I asked Antony Green who would win the NSW election, and how he got his shiner

Antony Green has been analysing elections for the ABC for the better part of the last 35 years. On March 25, he will do it for the NSW state election. I spoke to him on Thursday.

Fitz: Antony, I am sure everybody is asking you, “Who’s gonna win the NSW State Election?” and I am one of them. Who’s gonna win?

AG: Based on the evidence, clearly the government … has a difficult task holding on to office. With new boundaries, and with resignations and byelections, it’s in minority. It’s hard to see it gaining seats. There’s a strong likelihood it’s going to lose seats. There’s not a big path for the government to get back into office. Okay? It’s not . Ifthey hold all their own seats, they can probably carry on as a minority government.

Antony Green: “Being an election analyst is a bit like being the weatherman, where you get everyone’s blame for the results they don’t like.”

Fitz: We’ll come back to your analysis. Meantime, how did you come to this curious thing of being the seer? It used to be “It ain’t over till the fat lady sings”. Now, it’s “The election ain’t over till Anthony Green calls it on the ABC”. How did you come to this position?

AG: After school, I did a mathematics science degree in computing, and worked in the computer industry for a while before going back to Sydney Uni to do an economics and politics degree. And I saw an ad by the ABC for an election researcher for a six-month contract to work on the 1990 federal election, to do the research book of notes that all the presenters could use, and it involved computer work. They had 150 applicants, but compared to everyone else, I had this vast background in computing which got me over the line.

Fitz: And a star was born!

AG: At the end of the night, the ABC presenters Paul Lyneham, Kerry O’Brien and Andrew Olle all told the head of news that I should be kept on, so I was. And then I was given the task of redesigning the computer system we use, with some help from a statistician called Ross Cunningham. And the model we came up with works well, and we’ve been using it since 1992.

Fitz: So are you frantic? What are you doing now, two weeks out?

AG: Well, today’s the close of nominations. I’ve got to get the nominations this afternoon, load them into the website, fill out the database for the election for the website so that everyone’s in ballot paper order. And this afternoon I’ll start to build the database for election night. I’ve got to have the first draft of that done for tomorrow for testing purposes. And a better version for Monday further testing. So from here on in, it’s a matter of getting everything up to date, putting in preference formulas, data of candidates and things like that. It’s very mechanical [on] election night. I do a lecture where I call it “Election night analysis, art or science?” Most of it is science. You create the database of historical votes by polling place; you get results on election night by the same polling place, and the computer compares. And from there, it’s straight maths and statistics.

Fitz: When all you election analysts get together for your annual dinner – with Mr Gallup up one end, Mrs Morgan and Mrs Newspoll and ol’ Nielsen down the side, and you at the other end of the table. It’s getting near midnight, and you’re telling your best war stories of great election nights you’ve known, what’s yours?

Antony Green on air with Kerry O’Brien on federal election night 2007.

AG: My first on-camera one, which was the 1991 NSW election. And everyone thought Nick Greiner would win easily, right? And the early figures looked like that, using our previous election system. And they were determined to go off-air at 8 o’clock because they thought the election was over. And I was looking at the numbers and I didn’t think they were right. I didn’t think it was clear who’d won, and I said so. And about half an hour later it was clear that the result was much closer than expected. Eventually, Greiner lost his majority but retained the premiership thanks to the support of the crossbench. So that was my baptism of fire. I remember Graham Richardson congratulating me.

Fitz: That time you got it right. Yeah. Have you ever got it wrong?

AG: Not so much. I got the Victorian election right when I called it in 2010. But I called it with far too much confidence. I made the call that the Brumby government had been defeated. But there was an error in the feed of votes, so what looked like to me like a prediction based on a preference count, was actually an estimate. And I didn’t know that at the time, on the night. Now, it turned out that I was correct, but I called it too early and that was most embarrassing. Two things came out of that. We completely rewrote the program. And that was the last election we ever did from a tally room. Because when you’re in the tally room, you’re outside of studios, you’re outside the network computer.

Fitz: Number-crunching par excellence.

AG: It’s all changed. Back in the days of the 1969 election – they just reported raw numbers, and the first figures that used to come in from the cities were strong for Labor. And then later in the evening, the country vote would come in and the Labor vote would drop away. In 1987, they changed procedures, and they started to report every polling place in the country at the same time. And as a result, since 1987, it reversed, and whatever level it starts at, the Labor vote usually rises through the night. Because of a lot of confusion in 1987, when that change occurred, some people called Howard’s winning early, which proved to be wrong. But since then, there has been this natural tendency for the vote to come in that way. The Labor vote starts low and rises. And what we do is we compare those results of polling place by polling place; we don’t operate off the raw numbers. So early in the evening, when you’re getting small country booths in we’re calculating a swing on those early figures. And we’re applying that corrected swing to the overall figures.

Fitz: When you are an election analyst like you, building for months and years to one big night, is it like being a javelin thrower for the Olympics? Someone who, after all that preparation never feels so good as when they’re finally throwing the javelin?

AG: I think the main difference is an athlete would tend to be at peak condition by the time they get to election night, whereas I am exhausted!

Fitz: During the last federal election night coverage, were you pushed to make the call early? We all remember David Speers throwing to you, only for you to look a little blank?

AG: No. There was confusion with the director’s van who thought I was going to call the election so they ran the sting. But that wasn’t what I was about to do.

Fitz: And when it’s all over, and you’ve made the call, is it hard when you get home, that you are so wired up, you can’t sleep?

AG: I don’t even try to sleep. Usually what I do nowadays – because there’s so much emphasis on publishing websites – I tend to go through all the numbers one by one, each seat, and sometimes change the settings on the way that data is displayed. I add notes to the webpages just in case just to clarify something.

Fitz: It used to be a running gag that weathermen would get blamed for bad weather. Do you ever get blamed for election results people don’t like? Give us another war story?

AG: Yeah. Being an election analyst is a bit like being the weatherman, where you get everyone’s blame for the results they don’t like, but they never congratulate you on the ones they do. There’s a thing in British politics called “Payne’s Law.” named after a political scientist. Broadly: “Nobody ever remembers your correct exit poll. But no-one forgets the one you got wrong.”

Fitz: Did you see Trump’s election win in 2016 coming or not?

AG: No, nobody did. Upsets like that are rare. I’ve done something like 90 results in Australia elections. There would be half a dozen which were surprises. [Paul] Keating’s victory in 1993, [Jeff] Kennett’s defeat in 1999, and Morrison’s victory in 2019 … to some extent.

Fitz: What chance a surprise in this one?

AG: All I can say is, given the polling, Labor has a better chance of finishing with more seats than the government. But that doesn’t necessarily make them the government – they may end up with more seats and still be a couple short of a majority. That’s why this election you’re gonna have to watch each of the seats. And in some of these seats, they have serious independents running. It’s much harder for us to call because we don’t have a historical preference count of seats. So for instance, at the federal election, I remember we were doing Kooyong – Josh Frydenberg’s seat – and we didn’t have a preference count to use as an accurate predictor. We had to go off the swing on the Liberal primary vote, which means that we were having to do it manually. You’re having to use your judgement, rather than the maths.

Fitz: Last question. Talk me through the shiner. The former NSW upper house member for the Libs, Catherine Cusack, posted on Twitter that you must have joined the Liberal Party?

AG: [Laughs] As a footballer you would know there is a spot on your eyebrow that, if knocked, guarantees a remarkable black eye. I had a very minor collision with a taller friend’s elbow!

Fitz: Thanks. Break a leg.

Quote of the week

Fox News anchor, Tucker Carlson, in separate texts to staff about Donald Trump, in the days after the January 6 insurrection – while still supporting Trump’s “big lie” on air.

Joke of the week

Two hot-shot Sydney lawyers go off to that new chi-chi pub that has just opened up on Pitt Street and order a couple of drinks. They then take sandwiches from their briefcases and begin to eat. Seeing this, the angry publican approaches them and says, “Excuse me, but you cannot eat your own sandwiches in here!” The two look at each other, shrug and exchange sandwiches.

( Information from politico.com was used in this report. Also if you have any problem of this article or if you need to remove this articles, please email here and we will delete this immediately. [email protected] )

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