Sports rorts study shows $100m program had no impact on voters but politicians overestimate effect of pork-barreling

The sports rorts saga had virtually no impact on the electorates the government targeted, a study has found. Picture: Keegan Carroll
The sports rorts saga had virtually no impact on the electorates the government targeted, a study has found. Picture: Keegan Carroll

Cash splashes for marginal electorates before the 2019 federal election had "virtually no impact" in areas they targeted, a new study has found.

But the paper also predicted pork-barreling will continue as long as politicians overestimate its effect on elections.

Using the 2020 sports rorts saga as a case study, Australian National University researcher Ian McAllister and Labor MP Andrew Leigh found "no consistent evidence" that areas which received more funding swung harder to the government.

Professor McAllister said he was taken aback by the results, which he suspected were the result of declining public trust in politicians.

"Voters are becoming increasingly jaded with politicians and their behaviour," he said.

"So I'm sure there's an element to this that voters just think both sides of politics do it [and] it's nothing new. They tend not to look at it all that closely, even though public money, which is their public money, is being misused."

The Coalition faced allegations of pork-barreling, after a damning report by the National Audit Office found Bridget McKenzie ignored recommendations from Sports Australia, instead using the $100 million to target marginal seats before the 2019 election.

ANU researcher Ian McAllister says politicians overestimate the political benefits of pork-barreling. Picture: Tracey Nearmy

ANU researcher Ian McAllister says politicians overestimate the political benefits of pork-barreling. Picture: Tracey Nearmy

Senator McKenzie survived an initial media firestorm, but resigned from cabinet after revelations she did not declare her membership of a gun club to which she allocated $36,000.

Professor McAllister said politicians ran a serious risk by pork-barreling, but predicted they would continue because they erroneously believed it reaped rewards.

When asked about the effect of a $500,000 local funding commitment on the two-party preferred vote, the average politician predicted 0.81 per cent, enough to swing ultra-marginal electorates.

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More than half believed it would have an impact above 1 per cent. Less than 15 per cent believed it would have no impact, and none believed it would spark a voter backlash.

"It would appear, then, the problem rests with parliamentarians, not voters, who consistently inflate the effect that electorally-targeted local expenditure may have on their vote," the report read.

"So long as parliamentarians adhere to this view, it is likely to persist - regardless of the findings of social scientists."

Professor McAllister said the study was bolstered by access to Sports Australia's assessment scores, allowing them to identify grants allocated based on merit and political interference.

"You normally get information about where grants went, then you look at whether there was bias," he said.

"This one was almost unique in that we also had what the government department thought of a grant [in the document]."

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This story Sports rorts cash splash had no impact on voters: study first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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