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Looking back on the Victorian election

The Victorian election saw a swing to the Liberals but it was in all the wrong places, with Labor winning another thumping majority.

Vote counting in the Victorian lower house is complete so it is time to look back on the Victorian election two weeks ago. This post is a companion piece to my last post pre-election, where I outlined eight key questions and speculated on the results.

The result

For the second election in a row, Labor had a thumping win. In seat terms it was remarkably similar to the last election: Labor won 56 seats (up one) to the Coalition’s 28* (up one), Greens 4 (up one) and independents zero (down three). Within the Coalition, the Liberals had another shocker and won 19* (down two) while the Nationals had a great result with 9 seats (up three).

This relatively static seat result masked some pretty interesting variation across the state, which I will explore more below.

The media narrative going into this election was that it would be a close result, with a high probability of a hung parliament.

As I said before the election: “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.”

Nonetheless, I massively underestimated the scale of Labor’s victory. Not only did all the independents completely flop but the Liberal offensive was insipid. Despite a state-wide swing of 2.7% to the Coalition, which “should” have halved Labor’s majority with a uniform swing, the Liberals won just two seats off Labor while losing four of their own, a net loss of two seats. The Liberals lowest hanging fruit was in the eastern suburbs and the outer south-east, but they actually went backwards in the eastern suburbs while in the outer south-east it was more or less a status quo result.

If you had told me before the election that there would be a ~3% swing to the Coalition but that Labor would gain seats, I probably would have called you an idiot.

Now, let’s answer those eight key questions.

Questions and answers

  1. 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.

In terms of vote share, Labor’s vote did fall. The preliminary two-party preferred result was 54.9% to Labor, a swing of 2.7% to the Coalition. That wasn’t even close to the 7% swing needed to endanger Labor’s majority. On the primary vote, Labor’s vote fell much more steeply (5.8% swing) but the Coalition also fell (0.8% swing).

(Incidentally, the final Newspoll of the campaign found Labor winning with 54.5%, almost bang on the actual result. Can the media please stop second-guessing public polling now? Yes, it missed the 2019 federal election but that was over three years ago – it has been pretty damn good since then. By all means exercise healthy scepticism, but next time a poll comes out showing Labor comfortably ahead while an anonymous source tells you the Liberals are in a winning position, don’t report it as “the result could go either way”. Give the polling the benefit of the doubt).

On the face of it, a 2.7% swing should have taken a chunk out of Labor’s seat total but left their majority intact. The swing did leave their majority intact, but Labor actually gained a seat! Why? Because the swing towards the Liberals was almost maximally inefficient (or if you’re Labor, maximally efficient).

The table below lists Labor’s ten most marginal seats versus the Coalition pre-election (so excluding Northcote, which is a Labor v Greens seat). These seats were the lowest hanging fruit for the Coalition – they had to win them to be competitive. Winning these seats should have been at the core of their campaign. 

Table 1. Labor’s 10 most marginal seats versus the Coalition pre-election.

Seat:ALP pre-election margin (%):Swing to Coalition (%):ALP post-election margin (%):
Hawthorn0.62.3-1.7 (Liberal gain)
Nepean0.77.4-6.7 (Liberal gain)
Ashwood2.0-4.26.2
Pakenham2.21.80.4
Ripon2.7-0.23.0
South Barwon3.0-6.89.8
Box Hill3.1-4.17.2
Ringwood3.2-4.37.5
Morwell4.08.4-4.4 (Nationals gain)
Melton5.00.44.6

But the Liberals could only gain Labor’s two most marginal seats, Hawthorn and Nepean (the Nationals also gained the seat of Morwell, which was held by a retiring independent but was classified notionally as a Labor seat due to the redistribution). Not only that, but in five of these must-win seats the Liberals went backwards (Ashwood, Ripon, South Barwon, Box Hill, Ringwood). The Liberals did gain swings towards them in Pakenham and Melton but the swings were so weak that Labor held on. Remember, the Liberals were coming off a terrible result in 2018, so all these seats should have been winnable. That they weren’t is a case study in how not to run a campaign.

So the answer to the original question? Labor’s vote did go down as expected but this had negligible impact on the seat total, with Labor increasing their seats from 55 to 56. If there is anyone out there who predicted Labor to increase their seat total with a swing against them, kudos to you.

2. 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?

Labor lost just one seat where they had a retiring incumbent (Richmond, which they lost to the Greens), so this didn’t have much of an impact in the end. Although it will not have escaped Labor’s notice that in four of the eight Labor-held seats that saw swings against them of more than 9%, they had no contesting incumbent. 

3. 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?

Well, the Liberals preference decision got the Greens close in Pascoe Vale, Preston and Footscray but Labor held on.  The Greens did gain Richmond (by a large enough margin that Liberal preferences were probably not decisive) but they fell short yet again in Northcote, where their primary vote fell by almost 10%, back to levels not seen since 2006.

Overall, the win in Richmond aside, I think there are real reasons for the Greens to be concerned about their performance at the state level. In seats where they should be competitive, there has been hardly any primary vote growth over the last decade:

  • Northcote: substantial vote erosion, worst result since 2006
  • Preston, Footscray: Virtually stagnant vote for a decade
  • Pascoe Vale: Minor increase over last decade
  • Albert Park: virtually stagnant over the last decade, but solid increase in 2022

Of course this could be due to resource allocation. Their vote has grown strongly in Prahran and Brunswick over the last decade, as well as Richmond. However, in the electorate of Melbourne, the Greens primary has now gone backwards two elections in a row, despite having an incumbent MP. This is highly unusual – an incumbent minor party or independent MP generally builds up their base of support and increases their vote; in the overlapping federal electorate of Melbourne, Adam Bandt has increased his support at every election for over a decade. The party must be wondering whether this state MP is an effective local member or not.

One of the more curious aspects of this election was the strength of the Victorian Socialists in a range of seats in the inner north, winning between 5-10% in a number of seats. Most of these votes flowed back to the Greens as preferences but still, they must be a tad alarmed that they have a challenger on the left.

4. 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?

Yes.

5. 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?

This phenomenon certainly has repeated. Labor experienced swings against them of greater than 9% in eight seats in the outer north and outer west – the record was Greenvale with a gargantuan 15.1% swing. You might think this would have gained the Liberals some seats or at least made some Labor-held seats marginal. But no: the Liberals didn’t come close to winning any seats in the west or north, and the election finished with just one extra seat in this region on a margin under 6% (Yan Yean, 4.5%), joining already-marginal Melton (4.6%). With the exception of these two seats, the Liberals are not well set up to win any seats in this region in 2026.

In contrast, Labor experienced swings towards them across the eastern suburbs, strengthening their grip on Ashwood, Box Hill and Ringwood, while gaining Bayswater and Glen Waverley off the Liberals. The swing to Labor in Bayswater was 4.8%, the third highest in the state (first was the Geelong-based marginal South Barwon and second the safe Nationals seat of Euroa).

However Labor didn’t do well in the wealthy inner east and southeast that is historically Liberal heartland. Labor gained big swings in this ‘old money’ belt back in 2018 but won only one seat (Hawthorn). This time the region swung back to the Liberals and Labor lost Hawthorn (to new Liberal leader John Pesutto). This is the only silver lining out of this election for the Liberals: it is still possible to hold onto their heartland (albeit six seats is not a very large heartland).

6. 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%.

Well this is an easy one: no. Independents in the west were a complete and utter flop. In the three seats where media pundits expected independents to be most competitive, these were the independent primary votes:

  • Melton: 9.1% (plus 6.1% for two other independents)
  • Point Cook: 6.9% (plus 3.3% for two other independents)
  • Werribee: 5.9% (plus 0.7% for two other independents)

Pathetic.

7. 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?

This is one of the more curious and harder to explain results of the election. Not only did the independent in South-West Coast flop while the Benambra independent fell just short (again), but the Nationals defeated incumbent independents in Mildura and Shepparton. That’s pretty unusual. So Victoria has gone from having three country independents in the last parliament to zero in the current one. I’ll be interested to hear theories explaining this.

Speaking of independents…..

8. 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?

I am relieved that I did not underestimate the Teals again. Instead, I over-corrected and over-estimated them.

In the end, the only Teal independent to make the final two was Kate Lardner in Mornington, who fell 0.7% short (ironically, this was the Teal candidate I gave the least chance to). Independents in Hawthorn and Kew ran decent campaigns but both ended up in third place behind the Labor and Liberal candidates, missing out on the final two. 

Overall, a poor result for independents. And a rare source of encouragement for the Liberal party.

Conclusion

I will conclude by comparing Victorian election results over the last decade. The following table shows seat total by party for the last four elections. Labor has now gained seats at three elections in a row, while the Liberals have gone backwards. There is rightly much scrutiny of the Liberal party and its campaign machinery after so many poor results. But more analysis should go into understanding how Victorian Labor, and Premier Dan Andrews, have managed to achieve such a sustained period of electoral success.

Table 2. Seats won by party over the last four Victorian elections.

 2010201420182022
Labor43475556
Liberals35302119*
Nationals10869
Greens0234
Independents0130

*The election in the previously safely Liberal-held seat of Narracan was voided after a candidate died, so this seat is currently vacant. In this post, I have assumed the Liberals will win the supplementary election, getting them to 19 seats.

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