April 14, 2013 | Graham

What are the chances of Julia winning in September?

The chances of Julia Gillard winning in September are probably about 15% – better than many of use would think. That is if results in Australian elections are in any way similar to US elections.

I’ve taken my odds from a table in The Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver¬†where he gives the probabilities of a senate candidate winning based on size of lead in polling average. While I don’t think the odds would be exactly the same, I don’t think they’d be all that dissimilar either.

So here is the table.

Size of lead
Time until election 1 Point 5 Points 10 Points 20 Points
One day 64% 95% 99.7% 99.999%
One week 60% 89% 98% 99.97%
One month 57% 81% 95% 99.7%
Three months 55% 72% 87% 98%
Six months 53% 66% 79% 93%
One year 52% 59% 67% 81%

There are reasons to think that there could be a difference, for example that voting is voluntary in the US, but hard to hypothesise why it would be that significant in terms of the result.

It’s true that US polling can be more volatile than our own, but that would tend to suggest that the 20 point or so two-party preferred lead that the federal Liberals enjoyed in the last Newspoll is even more significant.

When I think of Australian elections I can’t think of a government that has lost, or an opposition that hasn’t won, when it was ahead by 20 points at this stage, nor a state government or state opposition. But we don’t have a lot of elections here, so US statistics will probably capture the low probabilities inherent in very extreme situations better than trying to do the exercise on our figures.

Can anyone else think of a situation where an Australian state or federal government has been ahead by 12 to 20 points six months out in the polls and failed to win the ensuing election?

Posted by Graham at 10:46 pm | Comments (6) |
Filed under: Uncategorized


  1. Graham, it’s a similar question to the discussions I have been having of late: how close is too close to the election for Labor to turn the polls? I think we’re nearing the point but not quite there.

    In relation to your question, the only instance I can think of in the past 30 years of a government miles ahead of its opposition in the polls, six months out, that failed to win was Jeff Kennett in 1999.

    Despite mounting evidence that “hubris” was beginning to affect his numbers, even the leadership change from Brumby to Bracks in 1999 posed much of a threat to Kennett at first glance.

    And he was a still ten points ahead during the 1999 election campaign.

    We all know how it ended…

    The two red herrings here would be John Hewson federally in 1993 and Sallyanne Atkinson in Brisbane in 1991.

    In the case of the former, Keating of course had all but wiped out the Liberal poll lead by early 1992, and in the case of the latter, Sallyanne was really only infallible by repute in early 1991: I recall a voting intention poll in 1990 showing 39% for her, 33% for an unnamed ALP candidate and 26% undecided.

    Like the Hewson experience, the legend that grew over subsequent years was that she too had been consistently ahead by a country mile prior to her “shock” defeat, when of course she wasn’t.

    So that leaves Kennett as the sole answer to your question.

    Comment by Yale Stephens — April 14, 2013 @ 11:07 pm

  2. No statistics required here. Nothing can save this Labor mob. Only the removal of Gillard and her faceless men would provide some possibility of a marginal win. Only a “possibility’ because Labor is so tarnished; current Labor is simply toxic. Labor brought it on itself. Even Rudd will NOT be able to resurrect it again. This Labor is dead. “Marginal win” is not good enough because people know now that a minority government is without vision and conviction. A minority government usually sells its soul to remain in power. Yeah …. Labor is dead.

    Comment by Jolly — April 15, 2013 @ 10:44 am

  3. Hi Yale,

    I must admit I thought Sallyanne was pretty impregnable in the polling. Do you have a reference for the much closer figure that you quote?

    One of the factors that sometimes plays on these sorts of figures is the protest vote, which the Libs and Nats managed to harvest in the 1995 Queensland election where we achieved a 7.5% swing to us during the course of the campaign (which effectively reversed a 10 point deficit as we were 45/55 in the polls before the election).

    Comment by Graham — April 15, 2013 @ 11:07 am

  4. Talking about odds, what odds would anyone given of Black Caviar, winning 15 straight?
    Tony has been quite remarkably successful, with what appears at first glance, a extremely simplistic sledging campaign.
    And yes, Labour has seemed to have stumbled from crisis to crisis, the endless internal sniping, the cabinet leaks and the on public display of never ending internal dissent, plus Slipper, Thomson and NSW Labour, and the Queensland asset sales!
    They say that if you can’t govern yourself, you can’t govern the country!
    However, they also say, that a week is a long time in politics, and endlessly sledging, negatively geared Tony, has never ever been closely examined as an alternative PM?
    And to be fair, we have the best performing economy in the western world.
    Moreover, Tony looked hopelessly out of his depth, as the would be alternative PM, when addressing his plans for our broadband? Whereas, a much more confident Turnbull, looked the real deal!
    That said, if this where the Stawell Gift, and the 400 dash, Gillard would be giving around 200 to Tony?
    This means, Tony needs to be squeezed into a corner, and made to talk about policy and what he would do different, as an economic manager, with his hands on the levers of the economy.
    It’s said that only 30% of us understand politics, 30% of us understand the economy, with 40% understanding neither!
    Unfortunately for us, the country and the economy, it’s invariably, the latter group who effectively decide elections; and indeed, it is the latter group, one might successfully argue, who seem to have been Tony’s principle audience?
    We know that they are extremely dissatisfied, because Tony, with the able assistance of a few influential shock jocks, told them that they are?
    Alan B. Goulding.

    Comment by Alan B. Goulding — April 15, 2013 @ 12:09 pm

  5. Hi Graham,

    Yes, I had forgotten the Borbidge/Goss election in 1995; certainly the momentum shift was felt in the last week of the campaign but prior to that everyone (Coalition included) felt we were on a hiding to nothing.

    On the BCC poll prior to the 1991 election — I will see if I can find something archived, but this item is something I read at the time. I recall it clearly because I laughed when I read it (perhaps an 18 year old’s blinkered vision at that time) and like everyone else got the shock of my life a few months later, but realise in hindsight its figures gave a clear clue as to what was likely to happen.

    It may have been internal Labor polling quoted in an article in either the Bulletin or The Australian. If I can find something containing the details I’ll post a link for you.

    Comment by Yale Stephens — April 15, 2013 @ 12:21 pm

  6. The Abbott PR machine is a very slick US style presidential presentation.I no longer think his margin will be all that great due to his back peddling on the CO2 tax.Tony Abbott in my view also is lacking in emotional sincerity.This is why the PR machine is promoting image over substance.

    If the Liberals were to Govern their own right,this would be bad news for all of us and the and Nationals.

    We desperately need a new party to replace Labor,since they are now totally dysfunctional and bereft of any moral fibre.

    Comment by Ross — April 16, 2013 @ 7:49 pm

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