Very interesting piece in Saturday’s Financial Review by Mr Mumble, Peter Brent (available on his website)
who argues that conventional wisdom about the next federal election is
wrong and that “Labor will probably win the next federal election,”
because there’s an “overriding rule” that “young governments find
re-election easy, while old ones find it increasingly difficult.”

To
support his case, Brent produces figures which show that since 1970 the
success rate for first-term state and federal governments seeking
re-election has been 86%, but that it declines to 33% for four-term
governments and zero for fifth-term. In other words, and contrary to
what I argued in Crikey last week, incumbency is not such a great
advantage – or at least, to borrow Michael Warby’s term, it’s a “wasting asset.”

I’m
not convinced, partly because I think Brent’s view is coloured by his
extreme distaste for Mark Latham. He is certain that Latham lost
because of his own failings, not because incumbency made it easier for
Howard. And conversely, he is compelled to believe that Beazley is a
good thing for next time. He could be right of course, but we’re
entitled to be sceptical.

More importantly, I don’t think the
figures make as strong a case as Brent thinks. By confining himself to
governments elected since 1970 (but excluding those still in office),
he’s keeping the sample very small. Extending it to the whole period
since 1909 (when the two-party system was established) gives us the
following record:

Re-election rate
One term served: 63%
Two terms served: 69%
Three terms served: 59%
Four terms served: 67%
Five terms served: 70%
Six terms or more served: 77%

Historically,
governments have about two chances in three of getting re-elected,
regardless of how long they’ve been in office. The question is whether
the different experience of recent times is just an aberration or
whether the rules have really changed.

Peter Fray

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