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WA 2021 – the shape of the swing

March 1, 2021 - 11:55 -- Admin

By now we all know to expect a landslide victory for WA Labor in this month’s state election. The polls predict it, and even the Liberal leader has acknowledged it.

But I want to put what might happen in context by looking at what happened in 2017, which seats flipped, and how that compared to previous elections.

There hasn’t been a single election since 1980 which has seen a swing anywhere near as big as we saw in Western Australia in 2017.

The following chart shows the two-party-preferred vote for Labor and the Liberals and Nationals at every state election since 1980.

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Two things jump out: the last election produced the biggest win for Labor over this period, and the previous election in 2013 produced the biggest win ever for the Liberal and Nationals parties.

But the 2013 result wasn’t due to one big surge in the vote. The conservative parties had gained swings at three successive elections, slightly gaining support at the 2005 election, when Labor won a second term in power, before gaining larger swings in 2008 and 2013. The biggest swing to the conservatives in this recent era was 5.4% at the 2013 election. So they built their way up to a large majority.

The Liberal/National government also won with a large 55%+ majority in 1996 before losing in 2001, with Labor gaining a swing of 8.1%, which had been the record over recent decades prior to the 2017 result.

In this forty-year period, a party has held on to power while losing the 2PP just once, in 1989.

This tells me a few things:

  • Considering that Labor won the last election with a huge swing and with their biggest ever result, it’s remarkable to think that we are now working on the assumption that Labor will gain further ground, perhaps quite a lot of ground, in 2021.
  • A landslide victory to the Liberals and Nationals in 2013 produced a large upper house majority, with 22 out of 36 seats, while Labor only won 14 out of 36 with a result almost as strong in 2017. That’s a topic I will return to in the coming weeks.

Next up, let’s look at where those swings landed in 2017.

This map (the first one I’m doing with some new technology, so bear with me) shows the swing to Labor at the 2017 state election. This is based on two-party-preferred so it ignores any Liberal vs Nationals contests and simply looks at Labor’s vote against the stronger of those two parties. There was only one seat where Labor went backwards. That was Central Wheatbelt, where Labor came a very distant second with less than 20% of the vote.

The map has highlighted seats that Labor gained with black outlines.

The map is zoomed out to show the whole state, but as you zoom into Perth you see the swings become much bigger. Labor gained a swing of at least 6.7% in every seat across the Perth metropolitan area, with swings of at least 11.5% or more across the East Metropolitan region.

The average swing to Labor was 12.6% in the northern suburbs, 13% in the southern suburbs and almost 15% in the eastern suburbs. This compares to just 6.6% in the Agricultural region and 8.5% in Mining and Pastoral, and 11.2% in the south-west.

This translated into 21 seats flipping to Labor (including Collie-Preston and West Swan which Labor had held in 2013 but had been redrawn as notional Liberal seats in the redistribution).

Labor gained eight seats in the eastern suburbs, giving them all fourteen seats in the region. They also gained six in the north, three in the south and three in south-western WA. There was also one gain in the Pilbara.

These results mean there are a large number of seats with first-term Labor MPs who are now up for election for the first time. It wouldn’t be surprising if the Labor swing was concentrated in those seats. We will see how much of a swing is available and how many more seats Labor could add to that tally later this month.