On election night and the following day, the best bet seemed to be that Labor would emerge with between 86 and 88 seats. After that, Labor watched leads disappear in one seat after another. Liberal candidates took the lead in McEwen and La Trobe on the Monday after polling day, followed by Dickson and Swan on Tuesday, Herbert on Friday and Bowman on Wednesday of this week. Corangamite, Flynn and Robertson were also on the critical list at various stages after looking secure for Labor on election night: Robertson arguably still remains there. In Solomon, Labor’s Damian Hale watched nervously as his 860-vote lead on booth votes was whittled down to 89 on Wednesday, before he was saved by a late rally yesterday that widened the gap to 194. The entirely one-way nature of this traffic raises the question of what has happened and why. Here at least I will limit myself to the first half of the equation.
The first table shows the size of the swings to Labor for each type of vote in all seats which look to have margins of less than 1 per cent, barring the new seat of Flynn where any swing calculations would be hypothetical (an unfortunate omission as it would have cut the Labor swing on postals still further). Provisionals are excepted because too many of them are still to be counted, and they are few in number in any case. The outstanding feature is the Coalition’s strong performance on postal votes, which cost Labor dearly in McEwen, Dickson, Herbert and La Trobe. I read one newspaper report (I can’t remember where) suggesting this was because most postal votes were cast before the Lindsay pamphlet scandal broke, but the pattern would surely have been reflected in pre-polls if this was the case.
The second table shows the number of votes cast for each type over the past three elections. Here as elsewhere it must be remembered that a small number of 2007 votes still remain to be counted. It can be seen that this election has maintained a trend of sharply increasing numbers of postal votes, exacerbating the impact of the Coalition’s strong performance, along with the more neutral pre-polls.
The final point to note is how lucky the Coalition has been. Present indications suggest it will win five of seven seats determined by margins of less than 0.3 per cent. Assuming no further changes, the bottom end of the Mackerras pendulum will look as follows:
Elsewhere, the chances of a National Party boilover in O’Connor have been reduced as the slowly progressing late count has widened the gap between Labor and the Nationals from 2.08 per cent to 2.70 per cent. It will take an extremely high level of obedience to the how-to-vote card from Greens voters if that gap is to be closed, which seems an unlikely prospect in a sparsely populated electorate where the party would have had a hard time finding volunteers to cover each of the booths. Any vague chance that independent Gavin Priestley might win Calare has probably been laid to rest by late counting which has increased Nationals candidate John Cobb (formerly member for Parkes) from 47.71 per cent to 48.47 per cent, close enough to an absolute majority that the question of who comes second out of Priestley and Labor is probably academic. In the Victorian Senate, the Greens’ hopes rested on what would have been an out-of-character boost from declaration votes, which have in fact reduced their vote from 10.1 per cent to 9.7 per cent. The Labor vote has also faded enough that third Liberal candidate Scott Ryan has overtaken Labor’s number three David Feeney, so that Ryan looks likely to take the fifth seat and Feeney the sixth. Greens candidate Richard di Natale is 1.67 per cent behind Feeney after preferences CORRECTION: I wasn’t factoring in the Liberal surplus, which actually makes the gap more like 0.9 per cent.
UPDATE: One other thing it is clear that dramatically fewer provisional votes are being allowed through this year. In 2004, any given electorate ended up with about 400 to 600 provisional votes counted. This time it’s more like 100 to 200. I suspect the answer to this mystery lies somewhere in the Electoral and Referendum (Electoral Integrity and Other Measures) Act. Can any wise heads out there point me in the right direction?
UPDATE 2: Comments respondents note that provisional voters must now show photo ID either at the booth or by emailing or faxing a copy to the AEC in the following week. Peter Brent: Presumably the number of people who took ID to the AEC in the next week was about zero. Grace Pettigrew: Many voters who are likely to need a provisional vote do not carry ID around with them (aboriginal voters, the homeless, for example) are also most likely not to vote for the Coalition. Adam Carr also takes issue with my description of O’Connor as sparsely populated: I would argue that this is sort of accurate, but Carr says the real point is that O’Connor is the most agricultural seat in Australia, where most people live in or near small farming towns, and consequently has more booths than any other seat.