Thursday, March 16, 2017

WA Washup: Another One Bites The Dust

It's a familiar script.  Five conservative state and territory governments have sought re-election since the Coalition took power federally and only one of the five (NSW) has survived.  Western Australia joins Queensland, the Northern Territory and (less emphatically) Victoria as jurisdictions where Coalition incumbents have been given the boot in the last few years.

The outcome in WA has been on the cards for years, and the fact that the Barnett government lost breaks no new ground by itself.  Defeat could be predicted as probable based on a combination of what I call federal drag (being of the same party as in power federally), the age of the state government, and the federal government's poor polling.  Indeed even Colin Barnett's poor personal ratings alone suggested he was already likely to lose this election less than a year out from his very strong 2013 result.  There's a strong case that Barnett should have been removed at least a year ago. Those who failed to do so look quite silly now, but they are geniuses compared to those who wanted to replace Mark McGowan with someone not even in the parliament because McGowan was thought to be too boring to win the election!

In the usual search for explanations, the important thing is that, historically, "it's time" is not enough alone to explain this change of government, although it is a contributing factor.  State governments older than Barnett's have had about a 50% re-election rate in recent decades.  

The real news has been the size of Labor's victory.  Polling (as correctly interpreted) generally pointed to wins in the range from narrow to decisive, but the final 2PP looks like it could finish above 55%, which was slightly higher than the final polls.  Projecting off the average of seats for which 2PP swings can be calculated, I currently have the 2PP at 55.7% (a 13.0% swing), but this may well move by a few or even several tenths of a point as non-classic seats are included and remaining votes counted.  In my view a few points of the margin and several of the seat losses are most likely explained by state and campaign factors not captured in the overall framework above.  

Labor presently leads in 41 seats, with very few still in any real doubt.  At present they look like matching the seat gain predicted by uniform swing (given the swing actually recorded) and this is a good effort given the number of Liberal and National seats that were on margins close to that swing.  This has happened because the 11 seats that have recorded single-figure swings have mostly been very safe Coalition seats or Labor-held, leaving more swing to go around where it matters.  In some cases this has led to spectacular overkills, eg Southern River (target 10.9%, swing 18.9), Darling Range (target 13.1, swing 19.2) and Bunbury (target 12.2, swing 23.1).  But also Labor has won more than its fair share of the closest (<3%) contests - eight if it wins Joondalup to the Liberals' two.

Polling Accuracy

It will be a little while before we get full primary 2PP figures and can say for sure which of the few pollsters in the field was closest in their final poll.  On current primaries it looks like the final Newspoll was slightly more accurate than the final ReachTEL (currently root mean square error for the primaries for six parties is running at 1.61 vs 1.96), and both final polls were reasonably close.  However when it comes to the 2PP, Newspoll's 54:46 was based on last-election preference flows which will probably turn out to have been reasonably accurate for the recontesting parties, while it looks like ReachTEL's respondent preferences will have overestimated the flow by party to Labor, as respondent preferences so often do.  This has cancelled out ReachTEL having the combined Liberal and National primary about three points too high and the combined Labor and Green primary wrong by a similar amount.  Newspoll had the Liberal and National primaries very close to right, but had a larger error on One Nation at the expense of the left.  

WA would not be that easy to poll and the One Nation vote was volatile through the campaign, so I think both these final efforts were pretty good.  One issue is One Nation and whether the pollsters both overestimated their final result by polling support for them in seats they weren't contesting.  The alternative hypothesis is that their vote crashed 2-3 points in the final days, but I don't really buy it.  After all their Upper House vote has held up well compared to the polling.  ReachTEL, at least, had One Nation on the readout in all seats although the party was only contesting about 60% of seats.  ReachTEL's question was also not house-specific.  

However, when it came to tracking, the Galaxy/Newspoll story (which had the vote at 54:46 in all four polls this year) has seemed more credible than the ReachTEL story (52-50-52-54 in their last four polls).  Some bounciness from sample error isn't a problem but I do not believe that the Liberal Party dropped three points in the primary vote in the last two weeks at the same time as One Nation really dropped a similar amount.  There seems to have been some skew in the ReachTEL primary vote polling which, again, was partly cancelled out on the 2PP by using respondent preferences. 

That One Nation's vote did crash during the campaign (thus the low-teens votes for them recorded by pollsters early on were probably true) has been supported by figures tweeted by Antony Green.  One would not think One Nation voters would be the most organised bunch when it came to non-booth voting and they weren't at the last Senate election, where their non-booth vote was only trivially higher than their booth vote.  

It is also notable that both final polls understated the Green vote.  There's a first time for everything! However, through the campaign up to that point polls had, on average, had the Green vote about right.  

What was released of ReachTEL's commissioned polling has scrubbed up better than their statewide polling!  The Parenthood poll of six marginals has probably tipped all six winners (depending on the fate of Joondalup) with an average error of 1.5 points against Labor, which could be easily entirely down to shifts before polling day - none of the six seats were out by more than 4%, which is hugely impressive given some of the seat polling failures we have seen in recent years.  Shame the full details were not published.  The multi-marginals poll seems to have underestimated the swing by about 2.8 points, but some of that could well be down to swing in the last two weeks too.  

One Nation

At the start of this campaign I thought there was an outside chance Pauline Hanson's One Nation might do really, really well, as has happened at times in the past, but in the end their result was poor compared to their early polling.  They are currently on for a couple of Upper House seats, but that is all.  

The One Nation - Liberal preference swap was brand-damaging for One Nation because the party was seen as having a bit both ways about whether it was against the establishment (especially in the unpopular form of Colin Barnett) or part of it.  It contributed to much of the infighting seen in the campaign, although the party was also dogged by inappropriate candidates and dumb comments about vaccinations by its leader. 

It will take some time to get a final figure on the split of One Nation preferences, but even when we have that it will not tell us much about to what extent the split was driven by the deal.  The reason for this is that should One Nation preferences have skewed markedly to the Liberals, a possible explanation will be that the preference deal caused many One Nation voters who would have preferenced Labor to simply not vote 1 for PHON at all.  

It does look like One Nation preferences favoured the Liberals in at least some seats (Wanneroo looks like a pretty clearcut example) but I do not see evidence that they did so all that strongly on a statewide basis.  

There are currently only two seats that the Liberals have won narrowly against Labor (Dawesville and Geraldton) and if the One Nation preference decisions made the difference in those seats, then the preference flow from One Nation to Liberal would have to have been 13-14 points stronger than it would have been without the deal.  That seems unlikely.  What damage a deal that saved at the very most two seats did to the Liberal primary in the eight seats apparently lost by less than 3% is impossible to say.  Four of these seats did not even have One Nation candidates. 

Upper House

There is still a long way to go in the Upper House count.  The counts on the WAEC site are currently mostly showing at between 70-74% complete, with the exception of Mining and Pastoral which is 57% complete.  These figures appear to include informal votes, meaning that they will probably get up to about 92%. (The slightly lower completion figures on the ABC site may exclude informals, in which case they should wind up at around 89%).  

There are two things that can shift the provisional results shown by the ABC.  The first is that even small changes in the relative vote shares of various parties result in different exclusion orders (to which group ticket systems are so sensitive) and perhaps even enable a party to get through a point at which it is currently excluded and win.  If certain kinds of votes, such as non-booth votes, are underrepresented in the counting, then this sort of thing becomes more likely.

The other is that in the case of a very tight result, the doubtless very small rate (I haven't seen figures on it yet) of below-the-line voting may make the difference.  Below the line votes tend to hurt parties that are trying to snowball from a very low primary vote through preference deals.  

In East Metro, for instance, this is currently an important exclusion point to watch:

The Fluoride Free WA preference snowball currently starts on a primary vote of 0.35%, at which point it leads only five independent tickets, of which two are fakely independent tickets created by Flux the System. Fluoride Free is currently shown as overtaking ten other tickets in inflating its vote 25 times by preference harvesting, before finally being taken to the dentist at the point shown above.  If Pauline Hanson's One Nation fall below Fluoride Free at this point, then John Watt goes on to win.  
However, if the ABC model showed Watt getting over PHON here by only a handful of votes, I would ignore it.  The reason is that PHON is starting from 7.8% and much less affected by below-the-line votes that spray everywhere instead of following the tickets of the parties supplying them.  Fluoride Free, however, has to get almost all its votes from other parties, and any vote that is below the line and doesn't flow to it is one less vote it has at the juncture above.

On the current numbers, none of the micro-parties with really negligible vote shares are actually getting up, and I hope it will stay that way.  But micro-parties are still likely to win one or two seats by preference harvesting.  The Shooters, Fishers and Farmers in Agriculture are currently shown beating One Nation despite having 5.5% compared to One Nation's 11.3%.  In Southern Metro, the Liberal Democrats with 4.1% (most of it arising from ballot paper confusion as happens with this party in the absence of logos) are shown as beating the Greens with 8.3% and One Nation with 6.8%.  Neither of these results would happen under a system where genuine voter choice determined the result.  (The other potential Shooters, Fishers and Farmers seat, in Mining and Pastoral, might well have been won anyway.)

As a sign of the severe malapportionment of the WA upper house, Labor still looks like needing 3-4 votes from the crossbench to pass legislation, despite having massively won the election in the Lower House.  That said it is simplistic to lump the Shooters, One Nation and even the Nationals as "conservatives" and assume they will all be obstructive. 

I will probably add some updates on the Upper House count over coming weeks.

Thursday 16th, 6 pm (WA time): Labor has taken the lead in a 16th Upper House seat, as they are now in theory beating the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers in Mining and Pastoral.

Thursday 8:30 pm (WA time): Labor has now lost the notional lead to the Greens in South West, but the holding of the notional lead is meaningless while it remains as close as it now is (11 votes).  Labor would be more vulnerable to losing votes from leakage, but the Greens are slightly more dependent on votes from other parties, so in the absence of detailed modelling this one is likely to be determined by later changes in the vote margins.  (And yes, as of half an hour later, it's flipped back again!)

For those wondering about the majority situation - because the Legislative Council has 36 seats, a government that provides the President needs to have 19 seats onside to pass bills.  If a crossbencher agrees to be President then this reduces by one.  However certain bills, like electoral reform bills, require 19 votes (not 18) on the floor.

Saturday: See William Bowe and Antony Green for informed speculations on how the inclusion of below the line votes in coming days may affect various tipping points.  The chances of Labor and the Greens managing a combined majority on the floor are now not looking too bad.


  1. Thanks Kevin, great work mate.


  2. A great summation of the results to hand, thanks Kevin. The Upper House explanations are especially enlightening.