Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Poll Roundup: Few Signs Of Life For Turnbull Government

2PP Aggregate: 52.8 to Labor (+0.1 since last week)
Labor would comfortably win election "held now"

Firstly, my congratulations to Antony Green, AO!

In our last exciting episode, the Coalition government had launched a Budget widely seen as a blatant attempt to get a polling bounce, and received no immediate return.  So the theory that the Budget would restore the government's standing retreated to the idea that it would take a little while.  Another five weeks down the track the Budget hasn't changed a thing, and nor, in fact, has anything else.

After the rush of polls around Budget time we have since been back to our usual watery diet of weekly Essentials and a Newspoll every two or three weeks.  The last two Newspolls came in at 53:47 to Labor, while Essential's recent run has gone 54-53-52-52-52.  After taking into account the primary votes, I aggregated the recent Newspolls at 53.1 followed by 53.2 to Labor, and the three most recent Essentials as two 52.2s followed by a 51.8.   Overall with all the other pollsters now out of the aggregate again, I get a reading of 52.8 to Labor.  Here's the smoothed tracking graph:


Throughout the year so far there have been little moves back and forth but they may as well be random, especially when they are informed by such a small amount of polling.  The current run of polling feels a lot like the second half of 1995, when the Keating government always seemed vaguely competitive and kept trying things but the dial wouldn't move off 47-48%.  With internal tension never far away, the current government would struggle for clear air even if the voters were listening to what it had to say, and if they were listening they would hear quite a bit of confusion anyway.  How is this bleak situation recoverable, if at all? For now it is not obvious.  Yes polls can change a lot, and sometimes quickly, as we saw in the UK, but it's hard to see what might generate a change in this government's favour.

A story behind the current headlines is a mini-resurgence in the One Nation vote.  Just when it seemed the party had maxed out following the WA election shambles, it has now moved in a few weeks from 5% to 9% in Essential and from 9% up to 11% in Newspoll.  The issues mix, including terrorist attacks and centrist climate noises, has been ideal for Pauline Hanson's party, which I suspect is continuing to be used as a vote-parking lot by disillusioned malcontents (pun intended) on the right.

One Year Behind - Again

We're two weeks away from the first anniversary of the Turnbull government's re-election. A few polls very early in the term were published with 50-50 2PPs, but that was mostly because of the use of 2013 rather than 2016 election preferences.  The government will, barring something very startling in the next two weeks, have trailed in aggregated polling for its entire first year after re-election.

I examined the fate of governments that have trailed for a year at some stage of their term when we reached that milestone under Abbott.  Six of the ten such governments (including Abbott's) have been re-elected, two of them ditching their PM at the time to do so.  However it is highly unusual for a government to trail for a whole year immediately after being re-elected.  In the past even the most helpless governments have tended to bob above the 50-50 line for the first few months of their term before sinking.  Possibly the Menzies governments of 1951-4 and 1961-3 (both of which were in the end returned) trailed straight out of the blocks, but there was not enough polling to say.

Leaderships and issue polling

The most recent Newspoll delivered more bad news for Prime Minister Turnbull.  He finally poked his head above a net rating of -20 last time, only to sink back to -23 (32-55) this week.  Curiously, Bill Shorten polled exactly the same result.  This is the third time in Newspoll history this has happened, with both previous cases involving Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott in 2011.  Turnbull continues to enjoy a much larger "better Prime Minister" lead over Bill Shorten (44-31) than the 2PP polling or his poor personal ratings would predict.  This seems to be partly because he polls unusually well (or perhaps just as pertinently, Bill Shorten polls rather badly) on the matchup among Greens voters.  Essential this week had Shorten ahead just 35-31 among them.

Essential had Turnbull's net rating up to -9 (36-45), his best since November, with Shorten on the same (34-43), which is his best since January.  Essential gave Turnbull a lead of 39-26 as better PM over Shorten.

Essential asked how the Budget had sunk in for voters and the Others voters on their panel (who are mostly One Nation) were notably even more hostile about it than Labor or Greens voters.

There has been some new polling about energy policy, one novel point of which was that it wasn't commissioned by the Australia Institute.  In general renewable/clean energy polling struggles to get past the pony-poll stage in which voters instinctively react positively in a way that then fails to predict their political behaviour.  Essential found that voters said they would on average put up with a 5% price rise to reduce carbon emissions and invest in "new energy supply", but that few would accept 10%.  Newspoll found that voters lean slightly towards an increase on the government's current renewable energy target, except for One Nation voters who lean slightly towards decreasing or scrapping it.  Another Newspoll question showed strong (48-22) opposition to following the United States out of the Paris Agreement, but I am sure the response would have been more equivocal had Donald Trump not been named in the preamble.

A couple of new commissioned seat polls with voting intention results.  The Australia Institute's ReachTEL of Kooyong had the Liberals on 48.9% (-9.3 compared to election), Labor 25.5 (+5.7), Green 17.0 (-1.9), One Nation 3.9 (didn't stand) and Others 4.8, after redistributing the undecided.  The 2PP based on respondent preferences was 56-44 to Josh Frydenberg (6.6% swing to ALP) and I get 56.2 by national last-election preferences.

Finally, a poll, which I presume to be a robopoll, for the long-established but low-profile WAOP outfit, had Christian Porter losing the seat of Pearce with a 52.2% 2PP result against him, a 5.8% swing.  It's not even stated how the 2PP is calculated and the merging of "other" with "unsure" doesn't help, but I'm suspecting it's a respondent-preferences result, because last-election preferences would be about two points worse.  There is really no past form on which to gauge how accurate WAOP is and more details of this poll should have been released. The poll was commissioned by Campaign Capital, a Labor-connected PR and government relations firm.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The UK And Australian Elections Weren't That Similar

Last week the UK had its second straight surprising election result.  In 2015 an expected cliffhanger turned into an easy win for the Conservatives while in 2017 an expected landslide turned into a cliffhanger.  The government went to the polls three years early (that's a whole term over here), supposedly in search of a strong mandate for its position on Brexit, yet came away with fewer seats than it went in with.  The real motive seemed to be to turn a big lead in the polls into a bigger majority, and if that was the aim then it backfired spectacularly.

In the wake of this result the Australian commentariat have put out several articles that seek to stress parallels with Australian politics.  The primary themes of these articles are as follows: that Malcolm Turnbull is Theresa May and that Anthony Albanese is Jeremy Corbyn.

Let's start with the Turnbull-May comparison.  Turnbull has no hope of winning the battle of perceptions on this one, because it's the kind of analogy many of those who consume political chatter will congratulate themselves on having thought of first.  But on a factual basis, the comparison is twaddle.

Exhibit one: Mark Kenny.  I frequently disagree with Kenny's articles but this one seems to have hit a new low in lazy pseudo-political fantasy clickbait.  Mr Kenny claims that "Initial popularity had seen both PMs opt for early elections and bizarrely extended campaigns".   The first part of the sentence is the silliest, because Turnbull infamously chose not to go to a significantly early election at a time when his popularity was greatest.  By the time Malcolm Turnbull called the election, his Newspoll net satisfaction rating had already fallen to -11, having been as high as +38 five months earlier, and his party had crashed from 54-46 aggregate leads to around about 50-50.

The reason the Coalition under Turnbull chose a "bizarrely extended campaign" was that - largely as a result of the Abbott administration's inaction on Senate reform - the Coalition was left with no other way to go to a double dissolution using a non-ridiculous Senate voting system.  Probably the Coalition were also getting ahead of themselves in their hopes for the election result, but still the length of the campaign had nothing to do with Malcolm Turnbull's supposed popularity.

In May's case, the campaign wasn't "bizarrely extended".  The Fixed Term Parliaments Act 2011 provides for a total of 25 working days (and typically hence 10 weekend days) between the dissolution of parliament and the holding of the election.  The extra two weeks (depending on when the campaign is counted as starting) arose from the formalities involved in having an election triggered by a parliamentary vote, the outcome of which is unknown for sure until it happens.

In Australia's case, the election wasn't even all that early, coming three months shy of a three year term.  Indeed, four of the five previous new federal governments had had shorter first terms than that.

Kenny goes on to argue that both May and Turnbull succumbed to "hubris", underestimating their opponents, and that "In each case the longer the campaign period dragged on, the less compelling became their case for another term. And the stronger grew their respective opponents."  This is a fair cop as concerns May and her advisors, but in Australia's case, aggregated polling shows that there was no trend away from the Coalition during the campaign.  In fact, the Coalition gained about half a point in aggregated polling around the midpoint of the campaign.

Another line of comparison comes from right-wing commentators such as Jennifer Oriel and Andrew Bolt and is basically that both the Tories in the UK and the Coalition in Australia struggled because they were too centrist.  (And also because they both ran Crosby-Textor campaigns and hence allowed their campaign strategy to be fouled by same-sex marriage juice, or something.)

If the Tories in the UK in 2017 paid the price for being too centrist, then why did they reap such a reward in 2015 under the similarly moderate administration of David Cameron?  And if they were too centrist all along, why was their polling sky-high in the first place?  And if Australians were secretly begging for more of that old Tony Abbott magic, where was this desire in almost two years of persistently poor polling leading up to Abbott being given the boot?  It makes more sense to me to lay the blame for the bad Tory result on the many obvious mistakes made during the campaign - and if the methods of Crosby and Textor were among them, that might just mean voters are getting sick of being bludgeoned and herded with cynically abstract three-word slogans.

For Albo equals Corbyn, the usual suspects include Troy Bramston and Peter Hartcher (actually,  Hartcher's article reads pretty well, at least in comparison with Kenny's piece.) Bramston starts by telling us that both have "often voted against the majority position at party conferences".  He neglects to mention that Corbyn has, spectacularly often, voted against his party's position in parliament.  Admittedly, party discipline in the UK is less strong than in Australia, but Albanese is ultimately a party man through and through while Corbyn had become a fringe figure until (and even after) his support base swamped his party's leadership process.

Albanese does have an authenticity-perception edge over Shorten, but I don't for a moment buy that he is so radical a lefty that he sits outside an ALP-leader mainstream that includes Hawke, Keating and even (jeepers) Gough.  He is politics more or less as usual, albeit with a bleeding heart on its sleeve.  Corbyn's very election as leader prompted internal war within UK Labour.  If Albo became leader of the ALP, the Australian party machine would just shrug and get on with its job, and the ALP's factional processes would carry on largely as normal.

That Albanese would have some of Corbyn's appeal to the youth vote is not hard to see.  But in Australia, where voting is compulsory and many young Green-supporting voters are polarised against the Coalition automatically, it just isn't that big a deal.

So what does it mean for Australia? Anything?

For sure, the bad Tory campaign played a major role in their plummet from supposed 20+ point polling leads just after the campaign started to roughly 6-point leads at the end, which turned into only a 2.5-point margin on polling day.  (Many but not all pollsters overestimated the Tory margin all along, mainly because of incorrect turnout modelling).

However, the result serves as a lesson about what polls are telling us between elections.  When pollsters ask a voter who they would vote for if an election was proverbially held "right now", the voter is not factoring in their reaction to the calling of an early election.  The sense of being dragged to the polls, the several weeks of politicking and the suspicion that the government has something to hide, are all not factored in to a generic polling response halfway through a government's term.  The voter is really saying who they think they might vote for at the next election at this stage.  Governments that call snap elections without planning for them over several months are not always well-prepared for what they are doing, either.  The voter is not being asked "If the government called an election today and then spent the next month and a half in blunder mode, who would you vote for?"

At the time the election was triggered, the May government's lead had been in double figures for about eight months and was steadily increasing.  Something similar was seen in Australia in the 1984 campaign.  The 1984 campaign was not as long as is widely believed, and nor was it as gratuitously early as the UK's (see Malcolm Farnsworth's piece on the 1984 myths).  However, it started with a similar scenario: an incumbent government with a nearly 20-point polling lead, facing an Opposition Leader with spectacularly poor personal ratings (Andrew Peacok's net satisfaction had crashed to -47).  By election day, following personal distractions for Bob Hawke on the campaign trail, Labor's primary vote lead had crunched to a similar extent and Peacock's personal ratings had staged the biggest surge Australian politics has ever seen.  Labor still won reasonably easily, but an election has a remarkable way of contracting a mid-term polling bounce or surge.

This is important because it has been very common for people to argue that Kevin Rudd should have forced an early election over climate change in 2009 while way ahead in the polls, and that Turnbull should have gone to the polls in late 2015.  Both, supposedly, would have won in a canter.  Had Theresa May won the landslide that her early polling implied, the lesson for Australia would have been that Turnbull should have gone early too.

What the UK result more likely tells us is that had Turnbull rushed to an election before voters had much idea how he would govern as Prime Minister, with the displacement of Tony Abbott still fresh and with no particular reason to do it other than that he was way ahead in the polls, he may have been in for a nasty surprise.  Right-wing conservatives were disappointed with the result Turnbull eventually achieved but whether the Coalition could have done much better by any means after two years of Tony Abbott's strange combination of inaction and farce should now be a more open question.

As for the role of Opposition Leaders, much is being said about how well Jeremy Corbyn did, but some of that is relative to expectations.  Suppose someone got in a time machine and went back to 2015, and told Labour (before they picked their new leader) that in two years David Cameron would be gone and his successor would call an election three years early.  Suppose they also told Labour that in that election his successor would patronise cosmopolitan voters, issue a dud manifesto and not even show up to the leadership debates.  Labour's expectations might be a bit higher than just a narrow loss after hearing all of that.  A more boring normal leader wouldn't have won the youth vote by anything like as much and wouldn't have made such a massive polling gain in the campaign, but wouldn't have started so far behind to begin with.

I think it's just another example of Opposition Leaders and even Opposition internal antics generally not mattering all that much to voters.  A recent article used the Australian National Election Study to outline a claim that Bill Shorten cost his party 0.9% 2PP, but I'll be waiting for the fine detail on this one.  Using Newspoll net satisfaction ratings instead of whatever ANES data was used by Clive Bean, I get a similar estimate for supposed Shorten damage (0.55%), but I also get Opposition Leader ratings explaining only 4% of variation in election outcomes.  It's quite likely on that basis - and also given that between elections Opposition Leader ratings have almost nothing to do with voting intentions - that there's really not that much to see.  Elections are mainly about governments, and Opposition Leaders are rarely unelectable, and rarer still unstoppable.

The most surprising takeaway of both the UK and the US elections for me was the extent to which mass-participation votes actually worked in selecting a leader, given that those who take part in them are by definition unusually politically active.  Both Donald Trump and Jeremy Corbyn were selected by populist revolts against their party's normal style, resulting in massive internal turmoil.  Both seemed to have hacked the popular vote method of selecting leaders - Trump through his massive media profile advantage and Corbyn simply because it was so easy to sign up and start voting.  A system that allows cult and fringe candidates to rise to the top should increase the risk of a leader being unelectable, but both Trump and Corbyn were electorally competitive.   In Australia, Labor's leadership ballot system seems inflexible (why is it so hard to remove the leader even when in Opposition?) but maybe that all really isn't going to make that much difference.  Perhaps one day it will cause a massive and protracted fight within the ALP - which the voters will just go on to ignore.


Saturday, June 3, 2017

Modelling The Queensland Election Off The Senate Election And Polling

For most aspects of the Queensland state election, we can use the usual modelling tools: the pendulum, two-party preferred polling, seat win probabilities based on expected margins and so on.  Whoever wins the two-party preferred vote by a substantial margin should win the election, while if the 2PP vote is very close there might be a hung parliament, but won't necessarily be.

The difficult modelling task is to try to work out what seat share the high One Nation vote in recent state polling converts to.  If the One Nation vote share keeps falling, this will soon be a non-issue.  But for the time being, let's assume it doesn't.  It's also worth having a look at whether the Greens have any chance of winning seats in a state where they have yet to win a state seat in their own right.

In the previous instalment, I reckoned that Pauline Hanson's One Nation's current level of polled state-election support in Queensland (17%) probably wouldn't be good for all that many seats.  I suggested that if the current primary vote levels were applied to the seats as they stood in 2001 (ie as swings from the 1998 election, One Nation's last big success), 17% would only have been good for about three or four seats.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Queensland: One Nation Have Peaked, So Now What?

I last looked at Queensland state polling back in February, when a rampant One Nation were polling 23% in state voting intention and threatening to win something like 15 seats at the next state election.  A lot has happened in the few months since.  In the Western Australian state election, both the party itself and the Liberals' preference deal with it got found out in the heat of the campaign. What benefit on preferences accrued from the deal was drowned out by its distraction factor and damage to primary vote support for all involved.

As One Nation 2.0 comes under further scrutiny, it is under attack on two major fronts.  Firstly there's the suggestion that the party is simply corrupt, as seen in the current scandals surrounding the undeclared provision of a plane by a property developer and the recording of a meeting in which James Ashby seems to have seriously suggested a blatant electoral expenses rort.  Secondly, the party sends mixed messages about whether it is a purist party of revolt against existing politics, or an active inside player that wants to supplant the Nationals on the Coalition side.  This is making it harder for it to take votes away from Labor.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Poll Roundup: Are Budget Bounces Ever Real?

Aggregate: 52.7 to Labor (+0.2 in two weeks since last completely pre-Budget reading)
Labor would easily win election "held now"
Voter budget ratings are historically about average

Commentary around the 2017 federal budget has been even more focused than normal on one of the Australian beltway polling obsessions, the idea of a "budget bounce".  The Coalition's moves on the National Disability Insurance Scheme and the announcement of a bank levy, in particular, were seen as bold moves to seize the middle ground from Labor in an attempt to make the Government popular again.  Some even saw this as a threat to Bill Shorten's leadership of the Labor Opposition.

That at least a temporary bounce was widely anticipated (and also widely seen as the aim of the game) is one thing, but another has been the common blight of house-poll myopia in which commentators from particular stables obsess over the single-poll-to-single-poll changes in the poll their network commissions, while ignoring both the aggregated cross-poll trend and even the longer history of their own poll.  In the case of Newspoll, it didn't help the Government that their previous result (48-52) was a shade on the friendly side of the recent run of polling, thus setting a pretty high benchmark for any budget bounce to be assessed by News Ltd scribes from.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Legislative Council 2017: Launceston, Murchison and Rumney live

Launceston: Armitage (IND) has retained, narrowly defeating Ellis (IND)
Murchison: CALLED (6:53 pm) Ruth Forrest (Ind) re-elected.
Rumney: Lovell (ALP) defeats Mulder (Ind) after preferences

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Introduction:

Welcome to my thread for tonight's Legislative Council action, where three independents of various political persuasions will attempt to hold their positions against some high profile and/or party-endorsed challengers.  The Legislative Council is finely balanced (here's the maths) and if things go badly for the Hodgman Government tonight then it could be facing trouble upstairs lasting years.  You can see my previews here:  Rumney, Murchison, Launceston.

Comments will follow below the dotted line, scrolling from the earliest upwards. All the seats will be covered together.  I'm leaving some text here at the top in a probably vain attempt to prevent a repeat of last year's purple text fiasco.

Friday, May 5, 2017

EMRS: Both Majors Rebuild Following Labor Leader Change

EMRS: Lib 39 ALP 34 Green 15 Ind 7 PHON 3 Others 2
Interpretation: Lib 41 ALP 37 Green 12 PHON 3 all others 7
Liberals would probably just retain majority based on this poll

A very brief preliminary report on the EMRS state poll just released (http://www.emrs.com.au/pdfs/EMRS%20State%20Voting%20Intentions%20Report%20-%20May%202017.pdf)  See also the trend tracker at http://emrs.com.au/.

The poll shows a noticeable recovery by both major parties (the Liberals up four points and Labor up five) at the expense of the Greens, One Nation and the supposed "independent" vote (all down three), following both Labor's shift to Rebecca White and a tanking in the national One Nation vote. In other states, points that have come off One Nation have generally gone straight back to Labor, so the Liberals will be relieved if that turns out not to be the case down here.

The Greens' result may look OK, since it is higher than their 2014 election outcome, but EMRS has a long history of overestimating their vote by a few points, so they would probably go backwards in an election held "right now".  This isn't any surprise really - they were always going to struggle when Labor shifted to a young, female and relatively left-wing leader.  While the salmon farming issue may yet play out in the party's favour, they sorely lack both experienced MPs and the shiny new thing factor and may even have a fight on their hands in Franklin come election day.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Poll Roundup: Recovery, Or Just Turbulence?

2PP Aggregate: 52.4 to ALP (-1.1 since last week)
Closest reading of 2017 so far
Labor would win election "held now" with a moderate seat margin

Five weeks since the previous edition, it's time for another roundup of the state of federal polling.  After some really bad readings from Newspoll in February and Essential in March, things seem to have settled down a little for the Turnbull government.  This week the government gained a 2PP point on both Newspoll (47 to 48) and Essential (46 to 47).  I aggregated the Newspoll at 47.8% and the Essential at 47.1%.  With a bit of help from the March Ipsos and (temporarily) last week's Essential falling out of the sample, these polls have improved the government's position on my aggregate by 1.1 points in a week, to 47.6% 2PP.

I normally show just the smoothed tracking graph of rolling averages, but here's the "spiky" graph of one-week end-of-week figures, because it has a story to tell.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Wonk Central: Why We Don't Use The Hare Quota In Hare-Clark (Or The Senate)




For this exciting episode of Wonk Central I turn to the question of the Hare Quota, and why it is deservedly extinct in Single Transferable Vote multi-member electoral systems like the ACT and Tasmanian parliaments, and also the federal Senate and various state upper houses.  A warning that as usual for Wonk Central articles, this piece is especially mathsy.  A more important warning: I strongly advise readers with the slightest interest in the merits of different quotas for STV to stay well away from Wikipedia coverage of the matter.  It is so bad that I can't work out where to start in attempting to improve it.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Legislative Council 2017: Launceston

This is my third of three preview articles for the three Legislative Council seats up for grabs next month.  Rumney has already been posted here and Murchison is here. There will be a live coverage thread for all seats on the night of Saturday 6 May.  There may also be other threads on Launceston if a campaign issue warrants them.  For more about the current political makeup of the Legislative Council see my assessment of voting patterns.

This piece will be edited through the campaign from time to time for updates or changed assessments.

Seat Profile

To the surprise, I would suspect, of nobody, Launceston is based in the city of Launceston. It takes in certain central, southern and inner suburbs of the city and the satellite town of Hadspen.  It includes outer-suburban booths that are notoriously swingy at federal elections, as a result of which the federal Bass electorate habitually dumps sitting members.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Legislative Council 2017: Murchison

This is my second preview article for the three Legislative Council seats up for grabs next month.  Rumney has already been posted here and Launceston will follow. There will be a live coverage thread for all seats on the night of Saturday 6 May.  There may also be other threads on Murchison if a campaign issue warrants them.  For more about the current political makeup of the Legislative Council see my assessment of voting patterns.

This piece will be edited through the campaign from time to time for updates or changed assessments.

Seat Profile

Murchison is a large regional/rural/remote electorate on the west coast of Tasmania.  It contains the north-western centres of Smithton, Wynyard and Stanley, the West Coast mining towns of Queenstown, Rosebery and Zeehan and the tourism and fishing hub of Strahan.  It also includes King Island and the far western suburbs of the small city of Burnie.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Legislative Council 2017: Rumney

With about a month to go until the Legislative Council elections it's time to roll out some preview coverage of the three seats up for election.  I've decided to start with Rumney because it is the one where the Hodgman Government faces the biggest peril to its ability to get bills through the Upper House.  It's also the closest thing to a normal two-party contest and hence the one on which there is the most available data to crunch.  And, at this stage, it's the one with the most candidates.

There will be a live coverage thread for all seats on the night of Saturday 6 May.  There may also be other threads on Rumney if a campaign issue warrants them.  For more about the current political makeup of the Legislative Council see my assessment of voting patterns.

This piece will be edited through the campaign from time to time for updates or changed assessments.

Guides for Murchison and Launceston are also now up.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Legislative Council Voting Patterns 2013-7

(Note: for updates on the Braddon recount go here)



Advance Summary:

1. This article presents a revised analysis of voting patterns in the Legislative Council (the upper house of Tasmanian Parliament) based on contested divisions in the last four years.

2. Although there is a degree of independence in all Legislative Council voting, the Council continues to have a clearly defined "left wing" consisting of Craig Farrell and Josh Willie (Labor), and independents Mike Gaffney, Ruth Forrest, Kerry Finch and Rob Valentine.

3. Excepting Rosemary Armitage and Tania Rattray (and Jim Wilkinson, who does not vote) the remaining MLCs (independents Ivan Dean, Robert Armstrong, Greg Hall, independent Liberal Tony Mulder and endorsed Liberals Vanessa Goodwin and Leonie Hiscutt) can all be clearly placed on the "right wing" side.

4. A possible left-to-right sort of the Council could be Valentine, Forrest, Gaffney, Farrell and Willie, Finch, Armitage, Rattray, Hall, Armstrong, Dean, Goodwin, Mulder, Hiscutt.  However most of the exact positions in this list are debatable.

5. Voting in the Legislative Council was again not very party-polarised in 2016.

6. The Legislative Council is finely balanced going into the 2017 elections.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Postal Plebiscite: Australia's Biggest Bad Elector Survey

The federal Coalition went to the 2016 federal election with a commitment to hold a national non-binding plebiscite on marriage equality (aka "same-sex marriage") prior to any further parliamentary vote on the issue.  The plebiscite was, as noted here before, a bad idea in policy terms, though it was mostly successful in neutralising marriage equality as a campaign issue.  The plebiscite plan was voted down in the Senate, leaving the whole issue apparently unable to progress within this term.

The option of simply changing the law seems impossible because religious reactionaries within and supporting the Coalition won't allow it.  (They're the ones who don't understand why people keep talking about marriage equality, but would bring down the Prime Minister and/or destroy their own party even in a failed attempt to stop it.) Leaving the issue as a festering distraction til the next election isn't too attractive either, so along comes Peter Dutton with a proposal to have the plebiscite anyway, but to do it by post.  Voting would be optional.

The idea of holding a voluntary ballot that does not need the approval of parliament is not new; this option of a "fee-for-service" ballot under Section 7A of the Electoral Act was discussed in the Senate plebiscite report. The option was not costed at the time because there was no proposed legislation to implement it.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Poll Roundup: Attack Of The Poll-Shaped Objects

2PP Aggregate: 52.8 to Labor (-0.8 since last week)
Labor would comfortably win election "held right now"

This week has been a confusing week for many poll-watchers, and an amusing week for those of us who watch the antics of the poll-watching partisans.  Newspoll was eagerly anticipated following its 55:45 to Labor three weeks ago, and widely expected to come out with more of the same if not then some, but pulled up at only 52:48.  Oh well, the line went, maybe it was never 55:45 to begin with, after all Essential had only got out to 53s and the odd 54.  But then Essential jumped to 55:45, so two polls not usually noted for volatility had delivered it not just in spades but also in opposite directions.  At the moment we don't have a third opinion, since the others are very inactive lately.

In trying to decide between these competing figures, it is worth bearing in mind that Newspoll is now administered by Galaxy.  Galaxy was the best pollster of the 2013 election, and the Galaxy/Newspoll stable triumphed again in 2016.  Essential was poor in 2013, and while its final poll in 2016 was very good, its tracking performance suggests it was probably lucky or herding.  So my aggregate comes down more on the side of Newspoll, crediting Labor with 52.8% 2PP.

Anyway, that is a recovery of sorts, but we have seen false dawns before.  Here's the smoothed tracking graph:


For anyone with an interest in my input values, this Newspoll went in at 45.1% for the Coalition after considering the primaries, and the last three Essentials have been 46.9 (published 47), 46.7 (47) and 45.2 (45).

Friday, March 17, 2017

White New Labor Leader, But Who Will Take Green's Seat?

Recount Update 3 April: The recount has started (see figures here).  Shane Broad leads Brenton Best by 1044 votes with 2540 preferences to throw, meaning Brenton Best would need to get 70.6% of preferences if none exhausted, but probably a few will so he will need a higher share of those that do not.  Making things harder for Best are that, for instance, a vote that was Bessell-Broad-Green will still come back to Broad, but a vote that was Bessell-Best-Green is not in the recount, so the bug continues to advantage Broad on the remaining votes.  Furthermore among the remaining votes there is quite a slab from Paul O'Halloran (Greens) and Best annoyed many Greens voters in the last parliament.   I cannot see how Best can possibly win this.

4 April: Broad has extended his lead by seven votes on the first two exclusions and Best now needs 74.4% of preferences if none exhaust.  It may already be mathematically impossible.

11:30: The ABC has reported Broad is over the line.

12:20: Broad has won by a massive 1989 votes.  On that basis even without all the benefits of the recount bug he probably still would have got over the line by 100-200 votes or so.  The blowout in the margin was largely because preferences from Darryl Bessell flowed heavily to Broad in the recount, unlike preferences from Bessell in the election which had flowed heavily to Best.  So voters who voted Bessell-Green or Green-Bessell (ignoring non-contesting candidates) saw the choice between Broad and Best completely differently to those who voted for Bessell then went straight to Broad or Best.

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It's been a huge day in Tasmanian state politics with the resignation of Labor leader Bryan Green and his unopposed (at least within the PLP) replacement by Rebecca White.  White is the youngest ever Tasmanian Labor leader and will be the youngest Premier by a few to several months if she wins the next state election.  (She is not, however, the youngest Labor leader nationally - Chris Watson, later to be PM, was probably one day younger when he became the first federal Labor leader.  There may have been other younger Labor leaders in other states; I haven't checked.  She is also not the youngest Tasmanian major party leader - Liberal Geoff Pearsall was 32 in 1979.)

Bryan Green is the second long-term Labor leader after Neil Batt (leader 1986-88) to not contest an election.  While Green was  uncompetitive in head-to-head matchups with Will Hodgman (even after allowing for the edge to the incumbent on such measures) he oversaw a time in which the parliamentary party was almost always unified in public and bloodletting following a massive loss in 2014 was contained.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

WA Washup: Another One Bites The Dust

It's a familiar script.  Five conservative state and territory governments have sought re-election since the Coalition took power federally and only one of the five (NSW) has survived.  Western Australia joins Queensland, the Northern Territory and (less emphatically) Victoria as jurisdictions where Coalition incumbents have been given the boot in the last few years.

The outcome in WA has been on the cards for years, and the fact that the Barnett government lost breaks no new ground by itself.  Defeat could be predicted as probable based on a combination of what I call federal drag (being of the same party as in power federally), the age of the state government, and the federal government's poor polling.  Indeed even Colin Barnett's poor personal ratings alone suggested he was already likely to lose this election less than a year out from his very strong 2013 result.  There's a strong case that Barnett should have been removed at least a year ago. Those who failed to do so look quite silly now, but they are geniuses compared to those who wanted to replace Mark McGowan with someone not even in the parliament because McGowan was thought to be too boring to win the election!

Monday, March 6, 2017

EMRS: Liberals Crash, But Hodgman Still Clobbering Green

EMRS Feb 2017: Lib 35 ALP 29 Greens 19 Ind/Other 11 One Nation 6 
On these numbers a hung parliament would be inevitable (approx 11 Liberal, 10 Labor, 4 Green, though one more Liberal seat might fall to One Nation or the Greens)

EMRS Nov 2016: Lib 40 ALP 28 Green 18 Ind/Other 13 (One Nation not in readout)
On these numbers most likely result would have been a hung parliament (approx 12 Liberal, 10 Labor, 3 Green)

Current seat aggregate of all polls: Lib 12 ALP 10 Greens 3

Note: EMRS tends to skew to Greens and Others and against ALP.  No evidence on skew for or against One Nation is known.

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Once again, Tasmanian phone pollster EMRS has released two of its quarterly polls, for November and February, in a single release.  See also the trend tracker, which shows that the Liberal vote has been falling for four years now.

For the first time, One Nation has been included in the readout, and immediately the Hodgman Government has lost five points to 35%, its worst position of the term.  Even the Roy Morgan series, which was obviously skewed against the Government (and hasn't been seen since October) never had it below 37.

Patchy Polling In WA As The Final Week Begins

Going into the final week of the WA campaign, not much has changed from where it started a month ago.  The relatively scant and yet surprisingly diverse nature of polling data available leaves poll-watchers free to choose their own adventure, from a comprehensive win for Mark McGowan's Labor opposition to a very close and messy race in which Colin Barnett's Liberals might even cling on in minority by the skin of their teeth.  About the only thing the statewide polls agree on is this: following a shambolic and confused campaign, One Nation may have tanked.

The following table gives all the statewide polling known to me.  The poll marked as "Essential" is known to me only from a Poll Bludger exclusive that describes it as Greens-commissioned Essential robopoll.  That description places it at least two degrees of separation from anything we can place verified trust in but I mention it all the same.  I've also given an average and a time-weighted (but not performance-weighted) aggregate, in each case excluding the Essential.


In this case though, I don't place that much confidence in aggregation methods. There is a major house-effect difference between the ReachTELs and the Galaxy/Newspoll stable, worth at least four points on each major party's primaries, and coming out at two or three on the 2PP only because ReachTEL use respondent preferences (which have been skewing massively to Labor).  There's a pretty good chance here that someone's right and someone's wrong.  We're not just seeing margin of error issues here - there would not be such large and consistent differences in the major party primaries by pollster if we were.  (And no, voting intention doesn't bounce around this much in reality through a campaign either.)

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Groundhog Day: Group Ticket Nonsense Returns To WA

Glenn Druery will not say exactly what he's been paid to help micro-parties use preference-harvesting to win Upper House seats they don't deserve at the WA State Election. If it was only $5,000 per party plus a $50K win bonus as claimed (and denied), then his services have come pretty cheap.  The game is the same as it ever was: to give parties with very little support a chance at winning they don't deserve, by exploiting inflexible voting systems to create preference flows that have nothing to do with the intention of voters.  Druery trollishly describes this as an "outbreak of democracy".  I will bet that he can scarcely believe his luck to still be in this business.

After the debacle that was the 2013 Senate election in WA, one would have thought WA would be the last place on earth that would let Druery still ply his trade.  Alas, it looks like it will instead be the last place on earth that ever stops him.  It was in WA in 2013 that Wayne Dropulich of the Australian Sports Party (whatever that was) surfed from 0.2% of the vote to a Senate seat as a result of preference-harvesting, only for his election to be annulled because the loss of some ballot papers caused an irrelevant tipping point to become irresolvable. (This, in turn, was a product of the group ticket system.)  And it was then WA where the whole state's Senate election had to be rerun from scratch in 2014 at immense cost.

It seems quite a damning indictment on the Barnett government that it has had three and a half years since the 2013 debacle to clean up the state's similar Legislative Council voting system and hasn't even introduced a bill to that effect.  By comparison, the model being considered in South Australia is pretty bad, but at least South Australia's government is trying.  Whether WA's has just had too many other problems to care about democracy, or else has kept the system to deliberately salt the earth for its successor, I don't know.

WA's upper house has the worst state electoral system in the nation.  It is badly malapportioned in favour of rural electorates, it has Group Ticket voting, and it has a ridiculous lack of savings provisions for votes that stray off the narrow path of exact formality.  What we will see in the WA Upper House next weekend is barely even fit to be considered an election.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Poll Roundup: One Nation Soars As Liberals Squabble

2PP Aggregate: 53.8 (+1) to ALP
Labor would easily win election "held now"
Coalition's worst position of the current term so far
On current polling One Nation could win at least three lower house seats

Normally I go a couple of Newspolls between poll roundups these days, but this week's has been one of those Newspolls.  Following a conveniently timed "Newspoll bomb" by former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, the Turnbull government has recorded a new worst set of figures, and leadership speculation is rife.  This comes on top of a Fair Work Commission decision to cut penalty rates, which is seen as bad news for the government although the process was set in train and, until its outcome, supported by Labor.

We are still getting very little federal polling apart from the weekly Essential readings and the slightly less than fortnightly Newspolls.  The latest Newspoll came in at 55-45 to Labor, the highest reading for the Opposition since March 2015.  (In total during the Abbott Prime Ministership Labor recorded four 55s and one 57.)  I've aggregated it at 54.8 after processing the primaries.  The last few Essentials were more restrained (typically for Essential) at 52, 52 and 53 for Labor, which I aggregated at 52.4, 52,2 and 53.0.  Overall, largely on the back of the recent Newspoll, my aggregate has for now gone to 53.8% in Labor's favour.  This is the first time in this term that it has exceeded the 53.6 at which Tony Abbott was disposed of in the term before.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Not-A-Poll Results: Best And Worst Tasmanian Ministers

For amusement and interest, in the last couple of months I have been running two reader Not-A-Polls in the sidebar concerning Tasmania's current Liberal ministry.  As the usual disclaimer goes, these not-a-polls are completely unscientific and represent only the opinions of those site readers (or random ring-ins) who may have chosen to participate.  Polldaddy has more advanced protections against multiple voting than the native polls on the Blogger site that I used to use, but I suspect they could be routed around if anyone was truly determined.  Also, this kind of exercise is especially prone to a word-of-mouth stack, where someone tells a bunch of their friends who would not normally read this site to vote on it.

Indeed there seemed to be something of that sort going on in the final week when there were sudden large gains for both Will Hodgman as best and Guy Barnett as worst.

Anyway, the following are the results for the Best Minister poll (in order), the Worst Minister poll (in reverse order) and a final ranking based on net scores (best minus worst) with position difference (best minus worst, 9 points for best on each scale to 1 for worst) used as a tiebreaker.  Had I used position difference to rank the results with net scores as the tiebreaker, the final order would have been the same.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Queensland Galaxy Says Game On For PHON Balance Of Power

Queensland Galaxy: Labor 31 LNP 33 PHON 23 Green 8 KAP 3 Other 2

A Queensland state poll by Galaxy, published in the Courier-Mail, tells a story that should have both major parties quite concerned.  If this poll is correct and typical, it is 1998 all over again and a bit more.  Perhaps the current One Nation polling bubble will burst before an election that is possibly still most of a year away.  If it doesn't, then a weakened minority government facing an unpopular opposition presents a dream scenario for Australia's number one nineties nostalgia party to break through at state level and obtain some serious power there.  Whether it would manage to remain remotely united this time if it did, nobody knows. 

 The high One Nation vote should be considered no surprise following polls showing the party at 16% in Western Australia, 16.3% in NSW and 9.4% in Victoria.  Queensland always was the party's strongest state.  It's possible even that the figure is an underestimate, but I am not that convinced that One Nation voters are all that shy anymore.

Sample size issues aside (and I haven't seen the sample size for this poll yet) there is one big reason to treat this poll with unusual caution.  It comes during a lousy news cycle for the government following the resignation of Transport Minister Stirling Hinchcliffe in response to a damning report on the failings of Queensland Rail.  I would expect that event to be deflating Labor's primary vote, and everything I say below should be taken with that caveat.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Sir David's Snail Is Not A New Species

Yes and no!
This is only slightly related to politics - in the sense that it is a good example of how media coverage often misreports and sensationalises environmental stories - but I thought I should just correct the record on the prominent announcement of a "new" Tasmanian snail.  It isn't a new species and it wasn't discovered in December 2016 as many sources are claiming.  What has happened is that an existing species has been moved into a new genus.

Sometime in the late 19th century, pioneering Tasmanian land snail expert William Frederick Petterd collected some snail specimens near Eaglehawk Neck.  Doubtless noting that some of them were much larger than a species considered  widespread through the state, Petterd left an enigmatic (and for me at least illegible) note with the specimens, but did nothing further with them.  Live specimens of the snail were first collected in the early 1970s resulting in the description of the new species Helicarion rubicundus by Dartnall and Kershaw in 1978.  At the time this was treated as a fresh discovery of a new species, Petterd's earlier specimens having not been noticed.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Poll Roundup: Feeble In February

2PP Aggregate: 53.5 to Labor (+1.1 since last 2016 reading)
Labor would comfortably win an election "held now"

It is one of nature's most amazing seasonal events.  As wildebeest migrate in vast numbers, as salmon throw themselves up rivers then spawn and die, so each February on the continent of Australia, a federal government disintegrates.  At least it seems this way, with polling for the incumbent government of the time having gone pearshape around this time in six of the last seven years.  Usually the causes for the downturn have been extremely obvious.

In the longer term this hasn't been such a thing, with average 2PP polling in February since 1986 (49.4% for the government) being only a point worse than those polls taken in January (50.4%) and no worse than polls taken in June and September.  But just in recent years there is something about the annual reopening of Parliament that tends to bring with it the smell of chaos.  What is happening with the current government is not (yet) as bad as the Week From Hell experienced by the Gillard government in 2013, but yet again we find a government under assault on multiple issues at once.

Friday, February 3, 2017

WA: Grim Newspoll For The Barnett Campaign

By any normal measure the Colin Barnett Liberal government in Western Australia is in its final weeks.  A weak economy, long incumbency, federal drag (and from an unpopular federal government at that), disunity, a disliked Premier and bad 2PP polling would together spell "GAME OVER".  It's actually not easy to find electoral precedents for a government with quite so many things against it all at once.

The close nature of some recent 2PP polling, however, has given some (but not all) Liberals serious hope that they can sandbag their way back into power, especially if they can get One Nation preferences.  The latest Newspoll has, for now, pretty much pulled that rug out from underneath their feet.  It's much too early to say that it's all over, but things do not look good.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Unicameral By Stealth: Tony Abbott's Senate Referendum Call

The Australian (Tony Abbott calls for Senate referendum, warns 'we are turning into Italy') reports that relevance-deprived ex-PM Tony Abbott has called for a referendum to reduce the power of the Senate to obstruct government legislation.

As outlined, the plan would allow for a deadlock between the Houses to be broken by a joint sitting of both Houses without the need for a prior double-dissolution election.  It appears that this follows one of two options outlined in this 2003 discussion paper on resolving deadlocks.  These options were:

1. A joint sitting can be convened after a bill has been rejected twice with three months between rejections
2. A joint sitting can be convened after every election for the full House and half the Senate, rather than requiring a double dissolution

It appears Abbott favours the first option, but this is not yet totally clear.  The 2003 proposals were killed off based on a finding that they would not pass a referendum.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Hobart Council's Leaders Have A Batman Problem

Not quite your average fetish-goth website
If you look for Hobart City Council on Facebook, and you haven't done so before, you're in for a big surprise.

The page you might expect to be the council's Facebook page (linked for information only, not as an endorsement) is in fact a derogatory spoof page full of fictitious material and political attacks on aldermen and run by an anonymous person who often uses the alias "Batman".  Reactions to this site from its primary targets have been front page news in Hobart in the last few days.  The site has become not just a commentary on Council political issues but a Council political issue in itself, one that is becoming a serious distraction.

I normally only cover council politics in the leadup to an election, but I've decided to make an exception for this one, which may be of interest to audiences of council politics nationwide as a study in social-media (mis)management.  At the last election, Alderman Sue Hickey, a well-known business figure and former Liberal preselection aspirant, ran for the mayoralty against the then Lord Mayor Damon Thomas.  Hickey beat Thomas, and seemed set to follow the pattern of previous long-term mayors Doone Kennedy and Rob Valentine in that if you are popular enough to wrest the office from an incumbent mayor who rubbed people up the wrong way, the job is basically yours for life.

Monday, January 16, 2017

GetUp! National And Centrelink Poll Reporting Is A Trainwreck

GetUp! ReachTEL (undecided redistributed) Coalition 37.1 ALP 35 Green 9.8 PHON 10.6 
Published 2PP 54-46 to Labor
2PP by 2016 preferences 52.1 to Labor
Verdict: Go back to sleep

[Updated 24 Jan with fresh Essential polling on Centrelink issues]

My little eyes lit up when I saw in my Twitter stream that I had somehow missed the release of a national ReachTEL at about midnight last night.  There has not been a national ReachTEL since before the July election. Given the relative paucity of polling data since then, and the Centrelink and ministerial "entitlements" issues currently affecting the Turnbull Government, new data concerning where the government was standing could be quite interesting.

Unfortunately it turned out that this was not a new Seven or Fairfax ReachTEL, but rather one commissioned by the lobby group GetUp!  Moreover, the level of immediate publication of the poll's details has been abysmal.  Rather than it being promptly released with full details either on GetUp!'s website or the ReachTEL site, what seems to have happened is that it has been sent (in part or full, who knows) to a range of media agencies who have then presented us with a partially digested dog's breakfast of the findings.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

How many federal electorates have you visited?

When I travel outside my home state I like to pay attention to which federal electorates I'm in at the time.  A few months back I thought it might be fun to try to work out how many federal divisions I had actually visited.  Because I live in Tasmania and do not drive, my score is not as high as it might otherwise be - indeed for a nine-year period covering most of the 1990s I didn't leave Tasmania at all.

For this task I set a couple of ground rules.

Firstly I imposed an age limit - anywhere I went before I turned fifteen doesn't count.  15 is the age from which my travel decisions were generally independent.  Before age ten I travelled around Brisbane and up and down the eastern seaboard with my family a lot, which would add many electorates to this list, but there's no hope of me remembering everywhere I went.  

Secondly, I exclude any electorate I was just passing through (or over) for travel purposes between points outside that electorate and without staying overnight in the process.  Last year I spent three hours in Moscow airport because flying from Baku to Dubai via Moscow was much cheaper than flying there direct and didn't get me home any later, but that doesn't really count as having "been to Russia".  

Thursday, January 5, 2017

2016 Ehrlich Awards For Wrong Predictions

It's time for the fifth annual giving of the Ehrlich Awards, which round the start of each year go to the most amusingly or staggeringly wrong predictions I observe in any field of interest relating to the previous twelve months.  The Ehrlichs are named for Paul Ehrlich, the evangelist of ecological end-times who put me on a path to a lifetime of health scepticism of dark green gloomery when he not just lost a famous bet with economist Julian Simon but also gave poor excuses for the defeat. For the past editions click the Ehrlich Awards tab at the bottom, and for the ground rules see the 2012 edition.

As usual I should note my own predictive efforts are hardly perfect, but I had a pretty good year in 2016, missing by only two on the Coalition's national Reps seat tally (for example).  I did wrongly predict two Reps seats in my own home state, which was embarrassing, though I did indicate those were quite uncertain.

Two areas of widespread predictive failure that will dominate these Awards were the US election and Senate reform.  They weren't the only ones I noticed.  For instance the late Bob Ellis made a bold bid for posthumous glory with "It is likely, though not certain, that Malcolm Turnbull will lose his seat" - Turnbull won his seat 68:32 with a trivial 1.2% swing against him.  But I think the two I've mentioned are the most interesting ones and I've decided to make the US election case the dishonourable mentions, saving Senate reform for the medals.