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.