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. Now for Howard to try and turn his “Going for Growth” into “Racing for Recession” unless you vote Liberal…

    They didn’t think their slogan through too well did they? Unless they meant Growth of Interest Rates…?

  2. Its amazing how people change their views over time. Does anyone have any juicy quotes of what Howard said about the goverrnments role in creating low interest rates in the past? For that matter, did PM’s press secretary Denis Shanahan say the opposite thing last election?

    Labor’s response to what Howard says should be simple: Were you lying last time (interest rates were your doing) or are you lying this time (interest rates are not your doing)?

  3. There is a big difference betwee the threat of a rate rise and the event itself followed by mortgage rates rising over the next week or so. It may not swing voters over to Rudd but it takes the wind out of the coalition sails for a couple of weeks.

    This is the payoff to the ALP for running a shadow campain that did not allow Howard the opportnity to go earlier.

  4. How would your mortgage monthly repayments going up make you more inclined to vote for the Rodent/Smirky? I don’t quite understand that one.

  5. You only need one or two people out of every hundred to be pissed off about this rate rise… the rest can ring in to radio stations and say it doesn’t bother them but it won’t make a lick of difference. An extra $100 a month is going to hurt some people a lot.

  6. The ones who are ringing in to radio stations now are clearly not the ones affteced by interst rate rises. Those who are, are busy working two or three jobs.

  7. 45
    Ave it 07 Says:
    November 7th, 2007 at 9:32 am

    Shows good Coalition prudential government

    Glad you think so !. I have a mortgage and this is 10 rate rises in a row. John Howard can get stuffed. !

  8. Albert Ross:
    Good link, but you missed the most telling point 🙂

    “He was dishonest to claim much of the credit, reckless to make promises about something he didn’t control and misleading to claim that our choice of elected government would make a great difference to interest rates.”

    If John Howard still ends up winning this election, its a further indictment on the political and economical savvy of Australians.

    Even the Americans learned after voting for Dubya twice.

  9. I did it!!!! I accurately predicted the title of Dennis Shanahans next bullshit “The Australian” lead story!!!

    From the Galaxy Poll thread:
    “LaborVoter Says:
    November 5th, 2007 at 6:37 pm

    Predictions on Shanahan Newspoll Headings:
    Interest Rate fears fail to dent Coalition vote”

    Todays Shaninigans article:
    PM defies rates backlash

    I was close, but unfortunately I was unable to word it in such a bullshit manner to match Shaninigans spin on events.

  10. The Libs are turning pathetic. Last week Howard and Costello were threatening the banks on the basis that the US sub-prime issue had no effect here. This morning Dolly Downer is on TV saying that the government is really worried about the threat to us from the US sub prime crisis. Really!

  11. Two questions:

    1. How is this interest rate rise not a disaster of monumental proportions for Howard?

    2. What is the best way to survive day #3 of giving up smoking cold turkey (after a 35/day habit)?

    I realise (2.) is off topic but you guys are geniuses and I’d respect an answer from one of you rather than some smarmy Yank who’s trying to get money out of me. One of you must have been through this and have some tips?

  12. Well, if Rudd gets in I’ll expect all conservative supporters to not lay blame on him for further interest rate rises. Am I expecting too much?

  13. I think the lib metaphor is that we’re headed full tilt to the promised land, little moses Howard (like a bargain basement version of Charlton Heston) with the bit between his teeth driving us skillfully on, as a massive tsunami bears down on us from the rear.

    Not sure how you capture that in a slogan – all or nothing, glory or death, going for growth – running from doom. Heaven or hell. The exclusive Brethren might be able to come up with a marketing concept as its up their alley.

    The little guys lawyers tongue is gonna be working overtime to sell this one…Never mind, the Govt Gazette has got him off to a flying start this morning…

  14. Why doesn’t someone call the Libs on this bullshit.

    The Libs blame the global economy as a reason to keep them in power (yet doesn’t acknowledge the global economy for our current growth), yet the ALP doesn’t refer to the global economy when interest rates were at highs under their reign.

  15. Howard promised he could control interest rates when actually Governments have relatively little control. People believed him.

    They now know he lied – but more importantly, this lie is costing people money.

    Ergo, Howard loses votes.

  16. Interest rates up? Good – this’ll mean the focus of the remainder of the campaign will be on the economy, and since poll after poll is showing that voters don’t blame the current Government for the rises, they can safely hammer home the danger in granting Krudd and his gang of idiots control of the economy.

  17. Funny how just about all the media outlets are currently emphasising how little control the government has over interest rates. Why weren’t they doing that in 2004?

    It doesn’t seem to matter what the rodent does, the media here have his back. Somewhere along the line the Australian press got so beholden to this government it managed to forget that it’s supposed to be free and fair.

  18. James J – And how much was the average purchase price of a house back then? About half the price it is now. People forget that each 0.25 rise hurts a lot more when you start from a higher base. Therefore each rise has a far more profound impact then it did in say 1999.

  19. Bushfire Bill

    Day 3 of quitting. Crawl into a cave. Drink lots of fruit juice. read a massive tome. I read Parting the Waters – a history of US civil rights movement. Speak to as few people as possible. Keep it up. If you backslide now, you’ll just have to go through the torture another time. Good move. Good luck.

  20. Misty #76:

    Funny how just about all the media outlets are currently emphasising how little control the government has over interest rates. Why weren’t they doing that in 2004?

    Silly question Misty.

  21. Steven Kay

    Allow me to assist you to re moving your head from your arse. The government doesn’t control or run the economy. If you believe this your mummy must still be tucking you in at night.

  22. So rates are now as high as they were in 1996, when the Tories were elected. And the Tories can hardly take the credit for the rate falls in 1996. It was Keatings legacy that caused those.

  23. Regarding Frank Kelly and Radio National I can’t fathom why Fran has been so anti Labor.

    When she has her chat with Michelle Grattan, you can hear Grattan trying to restore some balance. The conversation goes something like this.

    FRAN: Ban result for Labor in the latest Newspolls, with a narrowing of the gap which shows that the Coalition may be on track for a win.

    GRATTAN: Yes there is a narrowing, however we have to say that it hasn’t been a significant shift as yet.

    FRAN: We can also see that Howard is now seen as the best economic manager, and Labor lost lots of ground as the better manager of the environment. Considering that that is a strong Labor issue, this must be extremely worrying for Labor.

    MICHELLE: It can be, we have to see that Howard has muddied the waters confusing issues here.


  24. If the interest rates are too low, all you get are house prices rising too high out of the reach of ordinary people. It also encourages excess borrowing particularly for short term consumer items eg TVs holidays etc. This is what has happened in UK. In UK we need a good 3% rate rise to control the housing market but the Bank of England has been unwilling to provide this!

  25. If a rate rise didn’t matter to a lot of people, then why did the LNP think it important enough to base an entire election campaign around last time? And it was lower back then.

  26. Steven @ 75 – I know where you’re coming from and thought this could possibly happen also. However, “poll after poll is showing that voters don’t blame the current Government for the rises” – of course they don’t blame the government. It’s a stupid question. It’s like asking “do you blame the government for the rain today?” The issue here, in my opinion, is that the government has flip flopped to buggery over the issue. First they are the party of choice for interest rates, then they have no control over them, then they say inflation is impossible to contain, then they welcome a rise – just all over the place. Just because voters don’t ‘blame’ the government for the rate rises doesn’t mean they will all of a sudden swing to them. I think the reverse also applies for Rudd.

  27. Alan Kohler had an interesting bit on interest rates last night on the 7pm news. He charted interest rate levels in aust over the last 20 years against OECD levels. Averaging them out it showed that interest rates under Labor were exactly equivalent to levels under the Libs. When Keating had them at 17% they were something like 20% in the US. The fact that Labor didn’t argue these points at the last election is the reason why we still have to endure the spectacle of the Rodent running around perversely trying to capitalise on an interest rate increase.

  28. 87 [If the interest rates are too low, all you get are house prices rising too high]

    No risk of interest rates getting too low under the current crop of Coalition economic wonderboys. This is the first of a quick three or four rises needed to correct their spending frenzy.

  29. The recent poll indicating that not many voters would blame howard and the Libs for higher interest rates may have been reflective of the mood on that day. But when the voters start receiving the letters from their banks over the next couple of weeks advising of the the new, higher repayment required, that will really start to bite Howard. Just might be final nail, in the final week of the Howard government.

  30. I have been highlighting, to my partner, F*n Kelly’s pro-liberal bias for months now. I can’t figure it out either. Some of the time its not even subtle. And listening to the biased report on RN this morning that dealt with perceptions of Kevin Rudd in QLD nearly made me choke on my wheaties. Where do they get these reporters? Time for a purge in the ABC.

  31. No matter how the Ratking tries to spin this, its just plain bad news for him. It destroys his economic credibility. Lots of people in marginal seats have mortgages and theyre gonna be pissed off!

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