Federal pendulum

elections AT


two decades of Newspolls

state votes at federal elections

Votes and seat
1949 - 2001


Newspoll &
Morgan graphs

preferential voting

federal election 2001

NSW election 2003

Vic election 2002

Beazley versus Crean

Newspoll Opposition leader approval ratings

Newspoll Opposition voting intentions

This messy page served as home during the 2001 campaign. Enter at your own risk ... 

Don't you smirk, Newspoll

It's the states
wot matter


Keating, Howard and Newspoll

1993 and 2001: a comparison


opinion polls

state pendulums
and graphs

socio-demographic pendulums

Beazley's Diary
 a possible scenario

The Coalition, not Labor,
must get a swing to win

Learn more about
preferential voting

want to comment,    
suggest, abuse

Don't talk to me
about primary votes

Is it 1990 all
over again?


what the journos will say


The November 10 2001 election is over! you might have noticed. I will be rationalising this site and constructing new pendulums (and extending graphs) when (a) I can obtain the required info electronically, and (b) have the required hours to spare.

In the meantime the links above to several pieces added post-election - except Beazley's Diary, which was published before election but includes updates. Also below is a piece published in The Canberra Times and one in The Australian (the latter not strictly on election, but what the heck). As for the rest of the site, if you are one of the .0001% of the population with an interest in things psephological, and wish to see some musings (empirical, non-partisan) from during the campaign, then this is the place for you!



Learn to predict! Deeply impress others with your wise words on election night. See where we are, how we got here and where we might go on November 10. Plenty of other useful, interesting stuff for electoral boffins and normal, well-adjusted people.

(Firstly, my apologies for the scrappy presentation of the pendulums below. I am challenged in this way.)

This site is designed to be a living organism. This will be helped by your feedback.

The graph on the right  shows national two-party preferred votes from 1949-1998. (State shares are shown below.) At any election, the addition of the two parties' votes gives 100%; hence the vertically symmetrical nature of the graph. Click on the graph to enlarge.

Can't tell your two-party from your primary
and first preference votes? Learn more here.

newaust.gif (17578 bytes)



It is important to note that while Australians have changed government five times (*) since WWII, there were a further five occasions (*) when they voted for change, but the seats did not fall accordingly. In fact, from the historical record, getting anywhere between 50 and 51 percent of the vote has given a party no better than one chance in two of forming government.

Any grand theories about why and when Australians vote for change must therefore be viewed with skepticism. It has been the case, however, that government has only changed hands when the vote margin was substantial. All the close-run elections ended in favour of the incumbent. Still, there's a first time for everything.

You would have seen an electoral pendulum somewhere. It shows all seats, Labor on one side and Coalition on the other, from marginal to safe, showing the "uniform swing" required for government to change hands. It is a useful tool, but shouldn't be taken too literally.

return to top

The inventor of the pendulum in fact made a goose of himself on election night 1987 by declaring, on national television, a Coalition win. At that election Labor did indeed suffer a national swing that, according to the pendulum, would have seen them lose government. But instead they increased their seat majority. 

On the one hand you could call that brilliant marginal seats campaigning. But it was also due to changes in party loyalties of the electorate. Labor was offending increasing numbers the "blue collar" vote, while impressing others with its economic respectability. The former tended to live in safe Labor seats, the latter often in marginal ones. An excellent trade-off, electorally.

The following is an email I received about this stuff.

The Professor Pendulum you refer to is Malcolm Mackerras who I think is
still lecturing at the Australian Defence Force Academy.  The reason he
(and others) got it so wrong in '87 predicting a Howard Govt was not the
marginal seat swings but a change in the way remote polling booths were
counted.  Traditionally remote regional booths were loaded on a van and
driven to the local town to be counted.  This meant that the regional town
votes were counted first whilst this trip took place (thus favouring
Labour) and then the regional remote sites were counted (a swing back to
the Nationals) - this swing can be seen in the play "Dons Party" about the
'69 election.

During the '87 election, the AEC changed to counting the remote sites at
the booth (and being smaller these were called in early) and then the
regional town booths were finalised (because they were larger).  Thus there
was a swing to the Liberals/Nationals followed by a later swing back to the
ALP.  Malcolm seeing this initial swing to the Conservatives assumed that
this would be compounded by the smaller remote booths not knowing that the
process had been reversed.


Shaun Tinkler

Labor needs a smaller national vote to win than it did in 1998. 

The Labor party will probably win if it gets over 49.5%

This prediction is only looking half right. The oft-quoted (by journos) on-paper swing needed by Labor was 0.8 percent, ie they needed 51.8 percent of the two party preferred vote to win the election. This was incorrect. (This figure is just obtained by charting the swing required on a pendulum.)

Labor didn't get my figure of 49.5% (they got a touch under 49.0%), and didn't win. But it looks like they would have needed to hold the Coalition swing down to about 0.5 percent if they were to win. So they missed out by about one percent. And my 49.5% figure should have been 50.5%. But also not 51.8 percent. 

So I was more right than wrong. Confused? Don't worry about it.

While conceding probable defeat on election night 1998, Kim Beazley noted the irony of Labor enjoying its best two party preferred support since 1984. When all the counting was over, this was not quite true, being half a percent under that of 1993. But at 51% it was better than 1987, 1990 and, of course, 1996.

See the national graph, above.

It was however a the highest ever vote for a losing party on record. The GST played a large part in this, being more widely detested in Labor held seats, giving them big wins in these, ie "wasting" votes.

It is hard to see them having the same problem this time, with the GST less of an issue, many former Labor supporters voting for the Coalition on "Tampa", and perhaps "moderate" Liberals voting Labor for the same reason.

Instead, Labor's problem will be getting enough votes, full stop. The ALP could probably survive an aggregate national swing of one percent - even perhaps two percent - to the government and still win. This could mean it went from a majority of the vote to a minority - and from defeat to victory. Such are the vagaries of the single member electoral system

Go to fuller explanation of this

See Beazley's Diary, one such scenario.

return to top

Of course, if earlier polls these truly are indicative of the result, then it will be very one-sided. In this case, any talk of marginal seats is pointless, as the Government will win them all, and much much more.

But if it's closer than that ..... 

Country-wide there are more marginal seats than you can poke a stick at, but some are much more likely to change hands. For example, Labor has a much better chance of grabbing those in Queensland than NSW. Many reasons for this, but most simply, Queensland as a whole is much more likely to increase its vote for Labor than is NSW. 

State timelines and pendulums (click each to enlarge)

Each state's timeline graph has been extracted, like the national one above, for elections since 1980. Current pendulums going into Saturday's election sit next to them. Note, these are for each state's share of national votes and seats. It has nothing to do with state elections. Once again, these musings only apply if the vote is at all close. If the big swing to the governmentt is on, expect to Coalition to win each and every marginal seat and twenty or thirty others.

newnswgraph.gif (12020 bytes)nswpend.gif (19222 bytes) The timeline shows NSW votes at the federal level since 1980. Notice they have favoured Labor on every occasion except 1996. NSW gives a good example of the baggage an unpopular state government gives its federal counterpart. In 1988 the 12 year old Labor government lost office, whereupon federal ALP once again gained favour. In 1998 they got 51.5% of the vote but a minority of seats. Click on the pendulum and you'll see many Coalition-held marginals, but Labor expects to lose votes - and seats - in NSW

newvicgraph.gif (11923 bytes)  vicpend.gif (13250 bytes)

Victoria was the only state to give Labor a majority of the vote in the wipeout of 1996. It had similarly gone back to Labor after dumping the very unpopular Cain/Kirner Government in 1992.
In 1998 Victoria swung substantially away from the Coalition, leaving many vulnerable seats there as well. You couldn't expect the gap between red an blue lines to increase, but Labor holds great hopes for net seat gains there.
newqldgraph.gif (12075 bytes)qldpend.gif (10797 bytes)

Queensland certainly doesn't like Labor at the best of times, but one look at the graph shows the wisdom of Wayne Goss's prophesy of baseball bats in 1996. It was annihilation.
Qld swung back to Labor in 1998 and, if this year's election is not the one-sided affair the polls are indicating in late October, it could swing even further, giving Labor perhaps 5 seats. The pendulum shows this many on less than one percent alone.

newwagraph.gif (12128 bytes)wapend.gif (7161 bytes) Western Australia gave each party about 50% of the vote in 1998, also a huge swing, no doubt largely GST-inspired. Expect that red line to drop again on Saturday. Again, if the Coalition wins big this year, Labor will suffer in WA. Otherwise, probably a small move back to the governmment.
newsagraph.gif (11394 bytes)sapend.gif (6176 bytes) South Australia. The only Conservative government in the country; it has its problems. Like Queensland, it's sitting ripe for the picking for Labor, although obviously with less seats to offer. If Labor wins, it will be with help from South Australia.
newtasgraph.gif (12281 bytes)taspend.gif (4261 bytes) Do not adjust your screen, all Tasmanian seats currently belong to Labor. Notice how, apart from 1996, the ALP vote has increased at each election since 1983, when all seats were held by the Coalition.
Very hard to see Labor holding all the seats this time.

go to Beazley's Diary,
a possible scenario

This site is a living beast. Keep checking for updates.

Email with comments, questions, suggestions, abuse here

return to top


external links
these open new windows



Australian Constitution



WA Uni
election database