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The National Tally Is 50-50. Here's Why That Doesn't Really Matter

Coalition and Labor were split by eight votes today. EIGHT.
The two parties are 50-50
The two parties are 50-50

Almost a week later, we are still waiting for a final result from Saturday's election. The ultra-close election means the Australian Electoral Commission is having to count pretty much every single vote that has come in before they announce the official result, in contrast to previous election years where we usually have a clear enough result within hours of polls closing.

The AEC is running a live-updated tally of votes counted, and as of 11am Friday, they say the Coalition is leading in 74 seats, and the Labor Party in 71; though we may not get an official result for some time yet. But an interesting number to watch is the progressive two-party preferred vote, which shows the total votes which have come to the two major parties on a national basis. It's interesting because it has been incredibly close for some time now.

On Thursday night, out of more than 10 million votes counted nationally, there was a 3000 vote difference between the LNP and ALP.

On Friday morning, it was even closer.

Then it got closer again.

And then EVEN CLOSER AGAIN, to the point where it was absolutely ridiculous.

It got to the point where, out of around 10.4 million votes, the two parties were split by eight. It shows the fact that the country is now politically split literally 50-50 along party lines, illustrating the polarised and fractured nature of ideology in this country. It will mean that, no matter who ultimately claims government, they will know that half the country did not want them in power -- and whoever is in opposition will have their attack lines already assembled for the next parliament, able to claim that the government's mandate is shaky at best.

(Side note: ABC election guru Antony Green says the AEC numbers around the popular vote are a bit out, and do not take into account some 14 electorates)

But in the grand scheme of things, the popular vote does not matter. Even if the two major parties are split by one single vote in the popular count after all the ballots are accounted for, it won't trigger any special recount; in fact, the Liberals could both claim government but also lose the popular vote.

Because Australia's system is not based on the raw popular vote; it's all about the seats.

The (for example) Coalition could claim the 76 seats they need for government, but end up ultimately attracting less of the popular vote than Labor. It has happened before; in 1998, Labor won 51 percent of the popular vote, but only won 67 seats, while the Coalition got 49 percent of the votes but 80 seats. This year, it is entirely possible that Labor could win the popular vote yet remain in opposition.

Continue to watch the popular vote, and follow along as the split between the two parties widens then tightens again. The popular vote will no doubt feature in the dialogues around the next parliament, with the opposition (whoever that ends up being) sure to use what will be close to a 50-50 result to claim the government has a shaky mandate to rule. But don't treat the popular vote as a direct indicator of who will win the election.

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