In our final pre-election article, the Newsroom provides a crash course on tomorrow’s big day.
Swings and margins
In every election, a big deal is made over marginal seats – because marginal seats are a big deal. Currently 24 NSW Legislative Assembly seats are held by a margin (the amount of votes it would take for the seat to change hands) of less than 6 per cent. The most marginal seat is East Hills in south-western Sydney, which the Liberals hold by just 0.2 per cent. This means that if more than 0.2 per cent of the vote shifts away from the Liberals and towards Labor (a swing of more than 0.2 per cent), Labor will win East Hills. Of these marginal seats, 12 currently lean towards the Coalition, 10 to Labor, and 2 to the Greens.
The Coalition is expected to suffer a swing against it statewide of about 10 per cent; if a similar swing happened in every electorate, the Coalition would lose 18 of its Legislative Assembly seats. In reality, swings are rarely that uniform, and most are predicting the Coalition will only lose about ten, which would still be enough to retain government.
Campaigns rarely bother focusing on safe seats (seats that one party or another holds by a significant margin), as they are unlikely to change hands. Instead most focus on the marginal seats, as these are easier for them to win. Living in a marginal seat can be a mixed blessing – it’s more likely your Legislative Assembly vote will make a difference, and marginals tend to get the nicest promises; on the other hand, come election season these seats are usually inundated with politicians!
An interesting seat to watch in this election will be Monaro, on the South Coast, as it is what’s called a bellwether seat. Bellwethers are seats that tend to predict whichever party ends up winning government – that is, whoever wins the seat will usually win the election. Monaro has supported the winning party at 25 of the past 28 state elections, and is held by the Nationals’ John Barilaro on a margin of 2 per cent. Monaro shares its bellwether distinction with its federal counterpart, Eden-Monaro, which has predicted every election since 1972.
A candidate’s primary vote, i.e. the number of people who voted “1” for them, is usually not enough to ensure their victory; most seats are won on preferences. This is why, in election coverage, primary votes are not used to predict which candidate will win a seat. Instead, predictions are made on a two party preferred (or two candidate preferred) basis: which of the two lead candidates is likely to win on preferences.
In the final days of the election campaign, Labor struck a preference deal with the Greens in the upper house and in 23 lower house seats. What this means is that, on Labor’s “how-to-vote” cards in these seats, voters will be instructed to preference the Greens second, and vice versa. As most voters tend to follow the how-to-vote cards of their chosen parties, this guarantees a large flow of preferences between Labor and the Greens, and disadvantages their opponents.
Exit polls and donkey votes
When you watch election coverage on TV, presenters will often start predicting seats and calling the election before counting has really got underway. This is because they take exit polls – as people come out of polling places, surveys will be conducted on who they voted for. Exit polling is not 100 per cent accurate, but tends to provide a good prediction of which way the seat will eventually fall. Once counting begins, of course, journalists can start predicting seats with greater accuracy.
One factor that always plays a part in election outcomes – so much so that the No Land Tax party, who drew the first spot on the Legislative Council ballot paper, may win representation because of it – is the donkey vote, where a voter simply numbers the boxes on the ballot paper in the order they appear. They may do this due to apathy, not knowing how to vote properly, or as a form of protest against the system. Donkey votes are considered valid votes, so they will be counted towards the outcome of the election. The best way to avoid casting a donkey vote is to read up on how the system works and the policies of the candidates, so you can make an informed decision.
Who’s going to win?
Most analysts agree that Mike Baird and the Coalition look set to win the election, despite losing up to 10 seats to Labor. Labor has been campaigning hard in key seats in the Central Coast, where former Liberal members have become embroiled in corruption allegations, plus areas where coal seam gas exploration has been proposed, such as the North Coast and Hunter regions. If the Coalition is returned on Saturday, its majority in the Legislative Assembly will be reduced, and it is again likely not to have a majority in the Legislative Council, which will require negotiations with minor parties and independents to pass legislation – including its controversial power privatisation scheme.
For all information about what you’ll need to do on election day, including where to vote, visit the NSW Electoral Commission’s election website. Remember, this is your chance to have your say about the future of your state, so make sure to let your voice be heard. Voting is mandatory, so don’t get slapped with a fine for not doing it!
The Newsroom will give a wrap-up of the aftermath next week. Until then, happy voting, and don’t be a donkey! – Jake Nelson
Top photo from Wikimedia Commons, taken by user Bidgee.