An upset

Australia had a federal election yesterday. I wrote a blog post about it, focusing on the “democracy sausage” that voters expected at the polling booths, rather than speculating about the almost inevitable result.

The actual result turned out to be a big surprise. The Australian Labor Party did everything right. They had been consistently ahead in the opinion polls, for years. The Liberal Party, in government, had been beset by some nasty leadership struggles and was seen as divided. Labor was a known, stable, popular, product and it was their turn in power.

To add to the mood, Labor’s revered past Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, who won a string of elections in the 1980s, died at the age of 89, and was widely lauded by politicians on both sides. “It’s a shame Bob won’t be here to see a Labor victory on Saturday,” was the thought in the Labor party.

And to top it all off, a betting company, after seeing Labor backed almost down to even money, paid out those who bet on Labor two days before the election.

A Sportsbet statement on Thursday declared punters considered the federal election “run and won, backing Labor into Winx-like odds of $1.16”.
“Punters rarely get it wrong on elections,” Sportsbet’s Richard Hummerston said at the time.

Canberra Times

Wait, what? Isn’t that like awarding the gold medal before running the Olympic final?

Sportsbet thought that they would get some positive media coverage out of the story, and they did. It was a news item everywhere on Friday, the day before the election. A quirky and relevant story.

And realistically, it was a logical call. The people making the bets that had seen Labor’s odds shorten were the same people who would be voting on Saturday. If your sample is large enough and representative enough, how can you go wrong?

But they did. Saturday night’s election coverage was full of puzzled pundits wondering what went wrong. Was it the polling methodology? Was it some unconsidered election strategy that had paid off big? Or was it someone tampering with the election results?

It was Sportbet’s decision to pay out early. A newsworthy story that got to every electorate in Australia. Everyone, including the betting companies, was expecting a Labor win. A sure thing.

But voters don’t like being taken for granted. Faced with the news that everyone else was going to vote a certain way, enough voters decided that they would indulge themselves and vote for the guy they preferred – the dorky, uncharismatic, young father who had unexpectedly become Prime Minister, – rather than the party that they actually saw as superior.

Only one or two voters in a hundred, but that was enough to turn the election result from a 3% swing to Labor to no movement at all. Come Monday, the two parties will have the same number of seats in Parliament give or take, and Scott Morrison will remain the unexpected Prime Minister.

Richard Hummerston, you made history. Expect a knighthood in the mail.


Image courtesy Pixabay

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  1. I wonder if this sort of thing may have been a factor in Trump? There’s even a name for this: the “Kennett Effect”, named after an Australian politician who was widely expected to win our 1999 Victorian election, but as the results came out, they went exactly the other way.

    Political commentators were live on air wondering what the hell was wrong with their computers because the numbers were so very wrong.

    Everyone – including me – thought the awful Trump would go down in flames. But enough people in a few states decided to support him, giving the underdog their vote. And look what happened.


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