Election preview: New South Wales

New South Wales goes to the polls tomorrow to pass judgement on its Liberal/National Party coalition government, in office (under four different premiers) for twelve years. The most likely outcome is that it will be defeated and Labor leader Chris Minns will become premier, but that is far from certain. (See my advance look from two weeks ago for more background.)

Always start by looking at the previous election. Last time around, in 2019, the Coalition won 52.0% of the two-party-preferred vote and 48 of the 93 lower house seats (35 Liberal, 13 National); Labor won 36, and the Greens, Shooters and independents won three each. That gave the government a narrow three-seat majority, but given the size and diversity of the crossbench it was never likely to be in serious danger.

Since then the Liberals have lost one seat (Bega) to Labor in a by-election, and two of their sitting members have left the party to sit as independents, as have one Labor MP and all three of the Shooters.* A redistribution has also made minor changes, including making one Liberal seat (Heathcote) notionally Labor-held on 2019 figures, but the margin is so small – about 1.7% – that I shall continue to count it in the Coalition column.

So if you call Bega Labor but ignore the various defections, and allocate the Greens and the two urban independents to the Labor side and the rural independents (including the ex-Shooters) to the Coalition side, you get a total of 51 Coalition to 42 Labor. In other words, Labor and its allies need to win five more seats for an underlying majority: for what we might conjecture would be enough to produce a Labor government.

And looking at the betting odds – not with the thought that they have independent predictive power, but as a convenient summary of the state of opinion – we find that as of today there are exactly five seats that Labor is favored to gain from the Coalition: East Hills, Heathcote, Parramatta, Penrith and Riverstone. All but Parramatta are close, and Riverstone is very close, with an implied probability of just 61%.

That makes it look as if Labor is likely to just scrape in. It might, but I suspect its position is a bit better than that. One reason is that the individual seat markets tend to be a lagging indicator; if there’s a swing on, punters often fail to connect that as much as they should to the fate of particular seats.

A second is that there’s a lot more upside potential for Labor. Another seven Coalition seats (Camden, Goulburn, Holsworthy, Ryde, Tweed, Upper Hunter and Winston Hills) have Labor as a two to one chance or better, plus another five (Badgerys Creek, Drummoyne, Monaro, Oatley and South Coast) between 2-1 and 4-1. There’s nothing comparable on the Labor side of the ledger; only Bega and Leppington are seen as in any danger, with the Liberals at 4-1 and 7-2 respectively.

The third reason is that the Coalition is not just threatened by Labor: several of its nominally safe seats are being contested by teal or teal-like independents. None of them are currently favored to win, but they’re given strong chances (2-1 or better) in North Shore, Pittwater, Wakehurst and Willoughby, plus lesser chances (between 2-1 and 4-1) in Lane Cove, Manly, Myall Lakes and Wollondilly. The ex-Liberal MP for Kiama is also favored to hold on.

The success of more independents would add to what is already a complex crossbench situation in the event that Labor falls short of a majority in its own right. If it’s a relatively good night for the Coalition, it’s easy to imagine an outcome where it and the Labor/Greens combination are each in the low 40s, with eight or ten independents holding the balance of power between them. In that situation, the independents would no doubt try to work out a common line to maximise their weight, but it’s not clear if they would succeed.

More likely, it seems to me, is that if the polls are right and Labor gets a swing somewhere in the neighborhood of five per cent, or around 53-47 two-party-preferred, then it will end up so close to a majority that there is no realistic chance of the Coalition surviving. But a couple of seats either way could make all the difference, and if those seats are close then it might be a few days before we know the answer.


* One Nationals MP has also defected to the Liberals, and is slightly favored to hold the seat (Port Macquarie) against her former party; because the media tend not to disaggregate the Coalition total, this one often slips below the radar.


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