Thursday, October 27, 2016

Wilderness Society Tasmanian ReachTEL

Yesterday the Tasmanian Government announced a substantial restructure of the government business entity Forestry Tasmania, which recently announced another financial loss.  FT will be renamed "Sustainable Timbers Tasmania" in what might be seen as furthering a pitch for certification and a positive image, but can also be seen as a deliberate trolling riposte to the rampant misuse of the word "sustainable" by environmentalists in recent decades. (If the latter then I strongly approve.)

The business will be downsized (again) and attempts will be made to bring forward logging in land originally reserved under the now defunct "forests peace deal".  The latter change came as a complete and not entirely welcome surprise to some within the industry.  The changes are being seen as making the forests industry a major issue at the 2018 state election. If passed, they will do nothing to end the great Tasmanian sport of Ritual Forest Conflict between pro- and anti-forestry campaigners, and will provide the government with ample fodder for trying to wedge the ALP based on its record when in government. But first we will have to see if the government can get the reopening of deferred land through a now finely balanced Legislative Council, or if this is yet another episode of forestry-related culture-warring for show but not for result.

Yesterday morning the Wilderness Society put out a press release spruiking a poll (PDF link) it had conducted on Monday night.  I must commend the Society for promptly releasing the full results including all questions asked.  One really cannot ask for more from a commissioning agency.  However, it does appear that the Society has gone off half-cocked and been outmaneuvered as a result.  The poll was released on the morning of Resources Minister Guy Barnett's announcement of the planned restructure, which goes further than the poll design seemed to anticipate.  Also, as usual with commissioned issue polls, the issue questions have major design problems, and the interpreter can hence make of the results pretty much anything they like.

At least, however, the poll gives us some fresh Tasmanian voting intention data!

Voting Intentions

The press release claims the Hodgman Government has "dropped 10 per cent of its vote in 18 months".  Literally, 10% of the Hodgman Government's vote would be five points, but I assume the release really means to say it has dropped ten points, based on the 41.6% primary as compared to the Liberals' 51.2% at the last election.

In this form, the claim is incorrect, and the reason it is incorrect is that it is standard practice to compute a party's vote share with undecided voters reallocated rather than just listed as "undecided". Polls that ask the undecided voter which way they are leaning and publish those results are especially useful for this purpose.  A voter who is undecided when first prompted but leaning to the Liberals is not a lost vote and would probably in fact vote Liberal if an election was held right now.  

With the undecided redistributed (to form a standard headline figure comparable to the way that Newspoll, for instance, reports its figures) the results are Liberal 44.2, Labor 29.5, Green 14 Other 12.2, a loss of seven points rather than ten.  Moreover, most of the "loss" compared to the election result is to the Others column, where a lot of it would either scatter harmlessly and exhaust or prove to be vote-parking on the day.  So this is actually one of the better figures for the government for a while.

It's difficult to benchmark a Tasmanian state ReachTEL though.  At both the 2013 and 2016 federal elections, Tasmanian ReachTELs were much more Coalition-friendly than the actual result. But at the 2014 Tasmanian state election, the final two ReachTELs both underestimated the government's enormous winning margin.

If we try to project the results by electorate - a difficult task without any recent state electorate breakdowns - the Liberals would probably win either 12 or 13 seats on these numbers.  The critical electorate would (as it usually is in my projections) be Lyons, where there might be a three-party scramble for two seats that would be resolved by the preferences of minor parties and the spread of votes within the Liberal ticket.  At the 2014 election, the Lyons Liberals (Hidding, Barnett and Shelton) had a very even spread of votes and if this continued the party would be well placed to hold three.  But I am not sure this balance within the ticket will continue.  

If Labor indeed polled as poorly as this poll implied, the ten-seat result they have been on for in most recent polling would be in jeopardy.  They might not reclaim a Bass seat from the Greens, and it would also be possible for the fourth seat the Liberals were extremely lucky to win in Braddon last time to be claimed by an Independent rather than the ALP.   

I do not actually believe that Labor is travelling as poorly as this sample implies - it is not consistent with recent strong results for the party in the state at the federal and Legislative Council elections.  A sub-30 reading for Labor, after the removal of undecided voters, seems just too low, and raises the question of whether the same skew seen at the federal election is on show here.  Or it might just be an iffy sample.

Overall, the most likely result if these numbers did show up on polling day would be around 13-9-3.  

State Polling Aggregate

I have treated the ReachTEL with some caution because it is a commissioned poll, but the voting intention figures were not the Wilderness Society's reason for releasing the poll, so I am confident they are not prone to "selective release".  I have added the ReachTEL to my state polling aggregate with a weighting of 20% and also another recent Morgan SMS sample - a series I do not much trust -  with a weighting of 3%.  (The Morgan sample - bearing in mind that this series skews heavily to the Greens and against the Liberals - had figures of Liberal 39 Labor 33 Green 16 Others 12, with half of the 12% others being for Jacqui Lambie Network, which is not even known to be contesting state elections.)

The following is my current aggregate of Tasmanian state polling, bearing in mind again that the electorate-by-electorate projections are very rubbery:

In this version of the aggregate, the big uncertainty is whether the Liberals would get an even enough split between their candidates to beat the Greens to the last seat in Lyons, with the assistance of minor-candidate preferencing and leakage from the Greens' minor candidates.  The recent ACT election provided more findings showing how easily this sort of thing can occur, so I have left the seat uncertain, but note that the Greens are also not that far from taking the third Liberal seat away in Bass on these numbers.  Therefore I have left the sidebar aggregate unchanged at 12-10-3 for the time being.

Forestry Questions

The Wilderness Society have correctly noted that only a quarter of their sample chose "undertaking more logging by allowing logging in forests that were set aside for conservation under the Tasmanian Forestry Agreement".  They have sought to portray this as evidence that the voters don't agree with the Government's plan. 

Firstly, the Government has gleefully jumped on the fact that opening up the formerly reserved areas was only part of the plan, and that another part is amply described by the option "maintain current supply and ensure log sale prices cover the cost of production".  The option's reference to "undertaking more logging" is also disputable because the stated rationale for reopening areas is not to increase logging volumes but to ensure that contractual obligations are met.  Finally the question's reference to "forests that were set aside for conservation under the Tasmanian Forestry Agreement" is misleading. It tells one side of the story by failing to note that the TFA (aka the "forests peace deal") is defunct and that those areas are in fact Future Potential Production Forest which, all else being equal, would be available for logging from 2020.  These forests were once set aside for conservation by Labor and the Greens, but their current status is best described as under moratorium.  (And by the way they're not necessarily High Conservation Value forests either - they were deemed to be such by a sham process.)

The basic problem with using this question to argue for public rejection of the government's intended direction for forestry is the assumption that the government can't walk and chew gum.  A voter might agree with elements of one option and also with elements of another and hence be receptive to a plan including elements of both.  Seen this way, question 3 can just as easily be spun as showing majority support for a plan including increasing log prices and reopening the FPPF areas immediately.  Whether this is actually a good or an achievable plan is another question entirely.

Question 4 refers to whether the Government has a clear plan for the industry, as opposed (?) to being incapable of addressing the problems in the industry, or being more interested in attacking Labor and the Greens.  Naturally Labor and Greens supporters almost entirely take one or the other of the negative options while Liberal supporters mostly take the positive option.  Others voters tend on the whole to take a negative view of either the government's intention or its prospects, which is interesting given that Others preferences were quite strong for the government at the last election.  

A striking finding is that voters who are strongly committed to their current voting intention are much more likely to believe the government has a clear plan (48.6%) than those who are uncommitted (21.1%).  This relationship between commitment to vote and support for a particular party's handling of an issue is remarkably strong, even given that left-wing voters are often less committed to a particular party.  It might be inferred from this that some of the cynicism about the government's intentions on this issue taps in to a general disillusionment with all Tasmanian politics, that is also evident in the high Others vote even when there are no known prominent Others to vote for.

The biggest problem with Question 4 is that if you were trying to pick the silliest possible time to poll whether the Government had a plan for something, you would probably pick a few days before their plan was announced.  This is exactly when the poll was conducted, so it would be more useful to do the poll, say, next week, rather than on the Monday just gone.

Finally, concerning this article, the usual suspects are directed to the disclosure statement.


Update 28 October: Vica Bayley from the Wilderness Society has doubled down by accusing Barnett of fanciful poll interpretation, but really he needs to clean up his own act first.  One cannot credibly say that "less than one in four Tasmanians support logging in the reserved forests" given that:

1. Respondents were not specifically asked if they supported or opposed this option - it was one of a list of options of which they were asked which they agreed with most.
2. The option of logging inside the "reserves" was given conditional on an increase in the amount of logging. The option does not accommodate the view that the amount of logging should stay the same while the source area is broadened.

Also, as noted above, these areas are only temporarily set aside, and calling them "reserved forests" is therefore highly misleading.

In the main part of the article I somehow failed to point out yet another issue with this poll (probably because there are so many of them).  The preamble skews the response by providing a selected fact that suits one side of the story.  If you tell people that 25% of timber is harvested at a loss then their natural response is to say you should cut logging in that 25%.  (Whether it is even knowable in advance that that will be the situation is another story.)  Had the question instead asked:

"Forestry Tasmania has advised that it is difficult for it to meet its wood supply commitments from within the forests available to it.  However, 400,000 hectares of timber is currently in deferred harvesting zones and to be available for harvesting from 2020"

and then given the last response as

"Bring forward the opening up of logging within the deferred zones to enable Forestry Tasmania to access wood from them now"

...then the results would have been different. (I'm not saying the question should have been asked in this way, just pointing out how easy it is to slant a poll.)

Whether Guy Barnett's policy is as stupid as the Wilderness Society alleges is another matter, but they haven't laid a glove on his interpretation of their wilfully defective poll.

1 comment:

  1. A clear plan for the future of the timber industry? I've got one - let them cut down their own product that they've grown on their own land, like any other primary producer.