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Shorism triumphs in Australia’s federal election (sort of)

May 22, 2022 - 16:33 -- Admin

Want to explain the 2022 Australian federal election in one word? Try this: Shorism. Education is changing our politics, and campaigning on popular ideas is a good idea.

I have no better a record of predicting or analysing federal elections than anyone else. In that humble spirit, I now want to try explain most of the 2022 Australian federal election in just one word: Shorism.

Spoiler: Labor, Australia’s centre-left party, won.

Now, I’ve written before on Troppo about Shorism – essentially, the idea that the US political analyst David Shor has something useful to say about the dynamics of western electorates. (Shor is a self-confessed Sanders-voting socialist. Part of the appeal of his electoral ideas is that he holds them even though they clash with his own political sympathies.)

Here are two key tenets of Shor’s thinking:

  1. Education explains more of the movement in electorates right now than income or class.
  2. Parties that keep attention on their most popular ideas will do better than those that talk about their least popular ideas.

I’m posting this all partly as a first attempt at lining up Shorist ideas with what played out in the 21 May Australian election vote.

The data

Just before I jump in, note that:

  • I don’t have much time to analyse figures yet.
  • I’m writing this when I should be working on other stuff. I’m not really informing you; I’m just diverting myself.
  • Nor do I have all the data.
  • I’m no expert in election data analysis either.
  • But in the true journalistic tradition, I’m also too impatient to wait until we have better data.

So I’ve taken Sunday morning’s AEC data and mushed it hastily together with some data from Twitter user @EthanOfHouseK, who maintains the very good Armarium Interreta polling website.

It’s important to note that this is not some sort of proof. It’s suggestive. It’s also potentially subject to one of the four great statistical fallacies, the ecological fallacy. This is the one where you take inferences about a group and use them to make inferences about the nature of individual group members. The ecological fallacy is hard to explain simply, but a useful try at it in an electoral context is here.

Anyway, here’s my first rough try at extracting some suggestions from the election results.

Education matters

Let’s do something a little unusual: sort Australian federal electorates by how many electors held postgraduate degrees. (If you sort it by lowest level of non-degree holders, it looks not that different.)

Perhaps the most likely lesson to take from this listing is that climate is destroying the LNP’s appeal to higher-education voters. I’m not sure the LNP can recover from this without changing their climate stance – although I’ve thought that before.

Below are the first 16 seats you get by postgrad numbers, with a little commentary on each:

  1. Canberra – The most postgrad-heavy seat has no official swing yet, but the Liberal vote collapsed by around 8 percentage points, and they are running third behind the Greens for the first time. The ACT’s Liberal senator looks likely to lose his seat to an independent, conservationist (and former Wallabies captain) David Pocock. (Labor will win.) [AEC. ABC News.]
  2. North Sydney –  The second most postgrad-rich seat currently has the 6th biggest swing. Teal independent Kylea Tink has claimed victory. [AEC. ABC News.]
  3.  Bradfield – No official swing yet. But Paul Fletcher, who used to have a 16.6 per cent margin, will have a much smaller one courtesy of a Teal independent who pushed the Labor candidate into third place. [AEC. ABC News.]
  4. Kooyong [AEC. ABC News.] – Currently 3rd biggest official swing. You’ve read about this already; the Treasurer has lost his seat to Teal independent Monique Ryan. Labor and the Greens got 12 per cent of the vote between them. [AEC. ABC News.]
  5. Melbourne – Greens leader Adam Bandt’s seat; he got a small swing.  [AEC. ABC News.]
  6. Higgins – Used to be Peter Costello’s seat, and contains the upper-crust suburbs of Toorak, South Yarra and Armadale. But Greens preferences will make this an easy (!) Labor win. [AEC. ABC News.]
  7. Grayndler – Albanese’s compact inner west seat stays an easy ALP win. [AEC. ABC News.]
  8. Macnamara – The seat around St Kilda, where the ALP candidate should win easily but the Liberals are running 3rd for the first time. The Greens got a big swing. [AEC. ABC News.]
  9. Ryan – The Greens should win this western Brisbane seat because the Liberal vote collapsed by around 11 per cent and the Greens gained 11 per cent. [AEC. ABC News.]
  10. Wentworth – Still counting, but currently the biggest swing in the country, replacing the Liberals’ Dave Sharma with independent Allegra Spender, granddaughter of two famous former Liberals  [AEC. ABC News.]
  11. Sydney – An easy win for former Labor deputy leader Tanya Plibersek, but notably the Liberals may run third for the first time, behind the Greens. [AEC. ABC News.]
  12. Bennelong – The ALP got a decent swing and may well beat the Liberals in John Howard’s old seat. [AEC. ABC News.]
  13. Curtin – Currently 8th biggest swing. Teal independent Kate Chaney, another scion of a Liberal family, should beat the sitting Liberal here. [AEC. ABC News.]
  14. Warringah – Easy hold for Teal independent Zali Steggall, who has a job for as long as she wants it. [AEC. ABC News.]
  15. Fenner – Labor’s Andrew Leigh got a swing to him, the Greens candidate got a smaller swing, and the Liberal candidate lost a bunch of votes. [AEC. ABC News.]
  16. Goldstein – 4th biggest swing. Teal independent and former ABC journalist Zoe Daniel beat the Liberals’ Tim Wilson here. [AEC. ABC News.]

Note that the really relevant AEC data here would probably be seats sorted by swing away from the Liberal/LNP National candidate. But I don’t know how to produce that yet.

Talking about popular issues matters

During the campaign, the left in particular produced a lot of commentary on how Labor didn’t really take official stands on too many issues. (My own view is that this aspect of a party’s presentation is overrated; parties’ performance in government often bears little resemblance to their official policy stances, and they are better off keeping as much policy freedom as they can.)

But Labor did have some positive things to say, and they were mostly on what we might call “caring issues”: aged care, health care, child care. Action in these areas seems popular; they’re among the ideas Shor would probably argue Labor should campaign on.

And that plan worked: Australian Labor will win office federally for just the fourth time since World War II. No small achievement.

What’s going on with climate?

The interesting issue at this election is whether the ALP could have gotten away with backing market action on global warming. I genuinely don’t know.

Public opinion has moved a long way since 2010-12, as this 2021 Lowy Institute poll suggests:

Lowy Institute 2021 climate poll results

So it may be that climate is moving along the opinion curve rapidly, the way gay marriage did a few years ago.

But it may be more complicated than that. The Teal independents had climate change as  their signature issue. But they managed to avoid saying very much about what they actually believed should be done. They certainly didn’t get much pressure to commit to some particular carbon pricing model, or even a suite of less effective measures. In a sense, they did what Labor couldn’t do: get elected on a vaguely pro-climate platform without much talk about the price we will pay for acting.

In case you’re wondering, I absolutely support paying that price. My point is that Labor has been punished by both the voters and the Greens for at different times for being very specific about what it would do. This election, it elected to do what the Teal independents did: not talk specifics. But for Labor, that almost necessarily involved ruling out carbon pricing. Now that we know the result, I’m not sure I could justify saying Labor should have done any differently.

How does that play out over the next three years and beyond? I have no idea.

One more thing

One other lesson strikes me as important in this election. It’s this: Teal independents have been much more successful in the lower house than the Greens. Both groups profess to have the same signature issue. But the Greens have spent decades weighed down by a number of far-left policies for which they cannot win acceptance from centrist voters.

This isn’t a Shorist point. Indeed, it’s kind of anti-Shorist, a reminder that you can talk as much or as little as you like about things, but your position on the political spectrum still matters. In this sense, the Greens as well as the Liberals have a lot to think about after this election.