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24 January 2014


WHEN South Australians vote in a little under two months it will be, as usual, under boundaries drawn by the state's Electoral Districts Boundaries Commission.

But for the first time in more than two decades the pre-election pendulum won't appear fair.

Since the 1991 introduction of the fairness criteria into the state's constitution, the EDBC has adjusted boundaries before every election to make the pre-election pendulum fair in the sense that, assuming uniform swing, the party with more than half the two-party-preferred vote should win (or receive a majority of the two-party-preferred vote, even if a third party ends up getting elected) in most seats. For this exercise they naturally take the vote at the last election but also make population projections.

So if one side won the last election with, say, 53 per cent of the two-party-preferred vote, then plotting 3 per cent on the new pre-election pendulum should give close to a 50-50 seat result.

For example, in 2006 the Rann government won 56.8 per cent of the two-party-preferred vote. If you go to the ABC's pendulum going into the 2010 election, take into account that in Mitchell and Fisher Labor received two-party-preferred majorities even though independents won the seats, and plot a 6.8 per cent swing to the Libs, then Labor is left with 24 seats (or 23 with a 6.9 per cent swing) out of 47.

So it was fair, at least in theory. Only after the election it might turn out to have not been fair, because swings are never uniform.

As Antony Green writes, the commission's notional numbers (ie pendulum figures) are a bit iffy, most importantly because of their handling of declaration votes.

The whole exercise is hit and miss in my opinion, but at most elections the wins have been so great it hasn't mattered much.

But in 2002 the party with the smaller vote, the ALP opposition, won office. On that occasion the boundary commission pointed out that the Liberals' 50.9 per cent vote did indeed translate to two-party-preferred majorities in a majority, 24 of the 47, of electorates, but unfortunately for the Libs three of those electorates elected independents (and one elected a Nationals MP) and one of those independents supported the formation of a Labor government (even though in the campaign he had said he would do the opposite).

The last election, in 2010, was much more 'unfair', with Labor's 48.4 per cent vote translating into 26 seats out of 47. Now, in preparation for 2014, for the first time the commission has declined to create a situation where the pendulum at least looks fair. They reckon they didn't get it wrong in 2010, Labor just did well in the seats that mattered.

Which makes you wonder what the point of the 'fairness' exercise is.

So the 2014 pendulum doesn't exhibit apparent 'fairness'. On the EDBC's figures a 1.6 per cent swing to the ALP, which would give each side 50 per cent of the vote, would yield Labor 28 seats out of 47. In earlier years 50-50 would yield a roughly 50-50 seat result. In theory. On the pre-election pendulum, if not necessarily at the ballot box.

A status quo result (Labor with 48.4 per cent vote) would leave them with 25 seats. And the Liberals need 1.4 per cent more to win vote majorities in 24 of the 47 seats which means they need 53.0 per cent. (That's ignoring the independents, whose existence makes it more difficult for the Liberals.)

The accepted explanation for the 2010 result is Labor's sandbagging and concentration of resources in marginals seat (while the Libs, apparently, blundered around irrelevant electorates). But I reckon sophomore surge was mostly responsible.

In 2014 sophomore surge would assist the Liberals, in the event of a swing to Labor - that is, if Labor was trying to take seats - in those electorates taken from the Rann government four years ago.

But the swing is going the other way in this March. The Liberals are likely to romp home. It's understandable that they are upset with the commission's ruling, but redistributions don't necessarily produce the expected electoral effects. (For example the federal one before the 2007 election, which appeared to assist the ALP, ended up probably helping the Coalition.)

As Antony points out, his and the EDBC's pendulum numbers are different. Jenni Newton-Farrelly has also produced figures that are almost the same as Antony's. I'll probably use hers over the coming weeks.

And here is my original contribution: electorates ranked by the proportion of the current electors numbers that voted in a different seat in 2010. This is important for personal vote effects (like sophomore surge) which you know I like to examine.

Whether the notional margin is likely to be inflated or deflated by the new voters depends on the situation in the seat they came from. If it's one that was already held by an MP of the same party in 2010 the candidate will likely do worse in those booths than their predecessor did. But if it was someone from the other side they will likely do better. (That's before applying any state-wide or other swing.)

Because the 2010 result in those booths included personal votes for the former member.

We will, naturally, return to this. And if it's not clear, it will become less unclear in coming weeks.

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