Like the champion racehorse Winx, the most frequently quoted forecaster of election results in Australian history, Malcolm Mackerras, predicted the Phelps win in Wentworth! “My strategy has been to make a forecast long out from polling day and then stick to it - except in extreme circumstances where my reputation for good political judgment required a change of prediction,” Mackerras said in his article published on this website last Thursday. 

In another article published on Thursday 20 September under the heading “How will Australia’s wealthiest electorate vote?”. In that article Mackerras gave the Liberal candidate Dave Sharma a 55% chance, the Independent Kerryn Phelps a 35% chance and the Labor candidate Tim Murray a 10% chance. After preference distribution he placed Sharma first, Murray second and Phelps third. 

“The essence of my reasoning was that Labor had a good candidate and, for a variety of reasons, could not ‘run dead’. As I now see it that was my first error. Labor’s campaign has proved that it can ‘run dead’ Every piece of evidence available to observers is that Labor is ‘running dead’. Their reasoning for such a strategy is that Labor cannot win the seat but Phelps can. Therefore, Labor can inflict the most damage on Scott Morrison by coming third and hoping for a highly disciplined transfer of preferences from Murray to Phelps,” he maintained.

In his second article Malcolm called it a two-horse race because Labor had effectively nobbled Murray! “The big question, therefore, is this: “how much Labor leakage will there be?” The answer I feel now compelled to give is that, say, one fifth of Labor preferences will ‘leak’ to Sharma. For that reason I have changed my probability statement. I now give Phelps a 55% chance of being the next member for Wentworth with a 45 % chance for Sharma,” he concluded.

And as the results from the Wentworth by-election were announced, Mackerras yet again called it correctly — Phelps had done a Winx, coming from behind to win with a “leg in the air” but the question remains: Will the good doctor be able to keep on winning at future elections, like the great horse that goes after her fourth Cox Plate next Saturday?

And even if postal votes surprisingly go Sharma’s way, the swing against the Libs was historically huge in this normally blue ribbon Liberal seat.