Against predictions

From today’s Crikey email:

I’m something of a sceptic when it comes to predictions. As I’ve argued at length, we don’t really have access to the sort of data we need to do so accurately, and on a broader level, elections are once off events and public opinion is constantly changing. This is little understood, and we see avoidable errors constantly in commentary on elections. It took some time for some pundits to realise that it wasn’t the exact 16 seats on the blue side of the pendulum Labor needed to win, but any 16 seats. Though such egregious mistakes aren’t universal (and perhaps their authors are too busy sending flirty emails to bother with a spot of psephological reflection), we still hear constantly “analysis” which assumes that the 2004 results are some sort of baseline.

In a sense they are, but in a real sense they’re not. Someone else (and I apologise for the lack of attribution but I’ve read far too much commentary during the course of this campaign to remember where it all came from) used the analogy of a test match. If Australia scores 150 in its first innings, its starting point in the second innings isn’t 150 but 0. Each and every innings is independent of each other one, just as each toss of a coin is.

Of course, the analogy isn’t exact. In one way, it’s inexact because unlike in successive innings, where you’d imagine that the batting line up is going to be the same under almost all circumstances, the players in each election are often different.

Labor, as I’ve argued since April this year, was probably going to win in 2004 had they had a credible leader. Mark Latham wasn’t that leader, but aside from his brief reappearances in the Fin Review, he’s not a factor this year. Despite all the millions of words that have been written in this election year, the story is relatively simple. Howard succumbed to hubris and introduced WorkChoices, and Labor’s vote surged past the Coalition’s when Rudd became leader. And that’s where it’s largely stayed. For all the talk about undecided voters, there’s more evidence around that most campaigns don’t make too much difference to the final result.

Of course, the “media narrative” doesn’t always reflect what the available evidence tells us, as it’s likely to be blown off course by minor fluctuations and shaped by self-interested spin from both parties. So we’ve seen in the dying days of this campaign incredible claims that Labor could lose with 53% of the 2PP vote. Not likely. It’s worth noting that this sort of talk – largely from a desperate Coalition – is probably more helpful to the ALP than the Libs. Similarly, the leaks from Labor strategists down playing their chances are a classic play to regain the underdog crown, negate complacency and gee up the troops. It astonishes me that they’re not reported that way.

The truth of the matter is that John Howard succumbed to hubris when he thought he had Kevin Rudd’s measure on the day Rudd was elected leader. He’d have done much better to have done what he did with Beazley – ignored him and got on with the business of governing. But he couldn’t resist the urge to take Rudd down and almost a year’s worth of shrill and tedious ranting and raving from the government and endless wedges and rabbits has been his own undoing.

I think John Howard himself believes he’s going to lose.

So predictions? I don’t have any for you. My educated guess is that Labor will win by quite a respectable margin. My tip in Richard Farmer’s comp is Labor with 87 seats – meaning a 2PP of just under 54%. My own reading of the campaign is that it’s been in the bag since Wednesday last week when Rudd called a halt to the spendathon. Labor may do better, or a little worse, but I’d be immensely surprised if Rudd isn’t claiming victory on Saturday night. Your guess, of course, is as good as mine, and that’s the beauty of a democracy!

Posted in federal election '07, media, sociology
15 comments on “Against predictions
  1. CFQ says:

    That’s a good point about Howard succumbing to hubris – by attempting the take-down he’s given Rudd nothing but great lungfuls of oxygen.

    I think JHo will be making a concession speech tomorrow night, but I can’t shrug off a degree of nervousness that the Coalition could ooze their slimy way back in. I hope so much that I’m wrong!

  2. hannah's dad says:

    Well my guess is to a large extent as good as that of Geoff [sp} Lambert, Peter Brent, Simon Jackman and a couple of other REAL experts who are unanimous in their predictions of a comfortable ALP win varying only in minor details as to the size of such.
    And, most significantly, Posssum’s analysis.

    I’m comfy that not only will the ALP win but the Greens will also do well, better than I expected some months and weeks ago.
    So my wife and I have a couple of very nice bottles of Coonawarra reds which we will share [more or less] with my son and daughter about 7-8pm CST tomorrow night.

  3. glen says:

    “flirty emails”?

    oh, do tell!

  4. Katz says:

    This is what was happening to the betting markets in the days running up to the 2004 election:

    Federal election betting has crashed through the $1 million mark with betting agency Centrebet, even before the big punters open their wallets.

    In a crazy 48 hours, election betting has undergone major changes with Labor on the outer with punters, the return for a $1 bet hitting $4.50 today after being $2.50 at the weekend.

    The punter who put $6,000 on Labor at $2.50 on Saturday would not be feeling too healthy today with Mark Latham touching his longest odds since assuming the party leadership.

    John Howard’s coalition is now $1.16, after $1.32 was on offer on Monday.

    More than $750,000 of the $1 million invested has been put on the coalition.

    Sportingbet Australia was offering $1.26 on the coalition and $3.50 on Labor yesterday but they too have been forced to wind in the coalition’s odds.

    Interestingly, the dividends are identical today, except the favourite in Nov 2007 is Labor.

  5. David says:

    It was me with the cricket analogy, except that I made it separate tests, rather than innings. Two innings in the one match do have a meaninful relationship the aggregate will decide the match. But two separate matches, new players have nothing – just like elections. It would be nonsense to say Australia has to “catch up” 200 runs in the second test because they lost by that margin in the first.

    Oh and we can make useful predictions about the election, although not especially scientific ones (perhaps prediction is the wrong word). Rather in much the same way people everday make commonsense predications about life (eg the bright sunny day with no clouds means it’s not going to rain). You are right 95% of the time, even if your reasoning wasn’t very methodical.

    Some on the left are a bit weirdly hysterically negative (a psychical defence against a Howard victory that would be very unlikely but very painful?). Although it’s good never to get too certain (eg we might all spontaneously combust overnight), the overwhelming odds have to be for a Labor victory. And it will be a comfortable one. There I said it. And Labor will slam home in Western Sydney.

  6. Casey says:

    Yes, yes, but who is willing to predict when Antony Green will call it?

    Cause that would be handy. Cause if I knew that then I woul know which party to be at when its called and how trashed to get at what hour of the evening. So who is able to tell me the exact timing of the glorious apocalypse to come, according to the book of Antony?

    I only hope he doesnt call it 2.35 minutes into the ABC coverage, like he did with the NSW election this year. Talk about ruining every party in Sydney that night.

  7. David says:

    Ohh I can’t wait for the parties. I’ll buy champagne in advance…

  8. skribeforti says:

    Casey @6
    I fully expect him to have called it before the polls close in the West – like in 93.

  9. Antigone's aunt says:

    “Labor, as I’ve argued since April this year, was probably going to win in 2004 had they had a credible leader.” This simple analysis contrasts nicely with recent MSM pseudo-dissections of ‘the fatal handshake’ of 2004, as if Latham was strongly on track to win until then.

    Makes me wonder what carved-in-stone retro-truths will be served up in 2010 from the remains of this campaign.

  10. Beppie says:

    Damn it, this feels like Christmas Eve, except that you’re not sure if Santa’s actually going to turn up. :S

  11. Paul Burns says:

    I’m very nervous.
    As I see it we have one of three options.
    1.Narrow Labor victory.
    2.Narrow coalition victory.
    3.Labor landslide.

    The fact that no. 2 is even possible makes me very very nervous.

  12. David says:

    Lol that’s democracy Paul!

    Fact is we’ve got as good a chance as pretty much any political party entering an election for a very very long time.

    But I feel where you’re coming from… I’m excited an slightly nervous.

  13. silkworm says:

    Some Laborites may be feeling a little nervous, but many Liberites would be feeling positively sick (if they weren’t deluded).

    I don’t believe the Murdoch Newspoll bullshit. Besides, Michael Kroger on Lateline said the Newspoll was two days old. Even then, why would the polls firm towards the Coalition with the Lindsay scandal fresh in people’s minds? It makes no sense.

    Bring on the landslide.

  14. pre-dawn leftist says:

    The way I see it there are only 2 possibilities:

    1. Very narrow coalition win, or

    2. Big Labor landslide

    The reasons are simply that if Labor are to win, the swing will need to be massive, and if its not, the Coalition will just take it in the marginals.

    I’m confident the ALP will get up, but I’m not going to slash my wrists if they dont. Howard was right about one thing – the US sub prime mortgage scandal is leading to a US recession and so there are challenging economic times ahead. I would love for Howard to have to deal with this. The thing about Howard is that the whole time he has been PM we have had good global economic times, he’s never had to deal with a difficult global economic climate. The only time he has was when he was treasurer under Fraser, and then he managed to hand the supposedly impossible, trifecta of double digit unemployment, inflation and interest rates to Bob Hawke and Paul Keating who spent the next 13 years repairing the damage. All that Howard and Costello have had to do this time around is sit back and watch the tax dollars roll in, then pork barrel the marginals. I have never trusted Howard and Costello to manage a difficult economy – I doubt they could get out of a wet paper bag with a stanley knife – they’d be too busy knifing each other.

    So, as I heard Stephen Long say on the ABC this morning, this is not a bad election to lose – it would be nice to see Howard and Costellos noses get rubbed in their own economic management credentials.

    But having said all of that – roll on a Ruddslide!

  15. Paul Burns says:

    This is a bit outrageous and only a Socialist or a political cynic would suggest it. In light of coming economic doom and gloom, Maybe Rudd will do a Lyons.(who during the Great Depression left the ALP to form the United Australia Party – the predecessor of Manzies/Howard Liberal Party.) You read it here first.

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