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Sunday, 28 November 2010

In Victoria's election yesterday there were a few definite winners: politicians from the right who won seats previously held by Labor, and several Labor politicians who won their ballots for the first time because a Labor incumbent had stepped down this time around. To listen to the customary post-poll speech by the Opposition leader, Ted Baillieu, you might be forgiven for thinking that his party won if you didn't listen too closely to what he said.

And if you take a look at the ABC's election results page you might get the same impression. The ABC has already given 45 seats to the Liberal-National Party coalition. To win a majority in a Victorian election the winning party needs 45 seats. But this is wrong. Baillieu did not say that his party had just won the poll, just as the incumbent, John Brumby, did not say his had lost. The Herald-Sun on the other hand is giving 44 seats to the Coalition and 42 to Labor, which is a closer match to reality. The Age has given up the field entirely and does not show a quick-count number for its readers, instead making them rely on its reports and editorials to grasp what happened in Victoria yesterday.

Overall, the quality of information given by all Victorian media outlets is pretty low, and especially disappointing is the ABC.

Normally, I watch the ABC's election coverage on their News 24 station because there are no adverts and because they have the useful Antony Green bringing up the numbers on his laptop throughout the evening. But the map the ABC used to show locations was abysmally ineffectual. Its low resolution was unchanged regardless of whether the commentators on the panel - which also included, as usual, a chap from Labor as well as one from the Liberals - were talking about a rural seat or a metropolitan Melbourne seat. So it was impossible to engage fully with the results as they came in from the Electoral Commission. The big, red dot that sprang up whenever a seat was a metropolitan one gave the viewer no indication at all about whether the seat was inner-urban or peripheral, north or west or east. It was appallingly concieved, and assumed (a) that the viewer was from Victoria (as if only a Victorian resident would take an interest in a Victorian election) and (b) that the viewer understood where on earth the seat of Narre Warren South was actually located. Seats do not always correspond to suburbs.

The ABC compounded this failure by starting to call a total of 45 won for the Coalition pretty early on during the coverage, despite what the Labor panelist (Health Minister Daniel Andrews) was reporting from the numbers he was receiving through text messages, phone calls, and elsewhere throughout the evening. Time and time again he corrected Green, anchor Virgiani Trioli and Liberal Senator David Davis, but the figure remains on the ABC's election website today, the day after the poll, and nobody has conceded defeat and nobody has called a winner (apart from Green).

This failure would not matter so much if there were a detailed alternative that showed by some easy means (colour, for example) which seats were conceded last night and which were still yet-to-be-conceded.

The most interesting element, for me, to come from what I could glean from the coverage was that The Greens improved their result (compared to the 2006 election) by only 0.7 percent. This means that the large swing to their side at the August federal election did not translate to a greater share of the votes on a state basis. People are discriminating between party offerings at the federal and state levels. This leads me to conclude that the strong Green result in the federal election was due to people's concerns about global warming.

Also of interest was the large number (549,000) of pre-polling votes this time around. This figure was double the amount received during the 2006 election, Andrews told us, and that was double the number received in the previous election. Another item to think about is the apparently large number of no-votes: people who just didn't turn up at a polling station on the day or who didn't register their vote in any other way.

In the final analysis there are a handful of seats that are still too close to call either for the Coalition or for the Labor Party. Which ones are they? Bentleigh (an inner-southeast seat) is still hanging, as is Monbulk (a regional seat on the city's northeastern fringe). But that's all I can remember. We'll just have to wait and see what the pundits drag up out of the morass of data, this morning, that the major Victorian media outlets were too poorly-organised to order appropriately for viewers and readers on the night. Their performance disappoints me. If it's compared with what the New York Times presented viewers of its website during the recent mid-term US election, it must be given a 'Can do better' mark, and a 'C' for only 'adequate'.

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