The Australian Electoral Commission has finalised the last of its two-party preferred Labor-versus Coalition counts, and it confirms Labor has won a narrow victory on the national total of 6,216,439 (50.12 per cent) to 6,185,949 (49.88 per cent), a margin of 30,490. If distinctions to the second decimal place are what matters to you, Labor did about 0.05 per cent worse than last time due to the arbitrary fact of the Nationals finishing ahead of Wilson Tuckey in O’Connor, meaning the AEC finalised a two-party result on a Nationals-versus-Labor basis where the 2007 Liberal-versus-Labor result was more favourable to them. So while I think it reasonable to cite the published figure as the definitive national result, a slight discount should be factored in when considering the matter of the swing, which should properly be rounded to 2.5 per cent rather than 2.6 per cent.
Whatever the specifics, the result leaves quite a few people looking foolish:
Barnaby Joyce: “We’d won the two-party preferred vote by the time the independents made their decision.” (Lateline, 7/9).
Andrew Bolt: “Labor won fewer votes, fewer seats of its own and less of the two-party preferred vote.” (Herald Sun, 8/9).
Alan Jones: “Is it a healthy democracy when a party wins the majority of the two party preferred, wins the majority of the primary vote and wins more seats in the Parliament than the other party but the other party forms government?” (2GB, 8/9).
Sarah Martin: “Yesterday, Julia Gillard’s Labor Party won government despite losing the primary vote and the two-party-preferred vote, or securing a majority of seats.” (The Advertiser, 7/9).
Kerry Chikarovski: “The Coalition won the primary vote, they won the two-party preferred …” (The Drum, 7/9).
Lateline: “Labor loses two-party preferred vote” (report headline, 30/8).
Kenneth Wiltshire: “It is probable that the Coalition will win more third-party preferences.” (NB: This of course is absurd – Labor got 65 per cent of third party preferences, much as they always do – but I think we know what he’s trying to say.) (The Australian 6/9).
Lisa Wilkinson (to Wayne Swan): “Now, you won fewer primary votes, fewer two-party preferred votes and fewer seats.”
(Swan explains to her that she’s wrong.)
Wilkinson: “But in the end you got 49.9 per cent of the vote and the Opposition got 50.1.”
Swan: “No, I don’t think that’s … Lisa, that is not a final count.”
Wilkinson: “Well, that’s what the AEC is saying and that’s what Australia said at the polls.” (The Today Show, Nine Network, 9/9).
No doubt there were others.
Our troubles here began on August 30, when the AEC removed three electorates from the national total on the basis that the Labor-versus-Liberal counts there had been discontinued after election night, as it became apparent the Greens (in the case of Batman and Grayndler) or Andrew Wilkie (in the case of Denison) rather than the Liberals would face Labor at the final count. As three of the weakest seats in the land for the Liberals, these were by extension among the strongest seats for Labor in two-party terms. The resulting adjustment in Labor’s two-party vote from 50.4 per cent 50.0 per cent led to a great many uncomprehending reports of a “surge” to the Coalition, which had an added edge due to Julia Gillard’s post-election claim that Labor had, apparently, won the two-party vote. Those who wanted a clear and accurate exposition of the news had to ignore, say, The Australian, and look to an evidently more reliable source of information in Bob Brown, who explained the absence of eight electorates from the published result and correctly concluded: “If you look at the whole of Australia and you treat every seat equally, when you do that Labor’s ahead and is likely to keep that lead right the way through to the finishing pole.”
Antony Green defends journalists on the basis that they were within their rights to take an official AEC figure at face value, but I’m not so kind. Even if awareness of the missing electorates was too much to ask, those quoted above should at least have been aware that the count was incomplete. As it stands, we have a result that leaves those of us who had done the sums with exactly what we were expecting, and a lot of dopey pundits and dishonest politicians with egg on their faces.
UPDATE: Morgan has published results from a phone poll of 541 respondents conducted on Wednesday and Thursday evening which has Labor leading 52-48 on two-party preferred from primary votes of 35.5 per cent for Labor, 42.5 per cent for the Coalition and 15 per cent for the Greens. The margin of error on the poll is about 4.2 per cent.
UPDATE 2: As Peter Brent points out, the 52-48 result comes from the less reliable two-party measure based on respondent-allocated preferences – going on previous elections, which the most recent election has again vindicated as the superior method, Labor’s lead is only 50.5-49.5.