Thursday, December 31, 2020

2020 Site Review

 This post presents site data for 2020.  The activity graph tells the story of the year (the units are unique pageviews per week):


Nothing much happened in the first half of the year except for a bad Newspoll for the government in mid-January.  However there were significant spikes of interest for the Eden-Monaro by-election, the Tasmanian Legislative Council elections, the NT election, the ACT election and the Queensland election.  The ACT election is the largest of the spikes above.

With it being neither a federal election year nor a Tasmanian state election year, traffic was well down on 2018 and 2019 (down 47% on 2019) and only exceeded the traffic for one other year so far, 2015 (this site started in 2012).  I also felt early in the year that COVID was swamping all other news consumption, leading to low interest levels in anything else.  

In 2020 I released 59 articles including this one.  This is the smallest number for a completed year so far (the previous lowest was 77) and a major cause of that has been the decline in both federal and state polling.  The most common subjects were federal polling (8 articles), the Queensland election (7), and the NT, ACT and Tasmanian Legislative Council elections (4 each).

The cutting room floor

Articles I started but never finished this year and don't expect to release soon were to have covered such subjects as:

* the false view, prevalent on Twitter again following an Amanda Palmer concert in January, that almost half of all Tasmanians are illiterate.  (It was actually "functionally illiterate", which doesn't mean even nearly the same thing.)

* the false view that platypus are on the brink of extinction, which spread in international media in January as a result of some silly science-media reporting.  

* infection sources for Tasmanian cases of COVID-19; this became a display in the sidebar instead  (it's still running)

* psephological themes in the Palace Letters

* misuse of the term "push polling" in Australia

* a new bio/About This Site page

* a list of disclaimers to accompany my tweets about Newspoll (because there are people on Twitter who will assume that if one tweets a poll one must believe it's correct!)

There were also, as usual, some others that appeared in reshaped form as parts of later articles or that I have not listed above because I think I will use the ideas in them in future.

Top of the pops

As measured by unique pageviews, these were the ten most visited articles in 2020:

1. 2020 ACT Election Live And Post-Count

A surprise winner for the year, ranking eleventh by unique page views and fifth by total page views in the history of the site so far.  This followed the count on the night and over the next week for the 2020 ACT Election, a Hare-Clark contest with a number of close seats and a remarkable final result of 10 Labor, 9 Liberal and 6 Green.  The post-count was fairly difficult to model because of the need to use two different incomplete data sources to try to assess where the counts were going.

2. 2020 Northern Territory Election Live and Post-Count

Followed the count for the 2020 NT election which saw Michael Gunner's Labor government returned with a reduced majority, the opposition CLP rebuild and the Territory Alliance challenge fail.  Attracted about five times as much interest as my coverage of the 2016 contest.

3. Eden-Monaro Late Live Comments And Post-Count

I had to go out to dinner on the first night of the Eden-Monaro count which led to a late start, but as the contest remained close over coming days interest persisted.  The by-election for the famous former bellwether seat was called for Labor late on the night, but a counting error correction gave the Liberals some appearance of a chance for a few days thereafter.  

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

The delayed 2020 Legislative Council elections in Tasmania saw an upset win for Labor in Huon, decisively unseating conservative independent and former Huon mayor Robert Armstrong, and a nailbiter in Launceston where the Liberals' star candidate Jo Palmer just held off a preference surge to long-time local councillor and former mayor Janie Finlay (IND).  

5. Legislative Council 2020: Huon

Guide to the above-mentioned Huon contest, which placed too much stock in the history of Legislative Council incumbents and to little in the importance of being endorsed by an owl.  (Seriously, the voters of Huon were probably mad as hell over services issues.)

6. Queensland 2020 Postcount

Followed the post-count of the 2020 Queensland election, but there were only three seats in real doubt (two of which ultimately went to recounts) and as a result total pageviews for the postcount and live pages were lower than for the single threads for the NT or ACT elections.

7. Queensland 2020 Live

Election night for Queensland 2020 was a slower affair than 2019 but easier because of a disappointing shortage of messy seats.   A lack of swing except away from One Nation was evident early in the night and over the night it became clear Labor had won easily.

8. Divergent Polling In The Northern Territory

This article discussed two polls in the NT election leadup - a loudly splashed internal poll for the Territory Alliance that had them performing very strongly and a small-sample uComms of Greater Darwin that had a conventional two-party contest.  The uComms was extremely accurate and the Territory Alliance poll was way off.  

9. Legislative Council 2020: Rosevears

Guide to the other Tasmanian Legislative Council seat, which correctly saw it as a contest between Jo Palmer and Janie Finlay. 

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

Article that followed a beatup by right-wing media sources after an ABC everyday trivia program decided to explore whether white moving first in the game of chess had racial connotations.  They made the mistake of calling a former chess administrator who was also a published commentator, leading to widespread misreporting by the Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail, Sky News (especially them) and others.  John Adams, the ex-administrator in question, has more recently taken to boosting claims that seek to cast doubt on the 2020 US Presidential Election result.

Some other stats

The ten biggest days of the year for this site were Nov 1 (Qld), July 5 (Eden-Monaro), Oct 31 (Qld), Aug 1 (LegCo), Aug 23 (NT), July 31 (LegCo), Oct 18, Oct 21, Oct 17 (ACT), Aug 22 (NT), Oct 23 (ACT).  There's a pattern of often getting more visitors on the Sunday of an election count weekend than the Saturday.

The most popular pieces written/started in any previous year were In Search Of Australia's Most Ratioed Political Tweets,  the bio pageGetting Ginninderraed, Federal Newspoll Records Page, and the current edition of the field guide

The ten most clicked tags were Legislative Council, 2014 state, 2019 federal, Tasmania, EMRS tied with poll accuracy tied with silly greens, Rebecca White tied with silly lefties, and debunkings. The inclusion of 2014 state in this list is quite odd.

The top ten visiting countries this year were Australia, USA, UK, NZ, Canada, Germany (+2), Singapore (+1), France (+2), India and Netherlands (new entry).  99 "Google countries" visited this year and 170 have now visited in total.  Apparently new visits were recorded from South Sudan, Turkmenistan (!!), Guernsey and Kosovo, but there again seems to be something that causes some previously recorded "countries" to drop off the list.  

The top ten cities this year were the same as last year in a slightly different order: Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane (+1), Hobart (-1), Canberra, Adelaide (+1), Launceston (+1), Perth (-2), London and Gold Coast.

Among the more unusual queries to reach this site (a pretty weak list this year compared to previous years) were:

anita bligh and mark mcgowan (Probably looking for this)

+the quirk in tghe system that got lambie elected

call Eden do Qdoba adjusted should I even had one for a party go

kaylee campradt my children called

There were very few misspellings of my name this year, though one lost soul did call me "Professor".

The top ten hit sources were as per 2019 but in a different order: Google, Twitter, Facebook, pollbludger, Tally Room (+1), duckduckgo (+1), Reddit (+1), Bing (-3), The Conversation, and Chesschat.  Ignoring the three search engines the next three were Blogger, feedburner and Wikipedia.

Orders of the year

2021 could be an extremely quiet year for this site, but it also might not be.  If only scheduled elections are held there will be just Western Australia in March, but my postcount coverage is likely to be constrained beyond the first few days by fieldwork.  Tasmanian Legislative Council elections are expected in May for Derwent, Mersey and Windermere.  Barring unexpected retirements, Windermere (either a vacancy or a 76 year old incumbent running for a fourth term) looks the most interesting of these, with the other two attracting only token contests in 2015.

The second half of the year will become much more active if either the Tasmanian election or the federal election, both scheduled for the first half of 2022, are held early.  Should neither of these happen there may be not that much to write about in the second half of the year.  Heck, I might even start taking requests!  

I'll be back soon with the 2020 Ehrlich Awards for Wrong Predictions and Grand Gerry (which will also include a roundup of 2019's best failed predictions, though there was no award as such for 2019) and probably also with some further comments on the recent JSCEM report on the 2019 electionThanks to all readers for your interest in and support of this site, and especially to those of you who have thrown a few dollars my way in these uncertain times. 

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

2020 Federal Polling Year In Review

 At this time I normally release a review of the year in federal polling that, among other things, states the number of federal polls released that year.  See the 2019 review here. Things have got so weird in Essentialville and Morganland that for 2020 I can only report on how many have been released so far (since others with 2020 data are likely to belatedly appear next year), and in both cases, "released" becomes a stretch in the case of 2PP readings that have no public existence beyond a dot point on a badly labelled graph.  Such is life in the days after the 2019 polling failure.

How many polls?

This year saw 16 federal Newspolls released, the fewest since 1991.  Essential released 13 "2PP+" results (see my comments on this method here) as figures, and a further sixteen as dots on a graph. Morgan provided this mess:

* five polls for which it issued polling reports

* two further polls on its voting intention table

* at least one further poll result where the poll was not published but the 2PP can be inferred based on the stated poll to poll changes

* fourteen graph dot points (giving the impression of being weekly breakdowns from fortnightly polls) that include:

- eight readings that align exactly in time with four polls for which fortnightly 2PPs were public

- two consecutive readings that are out of whack with one of the public 2PPs by a week

- four readings that don't align with any of the otherwise public polls. 

Thus the total number of Morgan 2PP readings of which some kind of evidence was available publicly is at least 22 (to date) but this includes at least four double-counts.  

Applying a minimum standard that a pollster must publish a 2PP (and not just by reference to changes from a previous poll) to be included, there were 16 Newspolls, 13 Essentials and seven Morgans, for a total of 36 polls.  If this figure is used it continues the downward trend in the number of published polls per year.  However the number of 2PP readings compiled by the pollsters but not published other than as dot points is considerably higher; there might be as many as 63 independent readings, with others still to be (maybe) retro-released.

The mess created by Morgan in particular does no favours for the image of polling and I hope the new Australian Polling Council will recommend to its members standards that will avoid and discourage ad hoc decisions about when to retro-release polling data.  If a pollster wants to release voting intention polls in batches, as Essential are doing, that is one thing, but the pollster should then at least be transparent about when they will poll and ensure that all the readings are retro-released, not just some.

2PP voting intention

Although it is not possible to determine exact 2PPs from most of the graphed Morgan and Essential dot points, it is possible to say who was in front.  The government won ten, tied two and lost four Newspoll 2PPs.  Essential had it winning 15, losing 12 and (I think) tying two, and Morgan had it losing five graphed dot points and one retro-published 2PP and winning the other 16 readings of various kinds.  

The Coalition's largest published 2PP lead was 54% in an August Morgan.  Its worst published-poll 2PP was a 47% in a Feb-March Morgan though the Morgan graph refers to a 45% result attributed to "Jan-Feb 2020", presumably a one-week breakdown.  

A national ANU poll of dubious quality was also released (with incomplete primary breakdowns, no 2PP and a strong appearance of overestimating the Green vote).  

Because of the mess created by Essential's retro-releasing and Morgan's ad-hoc partial retro-releasing I have not attempted to conduct a running aggregate during 2020.  However the following is a simple unweighted aggregate of released 2PPs (polls that include data across two months are split between those months):


The year splits into two parts - the "bushfire" polls of January through March in which Labor generally led, and the "pandemic" polls of April through November in which the Coalition nearly always led, but usually not by much.  The Coalition's average result per month was a 50.4-49.6 lead, which makes 2020 the first year since 2010 (Rudd/Gillard) in which the government has led on average through the year without a mid-year change of government.  Previous years in the Newspoll era in which I have the government on average winning the 2PP are 1986-1989 (Hawke), 1997, 1999, 2002-3 and 2005 (Howard, also that part of 1996 he was in office for) and 2008-9 (Rudd). So overall this happens a bit over a third of the time.  It isn't a feat to be sneezed at given that seven governments have been re-elected, mostly comfortably, in years in which they didn't win the average, but that might also raise the question of how much it actually means.  

Following on from the 2019 polling failure in which all active pollsters overestimated Labor's 2PP by around 3%, it may well be asked whether this picture is accurate.  Both Newspoll and Morgan underestimated Labor at the 2020 Queensland election, but not grievously so, and this isn't much use because the history of state election polling errors is that most polls err on the same side for any given election, but that side changes from election to election.  Also, that history isn't much use in predicting federal errors.  There's a lot of room for scepticism about whether the pollsters have really cleaned up the mess, and only one of the three pollsters (Newspoll) appears to have made major targeted changes of a logical and promising variety.

A disconnect between sky-high leadership ratings for Scott Morrison and lukewarm voting intention leads for his Coalition has been present most of the time since April.  This disconnect was also seen in Queensland, and there the leadership ratings proved the better portent of Labor's convincing win. The Eden-Monaro and Groom by-election results, in which the government outperformed the historic average 2PP swings in Opposition and Government seats respectively, were both consistent with the government being in front (it would be a long bow though to conclude that they showed the polls to be wrong and the government to have a bigger lead).  

Leaderships

The year in Newspoll leadership polling statistics also falls neatly in two parts - the bushfire phase up to mid-March, and the COVID pandemic phase thereafter.  In the bushfire phase, Scott Morrison was unpopular, reaching a net satisfaction minimum of -22, and Anthony Albanese won the first three out of four Better PM polls, a relatively rare feat for an Opposition Leader.  In the COVID phase, Scott Morrison polled netsats in the range +26 to +41 and led as Better PM by between 24 and 35 points (noting that around 15 points of this lead is the incumbent's house advantage).  Morrison has been above net +30 now for longer consecutively than any other PM in Newspoll history.  Overall the averages for the year were:

Morrison netsat +22, the highest for a PM who lasted the whole year since Kevin Rudd (+34) in 2009

Albanese netsat +3, the highest for an Opposition Leader who lasted more or less the whole year since Rudd in 2007, or if Rudd is disqualified because he was elected PM after the final Newspoll for the year, Mark Latham in 2004

Morrison Better PM lead 22.1, also the highest for a PM who lasted the whole year since Rudd (+44) in 2009.

Morrison set all-time records for the largest poll-to-poll net satisfaction increase and Better PM lead increase early in the pandemic, but this was partly because he was coming off a low, bushfire-singed, base.

Albanese: the consensus and the data

There is a consensus among commentators that the Government has Labor's measure and Labor's leader's measure in particular.  Anthony Albanese is often seen as lacking cut-through, as having failed to remedy the Opposition's difficulties in connecting to its traditional base, and at the same time as being both a captive of the left and a captive of the Government.  It's hard intuitively to disagree with any of this or to see that Albanese has any kind of plan with any promise of success.  He is even being compared to Simon Crean by prospective knife-sharpeners, but at the same stage of the cycle Crean was polling -35 netsats, losing Better PM by almost 50 points and usually losing the 2PP 47-53 or worse.  Albanese is so far, mostly, holding up much better in polling, in the context of a pandemic that has seen many Opposition Leaders polling appallingly, with some oppositions (as in NZ and WA) ending up in a shambolic condition.  The Labor primary vote is about as low as during the comparable Crean phase, but this is offset by a higher Green vote and smaller Coalition lead, leading to a more competitive 2PP. 

The problem for those who want to make poll-based arguments for ditching Albanese and replacing him is that the data-based arguments are not that strong.  Yes the government is ahead mid-term, which is normally not a good sign for Oppositions, but then again almost everything in polling is a bad sign for federal Oppositions for the simple reason that they usually lose.  Even the kind of polling seen from governments that have lost was seen in the last cycle for a government that won.  It's not clear that there are any polling indicators that would identify a mid-term government as more likely to lose than win with any sort of reliability (because the sample of losing governments is so tiny).  So if an opposition leader is not polling appallingly, can any assessment of them as a probable loser - even if sound - tell us anything?  It seems that those using poll-based arguments for disposing of Albanese have made the judgement that he should be rolled first, and then started seeing the data as supporting that claim.  

Betting

Betting is not a reliable predictor, representing mainly the collective opinions of people who are losing money (or, early in the term, the judgements of bookmakers).  Odds I could find had implied chances for the government between 54.5% and 64.5% with an average of 61%.  This isn't overwhelmingly high, but note that these odds price in the possibility of Labor changing leaders.  As to whether they will do that, one market has Jim Chalmers as a slightly better than even favourite to be the next Labor leader, but I haven't seen betting on whether or not Albanese lasts til the next election.  Markets on when the election will be held still see about a two-thirds chance of it being in 2022.

The road ahead

After several months of polling stasis, things might get more bumpy in 2021.  We'll see the winding back of government assistance programs including the end of Jobkeeper after March, we'll see the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines through the year, and at some point in either the second half of 2021 or the first half of 2022 comes the election.  How much economic or other turbulence is to come is one question, and another is how much voters will give the government a free pass for anything that does happen.  The difficulty for Labor in waiting for the pandemic boost to go away is that if Australia's relative success in combating COVID-19 continues, it could last all the way til the next election.

PS: BludgerTrack relaunched

William Bowe has relaunched a voting intention version of BludgerTrack, showing rhe Coalition currently 50.8-49.2 ahead (if the polls are to be broadly believed), and a very similar if naturally smoother pattern to my monthly averages above.  The data used for the two are almost entirely the same (I have used two more Morgans).

Friday, December 25, 2020

Do Green Preferences Matter At Tasmanian State Elections?

Secular seasons greetings to all, except the IPA, who get a great big HAPPY HOLIDAYS for the grinchy effort on the crosstabs in their latest scientifically unsound poll-shaped object.  It is a nearly annual tradition on this site to release something every Christmas Day.   I've now added a "Xmas" tag to all the Christmas Day articles so anyone sufficiently bored can see how varied these offerings have been.  

This year's Christmas Day article idea arose in mid-November following reactions to Tasmanian Labor's decision to letterbox fliers attacking the Greens and promising never to work with them in government again, a promise that I expect to expire immediately the next time Labor gets a majority then loses it.  Whatever might be said of the authenticity of Labor's messaging, I can't help thinking of the whole thing as something that you might see in a vintage British comedy skit:

"The Greens!  They're holding Tasmania back!  They're leaving people behind!"
"That's very unfortunate.  How many of these, er,  Greens are there?"
"Two!"

In online commentary about this, a theme sprang up that Labor was biting the hand that feeds it preferences, and that this (perhaps together with Labor's junking of its 2018 poker machines policy) could very easily backfire.  However, my own experience is that Greens preferences are not as big a deal in Hare-Clark as they are in other elections.  I thought it might be worthwhile to examine the history of Green preferences in Tasmanian state elections since the rise of the Greens in the late 1980s, and look at how much difference they have actually made and might make, or not make, in the future.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

JSCEM's Recommendation For Optional Preferential Voting

Advance Summary

1. Coalition members of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters have recently recommended Optional Preferential Voting (OPV), but have provided very little discussion of that recommendation.

2. It is likely the government would have the numbers to pass OPV if both Coalition parties wanted to do so, but unclear as yet if they actually want to proceed.

3. Evidence from NSW state elections under OPV strongly suggests that it would significantly to severely disadvantage Labor if adopted federally. Evidence from Queensland is more confused.

4. The level of likely disadvantage to Labor under OPV could often result in a few federal seats having different results, but could be more severe when Labor holds majority government.   

5.Compulsory preferential voting leads to votes being disallowed because of irrelevant errors.  Reform to reduce or remove this problem is necessary.

6. Optional Preferential Voting has been defended on the grounds of allowing greater voter freedom, but it can also result in misleading campaigns to discourage preferencing and in cases where parties are disadvantaged because voters make incorrect assumptions.

7. Having OPV as a savings provision rather than a direct instruction to voters would solve most of the problems that OPV addresses with less disadvantages.

8. Labor's arguments against OPV in the report are weak.  

Monday, December 7, 2020

Tasmania: Secrecy Concerns Or Just Secretive Polling?

EMRS Tasmania (state): Liberal 52 Labor 25 Greens 13 Others 12

If accurate Liberals would increase their majority (14-16 Lib 7-8 ALP 2-3 Green)

 uComms (commissioned by Australia Institute) Tasmania (state): Liberal 50.3 Labor 31.8 Greens 10.7 Ind/Other 7.2

If accurate Liberals would retain majority but probably not increase seat numbers (13 Lib 9-10 ALP 2-3 Green)

New seat aggregate of all polls: Liberal 14 Labor 8 Green 3


"Sir Humprey: How are things at the Campaign for the Freedom of Information, by the way?

Sir Arnold: Sorry, I can't talk about that."

- Yes Minister, Party Games