The systemic consequences of big election victories

Today’s Galaxy poll was more of the same old bad news for the government, another week of no rain in a long electoral drought. Because of the way single-member electorate voting systems exaggerate results, a uniform swing would see the Coalition’s 44% of the vote translate into only about a third of the seats in the House of Representatives.

An election victory that big would have systemic consequences. Voters wouldn’t just be changing the government now, they would effectively also be limiting their choices for the next couple of elections at least, since even being optimistic it would take that long for the Coalition to rebuild to the point that it passed the threshold of credibility as an alternative government. And unless parties pass that threshold, even bad or unwanted governments seem secure.

This is already the problem we have at the state level. In a Galaxy Poll last November respondents were asked whether, based on its recent performance, the NSW Labor government deserved to win the next state election. Only a third of voters thought that it did. Yet the same poll showed Labor leading on the 2PP 52-48, roughly what it in fact got at the subsequent state election. The Opposition has never really recovered from its dismal showing at the 1999 state election. At this distance, the Beattie/Bligh government in Queensland looks to be struggling towards mediocrity even less successfully than the Iemma government in NSW, but it too seems secure in power, because the Opposition is not credible.

There are signs in other polls that voters, at least in principle, are concerned about the systemic consequences of their vote. Winning parties in federal election typically get lower votes in the Senate than in the House of Representatives, as some electors opt to try to put a constraint on the government in the upper house. Several polls have found support for the Senate blocking legislation. An ACNielsen poll in February 2005 found more people thought that the Coalition’s Senate majority would be a bad thing than a good thing (47% v. 39%). A Newspoll in April this year found that about one in five Labor voters believed Labor in power at both levels of government would be at least ‘somewhat bad’ for Australia.

The Coalition’s Senate majority in 2004 was a surprise to almost everyone, and perhaps more people who wanted Howard returned would have voted strategically in the Senate had they realised the possible outcome. But this time every poll for many months has pointed to a massive Labor victory with no sign of the continually expected but never arriving correction. The Coalition itself can’t alert voters to the systemic consequences of such a big defeat without looking panicked. But perhaps, as election day draws closer, the pundits will start pointing out that a massive Labor victory in 2007 would effectively decide the 2010 and 2013 elections as well.

59 thoughts on “The systemic consequences of big election victories

  1. Conrad:

    75% of Chinese export firms don’t make money. I may not have been clear on that. A very high number of domestic market focused firms also don’t make money. I’m not talking about HK stocks. I am referring to Shanghai listed. It’s not the same thing.



    Gee thanks for the heads up there is 100% unanimity that the China story and the blue sky for the miners will continue. I didn’t know 🙂

    My point about not making a profit is obviously referring to Chinese firms, not the miners. Nice attempt at spin.

    “If you really think China is about to go bust, why don’t you short the shares of all Australian companies with exposure to China?”

    Easy, because I can’t predict when the crunch will come and by that time BHP could be trading off 60 bucks. I don’t stand in front of freight trains. However the contraction will come and it will come good and hard in China. In the next 3 years? 70% chance it will.

    China is experiencing a massive monetary expansion of unprecedented size and scope. Don’t be listening to these guys who tell you this bet is a one-way street. Also don’t be listening to them when they’re all telling you the same thing. When that happens things are pretty well marked to perfection. Can BHP reach 55-60 bucks between now and the end run? Sure it can but don’t be holding the bookies bag on the final straight.

    Here’s what they want you to believe:

    China is growing at 12% approx.

    Total GDP PPP is about US 10 trillion

    Per cap PPP is about US $8,000

    If Chip Goodyear is right and China grows at 10% for the next 20 years this is what the numbers would look like.

    Total GDP PPP $67 trillion
    Per cap PPP $ 54,000

    Is it possible, yea, but so is Phar Lap running out of the museum winning the Melbourne cup this year and not catching the flu.


  2. JC — there are no difference between Chinese stocks listed in HK and Shanghai excluding which board their name appears on and the reporting requirements (and these are further broken down into A and B listings in Shanghai depending on this). Some are starting to get listed on the Nasdaq (e.g., Suntech). Simply because they are getting captial and are outside mainland China does not exclude them from being Chinese.


  3. Andrew, one could try to see if there was any association between
    (i) the % of seats and % of votes gained by a party in an election that it loses, and
    (ii) the number of elections until the party next wins.

    One could also look at whether there’s an assocation between
    (i) the % of seats and % of votes gained by a party in an election that it wins, and
    (ii) the number of elections until the party loses.

    This may be better than deciding on a “big loss” criteria and only looking at those data points.


  4. You’d want to do the % of votes won as well as the % of seats as weighted electoral systems were in force for a number of state elections.


  5. Sacha – A statistical measure of these things would be interesting, but it is the qualitative aspect that I am most concerned about – the quality of the MPs that an Opposition can present to the public. Other things being equal, major defeats would more than small defeats remove high quality people from the Opposition and prevent younger future leaders from entering the Parliament. They also have crushing effects on morale and discourage outsiders from considering running for a seat. Labor does seem to be able to recover after two terms in Opposition, but at least over the last 30 or so years the Liberals seem to have much more trouble in doing so, partly for the reason I suggest above.


  6. “Other things being equal, major defeats would more than small defeats remove high quality people from the Opposition and prevent younger future leaders from entering the Parliament.”

    Yes – perhaps this is a reason for trying to preselect quality candidates for safer seats.


  7. Conrad

    They have different reporting requirements. Listing in HK means they have to meet western accounting standards like GAP etc.

    That’s the big difference and why it is different even if a frim has dual listing.


  8. Andrew – not sure of some of your points: you say big defeat has “crushing effects on morale and discourage outsiders from considering running for a seat” but it could have the opposite effect of clearing away a lot of deadwood and presenting lots of opportunities for preselection. It should be the case, shouldn’t it, that merit would get you further, faster in the Libs – the ALP having such arcane union votes and factions working things out behind the scenes.

    How the party accepts the defeat is important – I think the ALP could easily have won the 1998 election if Beazley hadn’t just presented the party as the same as it was in ’96 – he refused to ever accept any criticism of the Keating government apart from ‘we didn’t explain well enough what we were doing – the electorate didn’t understand’

    In WA, when Richard Court lost in 2001, the Libs couldn’t/haven’t worked out a way to appear to have learned the message the electorate sent them. Plus they have a leader who everyone agrees will have to be replaced. Federally the ALP has found a leader everyone feels ‘safe’ with, and who, by his style, creates a difference between his party, compared to Keating’s or Latham’s party.


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