The NSW election result was a catastrophic one – not just for the Coalition, but also for psephologist Associate Professor Malcolm Mackerras.
In The Canberra Times the Sunday before the election Mackerras made – on my count – 19 predictions. He got five right. The other 14 were wrong – not just wrong, but hopelessly off the mark.
And a lot of the reasoning behind the predictions was off the mark, but that is a matter of opinion. Let’s stick to the facts first.
Prediction 1. “Significant Labor losses”. Wrong both Labor’s vote and seat count increased – by 1 per cent and 1 seat.
Prediction 2. The losses would be “not enough to cause a Carr crash’’. (Right, just – never mind the tired pun if it was intended).
3. “. . . an absolute majority of Labor of just three seats, down from 17”. Wrong. Labor’s majority has increased by at least one.
4. Overall “Liberal gains”. Wrong they lost 0.1 per cent of their vote and four seats.
5. “I predict Tamworth will stay National”. No, an Independent won the seat with a two-party-preferred vote of 54.5 to 45.5. (All percentages in the rest of this article will be two-party-preferred from the State Electoral Office website.)
6. “Port Macquarie will re-elect Oakeshott’’. Mackerras got this right, but it was a very hard one to get wrong given that Oakeshott (an independent defector from the Nationals) got 83 per cent and everyone knew how popular he was.
7. “I do not expect either the Liberals of the Nationals to lose any seats to Labor.” Wrong. They lost three seats to Labor: Camden, Gosford and Monaro (subject to late counting). Indeed, I saw Labor’s Monaro candidate Steve Whan a fortnight before the election. I asked him how the campaign was going. He said, very cheekily, “I’ve won already because Malcolm Mackerras predicts I will lose.’’ He then went serious and trotted out the usual bumpf about hard work, too close to call, job ahead etc.
8. “I predict Labor will lose these seats to the Coalition, namely . . . Clarence.” Correct by a small margin of 2 per cent.
9. “South Coast”. Correct by a small margin of 2 per cent.
10. “Maitland”. Wrong. Labor won by a wapping 58.8 to 41.2.
11. “Miranda”. Wrong by a big margin. Labor won 59.0 to 41.0.
12. “Tweed”. Wrong. Labor won 53.8 to 46.2.
13. “Menai”. Hugely wrong. Labor won 59.8 to 40.2.
14. “Murray-Darling” Stunningly wrong. Labor won 61.8 to 38.2.
15. “But I predict Albury and Bega will split each way with Albury going to Claire Douglas (Ind) . . .” No. Douglas lost to the sitting Liberal 62.6 to 37.4.
16. “. . . while Bega stays with the Liberal Party”. Correct. 54.7 to 45.3.
17. “If, as I predict Manly switches from Independent to Liberal . . . “Wrong. Manly stayed Independent — 52.5 to 47.5.
18. “. . .and Dubbo switches from Independent to National’’ . . . Wrong again. Dubbo stayed Independent easily – 55.5 to 44.5.
19. “. . . then there would be four independents” Wrong. There will be six.
That is 14 wrong out of 18. Of the five right, two were bleeding obvious – that Carr and Oakeshott would win — and two were only just right. Of those wrong, many were the most significant elements of the election – which major party would gain support and which would lose support. Other things wrong were wrong by very large margins.
On reasoning, Mackerras failed to see that Carr’s campaigning ensured that the One Nation vote of March 1999 would not go back to the Nationals. Carr played tough of crime and used the word “security” in his sloganing. He failed to see that Carr has made himself a “strong leader” like Howard and so retained city seats, some with a swing towards him. Carr now has dead-safe seats in the very areas of Sydney that vote strongly for John Howard – for the same reason: they like a strong leader.
Mackerras fell into the bad general’s trap of thinking this was would be played out like previous wars – basing his analysis of a swing against Labor on the way Jeff Kennett lost third time around when everyone thought he would win. But Carr was not as arrogant as Kennett. Further, the view from the street was different. The anger in Victoria against Kennett’s economic rationalisation of councils and schools so everyone was inconvenienced did not happen in NSW.
It is very silly to predict things, but I will make at least this one prediction about future elections in Australia: Malcolm Mackerras will be in there making predictions no matter how many times he is shown to be wrong or in what damning detail.