It is a bit over 48 hours until polls close for the Victorian state election. After eight years in office, Labor is running for a third four-year term under long-serving leader Daniel Andrews, while the Coalition is attempting to return to government with recycled leader Matthew Guy.
A Labor victory would mean that by the time of the next election in 2026, Labor will have been in power 23 out of the last 27 years, an extraordinary era of electoral dominance in Victoria.
Media commentary in the lead-up to elections in Australia is always dominated by “the vibes” rather than empirical analysis, a source of great frustration to yours truly. It is no different this election – except that there is even less empirical data than normal, so we are flying blind even more than usual! Given the limited data, in this post I will consider some of the uncertainties and conclude with my own read of “the vibes” (which you should take with a grain of salt).
There are some key questions going into this election:
- The 2018 election was a disaster for the Liberals and a thumping success for Labor. The Liberals can only go up and Labor only down from here. But by how much? A uniform swing of around 7% would be needed to endanger Labor’s majority (assuming no seats are lost to minor parties or independents, more on this below) but a swing of closer to 10% would be needed for a Coalition majority.
- Labor has a lot of long-serving lower house MPs retiring at this election (13 MPs compared to 4 Liberals and 1 National). Will the loss of this personal vote endanger Labor seats on larger margins that normally would not be competitive?
- The Liberals have sensationally announced that they will be recommending preferences to the Greens ahead of Labor in the Lower House for the first time since 2006. This would seem to doom Labor’s hopes of retaining Northcote and Richmond, which were always going to be close. But if the Greens have a really strong result, could they also gain other seats like Albert Park and Pascoe Vale, seriously damaging Labor’s hopes of winning a majority?
- There has been a substantial redistribution of electoral boundaries in Victoria in response to population growth over the last decade – two new seats have been created in Melbourne’s west and north, and another seat created on the outer south-eastern fringe. In contrast, two seats have been abolished in the stagnant eastern suburbs and a third seat abolished in the south-east. The redistribution has clearly been beneficial to Labor. (You can compare the old and new boundaries here.) But with many MPs representing new areas, will this lead to greater unpredictability?
- In the Federal election, there were substantial swings to the Liberals in some safe Labor seats in the outer suburbs, while marginal inner suburban seats swung to Labor. Will this phenomenon repeat at the state election, resulting in wildly different swings in different parts of the state?
- Will the widely covered independent challengers to Labor in the western suburbs end up having any impact? Labor only holds two seats in the western suburbs with margins under 12% (Melton 5% and Werribee 9.1%). It would require gargantuan swings for Labor to lose any seats above 12%.
- Prior to the 2022 Federal election, independents had been most successful in regional areas. Will prominent independents in Benambra and South West Coast defeat incumbent Liberal MPs? And can independents retain Mildura and Shepparton?
- Finally, there’s the topic on everyone’s lips: the Teal independents. After their extraordinary success in the federal electorates of Kooyong and Goldstein, will they manage to defeat any inner suburban Liberal MPs (or the Labor MP in Hawthorn) at the state level?
Take this with a grain of salt but here are my thoughts on likely answers to the questions above and possible results:
- There hasn’t been a tonne of polling this election, but the polling that does exist shows Labor more likely than not to be returned with a majority, all else being equal. Unless the Greens and independents do very well, I see no reason to doubt this conclusion.
- There may be a lot of volatility across the state. Labor was so dominant in 2018, their vote will likely fall everywhere – but will the biggest falls be in their most marginal seats or in very safe seats? I expect bigger swings against Labor in the outer suburbs but this will probably only cost them seats to the Liberals in the outer south-east that are on smaller margins (Pakenham, the new seat of Berwick, Hastings, Nepean, Bass, Cranbourne). I also expect Labor to lose some/most of the eastern suburbs seats they gained in 2018 (Ringwood, Ashwood, Box Hill, Hawthorn). In contrast, I think Labor will probably hold their seats in regional areas (and maybe they will win Morwell too).
- It is very hard to get an objective read on independent campaigns. Pollster Kos Samaras, who predicted the Teal independent surge at the Federal election, reckons that Benambra, South-West Coast, Kew and Mornington are all looking strong for independents, with Hawthorn very close. Roy Morgan Research, another pollster predicts independents will win Benambra, Kew, Hawthorn, Brighton and Melton. My thoughts on each of these seats:
- I agree regional independents have an excellent chance against the Liberals in Benambra and South West Coast.
- Kew, Hawthorn and Brighton, all seem the most logical wins for Teal independents, along with Caulfield (which strangely, neither pollster mentions). I’ll predict that the independent wins Kew – retiring incumbent Liberal Tim Smith has done his best to alienate his constituents there – but I’m not sure they’ll break through in the other three seats. The Hawthorn independent seems to be relatively high profile, but the local Liberal candidate (an ex-MP) also has a high profile and by all accounts has run a very strong ground campaign. In Brighton and Caulfield, I don’t even know the independents’ names – I doubt they have enough name recognition to break through. (At this point, I should disclose that I was a hard Teal sceptic at the federal election – I thought they’d retain Warringah, gain Wentworth and maybe North Sydney, but I gave them no chance in Mackellar, Kooyong, Goldstein and Curtin. So I could very well be underestimating them again.)
- I agree Melton is the best chance for a conservative independent victory in the western suburbs. If they cannot win Melton, they are not winning anywhere else.
- I have no clue why Mornington keeps being talked about as a possible independent victory. There is absolutely nothing about the demographics of this seat (one of the oldest and whitest electorates in the state) that would indicate it is fertile ground for an independent, not to mention the abject failures of independents in the local area at the last two federal elections.
- So to summarise: regional independents probably win Benambra and South West Coast, a Teal wins Kew and maybe one other, and a conservative independent wins Melton, resulting in 1-2 Labor seat losses and 3-4 Liberal seat losses. This assumes I am not systematically underestimating inner city independents.
- Prior to the Liberal announcement that they would recommend preferences to the Greens ahead of Labor, I thought the Greens were a good chance to gain Richmond and perhaps Northcote as well. Since the Liberal announcement, it seems virtually certain that the Greens will win these two seats. The question then is what about seats like Albert Park or Pascoe Vale? If I had to guess, I would say Labor hold these seats. Labor and Daniel Andrews still seem pretty popular in the inner suburbs so I don’t expect Labor’s vote to fall enough here to put these seats at risk.
If you’ve been adding up my vague seat predictions above, you would get to about 43-46 seats for Labor. Given Labor needs 45 seats for a majority, this puts them right on the verge of minority or majority government. Having said that, I expect it is more likely than not that Labor will overperform than underperform on a seat-by-seat basis – they are the incumbent government after all.
My bet on the scenarios from most likely to least likely:
- A narrow Labor majority of 1-4 seats.
- Labor falling 1-3 seats short of majority, ultimately forming government with regional independents or Teals.
- A comfortable Labor majority of 5 seats or more.
- A hung parliament with Labor falling 4 or more seats short of a majority.
- A Coalition majority
We’ll find out after 6:00pm on Saturday.
Other great election previews:
Best sources for election night coverage:
POSTSCRIPT SAT MORNING: We finally have a Newspoll released late Friday night, showing Labor up 54.5% on two party preferred. If that result is replicated tonight, scenario 1 (a narrow Labor majority of 1-4 seats) and scenario 3 (a comfortable Labor majority of 5 seats or more) are much more likely than a minority government.