The polls don’t open until 8am tomorrow, but some people seem to think the Victorian state election is already over.
That’s certainly the impression you might have got yesterday from online bookmaker Sportsbet, which announced that it had already paid out their winnings to its customers who had backed Labor.
It’s a gimmick, of course, but it reflects a strong current of opinion.
Despite editorial endorsements today from both The Age and the Herald Sun, the Napthine government is perceived to have little hope of holding office. Sportsbet’s current odds (yes, it’s still taking bets, despite the early payout) have it 9-2 against, or about a 17% chance.
While people should always be careful not to gamble more than they can afford to lose, I have to say that for a government that’s been consistently tracking 47% or 48% in the opinion polls, they seem like pretty generous odds. And indeed, when you look at individual seats, a somewhat different picture emerges.
The pendulum shows Labor starting with only 40 of the 88 lower house seats, but another four notionally Liberal seats (Bellarine, Monbulk, Wendouree and Yan Yean) are being contested by sitting Labor members, so it makes more sense to count them as Labor seats, bringing it to 44-all.
Each side needs to take seats from the other in order to win.
Labor’s targets are primarily the four sandbelt seats that it lost last time: Bentleigh, Mordialloc, Carrum and Frankston. Sportsbet has it as the favorite in all four, but only in Frankston — where the sitting member is now a rogue independent — are its chances put above 70%. In the other three, the Liberals remain backable at around 2-1.
There are other possible Labor gains, such as Forest Hill, Ringwood and South Barwon, but the market has odds against it in all of them, with chances of less than 40%.
Now look at the other side of the pendulum. Labor is favored to hold all of its seats, but the Liberals are at 5-2 or shorter in three of them: Macedon (a 34% chance), Ivanhoe (33%) and Cranbourne (26%). Previous hopefuls such as Eltham, Bellarine, Wendouree and Monbulk look much less likely, although perhaps not completely out of range.
So if the Coalition were to win all the seats where Sportsbet gives it a 30% or better chance, it would win a majority, dropping Frankston but picking up Macedon and Ivanhoe. That’s a difficult task, but far from impossible. (Centrebet has a different set of odds, but the picture is broadly the same — it rates Labor’s chances better in South Barwon, Cranbourne and Frankston but not so good in Forest Hill, Mordialloc and Bellarine.)
It’s certainly hard to reconcile with another Sportsbet market, which puts Labor at even money to win 54 or more seats. It’s hard to even imagine which seats those punters have in mind to get it beyond 50.
Nor is this just a phenomenon confined to the betting markets (which, after all, probably reflect very small sums of money). Many observers seem completely convinced of a comfortable Labor win, but when challenged have trouble nominating enough seats to do more than just get it across the line. It looks as if we do an incomplete job of integrating our different sources of information.
On a big swing, none of this would matter. If Labor gets, say, 55%, it won’t matter in the slightest where individual seats are on the pendulum: you know that enough will fall somewhere to give it a big majority. That still might happen, but there’s nothing to suggest that it’s on the cards.
Certainly, on all the evidence, Labor is in the better position, and the most likely outcome tomorrow is a Labor government. Just don’t be surprised if it’s closer than the headlines would have you think.