Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Migrants Voting For One Nation and UAP? (Plus Some Polling Comments)

A Few Pointed Words About Polling

Before I start this article, a quick four paragraphs regarding polls, in lieu of a formal roundup.  Firstly and mainly for Tasmanian readers, there has been some (disappointingly uncritical in some cases) media coverage of a poll commissioned by The Australia Institute (Tas) concerning proposals for a Tarkine National Park.  Unfortunately the poll is simply totally unsound.  It uses a loaded preamble that gives arguments for one side of the debate, quantifying a claimed total clearance area while not quantifying how much of the area included is really old growth or rainforest, and further leading the respondent with a comment about claimed community and business support for a National Park.

Having been presented with just one side of the argument, respondents may well be led to give the answer that suits the sponsor, or may well be driven to just hang up if they don't agree with the statements made.  The poll report also provides no data whatsoever on other questions asked, disconnection rates or on the methods and extent of any weighting used to obtain the final results.  The question design also fails to establish whether any support for a National Park would be in addition to some logging activity or as an alternative to it.  Maybe voters really do support a Tarkine National Park of some kind, maybe they don't (the risible voter support for the Greens in Braddon in recent years is not the most promising sign)

I have been trying to write about polling more generally but it is very difficult to get the job done with any motivation when leading pollsters, with the sole exception of YouGov's Queensland polling, have thus far done virtually nothing about the pressing need for a major improvement in polling transparency following the 2019 Australian polling failure.  As such there is no basis for confidence that Newspoll's current picture of a close federal race is in any way accurate (the Coalition's 51-49 leads might really be 54-46 or more, or alternatively Labor might be in front, though that is much less likely.)  And since Essential keeps suppressing its voting intention figures although its unsatisfactory reason for doing so long ago expired, there is no way to benchmark any of its leadership polling, and its issues polls are often problematic.  

Media coverage of commissioned polling also continues to be as awful as before.  Some recent amusing nadirs were rival YouGov poll results being cited and uncritically reported by friendly media on both sides of the NSW abortion debate, and also the Your Right To Know campaign claiming to have Colmar Brunton polling supporting their position, but failing to publish the details of the polling.  If you want to scrutinise it, you can't - you just don't have the right to know.  Media are rightly, if in some cases hypocritically, concerned about laws that can unduly limit what public interest information they are allowed to report. But the claim of media outlets to be servants of the public in reporting public interest information is undermined when they so frequently fail to report relevant information or cautions about their stories when they could and should, largely for reasons of laziness and the back-patting of sources who have fed them material for easy articles.

On to the main course ...

There has been quite an amount of interest in an ABC article by Stephanie Dalzell that claims that migrant voters are increasingly voting for populist right outfits like One Nation and the United Australia Party. Of course, some migrants will vote for these parties, but the article is not a useful contribution to establishing how many.  


Ecological Hazard Zone Ahead!

The first problem with the article comes from the well-known ecological fallacy, which has nothing to do with ecology but rather involves ascribing characteristics of a group to individuals within that group.  The classic ecological fallacy argument in electoral analysis goes like this:

* Individuals in electorates A, B, C are more likely to vote for party Y
* Individuals in electorates A, B and C are more likely to have demographic characteristic Z
* Therefore individuals who have demographic characteristic Z are more likely to vote for party Y

A previous outbreak was The Australian's claim that rich voters and Green voters tended to occur in the same electorate, therefore Green voters were rich.  As I mentioned in that article, Andrew Gelman provides a fine American example - states with high average income have high Democrats support, but high-income voters are more likely to vote Republican, not Democrat. (The solution broadly is that high-income voters are pro-Democrat only if they live in already liberal areas, but in red states they tend to be more pro-Republican than the rest of their state, and by large margins).

So when it comes to certain seats having both high migrant populations and high rates of right-populist voters, we need to know are they the same people.  This is especially a concern when right-populist-party voting is fairly uncommon, and also given that it could occur in reaction to high migrant percentages in a seat. The article does quote Antony Green on the difficulty of knowing whether it is the migrants or the Australian-born voters who are driving the ON and UAP votes in these seats, but for my liking his comments appear too far down the article and without the necessary flashing warning signs about the danger of any such extrapolation.  It comes across more as if we can't be sure it is the migrants, but hey, here's some anecdotal evidence, so feel free to jump to the conclusion that it is.

 But is populist-right voting high in areas with high migrant rates?

The article doesn't even establish its core premise that "Pauline Hanson's One Nation and Clive Palmer's United Australia Party (UAP) polled strongly in electorates with the highest percentage of migrants in Australia, despite campaigning against further immigration."

The article gives six electorates with high migrant populations - Barton, Chifley, McMahon, Macarthur, Watson (all NSW) and Calwell (Vic).  It cites House of Representatives figures to show primary-vote "swings" (in all cases from zero) to One Nation and the UAP in these seats, and also shows swings against Labor in all of them except Barton.

Using House of Representatives figures for this particular analysis is a bad idea.  It is a bad idea mainly because One Nation did not contest every seat - it only contested 59 seats.  Thus, while 8-9% One Nation votes in Macarthur and McMahon sound like strong support, they're actually only just above the average One Nation vote for those electorates One Nation contested (which was about 7.9%).   That said, One Nation tended to contest electorates it was more likely to poll well in.

The Reps votes for minor parties are also prone to be influenced by the number and nature of parties contesting each seat (so if One Nation doesn't contest a seat, it's easier for UAP to do better), and by the donkey vote (which UAP had both in McMahon and Watson, seats where it was likely to make more of a difference than in most seats).  

While looking at Labor's House swings, it's also worth looking at where the votes went.  Chifley, McMahon and Watson saw solid primary vote swings to the Liberal Party, so no matter what this follow-up says about voters not switching from one major to the other, I have no doubt that in these seats at least many did - probably more than the primary vote swing to the Liberals shows, since some Liberal voters would also have gone to ON/UAP.  In Calwell specifically, something unusual happened - Socialist parties cornered 5.5% of the vote, probably partly at the expense of Labor and the Greens.  (Incidentally, I'd be wanting to see much stronger evidence than Australian Election Study right-left voter perceptions regarding parties for a claim that voters do not switch from one major to another. Left-wing voters might see One Nation as less consistently right-wing than the Liberals while also seeing them as crazier, for example.)

I think that for measuring underlying vote strength for ON and UAP in these seats, it is much better to cut out House variables like differing seat fields and ballot position, and instead use Senate figures.

Senate results for the six electorates

The table below presents Senate results for ON and UAP in the six electorates in question, together with the national and state totals:


What the table shows is that in the Senate, only one of the six divisions canvassed in Dalzell's article had a combined above-average vote for One Nation and the UAP.  Only one beat the national average for UAP and only two (one narrowly) did so for One Nation.  Far from Barton and Watson being havens for the UAP and One Nation, their combined Senate support in these two seats was actually less than half the national average.  So while there is fairly high support for populist right parties in some electorates with high migrant populations, it is simply not a consistent pattern based on the selection of electorates that were mentioned in the article.

How do you find out if migrants vote for One Nation?

Er, you ask them, of course.  But not just a handful for glorified Vox Pops, rather you need some kind of systematic survey with a large response rate, which can be difficult because of low response rates, unrepresentative samples and language barriers.  But it surprises me to see the ABC publishing this sort of stuff that tries in vain to extract migrant voting patterns from electorate-level data, when this is the sort of thing that their own Vote Compass or the Australian Election Study should be a better attempt at.  And in fact there have been studies that do this sort of thing in the past (though I am somewhat paywalled out of that particular one, because contrary to widespread myth, I'm not an academic.)

[Update: I've been kindly sent a copy by a reader.  The study shows, for instance that Labor support among migrants generally was declining as at 2013, especially compared to 2007, though at that time Asian and Southern European migrants were still pro-Labor compared with voters at large, while eastern European migrants have usually been wary of Labor through recent decades.]

I don't have a reliable fix on how migrant voting rates for One Nation currently compare to the general community.  Of course, it's not as far-fetched as it sounds, for the reasons well canvassed by the interviewed One Nation voter in Dalzell's article.  Some older long-term migrants, for instance, having come here with peaceful intent, established themselves as Australian and fitted in, are inclined to now pull up the drawbridge against other cultures that they are less trusting of.  But saying how many, and from what communities and areas, is the sort of thing that simply cannot be determined from electorate-level analysis.  The ABC should leave this stuff to John Black.  No matter how hard they try, they will not be in his class at it. And, of course, they should not try at all.

1 comment:

  1. And, Kevin, there was one long-time Aussie of Italian origin who made it clear that he'd given up the Labor Party because of its support for same-sex marriage. There'd have to be a few more like him, steeped in primitive, bigoted "Christianity", and maybe even more Muslims who were shocked by SSM - but again the fact that there are some doesn't prove a general correlation with migrant status.

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