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11:45 Ferguson/Archer withdraw: The Ferguson/Archer team has withdrawn, presumably because they did not have the numbers.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.