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 3 of 12
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  1. Sean 91 – I saw that Kohler item too. Labor were just too spooked by Keating’s acceptance in the electorate in Oct 2004 to mention the Keating econimic achievements. Pity though, if they had the guts to push it, the 2004 election outcome could have been very different.

  2. If there was no interest rate rise today, would smirky and the rodent be taking the credit?? I think so!
    Would all the tory media toadies praising the colossul genius of the Libs in avoiding an interest rate rise? I think so!

  3. 87 – that may well be so, but where were the economic wonder boys telling people to take care? They were too busy spending away and putting even more inflation into the economy.

  4. Sean 91 – I saw that Kohler interest rates item too. Labor were just too spooked by Keating’s acceptance in the electorate in Oct 2004 to mention the Keating econimic achievements. Pity though, if they had the guts to push it, the 2004 election outcome could have been very different.

  5. It’s not that rates have gone up, it’s the trust issue.

    You can’t on the one hand promise to keep them low (30 year lows), then when they go up not take some responsibility for it. The fact is he said it, and now he has to wear the consequences.

  6. 103 – its all about people taking responsibility for their own affairs!

    Self responsibility….. self respect….. freedom….. Coalition!

  7. “By the March quarter of next year, both headline and underlying measures of inflation are likely to be above 3 per cent.”

    Reserve Bank 🙁

  8. I’ve been reading various RBA statements past and present.

    The RBA may well be in the news again on Monday (MPS release day), explaining why they are going to raise rates in Decemeber.

  9. I know who to blame for the six rate increases since 2004, Howard and Costello, because they promised to keep them at record lows. As economic managers they have performed woefully and deserve to be ignored by the voters on election day. Some say that voters do not have baseball bats ready for Howard, but after this they certainly will.

  10. Sean Says:
    November 7th, 2007 at 9:59 am

    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.

    Ha! I always thought that was the case, but you never see anyone pointing it out do you?

    It’s just nuts that ALP hasn’t ever made an issue of it and said, look, they were high in the 80s everywhere in the world.

    If political junkies like us haven’t seen these comparisons before, then what hope for the average joe?

  11. B.B you should ask Aussie Bob, I believe he is going through the same withdrawal symptoms.
    But seriously, I gave up a 28 year/1Pkt day habit, 1year and 2 weeks ago.
    The only way to stop smoking is to stop putting them in your mouth. It’s not easy, but if you persist you will kick the habit.
    Good Luck.

  12. The bias in the ABC is across the board. I’ve heard people as non political as Jennifer Byrne and James O’loughlin spouting Howardesque objections/caveats etc to caller or guest opinions that are so heavy handed and uncalled for that its clear they’re working to a template and under strict instructions. Mark Scott the Howard governments ‘change agent’ has clearly instituted strong rules around ‘balanced’ commentary. The more career minded and weak willed at the ABC are clearly trying to ingratiate themselves with senior management. They’re the ones that tend to overcompensate and slip over to the other side (frank kelly and virginia triolli being two of the worst). I’ve heard strange comments out of the mouths of people who you would expect better from.

    For instance – Jennifer Byrne interviewed the IR academic John Buchanan (the one who recently got slandered by Good Bloke Hockey) He made the perfectly uncontroversial observation that Australians were working record long hours (at the expense of leisure/family time etc). Byrne jumped in as though she had a gun to her head: ‘but thats a value judgement’ etc etc, as though value judgments smacked of poltiics, smacked of bias and she just couldn’t have it.

    The objective is clearly to sterilise commentary to the point were it has no point. Opinions are only ok if you’re talking about the weather. She closed the interview like a good puppy with the inane comment that ‘I don’t know about you but I’m kinda proud that we work long hours – shows we’re going somewhere’ etc etc…This sort of rubbish comes up all the time if you listen to ABC regularly.

  13. Now the ALP will be bringing out its advertising. They are geared up for this.
    The last two weeks will be lies on interest rates – how can your trust John Howard’s word – and Peter Costello will make WorkChoices even more draconian to force wages down and make people even more fearful of losing their jobs and work conditions.
    Imagine how bad WorkChoices would be in a downturn if they are already bad for battlers in a “booming” economy. We will see the ALP matching the Coalition’s fear campaign and they have plenty of ammunition to work with.
    John Howard will attempt to spin like a tornado but will end up destroying his own party.
    “If you think interest rates are bad now, imagine how much worse they will get if you re-elect John Howard. Remember we had 22% interest rates under him as Treasurer. Don’t risk re-electing the Howard government.”
    “John Howard hid his WorkChoices plan from the Australian people at the last election. They are hiding another plan to make it even worse”.

  14. Ave It 07. At 59 you said all the oldies will vote Libs cos the rates have gone up. Well that contradicts everything the bloody coalition has been saying about Labor. The Libs say that interest rates will always be higher under a Labor government, therefore, wouldnt the oldies be all voting labor if we are to take your 59 comment to be true. You are a tool and a typical UK Tory. Go Back to your crap country with crap weather why don’t you!!!

  15. All these interest rate rises are good for you as they reduce the amount available to spend on cigarettes etc.

    Coalition – first for health!

  16. One more thing about the bias against Labor on Radio National. I don’t wake up as early as some people here, but was the ‘Cameron Thompson Gaffe’ covered at all? I bet that if a Labor backbencher did that they would be all over it like a rash ‘Yet another Labor gaffe derails Rudd’.

    Also on SBS news they managed to find a Union official from the CFMEU to slag Labor. It was one of the main items!

  17. Misty 112 – earlier this year I said a similar thing on Matt Price’s blog. The boom must end and it probably will next year or 2009. The US is almost certainly heading for a recession. Who knows the effect of that on China. Even George Mega said in his blog a few weeks back, he has been waiting for the downturn since 2003!

  18. Bushfire Bill,

    After a 20 year 30-a-day habit, I got 10 weeks into quitting with a big helping hand from Zyban (talk to your doctor). However, after gaining 10 kilos I fell off the bloody wagon. Back on the fags.

    Days 3, 4 and 5 are the hardest. Downhill after day 6.

    Stay strong. It’ll be tough on election night, no doubt.

    Good luck

  19. Which of the spending promises by jh and his gang are now “core” and “non-core” ?
    My prediction, should he weasel his way back in, would be to scrap the hand-out to to pensioners, followed quickly by a deferring of the tax cuts,saying that it would be irresponsible in the light of overseas trends, (blaming others,of course) to continue with those. Road funding, also out the window, technical schools gone, spending on health bugger all…..the list will go on and on.
    Under the libs, we are stuffed
    And I am afraid that the average joe out there will swallow the lies again.
    When is the ALP going to really attack the bastards on TV? They just appear to be pussyfooting about.
    I am getting quite anxious about this because time is running out.

  20. Guido 122, yeah they brought it up last night on ABC radio (PM I think) and on TV. It actually got good airplay, not just the gaffe but the follow-up fib that he’d been verballed.

  21. This one is all over, barring one element… a verifiable scandal regarding Rudd or one of his senior frontbenchers… if the campaign remains on tit for tats and election promises as it has for the last 4 weeks, then Rudd will be a next PM.

    BTW, i have just woken up here, has there been anymore developments regarding the Daily Terrorgraph rumour on Crikey?

  22. The rate rises probably won’t show up in the next round of polls, but are likely to be factored in by election day. Ave it 07, remember what happened to your Poms at the Ashes. 5-0 AUSTRALIA!!!!

  23. Just been out leafletting outside a child care centre.

    The rate rise is the last straw for many of the voters.
    The minority who can’t bring themselves to vote Labor
    are looking glum and defensive. The rest have their
    baseball bats out.

  24. this ABC bias towards the coalition is pretty sickening. i’ve been noticing it for a while now.
    however, i know that there have been comments re chris uhllman recently but i must say, i find him refreshingly different to the other toadys on the ABC these days (except for kezza, of course) – uhllman seems to do all he can to get pollies to actually ANSWER the question that is asked instead of just moving on to the next set question. his frustration with them is palpable. he got andrew robb’s undies in a knot this morning.

  25. Where is the coalition’s housing affordability plan? A small document with a large number printed on it apparently. Trot it out so we see how much more inflation is planned for us.

  26. Will, remember the saying “wait until you see the whites of their eyes before you shoot”.
    There’s no point in wasting ammunition on a distant target.
    Well Labor can see the whites of John Howard’s eyes now as he fearfully looks at the interest rate increase.
    The Liberals can probably hardly believe this has happened.
    It has made Peter Costello look a fool.

  27. Bushfire Bill – the best way to give up the fags is to watch a close relative die of lung cancer. I had to do this as my younger brother, two packs a day for 25 years, wasted away and died at 50. It was the worst 18 months of my life. Sorry to be blunt – just decide to stop and do it. A number of people I know have given them up that way. Good luck.

  28. [130] i agree – uhlman tests them all equally.
    i listen to fran kelly every morning, and find her quite frustrating. she seems much more critical and question of the labor position on any issue than she is on the government. i even heard her say during apec how it made her feel quite proud to see the australian pm (howard) hob nobbing with the US president. strange

  29. Ave, I love the way you communicate in slogans! All of the nuance, all of the thoroughly argued and cogently presented detail is there, though subtly disguised as tired, beaten old imagination-eviscerated platitudes and cliches, and I am left in awe …

    Keep it up good fellow – my respect is Going for Growth.

  30. You’re all missing the BIG issue, the “sleeper” that’s swinging votes in the marginals…

    Bugger interest rates…what about the weeds!

    This from the ABC…

    Weeds are proving a make or break deal for some voters in the marginal seat of Eden-Monaro, in south-east New South Wales.

    Labor yesterday announced a $15 million dollars for national weed control.

    Announcing the policy at Bega, primary industries spokesman Kerry O’Brien also pledged an extra $300,000 for fireweed control in the Liberal-held seat.

    That was enough to impress some voters.

    “Being a marginal electorate, people will look closely at these issues and it won’t take too many votes to sway things,” said one.

    “For us, it will be the weed issues and certainly the announcement today is making us lean very much toward the Labor candidate and we are life-long Liberal supporters.”

  31. Alex McDonnel I spent Sunday night with a good friend who died that night of cancer and he blamed it on his smoking. He was younger than me.

  32. Watched Skynews this morning they had Anrew Robb and Andrew Mclelland on Election Agenda – and McLelland took Robb to task – he got the point across that the Libs are confusing the electorate by changing their message in the middle of an election campaign – all wine and roses go for growth in the first three weeks and now gloom and doom and you need experience to steer the ship with tough times ahead – Robb just stuck to the Lib script but got caught when he had a go at Garrett and McLelland countered with the Cameron stuffup. He also had a go at the Australian for their headlining the latest Newspoll when he said its all within the MOE and no change really so no real joy for the Libs there.

  33. passthepopcorn — yeah I don’t mind Uhlman either. He seems willing to have a go at everyone. Journalists should attack Rudd and Howard with equal fervour. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that so-and-so is biased when you hear them bagging Rudd, but I don’t mind at all so long as they do the same to Howard.

    It’s the syncophants who only cheer for one side that piss me off. Or the ones that mindlessly parrot the government’s line.

  34. oh god, michael @ 138 – i’m glad i missed that. it’s pretty bizarre – fran kelly used to be reasonably decent. what’s happening?! it’s more than the ABC having had the frighteners put on it…

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