What Victoria's state election isn't

I didn't get sent the postal ballot I applied for, so my contribution to the Victorian democratic process for this year will come in the form of a short rant.

There have been a lot of articles in the last week, and will inevitably be more in the next few days, about the contribution of the Abbott government and its unpopularity to this result. A state government in Victoria has not been removed after one term since the 1950s. It happened today; the idea that Denis Napthine and the Victorian Liberal Party were tarred with the federal party's toxic brush is an easy explanation of why. Here is one analysis piece, blaming the Coalition's defeat on "a toxic fusion of state and national politics". Here is a news article saying that the result "will inevitably be interpreted as sending a strong message to Canberra" - as if that interpretation just happens, magically, and not because of articles which say things like that. A very brief and straightforward history of recent electoral politics in Victoria entirely destroys that narrative.


Victoria is the most solidly left-wing state in Australia. The Labor Party was in power for eleven years, from 1999 to 2010, with a landslide in 2002 only slightly dinted in 2006. They reliably polled upwards of 54% throughout that era. There was not much indication in the run-up to the 2010 election that that would change; in the last few months of the race there was a dramatic tightening - that is a time where there is a decent case for contagion from federal Labor's woes. It took several days for the results to become clear, but eventually it emerged that the Coalition had won a majority of one single seat.

It's probably not quite true to say that the Coalition wasn't expecting to win government in 2010, but that's a description which gives a very solid indication of what happened subsequently. The honeymoon was extraordinary and saw the Coalition vote share in polls shoot way above what it had actually recorded in the election. After about a year the gloss quickly started wearing off. Promises about pay and conditions for teachers and ambulance workers weren't met and industrial action by those unions seriously damaged Ted Baillieu and his government. By mid-2012 Labor was back in front, again boasting about 55% of the vote after preferences.

This is the big problem for the story about Tony Abbott's unpopularity: that never changed. Baillieu resigned in March 2013; Denis Napthine became Premier, cut a deal with the teachers' union, and enjoyed a brief honeymoon. After about ten weeks things were back as they had been, and they've stayed that way ever since: Labor has held a solid majority of the two-party preferred vote and never really looked like losing it. This is the real story:


To recap: the most left-wing state in the country narrowly elected a conservative government which failed to keep a series of promises and made numerous unpopular decisions. For almost two and a half years - with the briefest of blips on the arrival of the charming Denis Napthine - polling has suggested that the Labor Party was going to defeat that government. The results, though not yet fully counted, seem to have Labor pulling just about the share of the vote that they've been pulling in polls for over a year. Turning to decisions Tony Abbott and the federal Liberal Party have made in the last few months to explain any of this is just letting the desire for a narrative about federal politics - admittedly, much sexier and more exciting than an election whose major issue was a new road - obscure the facts.

Comments

  1. The conservatives certainly didn't expect to win in 2010, which set them up for failure. Two years of inaction because of no real plan to govern; and inability to deliver on the wild promises made from the safety of opposition.

    The road wasn't an issue in the seats the lost - more an issue in seats Labor has lost. Note it was notably absent from Labor's victory speechifying...

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