Saturday, August 1, 2020

Legislative Council 2020: Huon and Rosevears Live And Post-Count

Huon: CALLED (1 am Sunday) Seidel (ALP) gain from Robert Armstrong (IND)
Rosevears: Palmer (LIB) defeated Finlay (IND) by 260 votes.

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Live comments (scrolls to top)
All updates are unofficial, check the TEC site for official figures

Wrap: Well that was a rollercoaster with some rather weird preference flows, the independence of the Upper House dying hard in the strong flows to Finlay off Gale and (given his conservatism) Fry, but then not so much as enough Labor preferences went to Palmer to save her just when that was looking unlikely.  Another very near miss for Janie Finlay who would have beaten any other candidate.  In Huon, Bastian Seidel has enjoyed a massive victory that will boost Labor's stocks greatly.

Thanks all for the interest in the coverage; it's been a long road but these were fascinating contests.  In 2021 we have Windermere, where three-term incumbent Ivan Dean is widely expected to retire but hasn't committed either way in public.  We have Labor's safe seat of Derwent, where President Craig Farrell attracted only token opposition and won big in 2015, and also Mike Gaffney's seat of Mersey (ditto).

6:10: Seidel has won 57.3-42.7.  The scrutineering figures sent to me on the night were of the highest quality and enabled me to project a big win for him on the night.  The preferences of Harriss flowed around 2-1 to Armstrong but he was way too far behind.

With the election of Palmer, I note some gender records.  The number of women in the Council rises to an all-time high of nine (60%); only 22 women have served in the chamber in history, including these nine.  Worryingly for the embattled males, half of the remaining six are up for election next year.  The number of males in the two houses combined drops to an all time low of 15, but this will return to 16 next week.

4:15: The TEC has confirmed Seidel is the winner.  Presumably based on a partial distribution.

3:15: PALMER BY 260. Not close enough for a recount I would think.  The closest LegCo margin since Lin Thorp won Rumney by 65 votes in 1999.  The flow of preferences ex Greene was 72.28% to Finlay, 24.24% to Palmer, and the rest to exhaust.  Preference flow is often weak in these elections in the absence of HTV cards.

2:40: Seidel has received 69% of Caruana's preferences and is still 2% from crossing the line, which he will easily do on the Harriss exclusion.

1:15: Now even Fry's preferences have split to Finlay! (Albeit only slightly).  So it comes to this: Greene has 14.36% to throw and Palmer leads by 8.04%.  Assuming zero exhaust, Finlay needs 78% of Greene's votes to win.  In neighbouring Launceston in 2011 Labor preferences split 72.4% to Rosemary Armitage, but those were preferences of a male Labor candidate flowing to a female Indpendent against a male Liberal; in this case everyone involved is female.

12:50: Debbie Armstrong excluded in Huon and as expected about 40% of her flow went to Robert Armstrong.  Caruana is next out and holds 19.18% with Seidel having 15.31% to go.  If Seidel gets 79.8% of the Caruana preferences the election is over immediately and we do not get a 2-candidate result.  Probably he will fall just short of this.

12:09: Davenport throw done in Rosevears and these split Finlay 631 Fry 240 Greene 784 Palmer 139, so only 7.7% went direct to Palmer.  Much of the leftiness of these votes is probably bottled up in those that went to Greene, many of which will eventually go to Finlay.  So for now Palmer leads by 8.29% with 10.14% from Fry and 12.92% from Greene to go, and needs .3595 votes per vote (around 68-32, maybe a bit higher allowing for exhaust) of the rest.  The relatively high flow from Davenport to Fry has actually improved the percentage that Palmer needs off Fry to 54% if the Labor votes split 85-15, but has also diluted the Fry pool with these Davenport-Fry votes that presumably won't help Palmer much.

12:05: The first throw in Huon, of the Shooters' Garrick Cameron's preferences, slightly favoured Armstrong and Harris over Seidel.  Seidel leads by 12.37% with 46.25% to throw, but that includes the extremely favourable Green preferences.  I expect Debbie Armstrong's preferences to be quite good for Robert Armstrong because of the family connection, and then will come the Caruana throw, as Harriss has now moved into third.

11:16: Split of Gale's preferences: Davenport 81 Finlay 302 Fry 171 Greene 95 Palmer 112.  That's a very strong start for Finlay!  Gap closes to 10.44% with 26.44% to throw.  That bring's Finlay's required gain rate down slightly to .3949 votes per vote, still needing about 70% flow, but also increases the proportion of the remainder that is Green and Labor votes.  I have no scrutineering data on Rosevears but have to think Finlay's chances have just gone up considerably.  Notably if she now gets 85% of Labor and Green preferences, Palmer will need the Fry votes to flow to her something like 60:40 to win.

Next up is Davenport (Greens) but David Fry after him will be the big one.

11:15: Primary count also done in Huon where Seidel leads by 12.54%.

Tuesday 11:00: Primaries are finished in Rosevears and Palmer's starting lead over Finlay is 11.28% with 28.24% to throw.  Finlay must gain at .3995 votes per vote to win, which is the equivalent of a 70-30 flow assuming no exhaust.  In practice with a few percent exhaust, the asking rate will be just over 70% of those thrown.  First to go will be Vivienne Gale whose preferences are quite hard to predict.

Tuesday 11th Aug 10:40: Today's the day; postals closed at 10 am.  I am not scrutineering and don't have word about the exact timing of the preference distributions but if last year is any guide final primaries will be up soon and then the distributions will commence.  I expect they'd take most of the day.

Wednesday Huon postals have been updated, narrowing the gap by a further 0.05%.  Turnout has now reached 85.08% in Huon (cf 85.17% in 2014) and 84.12% in Rosevears (cf 81.32%).  Increased candidate numbers are probably a factor in Rosevears.  At the least, the pandemic has not negatively affected turnout.

Tuesday 4:00 Rosevears postals have been added and rechecks completed and whatever slim hope Finlay may or may not have has increased slightly with the gap closing from 11.4% to 11.24%.  The TEC also informs me that about 700 postals will be counted in Huon tomorrow.  For Rosevears, 10542 of a possible 11416 postals have now arrived, but several will never arrive because they won't have been sent in the first place.

Tuesday 12:30 Finlay in interview here (starts 1:10:45) has described winning as "possible but super unlikely"; based on comments from her scrutineers it seems she is expecting to close the gap on preferences (this is also my expectation) but probably not by enough.  I have also now seen a Liberal press release that was "cautiously optimistic" Palmer would win.

Tuesday 10:40: TEC have informed me that about 800 postals will be counted in Rosevears with results uploaded late this afternoon.  This probably won't resolve the matter but it may push the needle one way or the other.

Monday 6:30: A trivial number of out-of-division and provisional votes were added today doing nothing to the gap in Rosevears and taking 0.02% of Seidel's lead in Huon.  No further action is expected til next Tuesday and absent of detailed scrutineering figures I won't be calling Rosevears in the meantime.

Monday 9:30 am:  While we wait for more numbers, or any useful indication re Rosevears, I should note the preference flow at last year's Nelson election.  When Vica Bayley (left-wing independent) was excluded, 76% of his votes went to Meg Webb (ditto) with 11.8% going to Nic Street (Liberal) and 12.2% exhausting.  The exhaust rate in this case will be much lower, maybe something like 2%.  Of preferences that did flow, Webb got 86.6%.  This sort of flow is why, if there turns out to be no net flow from David Fry to Palmer, it might (for all I know) be still just possible for Finlay to get there on the Labor and Greens preferences.  Especially if she might benefit from the few votes remaining to be counted (some of those expected today) or from any corrections in checking.   That said I am sceptical that the flow to Palmer will be quite as weak as the flow to Street.

Sunday 5pm: Labor has publicly claimed victory in Huon following the postals.

Sunday 2pm: The second lot of postals is in for Huon and whereas the first lot was favourable for Armstrong and unfavourable for Caruana, this lot have actually helped Seidel extend his lead to 12.6%, with Caruana remaining in third.  Meanwhile in Rosevears the second lot of postals have boosted Palmer's lead to 11.4%.  Finlay would now need 85% of Greens and Labor preferences if no votes exhausted and the Fry and Gale votes split evenly - this is verging on impossible, but maybe the few votes to be counted on Monday will bring the asking rate down just a little.

1 am Huon called I have been sent some very detailed scrutineering samples from Huon that include a sample of around 450 preferences from the candidates who will be excluded, assuming that Robert Armstrong finishes second.  These come from a range of booths including prepoll.  The overwhelming feature is that 70% of Caruana's votes go direct to Seidel.  The rest includes some friendly flows for Armstrong but also a heck of a lot of splatter.  I have crunched these via a couple of methods and these project Seidel with a final result of around 58-59% 2CP (ie his lead increases) even after accounting for expected dropoff in the Green vote.  Note that about 19% of the vote does not reach either Seidel or Armstrong by #2 in this sample but Seidel has enough that he needs virtually none of that.  The projection could turn out to be generous but the sample would need to have several standard deviations of error to make a difference.  It is now clear to me that Seidel will win so this seat has been called.  Labor wins Huon for the first time since 1942.

End of night wrap: Twilight Of The Closet Liberals?

Well that's been interesting!  We finish the night with Jo Palmer (Liberal) and Bastian Seidel (Labor) holding leads of 10.59% and 12.35% respectively, leads that will change little on remaining counting.  In both cases, there is a case that preferences could be adverse overall, though leads of this size are almost never shut down in these elections.  I firmly expect both leaders to win pretty comfortably, but there's not enough evidence for me to absolutely write off the pursuers Janie Finlay (Ind) and Robert Armstrong (Ind, incumbent) in the absence of detailed scrutineering of preference flows.

This is a mixed bag result for most of the candidate types.  The Liberals appear to have won Rosevears, which will be very encouraging for them, but not with the kind of massive margin that would make an early election look like a lay-down, or that even tells us that there is any COVID-19 boost above what would have happened anyway.  Labor has recorded a stellar result in Huon (which they last won in the 1940s!) but a remarkably weak one in Rosevears, continuing the north-vs-south "two Tasmanias" trend apparent in last year's results.  The Greens appeared to be doing well in Huon in early counting but have faded on postals and may end up dropping to fourth; their Rosevears result has been similarly nondescript.  The leading left independent has done at least fairly well, but probably not well enough.  

The one force that has done really badly here is conservative independents.  They've polled nothing much in Rosevears with their voters flocking to Jo Palmer, and in Huon the incumbent seems to have been defeated by Labor in a contest he was generally expected to win easily.  Assuming things pan out as they are, party representation, already at an all-time high, will increase from 6/15 to 8/15, a majority for the first time ever (5 Labor, 3 Liberal).  Ivan Dean will be the last very conservative independent remaining, and he will retire (or presumably lose if he runs again) next year.  Once upon a time the place was chock full of such people!  

Looking at some booth patterns in Huon, Seidel has done extremely well on Bruny Island (where he works) but also in the booths surrounding Huonville - Franklin, Glen Huon, Judbury, Ranelagh and Mountain River.  Armstrong has failed to match his 2014 primary especially in the old timber booths (Dover, Geeveston, Huonville) where it seems a share of his vote has transferred to the young contender Harriss.  

I'll be back tomorrow when the next lot of postals are added.

9:30 Huon postals are in and Seidel got 33% of those.  Robert Armstrong is now second and should have Harriss covered on preferences now, so the final two should be Seidel vs Armstrong.  

Currently Seidel leads 31.38-19.03.  If we assume the postals to come are the same as the postals so far in number and flow, Seidel will lead 31.8-20.2 with Caruana on 16.1.  That would leave Armstrong needing about 62% of preferences, perhaps slightly higher given the exhaust factor.  The Caruana preferences are obviously adverse, the remaining 32% of preferences are potentially OK for Armstrong given that the candidates are two right-wingers and a relative with the same surname.   Let's say the Caruana prefs split 75-25 to Labor.  In that case Armstrong would need 74% of the rest, ignoring exhaustion.  That's a very steep hill but without detailed scrutineering figures I'm not prepared to say that's completely impossible either.  

9:10 Huon prepolls are in  - Seidel got 34% of them, Robert Armstrong is back into third and I expect him now to make the final two.  

9:00 Postals are in in Rosevears.  They split 42.4% to Palmer, 30.9% to Finlay, improving Palmer's lead to 10.59%.  If we project this also happening over the remaining postals it could go out to 11%, but maybe those will be weaker or provisionals and out-of-divisions will pare it back.  So the picture probably won't change greatly now that we have seen the first pile of parcels do so little.  

On current numbers if we assume all preferences flow 1-6 then Finlay needs 69% of preferences to win.  Some won't flow all the way, so it might be more like 71%.  Of the preferences, nearly 60% are Labor-Greens and the remainder are Fry and Gale.  Let's take what I think is the most pessimistic assumption, that Fry and Gale's split evenly (I would expect Fry's to flow strongly to Palmer).   In that case, Finlay would need about 83% of the Labor and Green preferences.  That's very hard given Palmer's profile, but is this absolutely open and shut? Still thinking about it.  

8:32 The prepoll has arrived in Rosevears.  This improved Finlay's position slightly.  Palmer leads by 10.2%.

8:20 I have been sent very large scrutineering samples of prepolls and postals in which Seidel is getting 40% and 36% respectively (Armstrong 23% of postals).  Waiting for the official numbers but it looks more and more like Seidel has taken Huon!  Also, preference flow from Caruana to Seidel is said to be good.  

8:08 On preferences I'd expect Caruana to be overtaken by either Robert Armstrong or Harriss, so the final two will most likely be Seidel vs one of those.  At the moment whichever conservative it is is too far back; they need the postals and prepolls to be very different to the booth votes, to knock Seidel back down to 25 or so to have a chance of beating him.  

8:03 Rosevears booth totals (all standard booths in)

Palmer 40.89%
Finlay 30.24%
Greene 8.88%
Fry 8.71%
Davenport 8.37%
Gale 2.91%

7:47 Huon booth totals (all standard booths in)

Seidel 30.05%
Caruana 19.98%
Harriss 16.6%
R Armstrong 16.37%
Cameron 9.02%
D Armstrong 8.09%

7:45 I was somewhat dismissive in my intro of parties taking a majority in the Upper House and the left and right swapping seats but we are currently on course for both those things! Meanwhile, another good booth for Palmer, narrowly winning West Launceston (slightly to my surprise).  

7:40 Seidel wins Blackmans Bay with Caruana second and Robert Armstrong now falling to fourth on primaries.  One would think if Seidel could win Blackmans Bay with 34% of the vote - more than the state vote in this booth - he should be OK on postals.  

7:35 Robert Armstrong falls back towards Harriss again.  All booths are in in Huon except the conservative Blackmans Bay booth (which won't help Seidel) and then we'll be waiting for the prepolls and postals to see how we stand going into tomorrow.  The 

7:30 We have two booths to go in Rosevears - West Launceston which should be good for Finlay and Riverside which will be a Palmer bonanza.  It looks a lot like Jo Palmer will win but I'm not going to definitively call it until I see those 5K of postals.  I'm also a bit wary about whether David Fry's preferences will help her as much as I was thinking beforehand.  

7:27 And Palmer's train has just arrived in Rosevears.  She wins Riverside West and Legana hugely and has now jumped to the 40% in my projection.  This is looking very good for Jo Palmer now.

7:25 Armstrong is putting some distance into Harriss after a strong booth at Dover, and if prepolls and postals are good for him he has good prospects of passing Caruana.  But beating Seidel from significantly behind - if it comes to that - won't be easy given the size of the Greens vote.

7:22 Caruana is topping most of the usual very Green booths - Kettering, Sandfly, Woodbridge, Middleton (but not the Bruny Island booths where Seidel has connections) and Seidel has topped every other booth so far.  The conservatives are yet to top a single booth.

7:18 Finlay wins Trevallyn, a very Green booth, but not by that much.  Finlay is now slightly in the lead but there are some more  Liberal booths to come where this is likely to turn around and my projection says Palmer should go into the lead.  (It's giving her 40% which may be generous.)

7:12 Finlay wins Gravelly Beach narrowly but that was a huge booth for Finch, so my projection now has Finlay falling behind on primary vote (it has Palmer ahead 39-33, which wouldn't be a rock solid lead but might be enough; the actual current figures are 37.3-36.1).  An improvement for Palmer there.

7:08 Booths continue to flow in in Huon but the pattern hasn't changed a lot - Seidel continues to lead Caruana by 11 points (that margin's fairly stable) with Robert Armstrong clinging to third over Harriss.  If it stops now Seidel very probably wins, so the incumbent will need a big pickup on the postals.  

7:03 Robert Armstrong back ahead of Harriss now, but not by much.  Probably he will get more preferences from Debbie Armstrong than Harriss will.

7:00 Robert Armstrong has a further problem on the booth votes so far - he's trailing Harriss.  But Seidel continues to hold a double digit lead, which if it survives til the end of the night will be challenging to catch.  The postals and how different they are to the booth votes (or not) is looming large in this one too.

6:55 Finlay wins Beauty Point and Sidmouth.  At the moment Finlay is ahead but not by enough that you would bet on it surviving after postals.  The 5000 postals later tonight is already looming large in this one. Everyone besides Finlay and Palmer is polling nothing to speak of, single figures at present.

6:52 Caruana has won the Woodbridge booth, which a Green candidate would be expected to do.  Labor has dropped to 30% on my projection now with the Greens projecting to 20% and R Armstrong to the upper teens.  Note that preferences from minor right-wing candidates will favour the incumbent but he'd want the combined Labor/Green vote to drop a lot from the current 54%.

6:49 In Rosevears all the early action is for Palmer and Finlay, with Palmer ahead so far.  Off the first two booths both candidates are projecting to about 38%, treat that with extreme caution because of the high size of the postal/prepoll vote and the possibility that those voting in booths are unrepresentative.  

6:47 A terrible start for the incumbent!  He is doing worse than in 2014 when he polled 20% on primaries.  In these early booths Labor is projecting to 34% and the Greens to 20% - let's see how that holds up or doesn't.

6:45 We have early numbers in Huon and Robert Armstrong has not started well, on only 15% with Seidel on 36%!  However some of these are Greenish booths.  Entering into spreadsheet now.

6:20: Because the more projections the better, note that in addition to what I'm doing, Poll Bludger will be doing a 2PP projection for Rosevears.  Preferences are semi-optional (must vote 1-3); there will be a small rate of exhaust that for fields of this size will probably not make much difference.  

6 pm: TEC results pages are up - Huon Rosevears.  Nothing to see yet on either. Note for anyone doing booth matching that quite a lot of small booths are not being used at this election.  Rosevears in particular has only 13 booths.  The TEC does not separate prepolls by division in the public figures.  There are no mobile booths or Agfest booths this election.


Intro (Saturday 1 pm)

Finally we are here!  Welcome to my live and post-count coverage of the repeatedly delayed Huon and Rosevears Legislative Council elections.  You can see my seat previews here:


and also my latest assessment of voting patterns in the Legislative Council.    It's been a long and winding road of delays and process changes to get to that point (which I wrote about here and here) but finally the votes have all been cast (probably more than half of them before the day) and we are ready to see some actual numbers.

The left-wing majority in the Legislative Council isn't on the line tonight, though the independent majority is; wins for party candidates in both seats would see more than half the Council in party hands for the first time ever.  However that is considered fairly unlikely.  The elections are significant for the balance of the Council, which will become closer if retiring incumbent Kerry Finch is replaced by a right-wing candidate in Rosevears, or less close if Robert Armstrong is defeated by the left in Huon.   (Or both these things could in theory happen and they could cancel out, though that seems even more unlikely.)

Beyond that, the more significant seat is Rosevears as a test for how the government is travelling.  We know that the Premier, Peter Gutwein, is extremely popular, but we don't know to what extent, if any, this translates to voting intention.  Complicating the assessment, the Liberal candidate Jo Palmer has a very high profile in Rosevears and was expected to win anyway.  Palmer however has a significant opponent in high-profile independent Launceston councillor Janie Finlay.  An easy win for the Liberals will fuel the now widespread speculation of an early state election, while a defeat or an inconclusive win might put it to bed for good. 

Labor also faces significant tests tonight, and a difficult challenge in holding its vote at a reasonable level given competition from independents and the strength of the Green vote in Huon.  The party seems to be struggling greatly for both oxygen and coherence as the government's response to COVID-19 dominates everything and would want to at least make the final two in one of tonight's contests.

How this works

Comments will start soon after 6 pm (slowly at first around dinner!) and will go through til counting finishes (usually about 9-ish but I suspect later tonight) with a wrapup posted sometime after that.  Refresh frequently after 6:30-ish to see the most recent comments - at the height of counting on average there will probably be a new comment every 5-10 minutes or so.

Comments will continue over coming days as the post-counting unfolds.  The level of comments will probably depend on how close the seats are.

The count will be unusual, with turnouts way down in the booths and a very high rate of postal voting.  Almost 10000 postals have been taken in each seat, as well as significant numbers of prepolls.

The TEC aims to count all within-division prepolls tonight.  As concerns postals, they aim to count 5000 in each division tonight and the remainder on hand (approx 4750 Rosevears and 4500 Huon) tomorrow with figures in the afternoon.  Remaining postals (probably only a few hundred in my view) will be counted on Tuesday August 11.  Provisionals and out-of-divisions will be counted on Monday Aug 3.

I expect both seats to go to preferences given the strength of the fields.  However, whether they do so as live contests or as foregone conclusions remains to be seen.   Preferences will not be counted tonight, and if there is a close race it may not be resolved until around August 11-12.

When I consider there is no realistic doubt about the fate of a seat the magic word CALLED will appear in the header.  Until then it will contain a brief summary of how the count is going in each seat, which may at times be out of date.

Early in the night I'll be trying to do some rough projections for each seat, but as the numbers settle down I'll largely stop doing this.  Especially it will be hard to predict how the postals will match the booth votes (one would think more closely than usual).  Once the first lot of postals are counted it should be possible to project final primaries by assuming they will be similar - but there might be some time-based differences that mean there are differences.

The following projections will be attempted:

* In Huon, I will be projecting the Labor and Green votes off the 2018 state election.  I will be running two projections for Robert Armstrong, one off his vote at the 2014 Huon election, and one off the Liberal vote at the 2018 state election.  I expect the former to be inaccurate as he was competing against the Liberals and the 2014 election had a lot of variation in voting patterns based on where different candidates live.

* In Rosevears, I will be projecting the Labor and Green votes off the 2018 state election.  I will be running two projections for Jo Palmer, one off the Liberal vote in Rosevears 2014 and one off the Liberal state vote in 2018.  I will also project David Fry off the latter but will only report those numbers if he is doing well.  I will be projecting Janie Finlay off Kerry Finch's vote in Rosevears 2014 (I don't expect that to be very accurate).  For the Finlay projection for new booths I will be using a regression of the Finch vote off the 2014 state results.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Essential's New 2PP Plus - What Is It And Does It Make Any Sense?

Following the 2019 polling failure, Essential Research has taken a very long time to return to voting intention polling.  Two weeks ago in an action that some might think was trolling the pollster (but I couldn't possibly comment) I took the unweighted voting intentions data from over a year of Essential polls and converted them to a pseudo-poll series.  I showed that this unweighted data series followed some of the patterns seen in the public polling by Newspoll and the sometimes-public-at-the-time polling by Morgan, with all these series showing ALP leads during the summer bushfire disaster, switching to Coalition leads as the COVID-19 situation came to dominate politics.

I showed that in the unweighted data Labor had had rather large leads briefly during the bushfires, switching to substantial and steady Coalition leads from late April onwards, but I suggested that there were various reasons why these large leads might not survive the application of weighting.  Nonetheless the broad patterns in the data seemed worth keeping an eye on.

It's presumably coincidence that just two weeks after I released this piece, Essential have finally returned to the voting intentions fray, but they have done so in a unique manner.  This article discusses what they've done and why, and their just-released results.  I think what they have done is interesting but I disagree with nearly all the reasons they have so far advanced for doing it.


The 2PP+ concept is fairly simple.  Instead of releasing a 2PP that adds to 100% because undecided voters have been excluded, Essential will release a 2PP that includes an undecided component.  For instance this week's is Labor 47 Coalition 45 undecided 8.  The same numbers would normally be released as a 2PP of 51-49 to Labor, though if the pre-rounded figures were, say, 47.4-44.6-8.0 they could come out at 52-48.  

Because several percent are usually undecided, it will be rare for either party to break the magic 50%, and Essential's graph (shown at 30 mins in in the video here) shows no case of a party breaking 50% in the 22 readings this year so far.  The idea is that in a reasonably close election, the poll will paint a picture of the result not being in the bag and the party that is leading still needing to rely on (and convince) some share of the undecided vote in order to win government.  In the context of 2019, this would have meant that with Labor ahead by, say, 48-46, the Coalition would still have been in a position to win the 2PP if it could corner two-thirds of the undecided vote.  (It turned out the Coalition didn't actually even need to win the 2PP, but that's another story.)

A heavy break one way of the undecided vote is a much-used excuse for polling failures, because it allows the pollster to say that their poll was basically OK and that Labor really was ahead but it was just those pesky undecided voters who ruined it.  Essential are not (in this explanative piece) saying that their poll was otherwise perfect, but they are placing a lot of weight on undecided voters as a reason why journalists should be wary of poll-driven certitude in the final days of a close campaign, when there are two other relevant reasons.  Firstly, voters who had a clear voting intention could change their minds (actual late swing) and secondly polls could simply have technical errors such that they were never getting voting intention right in the first place.

There is very strong evidence that the latter is the primary cause of the poll miss in 2019.  Explanations involving late swing (whether in the form of undecided voters breaking one way, voters changing their minds or both) fail available empirical tests that might have supported them.  For instance, the extent to which voters voting before the day were more likely to support the Coalition compared to those voting on the day changed little, whereas had there been a large late swing to the Coalition, the Coalition's on-the-day numbers would have been closer to their combined prepoll and postal numbers than normal.  If anything the evidence is the opposite: the difference was slightly larger than in other recent years despite the increased pool of pre-day voters. 

I think that the new method will do a good job of stressing that a close lead does not mean a guaranteed win, but I suspect it will lead to yet more of an already over-abundant trope of election coverage - articles claiming that undecided voters hold the key, and attempting to find out who undecided voters are and what makes them tick.  However there seem to be few things that either journalists, or for that matter pollsters (when picking panels for leadership debates), are worse at than finding genuinely, representatively undecided voters.  It's not for want of practice down the years, either.  The recent release of the Palace Papers showcased a historical example of abject failure in this genre - the 1975 ANOP Swingers Survey which "found" that swinging voters mostly thought Labor deserved to win the election and that the biggest issue in the election was the Dismissal stuff that Labor was still maintaining its rage about but that the voters were rapidly moving on from.  

I wonder also, in the context of election prediction, whether pollsters are really getting the right handle on which undecided voters really matter.  Some undecided voters won't even vote.  A voter who will definitely preference the Coalition but is undecided whether they will vote 1 Coalition or 1 One Nation is relevant to the primary votes but their 2PP vote is locked in.  Treating them as genuinely undecided deflates the Coalition's score.  A voter who will definitely vote Greens but has no idea who they'll preference, on the other hand, is undecided about who they want to win the election. Essential's approach (and ditto for all the other pollsters I'm aware of, effectively) is to treat a voter as undecided on 2PP if they are undecided (after prodding) about primary voting intention.  


Essential has also unleashed a new approach to preferences.  Normally, last-election preferences are the most reliable way to predict the preference flow at an election, while respondent preferences are less reliable, both because they increase the volatility of the 2PP result and because they tend to skew to Labor.  However, the 2019 election was one of three out of the last 14 at which preferences have shifted enough to alter the result by around a point.  One of the reasons for this was a shift in One Nation preferences from around even in 2016 to 65-35 in 2019.  Another was the emergence of the United Australia Party, whose preferences flowed to the Coalition by a similar amount.

Essential's rationale for this change is:

"Last election, this created a distortion because One Nation (which had allocated preferences against all sitting MPs in 2016) decided to preference the Coalition. We will now be asking participants who vote for a minor party to indicate a preferred major party."

But if party preferencing decisions are driving preference shifts then respondents will not anticipate these decisions in advance, which is the perennial problem with respondent preferencing.  Only if a party is going to change its preferencing decisions and respondents shift their own decisions from the last election before this happens should we expect respondent preferences to beat last-election preferences for the reason stated.

Anyway so far this year, the Coalition's share of Essential's respondent preferences is running at the same level as at the 2019 election, which isn't great news for Labor as 2019 was Labor's worst performance on preferences in a very long time.

In fact, preferencing assumption errors were a very minor part of the 2019 polling failure, but that is partly because the then YouGov Galaxy moved away from last-election preferences in correct expectation of them failing.  In Essential's case, their 6.06 point miss on the Coalition minus Labor 2PP result came from primaries that underestimated the Coalition's margin over Labor by 5.80 points, so the error in Essential's 2PP came almost entirely from the primary votes.

Batched releasing

Essential has decided to get out of the horse-race routine of trotting out a new poll result every couple of weeks and trying to explain it in isolation, with all the tedious speculation over frequently meaningless 1-2 point fluctuations that goes with it.  They will be publishing batched results for the previous three months every quarter, so that each set of results will include a run of half a dozen or more polls.  It will be interesting to see whether this is modified as the next election approaches, and at what point.  

This means Essential will have the advantage in being able to present a longer-term narrative at any given point, because it is easier to pick patterns in hindsight with the advantage of more data.  On the other hand, expectations may have already become cemented by the more regular Newspoll results, and this may result in Essential's results being taken less seriously.  There was a fair bit of this on social media today, because people generally believe the Liberals are ahead, so a 47-45 result to Labor had people asking what was wrong with the poll.  Had Essential and Newspoll been coming out together and getting different results, expectations might have been more muted.

Anyway this will make life very difficult for anyone trying to do an ongoing polling aggregate of the sort I've done in the past, since retro-releases of data by both Morgan and Essential will mean that data have to be back-entered and the aggregate retrospectively redone.  (I may attempt such an aggregate soon but I'm going to think about it for a bit first).

Finally ... The Results!

Essential has released findings for the last six polls since the start of June, in which the Coalition has averaged 46.5 2PP+ and Labor has averaged 46.  This is the equivalent of a threadbare lead around 50.3-49.7 in normal 2PP polling, and Labor has led the last two.   By comparison in this time Newspoll has had an average 51.7-48.3 lead, albeit from only three polls.

The recent Eden-Monaro by-election is the only thing remotely approaching a real-world test of the polls we have had, and the Coalition slightly exceeded historic expectations, so I was not too surprised when Newspoll moved from 51 to 53.  At the time of the by-election, both Newspoll and Essential had (effectively) 51.  Essential's readings with Labor in front in the last two polls seem unlikely, but as we learned at the last election if the polls are always saying the same thing as each other, there's a problem, so divergence (up to a point) is good.  

Essential has also issued a graph (in a couple of different versions) which shows the 2PP+ pattern through the year.  Labor's biggest lead comes out at what would have been a 53-47 or 54-46 by normal methods, and the Coalition's comes out at what would have been a 54-46, but the Coalition doesn't have the same consistently large leads as in the unweighted data that I graphed.  Indeed, the weighting in the previous six polls has consistently swelled Labor's primary, increasing it by 3.5% on average.  This clearly does not hold for the full run of results Essential presents, as it shows lower leads for Labor during the bushfire months than some of its unweighted data had.  One or other of the reasons for caution re the unweighted figures that I flagged in the previous article may explain what is going on here - from time to time, the extent to which a particular party's voters are underpolled may vary.  

Converting Essential's graphed 2PP+ results to traditional 2PPs in order to compare them with Newspoll, I find that Essential's series and Newspoll's series have displayed house effects relative to each other.  Comparing the ten released Newspolls for the year so far with the nearest matching Essentials I find that on average Newspoll has been about a point higher than Essential for the Coalition, peaking at 4 points higher in the current poll.  

Such differences between pollsters develop from time to time and do not necessarily mean anything; we will have to keep an eye on this to see how the comparison between the two goes as the year unfolds.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Joan Rylah Resignation And Replacement

Another unusual casual vacancy in the Tasmanian House of Assembly with today's news that Braddon MHA Joan Rylah is resigning from parliament, 17 months after returning on a recount.  Rylah previously served in the 2014-8 parliament after being elected in the Liberals' unusual 4/5 seat result in Braddon at the 2014 election.  She was fairly narrowly defeated by fellow Liberal Roger Jaensch in the 2018 race for what was now a third seat, with Labor winning two.

This resignation is being marketed as being timed to give the remaining Liberal candidate Felix Ellis time to establish himself in the leadup to the next election.  That makes perfect sense, since MHAs elected at recounts often do struggle to build sufficient profile for re-election and need time to do it in.  However, the resignation also follows a significant gaffe in which Rylah threatened to blockade Bunnings if they didn't stock timber from native forest logging.  Aside from being not exactly respectful of business freedom, this flew in the face of her Government's persistent attempts to outlaw obstructive protesting from the other side of the forestry wars.  Indeed, she would have breached laws (albeit currently inoperative) that she had previously voted for.   Perhaps criticism of this gaffe brought forward or crystallised a decision to stand down, or perhaps the fact that it was made at all indicates that Rylah was already preparing for life after parliament.

Since the 1922 introduction of Hare-Clark "recounts" (which would be better known as countbacks, but recount is the term in legislation), this is the first time in which a member elected on a recount has vacated a seat causing another recount.  However, the same situation occurs sometimes at local council level.  For the first time part 5 of Schedule 6 springs into action and the papers to be recounted are those for "the member in whose place the vacating member was elected", ie the recount is of Adam Brooks' original votes, rather than just Joan Rylah's votes from Brooks' recount.  The votes included will be overwhelmingly Adam Brooks primary votes, plus a downweighted sample of votes that were 1 Jeremy Rockliff 2 Brooks.  It matters not, as Felix Ellis is the only eligible Liberal candidate remaining, and will nominate, and the flow of votes within the Liberal grouping will be so strong that Ellis will win very easily.  He'll probably get over 80% of the vote.

The vacancy again highlights one of the weaknesses of the 25-seat House - a shortage of replacements for casual vacancies.  Already, the Liberals are out of spare candidates in Lyons, so if one of the three sitting Lyons MPs vacated their seats, they would need Jane Howlett to resign her upper house seat if they wanted to be sure of having a Liberal replacement.  Otherwise they could either allow the recount to go ahead (electing someone from another party who would then presumably be encouraged to join the Government) or they could use the never-used Section 232 option: a single-seat by-election.

Now in Braddon, the Government will be in a similar situation for the rest of its term.  They will be out of spare candidates, so if one of the three sitting Braddon MPs then vacates for whatever reason, their options would seem limited to a recount or a by-election.  Except I think there is another option: Rylah, having not been elected at the 2018 election and hence not disqualified under 227 (1) (b), might be eligible to contest any further recount that might arise in Braddon down the track.  That is, assuming some disaster left the Liberals in desperate need of someone to fill the seat until the next election.  Adam Brooks cannot return on a recount in this term because he was elected at the original election.

Rylah is the fourth government MP to resign in this term, following Adam Brooks, Rene Hidding and former Premier Will Hodgman.  This is the most resignations from a government since the 1972-6 term in which Premier Eric Reece and five other Labor MPs resigned at various points.  But none of the government resignations have negatively affected the balance of power in the parliament, unlike Labor's sole resignation (Scott Bacon), which has had a massive impact through the election of Madeleine Ogilvie, who now sits as a generally pro-government independent.  The total number of resignations from the parliament (5) is the highest since the same number resigned in the 1992-6 term.  Bearing in mind the reduction in the size of parliament in 1998, the last time there were so many vacancies as a share of the parliament was 1992-6 (7/35).  However, because Rylah was herself a replacement, the proportion of original MPs still there is for the moment higher in this parliament than at the end of that one.

A further restriction on the government's options is likely to further fuel speculation about a possible early election, which I discussed here.  That said, the arrival of a new MP is an argument against a new election, as it will deprive him of time to build profile.  On the other hand, Braddon is probably not the most competitive seat at present, and Rylah's deleted social media comments would not have played well on the campaign trail. 

I will have live coverage of the Legislative Council elections for Huon and Rosevears here from 6 pm Saturday.  

Thursday, July 23, 2020

How Should We Solve The Problem Of Unintended Informal Voting?

Advance Summary

1. In single-seat elections using compulsory preferential voting, high rates of unintended informal voting occur.

2. Informal voting is especially high where there are many candidates, where there is confusion between voting systems, and where electoral and/or English language literacy are low.

3. It is unclear whether unintended informal voting creates a significant two-party preferred advantage for one side of politics, although it appears to deflate Labor's primary vote.

4. There are many ways to reduce the number of votes that are disqualified without having to adopt Optional Preferential Voting.


Among the many things that didn't change much in the recent Eden-Monaro by-election was the informal vote.  In fact it declined very slightly, from an unacceptably high 6.80% to an unacceptably high 6.71%.  The number of candidates had risen from eight to 14, but the lack of a simultaneous Senate election would have probably reduced the number of confused voters voting 1 to 6 and then stopping.

Nonetheless when the dust settles it will probably be found that most of the informal votes in this by-election were by mistake.  Unlike in the Senate, where savings provisions preserve anything with a unique 1 above the line or a unique 1,2,3,4,5,6 below it (whatever the errors in any other numbers), the Reps formality rules have no margin for error.  If a voter numbered 1-12 and two 13s on the 14-candidate Eden-Monaro ballot, their vote would not count, even if the two candidates numbered 13 were the first and second to be eliminated.  If a voter voted 1-13 and left one box blank, that would be saved by a savings provision, but even if a voter voted 1-13 and then put the last candidate 15, their vote would be informal.  (Oddly, in a two candidate race if a voter puts a 1 for one candidate and, say, a 3 for the other, that is fine, presumably to eliminate arguments about whether a given 2 is actually a 3).  Overly strict formality rules are excluding votes from the count for minor clerical errors.

Some further attention on the informal voting question and alternatives to compulsory preferential voting comes from South Australia, where the government intends to introduce optional preferential voting at state level, though this may not get through the state's Upper House.

Many informal votes in Reps elections are deliberate, and the AEC's analysis of the 2016 count found that more than half of the c. 5% informal rate in 2016 was deliberate, for the first time since 2001.  The rate of assumed unintentional informal voting in 2016 fell from 3.46% to 2.41% of all votes, as a result of Senate reforms that made it less likely that voters would get confused between the Reps and the Senate and attempt to vote 1 only in the Reps.  This was an impressive improvement, but the total rate of informal votes rose by half a point to 5.54% in 2019, and the numbers are not yet in on whether the rise was caused by a rise in deliberate informals, a rise in accidental informals, or both.  

There were some especially stark cases in 2019.  Here's the historical informal rate graph for Mallee (Vic):

Mallee is not normally a high scorer on informal voting but in 2019 it had the largest number of candidates (13), and a redistribution had moved new areas into the electorate.  

Overall, unintended informal votes tend to be driven by the following:

number of candidates (the more candidates, the more voters will make a mistake in trying to order them thus invalidating their vote).  There may, given the new Senate system, be a particular increase when there are eight or more candidates.  (Eight is the smallest number for which a vote is informal if the voter numbers exactly six squares).

optional preferencing at state elections (currently in NSW only) - this results in more voters in federal elections voting just 1.
education and English language literacy, thus certain Western Sydney electorates persistently appear near the top of the informal vote rate lists.

Why Are Strict Formality Rules A Problem?

Strict formality rules coupled with compulsory preferencing are a problem because voters who may have expressed a clear, and partly or entirely useable, preference, have their vote discounted because they have made a mistake in one or more places.   Often the mistake is irrelevant to the outcome and the vote could be counted (to the point to which it was clear) without changing the results.  Ignoring whatever advantage this may give some candidates over others, it is above all a problem because it excludes voters from our democracy just because they have made a clerical error. Many voters have clear political views but are simply not good with numbers.  Furthermore, as language skills are one of the drivers of formal vs informal voting, this exclusion is bound to break against some ethnicities more than others.  Strict formality rules are elitist and implicitly racist.  Are we really a great democracy if we go to election day knowing that the rules are such that double-digit percentages of voters in Western Sydney will have their votes discounted, mostly because of unintentional errors or not understanding our voting system, and do nothing about it?

In my view leaving the situation as it is should not be considered as an option.

Does Unintended Informal Voting Actually Advantage One Side?

Whether either side of politics is actually advantaged by strict formality rules is a complex question.

The only state, to my knowledge, that provides a breakdown of informal votes by party of intended vote is Tasmania.  Tasmania has the Hare-Clark system with semi-optional preferences.  So long as the voter gets the numbers 1 to 5 correct, they can stop at that point or make as many mistakes with higher numbers as might happen, and their vote still counts.  This leads to low rates of accidental informal voting.  Despite this,  Labor voters are more prone to unintentional informal voting than the Liberals and Greens.  (Small parties are the most prone, often because they run fewer than five candidates.)  In recent Tasmanian elections, the unintended informal rate was 0.91% among intending Labor voters, 0.74% among intending Liberal voters, and 0.59% among intending Greens voters.   Assuming a similar pattern recurs at federal level, Labor's disadvantage would be muted by the fact that Greens voters, who strongly preference Labor, are very likely to vote formally. 

Most of the divisions with very high rates of unintended informal voting are usually or always safe Labor seats in NSW, especially western Sydney.  The Coalition has never won Blaxland, Fowler, Watson, McMahon, Werriwa or Chifley under their current names (though it did hold St George, precursor to Watson, in the late 1970s) and has only won Barton once since 1983.  But one exception to this is Lindsay, the outer-Sydney swing seat that has been won by the government of the day at every election bar one (2016) since its creation in 1984.  

Labor seats having high informal votes alone proves nothing.  It may be that each division has its own underlying Reps informal voting rate that affects all parties in that division equally.  This would cost Labor more 2PP votes nationwide than the Coalition, but would not affect its chances in any seat.  

However, a similar pattern can occur at booth levels in particular divisions.  In this case, even if each booth had its own level of informality affecting all parties, a higher informal rate in booths with more Labor voters would harm Labor's chances in a seat.  

One seat that displayed a strong pattern in informal voting by booth in 2019 is indeed Lindsay.  In 2016, 7.5% of Lindsay votes were unintentionally informal, the highest in the nation.  Here is the 2019 Lindsay informal vote by booth compared to the Labor Party primary:

... which flows through, a little less strongly, to the 2PP:

However, looking at any pattern like that requires a strong caution re the ecological fallacy.   We don't know that just because some booths have a lot of Labor voters and a lot of informal voters, that the informal voters are ones who intended to vote Labor but had their votes disallowed.  It's quite probably the case that areas of high Labor 2PP voting in Lindsay also have high deliberate informal voting rates, given that deliberate informal voting is associated with identifying as working class or with not identifying with any social class.

Even if the pattern in Lindsay is driven exclusively by variation in unintended informals, that doesn't show that intending Labor voters are so much more likely to vote informally as is implied.  More likely factors exist in specific areas that cause both parties' 2PP voters to be more likely to vote informally in those booths.  It's even possible that in the most Labor-y booths, the unintended informal voters could be mainly intending Liberal voters for some reason, but that isn't likely.  In theory the graph above would be consistent with Labor losing so much to the informal pile as to disadvantage them by nearly 2% across the seat, but it's probably nothing like that, in terms of unintended informals.

Also Lindsay 2019 was unusual in showing this pattern.    Ten NSW seats in 2019 had eight or more candidates (the number most likely to lead to high rates of unintended informal voting) and of these only Hunter and Lindsay displayed a significant relationship between Labor's 2PP at booths and the informal rate at booths.  The remainder (Cowper, Eden-Monaro, New England, Richmond, Robertson, Berowra, Fowler and Lyne) did not display such a pattern.  Both Hunter and Lindsay had specific local factors that could have driven Labor-y booths to deliberately vote informal.

Across NSW as a whole in 2019 there was a correlation between the Labor 2PP and the informal vote by booth after controlling for 2PP and informal vote rate differences between particular seats, but the Labor 2PP explained only 5% of variation in the informal rate.  That's still significant - because the number of data points is so large - but there could be many explanations beside Labor voters tending to get caught out by mistakes.

The weakness of that pattern might be specific to this election but it's been notable in recent polling that there is very little relationship between education levels and a person's 2PP vote at the moment.  Overall I don't think there's convincing evidence that unintended informals hurt Labor more on a 2PP basis, though it might be true.  I think if they did so by a lot it would have been obvious to (and highlighted by) scrutineers and the party by now.    I think the arguments from inclusiveness are the stronger reasons why informal voting needs to be fixed.

Options for fixing

A major problem with debates about unintended informal voting is that any call to relax the current rules tends to get mistaken for a call for entirely optional preferencing, which leads to reflex opposition from the left especially.  But as I show below there are many alternatives and partial solutions:

1. Allow breaks in sequence

This has been proposed by Antony Green, and exists in WA (see comments).  A vote that contains all unique numbers with no repeats would be accepted even if it had skips, thus if a voter votes 1,2,3,5,6 on a five candidate ballot their vote is converted to 1,2,3,4,5.  There might have to be some clause to eliminate vexatiously formal votes (for instance still disallow any vote with numbers more than three greater than the number of candidates).  In an 11 candidate race for a Tasmanian Legislative Council seat (where voting 1-3 is required) a voter voted down the paper 1,2,3,10,20,30,40,50,60,70,80.  

2. Reallocate tied values arbitrarily

This is my idea and I don't know how workable it is legally, but it is another way to put more votes in play while maintaining full preferencing on every ballot.  Where a vote contains duplicates (perhaps up to a certain limit) the ties would be broken in favour of the higher candidate on the ballot in booths with even booth numbers, and in favour of the lower candidate on the ballot in booths with odd booth numbers.  (Some assignment method would have to be devised for postals).  This would be used in conjunction with 1 above.

3. SA Savings Provision Ticket

In South Australia currently, parties can lodge a savings provision ticket vote, and informal votes that are 1 for their party are converted to the ticket vote provided that these votes were following that ticket to the point of the first error.  This is effective in reducing informal voting, such that at the last state election, lower house informals in SA were 4.1%, compared to 4.34% in Queensland, 4.54% in Western Australia (which allows breaks in sequence), 5.54% federally and 5.83% in Victoria at their most recent elections.  Even the 4.1% rate was unusually high for SA.  A problem with this system, however, is that it does not offer equal protection for informal votes that disagree with a party ticket.  That form of discrimination shouldn't be accepted, but there are ways around the problem (such as simply having the vote follow the supplied ticket for remaining candidates from the point of the first error irrespective of any prior deviations.)

4. Save Votes That Have Irrelevant Errors

This is an informal suggestion by Antony Green.  A vote is saved if it contains an error but the vote would never be distributed to the point of the error.  So, for instance, a 1 Labor vote in a seat where Labor finishes in the top two is saved even if it contains errors.  However a 1 Greens vote with the major parties tied, in a seat where the Greens are excluded, stays informal.

There are some minor issues with this idea because the major parties would benefit in funding terms from the inflation of their vote share compared to other parties.  The most significant issues with the proposal are:

* major parties might become lazy about getting their voters to number all boxes only for it to matter when their candidate is unexpectedly eliminated.

* in a contest with a close and critical exclusion (such as the Labor/Greens race to make the final two in Melbourne Ports 2016), it is impossible to know whether some votes will need to be distributed to the point where they contain an error or not until preferences are thrown.  This would result in a small number of votes being of uncertain formality until a late stage.  In a series of close exclusions (such as Mallee 2019), it is possible that a candidate could outlast another candidate using votes that at that stage were potentially formal but later became informal, meaning that arguably the exclusion order would have been different.

Depending on how these matters were resolved, the system could be very complex to administer.  A possible crude solution is to throw preferences until two candidates remain and at that point admit otherwise informal votes that start with or flow to one of these two candidates before the first error, even if including these at an earlier stage would have altered the order of exclusion.

5. OPV-As-A-Savings-Provision

Rather than openly allow optional preferential voting, this method asks the voter to number all the boxes but in practice accepts any vote with a unique 1, up to the point of the first error.  This used to be the method used in federal elections but became contentious because of so-called "Langer voting".  Albert Langer, a far-left activist, had campaigned for voters to number all the boxes but use tied values for the major parties.  This was partly connected to a desire to bring down the Labor government and partly to a groundless theory that this could cause no candidate to be elected in cases where nobody passed 50% of all votes cast after preferences.  Tens of thousands of votes were exhausted in the 1990 and 1996 elections, and several thousand in the 1993 election, following Langer-voting campaigns.  Over time Langer's campaigns aroused the ire of both the ALP and the AEC.

Such a system has to either allow people to publicise "Langer voting", which might lead to a rate of high Langer-voting by people who think it will acheive something that it won't, or else it has to ban advocacy of Langer voting.  The latter carries significant free speech implications because it becomes illegal to advocate a method of voting that is itself legal and valid.  This method, in common with all OPV systems, also has the downside that even a small rate of exhaustion makes a lot of calculations done in election-watching less efficient.  For instance one can no longer say exactly how many voters in Clark put the top three contenders in the order Wilkie, Labor, Liberal as opposed to Wilkie, Liberal, Labor.

Variants of this idea might or might not save votes with several squares not filled.

I think the most satisfactory version would be to allow Langer voting and to allow people to advocate it, but to prosecute people making false claims that Langer voting could lead to a count being voided on account of no candidate reaching 50%.  These could be taken as misleading electors in relation to their vote.

6. Semi-OPV

A semi-optional system is used in Tasmanian Legislative Council elections.  Seats with four or fewer candidates have effectively compulsory preferencing, but for those with five or more, the voters only have to number three candidates and can then stop.  In the last six-year cycle the informal rate in these elections has averaged 4.00%, and the higher rates of informal voting have often been in the less contested races rather than those with lots of candidates, suggesting that much of the informal voting is deliberate.

A version of semi-OPV that could be used at federal elections would be to save votes with at least a unique 1 to 6, thus protecting the vote if the voter has become confused with the Senate.  Semi-OPV has the same issue as mentioned for OPV-As-A-Savings-Provision in terms of electoral calculations but if one is willing to allow that issue it is a possible solution that lacks the high exhaust rates and other negatives of full OPV.

7. Optional Preferential Voting

And finally, the current SA proposal, which also exists in NSW, and formerly existed in Queensland and the Northern Territory but was abolished by Labor governments in both.  Under fully fledged OPV any vote with a unique 1 is valid, and the voter gives as few or as many preferences as they like.

There's a strong freedom-based argument for fully fledged OPV - why make a voter express a preference they don't want to distribute, especially since a mistake made in the process might invalidate their vote?   However, OPV has some undesirable aspects.

One of them is that parties sometimes try to encourage voters to "just vote 1" - often doing this using signs that are arguably or clearly mistakable for official election signs.  Sometimes this message is used to make it easy for a party's voters or to portray other parties as a rabble, but sometimes it is also done for tactical reasons - a major party wants to weaken the flow of preferences from an independent to the other major party for instance.   My own dislike of any form of signage implying that it is in any way a good idea for a voter to stop at 1 - let alone even the remotest misleading hint of it being an official instruction - is such that I can't support OPV unless this kind of thing is severely banned.  I would want to at least see parties responsible for misleading "just vote 1" signs bankrupted by fines and deregistered.

Another problem with OPV is that major party voters can get extremely used to just voting 1 because their preferences are not distributed.  When a minor party sneaks into second - as with the Greens in some of the northern NSW seats - the minor party may have great difficulty getting a preference flow if major party voters did not consider the possibility that their preferences could matter.

I'm not convinced OPV is as much a benefit for the right as both the right and left think, or even in the current environment a benefit at all.  In the Queensland 2017 election the switch from optional to compulsory preferencing seemed to have very little direct impact on the results.  Labor is more dependent on preferences overall than the Coalition, but Greens voters are more likely to distribute preferences anyway, while Coalition-leaning minor parties like One Nation and (usually) Shooters, Fishers and Farmers tend to have higher exhaust rates.

All the same Labor especially dislikes OPV because it needs to enthuse Greens voters to get their preferences under it, instead of just taking them for granted.  This gives the Greens more policy leverage over Labor, as if Labor's desire to compete with the Greens was not enough of a problem already.

For South Australia specifically, in 2014 thanks to the existing ticket savings provisions, only 0.19% of all votes cast were declared informal but would have been saved under OPV.  However, in 2018, this figure rose to 0.68%, possibly because of an increase in candidate numbers.  It is worth noting here that all of the votes that would have been saved under OPV would also have been saved by using OPV-as-a-savings-provision (option 5).

8. Don't Have Single Seat Electorates

I mention this one only for completeness as people are bound to suggest it anyway.  I'm assuming for the sake of this article that switching to non-single-seat-electorates is considered a non-starter.

I hope the options listed above show that there are many ways to make progress on reducing the unacceptably high level of informal voting in federal Reps elections, without needing to go all the way to full OPV.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Essential's Unweighted Voting Intentions Look Surprisingly Like An Actual Poll

(Note added 29 July: Essential has now returned to voting intention polling, see here.)

The Australian polling landscape following the 2019 polling failure has been very sparse on national voting intention results.  Newspoll has continued to appear regularly, but Ipsos has not reappeared following the loss of its contract.  ReachTEL is now very inactive as a pollster (and indeed was for some time before the election).  Morgan has continued polling, but only releases voting intention results close to the time they were taken when it feels like it, and has back-released a confusing mess of results with some detail and results that are just dots on graphs, with difficulty reconciling information between the two.  The subject of this article, Essential, has continued polling all the sorts of items it previously polled, except for voting intention.

Quite why Essential has stopped polling voting intention, and whether it is at their own initiative, that of their client the Guardian, or a mutual decision, remains unclear to me.  In July 2019 this sounded like a temporary thing:

"However, over the next few months we are working to improve our two-party preferred modelling. In the interim we won’t be publishing voting intentions, however we will still report on issues of contemporary political interest."

Friday, July 10, 2020

Divergent Polling In The Northern Territory

Advance Summary

1.  There have been two massively different recent polls of the Northern Territory - a MediaReach internal poll for the Territory Alliance covering all bar four seats and a uComms poll for an environmental group covering Greater Darwin.

2. Although the uComms poll is much smaller, uComms has the better track record nationally so far (from limited evidence) while MediaReach is a mysterious pollster with a weaker public track record. Furthermore internal party polls that are released tend to favour their sponsor.

3. The MediaReach poll implies a probable hung parliament with Labor losing its majority and the Territory Alliance supplanting the Country Liberal Party as the largest conservative party, and possibly even forming government.

4. The uComms poll, however, implies that at least in Greater Darwin the Territory Alliance is unlikely to win many seats, and is consistent with Labor remaining in majority unless there are larger swings against it outside its survey area.  

5. Neither of these polls are necessarily reliable.  Media should not rely strongly on either in setting narratives for the upcoming election.

6. The history of "federal drag" - parties tending to perform best when in opposition federally - appears to apply to the Northern Territory very much as it does to state elections.


Saturday, July 4, 2020

Eden-Monaro Late Live Comments And Post-Count

Eden-Monaro (ALP 0.85%) McBain (ALP) retains with 50.41% 2PP (-0.44)

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Some people are speculating about a recount.  A recount is automatic if the final margin lands below 100 votes, but that is now very unlikely.  For margins above this, recount calls are typically rejected.

Nationals And Shooters Preference Factors

There is a lot of speculation about whether Nationals preferences have caused Kotvojs to lose.  Estimates of the Nationals to Liberals preference flow have varied from 70% to nearly 90%.  Scrutineering of this flow across a large electorate is extremely difficult; it's best to wait until the AEC comes out with the final preference flow.

On figures current as of Tuesday morning, McBain leads by 775 and there are 5924 Nationals votes.  This means that unless the flow from the Nationals to Kotvojs exceeds 93.5%, Kotvojs would be now leading had she got every Nationals preference.  But that's not interesting, because 100% preference flows never occur and the Nationals running is not the cause of the "leakers" preferencing Labor (most would have done so anyway).  What is interesting is whether the flow has weakened since 2019 and done so by enough that the weakening of the flow becomes the cause of Kotvojs' defeat.  At the moment this is the case if the flow from the Nationals has shifted to below 80.7%.

Another question is whether the Shooters preferences have caused the outcome.  Estimates of the Shooters flow vary with some claims as high as two to one to Labor, but Liberal scrutineers have said 50-50.  As of Tuesday morning, for Shooters preferences to have alone determined the outcome, they would have to break 57.8% to Labor.  However, the flow of Shooters preferences to Labor will be boosted by the donkey vote, meaning that if even, say, 55% of genuine Shooters voters have preferenced Labor then that will have decided the seat.  For the Shooters how to vote card to have decided the seat, it would currently have to be the case that the flow from the Shooters (whatever it is) would have been 15.7 points weaker had the Shooters preferenced the other way.  Limited evidence does not support Shooters how to vote cards making that much difference.  This number may drop with further counting, but I'm not sure that it will.

A further possibility is that some combination of Shooters preferences and weakening in the Nationals flow could account for the result, with neither factor decisive by itself.

I will analyse preference flows fully when they are available.

Count Updates - comments scroll to top below the line

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Newspoll: More Off-The-Scale Leader Ratings

Newspoll has returned with a second round of the very welcome State Premier approval ratings first seen in late April.  I thought a brief (by my standards) post about the current round of Newspolls was worth putting up overnight as the results are already sparking discussion in Tasmanian politics.

In each case I give the Premier's net rating, followed by the change from April, followed by the satisfied and dissatisfied split.

Gladys Berejiklian (NSW) is on +42 (-4) (68-26)
Daniel Andrews (Vic) is on +40 (-18) (67-27)
Annastacia Palaszczuk (Qld) is on +24 (+8) (59-35)
Mark McGowan (WA) is on +79 (-4) (88-9)
Steven Marshall (SA) is on +52 (+5) (72-20)
Peter Gutwein (Tas) is on +82 (+9) (90-8)

And just for completeness, Scott Morrison (PM) is on +41 (+4) (68-27).

Thursday, June 25, 2020

White Goes First, Right Goes Beatup: The ABC Did Not Attempt To Cancel Chess

In recent days I've been involved in a media and social media flurry sparked by the ABC's decision to explore the subject of whether White moving first in a game of chess was in any way connected to race issues.  This claim was once most commonly seen as a spoof of anti-racism campaigns, but these days, a small number of people seem to be actually fearing chess might be symbolically racist.

I appeared on ABC radio and gave an interview that outlined that there is no evidence this is the case.  The host did not try to argue that there was, just mentioned that people on social media have held concerns about the issue.  The mere existence of that interview has triggered a massive backlash from right-wing culture warriors, which had already started before the interview aired.  The thing is, it is unclear that the enemy they're tilting at exists!  The ABC may be guilty of filling up its programs with offbeat fluff on the slender pretext of a few tweets, but that does not mean it was trying to have chess cancelled.