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NSW election trends: a decisive Labor win, uneven swings and a large crossbench

The New South Wales state election result was a resounding defeat for the Liberal-National Coalition government, and a clear victory for Labor. Yet this victory occurred in an environment of an increasing minor party and independent vote, and the largest crossbench in modern NSW history.

In some ways there were a lot of parallels with last year’s federal election result. A slim parliamentary majority alongside a large crossbench, with the outgoing government badly defeated. But this Labor victory was bigger than last year’s federal election result, and Labor managed to pick up a number of regional seats in addition to gains in urban areas.

Labor is currently on about 54.3% of the two-party-preferred vote, which is a decisive result. This closely mirrors the final Newspoll of 54.5%, but is stronger than most of the other recent polls, which had Labor leading with about 52-53%. Whether this is evidence of a late swing to Labor or a failure of earlier polling will be debated.

That extra boost in support was crucial to Labor’s victory. Despite a large two-party-preferred margin, Labor looks set to win a narrow majority. The party is currently leading in 49 out of 93 seats, while narrowly trailing in eight others. That extra 2% made the difference between a Labor minority government and a Labor majority.

While Labor did gain numerous seats, it wasn’t uniform. If you check out the pre-election pendulum, you can see a number of very marginal seats that remain in Coalition hands, while Labor has picked up some much safer seats. Super-marginal seats such as East Hills and Penrith just fell across the line with small swings. The Coalition is leading or has retained regional marginals like Upper Hunter, Tweed and Goulburn. The swing to Labor was modest in Winston Hills (where the Liberal is narrowly leading) but huge in neighbouring Parramatta.

And then Labor has picked up a number of safer Coalition seats with massive swings. South Coast and Monaro fell with swings of more than 15%, supplementing Labor’s Bega byelection win in 2022. Most commentators were shocked at Labor picking up large swings in Miranda and Terrigal, two seats that were not on the radar as possible gains but now have Labor narrowly in front.

There was a lot of hype about independent challenges in the wake of the teal wave at the federal election. At the moment an independent has gained the seat of Wakehurst and independents are still in the hunt in the seats of Pittwater, Willoughby and Wollondilly. The three former members of the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers, now independents, running in western NSW were re-elected with enlarged majorities. The two sitting Greens MPs increased their margins, while the Greens are narrowly ahead in Balmain, where Labor mounted a strong challenge following the retirement of local Greens MP Jamie Parker.

While the independent wave in northern Sydney may not have been as sweeping as at the federal election, this is still a historically notable performance. Independent challenges usually live or die based on local factors – the local member (or absence of one), the candidate and the local issues.

The overall minor party and independent vote is up to over 28%, up from a previous record of 25% in 2019. The Greens have gained a small swing on the vote count so far, while One Nation’s vote is roughly steady.

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A growing field of parties look set to win seats in the Upper House, with as many as seven minor party members on track to win seats. The Legalise Cannabis and Liberal Democrats parties are looking to be in a strong position to win their first seats in the NSW parliament, while the Greens will regain their second seat lost when a member became an independent in 2019.

One Nation has gained one seat but look like it might fall short of picking up a second seat. The Animal Justice party’s chances of retaining its seat is looking tight.

Overall the political balance of the upper house looks set to shift to the left by at least one seat, and possibly two. If the parties of the left – including Labor, the Greens, Legalise Cannabis and Animal Justice – can win 12 seats, that will produce an overall progressive majority.

Changes of government are rare in NSW. Labor last gained power in 1995, when Bob Carr led Labor to a slim majority. Neville Wran’s first victory in 1976 was also narrow. While the Labor majority may be slim, there’s a much larger crossbench than in past elections, and the overall progressive vote is much larger.

In the end this election, has turned out to be much more decisive than expected.

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