How important are campaigns?

Political scientist and Macquarie University Professorial Fellow Murray Goot has a very interesting article in the Sydney Morning Herald today:

In the past 10 elections, the gap in the level of electoral support for Labor and the Coalition reported by the polls at the start of a campaign, more often than not, has differed significantly from the gap recorded at the election.

The last election was no exception, but there were three – 1996 with Labor in office and 1998 and 2004 with the Coalition – where the gap in early polls proved a good guide to the outcome.

Where campaigns produced significant changes in party support, the pattern was always the same: the lead either narrowed or was reversed. There were no cases of an initial advantage increasing.

He finds no evidence of either an incumbency or an underdog effect.

If the pattern he discern holds for this election, it makes a fair bit of difference whether Labor really is starting at 50-50 or 55-45.

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Posted in elections, federal election 2010
18 comments on “How important are campaigns?
  1. Sam says:

    On the other hand, Labor has firmed in the betting markets since the election was announced.

    This campaign is different from any that I can remember in that it is barely noticeable that there is a campaign. Maybe it’s because mid winter elections are so rare, and in mid winter people are concentrating on what really is important to the, i.e. the footy. The front page in today’s Herald Sun is about Jason Akermanis being given the Bulli Pass by his club. Add Masterchef, and no one, apart from politics tragics, seems to give a rat’s about this election.

    No doubt the situation isn’t helped by both leaders seeking to make themselves as boring as possible and by having boring non policies. But unless some fireworks emerge soon, there’s no reason to think the public will become engaged and so no reason to think that current levels of voting intentions will be much changed by August 21.

  2. kimberella says:

    Sam, yeah, and I think it’s deliberately boring. Labor are avoiding fireworks because they want to look all calm and incumbent governmental, and Abbott is avoiding them because they fear he’ll look like a Mark Latham style loonie.

    Having said that, if it continues to trend towards Labor, the Coalition probably do need to throw a spanner in the works somewhere.

    On the betting markets, are you aware of any Australian study on their predictive validity?

  3. Fine says:

    I wouldn’t believe the 55/45 figure. Australian elections tend to be close.

    Yep, it’s boring as batshit, I suspect for the reasons you outline Kim. I’m hoping Abbott stacks on a turn just for sheer entertainment value. I also notice that Gillard got drawn into the Aka imbroglio, as a faithful Bulldogs supporter. Yes, he had to go because he wasn’t a team player. Sounds strangely familiar?

    We also have the spectacle of Mark Latham weighing in. I think he did the same last election and it maybe that the more he knocks Labor, the better it gets for them.

  4. kimberella says:

    Hope you’re right about Latho, Fine!

  5. Sam says:

    Kimberella, I think Andrew Leigh did did some work on election betting markets.

    Fine, I know a lot of people who do not engage at all in politics, but when it comes to Latham, if he said one plus equals two, they would be convinced that it equals three, four, minus 75 – anything but two. The only thing Gillard has to fear with Latham is that he comes out supporting her. Fortunately, Latham would rather eat his own shit than do that.

  6. Russell says:

    Andrew Leigh’s paper is
    here

  7. anthony nolan says:

    Murray Goot writes:

    In the past 10 elections, the gap in the level of electoral support for Labor and the Coalition reported by the polls at the start of a campaign has, more often than not, differed significantly from the gap recorded at the election.

    The last election was no exception, but there were three – 1996 with Labor in office and 1998 and 2004 with the Coalition – where the gap in early polls proved a good guide to the outcome.

    Where campaigns produced significant changes in party support, the pattern was always the same: the lead either narrowed or was reversed. There were no cases of an initial advantage increasing.

    Then he takes off with a series of assumptions designed not to offend the Labor Mates the most important of which is that the polls at the start of the campaign represent any sort of real intention on behalf of those polled. It is my contention that they don’t, they are skewed, not designed to test reality; they are a joke and anyone with any experience of polling knows it.

    But hey, if as MG claims elections don’t make an appreciable difference to poll reults either over the phone (the start of the elction) or at the ballot box (the end of the elction) then why don’t we just hand over the selection of the government to the polling companies and the media?

  8. kimberella says:

    Thanks for the link, Russell.

    anthony, I read Goot differently. If it’s the case that the election result tends to be narrower than the poll position at the start of the campaign, surely that does demonstrate that campaigns do matter.

    The other issue worth noting with his hypothesis is that the effect he discerns doesn’t hold for 3 out of 10 elections. The thing that bedevils social scientific analysis of elections is that there are not enough data points, and polls aren’t the same thing as elections, so you can’t make up for that entirely with a much richer series of data points from polls.

  9. anthony nolan says:

    Kimbrella: agreed. I cannot recall while employed in polling/research how many time the solution to giving the desried result was to put a question along the lines of “where would you like the damn on the Franklin? Above or below the juntion with the Gordon”. I think that political polling is generally not a good use of social science energies and are the key factor behind political parties no longer engaging as activists with citizens.

  10. kimberella says:

    Agree, anthony.

    Some of the questions we’ve seen recently are also very badly couched – eg the one in the Galaxy poll asking respondents if they think *others* might change their votes because Kevin Rudd was ousted as leader. That’s just nonsense.

  11. weaver says:

    Odd he doesn’t mention this. (Cited here.)

  12. Fran Barlow says:

    Anthony proposed as follows:

    But hey, if as MG claims elections don’t make an appreciable difference to poll reults either over the phone (the start of the elction) or at the ballot box (the end of the election) then why don’t we just hand over the selection of the government to the polling companies and the media?

    1. Margin of error;
    2. Not a PR system — single member constituencies
    3. More than two parties contesting
    4. People like to imagine they are individually relevant –> loss of legitimation value –> weakened state authority

  13. Fran Barlow says:

    Also, MG didn’t claim they didn’t make an appreciable difference. He simply suggested that the leading party didn’t improve its relative position.

  14. MIKE says:

    What is the effect of the government being able to call an election at a time of its own choosing (within a window of at least a year)?

  15. Fran Barlow says:

    [What is the effect of the government being able to call an election at a time of its own choosing (within a window of at least a year)?]

    Increased scope to take advanatage of opposition ructions and WAG the dog advantage, at the risk of being seen as opportunistic. Carpenter’s government in WA fell going early after it took advantage of leadership ructions and the announced departure of Colin Barnett, who cancelled his plans and ran a winning campaign.

    Howard in 1998 tried it and nearly lost.

  16. Sam says:

    Sportsbet is running a book on different swings. The favourite is a swing away from Labor of between 0 and 1%. This is consistent with what Goot is saying, consistent with Labor being favoured to win the election, and consistent with the history of what happens to first term governments.

  17. John D says:

    The front page picture of Tony SMH Tues 20 won’t help. Aggressive Tony, startled woman backing away. Looked far far worse than Latham’s Howard moment – So perhaps the predictions of a shrinking lead won’t be right this time.

  18. Anna Winter says:

    Carpenter’s government in WA fell going early after it took advantage of leadership ructions and the announced departure of Colin Barnett, who cancelled his plans and ran a winning campaign.

    Actually wrong way round – Barnett cancelled his plans to leave, took over again as leader, and then Carpenter called the election immediately, in an attempt to take advantage of his new leader status.

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