Friday, September 25, 2020

Could Just 2000 Shifting Votes Swing The ACT Election?

 Advance Summary


(This article is rated 5/5 on the Wonk Factor scale.  It is extremely mathsy and technical.)


Yesterday the ABC published an article that claimed that the Liberals could win the 2020 ACT election if just 2,000 ACT voters switched their vote compared to how they voted in 2016.  The article is still up and the author continued to defend it after both Tim Colebatch and I independently pointed out on Twitter why it was incorrect, so here is an article to explain in detail why this claim is not correct.  In the process I hope to highlight that interpreting Hare-Clark spreadsheets really is rocket science and that a simple question like "how close was the election?" can have a very complex answer.  

The article's core claims are as follows:

* In Murrumbidgee, the Greens' Caroline Le Couteur was 800 votes ahead of the Liberals' Peter Hosking, so that difference would have been erased had 400 voters for Le Couteur switched to the Liberals.

* In Yerrabi:

"In 2016, sorting through this electorate's mess of preferences was more complex than elsewhere.

But when it mattered, Liberal prospect Jacob Vadakkedathu was 2,789 votes short of becoming an MLA.

If 1,395 voters had preferred him over Labor's Michael Pettersson or Suzanne Orr, he might have had their seat in the Assembly."


It is correct that had 401 voters for Caroline Le Couteur (this could include votes that preferenced her and reached her at full value) instead voted for Peter Hosking, or preferenced Hosking in such a way that their votes reached him at full value, Hosking would have won.  But this is not the same as saying that if 401 Greens voters switched to the Liberals at full value, Hosking would have won.  The reason is that a vote that switched from Le Couteur to Giulia Jones (Lib) would have decreased Le Couteur's tally, but not increased Hosking's.  A vote that switched from Le Couteur to become a primary vote for Jeremy Hanson, even if it was 1 Hanson 2 Hosking, would have decreased Le Couteur's tally, but would not have flowed through as a full vote benefit to Hosking (because it would have increased the value of all Hanson's surplus votes, many of which favoured Jones).  Thus the idea that 401 votes swinging would change the seat result is artificial, because it relies on all those votes moving to a specific candidate (which would never happen in real life).  A more realistic estimate is 570 votes.


In the case of Yerrabi, the article makes an error concerning the point at which Vadakkedathu's position mattered.  Vadakkedathu was 2789 votes short of quota after Count 28, at which point he had 5754 votes; quota was 8543.  But this is not the point at which it mattered, and this is a product of the ACT's habit of continuing to throw preferences past the point at which a contest has been mathematically decided.  (Markus Mannheim is in good company when it comes to getting tripped up by this quirk - even the Tasmanian Electoral Commission has been led astray here, in a different way.)  

In the contest for Yerrabi, nobody polled a quota on first preferences.  At count 16 (see Yerrabi table 2 here) Megan Fitzharris (ALP) was elected on the preferences of the first excluded Labor candidate.  At count 18 Alastair Coe (Lib) was elected on the preferences of the second excluded Liberal candidate.  Exclusions continued, reaching this point:

Milligan (Lib) 6899

Vadakkedathu (Lib) 5358

Petterson (ALP) 8086

Orr (ALP) 6855

Wensing (Green) 4968

At this point Wensing was excluded, and Count 24 consisted of Wensing's full-value votes (4900 votes).  Of these 62.3% flowed to Labor, just 5.8% to the Liberals, and the rest exhausted.

After this throw the numbers were:

Milligan (Lib) 7028

Vadakkedathu (Lib) 5511

Petterson (ALP) 9309 

Orr (ALP) 8683

Wensing (Green) 68 (part excluded)

At this point the election is already decided.  Petterson and Orr are over quota and have won so Labor has three seats.  There are only 974 votes left to throw and Milligan is 1517 ahead, so Milligan will certainly win the fifth seat.  But the ACT system continues distributing preferences anyway.  

What is important here is that Petterson and Orr can no longer receive those preferences as they have reached quota.  The two Liberals can receive them, but since they are mostly votes from the Greens that have already preferenced Labor, it's likely most of them would have actually gone to Labor had that still been possible.

Milligan reaches 7279 and Vadakkedathu 5754 at the point where the latter is irrelevantly excluded, but they only got most of those last few hundred votes because  Labor was blocked from getting them.  

Furthermore, the number of votes that need to be switched to cause the Liberals to win cannot be calculated simply by looking at how short Vadakkedathu is of quota, because just taking enough votes off Labor to put Vadakkedathu over one Labor candidate only causes him to win instead of the other Liberal, Milligan.

On the assumption that the 68 leftover votes for Wensing would not assist the Liberals more than Labor, let's see how many votes we have to shift to put a Labor candidate into last place.  Orr and the two Liberals between them have 21222 votes, so we need to bring Orr down to a third of that and the two Liberals up to the same figure.  This takes Orr down to 7074, removing 1609 votes from Orr.

However, we have a further problem: Petterson is still over quota by 766 votes.  We already know Wensing's votes flowed strongly to Labor, but those that flowed to one Labor candidate are much more likely to flow to the other, because this means the voter hasn't exhausted their vote at the end of the Greens' ticket and is also more likely to preference the Labor ticket than if all we knew was that they had continued preferencing.  On the other hand, they only have one Labor candidate left to go to, not two.  Let's say, conservatively, that Orr gets 70% of the surplus, the Liberals get 5% each, and the rest exhausts (though since it's the ACT, it may well be that nothing would exhaust; see below).  Now after Petterson's surplus, Orr is 498 votes ahead of the two Liberals.  We can fix this by taking another 332 votes from Orr and splitting them between the two Liberals, so we have now taken 1941 votes from Orr.  It might be a little bit more than that if no votes are actually exhausting.

But again, this is an extremely artificial scenario that relies not just on taking votes from Labor and giving them to the Liberals, but on taking votes from a given Labor candidate and giving them to two specific Liberal candidates in a very specific proportion.  It's unrealistic in practice and so the number of votes that would have to be moved in reality is much larger. It's actually extremely difficult to model, but a possible approach is: how many votes would we have to move at the key point if votes left Labor in proportion to the two candidates' totals, and arrived in the same proportion?

Here the answer is that Orr has 8683 votes (48.3% of Labor's total) and Vadakkedathu has 5511 (43.9% of the Liberals).  The gap is 3172 votes, and every vote that comes off the Labor ticket and goes onto the Liberals on average reduces that gap by 0.922 votes.  So we must move 3440 votes - far larger than the 1941 votes for a targeted artificial manipulation that would never happen in reality, which in turn is more than the 1395 votes specified in the article.  So the article's claim that:

"Four years ago, just 1,795 votes, across two electorates, prevented the Liberals from governing with a majority."

is false.  

(To further highlight that 1395 is incorrect, 1395 is the number of votes you would need to take from one of Petterson and Orr at the end and give to Vadakkedathu to put him in front of one of them.  But the fact that Petterson and Orr earlier in the cutup had more votes than they finished with should give some pause for thought that this is not the way to do it.)


I've already shown that the number of votes that must be moved to make the Liberals win, given realistic assumptions, is more like 4000 than 2000.   But there's more, because the electorates have been redistributed.  

As calculated by Ben Raue, in Murrumbidgee Labor loses 1.5%, the Liberals gain 1.73%, the Greens gain 0.09%.  The total vote in the seat was 50055, so that's +866 votes to the Liberals and +45 to the Greens.  Splitting the votes between the two remaining Liberals proportionally gives Hosking a 358 vote leg-up in the fight with Le Couteur.  Taking votes from Labor also gets rid of 99% of Labor's surplus of 760 votes, which benefited Le Couteur over Hocking by 603 votes.  To observers of Tasmanian Hare-Clark distributions, that may appear staggeringly high, but the ACT has a system that exhausts votes without continuing preferences and preferentially keeps votes with continuing preferences in the count.

All this means that the actual number of votes the Liberals need to be transferred to win in Murrumbidgee is zero (all else being equal); the seat is notionally Liberal by a very small margin as a result of the redistribution.  However, that assumes there are no transfers between other parties.  The Greens can retain the seat by taking votes from Labor, even if the Liberal vote stays the same, but if they take too many votes (around, say, 700) they can cause the Liberals to take Labor's seat instead.

In Yerrabi, it's a different matter.  Labor gains 0.63%, the Liberals lose 0.19% and the Greens lose 0.33% (323 votes, 97 votes, 169 votes).  That makes Labor's position roughly 320 votes stronger than indicated, pushing the number of votes that need to be shifted to probably over 3500 (approaching a 7% swing) in this particular electorate.

This shouldn't be surprising if we look at the 2016 primary totals in Yerrabi.  Labor beat the Liberals by 8.1% on primaries.  That alone would normally need a 4% swing to overturn unless the Liberals had something go right for them on the candidate breakdown, which they didn't (actually their 2nd and 3rd candidates are further apart than Labor's.)  But there is more, because the Greens, who polled 7.1% in this electorate, were eliminated, and their preferences favoured Labor.  

And this leads further to the generic problem with articles of the ABC type: if there is a big swing in one electorate, there won't be nothing happening in the others.  If thousands of votes are swinging in Yerrabi that probably means a massive ACT-wide swing with tens of thousands moving overall.


Hang on, who said anything about Brindabella?  Well, the point is seats shifting cuts both ways.  The Liberals could win government by gaining seats in Yerrabi and Murrumbidgee, but they are also vulnerable in Brindabella, which they would need to hold.  In 2016, Labor's Angie Drake lost by being 553 votes behind the Liberals' Nicole Lawder.  So if 277 of the voters who voted for Lawder instead voted for Drake, then Drake would have won.  But again, this is an artificial scenario because it relies on being able to take votes from one candidate of one party and shift them to a specific candidate of another party, distorting the proportion of votes within that party.  The real number of votes to shift would be larger.

But not so much larger anymore, because the redistribution has taken an effective 80 votes from the Liberals and handed them to Labor, so if those are redistributed proportionally, the minimum number to move to change the outcome comes down from 277 to about 245.  But by the proportional method I used for Yerrabi, the number of votes that need to shift without changing the breakdown within each party is more like 620, a 1.3% swing.  This makes sense because the Liberals beat Labor by 8.3%, which would normally require a 4.2% swing to shift.  However, Labor benefited from Greens and Sex Party preferences, and also from a more even split between its candidates.  

When the flag drops and counting starts many of these swing scenarios will go out the window, because of different exclusion orders, different fourth party candidates, different breakdowns between the parties and so on.  But overall, the key point is that the Liberals were not close to winning the 2016 ACT Election.  In particular, in Yerrabi, all else being equal they need a swing of several percent.  

Absent of a large swing, what would really spice up the ACT election is if a fourth-party candidate willing to work with the Liberals snatched a seat from Labor and the Greens in either Ginninderra (Belco Party, this is your life) or Yerrabi.  Given the candidate list the former seems more interesting. The pathway for the Liberals to victory then is to take Murrumbidgee from the Greens (which requires no swing at all) and to then form minority government with 12 seats.  This seems a more promising pathway than picking up the swing required to win 13 - but can any minor parties step up to the plate?

A Side Note On Exhaust

Finally, can we please not have headlines like "More than 15,000 exhausted voices weren't heard"?  This isn't in the article and plays into the same furphy spread by clueless opponents of Senate reform in 2016, the bizarre claim that exhaust is the same as disenfranchisement.  Every vote that is formal is heard.  The full value of every formal vote is counted as a primary vote, even if the voter only votes 1-5 (or just votes 1 and has their vote saved by the savings provision.)  The remaining value of the vote, which will be only part of it anyway if the vote has already helped elect somebody, leaves the count when the voter chooses to stop numbering boxes (or in rare cases makes a mistake).  This is (mostly) the voter's choice.   I generally advise voters to always number all the boxes (see How To Best Use Your Vote In ACT Elections) but if voters choose not to that is their right, and it does not mean the system has ignored their voice.  What the system has done is followed their instructions.

I will have live coverage of the ACT election on the night and of the counting over subsequent days. 

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Newspoll: The Sound Of Narratives Dying

 This week's Newspoll results have included fresh approval ratings for Labor Premiers Daniel Andrews (Vic) and Annastacia Palaszczuk (Qld), along with a number of issues questions regarding handling of COVID-19.  These are well worthy of comment - Victoria especially - along with some brief comments on less striking results (but strikingly if typically bad reporting) in federal Newspoll land.


A widespread narrative in Victoria has been that Premier Daniel Andrews is severely on the nose and his Premiership is in crisis, either because of the second wave of COVID-19 in the state that resulted from avoidable quarantine failures on his watch, or from the severity of lockdowns deployed in response to (so far successfully) bring new case numbers down.  

Victoria has recently seen public voting intention polling, finally, via a 51.5-48.5 lead in Roy Morgan Research's SMS polling.  I am not a fan of SMS polls as a method (I think they are too prone to motivated response), and Morgan's recent state polls have a history of volatility and being rather inaccurate, but at least this is something.  Also, ALP-linked campaigning firm Red Bridge has issued a 53.5-46.5 result for Labor.  These results followed Liberal Party MediaReach polling that had the Liberals picking up massive swings in a group of Labor-held seats (which if applied statewide would see Labor losing), but this is the same firm that, for instance, had the Territory Alliance on course to be the largest party in the NT parliament (it won a single seat very narrowly).  The internal poll also showed a rather heavy fall in the Greens vote, which seemed unlikely in the absence of anything that would cause it and given the general resilience of the Greens vote in recent elections (OK, except for Eden-Monaro.)  

Critics have continued to suggest that Andrews has cooked his goose and is now doomed, perhaps even at risk of a leadership challenge before the term is out.  But Newspoll says otherwise, for now at least: Andrews' net rating is up seven points from +20 to +27 (62-35).  Perhaps it is helping his cause that case numbers in the second wave are rapidly dropping (and have dropped further since the new poll was taken), whereas at the time of the previous poll they were growing out of control.  

It should also be noted that this result can't be explained away by modest sample size.  The theoretical margin of error is around 4%, so maybe Andrews' approval is really 58 or 66 not 62, but it doesn't really matter.  

Nationally, 61% think Victoria's restrictions are just right, 25% think too strict and 10% say too lenient.  But in Victoria, the lead for just right falls to 54-37.  

Much gnashing and wailing has been seen on the pages of the Australian already in response to this inconvenient result and much more will be seen elsewhere, but there's a lot of overthinking going on.  At the moment, most people really want to feel safe, and movements and attacks based on any other presumption have been falling flat.  

It is worth noting that while Newspoll finds satisfaction with Daniel Andrews to be on a par with some of the other Premiers, Essential finds satisfaction with his government's performance in managing COVID-19 to be lagging, at 47% compared with values from 67-84% for other states.  


The Queensland results are also quite significant because Annastacia Palaszczuk's government is just six weeks out from an election that at this point is hard to predict.  There has been no useful statewide voting intention polling data for Queensland since way back at the end of July, so it's hard to even estimate what's going on there, but so far the heat of battle has done little to deflate the Premier's COVID-19 approval bounce.  Annastacia Palaszczuk is down insignificantly from net +35 in late July to net +30 (63-33) now.  

There is actually no precedent for a Premier with such a high net satisfaction rating in a sample taken entirely this close to an election losing.  The nearest approaches are:

* Rob Kerin (SA) +28 on the eve of an election he very narrowly lost (early Feb 2002) and +39 in Nov-Dec sample of the year before.  Kerin had only been Premier for a few months.

* Wayne Goss (Qld) +45 in May-June and +28 two weeks out from the mid-July 1995 election that Labor initially won by one seat, but ended up handing over government mid-term after one of their wins was annulled and they lost the subsequent by-election.

* Jeff Kennett (Vic) +22 in July-August and +12 on election eve for the mid-September 1999 election that he narrowly lost.

We shouldn't place too much stock in Palaszczuk's current high netsat as a predictor because the relationship between COVID-19-fuelled approval ratings and actual voting intention seems to be very patchy - super-popular Premiers like Gutwein and probably McGowan are getting large lifts but the Morrison federal government has gained relatively little, and Queensland Labor was trailing in voting intention even while the Premier polled strong personal ratings in June-July.  Nonetheless I don't recommend ignoring it either.  

Newspoll finds 53% of voters nationwide think Queensland's restrictions are about right, 37% think they are too strict and 7% think they are too lenient.  However, in Queensland, "about right" holds a 58-32 lead.  It's NSW, Victoria and the ACT where the margin is closer - and they won't be voting on October 31. (Essential has made a very similar finding this week.)

South Australia

It is also worth briefly mentioning the YouGov poll of SA released last week.  Despite a rough run with expenses scandals that have cost it a few Ministers and triggered chaotic speakership election chaos in both houses, Steven Marshall's Liberal government has polled a 53-47 lead.  This may sound underwhelming since it is only a 1% swing before the election, but it is a six-point turnaround from the same poll in early March.  Premier Marshall enjoys a very strong +52 net personal rating (68-16) and a 54-26 lead on the Better Premier metric (which skews to incumbents).  The poll is far from terrible for Labor, with leader Peter Malinauskas continuing to poll better than other Opposition Leaders for whom data exists (he's at net +22 (44-22).  However the 46-35 primary vote lead to the government would be of some concern, as would the possibility that without the ministerial and parliamentary chaos, the government would be even further ahead.


The federal Newspoll came in at 51-49 2PP, a one-point lift for the government.  However this one-point 2PP lift came from a poll with the government and Opposition up 2% and down 2% respectively on the primary vote.  I get the typical 2PP off the published primaries at 51.3%, so the government may well have been close to getting rounded up to 52-48.  

The poll mainly attracted commentary because the previous Newspoll had seen a tightening to 50-50.  This may have been explained by heat on the government over aged care failures in the COVID-19 response during the previous poll cycle, but it may also be viewed as a bit of an outlier.

As well as the large degree of attention heaped (as usual) on a statistically insignificant partial correction to the shift in the previous poll, the new poll generated an error-ridden article from Simon Benson, which I decline to link to:

* "[..] Labor leader Anthony Albanese’s approval ratings tumble into negative territory for the first time." - False.  Albanese had recorded six previous negative net satisfaction ratings, five of them last year and one in late February.

* "For the first time this year, the Labor leader’s net approval ratings went negative, with a four-point fall to 39 per cent in satisfaction levels compared with 40 per cent dissatisfied." - False.  See above; net -1 is not even Albanese's worst rating of the year.

* "The improvement maintains Mr Morrison’s long-running popularity since the pandemic but is still short of the record highs in support in June and July when he reached 68 per cent approval." - Misleading.  68% was not any kind of record (the record is 71% held by Kevin Rudd).  Morrison did set a record of sorts for keeping his satisfaction rating so high over an extended period (nobody else has been at +66 or above over a three and a half month period) but this is meaningless because the change in YouGov methods late last year has artificially increased Morrison's satisfaction rating.  Net satisfaction is the better measure for historical comparisons, and on that front Morrison still has several weeks to go to break Kevin Rudd's record for the longest streak above net +30 (just over six months).

* "a corresponding fall for Labor, which has returned to near-historical lows of 34 per cent." - Misleading.  34% is near to the historic low for the party in an election, but it is not near the historic low for the party in polling.  The Gillard government at one point sank to a primary vote of 26%.

I have had a long-running Not-A-Poll in the sidebar regarding what sort of net rating Scott Morrison would be polling come September.  The PM easily outperformed the expectation of the voters on this site.  The most popular pick was +20, with 28% of the votes, and the average pick was +16.2, but closest to the pin was +30, with 22.6%.  Morrison's actual netsat was +34 (65-31).  

Comparative Summary

I thought it would be worthwhile writing a comparative summary of where the different governments and leaders stand in terms of leader approval and whether they have got anything out of COVID-19 in voting intention terms:

Federal (Morrison, Lib): leader approval high, slight boost to voting intention

NSW (Berejiklian, Lib): leader approval high, no evidence on voting intention

Vic (Andrews, ALP): leader approval high, ahead on voting intention (weak evidence) but with swing against from previous election

Qld (Palaszczuk, ALP): leader approval high, no recent evidence on voting intention but was slightly behind in late July

WA (McGowan, ALP): leader approval stratospheric, sketchy evidence on voting intention suggests massive lead

SA (Marshall, Lib): leader approval very high, large boost on voting intention off low polling base

Tas (Gutwein, Lib): leader approval stratospheric, massive boost in voting intention

We have no reliable approval data for the NT or ACT Chief Ministers but NT Labor was comfortably returned despite seat losses, while there is not much to see on voting intention in a single recent commissioned ACT poll.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Guardian debut

Just a very quick post to put up a prominent link to my debut article for The Guardian, a general preview of the Queensland election:

Queensland 2020 elections will be a test of state's COVID response

(This is a single commissioned piece, similar to commissioned pieces I have done in the past for other outlets, most frequently The Mercury.  I thank the Guardian very much for their interest in my work.)

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Tasmanian Electoral Reform and A Current Electoral Amendment Bill

There has been much discussion of the progress, or lack thereof, of electoral reform in Tasmania in recent weeks.  Most of this discussion has focused on donation law reform issues including disclosure requirements, possible donation caps and potentially public spending. These matters were addressed in the Electoral Act Reform Report, which was reportedly completed in December 2019 but remains unreleased.  Premier Gutwein has stated that the progress on electoral reform is not a priority for the government at the moment because it is occupied with coronavirus-related challenges.  

There is still (barring an early election, regarding which speculation has declined) plenty of time for reforms to House of Assembly donations processes to be passed prior to an expected March 2022 election, should the parliament choose to do so.  (My broad view is that donation reform before that election - to increase both the range and timeliness of required disclosures - would be extremely desirable as the current requirements are far too lax, but that spending caps require very careful consideration to avoid the errors of a previous attempt.)

However, the issues being addressed in the current reform process (at least I will assume it's still a thing and is just stalled for the time being) include other matters in the Tasmanian Electoral Act that affect elections for both houses, and that could affect the Legislative Council elections scheduled for May 2021.  These include the Section 191 authorisation requirements for material displayed on the internet (including social media) and also the Section 196 bans on naming candidates in some kinds of material without their consent.

Bringing the latter issue into focus, the Greens have been informed that the Director of Public Prosecutions does not intend to charge them with an alleged breach of Section 196 that arose during the recent Huon Legislative Council contest.  I have not seen any further detail regarding this.  The issue was covered in some detail in my Huon guide in the Campaign section.  The Greens had made a Facebook post including a video that encouraged voters to vote for their candidate and tried to wedge Labor candidate Bastian Seidel (by name) over Labor's post-2018-election backdown on poker machines.  (The wedge attempt failed; Seidel won spectacularly.)  

While I am also unconvinced that Section 196 was breached, I also understand Labor's action in making a complaint about it.  It is difficult for parties to campaign when the meaning of legislation is unclear and where opponents are using tactics that the party itself may prefer not to use out of fear that they may be breaking the law.

Section 196

Section 196 holds that:

(1)  A person must not between the issue of the writ for an election and the close of poll at that election print, publish or distribute any advertisement, "how to vote" card, handbill, pamphlet, poster or notice which contains the name, photograph or a likeness of a candidate or intending candidate at that election without the written consent of the candidate.

Penalty:  Fine not exceeding 300 penalty units or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months, or both.

Issues with Section 196 include:

1. Its application to the internet is unclear.  There is a view that it does not apply to the internet at all because it predates the existence of the internet, and elsewhere in the Act clauses have been added to apply to the internet.

2. Even if it applies to the internet, it is vague.  It's generally reasonably obvious what an "advertisement" or a "notice" are when they are paper items, either free-standing or published in a newspaper.  But is a person posting an unpaid comment or other content online supporting a particular candidate posting an "advertisement", and is it a "notice" if it does not advertise any specific event, but just describes a point of view?

3. It's an unnecessary restriction on free speech.  It is not clear why people should be completely banned from commenting on other candidates by name or using photos of opponents.  Such restrictions don't exist in federal electoral law.  The law does have the effect of minimising use of how-to-vote cards, including by candidates involved in intra-party contests, but such cards would have almost no effect anyway, given that canvassing within 100 metres of polling booths and advertising on polling day are both banned.

4. It is likely to be unconstitutional in some cases. This is not as clear as many opponents of the section make out, because the implied freedom of communication on political matters in Australia applies only to free speech on matters relevant to voter choice at federal elections.  However, there's scope for the latter to include some things said during a state campaign.  See Anne Twomey here.  There has been at least one case of a purely state-related electoral restriction being found not to breach implied freedom.

Ogilvie's Proposals

Independent Madeleine Ogilvie has introduced an Electoral Amendment (Digital Communications) Bill which has passed the first reading stage, as almost all bills do.  However as a private members' bill I would expect it to now stay on the back burner unless there is ever any will in government to bring it forward for debate.  

Regarding Section 196 Ogilvie's proposal is to expand it to include "Digital Communications", which are defined as " a communication utilising a carriage service provider, internet carriage service, broadcasting service, any other content service or datacasting service." (It seems this definition would apply to some audio communications that might not be necessarily "digital" in nature.)

My comments: while this would clarify Section 196 to some degree, it would not remove the unclarity about what is a "poster" or an "advertisement".  It would also expand the range of material that Section 196 clearly refers to, but I think this is moving in the wrong direction and that the pressing need with Section 196 is actually to get rid of it. My view is that Section 196 should be abolished, but that Section 197 (electoral matter that misleads the voter in relation to the casting of their vote) should be expended to include electoral matter that misleads the voter concerning its authorship or source.  This would catch how to vote cards that purport to benefit one party but actually benefit another, which might otherwise be legal. 

Regarding Section 197, Ogilvie's proposal is to expand it to include Voice Calls, defined as " a voice call, the content of which consists wholly of a spoken conversation between individuals, or a call the content of which includes a recorded voice."

My comments: while I am unsure about whether the definition above captures too much (it sounds like it could include even a private phone call) I think the idea of adding robocalls to the list of ways in which someone cannot mislead voters as to the casting of their votes closes a loophole and is a good idea.  

While I am doubtful whether these proposals will actually go anywhere, I think it is worth commenting on them anyway.  My hope is that there will be progress on those sections affecting Legislative Council elections prior to May 2021, or failing that, at least in time for the 2022 lower house and Legislative Council elections.  

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Curiouser And Curiouser: Recent Queensland Poll And Poll-Shaped Objects Roundup

The Queensland election is six weeks away and there has been no mainstream polling for it since the Newspoll in late July showed the LNP leading 51-49.  There are, however, a number of minor polls flying around and it's time to round them up and put them in a box.  In at least one case, the lid should then be taped firmly shut.

Polls "reported" recently have been:

Australian Institute for Progress (statewide)
YouGov (Currumbin, Redlands and Mansfield)
Omnipoll (Ipswich, Keppel, Mackay, Thuringowa)
Lonergan (Maiwar, McConnell, South Brisbane)

A further poll by AskAustralia Market Research has been reported in field but no results have yet been seen.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Age And Canberra Are Still Killing State Governments

 Advance Summary

1. One of the most important factors in state election outcomes is the influence of whether the governing party at state level is in Government or Opposition federally.  To be the same party as the federal Government is a disadvantage.

2. Another important factor is the age of the state government, with governments tending to do worse the longer they have been in office.  

3. In the last six years, all same-party state governments that have faced elections have lost seats in significant numbers.

4. In the meantime, two of the three opposite-party governments gained seats (though one very old opposite-party government was defeated, but with a 2PP swing to it.)

4. It might seem logical that if the federal government at one state election was the same as at the previous election for that state, then this factor would not generate further swings against an incumbent state government of the same party, or further protection for one of the opposite party.

5. However, the evidence suggests otherwise.  It appears that more voters continue turning against state governments that are of the same party as the federal government, over successive elections, even when the same federal government had been in office at the state election before.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

EMRS: Tasmania Is A One-Party COVID State

EMRS August Liberal 54 (+11 since March), Labor 24 (-10), Greens 12 Others 10

EMRS May Liberal 52 Labor 28 Greens 10 Others 10

Seat projection if August poll is accurate Liberal increased majority (15-16 Lib 6-7 ALP 2-3 Green)

Seat projection if May poll is accurate Liberal increased majority (15-16 Lib 7 ALP 2-3 Green)

Lowest combined Labor/Green primary vote in EMRS history

Finally we have some new voting intention polling for Tasmania courtesy of the release of an EMRS poll for August accompanied by a back-released poll for May.

We already knew that Premier Peter Gutwein was enjoying virtually universal popularity in the state, courtesy of his Australian record 90% approval rating but it was unclear whether this was translating to anything much in voting intention terms.  It seemed especially doubtful that it was after the Liberals' very high profile candidate Jo Palmer only snuck across the line by 260 votes in the Rosevears Legislative Council contest a month ago, while Labor had a storming win in Huon (albeit without an official government candidate).  This all put to bed building speculation about an early Tasmanian election, but that speculation may return now, although an early election that could create COVID risks would be a risky idea absent of any narrative as to why it was required.  For sure, the disastrous showing by Labor in this poll will trigger leadership speculation, and when the numbers are this stark, the momentum for change sometimes quickly becomes unstoppable.

The voting intention results, if realised at an actual election, would result in an increased Liberal majority, the obvious comparison point being the 2014 state election (Liberal 51.2 Labor 27.3 Greens 13.8 and the Liberals managed 15 seats, though with some help from a lucky breakdown of individual vote shares in the seat of Braddon.)  That does not mean we can reliably assume that an election called right now would see such results, as polling bounces caused by unusual events will often deflate as voters focus on an election campaign.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Preference Flows And The Eden-Monaro Result

 The much-awaited Eden-Monaro preference flows are finally out, following some time after the distribution of preferences, and it's useful to make some comments about these.  (Also see Antony Green's comments.) 

Labor won the by-election by 735 votes (50.39% 2PP).  This means that had 368 voters who preferenced Kristy McBain instead preferenced Fiona Kotvojs, Kotvojs would have won.  This is relevant for checking various claims about preferences of particular parties deciding the result.  In my Eden-Monaro live thread I set some markers at the time for particular preference shifts causing or not causing the result.  

Did Nationals preference flows weakening cause Labor to win?

Answer: Yes - but this isn't necessarily what it looks like.  In Eden-Monaro in 2019 an unusually strong 87.16% of Nationals preferences flowed to Fiona Kotvojs.  At the 2020 by-election the flow was only 77.73%, making a difference of 571 votes to each side's total, and a difference of double that to the margin.  While it was unrealistic for the very high flow from 2019 to have been maintained, any flow above 81.08% would have resulted in the Liberals winning the seat.  That figure is almost exactly the 2019 national average in contests where the Nationals were excluded, so the switch from an above-average to a below-average Nationals to Liberals preference flow can be said to have cost the Liberals the seat.  

Saturday, August 22, 2020

2020 Northern Territory Election Live And Post-Count

Election over - ALP 14 CLP 8 TAP 1 IND 2 
ALP returned with reduced majority 

2PP Estimate 54.1 to ALP (Mulka excluded; effective 3.1% swing to CLP)

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Live comments will appear below the line once counting starts.  Comments scroll to the top - refresh every 10 minutes or so once the count is well underway for latest comments.  Scroll down to intro section at the bottom for links, important disclaimers etc.


Here's Your "Weaponised Narrative": The Tasmanian Greens MPs And China

Note re NT election: I have a final roundup post about the NT election below this post and there will be live coverage here from 6:00 NT time (6:30 AEST)


This week there was an incident in the Tasmanian Parliament in which Greens Leader Cassy O'Connor became involved in a very sharp exchange with Speaker Sue Hickey after Hickey intervened while O'Connor was replying to claims by Labor MP Ella Haddad.

O'Connor had made a serious mistake, confusing a Hobart Buddhist monk with a Victorian property developer because they both had "Wang" in their names, and Haddad alleged the mistake was xenophobic.  The monk, Master Xin De Wang, is from time to time a subject of CCP influence claims and discussion of pro-Beijing positions, but denies any links to the CCP, and has been in the news regarding recent proposals to build a massive Buddhist temple near Campania, a proposal supported by both Hickey and Haddad and opposed by an adjacent landowner who wishes to build a quarry.

Friday, August 21, 2020

NT Election Final Roundup

Counting night approaches for the 2020 Northern Territory election, which I will be covering with live comments here in a separate post and follow-up comments on that thread through the post-count as required.   Normally here for an election I have paid a lot of attention to I would be posting a final polling roundup, but for the NT there's usually precious little to report in that department.  However there are a number of other things that can be commented on in setting the picture.  You can also check out the Tally Room podcast I appeared in today with Ben Raue and Duncan McDonnell.


Almost everything I had to say about polling and this election was said in my earlier piece Divergent Polling In The Northern Territory.  I contrasted a very detailed Territory Alliance internal poll by Mediareach with a lobby group commissioned poll by uComms and found that whereas the former predicted a chaotic parliament with no party likely to be near a majority, the latter was most consistent with a Country Liberal resurgence, Labor retaining a majority, and little joy for the Territory Alliance.  I did not asset that either poll was accurate (though uComms have a mostly good track record) - the truth could be much closer to one than the other, or somewhere in between, or more extreme in some direction than both polls.  Since the article was written, expectations and betting seem to have converged towards the uComms result, but that doesn't necessarily mean that's what's going to happen.

It would, however, be very consistent with my finding in the previous piece that "federal drag" theory (the idea that being of a different party to the one in Canberra helps) is a thing in the NT just as it is in the states.  As bad as the NT economy has been during the present term, a majority government thrown out after one term while the same party is in opposition federally would be a very unusual result from that perspective.  

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Down The Rabbit Hole: The Glamorgan-Spring Bay By-Election

An odd Tasmanian council by-election is currently going on that has caused the Tasmanian Electoral Commission to issue not just one but two explanations of the counting process and the consequences of the election.  This seems weird enough for a suitably niche look at what this fuss is about, which I will update with the results when they are known.

Glamorgan-Spring Bay municipality covers much of the east coast of Tasmania, from Bicheno in the north to Maria Island and a random looking line through the Weilangta forest in the south.  The council has a recent history of turbulence.  In 2014, high-profile former supermarket boss Michael Kent defeated flamboyant incumbent Bertrand Cadart for the top job.  Kent hence became the first and in 2014 only candidate to successfully take advantage of a rule change allowing candidates to run directly for mayor without prior council experience.  However, Kent's term as mayor saw frequent infighting and controversy and he finished last in the 2018 mayoral election.  Both Kent and Cadart have since passed away, in 2018 and 2020 respectively.

Debbie Wisby was elected the new Mayor in 2018 but has since faced allegations of bullying, harassment and misuse of funds (which she denies) and has been criticised over the renting out of a short-stay property to council staff.  The council was issued with a performance improvement direction in recent months, and now Wisby has resigned the mayoralty and from the council.

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.

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.

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.

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.


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.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Legislative Council Voting Patterns 2016-2020

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 involving the current MLCs in the last four years.

2. Although there is a degree of independence in all Legislative Council voting (except among caucusing party MLCs), the Council continues to have a clearly defined "left wing" consisting of the four Labor Party MLCs, and independents Mike Gaffney, Ruth Forrest, Kerry Finch, Rob Valentine and Meg Webb.

3. The two Liberal MLCs and independents Ivan Dean and Robert Armstrong belong to a similarly clearly defined "right" cluster.  Independents Tania Rattray and Rosemary Armitage do not belong to any cluster but currently side somewhat more with the right cluster than the left cluster.  

4. A possible left-to-right sort of the Council is Webb, Valentine, Forrest, the four Labor MLCs (Farrell, Lovell, Siejka and Willie in no particular order), Gaffney, Finch, Armitage, Rattray, the two Liberal MLCs (Hiscutt and Howlett in no particular order), Armstrong, Dean.  However Webb's placement is unreliable because of limited evidence.  

5. Going into the 2020 elections, the left holds an absolute majority in the Legislative Council, normally meaning that the government needs the support of Labor or at least two left independents to win votes.  This will remain the case, the question being the size of that majority.

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Unpopular State Premiers Still Have Dire Historic Fates

It's been over a month since I posted a new article on this page, though updates to previous articles have continued, especially Eden-Monaro.  I have some vague idea where that time went (a number of distractions from psephology lately) but there hasn't been a huge amount going on lately and I tend not to write just for the sake of having something up.  There will always be something new here eventually!

This article is another piece where I update a previously published article from some time ago and see whether the pattern described in it is still holding up.  Today's target for an update is Unpopular State Premiers Have Dire Historic Fates, from 2013.  This article was inspired by a bad Newspoll for then Western Australian Premier Colin Barnett.  Barnett had been re-elected with a 57.3% 2PP nine months earlier so it probably seemed adventurous to see a single Newspoll still showing his government in a narrow lead as the first of the circling vultures.  But it was - Barnett survived a leadership challenge in 2016 but was dumped by the voters in 2017 with an enormous 12.8% swing.

He wasn't alone.  Since I released the original article, Campbell Newman was dumped by voters with a massive swing, as was Lara Giddings. Jay Weatherill also lost (albeit with a 2PP swing to him) and Mike Baird, who had been very popular in his first term, became somewhat unpopular in his second and resigned.  The four election defeats for unpopular Premiers helped beef up the evidence that it is the voters, and not just the parties, who tend to show them the door.  In the same time, Premiers who had not polled such bad ratings in their terms were re-elected twice in NSW and once each in Queensland, SA, Victoria and Tasmania, with Victoria's Dennis Napthine (worst netsat -4) the sole casualty to not poll a bad rating.  The chart below (click for larger clearer version) shows the fates of every state Premier who has polled a netsat worse than -10 in Newspoll history (which starts in 1985).  Premiers are sorted by the worst netsat they polled during the term.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Eden-Monaro By-Election 2020: How Loseable Is It?

By-election July 4th
Cause of by-election: resignation (citing health reasons) of Mike Kelly (ALP)
Outlook: It's a weird one, and so anything could happen.  For what it's worth, historical patterns slightly favour Labor.

Welcome to my pre-analysis page for the Eden-Monaro by-election.  I expect to have a live page on election night, but starting late (say 8 pm) because of a clash with something else.

There are two main narratives about this by-election as the parties compete for the role of underdog and try to manage expectations in advance.  The first is that the loss of an opposition seat to an incumbent government in a federal by-election is literally a once in a century event (it happened for the only time in 1920) and that therefore a government win is unrealistic.  The second is that the seat's marginal nature combined with the high personal vote of outgoing ALP incumbent Mike Kelly makes the seat extremely difficult to defend in the current environment.  I argue here that both these narratives are wrong.   The by-election is much more loseable than the "100 years" history suggests, but all of the arguments as to why it could be lost have at times been overplayed.

If you want a go at picking the outcome yourself, there's a Not-A-Poll in the sidebar, running until polls close.  (As of 4 pm 4 July, the average forecast on this site was 50.89% to Labor, ie zero swing, with one voter predicting a non-major party winner. This site's reader base skews fairly heavily to the left.)

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Legislative Council 2020: Rosevears And Huon Not Live

Note added August 1: for the real live coverage go here.

In some alternative universe, the polls will close about four hours from now ...

In the normal scheme of things, today would have been the day for the Rosevears and Huon Legislative Council elections.  I think it is worth a quick post to reflect on that fact and to summarise where things are with the postponement of these elections, which I have also been covering in an article that is now well down the list.

The elections were postponed because of risks associated with the current coronavirus outbreak.  Indeed in recent weeks Tasmania has had the nation's proportionally most severe outbreak of COVID-19, but it has been almost entirely confined to the north-western health system and close contacts of individuals within it.  A very small number of cases within that outbreak have been diagnosed in the North and South rather than the North-West, but beyond that the South has had only two cases in the last month (for one of which on 6 April, no detail ever appeared to my knowledge) and the North has not had any.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Newspoll: Record Premier Ratings And A Very Strange Federal Poll

This week Newspoll polled state Premier approval ratings, but not voting intentions (perhaps because samples by state would have been too small for voting intention sampling).  It was to be expected that several state Premiers would have very high approval ratings given their handling of the coronavirus crisis, but perhaps not that the figures would be quite so spectacular:

Prev = previous poll.  *= As opposition leader.  #=YouGov poll not branded as Newspoll.
As high as Scott Morrison's current net rating of +40 is (more on that later), all the Premiers except Palaszczuk have beaten it.  None of them were coming off a particularly high base, though the most recent polling for Victoria and WA is ancient.  For Tasmania this is the first Newspoll of Premier satisfaction since the 2014 state election.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Why Better Prime Minister/Premier Scores Are Still Rubbish

Advance Summary

The "better Prime Minister" or "better Premier" score in Newspoll polling is a frequent subject of media focus.  This article explores the history of Newspoll preferred leader scores at state and federal elections and during terms and finds that:

* Better Leader scores are skewed indicators that favour incumbents by around 14-17 points at both state and federal level.

* Better Leader scores add no useful predictive information to that provided by a regression based on polled voting intention.

* If anything, Prime Ministers with high Better Prime Minister leads may be more likely to underperform their polled voting intention, but this is already captured in the relationship between polled voting intention and actual results.

* At state level, leading as Better Premier is a worse predictor of election wins or losses than leading on two-party preferred and having a positive net satisfaction rating.  This is because Better Premier is a weaker predictor of vote share than polled 2PP and is also more skewed as a predictor of election outcomes than either.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Morrison Breaks Two Newspoll Records Amid Coronavirus Crisis

The Newspoll just released deserves a special post in the absence of other polling, because of a couple of historic bounces for incumbent Prime Minister Scott Morrison.  It should be stated from the outset that these records have fallen partly because Morrison was coming off a low base.

To give the numbers first, the government now leads 51-49 two-party preferred, a gain of two points from three weeks ago.  The primaries are Coalition 42 (+2) Labor 34 (-2) Greens 13 (+1) One Nation 5 (+1) Others 6 (-2).  (I have a concern that the new Newspoll methods may be overestimating the Greens' vote by naming only them and the majors on the initial screen).  Scott Morrison leads Anthony Albanese 53-29 as "better Prime Minister", up from 42-38 last time, noting that Better PM is an indicator that tends to skew to incumbent PMs all else being equal (so 42-38 was actually a bad result for Morrison).  Morrison has a net satisfaction rating of +26 (61 satisfied 35 dissatisfied), up 38 points from -12 (41-53) last time.  Albanese has a net satisfaction rating of +9 (45-36), up 9 points.

What is notable overall here is that the government has only registered a modest bounce on voting intention but perceptions of Morrison's leadership have been changed dramatically by the crisis. This is indicative of a bipartisan mood where many voters are willing to say that although they support an opposition party, the government leader is doing a good job with this crisis.  (One can hear similar from Victorian Liberal voters regarding Daniel Andrews.)

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Legislative Council 2020: Huon

This election will be held on August 1.

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If you find my coverage useful please consider donating to support the large amount of time I spend working on this site.  Donations can be made by the Paypal button in the sidebar or email me via the address in my profile for my account details.  Especially important in these difficult times: please only donate if you are sure you can afford to do so.

Welcome to my page for the 2020 Legislative Council elections for the seat of Huon.  My Rosevears page is already up and an article on Legislative Council voting patterns is probably not far away, and will be linked here when it is written.

The election was originally slated for Saturday May 2, but was postponed to Saturday May 30 to allow more time for the TEC to prepare for a campaign with a high rate of postal and early voting. However the government then announced an indefinite deferral with an intention to hold the elections by August 25, pursuant to section 13(1) of the COVID-19 Disease Emergency (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2020 (see and section 5 of the Public Health Act.  As the COVID situation eased, August 1 was announced as the date.

This piece will be edited through the campaign from time to time for updates, campaign information, added candidates and changed assessments.   Other relevant pieces will be linked here.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Queensland: Bundamba and Currumbin By-Election Counts


BUNDAMBA: McCallum (ALP) retain
CURRUMBIN: Gerber (LNP) retain

Friday: With both seats decided I am paying little attention to the counts but note that the error mentioned below is now corrected.

Tuesday night: As Antony has noted, the preference figures that have gone up for Bundamba appear to have transposed the flow of Greens preferences making them flow 2:1 to One Nation instead of a more logical 2:1 to Labor, so McCallum will get more like 59% than the 54.9% he's currently credited with.

Tuesday 4:50:  Antony Green has reported that the LNP are around 500 votes ahead with not enough left to overturn.  These numbers are still not showing on the ECQ website.  Labor has conceded and the LNP has claimed Currumbin.  There will be a swing against it which may be close to 2% but is to be determined.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

King Of Nothing For A Day: Did Terry Mills Return As NT Opposition Leader?

Brief answer: Perhaps!

Of all the things going on in the world at present probably the least important of all is the position of NT Opposition Leader (unless, perhaps, a new conservative force starts winning NT elections and then winning federal seats).  But we all need some laughs, and so long as one doesn't think at all about whether NT politicians could have found something more constructive to do with their time right now than this, this is a rather funny story.  Not as funny as the time Willem Westra van Holthe held a late night presser to announce he was "Chief Minister apparent" only for it to turn out that he wasn't (Adam Giles who he thought he had deposed as leader threatened to bring down the government and as a result Giles was restored to the CLP leadership.)  But still, not bad.

The remains of Giles' government were slaughtered at the 2016 Territory election leaving the CLP with only two seats compared to 18 for Labor and five for a range of independents (some of them ex-CLP).  One of the independents was former Chief Minister Terry Mills, who had earlier been rolled by Giles while Mills was out of the country, just seven months after Mills had led the CLP to majority government.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Coronavirus And Australian Politicians And Elections

Just a post to comment on some aspects of interest regarding the current COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak and its impacts on Australian politicians and elections.  (Note added April: this article is being updated continually but no further politicians have been diagnosed for a while.)


In the last week three federal Coalition MPs (Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, Senator Susan McDonald and Senator Andrew Bragg) have tested positive to COVID-19.  Dutton is believed to have caught the disease in the USA, Bragg at a wedding in Australia and McDonald via unknown community transmission.  No state politicians have been reported as testing positive, but that's surely just a matter of time.

Politicians represent a tiny percentage of the world population, yet there have been many cases of them testing positive, a fact already attracting much attention.

A rough and doubtless incomplete tally of politicians who have tested positive, culled mostly from this Wikipedia page, accepting their description of "politician" status blindly but excluding those who I could quickly and clearly see were only former politicians, is as follows:

The table shows that countries that have politicians who have tested positive usually have more than one.  Of the 13 countries with more than one known infected politician, Australia has the fourth lowest ratio of total cases to political cases, currently above only Brazil, Romania and Iran.  Some countries with high coronavirus counts have none so far (such as South Korea and Switzerland) while China has relatively few.

Monday, March 16, 2020

EMRS: Liberals Still Ahead Under Gutwein

EMRS March 2020: Liberal 43 Labor 34 Greens 12 Others 11
Interpretation scores not used because of change in EMRS methods
Result "if election held last week" on these raw numbers 13-10-2 (no change), next most likely 13-9-3
Better Premier White 41 leads Gutwein 39 - similar situation to White vs Hodgman

A new EMRS poll of Tasmanian voting intention has been released via the unusual avenue of a FontPR podcast.  (Recommended listening for a lot of new insights into how EMRS operates). This is the first EMRS poll to be publicly released since the July 2019 poll, but in the meantime there were two other polls that were not previously released, in November (very early November - pollster was reported in the field on 31 Oct) and unusually December.  These have now also been released (full report of last three polls here.)  It is unfortunate the earlier polls were not released at the time as they would have usefully informed discussion about the retirement of Premier Hodgman.

The podcast reveals that EMRS have made significant methods changes in recent months, including ensuring at least 35% mobile coverage in their phone polls and making changes to weighting (though this does include the rather risky inclusion of past vote - a partial cause of the 2019 polling failure, but perhaps more justified in Tasmania where it is harder to be confident a sample is even close to representative.)  Based on the late-2019 polls together with this one it looks like this has fixed the pollster's long-standing problem of severely overestimating the Green vote, and at times the Others vote as well.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Legislative Council 2020: Rosevears

This election will now be held on August 1.  

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If you find my coverage useful please consider donating to support the large amount of time I spend working on this site.  Donations can be made by the Paypal button in the sidebar or email me via the address in my profile for my account details.  Especially important in these difficult times: please only donate if you are sure you can afford to do so.

I've decided to release my Rosevears page for the 2020 Legislative Council elections a little early.  As with Nelson last year, the incumbent is retiring, so I don't have to wait for the March sittings to analyse his voting patterns.  (An article on Legislative Council voting patterns will follow after the March sittings are over, and a Huon guide is now up.)

The election was originally slated for Saturday May 2 but has been postponed indefinitely under powers that I didn't realise existed under the Public Health Act.  Initially it was postponed to Saturday May 30 to allow more time for the TEC to prepare for a campaign with a high rate of postal and early voting.  Now the elections are intended to be held by August 25 pursuant to section 13(1) of the COVID-19 Disease Emergency (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2020 (see and section 5 of the Public Health Act.  As the COVID situation has eased, August 1 has been announced as the date.

This piece will be edited through the campaign from time to time for updates, campaign information, added candidates and changed assessments.   Other relevant pieces will be linked here.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Unintended Informal Voting In Tasmanian State Elections

Advance Summary

1. In Tasmanian state elections for the House of Assembly, any vote that fails to have the numbers 1-5 each once and once only is ruled informal and does not count.

2. A Bill to expand the Tasmanian House of Assembly would result in this being changed to 1-7. This would be likely to increase the rate at which voters voted informally by mistake.

3. The current rules very slightly advantage the Greens over other parties, especially Labor and most fourth parties and independents.  However, this hasn't decided any contest for a seat between parties in the last 30 years.

4. It is plausible that requiring voters to fill seven boxes without error would further increase the advantage for some parties over others, however the evidence on this is insufficient.

5. Unintended informal votes where a voter mistakenly omits or doubles numbers could be included in the count using a savings provision system already used in the ACT.

6. The view that the ACT system causes massive exhaust rates compared to Tasmania is based on a misunderstanding of the ACT computer counting system, which continues to distribute votes, creating spurious exhaust, after contests are actually over.

7. The ACT system may even help address exhaust issues partly by discouraging minor parties from needlessly running full slates of candidates.

8. Including more votes makes elections more inclusive!  We should do it. 

Sunday, February 23, 2020

It's a Joyce Joke: Barnaby's Senate Mutilation Madness

This article includes ideas for one I was working on last year but didn't get around to finishing off then.  I've been provoked to now do so by the news (tweeted by the AFR's Tom McIlroy) that Barnaby Joyce will on 24 Feb "present" a Bill to "amend the Representation Act 1983 - proposing six regions per state and two senators per region".  The exact form of the Bill has not been seen, and perhaps the proposal has been shorn of its more patently offensive and wrong aspects prior to tabling, so for the time being I comment on the history of Joyce's 2019 comments on this issue.  [EDIT: Nope, it's got even worse, see updates at the bottom.] The article should also cover ground that is useful if Joyce has modified his proposal.  I will add more comments when I have seen the actual Bill, which I assume will go nowhere.

General Background and non-malapportioned version

The concept of Senate districts is an old chestnut that takes its inspiration from Section 7 of the Constitution.  The Constitution only says the people of each state vote as a single electorate until the Parliament otherwise provides, which in theory allows the Parliament to come up with some other arrangement without needing to change the Constitution.  Furthermore, the Constitution explicitly canvassed that Queensland could be split into Senate divisions by its state parliament, until the Commonwealth parliament decided otherwise.  

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Queensland 2020: Currumbin By-Election and YouGov Poll

(Now added: Bundamba, scroll down)

Queensland is heading for at least one unexpectedly interesting by-election early in another state election year.  Also, a new YouGov poll has come out that has been the subject of incorrect reporting concerning the Premier's unpopularity.  I thought it would be useful to have a post up covering these two issues in detail.

Currumbin (LNP, 3.3%)
By-election March 28

Currumbin is in Queensland's far south-eastern corner and includes the border town of Coolangatta (now a Gold Coast suburb) and surrounding southern Gold Coast suburbs and rural hinterland to the west of them.  It has been held by the retiring member, Jann Stuckey, since 2004, but before that was held by Labor's Merri Rose for 12 years.  From 1992 (when Rose first ran) until 2001 the seat was more Labor-friendly than the state average, but this ended with Rose's fall from grace and Cabinet in 2004 and since then it has reverted to being slightly LNP-leaning compared to the state average.  It is possible, as the departing incumbent Jann Stuckey suggests, that Currumbin is an electorate where perceptions of the candidate matter more than elsewhere.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Do-It-Yourself Issues Polling Due Diligence

Note Jan 28: Hobart recount today is being covered here.

You've probably seen the kind of thing before.  A poll commissioned by a group with an obvious stake or bias on an issue has found, surprise surprise, that their position is widely shared by the population in general.  This "result" is reported by a newspaper which reports the group's claims uncritically as if the group has "found" some fact about public opinion, without any cautionary note or comment from anyone experienced in analysing polls.

I call these things poll-shaped objects (by analogy with piano-shaped object, an instrument that looks like a piano but plays horribly, whether because of poor quality or subsequent abuse and/or decay). At times these PSOs appear faster than I can take them to the tip.  After briefly becoming scarce or rebadging themselves as "surveys" following the 2019 federal election polling failure, the new year sees PSOs back in force, with several doing the rounds already on issues including Australia Day, climate change, coal mines in Tasmania and apparently (though I haven't seen it yet) forestry.  

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Will Hodgman Resignation And Recount

Retiring MP: Will Hodgman (Liberal, Franklin)
Recount from 2018 election for remainder of 2018-22 term
Nic Street expected to win recount if he contests, otherwise Simon Duffy
Replacement will be a Liberal
Peter Gutwein/Jeremy Rockliff to be elected unopposed as leader/deputy after Michael Ferguson/Elise Archer withdrew

Monday Jan 20 updates

Today's the day, but there has been remarkably little news about the expected ballot and a lot of speculation.  No Liberal MP has publicly endorsed either ticket.  The belief among a few journalists I've spoken to over the weekend is that Gutwein appears to either have the upper hand or at least have enough to tie, but these things can change or can be unreliable.  Some outlets have reported Mark Shelton and (perhaps surprisingly) Joan Rylah as undecided votes.  Gutwein has been firming on the Sportsbet market (1.36 vs 2.90, having at one stage been only just ahead) but this is the same firm that had the Liberals at $15 to win an outright majority six weeks out from the election.

11:45 Ferguson/Archer withdraw: The Ferguson/Archer team has withdrawn, presumably because they did not have the numbers.  Gutwein/Rockliff will be elected unopposed.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Newspoll Roasts Morrison / 2019 Polling Year In Review

Newspoll has come out of hiding early this year, and that warrants a quick post about the unusual nature and results of this week's early Newspoll, to which I am also attaching a belated annual roundup for 2019.

In the past, the history of Newspoll has tended to show that national security related incidents have big impacts on polling, but natural disaster incidents generally don't.  (An exception was at state level, where Anna Bligh's doomed Queensland Premiership received a large but temporary bounce from her perceived good handling of the 2010-11 floods disaster.) However, this natural disaster is somewhat different, both because of the scale of its many impacts and the extent to which lines of criticism of the federal government have immediately opened up.  Prime Minister Morrison has been criticised for taking a holiday during the crisis, for insisting on shaking the hands of bushfire victims who didn't want their hands shaken, over the level of federal preparation for the crisis, and over the government's climate policies and degree of recognition of realities of climate change.

Some of these criticisms, especially the last, are coming mainly from people who did not support this government anyway, and so it was hard to say what the impact on the government's standing might be until we had some numbers on it.  Even then, we should treat these numbers with some caution, not only because of the relative failure of polling in last year's election, but also because it is unusual to see polling at this time of year.  In fact, the polling schedule (8-11 Jan) was the earliest out-of-field date in Newspoll history by two days.  Furthermore, it has been unusual in recent years to get Newspolls in January in non-election years at all.  So it does look like the interest value of the bushfire situation could have resulted in Newspoll going back into the field earlier than normal.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Hobart City Council Tanya Denison Recount

Jan 28: Recount today, once I have seen the results and the scrutiny sheet I will update this article.

Result: COATS WINS.  Coats defeats Bloomfield by 1.77 votes


In something of an upset result (unless you are Simon Behrakis who was the only one who suggested to me that Coats might win!) Will Coats, the youngest of the several Liberal candidates running has been elected.  He has defeated Louise Bloomfield by the precarious margin of 1.77 votes, the closest margin in a Hobart election to my knowledge (which goes back to the mid-1980s).

The recount started with Coats in 4th place on 12.0% behind Mallett (14.7%), Bloomfield (13.7%) and Alexander (12.8%).  I have never seen a candidate win a recount from 4th place.  Merridew was on 5.6%, suggesting that without the bug he would have started fairly close to the leaders.  Christie was on 2.8% and definitely wouldn't have won anyway, and Andy Taylor (5.5%, also disadvantaged by the bug but not as much as the others) also wouldn't have won.

As the recount progressed Coats gained on the leaders on the exclusion of minor candidates (so these are basically random votes 1 for some minor non-Liberal 2 Denison or the other way around, for example).  He passed Alexander for third on the preferences of Brian Corr and passed Mallett for second on the preferences of Andy Taylor.  Taylor was excluded ninth with Fiona Irwin eighth.

Merridew was excluded in seventh, at which point he was over 100 votes behind Alexander.  This gap suggests to me that without the impact of the recount bug Merridew would probably have finished fifth just behind Alexander.  However I cannot be sure about this; what is clear is that the bug has turned what looks like it would have been a slim chance into no chance.

Female candidates Bec Taylor (Greens) and Cat Schofield (Ind) had polled reasonably well in the recount off gender voting and were excluded sixth and fifth, and as they were cut out Bloomfield's lead grew to 108.48 votes (also gender voting) with only Bloomfield, Coats, Mallett and Alexander left.  However now Bloomfield was the only female candidate remaining.  Coats gained 21.7 votes off Alexander leaving Bloomfield 86.78 votes ahead with 415.6 Mallett votes to throw.

44.14 Mallett votes exhausted, so Coats needed 61.7% of the non-exhausting Mallett votes to win (bear in mind these could be Mallett votes that went to Denison in the original count or Denison votes that could have gone to Mallett).  However Coats actually got 61.9% and won by 1.77 votes.

Effectively, the gender advantages to each of Bloomfield and Coats at various stages of the preference flow cancelled out and Bloomfield's biggest problem was not quite having a large enough share of Denison's vote at the start.   That said I would not have expected Coats to be the one to catch up!

As a result, if someone voted, say, 1 Denison 2 Mallett 3 Coats 4 Bloomfield, then that individual voter's decision to put Coats ahead of Bloomfield made the difference - but this could also apply to many other voters deciding who to put way down the list.

Of course, positions being decided by a single voter's decision is a mockery when 2021 ballot papers were ruled informal in the original count, most of them because of clerical errors by the voter that should not have prevented their vote being counted.  This very close result further underlines the critical need for informal voting rules to be reformed before the next election.

Close Result

It's important to bear in mind that this recount is not a fresh count of the ballot papers; it is just a computer calculation of ballots that were already all entered in 2018.  The original ballot process involves two data entry operators independently using computer keyboard to key in what they see on each ballot paper.  If the two operators get exactly the same result, then that is accepted as the correct vote.  If they differ then a supervisor is called to check the vote; the same happens if the data entry indicates that the vote is informal.

It is possible (but rare) for a vote to be entered wrongly twice by two different operators.  In a 2014 report that I did for the TEC I noted that a trial of the system had found seven incorrectly double-entered ballots out of 12,000.  My report notes that actions were taken to make the errors that had happened less likely, but not what they were.

If errors occurred at such a rate in this count they would have mostly affected ballot papers that had no impact on the margin, or impacted them at a point that didn't matter, but it's always possible that there could be a wrong ballot that would have made all the difference.  In the case of a very close election, further data entry of at least some ballot papers might be considered to ensure the result was correct, but this didn't occur (for example) with the very close 2014 Tanya Denison result.  This recount is also an unusual case in that the original count was not super-close but the recount years later was.

The result has now been formally declared and the only recourse against it would be a court challenge to attempt to obtain a recount.  Courts are reluctant to overturn initial results or order recounts without evidence of errors in the original count.


A Hare-Clark recount (that's the official name, though "countback" would be better) is coming up on Hobart City Council for the seat being vacated by Tanya Denison.  Denison, a past federal Liberal candidate for the unwinnable seat then also called Denison (now called Clark), was in her second term on the Council.  She was first elected in 2014 after surviving exclusion at one point by 3.6 votes, and then re-elected comfortably in 2018, the seventh winner out of 12 elected.

This post explains the recount and considers the prospects of the possible candidates.  The recount consists solely of the votes that Tanya Denison had when she was elected.  The fact that Ron Christie missed out being re-elected to Council by 20 votes does not make him a big chance for the recount (in fact it harms his chances, for a reason to be explained below.)  All these votes go initially to the highest placed candidate on that vote who is contesting the recount (who may have been numbered above or below Denison on that ballot paper) at the value they had after Denison was elected and her total brought down to quota.  In this recount, no-one will have anything like 50% of the total, so then candidates are excluded bottom-up, like in a single-seat election, until someone wins.  All the ballot papers are already digitally stored so on the day of the recount this will all be calculated by the computer very quickly.  The main delay before the recount is held will be allowing time for candidate consents to contest the recount to be received.