Some surprises in Baird’s unsurprising triumph

31 May 2015

The recent state election in New South Wales turned out pretty much as predicted.  Premier Mike Baird and the Coalition parties survived a large swing against them to win the election with a comfortable majority.  They were always going to suffer a large swing, since the previous election in 2011 had seen a massive swing to the Liberal-National Coalition as voters comprehensively tossed the Labor Party out of office amid a stench of incompetence and scandal, but the swing to Labor now wasn’t thought likely to defeat the Coalition.

It’s not uncommon for a large swing in one direction at one election to be followed by a large swing the opposite way at the next.  I saw such swings and reversals in the Federal elections of 1996 and 1998, and more recently in the Queensland elections of 2012 and this year, so I expected this to happen in NSW.  Mind you, the Queensland scenario was different because both elections saw the governing party lose office, both the Labor Party in 2012 and the Liberal National Party this year – it’s probably rare to see two consecutive elections resulting in big swings and changing of governments.

Nonetheless, the NSW election had the Coalition fighting for privatisation of electricity assets to fund upgrades to roads and schools and other things.  Voters weren’t keen on electricity privatisation, which they might’ve perceived as resulting in higher electricity charges under private operators who cared more about profits than providing a reliable electricity supply, but an anti-privatisation campaign by Labor didn’t really scare voters away from the Coalition.  There was talk about other issues possibly biting, like the unpopularity of some planned road tunnels in inner Sydney and concerns about alleged corruption by MPs, but they turned out to be local issues in just a few seats.

The unpopularity of Prime Minister Tony Abbott and the Federal Coalition was also tipped to hurt Baird.  Indeed both Baird and Abbott represent the same region in different parliaments – Baird holds the State seat of Manly and Abbott holds the overlapping Federal seat of Warringah.  And after Queensland’s election had earlier seen the defeat of the Newman LNP Government, whose leader was an attacker like Abbott, many tipped an “Abbott factor” to hurt Baird.  But this didn’t occur.

Helping the Coalition was a whopping parliamentary majority – it won the previous election 69-20 over Labor in terms of seats, and the loss of a few seats in by-elections, as well as several MPs over corruption allegations, didn’t reduce the Coalition’s majority by much.  The Coalition also had a popular leader in Baird, who seems more energetic and likeable than many other leaders.  Having a popular leader and a strong parliamentary majority shielded the Coalition from any major backlash, over electricity privatisation or corruption or whatever.

In the end, unsurprisingly, the Coalition won comfortably, albeit just in the Lower House of Parliament, namely the Legislative Assembly.  It didn’t win enough seats to control the Upper House of Parliament, the Legislative Council – here it won nine out of twenty-one available seats, and its legislation won’t get through here without enough minor parties’ support.

Out of ninety-three Assembly seats, the Coalition won fifty-four and Labor won thirty-four, while the Greens won three and Independents won two.  In terms of my predictions, the Coalition won three more seats than I’d tipped and Labor won three less, while my prediction of two seats for the Greens and three for Independents turned out to be the reverse.

I correctly tipped Labor to win Blue Mountains, Campbelltown, Granville, Londonderry, Macquarie Fields, Maitland, Prospect, Rockdale, Strathfield, Swansea, and Wyong from the Coalition.  My tips for the Coalition to win back Miranda from Labor after losing it in a by-election, and for the Greens to hold Balmain and win Newtown, were also correct.  And I got right three seats which had changed hands at by-elections in the previous two years – as per my tips, the Coalition by-election winner in Northern Tablelands was returned, as were the Labor by-election winners in Newcastle and Charlestown.

But I also made many incorrect tips, and some results were surprises.  I didn’t tip the Coalition to hold off Labor in Coogee, East Hills, Holsworthy, Kiama, Monaro, and Oatley – some of these seats should’ve gone to Labor quite easily.  Nor did I tip the Coalition to hold off a well-known Independent in Tamworth.  I also didn’t tip Labor wins in Gosford and Port Stephens and The Entrance, where Labor had swings above the predicted statewide swing of 9-10 per cent from the Coalition.  And I never expected the Greens to win the rural seat of Ballina, because the Greens seldom poll well outside inner suburbs of capital cities and I doubted that they’d win in the bush, notwithstanding their strong opposition to coal seam gas, a major issue in some regions.

The result of the NSW election shouldn’t have surprised anybody.  Baird now has a fifteen-seat majority in the Lower House, though he needs crossbench support in the Upper House to pass legislation there.  But in Baird’s unsurprising triumph there were definitely some surprises, so Baird may have to address issues that he might’ve preferred to avoid.  His popularity remains strong, though how he handles some issues will direct where that popularity goes.

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