Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Batman Bits And Pieces

There are a few points of interest I thought were worth commenting on quickly following Labor's drubbing of the Greens in the Batman by-election.

The 34% swing that wasn't

It has been widely reported that the Northcote West booth swung to Labor by 34 points.  This is incorrect; the actual two-party swing in that booth was 9%, which was still one of the largest in the electorate.  It was quite obvious based on the primary votes that the AEC had accidentally transposed the Labor and Green 2PP figures during data entry.  This kind of thing happens now and then and it is best to check cases where one booth says something off the scale before commenting further.

Did the CoryTories save Batman from the Greens?

The Australian Conservatives are currently on 6.41% of the vote.  This isn't especially impressive given that the Liberals normally poll about 20% in the seat.  However, it is better than the votes polled by the lead right-wing micro-party in most other by-elections that the Coalition has declined to contest in the past few decades. (In some other such cases there were multiple well-known right-wing parties contesting for the Coalition vote - Family First, Christian Democrats, One Nation etc). 

The Conservatives have been trying to claim credit for the Greens' defeat based on their decision to preference Labor on their how-to-vote cards.  In fact, this only works if both the following are true:

1. A sufficient portion of the Conservatives voters actually preferenced Labor ahead of the Greens for the Conservatives preferences to have decided the result. At present, the required portion is 84.6%; the formula is (L+C)/2C, where L = Labor's two-party vote (presently 54.43) minus 50, and C = the Conservative vote.  At present Labor have 64.7% of all preferences, so it is plausible the Conservative votes might have just split this strongly, but we'll need to wait for the final figures to see if this is so.  (EDIT: This calculation is actually incorrect, see update).


2. Enough of the Conservatives voters preferencing Labor ahead of the Greens only because the party's How-To-Vote card (and/or media publicity) told them to, when otherwise these voters would have preferenced the Greens or voted informally or not at all.  To turn a 50-50 split into an 84.6-15.4% split would require that 17.3% of the Conservatives voters were swung from preferencing the Greens by the How-To-Vote card (or replace any portion of this with twice as many voters who were convinced by the party to vote formally and preference Labor instead of not voting formally at all).  This is really rather unlikely since normally for micro-parties, only a very small percentage of voters follow the card.  It's also unlikely because the rather low Conservatives vote suggests that mostly those voting for the party were hard-core right-wing types who would not have preferenced the Greens anyway.

Unfortunately 2 isn't easily testable (since the Conservatives are hardly likely to preference the Greens in a similar situation in future).  But I rather doubt that 2 is true.

Only the smallest of flesh wounds

A very strange piece of denialism was seen in a statement from the Victorian Greens Co-Convenors:

"Despite an amazing [sic] campaign, the Greens have fallen short of a win in the Batman byelection, missing out on our second seat in the House of Representatives by the smallest of margins."

I really don't know why people say stuff like this when it is so ludicrously untrue.  The Greens were decisively beaten in this by-election with a 3.4% swing against their 2016 near-win.  They are over seven thousand votes behind! Looking at the actual seat results from 2016, this by-election was less close than 38 seats if the measure of closeness is final two-candidate preferred result, or less close than 39 if the measure of closeness is margin in votes.  Herbert had a margin of just 37 votes and on current figures was over 200 times closer than the Batman by-election!

Where the swing happened

Ben Raue has an excellent map here showing which booths swung to Labor and which to the Greens.  The Greens did very well at the far north end of the electorate (in the Labor-voting end) but went backwards in every booth in the Northcote electorate area south of Bell Street, the part where Labor was supposed to have become demographically uncompetitive.

Now, I don't want to claim too much wisdom of hindsight on this one.  Before the Bhathal dossier revelations I thought the Greens were the slightly more likely winners, and after that I was so busy with Tasmania that I only got as far as putting that assessment on hold, oh and telling one Greens supporter on Twitter that I now thought that Labor would win.  The magnitude of the win is such that maybe Labor were going to win anyway (whatever their internals supposedly said otherwise).  

The booth pattern could be read as saying that only those south of Bell Street were inclined to switch their vote to reward Labor for switching from Feeney to Kearney.  Except Feeney had been copping swings against him all over the electorate.  The swings south of Bell Street may partly reflect Labor's improved targeting of issues affecting voters in that area (something they have been working on) but overall it seems to be at least in part some kind of rejection of the Greens campaign.   It's hard to say to what extent that rejection is of (i) the candidate (ii) the infighting (iii) the lack of focus on issues affecting voters personally (iv) the party's general stance (v) some combination of the above (vi) other.  

Late-Breaking Poll

In a fairly unusual move the Australian Forest Products Association has released some details of a commissioned ReachTEL it did of Batman, but has done so only after the by-election (which is a shame if it was as accurate regarding voting intentions as it sounds).  The reported details include that the Adani mine ran just behind health and education as issues most cited by voters.  There was a partisan divide with over 60% of Labor supporters nominating health and education and even more Greens supporters (66%) nominating Adani or refugees.  

The conclusion drawn by the commissioning source is that Labor can win just by running on its core issues and that Labor does not need to court Green issues to win.  I think a better test of that theory would arise when their opponents made a bigger effort to contest Labor's turf.  In fact Labor did court the Adani issue during the by-election campaign.  

I'll have more to add about Batman when all the numbers are up, or when someone else says something foolish or interesting about it that I think is worth commenting on. 


The formula I had above for the share of Conservative preferences that needed to flow to Labor for Conservative preferences to be said to have decided the election was wrong! It's actually 1-(C-L)/C, meaning that on the final 2PP Labor would have had to get 70.5% of Conservatives preferences; they actually got 83.44% (see final results).  Over 85% of Conservatives preferences would have needed to go to the Greens for the Greens to win.


  1. Look forward to your analysis of Grayndler ahead of any election

  2. I'm not sure this is really the right conclusion to draw from the batman byelection. Labor got a positive swing because they fielded a likable candidate whose views were more in line with the electorate and who actually lived in the area (albeit not technically in the electorate). However, they only won back around 1/3 of the swing against them in 2016. The fact remains that if the southern half were its own electorate (or say, the southern half of Wills and Batman were one electorate), it would be a Greens seat.

    Labor can definitely hold onto this seat, just like they do in Sydney and Grayndler, but they should not become complacent and assume they can ignore more progressive voters. That's how they got in this mess in the first place.

    1. Compared with 2013 the Greens had the benefits of (i) demographic change favouring them (ii) not having a Liberal on the ballot paper to preference against them. So it would be very difficult for Labor with any candidate to replicate the 2013 result.