped smokin around 70 days ago… I’m still counting everyday, got a tally on the fridge! I found the following site very handy, especially regarding the physiological aspect. I read through articles 3 or 4 times a day for the first 10 days or so. (Just ignore the more ‘evangelical’ (not in the christian sense) elements of the site!).
    I was on about 45 a day. It’s good – you’ll start feeling seriously better in a couple of days.

    Good on you!

  8. No Deo (504), they were playing to their strengths by factoring in a rate rise just before the elction – at least, that appears to be the gist of the current line, as delivered by Costello and pushed by Overington.

  9. Mr D #510,

    It’s quite simple – they present the image of conservative old men. For reasons beyond my ability to understand, Australia seems to have a love affair with that kind of person. Look at what Vanstone was put through, for being a woman daring to assume a man’s natural seat of power. Never liked her policies, but that’s neither here nor there.

  10. I agree with Pi @ 508. I commented to someone yesterday that this has to be the worst campaign run by the Libs in living memory. He wisely retorted “it will be if they lose”.

  11. I disagree Dinsdale Piranha #501.I think Nicola Roxon is the ALP’s consumate performer,especially with Tony Abbot.Julia comes a close second. LOL

  12. Damien #515,

    Maybe the Libs realise that this may well be an election that they want to lose, given the increasing possibility of a world recession – whoever’s in power will get blamed for the effects in Austrlaia, regardless of the true level of culpability.

  13. Tomorrow we have some sanity intruding into the election campaign. The cricket is back!! :):) ….. Lunchbreak for tomorrow is 1:00 to 1:30. That means only 30 minutes of channel switching with the first half of tomorrow’s debate ….. If Australia are going to do anything major in the first session tomorrow, I would appreciate it if they could arrange it happen not in the last 30 minutes before lunch 😉 …….

  14. 511 – my favourite is the bit about Al Q$#da barracking for Rudd. I’m sure they’re watching the poll results from the bunker in the hills with their somewhat superior wireless broadband access and making strategic decisions about when to intervene.

  15. I responded to this earlier on. This is certainly not an election to lose… it is one of the best ones to win.

    # 518 Mathew Cole Says: November 7th, 2007 at 3:56 pm Damien #515,

    Maybe the Libs realise that this may well be an election that they want to lose, given the increasing possibility of a world recession – whoever’s in power will get blamed for the effects in Austrlaia, regardless of the true level of culpability.

    That’s just not the case. In spite of the global outlook for inflation, the fact remains that Australia has resources that other countries want, and could only dream of having, and they are going to need to pay for access to them. So higher interest rates means a higher dollar, more money for investment in the country, and cheaper imports. I truly feel for our farmers, as they are the hardest hit by a high dollar. But even the prices for their products are sky-rocketing.

    The reforms of the late-80’s and early-90’s have stood us well. We now have a huge economy, and our biggest challenges are education, and the infrastructure to deliver resources. We also need more education and skills development so that the products we sell are value-added, something our existing government has been woefully bad at. These are exactly the things that Labor governments are good at.

    Unlike the last time Howard was in power, at least he hasn’t completely ruined the economy. The GST, the last real policy that the government actually implemented, is also good for our economy too, regardless of the method in which it was implemented.

    We have about nine wasted years, and some problems that need to be fixed. But just about every government in the world would gladly trade economic conditions with Australia.

    204 Alex McDonnel Says: November 7th, 2007 at 11:14 am

    Pi – 172 I’d like to be able to share your confidence but many experts in the finance and economics game would disagree with you.

    Many experts are US-Centric, and I’m the first to admit that Americas economy is in BIG trouble. But that does not hold the same gravitas that it did even 10 years ago. Europe, China, and India are booming along, and that is not going to change. The biggest untapped market for consumers are in those countries, not America.

    There are literally a hundred million new chinese and indian people that want to buy a car and furnish their house that didn’t exist 10 years ago. They’re educated, mobile, and are earning wages that are getting on par with western countries, especially in IT and other education intensive fields.

    And to build those cars and furnish those houses, they need steel, and they need energy. Add on to that the explosive growth that is about to occur in the industry of green-energy production, and the inevitable replacement of all of those cars that run on petrol that will head north of $150 a barrel, and you have all of the markets that Australia is uniquely able to capitalize upon.

    But to do that, we need LOTS more money spent on education. Higher education and skills-based education. All of which is going to be paid for by the continuing resources boom. You think our surpluses are big now? I’d be very surprised if our government doesn’t have an extra 20 billion a year to play with next year in the budget than they did this year.

    Australia is in a VERY good position, in spite of nine wasted years. We wouldn’t want to put it off any longer, but with good policy based around education, infrastructure, and building a renewable energy industry, we’re going to be in an even better position in 10 years.

  16. Look I have to say that the Overington piece is one of the funniest things I’ve read in ages, but no where near as funny as the replies on her blog.

    She has been absolutely panned, and it’s interesting the mods have let it all through.


  17. Caroline Overington is having a good time defending her opinion on her blog. It’s quite amusing. Her most common line is “please don’t swear on the blog…”

  18. Hot off the press, the latest Reuters poll trend:

    “Australia’s conservative government has clawed back some voter support but remains well behind the centre-left Labor Party midway through a six-week election campaign, the latest Reuters Poll Trend has found.
    With just over two weeks to go in the campaign, Howard’s government trailed Labor by 9.7 points on a two-party basis.Labor support was 54.8 percent, while Liberal/National Party coalition government support was 45.2 percent, up 1.4 points over the past fortnight.
    If the result was carried through to polling day, the government would overwhelmingly lose office and Howard and several ministers could lose their seats.
    Opposition leader Kevin Rudd, 50, has led every opinion poll since he was elected Labor’s leader in December 2006.
    The November Poll Trend result is Howard’s best since early August, when he pegged back Labor’s lead to 8.9 percent, although his comeback stalled when Australia’s central bank lifted interest rates in August.
    The central bank lifted interest rates by 0.25 points on Wednesday, the sixth increase since Howard won the 2004 election with a promise to keep rates low.
    The Reuters Poll Trend is an analysis of the three main polls – Newspoll, published in The Australian newspaper, ACNielsen, published in the Sydney Morning Herald and Age newspapers, and the Morgan Poll, published on line.”

  19. On negative ads: in Western Vic TV the ACTU are continuing with their ‘Real People’ interviews/comments. The most regularly used one at present is the Lobethal (Adelaide Hills) meat workers who were seriously disadvantaged by a wage & allowance cut (amounting to $70-$80 per week) ruled as ‘legal’ by the authority. Lobethal would probably be in Dolly’s electorate of Mayo – so there may still be hope of him struggling.

    Bushfire: I’d agree cold turkey is the most lasting, but it is damned hard for the first month. I did it on 13th September 1987, and am still going strong. Mind you, at my earlier attempt two weeks prior, I lasted about 3 hours! The Sanitarium (7th Day Adventist) crowd years ago used to have a sort of ‘detox’ program for smoking cures, where you’d be hospitalised at Wahroonga. The main ingredient, so I was told, was plenty of water intake.

    The theory was that this water intake gradually eliminated the nicotine in the bloodstream. Once the body was cleansed of that, you lost the craving. I sort of adapted that to my home cure, and I’m sure there was something in it. After the craving’s gone, all that’s left is the habit. I was so used to having a fag in my mouth that I went around sucking pens for a fair while. Chewing gum is probably better. I like some of the suggestions mentioned here of physical exercise. I didn’t use it at the time, but wish that I had. Best of luck and stick at it.

  20. AND, also newly minted, the Reuters interest rate poll of economists:

    SYDNEY, Nov 7 (Reuters) – Australia’s latest interest rate
    hike is not likely to be enough to slow the economy and tame
    inflation, say analysts, meaning at least one more tightening is
    on the cards perhaps as soon as December.
    The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) on Wednesday lifted its
    key cash rate 25 basis points to an 11-year high of 6.75 percent,
    but warned that inflation would still break above its 2 to 3
    percent comfort zone in the next couple of quarters.
    RBA Governor Glenn Stevens drove home the point by saying the
    economy would have to slow to contain price pressures, leaving
    analysts with little doubt that he intended to tighten again.
    A Reuters poll of 21 economists taken after the decision
    found no less than 20 believed rates would have to rise to 7.0
    percent, and seven saw them going even higher.

  21. Oh, Bushfire Bill, one further thought. What kicked me into action over the smoking was reading the Howard bio… apparently the Mr. Howard used to be a smoker. He quit so… I know, primitive how high can you widdle stuff but… it helped me…

  22. I love Julia’s accent – it is bloody AUSTRALIAN. I heard her accent in the UK a few weeks ago (on a news site) and smiled to myself. She reminded me of home.

    Go girl – you are a star. Should we sound like those ponces Downer and Pyne Matthew Cole???

  23. 522,

    Ruawake, will it wash out the whole day, first session, delay the start? What is your guess? says this – “Cloudy with a few showers about. Moderate SE winds. ” To me that says “probably starts on time but at any rate, minor delays possible during the day, certainly the whole day not washed out”.

    ?? :):)

  24. A further thought on GG journalists trawling through Poll Bludger when they are short of ideas: I had assumed that right-wing-nut trolling types like Glen and Tabitha were Liberal party staffers. Any possibility they are connected with the Oz? Is it like papparatzi stirrign up a response for a new story? Will they “come out” if there are some lurking?

  25. Good Grief? Getting rid of a campaign slogan halfway through a campaign? How does that work for staying on message. It also means they will have to ditch a few of their ads that have “Pro Growth” written on them.

    Does this mean that they are now the anti-growth party? Or the pro-recession party? Or maybe they like stagflation?

  26. Also, bloody good on you BBill. Hang in there mate, you will make it.

    Me, I’m a failed quitter (ie I gave it up for a week cold turkey, thought I was “cured”, had a fag and was back on ’em again in no time). I am determined to get there again, think I might have to wait until after the election though.
    I’m gunna a bag of nerves on election night (at least for the first hour until Antony calls it for Labor). It was the bloody cofee/ciggies and beer/ciggies connection that has me stuffed me at the minute. Must. Break. The. Chain.

  27. In seat-by-seat betting, the ALP are currently ahead in 17 seats @ Centrebet. And this assumes no gains at all in Victoria.

    Just thought you all might like to know.

  28. 534 Socrates,

    While not proving to be 100% the case, the balance of the evidence is that Glen and Tabitha, et. al. do tend to troll moreso later in the day and in the evenings. That would mesh with having a workday scenario where perhaps they couldn’t access the net? hmm……. you may be onto something there 😉

  29. Henry #532,

    You can sound educated without sounding like a ponce, you know. While I agree that either extreme is as bad as the other, that wasn’t really my problem with her voice. Its the scratchiness of it. I know that it can’t be helped, but it does nothing to improve her charisma. I’m not bagging her at any point – listened to her debate and she creamed Hockey on content, but as far as being media-attractive (which gets positive publicity and therefore votes), a good voice is very helpful.

    You’re quite correct as far as you go – you don’t need to have, as Paul Keating put it, “swallowed a f***ing dictionary” in order to get your point across.

  30. Did anyone count the number of times Overington said ‘please don’t swear’? Which raises an interesting q: if the on-line readers of a right wing rag like the Oz are so reasonable in their thinking and assessment of political realities, where are the conservative readers and respondents? I notice they have just about entirely fled PB (Glen? Tabitha?), so where oh where have they gone (and don’t say the Terror – I’m talking about people who can type without moving their lips).

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

    Well, it’s called PollBludger for a reason… 😉

  32. I just love the dumping of the “Go for Growth” slogan. And I must say that Rudd’s press conference on interest rates today was amazingly lucid, measured, and confident. He covered all the issues very well, without rambling on.

    I did stop listening, though, when he told us that the solution was “new leadership”. But at least he hasn’t ditched his slogans (“working families” got a guernsey too).

  33. Edward 542

    Sorry I’m too busy working to reply.

    I hope channel nine puts on a good movie on 24 November for those Liberals who don’t want to watch the results. Dead Man Walking would be a good choice.

  34. Matthew Cole – Hawkie’s voice wasn’t exactly music to the ears. But he was very well educated, with a VERY Australian accent, and the punters loved him.

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