One great thing about soccer, at least for me, is that it is possible, and (by contrast with other sports where this can theoretically occur) relatively common, to score for the other side, thereby giving the language the phrase “own goal”. While not an own goal, I certainly had a missed shot with my prediction back in 2007 that the Liberals would never win another federal election. Technically, I’m still in the clear – the prediction that they would merge with the Nats before regaining office was right for the Queensland parties and may turn out correct at the national level – but the underlying analysis posited that Labor would remain politically dominant at both the Federal and State (except NSW) level for years to come. That prediction was derailed by a spectacular series of own goals on the part of the Labor Party, including
* WA Premier Carpenter’s decision to allow ministers to resume contact with Brian Burke
* The NSW government’s suicidal pursuit of electricity privatisation, thereby turning a defeat that was already inevitable (given past own goals) into a rout
* The Bligh government’s similarly suicidal program of asset sales
* Federal Labor’s dumping of the ETS, followed by the dumping of Kevin Rudd
While there is no particular disaster to explain the narrow defeat of the Victorian Labor government, spillovers from the Federal level probably did enough damage to make the difference.
But after only a short period in office, it seems that both the NSW and Victorian Coalition governments are scoring own goals on a regular basis. In Victoria (as at the Federal level) there have been huge blowups over senior ministers missing Parliamentary votes. And NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell, having campaigned as cuddly and unthreatening, made a huge mistake when he tried to retrospectively reduce the feed-in tariff paid to people who had, in good faith, invested in the previous government’s solar PV scheme. He followed that up by ramming through Parliament anti-union legislation that had not been mentioned in the campaign. Given how far Labor’s stocks have sunk, mistakes like this probably won’t be crucial. But a government that manages to mess up what should be its honeymoon period is unlikely to last for long.
For political analysis, the “own goals” phenomenon presents a serious problem. If you want to estimate things like election outcomes you have to work on the basis of things that are more or less predictable, like economic conditions, ideological positions and so forth. Implicitly, this assumes that politicians do the best they can to win, given the objective circumstances. But if political outcomes are driven primarily by unforced errors like those I’ve mentioned, then predictability goes out the window.
fn1. In Australian football, it is, for course, very common to rush the ball through your own goal for a behind, scoring 1 point for the other side, but preventing a goal worth 6 points.