There’s been a great deal in this election that has been unprecedented, and some of the precedents it sets are good, and some less desirable.
What I think is not particularly unprecedented is the swing. Quite a few commentators, have gone from the observation that first term governments are usually returned to thinking that there is an unusual censure in the swing against this government. Tony Abbott has made this part of his appeal to “legitimacy”.
Here’s a table of the past four federal elections by first term governments and the swing experienced – the 2010 data current as of posting.
Government and election 2pp Swing Whitlam 1974 -1.0 Fraser 1977 -1.1 Hawke 1983 -1.46% Howard 1998 -4.61 Rudd/Gillard 2010 -2.04
From this it appears that this election followed ample precedent. If you’re so inclined you’d (fallaciously given the low sample) read a reversal of a trend by which new governments have been censured more over time. The important pattern may be less about 1st term governments being returned than that new Federal Governments always disappoint. Whilst State governments have tended to turn narrow victories into landslides in their second elections, we never invest state governments with hopes for grand policies and plans for the future. If they prove tolerable they stay. We are promised and expect more from Federal Governments.
It is unusual that a majority in seats was not achieved (even the severely censured Howard managed that). This might be because of an unprecedented failure for new members to build personal votes, but I think it’s far more likely to be because of the highly concentrated nature of the swing in Queensland, which has a disproportionate number of marginal seats. I attribute the number of marginal seats in Queensland to that state’s rapid growth and new money, which means there hasn’t been as much chance to sort by social and economic group – there’s less in the way of established blue ribbon, blue collar or trendy suburbs that make electorates in other states more safe for either side.
But in terms of backlash across the entire electorate? Well, the mean swing against a 1st term government is….-2.04. On that basis, any censure the government has faced is very much precedented.
A side observation is that the swing in Western Australia (as yest) is -1.75%. This is off a lower vote than the rest of the country to begin with, but it does cast a little doubt on the impact of the rent tax if the state in which media and business reactions were the most vociferous and aggressive swung less than the country as a whole.