Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 site review

This site has only been going since late October when I left Tasmanian Times.  I intend to continue it in its current form for some time though I may eventually change to another format, especially as the commenting and comment moderation options on this one are a bit limited.  Apart from that I am happy with how it is going. 

I've finished and published every article I've started, except for a detailed rant about the silliness of claims that Tasmanian Devils are on "the verge of extinction" and similar politicised nonsense about the species.  As the Tarkine mining controversies heats up and the species' plight is politically misused in those matters as it has been in so many others, very likely at some point I will become motivated/irritated enough to complete that one too. 

The ten most popular articles on this site in terms of site hits so far have been, in order:

1. The Abbott Factor: Opposition Leader Ratings and Party Standing

This article, published in October, showed that there is a relationship between the ratings of established Opposition Leaders and their party's two-party-preferred standing, such that the unpopularity of Tony Abbott could be costing the Coalition 1-2 points of voting intention.  It also showed that during the Abbott tenure, this relationship had until recently worked in the opposite direction to normal.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Uneven Swing to Liberals in Tasmanian State Election Polling

Advance summary:

1. Figures from three 2012 polls of Tasmanian state voting intention, show that swings between different electorates since the 2010 election are clearly not uniform.

2. Especially, Labor is polling very much better than the state swing suggests in Franklin, but generally worse in the northern seats and Lyons.

3. For a Liberal vote of around 50, the uneven swing pattern makes little difference to the seat total, with the party projected to win 13 seats (the barest possible majority).

4. For a Liberal vote well above 50, as in the November 2012 EMRS poll, the uneven swing pattern means that the party does not necessarily win more than 13 seats. 

5. However the uneven swing pattern also makes it possible (but not at all likely at this stage) for the party to win as many as 17 seats.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Tasmanian State Election patterns since 1989

Secular season's greetings and best wishes for 2013.  I intend to post on or about 31 Dec just to give some fluffy nonsense about annual site stats (annual being a misnomer as this site has existed for a bit over two months).  Then on or about 1 Jan 2013 I will declare the winner of The Ehrlich for the "wrongest" prediction in any field of interest to me of or pertaining to the year 2012.  Apart from that posts will continue to pop up when I have something I think is of interest to say, as time permits.  

WONK ALERT (Category 4): This post is very wonky and statistical and contains 15 charts; I can't even remember if I included any jokes at all!
Advance summary:

1. This post presents extensive vote-share data for the ALP, Liberals, Greens and collective "Rest" since the 1989 election, including breakdowns of swing patterns.

2. At least in the case of the Greens and Liberals, there is evidence that swings are not uniform.  For these parties, swings in either direction tend to be greatest both in electorates where they perform well, and where their vote share in a given electorate at the last election was high.  For these parties it may be reasonable to make some adjustments when predicting vote share in given electorates.

3. For the Labor Party there is less variation in average results between electorates and it is not clear whether there is a reliable pattern.  For the Labor Party it may be easiest to just assume uniform swing except if there is convincing polling evidence otherwise.

4. A major issue in predicting the Green vote at the 2014 election will be whether or not there is a Wilkie-style independent standing.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Silly Season 2: End-Of-Year Poll Myths

Advance Summary

1. There has been some recent debate about the Government's polling position going into an election year.

2. The idea that this position has any special significance in projecting results is baseless.

3. While some pro-Labor sentiment has compared Labor's position now to Howard's end of year positions before elections that he won, in only one of three cases was Howard's position even arguably as bad.

4. Despite this there are earlier precedents for victory from seemingly quite poor end-of-year positions.

5. Analogies with Howard's position at the end of 2006 are fatally flawed because of the Labor leadership handover.

6. "Momentum" is a common concept in opinion poll commentary, but it has no basis in reality.  Movements in one direction from poll to poll are most often followed by movements in the other, probably mostly as a result of random bouncing from sample to sample.

7. Attempts to define a poor end-of-year position for Labor are already outdated, having been brought into question by more recent polls. (This article gives reasons for considering Morgan Face 2 Face to be valid data and not ignoring it completely.)

This article also contains an unrelated section examining an argument by Peter Brent that a given level of voting intention is more durable for an unpopular leader than a popular one.  There is not enough evidence to apply this to unpopular opposition leaders, and especially not to Tony Abbott at this time.


In a previous article (Is The Silly Season Real?) I examined the idea that opinion polls behave strangely in December as many people swing into Santa mode and found that, at least in the case of Newspoll, there is no evidence to support it at all.

Another form of  commentary that I have seen quite a lot of lately involves focus on the government's polling position at the end of the year and how this compares to that of previous governments, and what this might (supposedly) tell us about whether the government can win.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

LegCo Ices Forestry Peace/Surrender Deal - Updated

UPDATE:  This is an old article with a now dated title that has been updated.  For the updates scroll to the bottom.

(Admin notes: 1. Thanks to readers who voted in the jump breaks poll; poll has closed and preferences have been distributed!  2.  On or about 1 January 2013 this site will award the inaugural Ehrlich to the maker of the most wrong prediction in or relating to the year 2012 in any field that interests me.  The winner has been decided already, but nominations are welcome!  3. This article concerns (i) my views of the Tasmanian forest "peace deal" (ii) my comments about the voting behaviour that occurred during the LegCo vote on it and the (iii) possible future electoral and reform impacts.  As there are some out there who may not be interested in (i) and only wish to read (ii) and (iii), I advise them to scroll down to the point marked "It is safe to come out now".)


In the beginning, there was the Acronym, and the Acronym was HCV.

And HCV stood for "High Conservation Value", and was a term employed to imply that certain forests were objectively so important that it would be unconscionable to log them.

In fact, HCV is a term with no objective scientific standing, since there are many different conservation-related properties that different people think are important, and valuation is a subjective process.  One person might think the forests that are most important are those that are the most scenic, another might most prefer those that shelter rare animals, and still another might prefer those that they believe best capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.  Any forest might be found very valuable by someone who in some sense cares about "conservation", and of little value by someone else who meets the same description.

The term, however, formally derives from its use by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), an international forest certification agency.  At the time of writing Wikipedia has what appears to be a sound coverage of this term and if you fancy a detailed look at implementation possibilities the High Conservation Value Forest Toolkit is also worth a look.

Negotiations between environmental groups known collectively as the ENGOs (Wilderness Society, the umbrella group Environment Tasmania and the Australian Conservation Foundation) and industry bodies began in 2010, against a backdrop of the desire by the now under-administration Gunns Limited to get out of native forest logging in order to obtain a social licence for its proposed Bell Bay Pulp Mill, one of an endless series of pie in the sky development proposals for the state, most of which never eventuate.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Is the Silly Season Real?

(Admin note to readers: jumpbreaks poll closed - thanks to those who voted - outcome at bottom of post)

 Advance Summary

1. The view that a swing to the Coalition in the final Newspoll of 2012 was due to a general tendency for voters to "switch off" politics as Christmas approaches is disproven by historic evidence.

2. Comparisons between the December 2012 and December 2011 Newspolls on account of them having the same two-party preferred vote are simplistic and misleading because they fail to take into account surrounding trend data.

3. Although there has been a now clear and significant move to a substantial Coalition lead since early November, Labor's polling position in mid-December 2012 is not as bad as at the same time in 2011.

4. Leads similar to the Coalition's current lead have been held by many losing Oppositions five or six months prior to elections.

5. Whatever intuitive or subjective views different commentators hold, informed by data or otherwise, there is no known valid scientific basis for predicting the result of the next federal election at this stage, nor even for declaring a very strong favourite.  This applies no matter who the leaders are.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Why Preferred Prime Minister/Premier Scores Are Rubbish

Note added 2020: This article now has a sequel.  See Why Better Prime Minister/Premier Scores Are Still Rubbish

Advance Summary of this Article:
1. All pollsters who currently conduct Preferred Prime Minister/Premier polling but do not conduct approval rate polling for each leader, should conduct leader approval rate polling either instead of PPM/PP or as well as it. 

2. Preferred Prime Minister scores have been historically maligned on the basis of a history of failing to predict election results.  Although frequently reported in horse-race style by mainstream reporters, they are often dismissed as "beauty contest" scores by informed psephologists.

3. When a "house advantage" to the incumbent Prime Minister is taken into account, Preferred Prime Minister scores align better with election results and voting intention.

4. Preferred Prime Minister ratings are driven by, and lag behind, Prime Ministerial approval ratings, and are not especially good forecasters of future poll results. 

5. The focus on Preferred Prime Minister/Premier scores not only leads to misleading commentary but also obscures useful data that are reflected in approval ratings but lost in scores that just compare leaders.

Disclaimer:  This article only applies to the usefulness (or otherwise) of comparisons between existing party leaders, such as PM vs Opposition Leader.  It does not (necessarily) apply to surveys comparing hypothetical leaders of the same party, or comparing an existing leader of a party with a potential leader of another, or to surveys like the recent Galaxy 4-way preferred prime minister poll.


Many pollsters ask voters to decide which of the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader they would prefer to be Prime Minister.  At state level, the same thing happens with Preferred Premier polling, and some pollsters (this includes you, EMRS) poll Preferred Premier but do not poll approval ratings.

The actual value of Preferred Prime Minister scores has long been a source of difference of opinion, and at times abuse, between some parts of the mainstream political media and the online "psephosphere".  In 2007 this got particularly heated when some mainstream journalists kept arguing that the election was in the balance because John Howard was not far behind Kevin Rudd as Preferred Prime Minister (Howard trailed Rudd consistently from mid-Feb 2007 onwards, but only by an average of seven points, at times closing to as close as one.)

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Do Voters Care About AWU? A Review Of Polling

Advance Summary

1. The AWU "scandal" involving Prime Minister Julia Gillard's former links to a union-related "slush fund" recently dominated the news cycle and resulted in accusations of criminality by Opposition members including Tony Abbott against the PM.

2. Current polling shows that a movement to the Labor Party over the course of several months appears to have, at least temporarily, halted and probably slightly reversed.

3. Although the AWU debate may have contributed to the slowing of momentum towards Labor, there is insufficient evidence that it has caused damage to Labor's vote.

4. Questions surrounding the AWU affair by three pollsters show varying levels of design quality, and many are unsatisfactory.

5. Those polls that have produced the worst results for the Prime Minister are typically the worst designed, while the better designed polls show that the PM's handling of the issue is fairly well approved of.

6. At the height of Parliamentary debate about the issue, both the Opposition (for its handling of the matter) and its leader recorded very bad ratings, without pro-Coalition voting intention being affected.

7. The impact of the issue upon the standing of the Opposition Leader is not yet clear because of insufficient evidence.

8.  Comparisons between this issue and the Ozcar/Utegate blunder by Malcolm Turnbull in 2009 are simplistic as there are many differences in the nature of the issue and the existing popularity of those affected.

Friday, November 30, 2012

An Open Letter to Brian Wightman

Dear Tasmanian Attorney-General Wightman,
Recently I posted about my concerns about a proposed amendment to the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Act (Anti-Discrimination Change Requires More Scrutiny).  This amendment, ostensibly designed to control bullying, appears to go much further and potentially have a major impact on various forms of political speech in Tasmania.  I've now seen the Hansard transcript of the debate in which Elise Archer (Liberal, Denison), Michael Ferguson (Liberal, Bass), Brian Wightman (Labor, Bass) and briefly Kim Booth (Green, Bass) spoke (the amendment passed on party lines), and I've posted all the relevant excerpts up on Google Docs for anyone interested. It's notable that Ms Archer not only raised the same concern I raised about the lack of a proper free-speech exemption for the new Section 17, but also quoted from a long letter by the Hobart Community Legal Service Inc raising many concerns about the proposed change.

(As there have been problems for Liberal lawyers who interact with shady characters recently, I advise that I did not have any accidental coffees with Ms Archer prior to her quoting me.  Indeed, I did not know that she had seen the piece at all!)

I'm going to make some comments about my view of your speech and what I think it says about your political views, and then at the end I'm going to ask you a question.  And I'll ask it now too:  if your amendment is passed by the Legislative Council, will this open letter still be legal?  I ask this because nothing you have said so far has reassured me that it will be.  But I think that everything I say in it consists of the sorts of things that people should be allowed to say - and that it should be totally clear that people will be allowed to say.  It isn't.

Of course, I agree that the amendment, if passed by the LegCo, does not simply ban all communication someone finds offensive, and some of the criticisms may have overestimated the impact in this regard.  A person must be offended, humiliated, intimidated, insulted or ridiculed on the basis of their political or religious views or some other attribute, and it must be the case that a "reasonable person"  "would have anticipated that the other person would be offended, humiliated, intimidated, insulted or ridiculed." 

But that's just not nearly as big an obstacle as you think it is, and I don't think you have any real idea of why.  Take this from your speech for instance:

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Legislative Council voting patterns since the last Lower House election

Advance Summary

1. This article presents an analysis of voting patterns in the Legislative Council (the upper house of Tasmanian Parliament) based on contested divisions since the last Lower House election in 2010.

2. This article confirms that voting on such issues in the Legislative Council is quite independent, individual and often unpredictable.  Clusters of members with similar views are few and relatively weak.

3. Despite this, the Legislative Council has a "conservative" lean with all members bar possibly one voting to the right of the sole Labor MLC, Craig Farrell.

4. Furthermore, six members of the Council have occupied positions to the right of the sole Liberal MLC, Vanessa Goodwin.

5. Ivan Dean has been the most "conservative" MLC during this period, with either Farrell or Rob Valentine (very limited data available for Valentine) at the other end of the scale.

6. The voting pattern on contentious issues alone is not a fair reflection of the full behaviour of the Council.  Nonetheless it shows that the LegCo can be expected to, from time to time, behave very conservatively on major issues.


In my previous article I looked at the Legislative Council's claimed reasons for rejecting same-sex marriage (at least in the form of the state-based Same-Sex Marriage Bill 2011).  And in another recent article I looked at voting patterns in the Tasmanian Lower House.  When an excerpt from the latter article was posted on TT, the following was posted under (or actually above!) the name of Tony Mulder, MLC for Rumney, who may not have been aware that I no longer post on TT:

"Where democracy on the floor really works is the LegCo where the outcome on any issue is always unknown. The fact that the back room deals occasionally fail on the floor of the LegCo should have democrats applauding. Instead there are perpetual calls to abandon it because some don’t like the decisions!  Can’t have cake and eat it!! How about analysing the number of times the LegCo supports the government and opposition’s position and determine whether the LegCo is really the house of obstruction as claimed."

After that, I just couldn't resist having a look at voting patterns in the Legislative Council, to see what it tells us about the orientation of the Council, whether voting there on contentious votes is predictable, and how "independent" the house of review actually is.   I will note though that the last part of Mulder's assignment didn't greatly interest me, partly because it would actually take a lot of work to match up all the bills, but mainly because I think it's well known that the LegCo only rarely blocks legislation that passes the House.  Even in the current situation, in which there is a minority government in the Lower House which is facing heavy defeat in 2014 based on current polling and which is often argued to lack a mandate because of the circumstances of its formation, the number of bills that are outright knocked back (as opposed to amended) is not great.  The LegCo has a strategic balancing act to play: it has great power, but it has to use it cautiously.  Too-frequent use of that power to veto government bills would lead to widespread criticism of members as closet Liberals, greater public concern about just how powerful the LegCo is, and a greater risk of election defeat for incumbents. 

What I've decided to look at, therefore, is the voting patterns on the floor of the LegCo on those motions that are sufficiently divisive that a division is required and the results of a vote recorded.  Again I've used the Parliament of Tasmania Hansard search engine, and I'm only looking at contested votes since the state Lower House election in 2010 created a Labor-Green coalition government.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The LegCo's Claimed Reasons For Rejecting Same-Sex Marriage

(See also Legislative Council Voting Patterns since the last state election.)

Advance Summary:

1. Analysis of the speeches of the eight Legislative Councillors who recently opposed the Tasmanian Same-Sex Marriage Bill 2012 shows that at most five spoke against the concept of allowing same-sex marriage at this time in general.  These five were Tania Rattray, Dr Vanessa Goodwin, Adriana Taylor, Ivan Dean and Rosemary Armitage.  (Of these, in Rattray's case the evidence is arguable and limited.)

2. The remaining Legislative Councillors to vote against (Paul Harriss, Jim Wilkinson and Greg Hall) did not indicate an explicit view for or against federal marriage equality, but expressed reservations about the concept of state-based legislation and/or its delivery.

3. T
he defeat of the bill cannot therefore be interpreted as a rejection of the concept of marriage equality by the Upper House, and represents only the rejection of a given state-based proposal.

4. Every MLC arguing against the bill argued that it was a federal issue, and every MLC arguing against the concept generally supported the idea of marriage as being only between a man and a woman.

5. Other common arguments against the bill included the risks, success chances and costs of a High Court challenge, the bill being a second-rate version of the concept, that the bill would not end discrimination, and that the State Government lacked a mandate.

6. Some MLCs voting against
the bill made extremely unsound arguments about public opinion.  This suggests a need for politicians to be better briefed on how to (and especially how not to) understand and measure public opinion.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

EMRS - Libs on course for massive win

EMRS: Lib 55 Labor 27 Green 15 Other 3
Interpretation: Lib 56 Labor 28 Green 13 Other 3
Result if election was held now: Comfortable Liberal Majority (c. 14-16 seats)

Tasmanian pollster EMRS has released its quarterly poll of state voting intentions, available here. (PDF Download).  They have also, very nicely, put up a trend graph since the last election here.  The trend graph shows that following the formation of a Labor-Green coalition after the March 2010 state election produced a 10-10-5 result, there was soon a blowout in favour of the Liberals, who have been in a majority-winning position since at least the start of 2011. (Typically a major party with a statewide lead of more than a quota (c. 16.7%) over the other should be expected to win a majority no matter what the Green vote; winning with a lead of 12% is quite often possible if the Green vote is low.)  Note that since the EMRS figure historically favours the Greens but underrepresents Labor, on all data points on that graph the Green figure should be assumed to be a bit high (typically by 3-4 points) and the Labor figure a bit low by a similar amount. 

EMRS polls must always be treated with some degree of caution because the company traditionally polls notoriously high undecided rates, and also because there has been a report that in one instance last year the pollster asked other questions before voting intention, a practice that can lead to skewed results.  However, I have not yet had further reports of the latter practice, and these latest results are broadly consistent both with a recent ReachTel poll (albeit, one commissioned by the Liberals) and furthermore with another recent internal poll that I have seen that has no whiff of potential pro-Liberal bias.  I have no reason to doubt that the picture painted by EMRS is broadly reliable. 

The headline figures show the Liberals on 55 points (up 6 since August 2012), Labor on 27 (steady) and the Greens on 15 points (down 7).  Both the rise in the Liberal vote and the fall in the Green vote are statistically significant by some margin.  The Liberal vote is at its equal highest level since the suspect poll in August 2011 and the Green vote is at its lowest in this term.  The gap between Liberal and Labor, 28 points, is at its third highest level, and almost back to the levels of August 2011 (33) and November 2011 (31).  The figures including those who are undecided but leaning to a party are Liberal 46, Labor 23, Green 13, Independent 2.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Attitudes To Attributes (Not Great News For The Greens)

Advance summary

1. Recent polling on voter views of the importance of a list of issues, and which parties are best trusted on those issues, shows that many voters regard a range of parties as having policy strengths in different areas, rather than assuming their preferred party is always right.

2. Party trust scores, when weighted by the perceived importance of issues, produce surprisingly accurate predictions of party vote share over the last two and a half years.

3. The Greens' current mediocre polling position, especially compared to before the 2010 election, is probably connected with the party neither "owning" key issues as strongly as it used to, nor being able to convince voters that those issues are important. 

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Compliant Coalitionists: Voting Patterns in the Tasmanian Lower House

Advance summary:

1. In Tasmania's current Labor-Green coalition-governed Parliament, votes on the floor of the Parliament in which the Greens vote with the Liberals are rare.

2. The most common voting pattern by far is that Labor and the Greens vote on one side and the Liberals on the other.

3. Yet this was the least common voting pattern by far under Labor majority rule between 2002 and 2010.

4. The pattern in the current parliament is also very different to the previous minority government situation in the state. 

5. The formation of a formal coalition between Labor and the Greens appears to have assisted in reducing the proportion of times that the parties disagree with each other, and especially the chance of Labor-introduced legislation being voted down.  This has apparently increased the stability of the minority parliament.

6.  However this has come at the cost of both the transparency lauded by advocates of minority government and its genuine "Laborness" as understood in the Tasmanian context.

7. The view that the major parties are "Laborials" and agree on nearly everything with the Greens as the real "opposition" is not consistent with any data about voting on the floor of parliament.

A strange thing happened this week during debate on the many proposed changes to the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Act.  A proposal by Labor to grant "faith-based" schools the right to preferentially enrol religious students in cases of competition for enrolments or waiting lists was shot down on both sides: by the Greens, who did not support the policy at all, and by the Liberals, who wanted it to go much further.  (For the record, where a school receives even one cent per annum in state funding or financial support at either state or federal level, I am strongly with the Greens on this.  If a school wants to run entirely using private money, with no government assistance of any sort at all, then and only then will I support its right to enrol whoever it likes.)

This was an example of what was supposed to happen in the Tasmanian hung parliament, according to defenders of minority government: a transparent display of the party positions of all three parties on the floor of the House, with the outcome determined by agreement of two of the parties.  (Though in this case, it was a strange variant even of that, with the Liberals effectively supporting the Greens' policy so they could continue pushing for more than Labor's).   But in the current Tasmanian parliament, which features a Labor-Green coalition, it has been one of very few examples of exceptions that prove the rule.

Friday, November 16, 2012

As Gillard recovered, so can Abbott?

Advance summary:

1. The view has been advanced that since Julia Gillard has become much less unpopular, then so can Tony Abbott.

2. This view does not automatically follow, because Gillard and Abbott occupy different positions and became unpopular for mostly different reasons.

3. The record since the late 1960s shows that the average recovery in net satisfaction for both Prime Ministers and Opposition Leaders between their worst rating and the next election is about 20 points.

4. However, very unpopular Opposition Leaders are usually removed, and those who make it to elections have so far lost them even if they had ceased to be unpopular by election time.

5. There is one case of an Opposition Leader recovering from a rating worse than Abbott's to a positive net rating within two months, but without winning the election.  (Andrew Peacock, 1984)

6. However, the general historical trend is against the likelihood of Tony Abbott recovering to a positive or even near-zero rating before the next election.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Embattled Abbott Thirty-Six Below The Wave

 Advance summary:

1. Polling figures released by two pollsters on Monday show Tony Abbott with the worst personal ratings of his career and among the worst of any federal Opposition Leader in Australian polling history.

2. Mainstream media have thus far failed to describe the Abbott leadership as "embattled", a word considered to have great power in describing a struggling political leadership.

3. Abbott is an "embattled" leader by definition, irrespective of his party holding a slender and apparently fast-diminishing lead over Labor and irrespective of whether or not he faces an imminent challenge.

4. The term "embattled" has been quite liberally used for most other leaders who have been in difficulty by comparison.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Anti-Discrimination Change Requires More Scrutiny

(See also later article An Open Letter to Brian Wightman)


Advance Summary:

1. A proposed amendment to Section 17 of the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Act, designed to address bullying, is flawed by appearing to carry unintended consequences for political speech and lacking appropriate, explicit and prominently-debated exemptions in this area.

2. The proposed amendment should not be passed by either House of Parliament in its present form.

Skimming the Sunday Tasmanian, which I buy mainly for the TV guide, I came across a piece on pp. 74-5 (sigh) by Simon Breheny. (This is now online here.) The piece argued that proposed changes to the Anti-Discrimination Act will curtail free speech in Tasmania, mainly by greatly extending the grounds on which it is an offense to "offend, humiliate, intimidate, insult or ridicule" someone. 

This piece had many signs of something I should not expect to take too seriously.  It was headlined "Attacks on free speech" (the sort of headline that usually indicates simplistic and invalid tabloid melodrama.)  It was written by a law-student "lobbyist" for the Institute of Public Affairs (a self-described "free-market think-tank" with a dubious historic form guide), and worst of all it tried to curry sympathy for Andrew Bolt.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Leadership Transition, Polling And The Greens

 NOTE: This is an old article that has had various minor data updates and a short postscript added in May 2013.  The basic conclusions are not affected.

Advance summary of this article

1. Recent election and polling results show the Australian Greens are clearly struggling.

2. Furthermore, the new leader, Senator Christine Milne, has polled poor personal approval figures.

3. Attempts to connect the slump in Green fortunes with leadership transition are inconclusive for many reasons. 

4. Nonetheless, the change of leadership has at least not stopped a flow of votes from the Greens back to Labor. 

5. The current situation is consistent with Milne's track record as a poor electoral performer when leader of the Tasmanian Greens in the 1990s.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Thoughts on Forecasting and the US Pres Election

UPDATE 4 pm: Nothing has changed with only Virginia and Florida genuinely close and this is looking like it will be a triumph for state-polling-based models for the second election in a row.

UPDATE 2:40 pm: At present only Virginia and Florida counts are looking really close (as well as NC where Obama has done better than expected but still looks like falling just short).  Even if Romney wins all this he still falls short so there is no sign at present of a path for him to victory.

UPDATE 1:40 pm: Obama has in my view won Ohio based on similar methods to those used to model Australian counts in progress. 


Apparently, some 8% of this site's readership so far is US-based, ten times more than any other non-Australian country to this stage.  That inspires me to say a few quick things about the massive logistic exercise unfolding over there at the moment and the debates about what will very soon happen.

For those who are not familiar with the US system, making sense of the endless history-laden data-drenched arguments about how to predict who will be President can be a daunting task.  Hopefully the following comments will be useful in informing people about some of the pitfalls when it comes to what to take seriously. 

Beware Overfitted Models

No we're not talking catwalk stuff here, but these things are certainly overdressed and each particular one will go out of fashion very quickly.  When you see someone claiming to have found a model that predicts a certain candidate will win based on a shopping list of items that have supposedly "predicted" (despite being made after) every presidential election since the year dot, run for the hills.  The chief offender I noticed this time was the Uni of Colorado study that claimed that Romney would win, but there were plenty of equally shoddy examples calling it for Obama.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Is The "Killing Season" Real?

Summary:  The idea of a "killing season" for political leadership changes in late November - early December is real with a heightened risk of dismissals at federal and state level.  However, only about a quarter of leadership removals occur in this period.

There is a lot of talk at present about the melodramatically so-called "killing season", the time during the last week of November or early December in which struggling party leaders have good reason to be nervous.  The theory is that this is the last opportunity to clear the decks before the parliament breaks for summer, and start the year on a new footing.  But how much evidence is there that it is real?

The following list shows federal leadership bootings since 1970. 

Those shown in bold occurred in December, mostly early December.  So with 4 out of 11 bootings happening in this period there is some evidence that it is a time of increased danger. 

Friday, November 2, 2012


This is just a belated self-indulgent intro post that provides info about my experience in psephology and politics, and my general political views, and a picture of me when I had much more hair.  I'm putting it up so that I can link to it on the sidebar to encourage accuracy-in-pigeonholing, along the lines of Possum's piece here.  That's my excuse, anyway.

In summary, I'm an economic centrist on average, a social libertarian mostly, an environmental contrarian on some issues, and someone who's in no danger of telling you all who to vote for, since I have enough trouble working that out for myself.  (But I may, from time to time, recommend someone to vote against.)

A disclosure statement has been added to the bottom of this page.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Submission on Proposed Changes to Local Government Elections in Tasmania

 This is an old article that has been updated.  For the update scroll to the bottom.

You can see what this is all about over here.  Thought I would post my submission publicly just for the interest of anyone who might want to read it.  I believe it's pretty self-explanatory in conjunction with the discussion paper available at the link.  Might wish it was more deluxe and polished but I just don't have the time!  I have not canvassed all the issues raised in the discussion paper; eg my submission does not canvass whether or not Tasmania needs "Get Clover" laws.

For anyone else wishing to make a submission (especially for the hordes out there just wanting to cancel out mine!), you've got about 24 hours as I write.  Good luck!

[Site update: I've hopefully removed the prove-you're-not-a-bot thing that I believe was previously required for comments.  Any other usability feedback is welcome and can be emailed .]

[Note to later readers: apologies for the poor paragraphing in this piece; it's a strange formatting issue with just this article that I haven't yet been able to repair.]

Dear Local Government Office,
I am writing to provide comments on some of the contents of the Discussion Paper on proposed changes to Local Government in Tasmania (

I am writing as an interested member of the public with no electoral or employment connection to any council. I have experience relevant to the conduct of Tasmanian local government elections as a scrutineer at all Hobart City Council distributions of preferences since 1988. Also I am known as one of the state’s most experienced psephologists, for instance through my articles published on the website Tasmanian Times. (I have recently moved to my own website.) I have written many articles statistically analysing local government elections and council voting patterns, as well as conducting live commentary on council elections, and have been involved in many council election campaigns.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Newspoll Provides More Evidence That The Abbott Elastic Has Snapped

NOTE ADDED LATER: This is an old article - if you are looking for the current Newspoll because this one comes up when you Google for Newspoll, you won't find it here! Sorry!  For my analysis of the post-spill Newspoll of late March 2013 see here.

 Advance summary:

1. The current Newspoll strongly confirms the pattern observed in a previous piece that the relationship between Tony Abbott's approval ratings and two-party polling is shifting. 

2. There is also some evidence that Labor's polling is better than it should be given its own leader's current ratings.

3.This is all consistent with either the view that Abbott's leadership is not impacting on Labor as much as it once did, or else the view that the impact of Abbott on Labor's standing was exaggerated by many in the first place.

 I won't normally make a habit of flooding this site with posts whenever a federal pollster releases a poll, but I will comment on individual polls when I think the results are significant, especially in the context of an ongoing theme, the interplay between 2PP and leader ratings.

In last week's article about Opposition Leader approval ratings and party standing I noted that an inverse connection between Tony Abbott's popularity and the Coalition's standing in the polls, which has existed throughout the Abbott leadership, has now started showing signs of wear and tear.  The Opposition's lead has been shrinking without Tony Abbott's ratings improving.  The suspicion advanced in my article (not for the first time either) is that most of Labor's troubles have been self-inflicted and that Abbott is not only fairly irrelevant to Labor's 2PP but perhaps even dragging the Coalition's down.

Here is a revised version of my graph of the relationship between net satisfaction for Tony Abbott and the Coalition's 2PP since the last election.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Abbott Factor: Opposition Leader Ratings And Party Standing

Advance summary of this article:

1. The popularity of federal Opposition Leaders has been argued to be irrelevant because it does not seem to have a relationship to two-party polling in data since 1986.

2. However that appearance is misleading because (i) new Opposition Leaders taking over in weak party positions tend to have good personal ratings (ii) the patterns during Tony Abbott's tenure have been different to those before he was installed.

3. Excluding Abbott, there is a relationship between the ratings of established Opposition Leaders about whom the voters have clear views, and the Opposition's polling.

4. Although this relationship is gentle and usually drowned out by noise, it is capable of changing the result of a reasonably close election.

5. During Abbott's tenure, the relationship has reversed - the worse his ratings, the bigger the Opposition's lead, and this relationship has been strong until recently.  However, it is probably mainly the Government, not Abbott, driving this pattern.

6. The Opposition's lead appears to now be shrinking without Abbott's popularity greatly improving.

7. If that trend continues and the next election is close, Abbott's unpopularity could well cause the Coalition to lose.

8. Consistent with the above, no lastingly unpopular Opposition Leader has led their party to a federal election victory in Australia since 1950.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Getting Ginninderraed: Another For the Hare-Clark Textbooks

 [UPDATE 25 Oct, 11:30 pm At the time this piece was written, there was still some realistic doubt in my notoriously call-shy mind about whether the event described herein would happen, although it was looking very likely.  It now appears a certainty; I've even taken down the question mark.]

Hare-Clark junkies (we're a rare and tragic breed) like to talk about classic election counts as if they were great sporting fixtures, rare vintages of wine, exotic and peculiar animals, model trains  ... you get the drift.  That is, when we can even find any others of our own pathetically small order to share our monastic secrets with.

The Hare-Clark system, on the surface one of the simpler models of quota-proportional multi-candidate election without party tickets (yes, that sounds really simple, doesn't it?), has thrown up some real beauties in Tasmania.  I don't think anyone following it would forget Kim Booth's save in Bass in 2006, when he defied expectations of most observers to scrape home from well behind by 136 votes off massive Labor leakages prompting now-Greens-MHA Cassy O'Connor to declare "Bless the intricate beauty of Hare Clark!".  But that one was only a two-horse race and nowhere near as odd as the mess in Denison 2010 in which two Liberals, a Green and Andrew Wilkie contested a four-candidate race - eventually won by Liberal Elise Archer after she jumped over a ticketmate just before she would have been cut out, and then got just enough preferences from the Greens ahead of Wilkie to defeat the latter. 

Now, in the ACT seat of Ginninderra, a new chapter in the history of Hare-Clark strangeness could be being written- one that should it happen the way it now looks like it should, will be used as an example for decades of the need to be so terribly cautious when trying to predict Hare-Clark results from raw party totals or electorate polls.  Even if it doesn't happen, the near miss will be quite instructive.

Tales from the TT Departure Lounge I: The "Umpire's Verdict"

I don't intend to devote all that many threads to the things going down on TT in response to my departure.  Further thoughts may be posted in comments to this one.   I strongly believe my departure is permanent, but there are negotiations going on that may enable excerpts from my future articles and alerts about live blogging (which, once I master it, will hopefully become live-means-live) to appear on the site down the track.  Just without the author of course; if you want to ask him questions you'll have to do so over here, or wherever I am at the time.

My original brief announcement that I was leaving can be seen here, with comments.  As full an announcement of my reasons as I could manage before making a failed attempt to get significant sleep before work today can be seen here and comments on that entry have very wisely been closed.   Strangely, single quotation marks have appeared around the title of my piece that were not there in the otherwise apparently unaltered submitted version; I'll take it as some gremlin paying accidental homage to Bob Dylan's ' "Love&Theft" ' and pass on by. 

I'd like to thank those who've posted intelligent and thoughtful comments whether they agreed with me or not ( two thoughtful comments for every braindead troll in the first 12 posts is not too bad).

I'd like to take up just one thing that interests me in all this so far; the metaphor of the "umpire's decision" used in Bob Hawkins' generally friendly post #4.


This is the probably temporary home of former Tasmanian Times psephologist Dr Kevin Bonham, who has quit the site as a psephologist and regular commenter over a moderation dispute after coming close to doing so several times before.  More advanced things will follow in the future, probably on different sites when I've had more time to explore, in the areas of psephology and discussion of Tasmanian and Australian politics and public life.  There might even be formatting or pictures someday!

People wishing to contact me by email about all this may do so at

A Twitter feed at will keep those on said service up to date with my movements, new articles and significant pseph releases.

You can also subscribe to this site via email at the bottom right of screen (scroll right down).

Comments are moderated for the time being and guest posting is hopefully disallowed.

My standards for moderation will become clearer over time but for starters, no block capitals, no strawmanning, no Godwin's Law violations, no defo, no plagiarism except of the Sisters of Mercy, no misquoting (do not use quote marks when paraphrasing), general swim between the flags sort of stuff.

Oh, and of course, some attempt to stay on topic, as rather loosely construed, may be required from time to time.

You're welcome.