Swing (Australian politics)

The term swing refers to the extent of change in voter support, typically from one election or opinion poll to another, expressed as a positive or negative percentage point. For the Australian House of Representatives and the lower houses of the parliaments of all the states and territories except Tasmania and the ACT, Australia employs preferential voting in single-member constituencies. Under the full-preference instant-runoff voting system, in each seat the candidate with the lowest vote is eliminated and their preferences are distributed, which is repeated until only two candidates remain. While every seat has a two-candidate preferred (TCP) result, seats where the major parties have come first and second are commonly referred to as having a two-party-preferred (TPP) result. The concept of "swing" in Australian elections is not simply a function of the difference between the votes of the two leading candidates, as it is in Britain. To know the majority of any seat, and therefore the swing necessary for it to change hands, it is necessary to know the preferences of all the voters, regardless of their first preference votes. It is not uncommon in Australia for candidates who have comfortable leads on the first count to fail to win the seat, because "preference flows" go against them.

TPP/TCP swings

In seats where the major parties do not come first and second, differing TPP and TCP results are returned. Whilst each seat that preferences down to two major party candidates has the same TPP as TCP, in seats not contested by a major party, such as at some by-elections or some seats in some state elections, only a TCP vote can be produced. At federal elections, it is possible to calculate a TPP/TCP majority for every seat. The swing is therefore what is required for that seat to change hands at the next election.

Swings in Australian parliaments are more commonly associated with the TPP vote. While seats are normally referred to on TPP terms, when one of the remaining two candidates after preference distribution are not from a major party, it is referred to as a TCP, with a different TPP produced. In a TCP contest between Labor and the Nationals and without a Liberal candidate, this is also considered a TPP, with the Nationals considered a de facto major party within the Liberal–National Coalition. At the 2013 federal election, only 11 of 150 seats returned differing TPP and TCP figures ("non-classic seats"), indicating a considerable two-party system.[1]

The Mackerras pendulum takes the TPP majorities of all electorates and arranges them in order, from the seat with the highest government majority to the seat with the highest opposition majority. For example, ahead of the 2007 election, Labor needed to win a minimum of 16 additional seats to form a government, and the 16th-weakest government seat (McMillan) had a TPP majority of 4.9 points. Thus, the pendulum predicted that Labor would need a uniform TPP swing of 4.9 points to win the 2007 election. Labor in fact gained a swing of 5.6 points, which the pendulum had predicted would result in 21 additional Labor seats under a uniform swing. In fact, Labor gained 23 seats, and not all seats that changed hands were those with the slimmest Coalition majorities, because swings in each district are unique and not uniform.


Federal, Adelaide 2004

2004 Australian federal election: Division of Adelaide, South Australia
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Liberal Trish Worth 38,530 45.29 +0.82
Labor Kate Ellis 35,666 41.92 +5.50
Greens Jake Bugden 6,794 7.99 +2.02
Family First Peter G Robins 1,753 2.06 +2.06
Democrats Richard Pascoe 1,355 1.59 –9.30
Independent Amanda Barlow 978 1.15 +1.15
Total formal votes 85,076 95.60 +0.66
Informal votes 3,920 4.40 –0.66
Turnout 88,996 93.62 –1.09
Two-party-preferred result
Labor Kate Ellis 43,671 51.33 +1.95
Liberal Trish Worth 41,405 48.67 –1.95
Labor gain from Liberal Swing+1.95

It can be seen that the Liberal candidate had a primary vote lead over the Labor candidate. In first-past-the-post voting, the Liberals would have retained the seat, and their majority would be said to be 3.4 percentage points (45.3 − 41.9).

However, under full-preference instant-runoff voting, the votes of all the minor candidates were distributed as follows:

2nd count: Barlow 978 votes distributed
Party Candidate Added votes % Votes %
Liberal Trish Worth 172 17.6 38,702 45.5
Labor Kate Ellis 206 21.1 35,872 42.2
Greens Jake Bugden 365 37.3 7,159 8.4
Family First Peter G Robins 96 9.8 1,849 2.2
Democrats Richard Pascoe 139 14.2 1,494 1.8
Total 978 85,076
3rd count: Democrats 1,494 votes distributed
Party Candidate Added votes % Votes %
Liberal Trish Worth 343 23.0 39,045 45.9
Labor Kate Ellis 494 33.1 36,366 42.8
Greens Jake Bugden 560 37.5 7,719 9.1
Family First Peter G Robins 97 6.5 1,946 2.3
Total 1,494 85,076
4th count: Family First 1,946 votes distributed
Party Candidate Added votes % Votes %
Liberal Trish Worth 1,098 56.4 40,143 47.2
Labor Kate Ellis 377 19.4 36,743 43.2
Greens Jake Bugden 471 24.2 8,190 9.6
Total 1,946 85,076
5th count: Greens 8,190 votes distributed - final TPP/TCP
Party Candidate Added votes % Votes %
Labor Kate Ellis 6,928 84.6 43.671 51.3
Liberal Trish Worth 1,262 15.4 41,405 48.7
Total 8,190 85,076 1.3

Thus, Labor defeated the Liberals, with 85 percent of Green and Green-preferenced voters preferencing Labor on the last distribution. Labor's TPP/TCP vote was 51.3 percent, a TPP/TCP majority of 1.3 points, and a TPP/TCP swing of 1.9 points compared with the previous election.

South Australia, Frome 2009

2009 Frome state by-election: Electoral district of Frome, South Australia[2][3]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Liberal Terry Boylan 7,576 39.24 –8.86
Labor John Rohde 5,041 26.11 –14.93
Independent Geoff Brock 4,557 23.60 +23.60
National Neville Wilson 1,267 6.56 +6.56
Greens Joy O'Brien 734 3.80 +0.06
One Nation Peter Fitzpatrick 134 0.69 +0.69
Total formal votes 19,309 97.12 +0.21
Informal votes 573 2.88 –0.21
Turnout 19,882 89.79 –4.44
Two-party-preferred result
Liberal Terry Boylan 9,976 51.67 –1.74
Labor John Rohde 9,333 48.33 +1.74
Two-candidate-preferred result
Independent Geoff Brock 9,987 51.72 +51.72
Liberal Terry Boylan 9,322 48.28 –5.13
Independent gain from Liberal SwingN/A

The 2009 Frome by-election was closely contested, with the result being uncertain for over a week.[4][5][6] Liberal leader Martin Hamilton-Smith claimed victory on behalf of the party.[7][8][9] The result hinged on the performance of Brock against Labor in the competition for second place. Brock polled best in the Port Pirie area, and received enough eliminated candidate preferences to end up ahead of the Labor candidate by 30 votes.

Distribution of preferences - 4th count[10]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Liberal Terry Boylan 8,215 42.54
Independent Geoff Brock 5,562 28.81
Labor John Rohde 5,532 28.65

Brock received 80 percent of Labor's fifth-count preferences to achieve a TCP vote of 51.72 percent (a majority of 665 votes) against the Liberal candidate.[11][12] The by-election saw a rare TPP swing to an incumbent government, and was the first time an opposition had lost a seat at a by-election in South Australia.[13][14] The result in Frome at the 2010 state election saw Brock come first on primary votes, increasing his primary vote by 14.1 points to a total of 37.7 percent and his TCP vote by 6.5 points to a total of 58.2 percent. Despite a statewide swing against Labor at the election, Labor again increased its TPP vote in Frome by 1.8 points up to 49.9%.

Federal, Melbourne 2010

2010 Australian federal election: Division of Melbourne, Victoria
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Labor Cath Bowtell 34,022 38.09 –11.42
Greens Adam Bandt 32,308 36.17 +13.37
Liberal Simon Olsen 18,760 21.00 –2.49
Sex Party Joel Murray 1,633 1.83 +1.83
Family First Georgia Pearson 1,389 1.55 +0.55
Secular Penelope Green 613 0.69 +0.69
Democrats David Collyer 602 0.67 –0.76
Total formal votes 89,327 96.38 –0.82
Informal votes 3,356 3.62 +0.82
Turnout 92,683 90.09 –1.41
Two-party-preferred result
Labor Cath Bowtell 65,473 73.30 +1.03
Liberal Simon Olsen 23,854 26.70 –1.03
Two-candidate-preferred result
Greens Adam Bandt 50,059 56.04 +10.75
Labor Cath Bowtell 39,268 43.96 –10.75
Greens gain from Labor Swing+10.75

In this example, the two remaining candidates/parties, one a minor party, were the same after preference distribution at both this election and the previous election. Therefore, differing TPP and TCP votes, margins, and swings resulted.[15]

South Australia, Port Adelaide 2012

Pt Adelaide state by-election, 2012: Electoral district of Pt Adelaide, South Australia
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Labor Susan Close 8,218 42.3 –7.6
Independent Gary Johanson 4,717 24.3 +24.3
Independent Sue Lawrie 2,938 15.1 +15.1
Liberal Democrats Stephen Humble 1,415 7.3 +7.3
Greens Justin McArthur 1,096 5.6 –0.6
Independent Colin Thomas 314 1.6 +1.6
Independent Bob Briton 292 1.5 +1.5
One Nation Grant Carlin 269 1.4 +1.4
Democratic Labor Elizabeth Pistor 151 0.8 +0.8
Total formal votes 19,410 92.8 –3.8
Informal votes 1,505 7.2 +3.8
Turnout 20,915 82.8 –10.4
Two-candidate-preferred result
Labor Susan Close 10,277 52.9 –9.8
Independent Gary Johanson 9,133 47.1 +47.1
Labor hold SwingN/A

At the 2012 Port Adelaide state by-election, only a TCP could be produced, as the Liberal Party of Australia (and Family First Party and independent candidate Max James), who contested the previous election and gained a primary vote of 26.8 percent (and 5.9 percent, and 11.0 percent respectively), did not contest the by-election. On a TPP margin of 12.8 percent from the 2010 election, considered a safe margin on the current pendulum, Labor would have likely retained their TPP margin based on unchanged statewide Newspoll since the previous election. Labor retained the seat on a 52.9 percent TCP against Johanson after the distribution of preferences.[16][17][18] Unlike previous examples, neither a TPP or TCP swing can be produced, as the 2010 result was between Labor and Liberal rather than Labor and independent with no Liberal candidate. An increase or decrease in margins in these situations cannot be meaningfully interpreted as swings. As explained by the ABC's Antony Green, when a major party does not contest a by-election, preferences from independents or minor parties that would normally flow to both major parties does not take place, causing asymmetric preference flows. Examples of this are the 2008 Mayo and 2002 Cunningham federal by-elections, with seats returning to TPP form at the next election.[19]


  1. Non-classic divisions, 2013 federal election: AEC
  2. "2009 Frome by-election results: State Electoral Office". Seo.sa.gov.au. Archived from the original on 20 January 2009. Retrieved 28 July 2010.
  3. "2009 Frome By-election: ABC Elections". Abc.net.au. 2 February 2009. Retrieved 28 July 2010.
  4. "Frome by-election goes down to the wire". ABC Online. 18 January 2009. Retrieved 25 January 2009.
  5. Green, Antony. "Frome By-election Results". ABC Online. Retrieved 25 January 2009.
  6. Emmerson, Russell; Pepper, Chris (18 January 2009). "Liberals confident they'll hold Outback seat of Frome". The Advertiser. Archived from the original on 20 January 2009. Retrieved 25 January 2009.
  7. "Liberals claim victory in Frome". Poll Bludger (Crikey). 21 January 2009. Archived from the original on 31 January 2009. Retrieved 25 January 2009. This article reproduces the original Liberal press release, no longer available on the SA Liberal site.
  8. Hendrik Gout (30 January 2009). "Frome one loss to another: Independent Weekly 30/1/2009". Independentweekly.com.au. Retrieved 28 July 2010.
  9. Richardson, Tom (30 January 2009). "Frome, a lost moment for the Libs: Independent Weekly 30/1/2009". Independentweekly.com.au. Retrieved 28 July 2010.
  10. "District of Frome" (PDF). Retrieved 28 July 2010.
  11. Pepper, Chris (25 January 2009). "Shock Frome loss rocks SA Liberals". The Advertiser. Retrieved 25 January 2009.
  12. Jamie Walker (31 January 2009). "Peace plea as Nationals take revenge on Liberals at polling booth: The Australian 31/1/2009". Theaustralian.news.com.au. Archived from the original on 6 March 2009. Retrieved 28 July 2010.
  13. David Nason, New York correspondent (26 January 2009). "Leader left with pumpkin: The Australian 26/1/2009". Theaustralian.news.com.au. Archived from the original on 11 September 2012. Retrieved 28 July 2010.
  14. Gavin Lower and David Nason (26 January 2009). "Libs demand recount after shock poll loss: The Australian 26/1/2009". Theaustralian.news.com.au. Archived from the original on 13 September 2012. Retrieved 28 July 2010.
  15. Melbourne 2010 election result: AEC
  16. 2012 Port Adelaide by-election results: ECSA Archived 2012-07-28 at archive.today
  17. Port Adelaide by-election preference distribution: ECSA Archived 2013-04-09 at the Wayback Machine
  18. 2012 Port Adelaide by-election results: Antony Green ABC
  19. A Comment on the Size of the Port Adelaide Swing, Antony Green: ABC Elections 13 February 2012
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