Thoughts on NSW election

1. Opinion polls should be taken seriously, many doubted that Labor would do as poorly as it did at the federal and Victorian elections of last year but it did;

2. Big swings mean the loss of ‘safe’ seats, in 1932 Labor lost Granville where they had polled 70.2% at the preceding election in 1930. Expect similar surprises this time;

3. expect the swing to be somewhat irregular at its upper ranges, election defeats of this magnitude indicate a disruption of the party system whose outcomes are unpredictable;

4. Labor may benefit in some of its safer seats by strong votes for independents whose preferences will exhaust, there are many electorates where Liberals lack a strong on the ground presence and where local conservatives have functioned as independents in local government;

5. Labor is polling much worse than we would expect from voter evaluation of its policy record, do only 20% of voters think that Labor’s record on health, education, law and order and other bread and butter issues is better on average than any other party? I think not, Labor would benefit if voters focused on policy (more new railways in Sydney than in Melbourne for example) but this is very unlikely to occur, ask John Major about the 1997 British election

6. Labor’s exceptionally poor performance reflects an overall repudiation of its style of government. Consider British Labour in 1983 its manifesto for increased public ownership and defence of trade union rights was unpopular but Labour did not poll particularly well even among those voters who wanted stronger trade unions and more nationalisation. A party that looks like a divided rabble will be judged severely by voters regardless of its policy record. Power industry privatisation remains unpopular but the fall of Maurice Iemma ultimately did more damage to Labor;

7. The 1988 election is one point of comparison as Peter Brent notes but  a) then the core left vote was not divided between Labor and the Greens and b) Labor’s vote in 1988 held up better in middle-class than working-class seats, note that in 1991 Labor’s vote bounced back in the greater Sydney working-class seats but it went backwards north of the harbour. David Charnock (I think) noted this in an Australian Journal of Political Science article. Now Labor faces an erosion of its support among all voters;

8. 1932 (see my chapter here) looks similar but as Antony Green notes Labor had class loyalty to fall back on; 1922 (see Michael Hogan’s chapter here)when Labor was severely defeated after its term in office was racked by scandal, faction fighting and sectarian Protestant mobilisations might be another point of comparison;

9. How much of political change in Sydney reflects broader economic changes in particular income polarisation between the wealthy suburbs and the rest? Labor is now much weaker in the north shore than it was in the 1980s. Chart from this BTRE report on real taxable per capita incomes by local government areas illustrates the rise of inequality during the 1981-2001 period;

10. Regional politics is also apparent in Labor’s rural decline, Labor’s old working-class rural outposts have almost entirely disappeared, hence the overall correlation between Labor’s vote and working-class employment by electorate has massively declined from the 1930s to recently (see my analysis here);

11. media commentary on the government has largely given up policy analysis and is mostly observations of decline mixed with over the top moralizing that contribute to the overall rejection of Labor (see 6). We would expect Labor’s vote to hold up better among non-English speaking background communities more isolated from the mainstream media however this will at most limit the damage NSW Labor has done a good job at least at the federal level of dramatically weakening the positive loyalty of many non-Anglo communities to Labor

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