On the principle that it’s not real until Malcolm Mackerras says it, many readers will be focusing on the detail of next week’s Victorian election only with the publication of Mackerras’s pendulum in today’s Australian.

The feature that leaps out most obviously is the uneven distribution of seats at the bottom of the pendulum. Although Labor holds more than twice as many seats as non-Labor, in the very marginal territory it is the other way around. Seven Liberal seats are held with margins of under 2%, but only three Labor seats.

It’s hard to think that way of a party that won such a landslide, but Labor was actually unlucky in the 2002 election: the majority of the very close results, in both houses, went against it.

Yesterday I said there were 11 Liberals in marginal seats who would be worried about Greens voters taking revenge for the preference decision in the upper house. That’s confirmed by the pendulum: up to about 4% there are 11 Liberal seats, plus one National Party (Benalla), compared to only seven for Labor. (Mackerras always rounds up, so Benambra for example appears as 4.1% rather than the 4.0% in Antony Green’s version).

The polls are showing a small swing against the government – just under 3% in the last Newspoll – but it will be difficult for the opposition to make a corresponding gain in seats.

The Labor marginals (and many of the not-so-marginal) all have members elected in 2002, now running with the advantage of incumbency for the first time. They can expect to benefit from what Mackerras calls the “sophomore surge” and do noticeably better than the state average.

On the other hand, if there is much movement in the electorate, then even with a small overall swing against Labor the deviations from uniformity could be expected to knock off one or two vulnerable Liberal seats, simply because there are so many of them.

This is an aspect of the election that neither major party seems to want to talk about: Labor doesn’t want to appear overconfident, and the Liberals don’t want to admit to concern about their own seats.

But it makes sense for Labor to target the other side of the pendulum and force the Liberals to spend resources in places like Bass, Doncaster and Mornington rather than on Labor’s own turf.

Peter Fray

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