Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Poll Roundup: Are Budget Bounces Ever Real?

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

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

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

However the analysis from the Fairfax stable has been ridiculous, with several pieces trumpeting the turnaround from the previous Ipsos while ignoring all the other evidence.  The previous Ipsos is in fact ancient (at seven weeks old - eleven other polls have walked the planet since that dinosaur), but what's more, it was an outlier.  For instance, Laura Tingle (who I single out because I reckon she knows better, whereas some of her colleagues are hopeless cases) declared:

 "The Fairfax/Ipsos poll will certainly be grounds for immense relief within the government: a decisive turnaround in the trend and a much-needed lift in the Coalition's primary vote, though obviously there is further room to travel."

It's much more likely that 80% of said government are too fixated on Newspoll results to even notice that the Fairfax/Ipsos poll exists, and that the 20% who do notice it remember that the last poll was that really odd one that had the Greens on 16% for the second time since the election, five points higher than any other poll has had them in that time.  Had Ipsos produced another shocker, even the 20% would have written it off for good.  

The Budget polls: voting intention

So far we've had five post-Budget polls; I'll add updates for any late-breakers.  Ipsos and Newspoll both produced 53-47 to Labor by last-election preferences, compared to 55 seven weeks ago for Ipsos and 52 three weeks ago for Newspoll. I aggregated both of these at 53.1 to Labor after including the primaries.  Essential stayed at 54-46 and was aggregated at exactly that.

The confusing ones to get a handle on have been the two ReachTELs (separate samples with quite similar primary votes) released by Sky News and Seven on Friday night, and both taken on Thursday.  Not only is ReachTEL's recent formatting of its polling results as if it were designed to create as much confusion and as many pointless differences with other polls as possible, but media sources then make the problem worse by reporting only basic details like the two-party preferred result, making it almost impossible to reconstruct what is actually going on.

The reported 2PPs of these polls were 53 (Sky) and 54 (Seven) to Labor, but these were respondent preferences, which have a historic tendency to usually skew to the ALP compared to what actually happens at elections.  After I was unable to reconstruct the 53 from the published data by normal means, the company were kind enough to confirm, as I suspected, that they are asking National Party voters for their preferences, and distributing those preferences between Labor and Liberal.

Now whatever might be said about the merits of respondent preferences, if you are going to do them at all, then this is wrong.  The reason it is wrong is that a quarter or so of Nationals voters will probably say they would preference Labor ahead of the Liberals, based on how Nationals preferences tend to split when given the chance.  But the vast majority of people who actually vote for the Nationals live in electorates where the Nationals finish first or second and hence those preferences are never distributed.  At the last federal election, the Nationals received 624,555 votes, but only 72,350 of those votes were distributed between Labor and Liberal on a 2PP basis.  Only 15,967 National votes wound up credited to Labor on the final 2PP, meaning that 97.5% of Nationals votes actually counted towards the Coalition's 2PP.  Labor would not really get more than 0.1 2PP points out of Nationals voters come election time, but ReachTEL's method could be giving them close to a point out of the Nationals polls.

As a result, the ReachTEL federal preferences in these polls are skewed to Labor and should be thrown away, though its possible this skew might cancel out any anti-Labor skew in their primary vote polling from time to time.  I was finally able to estimate last-election 2PPs from the Sky poll at 51.5 to Labor and the Seven poll, based on incomplete data, at 52.4.  

With all of that out of the way (phew!) my new aggregate reading is 52.7 to Labor, a change of 0.2 in Labor's favour since the last Budget-poll-free end-of-week reading from two weeks ago.

One thing worth keeping an eye on - One Nation has slumped from 10% to 6% in Essential's primary vote readings.  The party also declined from 18% to 15% within Queensland in a Queensland federal Galaxy at the end of April.  At this stage other polls have not yet picked this up to such a degree.

A History Of The Budget Bounce Yeti

In a general and excellent piece about the futility of most attempts to deliberately "bounce" the polls, Peter Brent recently wrote that "Budget bounces are about as common as the Yeti, but Turnbull’s belief in his own abilities to move the immovable remains undiminished."

As there have been no reliable sightings of a wild budget bounce in the field for many years, some have even questioned if the thing exists at all.  David Crowe weighed in with a piece (data tables here) which showed that he believes the truth is out there, and has plaster casts of footprints in the snow to prove it.  At least he is referring to the evidence, which is more than can be said for most playing this game.

Unfortunately if we look closely at these sorts of methods, it all shows just how shadowy Yeti-hunting can be!  Measuring from one Newspoll to the next to try to find a bounce is fraught with peril.  Firstly, random variation alone should have caused an average shift from one Newspoll to the next of about 1.6 points, even if the Budget caused no change in voting intention and nothing else did either.  Taking rounding into account as well, now and then there would have been three or four point shifts from "pre-Budget" to "post-Budget" even if the Budget had shifted no voting intentions and nothing else was happening either.

Secondly, at the same time as any Budget there are often other things going on that influence voting intention, and sometimes those things can overshadow it.  Thirdly, measuring a bounce by just considering the polls right before and the polls right after the Budget is risky anyway, because there is usually advance information or speculation about the Budget floating about in the few weeks before it.  The poll before may thus itself be influenced by the Budget contents, or it could reflect inaccurate fears or hopes about what the Budget might look like.

Here's a look at some of Crowe's examples to see how easy it is to see a Yeti when it isn't there.

1996: The Coalition's primary rose from 47 (last pre-Budget poll) to 50 and then stayed around that mark, so supposedly a budget bounce.

The context: The 1996 budget was considered tough but good for the economy by voters and hence the Howard government was not punished for it, but they didn't get a big bounce for it either.  The 47 was an atypically low reading, which was probably sample noise or else may have reflected mild apprehension about the new government's Budget.  Here's the run of Coalition primary vote readings either side: 51-49-47-(budget)-50-49-50.  

2000: The Coalition's primary rose by five points and was still up four three months later.

The context:  Here's the run of Coalition primary vote readings either side: 42-44-40-(budget)-45-40-39.  Any immediate bounce was a sugar hit that completely vanished the Newspoll after - but more likely what we see here is mostly volatility.  Whether the Coalition's good run of primary vote results two and three months later had anything to do with the Budget is pure speculation. 

2009: Labor's primary rose by four points.

The context: Again just poll-to-poll volatility, mostly.  Here's the run of Labor primary vote readings either side: 47-47-42-(budget)-46-43-41.  (The 41 was influenced by "Utegate".)

If anything, these examples support the idea of a pre-Budget dip rather than a Budget bounce!  

In Search Of Budget Bounce ...

I thought I'd have a look for this monster too, but I found that the more you look for it, the harder it gets.

Firstly to get serious about this, it's necessary to use multiple polls, and not just a poll-to-poll reading.  So using Newspoll, I tried comparing the rolling average at the end of the month before the Budget, with a straight average for the four polls immediately afterwards.  (I used the end of the month before the Budget to avoid the issue of the immediate pre-Budget poll being sometimes contaminated by pre-Budget speculation, depending on the time gap.)

Even so, often over such a time scale there are things that have nothing to do with the Budget.  So I thought that if some Budgets produce polling bounces, it would make sense that they would correlate with the ratings given to voters by the Budget.

However, that corellation is weak.  Here, for example, is a graph showing the estimated actual change in polling for the last 30 budgets, as it relates to a voter "budget rating" derived from the Newspoll budget polls:

It's a noisy relationship (to be expected) but the relationship between the two explains 27% of variation, which isn't bad ...

...except that nearly all the explanative power comes from the 1993 shocker in the bottom left hand corner, and once that one's removed, the r-squared drops to 0.06.

I deal with a lot of messy data and I'm willing to get excited about 6% of variation explained if I have 2900 or even 290 data points.  But not if I have just 29 - one stray data point and it's dead.  And those poll-to-poll changes cited by David Crowe?  They have no relationship to what voters thought of the budget at all!

A few points we can draw from this exercise:

* Budgets never create large immediate bounces that have any staying power.  I couldn't find any polling change much above two points, and the chance that those bounces were really that big (as opposed to a bit of bounce and a lot of noise or other factors) must be low.

* Budgets don't tend to help government polling in the short term on the whole. The average result was a loss of 0.4 2PP points in the wake of the exercise.  That's not to say Budgets themselves cause such a small average loss, but they at least don't tend to cause gain.

* Unless you are the Howard Government, perhaps.  The Howard Government on average gained 0.4 points in the wake of budgets, while other governments on average lost 0.9.  Most likely this just reflects that the economy was that government's perceived strong point and was going well during its reign, and that time spent talking about the economy was time not spent talking about everything else that from time to time would get the crew in trouble. 

The largest alleged bounces in my sample (Prime Minister/Treasurer noted) are:

2001 Howard/Costello, 2.4 points
2012 Gillard/Swan, 2.3 points
2004 Howard/Costello, 1.9 points
1991 Hawke/Keating, 1.5 points 
1988 (May) Hawke/Keating, 1.2 points
1995 Keating/Willis, 0.9 points
1998 Howard/Costello, 0.8 points
1988 (August) Hawke/Keating, 0.7 points
1996 Howard/Costello, 0.6 points
1999 Howard/Costello, 0.7 points

But 2012, 1991 and 1995 are fakes.  These budgets rated badly with voters and there was other stuff going on in these cases - leadership spills in the first two and an Opposition coming off a bounce for a leadership change in the third.

If there's anything to see here it's that the Howard/Costello team were pretty good with the pre-election sweeteners, since 2001, 2004 and 1998 (all years they were re-elected in) all appear in the hall of fame and all could have been real.  But there were other things going on in 2001 that suggest that even in that year, the Budget wasn't the full story.  

The Yeti probably has existed, but most sightings of it are bogus, and proving it has been seen in any given year is near-impossible.  

This Year's Budget

Here's where this year's budget shapes up in terms of voter perceptions of its economic and personal impacts, compared to other recent and notable budgets (labelled):

The 2017 budget has eaten the dot for the 1989 budget, which had exactly the same combination of net personal and economic scores.  See also the full Newspoll tables here.

The shift to new Newspoll methods last year appears to have produced an increase in the uncommitted score both for the economic impact question and for the question about whether the Opposition would have done any better.  So while belief that the Opposition would do better is at an eight-year low and belief the Budget is bad for the economy is at a nine-year low, this seems to be because more people are choosing the don't know option as a result of the change away from live-interview methods.  

The views of third-party voters about this Budget seem to be similar to those of Labor voters.  I estimate the third-party voters as breaking 21-35 on economic impact (22-39 for Labor voters), and 13-50 on personal financial impact (11-59 for Labor).  Of course they are more sceptical than Labor voters (I estimate 25-43, vs 64-16) about Labor doing better.

There are a great many polls around with specific questions on budget measures - these can be found on the websites of individual pollsters as usual, save for the Newspoll ones mentioned above.  At this stage, because of the amount of work I have on, I don't have time to summarise and unpack them all, but there are few surprises.  Voters mostly approve on specifics of this Budget when asked, but are cool on the whole package, and it isn't changing their vote anytime soon.  


Lastly a quick run around the latest leadership figures.  Newspoll had Malcolm Turnbull up five points to a net rating of -20 (33-53) and Bill Shorten down two to -22 (32-54).  That's twelve in a row at -20 or worse for Turnbull (again, Abbott never had more than seven such) but would give some hope that he might get out of that range soon.  Turnbull leads 44-31 as "better Prime Minister", again a large lead given the 2PP deficit.

Ipsos' leadership ratings tend to be benign generally, and for whatever reason they are particularly kind to Malcolm Turnbull.  They now have him at a net +1 (45-44) and Bill Shorten at -5 (42-47).  Shorten is up 13 points since the March Ipsos, but only six on Newspoll in that time.  Here, Turnbull leads 47-35 as preferred leader.

ReachTEL - which doesn't have a natural skew to incumbents in its preferred leader polling - has Turnbull preferred to Shorten 52:48, the closest the two have so far been.  ReachTEL has Turnbull on a net -23.8 personal rating - easily his worst to date, but that's no surprise given this is their first reading since the election.  Shorten is at -21 and was lower than that for most of the nine months through to March 2016.  

ReachTEL also has Turnbull still the preferred leader of the Liberal Party with 38.1% support, to Julie Bishop 28.5%, with Tony Abbott now up to 17.3% and Peter Dutton recording his first double-figure score from anyone so far, at 10.5.  Bill Shorten, however, is in third place on the ALP list with 26.0%, behind Tanya Plibersek (30.7%) and Anthony Albanese (26.2%).  At least he has a modest lead among his own party's voters.  While some would wish polling was close enough to pressure Shorten's leadership, this doesn't look like becoming the case anytime soon.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Legislative Council 2017: Launceston, Murchison and Rumney live

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



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

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

Friday, May 5, 2017

EMRS: Both Majors Rebuild Following Labor Leader Change

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Poll Roundup: Recovery, Or Just Turbulence?

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

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

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

Thursday, April 20, 2017

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

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

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Legislative Council 2017: Launceston

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

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

Seat Profile

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

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Legislative Council 2017: Murchison

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

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

Seat Profile

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

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Legislative Council 2017: Rumney

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

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

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

Guides for Murchison and Launceston are also now up.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Legislative Council Voting Patterns 2013-7

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

Advance Summary:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Postal Plebiscite: Australia's Biggest Bad Elector Survey

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Poll Roundup: Attack Of The Poll-Shaped Objects

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 17, 2017

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Thursday, March 16, 2017

WA Washup: Another One Bites The Dust

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

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

Monday, March 6, 2017

EMRS: Liberals Crash, But Hodgman Still Clobbering Green

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

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

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

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


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

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

Patchy Polling In WA As The Final Week Begins

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

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

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

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Groundhog Day: Group Ticket Nonsense Returns To WA

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Poll Roundup: One Nation Soars As Liberals Squabble

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

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

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

Sunday, February 19, 2017

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

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

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

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

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Queensland Galaxy Says Game On For PHON Balance Of Power

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

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

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

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

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Sir David's Snail Is Not A New Species

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

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

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Poll Roundup: Feeble In February

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

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

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

Friday, February 3, 2017

WA: Grim Newspoll For The Barnett Campaign

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

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

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Unicameral By Stealth: Tony Abbott's Senate Referendum Call

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

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

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

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

Friday, January 27, 2017

Hobart Council's Leaders Have A Batman Problem

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

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

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

Monday, January 16, 2017

GetUp! National And Centrelink Poll Reporting Is A Trainwreck

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

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

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

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

Thursday, January 12, 2017

How many federal electorates have you visited?

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

For this task I set a couple of ground rules.

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

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

Thursday, January 5, 2017

2016 Ehrlich Awards For Wrong Predictions

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

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

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