Monday, February 12, 2018

Tasmania 2018: More Internal Polling Games

The 2018 Tasmanian state election (see my guide) is three weeks away, but still we have had no neutral public polling in the state for over two months.  In contrast, by this stage in 2014 we had had a recent public EMRS, a recent public ReachTEL, and also a Liberal-commissioned ReachTEL of which detailed results were released.  All we've had this year is a dribble of internal polling snippets and one commissioned seat sample by the Australia Institute.

This makes it rather hard to tell what's going on.  The Hodgman Liberal Government, which appeared to be asleep or in a holding pattern for most of 2017, has been quick out of the blocks with a large number of policy announcements covering most (perhaps even almost all) of the many issues in play at this election.  Insiders claim what they're doing (especially claiming there could be a return to a Labor-Green government) is working.  Could it be a repeat of 2006, when a seemingly ailing government that was widely considered doomed to lose its majority in fact surged through the campaign and ended up winning very easily?  While there are some differences between 2006 and 2018 in polling terms (especially the severe volatility of the late 2005 polls) majority government is a major issue for some voters, and a party that can establish that only it can win in majority has an important advantage.

In the absence of a public poll, we are seeing a high level of reporting of party internal polls in the media.  In general, parties only release internal polling to the extent it suits their purposes, but whether it suits a party to say it is winning easily, winning narrowly, trailing narrowly or losing hopelessly all depends on the scenario.

Before I go any further, a comment about the language journalists use in reporting internal polls parties have given them.  It is common to see party polling described as "leaked".  But a poll isn't leaked if someone on the inside has given it to a reporter with the tacit approval of the party's campaign team or leadership, and if indeed the option of feeding it to the media was part of the plan all along.  Both parties in Tasmania have a long history of releasing internal polling whenever it suits them, and this is several times commoner than unwanted releases of party polling information.  Leaks are the stuff the commissioners of sensitive information don't want the public to know.

In this election, the internal-polling strategy is pretty simple.  Each party wants to release results that "show" that it, and better still only it, can win majority government.   What's been interesting is that so far we have seen just the Liberals supplying quite a lot of detailed data that supposedly shows them either capable of winning a majority or actually set to do so.

We have not seen any such figures from Labor, though they have said (paywalled) their polling shows Rebecca White ahead as Preferred Premier (44.2% to 42.8%), and have also made various claims (not linked to any specific figures) about "strong dissatisfaction with the record of the Hodgman Government".  State secretary Stuart Benson has also claimed that "Labor is very competitive and Labor's response to the health crisis is resonating in the community. Labor can win majority government."

I suspect Labor don't have numbers showing a serious primary vote lead over the government.  Even if Labor has numbers pointing to a clearly hung parliament if the election were held right now, to release such numbers would just invite the Liberals to say that "even Labor's own internal polling says they cannot win a majority".  So it's really just the Liberals' polling we are getting lots of detail from at this stage.

 The other, less likely, possibility is that Labor might be putting data out there but having trouble getting reporters to pick up on it.  I list that one only for completeness.  Print media love free data, however dubious.

MediaReach: An Unknown Player With Some Very Long Polls

As mentioned in my previous article, MediaReach, which the Liberals have been using for regular polling since mid-January, is a pollster of unknown quality in the Tasmanian context.  Poll quality is not just about the questions the poll asks, the length of its interviews and so on, but also about the secret herbs and spices - how well the pollster samples an electorate, and how well they adjust for the fact that response rates to phone polling these days are so low that any raw sample won't be representative.

The length and content of the MediaReach polls has varied slightly, but some of them have been very long indeed.  One sent to me by a reader on 30 January had 22 questions.  After three introductory questions it then moves into:

* Voting intention (Labor/Liberal/Green/One Nation/"Jacqui Lambie's Network"/"some other party"/undecided)

* Likelihood of changing vote

* Whether the voter's (i) local area and (ii) state are moving into the right direction or the wrong direction

* Whether the voter firstly likes the leaders as people and secondly thinks they are good at their job.  The canvassed leaders are Will Hodgman, Rebecca White and Jacqui Lambie.

* Preferred Premier Hodgman vs White

* Whether the Liberal Government is doing a good job of running the state

* The importance (or not) of majority government for Tasmania's future

* Who will win the election (Hodgman Liberal majority/White Labor majority/"some form of minority government")

* Poker machines

* Most important issues for voter and their family from a set list:
- health and hospital funding
- cost of living pressures
- protecting our local identity
- fixing water and sewerage services
- major roads in all regions
- encouraging businesses to grow and employ more people
- tackling illicit drugs
- upgrading infrastructure, services and amenities
- some other issue/undecided

* Most important issues for the state (ditto)
- strong economy and jobs
- stable majority government
- investing in health services
- investing in education services
- funding major infrastructure projects
- keeping Tasmanians safe
- some other issue/undecided

* Regardless of the voter's voting intention and expected result does the Hodgman Government deserves re-election

* Regardless of [everything under the sun] which party is the voter normally closest to?

My source took six minutes and ten seconds to get through all of this, though I've seen comments from one industry professional that anything over two minutes is risky in poll design.  (On the other hand, polls with dozens of questions seem quite common in the US.) The poll also promised "one final question about the state" with eight questions to go, then "almost done" with six left, suggesting some questions may have been added on to the end.

Another oddity is that at the end of the poll it refers to a privacy policy available at MediaReach's website, but I can't actually find any website for MediaReach.  There's "Reach Media" but it doesn't seem to be the same thing.

Some people have tried to call these MediaReach polls push-polling, but they are quite simply not even close to it.  The poll is clearly a case of a party asking genuine questions because it wants to know and track the answers.  The question designs generally aren't skewed and don't seek to train the respondent into responding a certain way (and in most cases aren't capable of doing so), though there's one possible exception which I discuss further below.  The questions don't even engage in any dodgy "message-testing" in which the voter is asked if some questionable statement makes them more likely to vote one way or the other.  Neither of these things would make a poll push-polling anyway (as discussed last election and so many times before.)

The results

While the question designs of these MediaReach efforts appear to have been OK apart from the length issue, the shortage of past benchmarking for this pollster in Australia (let alone Tasmania) means we can have no idea how accurate it is.  It could be correct, it could all be a total load of rubbish.

The most recent reports in the Mercury say the Government polled a 46-29 primary vote lead over Labor on Monday last week and a 47-31 lead on Thursday, with the Greens on 12% and the Lambie Network on 5% across the two nights.  It's a little hard to credit Labor would only have gained 2.7 points from the 2014 election disaster, especially given the drag effect of the none-too-popular Turnbull federal government, so I wonder if this is yet another poll that has the Labor vote too low (an issue for most pollsters who have polled within the state in the last decade).

If the Government beats Labor by 16 points on primaries it will retain its majority easily.  The Liberals failed to win a majority with a 12.2 point lead in 1989 but that was with a rather high Green vote.  Labor won a majority in 1998 with a primary vote lead of just 6.7 points.

Given that the Government has three incumbents to Labor's none in Franklin, it would have some chance on these numbers (if accurate) of retaining its 14th seat in Franklin, but it is very hard to credit that it could win 15 seats on such numbers.  David Beniuk's report says "The party also expects to hang on to three members in Lyons, with Labor to win one, and the fifth to be fought out by the major parties, with high-profile JLN candidate Michael Kent an outside chance."  Four Liberals in Lyons, Rebecca White's home seat and which the Liberals lost in last year's federal election?

(There's a long-term problem with Tasmanian seat samples of a few hundred voters per seat producing nonsense results.  In theory the margin of error for a 50% result and a sample of 300 is 5.7%, which is enough to make nonsense of a lot of Hare-Clark projections by itself, but polls are not true random samples anyway, and more importantly when you do several seat samples at a time there's an increased chance that one of them will be outside the margin of error by chance.)

Last week the Liberals also sought to counter the Rebecca White phenomenon by claiming Will Hodgman had a 57-27 lead as Preferred Premier over White in Braddon.   It is possible that the structure of the MediaReach polls - which asks voters to distinguish between whether they like a leader as a person and whether they are good at their job before asking them which leader they prefer - is producing some skew to Hodgman compared to if voters were just asked straight out who their preferred premier was.  It's also the case that Braddon is the electorate in which one would expect Hodgman to do best.  The Liberals also referred to a 48-40 verdict against Labor's anti-pokies policy, which given that it's Braddon isn't that crash hot for them, but the most important thing with this policy is not what voters think of it generally, but whether it works the same way as forestry in driving the votes of a sector of crucial and swinging voters.  On that, we have no evidence.

Hopefully we will soon get some public polling from a pollster with a public track record so we can get a more reliable idea of how the parties might be travelling!  It's getting tempting to commission some myself!

Update - 13 Feb

Today the Liberals released further figures from their internal polling - a five-sample aggregate since late January that has them on 44.2, Labor 29.9, Green 13.6, JLN 5.8, One Nation 2.1 (not confirmed as running candidates), other 4.4.  On those numbers if accurate the Liberals would be likely to win 13 seats.  The same cautions apply as for the rest of their polling.  Incidentally I believe the start date of the tracking is Jan 30 not Jan 20.

Update - 14 Feb

More of this in The Australian with the Liberals claiming their polling shows the Lambie Network is tanking (paywalled).  The Liberals claim their tracking has JLN down from 15.5% to 6.1% in Braddon, 11.7% to 6.1% in Bass and 12.4% to 5.7% in Lyons.  The Lambie Network's Glynn Williams has objected to the polling "relying on landline calls".  While major pollsters no longer risk landline-only polling, it is not necessarily severely distorting since scaling can be used to get around issues with it to a degree.  Thus the old Newspoll recorded an outstanding result at the 2013 federal election using only landline polling.

Assuming these are the five polls used in the aggregate, it seems the poll includes JLN in the readout for Denison and Franklin (where they are not running) but that the party only averages about 2% in those seats.

Update - 15 Feb

More of this in the Mercury today with Labor claiming White has a 46-41 lead as preferred Premier in their internals but again not releasing voting intention figures.  Meanwhile the Liberals have also released results showing 72% of respondents believe majority government to be important.

Two things might be hypothesised here: Labor aren't releasing their voting intention figures because they are ugly, and the Liberals are continuing to release vast amounts of detail because if they give the media free polling data the media will be discouraged from spending money on its own polls.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Is It Hard For Opposition Leaders To Win At Their Second Election?

Especially after a benign opening offering from Newspoll, there's been a lot of speculation that Opposition Leader Bill Shorten is set for a nasty year.  Shorten's net personal Newspoll ratings have been in the negative double digits for almost three years now - that's longer than any other Opposition Leader or PM in Newspoll history. While Labor's two-party-preferred polling has remained strong, a lot of left-wing voters see Shorten as too safe and uninspiring, while right-wing voters distrust his union background.

Also, in pundit circles there is a lot of focus on Better Prime Minister scores, which Paul Kelly has called all-important in the Australian's usual ignorance of the historic evidence otherwise. There Shorten's failure to close the gap as much as Labor's 2PP leads suggest he should remains a focus of discussion.  And it's not just wishfully thinking right-wing commentators saying Bill Shorten has problems. One betting market is saying it too, with Shorten $1.80 to be challenged for the Labor leadership before the next election (the "Rudd rules" notwithstanding), to $1.90 not.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Tasmanian Senate Seats Filled At Last

On Friday, Tasmania returned to its normal complement of Senators, having been down two since Stephen Parry and Jacqui Lambie resigned because of citizenship issues in November 2017.  It's been a long strange trip which started with the possibility that Parry's special count might unelect Nick McKim.  That was cancelled out when Lambie was also removed, only for two new issues to arise.  The first concerned whether Lambie's #2 and #3 candidates, Steve Martin and Rob Waterman, were even eligible, and it turns out Martin is and wants the seat.  The second, which is still to be resolved, is what happens with the Tasmanian term lengths, and I'll discuss this a little more below.

Lambie Network "Expels" Martin

A dramatic, if widely expected, event this week was that Jacqui Lambie announced that Steve Martin was being expelled from the party.  To be precise she announced that "the management committee of the Jacqui Lambie Network has moved to expel you from the party".  That has been universally taken that Martin has been expelled from the party, although it is capable of being interpreted as just saying that expulsion proceedings have been commenced.  This is no great surprise after Lambie told Martin to give up the seat, and also threatened to expel Martin if he re-employed Rob Messenger (which Martin says he is not doing anyway).  

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Batman: A Unique Federal By-Election

Batman (Vic): ALP vs Green 1.0%
Ged Kearney (ALP) vs Alex Bhathal (Green)
Incumbent David Feeney (ALP) resigned over eligibility issues
Outlook: Greens favoured if Liberals do not contest

A by-election will be held for the Victorian seat of Batman in the near future after David Feeney became the first confirmed Labor casualty of the Section 44 citizenship fiasco.  Feeney threw in the towel when he was unable to find any positive evidence that he had renounced his UK citizenship circa 2007. Some Labor insiders believe the seat is now unsaveable while some are more upbeat that they may just hold it.

This could be the last time we'll be referring to the seat by the name "Batman".  There's a significant campaign to rename it after Simon Wonga, but that won't be decided until the redistribution process concludes later this year.

The heavy lifting by way of preview has already been done at Tally Room and Poll Bludger with their excellent by-election guides.  The seat's dramatically split voting pattern was laid out by Michael McCarthy in his pieces (here's the latest) on the "hipster-proof fence" (aka Tofu Curtain, Great Wall of Quinoa, Corduroy Line) around Bell Street, which divides the Green-friendlier and Labor-friendlier sides of the electorate.  Also of interest may be Kosmos Samaras' analysis of why Labor is getting trashed by the Greens in inner-city seats like the state seat of Northcote (the southern half of Batman) and what they can try to do about it.  A convenient step-up in attacks on the proposed Adani coal mine in Queensland probably isn't it (at least, not by itself).

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Not-A-Poll: Best Prime Minister Of The Last 45 Years: Grand Final!

Image result for gough whitlam     VS  File:Paul Keating 1985.jpg
(image source, licence)                                (image source, licence) 


Round 5: Whitlam and Keating tie, Gillard eliminated
Disputed Returns adjusts Gillard total following stacking (result not affected)

The last round is upon us.  These two dashing gentlemen (actually both pictured several years before they became Prime Minister) are the final contestants for this site's multi-stage Best Prime Minister of the last 45 years.  Hmmm, I think there might be a lot of Tasmanians voting in the final round somehow.  These two are the last left standing after they tied for first (following four previous outright Whitlam wins) at the end of a cracking round which had the following raw final totals:

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Tasmania 2018: What Happens If No Party Wins A Majority?

UPDATE 28 Jan: Parts of this article relating to Labor are now out of date with ABC TV News tonight clearly showing Labor leader Rebecca White saying that Labor will not govern in minority.   See update at bottom of article.

UPDATE 31 Jan: And I missed it at the time but Will Hodgman also on the first day of the campaign said "We will govern in majority or not at all [..]"
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Advance Summary 

1. Despite widespread reports to the contrary, neither major party appears to have given an explicit commitment that they will not govern in minority should no party win a majority at this year's Tasmanian state election.

2.  The leaders have only given various, often ambiguous, commitments that they will only govern "alone" or that they will not govern via deals with, or with the support of, minor parties.

3. A widespread belief that if there is no agreement between parties the Liberals would be forced to keep governing appears to follow instead from a direction from Governor Underwood to Premier Bartlett to form a government in 2010.

4. In theory, a government in such a position could instead resign, but this seems unlikely in practice.

5. In the absence of at least a tacit arrangement between parties, the most likely outcome of a hung parliament would be the Liberal Party continuing in minority unless/until the government was defeated on the floor of the House.

6. For this reason, a parliament without any party holding a majority might (if all parties stuck to their pre-election commitments but no party gave any new ones) be unusually unstable.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

2018 Tasmanian State Election Guide: Lyons

I've left the most interesting one for last for alphabetical reasons.  This is my Lyons electorate guide for the 2018 Tasmanian State Election.  (Link to main 2018 election preview page, including links to other electorates.)

Lyons (Currently 3 Liberal 2 Labor). 
Most of the state
Rural and outer-suburban including many forestry towns

Declared Candidates

Note to candidates: As the number of candidates is large, continually changing link and bio details could consume a lot of my time.  It's up to you to get your act together and have your candidacy advertised on a good website that I can find easily well ahead of the election.  On emailed request I may make one free website link change per candidate at my discretion; fees will be charged beyond that.  Bio descriptions and other text will not be changed on request except to remove any material that is indisputably false.

I am not listing full portfolios for each MP, only the most notable positions.  Candidates are listed incumbent-first and then alphabetically, except if stated otherwise.

The order of parties across the ballot paper is JLN, Liberal, Labor, Greens, SF+F, Ungrouped.

Candidates

Liberal

Rene Hidding, incumbent, former leader, Minister for Police, Minister for Infrastructure, yet to produce promised audit into media coverage of same-sex marriage debate.
Guy Barnett, first-term incumbent, former Senator, Minister for Resources
Mark Shelton, incumbent, became Speaker on Elise Archer's promotion to ministry
Jane Howlett, businesswoman, previous candidate for seat (and Federal seat of Franklin) in 2010
John Tucker, farmer, Break O'Day councillor, now one disqualification away from a Senate seat.

John Tucker has an interesting ad.

Labor

Rebecca White, incumbent, Labor leader since March 2017
Jen Butler, staffer for David Llewellyn and previously Michael Polley
Darren Clark,  small business owner/operator, PCYC President, also ran for this seat last election and for Apsley in the Legislative Council
Janet Lambert, Northern Midlands councillor, recreational fisher, anti-supertrawler campaigner
Gerard Gaffney, "working class background", Maritime Union of Australia member
Kylie Wright, Break O'Day councillor, employment services worker

Veteran Labor MHA David Llewellyn is retiring at this election.

Green

Greens candidates are listed in endorsed ticket order.

Fraser Brindley, advisor to Senator Peter Whish-Wilson, ex-Melbourne and Moreland councillor (Vic), hacker and/or whistleblower depending on your perspective, former member of band Frente
Helen Hutchinson, has worked "as a teacher, for DPAC, in private enterprise and most recently in academic research". Greens candidate for Denison (federal) in 2007
Lucy Landon-Lane organic farmer, nurse, prominent opponent of abandoned Bell Bay pulp mill, previous Greens candidate for Bass (federal) 2013
Gary Whisson, Lyons branch convenor, ecologist formerly working for WA Environmental Protection Authority
Glenn Millar, motorcycle mechanic, Landcare group president, also ran in 2014.

Jacqui Lambie Network

Michael Kent, Mayor of Glamorgan-Spring Bay (only Mayor elected from outside a Council in 2014), former Woolworths supermarket boss, high profile pro-development business figure
Chris Reynolds, hospital and child support worker
Bob Vervaart, former Glenorchy councillor and mayoral candidate, working-class background

Shooters, Fishers and Farmers

Allen is the "team leader", the rest are listed in alphabetical order

Matthew Allen, builder, deer-hunter, lead Senate candidate for party 2016, also stood for Launceston LegCo
Shane Broadby, trout fisherman and instructor, Nyrstar plant operator
Carlo di Falco, target shooter, hunter, gun collector
Andrew Harvey, navy veteran, electrical engineer
Wayne Turale, has been a: policeman, store owner, Rural Health co-ordinator, statewide outreach manager, fly fisherman (etc).

Ungrouped (Independent)

Kim Peart, Tasmanian Times eccentric, space obsessive
Tennille Murtagh, community figure, competitive but not elected in 2014 Brighton Council election

Prospects for Lyons

On a uniform-swing based view, Lyons is where majority government stands and falls, with around an 8% swing against the Liberals before they would be expected to lose a seat.  However, there are so many moving parts that even if there is a more or less uniform swing, Lyons may not follow the script.

Lyons is a seat with a lot of timber-town or transitioning ex-timber-town booths (my favourite one to watch is Triabunna) which swing enormously (sometimes over 30%) at certain elections.   In 2014, the Liberals won three seats in Lyons with just over three quotas.  Labor (1.66 quotas) and the Greens (0.68) then went head to head for the final seat. The Greens' Tim Morris lost to David Llewellyn, mainly because of unfriendly fourth-party and indie preferences.  The final margin was 1715 votes.

An increase in the Labor vote should push Labor over or at least near enough to two quotas, especially with its popular leader running in this seat and the recent growth in Labor-supporting areas in the south of the electorate.  Assuming that Labor get their two, the first issue is how far the Liberal vote falls in terms of a possible race with the Greens for the final seat.

But it is not quite as simple as that, because if the race is something like, say, 2.6 quotas vs 0.7, then the Liberals can keep their three if they have an even enough split between their top three candidates (and it was quite close to even last time).  The simple way of saying it is that Hare-Clark is about candidates not just parties, and the complex way (extremely wonky link ahead) is Ginninderra Effect.  It showed up last election in Braddon and enabled the Liberals to win the last two seats ahead of Brenton Best.  For this to work, it's really up to Mark Shelton to keep his vote close enough to that of Guy Barnett and Rene Hidding.  If he's too far behind them, it falls over.

Possibly only White will get quota on primaries, perhaps one or two of the Liberals also might if they poll well.  But after that it's likely to be a long run of exclusions from the bottom up to settle the final seats, and one in which party totals won't be the be all and end all.  If Labor does really well in the election overall, it's even possible in theory for them to keep two candidates ahead of the Greens and the third Liberal and hence win three seats.  But I expect there to be a lot of leakage off White's surplus, and I doubt their vote will be high enough. so I don't like their chances of pulling it off.

A further puzzle is the Greens' candidate situation.  Lyons is an electorate with a lot of tiny communities.  Getting well known around the seat takes years.  The Greens lost their incumbent at the last-election and have made the surprise selection of Brindley, who has political experience enough but seems a strange fit for a rural electorate in which he would be very little-known.  His past involvement in the hacking of a Labor Party database also makes him a target for other parties - voters can understand lying down in front of bulldozers, but what Brindley did and the argument for doing it takes a lot of explaining in a seat where a lot of people don't even use the internet that much.  The Liberals have attacked Brindley over his past, resulting in the Greens accusing the Liberals of dirty tricks, but since Brindley is by his own words proud of breaking the law I'm not sure they have any cause for complaint.  Also, one would have expected the Greens' Lyons candidate to be getting noticed and known with media announcements for months in the leadup to the campaign but in that time I heard more noises supposedly made by thylacines than noises supposedly made by him.  (In case you're curious about Brindley, here's an interview.)

The Lambie Network looked like a possible contender as well, but may have faded as a result of a poor campaign.  Based on Senate voting and state polling the Network might be looking at a potential base vote around 8-9% here, should all go well for them.  They'd probably need more than that (eg Tasmania First got 9.9% in 1998 and didn't get that close to winning).  The interesting thing here is their lead candidate.  Michael Kent is far and away the Lambie Network's highest profile contender and would have much respect among swinging pro-development voters based on a long history.  He'd be entering state politics at an age most have MPs retired by, but Kent is well resourced, would come job-ready, and can portray himself strongly as a balance of power alternative to the Greens.   On the other hand he is on the nose with his own Council.  I rather doubt that Kent will poll more than a few thousand votes, but if he does get in the mix on preferences, watch out.

Of the major party candidates, Butler seems to be the obvious heir to the Polley/Llewellyn socially conservative side of the party in Lyons, has also had the most noticeable campaign, and I think she'll be their second seat.    For the Liberals, any of them could go, but I think if one does go it's more likely to be Shelton, as he was the lowest vote-getter of the the three last time.  If the Liberals do well, we should also keep an eye on a possible within-party contest from Howlett, who was thereabouts in 2010.

The Shooters, Fishers and Farmers also have a history of polling pretty well in this seat and have been trying quite hard for this election.  But I think the presence of JLN will make it too difficult for them.

Outlook:  Both majors should win two.  The fifth seat is a four-way fight but I think that 3-2-0-0 (status quo) is the single most likely result.