Thursday, November 7, 2019

Braddon And Bass 2019: Another Rec Fishers Preferences Beatup



One of the eternal tropes of Australian media electoral reporting is the breathless expose of how the preferencing behaviour of some obscure party or candidate could swing or did swing an important contest or in cases an entire election.  And, on a day when there was quite enough going on for election buffs to look at in the Chisholm and Kooyong signs challenge (see my updated coverage of that on the link) it has unfortunately broken out again with the sensational headline "CFMMEU-funded independents helped Liberals steal two key seats".  (CFMMEU = Construction Forestry Maritime Mining and Energy Union).  The article goes on:

"The CFMMEU helped the Coalition win two key seats back from Labor at the May election by funding the campaigns of two independents who sent 1757 votes between them to the Liberal Party."  It then refers to independent recreational fishers Todd Lambert (Bass) and Brett Smith (Braddon).

The piece has been widely criticised on the Twitter psephosphere, but not everyone uses Twitter, and especially as the seats in question are Tasmanian I think it's worth posting a detailed explanation here of why this piece is incorrect.  I note that no psephologist was interviewed for the article.

Firstly, the basic facts on Lambert's and Smith's preferences on a two-party basis.  Lambert polled 2607 votes (3.79%) in Bass and his preferences ultimately split 1370-1237 (52.55%) to Labor, in a seat Bridget Archer (Liberal) won by 563.  Smith polled 1203 votes (1.72%) in Braddon and his preferences split 683-520 (56.77%) to Labor, in a seat Gavin Pearce (Liberal) won by 4239.

So there's the first problem for this narrative right away - while 1757 votes flowed from these recreational fisher candidates to the Liberal Party, 2053 flowed from them to Labor.  So even if we assume that nobody who voted for those candidates would have otherwise voted at all, the conclusion to be drawn from that would be that these candidates helped Labor slightly, not hurt them.

But of course the vast majority of voters for these candidates would have voted anyway had these candidates not stood, they just would have not voted 1 for those candidates.  To argue that the CFMMEU helped the Coalition by having these candidates run, one needs to argue that had these candidates not run, voters who voted 1 for them and ultimately preferenced the Liberals would instead have voted for or preferenced Labor.  This is despite these candidates actually preferencing Labor, so ...


The idea is simply nonsensical.

What actually happened here is just a typical story of low-polling candidates, especially independents, in federal electorates.  Low-polling independent candidates tend to have weak preference flows between the majors.  They tend to attract a lot of "random" voting:

* voters who know the candidate personally and vote for them irrespective of the voter's normal politics
* voters who dislike all the other candidates, sometimes for idiosyncratic reasons, and vote for the candidate by elimination
* voters who like independents on principle
* donkey votes if first on the ticket

(and so on).

As well as these "random" factors, low-polling candidates and campaigners for them have little impact on their own preference flows.  People who vote for low-scoring candidates are generally independently minded in their politics and more likely to make up their own minds.  Low-polling candidates tend to have small support bases and limited abilities to distribute how-to-vote recommendations anyway.

The other thing to note here is that while Lambert was one of several candidates whose preferences together determined the very close Bass outcome (had the flow from him been 64% to Labor, Labor would have retained), in Braddon the Liberals were easily home without needing a single Smith preference.  So the idea in the headline that Braddon was "stolen" would be pejorative nonsense even if the CFMMEU had caused some of Smith's preferences to flow to the Liberals.

2016 Beatup Redux

The article reminds me of a similar beatup following the 2016 election, where the Liberals (Eric Abetz in particular) tried to blame the Recreational Fishers (then a party) for the Liberals' defeats in Tasmanian seats.  On the surface, this seemed to have some plausibility - the Rec Fishers had polled strongly in these seats, polling between 4.9% and 6.3% with between 60% and 67% of their preferences flowing to Labor.  But it turned out on closer scrutiny (see my detailed article on this and Abetz's other excuses for the 2016 result) that these voters were mostly not voting for the Rec Fishers out of positive enthusiasm, but rather because they considered them the least worst option on the Reps ballots.  This was proven by the Rec Fishers sinking without trace in the Senate, where they polled just 0.7% statewide.  Moreover, only 44 voters in all of Tasmania followed their Senate how-to-vote card! So the idea that the Rec Fishers were an effective preference harvester for Labor in 2016 was nonsense.  Rather, voters who voted 1 for the Rec Fishers in 2016 and preferenced Labor would generally preferenced (or voted for) Labor anyway.  They didn't cause Labor wins in 2016, and off smaller votes they are hardly causing Liberal wins now.

The individuality of voters for the 2019 minor candidates shows up nicely when you look at where their preferences actually went first when distributed, though this is slightly messed up by votes passed to them from other candidates also being included.  Smith was excluded with 1234 votes (31 from another candidate) and these split as follows:

Brakey (IND) 42.9%
Labor 18.3%
One Nation 12.2%
Liberal 8.8%
Green 6.5%
UAP 5.9%
National 5.4%

Lambert was excluded with 3212 (605 of these from two other candidates) and these split as follows:

UAP 37.2%
Liberal 24.3%
Labor 23.9%
Green 14.6%

So in the first case we have a lot of voters voting for one independent and preferencing another.  In the second, it's interesting that the UAP did well on Lambert's votes having done poorly on Smith's, and a probable reason for this is that by Lambert's exclusion the UAP were the last remaining party that was none of Liberal, Labor and Green.  These big three had held every Tasmanian lower house seat for 21 years until a recent defection of sorts, and there is some level of sentiment out there that is sick of all three of them.

There is no real question of the CFMMEU's financing/encouragement of these candidates driving preferences to the Liberal Party.  The first question really should be whether a union supporting small-party or independent candidates who preference Labor on their cards is an attempt to harvest preferences for Labor.  If it is, it is clear it doesn't work as the preferences of obscure candidates are largely undirectable - but it might also be that a union with "maritime" in its name is genuinely more interested in promoting fishing issues by supporting candidates who will make noises about them.  The second question is whether such a union would support its objectives more effectively by simply donating straight to Labor.  All I can say is that if the objective is to harvest votes for Labor then running obscure candidates doesn't work - but I can't say if that's actually the aim or not.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Not-A-Poll: Best State Premiers Of The Last 40-ish Years - Final Stage 3

Over a year ago I started a new series of Not-A-Poll voting for this site's choice of Best State Premier in every state and, eventually, the whole country.  It's been going so long that some of the original contestants, including the current leader, are no longer in the original 40 year window, but just retitled it and ignored that.

For the last round in an attempt to cull the field faster in what looks like an inexorable run to the crowning of Don Dunstan, I set a threshhold of 15%.  It turned out that for this round the threshhold was 17 votes, and the also-rans were very tightly packed around it, with Neville Wran and the last surviving current Premier Daniel Andrews just falling short.


Having been miraculously saved from elimination in the previous round, Jim Bacon came second in this one and goes through to the next stage, together with Dunstan and the Coalition run-off winner Greiner.  Voting on this stage (possibly the final stage) is open in the sidebar and goes to 6 pm New Year's Eve.  If one candidate gets an absolute majority this round that's the end, otherwise there will be a final between the top two (after any necessary tiebreaks).

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

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

A Few Pointed Words About Polling

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

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

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

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

On to the main course ...

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

Saturday, October 26, 2019

MPs Who Do Not Have Citizesnhip Of New Zeland

Now would I misspell a title twice?  Read on and all will be revealed ...

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Scott Morrison (Liberal, Cook)

Today there was a curious development in the long-running Section 44 citizenship farce.  Margaret Simons in the Guardian reported that Prime Minister Scott Morrison appears to have given incomplete/incorrect citizenship declarations that fail to address a manner in which he could in theory have become a citizen of New Zealand.  That is not to say he is a citizen of New Zealand, but that his explanation of why he is not is apparently wrong, or as Dr Anna Hood puts it in Simons' article, "problematic".

Simons has published that fine print in a change in New Zealand law, passed in 1948 and effective 1/1/1949, conferred full citizenship on then-living females (but not males) who were the offspring of British subject fathers born in New Zealand.  That full citizenship then allowed the offspring of those females to be potentially registered as New Zealand citizens by virtue of being "the minor child of a New Zealand citizen".  If so registered, they would now be ineligible to sit in the Australian parliament under Section 44, unless they had subsequently renounced.  (The British Nationality and New Zealand Citizenship Act 1948 was repealed effective 1 Jan 1978 by the Citizenship Act 1977, but those who were citizens under the former Act at that stage remained so. For this reason as well as Morrison no longer being a "minor child", there is no issue of an existing entitlement to become a citizen.)

Friday, October 18, 2019

The Chisholm and Kooyong Signs Challenges

Updates Nov 6-8

The case, before three judges, is now on, and expected to run for three days, after which the court may well reserve its judgement.  Tweeted coverage is being provided by Josh Taylor of the Guardian and I will link here to other reports of interest that I see.  If anything of special interest comes up I may discuss it at length here.

Nov 6 12:30: Of some interest today is discussion about the signs having said something different to what was intended (as touched on below) - Frost says that he provided an intended meaning but the actual signs when translated said something different.  According to Taylor "Frost said he made no inquiries on election day to make sure the corflutes said what he authorised them to say. Frydenberg and Liu didn't contact him to ask about them on election day" and "Frost says he doesn't know if anyone who proof-read the corflutes before election day speak/read Chinese." (It may be significant here that Liu could read the signs for herself.) However later in his evidence Frost said that the Hotham Liberal candidate, George Hua, checked the signs.  According to Taylor, Frost has also admitted that the corflute was intended to convey the impression that it was an AEC sign.

Under Section 329 (5) "it is a defence if the person proves that he or she did not know, and could not reasonably be expected to have known, that the matter or thing was likely to mislead an elector in relation to the casting of a vote." however "Note: A defendant bears a legal burden in relation to the defence in subsection (5) (see section 13.4 of the Criminal Code )." It should be kept in mind that Simon Frost is not on trial for breaching Section 329 at present.

Nov 6 5:10 pm: This verbatim exchange reported by Taylor is notable:

“You intended to convey the impression that this was an AEC corflute, didn’t you?” De Ferrari asked.

Frost, now an adviser to Frydenberg, took a long pause before replying: “It was similar to the AEC colours, yes.”

“So the answer to my question is yes?” De Ferrari pressed.

“Yes,” Frost replied.

During the 2016 campaign Labor's "Mediscare" material resulted in laws being changed to create offences relating to impersonating a Commonwealth body.  Although that is not at stake in this case it will be interesting to see if any complaint might be made under those laws in relation to these disclosures.  I am not familiar with the law in this area though. Graeme Orr on Twitter has noted that the standard of proof required (criminal law) is very high and also that examples given in the explanatory memorandum involve explicit statements of being the same entity (such as use of a false letterhead, etc).

The ABC has a good detailed report.

Nov 7: Very busy today but some quick highlights from Taylor's tweeting.

* Lisa De Ferrari (barrister for the petitioners) has pointed out it is uncontested Gladys Liu knew about the signs.  Her reported argument that Frydenberg knew is unconvincing to me - that people tweeted at him about it and there's no evidence he didn't see the tweets.   Federal parliamentarians, especially major ones, are often tweeted at with all kinds of hostile and ludicrous garbage and would rarely read it all, especially on election day!

* There is mention of the corflute being placed next to AEC material at certain booths (a minority), but not whether any argument is being made about voting patterns in those booths.

* The AEC is arguing that the number of Mandarin/Cantonese-only speakers (as opposed to those with some fluency in those languages and also English) is too small to change the result, and also arguing that voters understand Australia isn't a one-party state and that the AEC wouldn't issue instructions supporting a party.

* Frydenberg's lawyer has pointed out that there are not enough fluent readers in his electorate to change the outcome and has suggested that the case is being brought for other reasons.

Nov 8: Solomon QC for the Liberal Party has, according to Taylor, now said that it was George Hua who prepared the incorrect translation.  Solomon has also said that similar corflutes were used at the Bennelong by-election.

Judgement has now been reserved; there is no indication of how long a decision might take.  I haven't seen anything in the reporting that suggests to me that either result will be overturned but the exact nature of the judges' findings will be of interest.

Meanwhile the Greens have referred the matter of the signs possibly impersonating a Commonwealth body to the Australian Federal Police. 

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Original article

Thought it was time to put up some coverage of the Court of Disputed Returns election signs challenges to the elections of Gladys Liu in Chisholm and Josh Frydenberg in Kooyong.  Frydenberg is facing a distinct Section 44 challenge that has yet to commence.  There has been a fair amount of interest in these challenges so I thought I would post some comments about where I see matters currently.  I am not professionally involved in these cases, which don't seem to have required any advanced voting pattern analysis though in theory the Chisholm one could have done so.

Referral to Federal Court

These challenges were initially heard for directions by a single judge in the High Court but were then referred to the Federal Court.  The High Court has the options under Section 354 of the Electoral Act to hear challenges itself, to refer specific details to the Federal Court or to refer a case to the Federal Court entirely.  It has chosen the latter option.  The case is entirely about interpretation of the Electoral Act and not constitutional issues, and Gordon J rejected the middle option on the grounds that "It is always easier to decide facts in the context of legal questions or other issues and I think it is fraught with danger to split it."

The referral to the Federal Court is inconvenient for observers because transcripts are not automatically available for free online.   There appears to be an application process and a $50 per document fee.  I would like to see changes made so that future CDR cases referred to the Federal Court are automatically treated as public interest cases with documents available online for free as in the High Court. My understanding of the submissions of the parties is limited to what has been reported in the media, which is not necessarily accurate or complete.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Psephology And "Total Control"

(Now includes updates for episodes two and three, but I haven't changed the title for site statistics reasons.)

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Episode One

I don't watch a lot of TV drama really (too much else to do).  However, yesterday some tweets regarding electoral situations in the ABC's new political drama "Total Control" attracted my attention and I decided to watch an episode to see what its representation of Australian politics is like.  I may do this for future episodes too, either as updates to this article, or if there is enough material as separate articles.  Warning: spoilers will be posted without restraint and commenters are welcome to post spoilers likewise.

This article and any that may follow it are not intended as reviews as such, though like the reviewers I have noticed that these are tough times for political drama generally as it struggles to keep pace with the outlandishness of the real thing.   Rather, what I'm doing here is purely commentary on whether the series' representations of Australian politics, and especially electoral politics, are accurate.  Some people think such commentaries about fiction are pointless because "it's fiction", but others enjoy political fiction more when they are able to suspend disbelief and think they are watching something that could really happen, and that as such is an insight into our actual political condition.  I don't personally care at all about the plot holes and contradictions already evident in this series, because I wouldn't have watched it except to write about it, but others may find them irritating.

Also in a world where many people take their political cues from dispersed, self-selected and frequently non-credible/biased sources, it's not that unlikely that someone out there who sees something in an ABC drama production will assume that that is how things actually work.  So far as Episode One is concerned, it isn't ...

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Australia's Closest Federal Elections (2019 Wasn't One Of Them)

This article is brought to you by the following quote from Brendan O'Connor, as Labor continues to grapple with its unexpected 2019 federal election loss and continues trying to work out whether what it did wrong this year was hardly anything or almost everything (or something in between):

"Some of the critiques to date, especially from outside the party, remind me of those absurd footy match reviews where despite the margins being very close, extol only the excellence of the winners and denigrate the virtues of the vanquished, even when there was just a kick in it."

He's right, for the most part, of course.  Analysis which praises everything the winner did (because they won) and pans everything the loser did (because they lost) is a massive problem in electoral commentary.  I refer to it as "annotation by result", a chess term for the same thing.

But there are a couple of big caveats here.  Firstly if you're up against Richmond or GWS, you might think a loss by a few points was a decent effort and that with only a little fine-tuning, if you catch them on a bad day next time round, you'll beat them.  But if you think you're a good team and you lose by a goal to the Gold Coast Suns, you might be sacking more than the captain.  One of the hard things with elections is that you can say how much one side won by, but that doesn't tell you if both sides campaigned well or if they were both hopeless.  Before the election the Morrison Government hardly looked like Grand Final material!

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Wonk Central: The Hare-Clark Recount Bug and the Wangaratta Case




Welcome back to Wonk Central, this site's sporadic series of articles that have been deemed too mathsy, too quirky or too niche for remotely normal human consumption.  In this case, it's clearly all three.

In this episode we take a very close look at the Hare-Clark Recount Bug (which could also be called the Hare-Clark Countback Bug, but "recount" is the term confusingly used for countbacks in Tasmanian law). What is it, why don't we kill it, and is the minister aware of any alternative approaches?  The impetus for this article is a recent court case in Victoria, in which a candidate disadvantaged by the bug in a Wangaratta Council countback in 2017 took legal action but lost.  Among other tries, the plaintiff (a local doctor, former soldier and Australian Country Party candidate in last year's state election) claimed that the use of a countback method that disadvantaged him deprived him of the human right to take part in public life.  

For various reasons, the judgement didn't get into the weeds of whether the countback system in use was fair or whether there was any better alternative.  Therefore, let's go there here.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Did A Late Switch-Off From Shorten Cause Labor To Lose?

(Note for Tas readers and anyone else interested: Scott Bacon recount thread is here)

Nearly four months after the election, Labor and its supporters are still having great trouble working out what happened.  Ahead in the (faulty) polls for an entire term, well ahead in them for much of it, Labor managed to lose to a government that had seemingly imploded nine months earlier.  There are basically three possible explanations.  The first is that Labor should have won the election, but that at least some central parts of its policy platform were wrong.  The second is that Labor should have won the election and that its policies were sound, but it was let down largely by tactical issues.  The third, about which little has been said, is that Labor could not have won anyway.  (The idea here is that voters no longer care about governance scandals or internal party turmoil so long as they like the PM and the basic way that he is leading.)

A version of the second theory - and by the way, I don't subscribe to any version of the second theory - says that Labor's policy mix was OK but Labor was undone by spurious "death tax" scare campaigns and a massive advertising spend by Clive Palmer against Bill Shorten.  (Those arguing this tend to oversimplify things as if the United Australia Party did little in the campaign but attack Shorten.)  Adherents of this theory seem to have taken succour from findings of a recent ANU study that has been reported as finding that Labor lost because the Coalition made net primary vote gains in a volatile environment during the campaign, and also that a big part of Labor's failure to do likewise was voters switching from Labor to other parties because they became more negative towards Bill Shorten.