$28,000, if the Coalition’s Roads to Recovery program is anything to go by. In a piece in today’s AFR, I look at the relationship between Roads to Recovery spending over the last election cycle, and the swing towards the Coalition (2004 two-party preferred vote minus 2001 two-party preferred vote).
It turns out that the relationship is positive and significant. For the statistical wonks, here’s the regression across 144 federal
Swing to Coalition = Roads to Recovery spending ($M) + Constant
0.043 (0.018) 1.53 (0.34)
In other words, $10 million buys a 0.43% swing, which works out to about $28,000 per vote.
Of course, this isn’t conclusive evidence of vote-buying, but it does seem to point that way. If I were confident that this sort of program was good value for money, I might be less concerned, but I found the departmental benefit-cost study pretty unpersuasive. I suppose that if I were a passionate believer in voter rationality, that could also give me reason to be unconcerned, but my read of the evidence is that Australian voters are at best quasi-rational.
Update, 14 March: In a co-authored letter to today’s AFR, Tim Fry and Sinclair Davidson point out that pork-barreling doesn’t account for all of the Coalition’s swing. This is obviously true – but the fact that one roads program doesn’t explain the whole Coalition swing doesn’t mean that it’s not substantively important (would we have expected a single program to explain why the Coalition was re-elected?). By way of analogy, I’m sure Davidson would agree that even although taxes might be a small factor affecting work effort, tax reform can still matter.
* But wait, I hear you cry, there are 150 electorates, not 144. Yes, but in four electorates, I didn’t have road spending data; while two – Bonner and Gorton – didn’t exist in 2001, so we can’t easily calculate the swing.