Thursday, March 28, 2013

Marginals Mayhem 2: Labor Losing The Lot?

 Advance Summary

1. A new JWS Research marginals robopoll has been reported as showing that Labor would lose all its 25 marginal seats, including Dobell.

2. The poll was partly commissioned by ECG Advisory Solutions, a firm with strong Liberal Party ties, but this was not disclosed in initial media reporting.

3. The poll uses demographic scaling to obtain a result from an on-average older voter pool.  However the breakdown by age of this poll is more credible than that of the previous poll.

4. Results of the poll are more Coalition-leaning than current national polling.  This may indicate inaccuracy, but could also be caused by an intensification of post-leadership-spill anti-Labor feeling, or by a very strong post-spill swing in Queensland.

5. The poll finds that 15% of intending Coalition voters (about 8% of the total sample) say they would support Labor if Kevin Rudd were Prime Minister.  However the claimed poll finding that voters want Labor to win is misleading.

6. The poll is consistent with many other polls that have suggested voters indicating a preference for Others in polling are often Rudd supporters and are opposed to both Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott.

7. The reported finding that Labor would lose all 25 marginals is unlikely to be correct as a few seats are at threshholds above or near the state swings and as swings are not uniform from seat to seat. 

8.  Nevertheless in an election "held now" Labor would lose most of its marginal seats and probably several others besides.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Gillard Bounce Barely Existed - What About The Spill Cliff?

Advance Summary

1. Kevin Rudd was in an improving and apparently election-winning polling position when deposed as Prime Minister in 2010.

2. Although it is considered that Labor received a bounce upon Rudd's replacement by Julia Gillard, a published aggregation of polls shows that that bounce was actually small (about a point) and short-lived.

3. The recent Labor leadership spill (called but not contested) was another event expected to produce dramatic changes (this time negative) in the party's polling but the results of polls conducted since the spill have been mixed.

4. Two polls (Essential, Galaxy) have measured no meaningful change in voting intentions, one (Morgan) has returned a significant but not massive change and one (Newspoll) has recorded a very large change.

5. The six-point swing in Newspoll is probably produced by a combination of the swing, the previous Newspoll having been below trend, and this one being above trend.  

6. The current Newspoll is in many ways among the worst Newspolls for the Government and best for the Opposition in this term.

7. Continuing support for Kevin Rudd from voters open to voting for Labor, despite the issue being apparently internally resolved, is likely to present a problem in building enthusiasm for the party's struggling re-election attempt.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Post updating

Just a quick note to say that I often update old posts on this site with fresh comments and information.

The Legislative Council challenger guide, which is about to dislodge The Abbott Factor as this site's most frequently visited article, is updated regularly.

LegCo Ices Forestry Peace Surrender Deal has also been recently updated (and is likely to be updated further in the near future), and Silly Lilleys: Is Wayne Swan Losing His Seat? had a major update in early March - albeit before last week's leadership chaos, the impact of which on polling is yet to be seen.

In the near future I'll add a list of recently updated articles to the sidebar - and try to keep it up to date!

NOTE ADDED 2020 - as this is an old post of no significance I am using it as a de facto Photobucket.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Tasmanian Devils Not On The "Verge of Extinction"

File:Tasdevil large.jpg
This extinction talk is all a bit of a yawn really.  (Image credit:

Late last year, fifteen Tasmanian devils were released on Maria Island, an action that had been in the pipeline for many years.  You can watch cute footage of their cautious emergence into their new environment here.
Devil populations statewide are being ravaged by Devil Facial Tumour Disease (warning: link contains some remarkably ugly and potentially distressing images), a very unusual contagious cancer spread when animals bite each other during fights, that was first photographed in the north-east of Tasmania in 1996.   The Save the Tasmanian Devil website noted:

"As at February 2011, there has been an 84% decline in average sightings of devils across Tasmania during the annual spotlight surveys. In the north-east region, where signs of DFTD were first reported, there has been a 96% decline of average sightings."

A figure of 91% reduction in spotlighting results has been given in some recent media reports.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Tasmanian Lower House: 25 or 35 Seats?

This article has been updated for the 2014, 2018, 2021 and 2024 elections.  Scroll down to the bottom for these updates.


Advance summary (pre-2014 version):

1.  The possibility of restoring the old 35-seat system in the Tasmanian House of Assembly is currently being discussed ahead of a motion to be moved by the Greens.

2. Looking at past election results and current polling, the 35-seat system is slightly more proportionally accurate, while the 25-seat system is slightly more prone to "over-represent" the major parties in comparison to vote share.

3. However, precise proportional representation in the Tasmanian context can easily be argued to be overrated anyway.

4. Of the elections considered (and a 2014 projection based on current polling), only in the case of 1998 did the choice of systems determine the election result.

5. Majority government is slightly more likely on average with 25 seats than with 35 seats, but in many scenarios the number of seats makes no real difference to its chances.

6. Strategic considerations favour the Greens supporting an increase in the number of seats and the Liberals opposing it, while for the Labor Party there are arguments on both sides.

7. The view that the Greens could plausibly win more seats than Labor at the next election if the 25-seat system is retained is not consistent with current polling.

8. It is not correct to blame too many problems in Tasmanian politics on the 25-seat system since politics under the 35-seat system was also very turbulent and crisis-prone during its last two decades.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Yet Another Western Sydney Article

Advance Summary

1. The Western Sydney area has received great attention in commentary on the 2013 election although the widespread view that it will decide the election result is almost certainly wrong.

2. Recent ReachTEL polling of some Western Sydney confirms suspicions that very large seat swings are possible in the area.

3. The polling is also notable for returning much better results for Tony Abbott than national polls, and very bad results for Julia Gillard, including in comparison with Kevin Rudd.

4. The polling is not a post-event verdict on the Gillard Western Sydney visit as it was taken just before it.

5. Although voters voting for candidates/parties other than Labor, Liberal, Green in 2010 were Coalition-leaning, there is some reason to suspect (even from very small sample sizes) that self-styled Others voters in ReachTEL polling are less Coalition-leaning than Others voters from 2010.

6. In a quiet week of federal polling, an interesting if messy new development is a Morgan "multi-mode" poll with over 9000 respondents.  However, as this poll is impossible to benchmark for possible house effects because it is a new poll form from that pollster, it is difficult to make use of it yet.


Monday, March 4, 2013


Email subscribers and some quick site readers may have seen a post that briefly appeared yesterday headed "My view of Labor" and consisting of nothing but blank space (and not very much of that either).  While this may appear to be some kind of deliberate surrealist commentary on the dire status of the modern (?) ALP, it was in fact an accident caused by me pressing a large number of the wrong keys at once while drafting an article and then failing to notice the impact of that until sometime later.

Abnormal service will be resumed shortly - in the meantime, today's Essential came in at 56:44 for the second week in a row, meaning that all of Essential, Nielsen, Newspoll and Morgan, when adjusted for house effects, have produced 55 or 56 in their most recent poll in the last two and a little bit weeks.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Not-A-Poll: Best Tasmanian Premier of the Last 30 Years: The Verdict

Federal note: I've updated my piece on Lilley following a new poll; see Silly Lilleys: Is Wayne Swan Losing His Seat?

 Note on WA election: I don't expect to be covering the WA state election on the night because of other commitments on the same weekend, and I don't have much to say about it except that I concur with the general judgement that the incumbent government is extremely likely to be re-elected, probably easily.  I recommend those interested head directly to The Poll Bludger.  I may have follow-up analysis of Upper House seats however, and sporadic comments on Twitter (@kevinbonham).

 The opt-in "Not-A-Poll" of reader opinions on the best Tasmanian Premier of the last 30 years has just finished after running through February with 150 votes received.  Huge thanks to all who voted; it has been a fun and I hope worthwhile exercise. 

Origin of the concept

I was inspired provoked to run this Not-A-Poll and write up the outcomes by the mainstream "reporting" of the Galaxy "best prime minister in Australia in the last 25 years" poll released in late January.  That was a credible formal opinion poll based on the views of 1000 respondents, but many of the writeups were abysmal.  The figures for that poll, as originally published in The Mercury, can be seen here.  John Howard topped the poll with 35% of votes, or 44% once uncommitted voters are excluded, but that was no call for nonsense such as:

"Australians overwhelmingly rate John Howard as the country's best prime minister of the past quarter century - and Julia Gillard the worst - in a new poll." (Gemma Jones, The Mercury, Jan 25).

In fact the poll suggests that most Australians do not rate John Howard as the country's best PM of this time (there is not even a non-overwhelming majority of decided voters doing so) and all the poll found was that Howard is the favourite of more voters than each of the other four.  Furthermore the poll did not even ask for opinions on who was the worst PM of this time, so to conclude that Gillard was the worst just because the least people thought she was the best is quite unwarranted.  Indeed, had the same sample been asked which of the five PMs had been the worst, Gillard probably would have topped it, but Howard would have scored highly on that question too.

The reason for Howard's large lead in the Galaxy poll is extremely obvious - he was the only Liberal.  While some voters picked a PM from the other major party, most stuck to party lines, resulting in the four Labor PMs racking up 45% of the vote between them compared to Howard's 35%.  Furthermore, the high undecided rate among Labor supporters (14% compared to 6% for Coalition supporters) most likely resulted from some of the Labor supporters being undecided which Labor PM they preferred the most, not from them being undecided between a Labor PM and Mr Howard.

It is not even clear from the Galaxy results whether Howard is Australia's favorite PM of the last quarter-century at all.  Those preferring Rudd, Keating and Gillard, plus the undecided Labor supporters, might very well prefer Hawke over Howard heavily enough to more than cancel out the 20-point primary gap between Howard and Hawke.

I decided it would be fun to run a similar exercise just among readers of this site for Tasmania, and then give an example of how to interpret such results. 

The weaknesses of opt-ins

Opt-ins, including this Not-A-Poll, and most so-called newspaper website polls, have four common weaknesses that make them a useless indicator of the general views of the public.

Firstly, the readership of any given site is typically not politically representative.  If an opt-in survey is conducted of readers of a right-wing newspaper, then you're likely to get a right-wing response.

Secondly, opt-ins are prone to "motivated response".  This applies more to opt-ins that require some effort to vote in (such as those dreadful "elector surveys" circulated by politicians, sometimes as a form of push-polling), but in general those with strong opinions about the subject of the poll are more likely to bother to vote upon seeing it.

Thirdly, online opt-ins are very prone to organised stacking.  An activist with an interest in a Tasmanian opt-in poll can easily use social networks to get people from outside Tasmania or even Australia to vote on an opt-in question on a website/

Fourthly, and most significantly, it is often possible for a voter to vote multiple times.  Some websites take precautions to discourage this, but there is probably no completely failsafe and practical method.  Many opt-in polls are being deliberately stacked not only by activists of both sides, but also by people with an interest in exposing their unreliable nature.

Media Watch recently featured the adventures of Ubermotive, aka Melbourne software engineer Russell Phillips, who has systematically gamed many dozen online polls to create deadlocked results, favour an unlikely response, or reverse the existing result.  The results of these gamed opt-in polls have then been unsuspiciously reported by their host sites as news.

Luke McIlveen of has responded: "I have not published a story about the hacker’s activities because I believe this individual should not be afforded any publicity."  But Phillips is not "hacking" as such, and deserves considerable and favourable publicity for exposing ugly truths about opt-ins and encouraging mainstream media websites to lift their game. It is really the original results of "polls" of such kinds that did not deserve publicity of the sort that they were given (and yet got it). Obviously, if Phillips can do what he did, then political parties can do it too.

The relatively small vote number in my own little exercise suggests that if there was any stacking or multiple voting it was on a very low scale, and watching the votes come in I didn't detect anything all that suspicious.  That said, it would have been very easy to do if anyone had wanted to, and I was curious to see if anyone would.  The main reason my results are not representative of Tasmanian voters as a whole is the first reason above - an unrepresentative audience.

The Labor lean in the results

The five Labor Premiers scored a combined 100 votes, exactly twice as many as the three Liberal Premiers.  To a degree I believe this represents a political leaning to Labor over Liberal of people voting on this site.  This arises from hits on this site in the last month coming from three main sources:

* Pollbludger, which for whatever reason tends to attract an audience of mainly Labor supporters with relatively few Greens and Liberals.

* Twitter, which is generally considered to be somewhat left-wing on the whole (although #politas, the main source of hits other than my follower base, sometimes feels like a bit of an exception to this.)

* Tasmanian Times, posters on which have Green, left-independent or greener-than-Green tendencies. I think the reader base on TT and the poster base are somewhat different but would still expect the reader base to lean left.

However, a lean in the preferences of readers is not the only possible explanation for the two-to-one Labor-to-Liberal margin.  Tasmania last had a Liberal Premier in 1998.  Readers in their early 30s and younger have never voted in an election at which a Liberal was Premier, and voters would have to be in at least their early 40s to have voted in the Robin Gray days.  So, some  readers would be making a choice between the more recent Premiers, all of them Labor, without being that familiar with Gray, Field, Groom or Rundle.

Also, the three Liberal Premiers in the survey all have tainted legacies - Gray as the subject of an adverse finding in a corruption inquiry, Groom as the one who lost his majority after just a single term, and Rundle as the one who co-operated with Labor to reduce the size of parliament, thus sending his party into Opposition for what turned out to be a very long time.

Some other comments on the results

One result that may surprise some is the strong performance of incumbent Premier Lara Giddings, given that she leads one of Tasmania's least popular governments.  Possible explanations for this result include:

* This site would be visited by several readers who have a personal interest in Giddings' political fortunes and who would therefore be inclined to vote for her whether they actually considered her the best of the list or not. 

* It's possible that Green voters would consider Giddings to be the best Premier of those listed on account of her being very socially "progressive" and also having given the most ground to their agenda.  Non-Green voters concerned with gay rights may also rate her the best on policy grounds.

* While the Government is extremely unpopular, there is no evidence that Giddings herself is unpopular.  Approval ratings have not yet been polled in Giddings' term as Premier, but her preferred-premier scores have been about what would be expected given her government's dire polling position.  

I'm inclined to reject the idea that being the only female gave Giddings a big advantage.  This certainly wasn't the case for Gillard in the Galaxy poll.  I noticed Giddings polled especially strongly at two times - when the poll had just started, and when I released analysis of the EMRS poll.

Paul Lennon's distant last place with just four votes (2.7%) - one of them a probable sympathy vote -  may well produce an "ouch!" response, and be seen to give further credit to the view that he was spectacularly unpopular while in office.  In fact, the final-poll 17% result for Lennon often claimed to have been his "approval rating" was actually his preferred-premier score, and it was very likely deflated by Labor voters who preferred David Bartlett to be Premier picking "none of the above".  A true approval rating for Lennon at the time would have been poor, but not that poor.  I reckon it would have been about 30.

I also suspect that the kinds of voters who would be least unlikely to think that Lennon was the best Premier of the last 30 years - most likely elderly, somewhat socially conservative, traditional ALP voters - would not be likely to read websites such as this one.  It's also possible that a lot of the Bacon voters would rank Lennon second. 

(The least popular Premier in Tasmanian polling history, by the way, was Harry Holgate, who in one old Morgan poll polled an approval of 11 and a disapproval of 66, and then followed that with an approval of 15 and a disapproval of 74.  I am not aware of worse figures than this being recorded by any incumbent Premier or PM, although Keating at one stage came close.)

And the winner is ...

And finally, here are the results, together with a quick electoral form guide for each of the eight Premiers in question:

1. Jim Bacon (ALP, 1998-2004) 41 votes
Elections as party leader: 1998 (Won outright from opposition), 2002 (Won, retaining majority)
Elections as candidate: 1996, 1998, 2002 (won all)
Highest personal vote: 35.5% in 2002, as Premier.

2. Lara Giddings (ALP, 2011-) 23 votes
Elections as party leader: None yet
Elections as candidate: 1996 (won), 1998 (lost seat), 1999 (Pembroke LegCo - lost), 2002 (won), 2006 (won), 2010 (won)
Highest personal vote: 15.1% in 2010, as Deputy Premier.

3. Ray Groom (Lib, 1992-6) 21 votes
Elections as party leader: 1992 (Won outright from opposition), 1996 (Lost majority and resigned, but party remained in office)
Elections as candidate: 1986, 1989, 1992, 1996, 1998 (won all)
Highest personal vote: 26.8% in 1992, as Opposition Leader.

4. Robin Gray (Lib, 1983-9) 20 votes
Elections as party leader: 1982 (Won outright from opposition), 1986 (Retained majority), 1989 (Lost majority and government)
Elections as candidate: 1976, 1979, 1982, 1986, 1989, 1992 (won all)
Highest personal vote: 42.2% in 1986, as Premier.

5. Michael Field (ALP, 1989-92) 19 votes
Elections as party leader: 1989 (Won minority government from opposition), 1992 (Lost outright), 1996 (Lost, but Liberal government lost majority)
Elections as candidate: 1976, 1979, 1982, 1986, 1989, 1992, 1996 (won all)

Highest personal vote: 15.6% in 1989, as Opposition Leader.

6. David Bartlett (ALP, 2008-11) 13 votes
Elections as party leader: 2010 (Lost majority but remained Premier)
Elections as candidate: 2002 (lost, but later elected on countback), 2006 (won), 2010 (won)
Highest personal vote: 15.9% in 2010, as Premier.

7. Tony Rundle (Lib, 1996-8) 9 votes
Elections as party leader: 1998 (Lost outright)
Elections as candidate: 1982 (lost), 1986 (won), 1989 (won), 1992 (won), 1996 (won), 1998 (won)
Highest personal vote: 23.0% in 1998, as Premier.

8. Paul Lennon (ALP, 2004-8) 4 votes
Elections as party leader: 2006 (Won, retaining majority)
Elections as candidate: 1992 (lost, but later elected on countback), 1996 (won), 1998 (won), 2002 (won), 2006 (won)
Highest personal vote: 26.1% in 2006, as Premier.

UPDATE (10 March): Vote theft scandal!  Oddly, the poll as displayed on the site now shows Bacon on 40 votes.