June 20, 2005 | Graham

Northern Territory election result – confirmation bias

I’m not about to undertake any deep analysis of the Northern Territory result because I haven’t done any research on what NT voters thought and so would just be retailing chattering class gossip and my own prejudices. But that doesn’t stop me wondering?
The result does seem to confirm that second election wins are frequently easier than first election wins. It’s not a universal law – Bob Hawke almost came to grief in 1984 and Howard in 1998 – but Beattie and Gallop come to mind as examples. And I suspect Bracks and Carr also confirm it, but I haven’t had time to go and check the results (unless some kind reader wants to do it for me!!!). In the federal exceptions to the rule Hawke called an early election, made it too long, and lost the plot half-way through, while Howard had his GST the second time round. So there were reasons for the elections to be close. Fraser, by contrast, did just as well in 1977 as in 1975.
In its turn the “second election” thesis tends to confirm my perception that in a non-ideological age voters are happy to consume whatever policies are dished-up by the party in power, so long as they don’t upset the balance of their domestic lives.
It also seems to confirm our research that the electoral reflex no longer twitches favourably (if it ever did) when hit with a big, expansive and visionary project. Denis Burke promised a power grid, Colin Barnett a canal, John Brogden another tunnel, but none of these seems to have paid off. Campbell Newman did promise five tunnels, but the issue he really won on was fixing the small things, like pot-holes, and looking hungrier than his opponent.
Again, looking from afar, there also seemed to be an element of denial on the Country Liberal side, as though the previous election result was an abberration and they believed that things would revert to the natural order. As no polling appeared to predict the extent of the swing (12% to the government apparently), there may well have been an expectations effect where voters decided that if the election was too close the CLP would fail to learn their election, or worse, might get back into power. This effect can magnify a pre-existing tendency to vote in one direction or the other, and is generally more pronounced in safe seats rather than marginals. Burke had the safest seat, and the biggest swing, tending to confirm that the effect could have been at work.
Burke’s original election loss was probably caused by his decision to line-up with One Nation, which undoubtedly alienated many voters in multi-cultural Darwin. If that was the case there would be many who would think that four years in the wilderness was not enough punishment.
Leadership instability in the CLP must also have played its part.
So, what does this mean for John Howard? Many happy returns I suspect. As long as he keeps voters happy they are likely to not want to take the risk of voting for Labor. Howard’s decision to vary his mandatory detention policy is evidence that he is listening carefully to public opinion, which appears to have shifted – check out the results of our poll run by Rights Australia. He’s working hard to keep voters happy.
For Costello it’s not a good result, because it suggests that at the current moment any party that loses power is likely to lose it for quite some time, and that changing leaders can be costly.

Posted by Graham at 10:13 am | Comments (3) |
Filed under: Australian Politics


  1. Bracks and Carr – yep. Same story as Beattie – first term was a minority government.

    Comment by Mark Bahnisch — June 20, 2005 @ 5:36 pm

  2. The line about the dangers of there being ALP state governments across the land is a good one that Howard and the rest of the feds would probably be sad to lose.
    Just about everything looks like a bad sign for Costello these days!

    Comment by Guy — June 21, 2005 @ 10:28 am

  3. While economic conditions are good – the incumbent government will almost always win.
    This is why howard won and also beattie and bracks. The fact is, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it seems to be the attitude of most voters.
    When Liberals scream on about how they now have a clear mandate to implemenet IR reform – it would pay to recognize that the states are also democratically elected and as such they have just as much of a mandate.
    Shame on howard for using the loaded gun that the australian people handed him in October 2004 to override our other democratic institutions.

    Comment by alphacoward — June 21, 2005 @ 5:31 pm

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