Thursday, August 28, 2014

Senate Preferencing Reform: Reply To Electoral Reform Australia

Advance Summary 

1. Electoral Reform Australia, the NSW branch of the Proportional Representation Society of Australia, has recently sharply criticised various psephologists and lawyers for their input into Australian Senate reform.

2. Some of these criticisms are invalid in that they suggest that psephologists did not provide reasons for proposals when in fact sound justifications were - in some cases - presented.

3. The critique proposes a version of full optional preferential voting (without above the line boxes) and a method of dealing with exhaust that is used, for instance, in NSW, the ACT and Ireland.

4. However the jurisdictions in which that method of dealing with exhausting votes is used differ from the group's Senate reform proposals in various ways, including (i) in NSW, having a very low BTL voting rate (ii) in the ACT, instructing voters to number a certain number of squares (iii) in the ACT and Ireland, having a long history of use of Hare-Clark in that system, as well as small enrolment sizes per electorate.

5. Criticising alternative reform proposals as "just plain wrong" when they are defensible is an unhelpful distraction from the consensus among serious electoral observers that exhaustive group ticket preferencing must go, and that any of a wide range of alternatives (including ERA's, despite its risks) would be better than it.

Warning: the rest of this article is long, and probably about Wonk Factor 3 4 out of 5. 
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Not much has been heard on the Senate reform front for a few months.  The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters (JSCEM) tabled its Interim Report in May this year, but the final report has not yet appeared, and no new legislation has been seen.  These things take time - just hopefully not too much of it, because another election under the current system would not be acceptable, especially not if it were a double dissolution.  

However, there has still been debate going on about the issue.  One such example is a current piece by Stephen Lesslie, President of Electoral Reform Australia, which turns out rather confusingly to be the NSW branch of the Proportional Representation Society of Australia.  The PRSA is, as its name suggests, an advocative society for PR.  The ERA page states support for national Hare-Clark with at least nine members per electorate, fully optional preferential voting, high deposits, and the Meek system for preference distribution.  

I was invited to join the Vic-Tas branch a while ago, but declined.  Firstly because I'm the sort of person who tends to sooner or later get asked to do things in voluntary societies (after all, what is the point of joining them otherwise), and I'm toxically overburdened with that sort of stuff as it is.  Secondly because while I study proportional representation, I like to keep my options open and my position independent as to advocating it (and in what form).  In Tasmania under Hare-Clark I've seen how the instability of a three-cornered lower house parliament, and the strategic vote-shifting swinging voters undertake to avoid it, mean that proportional seat allocation delivers neither truly proportional representation of opinions nor anything like proportional power.  That doesn't mean I support going to a single-seat system either, but it at least means I think we should keep alternative options open. Someday, one of them might be better.

The current "Largest Remainder", being the ERA (as apparently distinct from PRSA) newsletter carries the Lesslie piece I referred to above, which espouses fully optional preferential voting and attacks the interim JSCEM report.  It argues that federal parliament is going to get electoral reform wrong again, because "most of the advice given by psephologists and lawyers is just plain wrong".

The Lesslie piece, which now and then appears to speak on behalf of ERA, specifically attempts to debunk the submissions by Malcolm Mackerras, Antony Green, George Williams and yours truly.  I am not going to defend the Mackerras submission or the Williams threshhold proposal, and Antony is well capable of fending for himself if he so chooses.

The main portion of my comments with which Lesslie takes issue is my recommendation for OPV above the line with semi-optional preferencing below.  

Number of boxes to fill

In my submission I argued that four for a half-Senate election and eight for a double dissolution was a reasonable number of squares for voters to be required to number if voting below the line.  (Antony Green argues likewise in a recent reply to a reader comment). The ERA piece criticises these numbers as mathematically arbitrary, but they are not.  The reason for selecting such numbers is to strike a balance between (i) attempting to keep both the number of endorsed candidates and the informality rate down and (ii) maintaining a very high chance that a voter for a party below-the-line will preference all a party's electable candidates rather than, in ignorance, stopping too early and costing their party's last competitive candidate a vote.  

This justification was spelled out in my submission:

"On the matter of a specified minimum number of boxes, it is very unlikely that any single party will win more than four seats in a state at a half-Senate election. However, parties are likely to run as many candidates as a voter needs to vote for for a valid vote. Extra candidates slow the processes of counting. For this reason (and also to reduce informal voting) a requirement to vote for at least four candidates might be better than requiring six. "

In suggesting that such proposals as all just "random selections" of numbers the response suggests either that the author didn't read this part of my submission, or else is more interested in putting all the submissions he disagrees with in the same box. In fairness, there is actually supporting evidence for the first possibility, since all the material quoted as supposedly from it is actually (sigh) from the text of an article on this site, JSCEM Comes To Hobart , and not in fact from my submission at all. But even then, my submission still contained the following:

"But I think a maximum requirement to vote for four in the Senate is sufficient, since the Senate does not have intra-party contests, and since there is no risk of any party winning five out of six seats in a Senate contest."

Fully optional preferencing, exhaust, and options to deal with it

The ERA response goes on to quote and comment on this part of my article:

As to why I don't support fully optional preferential voting below the line, I believe that where major parties run especially strong candidates who have a cult-like popular appeal, they would be more likely to attract voters who just voted 1 for them and then stopped.  This would disadvantage the party since those votes would not flow to other candidates in the party, and this would create a perverse disincentive to the party fielding such candidates.  The situation in the Tasmanian House of Assembly with a required vote of 1-5 avoids this problem.

The response starts "Surely it is the choice of the party whether or not to run 'strong candidates who have a cult-like popular appeal' [..]"  Indeed so, and my point is that such a choice, if made, should not be penalised through greater exhaust risks.  Senate candidate choices are prone enough to be party hacks as it is.

The response then proposes a "simple" solution to the just-vote-one problem that I've seen discussed elsewhere too:

"Both the NSW Legislative Council and the ACT Legislative Assembly electoral systems have done so, simply by allowing the surplus to be carried by those votes that do have preferences – fewer votes transferring but each with a slightly higher transfer value." 

This deserves detailed discussion of those two systems (and other similar approaches) and the differences with ERA's proposal.  

The NSW system and how it is different from what ERA proposes:

The NSW Legislative Council system, like the proposed new Senate system, allows above the line voting for a single party (the vote runs through all that party's 15+ candidates and then exhausts), above the line voting for multiple parties, and below the line voting. The circumstance in which a 1 vote for a candidate for a party might then not be valid for a party's other candidates is a very rare one: the voter has voted below the line (about 2% do so), the voter has filled at least 15 squares, and the voter has repeated or omitted a number early in the sequence. In this case, making up the surplus from the votes that do have valid preferences expressed results in a trivially higher transfer value for those votes, thus preventing the party from suffering.

The number of votes involved is thus so trivial you'd hardly bother with the provision at all, except that some parties have much higher BTL rates (or higher voter error rates) than others and could be said to be disadvantaged without it.  Crucially this system does not apply to the preferences of excluded candidates - if an excluded candidate's preferences have run out of gas prematurely, the vote exhausts.  Indeed this is what happens to most of the votes when the last candidate from a party is excluded, giving the NSW system a first-past-the-post-like character for those parties short of a quota.  (That in part results from the large number of squares required for a valid below-the-line vote.)

Now consider this as applied to a Senate election with no above the line voting, and with an electorate used to just voting one and fully permitted to do so (this is what ERA are proposing).  Unlike in the NSW system where the number of votes that are effectively just 1 for a single candidate is trivial, in the proposed Senate system it could be very substantial.  The same method could be used for surpluses, but there are cases (say, a hugely popular candidate for a major party in a double dissolution) in which using only those votes with a continuing preference as a surplus might increase the continuing value of each of those votes to above one vote each. 

That's at least slightly counter-intuitive should it happen, but it gets worse when we consider the question of excluded candidates.  For an excluded candidate from a major party, there is no option of diluting the non-continuing votes by effectively placing them at full value in the candidate's retained quota.  Either those votes are lost as exhaust to the disadvantage of the party (the more so if the excluded candidate is charismatic or distinctive within their party, hence more likely to attract votes that do not flow as preferences unless forced to do so by the threat of informality), or else the votes with continuing preferences are increased in value to above one.

Right here is the issue that caused me to consider supporting fully optional preferential voting for candidates and pretty much dismiss it out of hand when framing my preferred option for Australia: if the votes from exhausted candidates can increase in value to above one, then this creates a delicious opportunity for voters to game the system by deliberately running their vote through as many candidates who will be excluded as possible.  At every such exclusion the value of their vote increases, so no wonder this system isn't used.  Alternatively, if exhausted ballots leave the system at full value, then parties may be harmed by voters who think they've done their bit for the party by voting for one of its candidates and stopping.

Under the current Senate system, the issue of exhaust from minor party candidates who are excluded would not be a serious one, because above-the-line voting with a single party order means that the minor candidates for a party poll hardly any votes.  But ERA are proposing abolishing a single party order and introducing Robson Rotation, meaning that the votes for all candidates from a given party are likely to be substantial unless minor candidates run completely dead.  This is not an issue that can be avoided with comparisons to how the issue of within-party exhaust is dealt with in systems with completely different properties.

Stephen Lesslie argued (in Largest Remainder 20) that the increase in exhausted votes under an optional preferential system will be outweighed by the decrease in informality.  I am very doubtful of this since accidental informal voting under the current system is at very low rates, and would also be at very low rates under the JSCEM proposal.  It is true that fully optional preferential voting with no above the line option would more substantially reduce informal rates when compared to semi-optional preferencing with no above the line option, but the latter isn't being taken that seriously as a national option anyway.  

The ACT and Tasmanian systems:

Tasmania has Hare-Clark with a compulsory requirement to preference at least five boxes once and once only; any vote that fails to get the first five boxes right becomes informal.  This means that a vote that is 1 for a candidate of a party can only be formal and leave that party through voter choice to leak the preference, or where there is no continuing candidate.

The ACT system is very similar but includes saving provisions. Voters are directed (see sample ballot) to number from 1 to the number of vacancies and reminded at the bottom of the paper "Remember, number at least [n] boxes from 1 to [n] in the order of your choice".  But in practice, if a voter numbers only one box or makes an error, their vote is still counted.  Furthermore, the surplus-exhaust prevention method referred to is used.  So, for instance, while 0.66% of Zed Seselja's primary vote papers exhausted in Brindabella in 2012, there was no leakage to exhaust in vote terms.  But when 7/314 (2.3%) of the primary vote papers from ungrouped candidate Mark Gibbins exhausted,  these actually departed from the count at full value.  As Gibbins was the first candidate excluded, these votes could not possibly have had sufficient squares numbered; voters must have either deliberately stopped (possibly knowing that the ballot paper's instructions were in fact advisory only) or else made errors.

From what I can determine the number of votes lost to exhaust from a candidate with a continuing ticketmate in the ACT system has always been low, meaning that it seems to be a non-issue.  But this is the case because preferencing in the ACT is quasi-compulsory: voters are told to number a certain number of squares, but the requirement is not actually enforced.  Also the ACT did not have a long history of a different system for its elections (only two elections with the modified d'Hondt mess before switching to Hare-Clark) and the ACT electorates (like Tasmania's) have a high number of candidates per voter, meaning that the likelihood of a voter having heard of multiple candidates is high.  I'd also suggest that ACT voters are more likely than most to be politically literate.

The ACT partial solution is thus not a viable model for what would happen under a national Senate system with group voting completely abolished, Robson Rotation, and an open requirement to number only one square.  It is likely that such a system would feature substantial unintended leakage to exhaust that would significantly disadvantage parties whose voters had lower voter education levels than others.  The costs of avoiding this problem by using semi-optional preferencing and retaining above the line voting while abolishing group ticket cross-party preferencing are: allowing parties to greatly influence chances within a party, preventing voters deliberately exhausting their ballot after one preference, and a very small increase in the informal rate (depending on the existence and nature of saving provisions).  I think those are acceptable prices to pay, especially since a likely cost of nationwide Hare-Clark with Robson Rotation would be a vast profile advantage in within-party contests to rich and celebrity candidates.

Fully optional preferential above and below the line without RR isn't even worth thinking about for too long (you get party preselections and within-ticket exhaust, the worst of both worlds.)  However, it is worth considering whether the current JSCEM proposal (with semi-optional preferencing below the line) should include unpublicised saving provisions, either for voters who despite the instructions number just one vote below the line, or who try to number the right number but make an error.  I don't see too much danger in such provisions, much as I dislike any situation in which an official process gives instructions but doesn't actually require them to be followed.

Ireland

In an earlier ERA article, the example of Ireland was mentioned as a reason not to be afraid of exhaust in an optional preferencing system.  Ireland openly allows voters to fill just one box if they wish (usually with exhaust rates from the very minor candidates of a few to in cases 10%, and with a similar system for surpluses to NSW and ACT).  However, that's within the context of small electorates (similar in turnout to House of Rep electorates) and a long familiarity with Hare-Clark.  But even if it was a valid model for introducing a new Senate system, it's notable that in the Irish system parties often attempt to minimise within-party voter choice, by running only as many candidates as they think might have a chance of winning.  A voter might, for instance, get a choice between two candidates from their party for what turns out to be one position (which could still be helpful in a Bullock/Pratt type situation) or they might get no such choice at all.

Finally, I have a philosophical issue with the NSW/ACT surplus idea when applied to cases where there would otherwise be large exhaust.  Here's an artificial example to illustrate: suppose that two candidates, C and D, are in a close race for a seat based largely on the roughly equal surpluses of candidates A and B. 90% of candidate A's supporters preference candidate C over D and 10% preference candidate D over C.  50% of candidate B's supporters preference candidate D and 50% of candidate B's supporters have no preference between C and D and exhaust their ballots.  Between the voters for candidates A and B, about 45% prefer candidate C, 30% prefer candidate D and 25% don't care.  But under the NSW/ACT system, the less-preferred candidate D is the winner, and in fact wins by the same amount (55% to 45%) as if they were preferred by all of candidate B's supporters.  The example is constructed more to illustrate the point than as something that's actually likely in that exact form, but it does show why I think that allowing just votes that do have preferences to determine the whole surplus is only safe when it is known that the number of papers without preferences is small.

The Irish-style system might be more appealling down the track with more time to gradually familiarise voters with the idea of voting for multiple candidates, including from the same party, and to acquaint them gradually with the idea that doing more than just voting 1 can be helpful.  The JSCEM-proposed new system will help do that.  But I don't think an Australian electorate so used to just voting 1 in the Senate can be made ready enough for full-scale OPV in time for the next election, and the immediate priority is to change the system now to something voters can be comfortably made familiar with, and that eliminates the problem of candidates cruising into office on dodgy preference deals and/or with minimal votes.  I'd rather a minimal-change model, that we know from NSW experience doesn't do anything disastrous (even if it probably will be drab on the cross-party preference-distribution front) than bringing in changes that are untried on a national scale in a system that is accustomed to something totally different, and that have the potential to create new problems.

Miscellaneous Issues

There are a few other points to round up in reply to the ERA response.

The response at various stages rebukes commentators for failing to cite any "academic or mathematical study" either in support of our proposals or in evidence that proposals will increase voter participation.  It is an argument from authority to argue that any conclusion is weakened by failure to reference anyone else's published work, and it is especially spurious when many of the systems being proposed cannot actually be formally studied given that they have never existed.  Whatever solution is adopted is going to be something of an experiment, with opportunities to refine it in the light of experience.

To criticise someone for failing to argue that their system will increase voter participation is especially pointless if that person doesn't consider "voter participation" to be a reliable measure of system success.  Indeed some psephologists, including me, believe that coercing voters to participate (call it compulsory voting or compulsory booth attendance as you will) is illiberal and should ideally be abandoned, which of course would reduce "participation" substantially.  I'd also say that if you allow a voter to, in error, express fewer preferences than they would had they known the impact of so doing on their preferred party, then that's actually reducing that voter's participation anyway.

Herding Psephologists

One of the more curious complaints in the ERA reply is that it slams psephologists for their lack of consensus on what should be done, apart from abolishing group voting tickets.  It even criticises those who flag multiple options for reform.  Quite aside from the fact that the ERA position is itself contributing to the lack of consensus on solutions it complains about, it is incorrect to rebuke someone for saying that system A is broken but systems B and C are both acceptable alternatives.  Such an opinion both narrows the field and highlights the range of acceptable solutions.  Government doesn't need to be told that there is only one right answer, especially not if that is not in fact true.

The ERA solution is clearly not my preferred solution, and in my view it would create some serious problems that do not exist within the current system.  But it would still be an improvement on the current situation, and just because I prefer something else does not mean I think that ERA's proposed alternative is indefensible.  I just think its flaws are far greater than they are acknowledging, and hence that the alternatives to their system are far less "wrong" than they insist.  Yet the ERA piece argues that alternative solutions to theirs are "just plain wrong", on a basis that ultimately boils down to not everybody else wanting to jump through their hoops.

Electoral system design is difficult and specialised and slightly different, defensible assumptions about goals produce different results.  To expect psephologists to agree fully on a specific alternative to the current system is like expecting to herd cats, and should be.  This is frustrating to those who would like to herd those cats into supporting their preferred model rather than another, and I suggest that this frustration lies at the base of this lash-out from ERA against prominent Australian psephologists.

What is significant then is when a group with such diverse views about the best solution as the Australian psephosphere produces an almost unanimous condemnation of an existing system and declares that it has to be changed to something better, never mind exactly what.  I really don't think getting too fussy about what it is changed to - as if only one of the many alternatives is valid - is at all helpful to recognising this important consensus.  And while I'd be happy to see any level of further investigation of options that led to a good solution, that applies only if the current system will definitely be fixed before the next election, and not if it creates any chance whatsoever of another election being held under the current system.

Encore: Now This Is What "Plain Wrong" Looks Like

While I have ERA on the phone, I'm reminded that if they are going to propose Hare-Clark on a national basis, they should at least be more aware of some of the difficulties it creates and less optimistic about solving them too readily.  The Dec 2011 issue of Largest Remainder included a lengthy (and in critique terms, strong - though I could add quite a bit more) discussion of the many flaws in the current Hare-Clark countback system (which only counts the votes held by the resigning or deceased member at the time of their election in filling a vacancy).  The suggested solution was to recount the whole election as if the resigning or deceased member never contested the election in the first place.

Quite aside from this solution being a cumbersome nuisance in manual counting, there's a very good reason why it hasn't been adopted.  That is that in some circumstances, this solution can result in one of the other candidates who was elected at the original election losing their seat mid-term because someone else has died or retired.  The usual case in which this arises is a close two-candidate battle within a party, at the end of which one candidate is narrowly excluded while the other goes on to be elected on their preferences.  But had some third candidate from another party (who was elected) never stood at the initial election, it's possible that enough of that third candidate's votes would have flowed to one of the competing candidates (or to some other candidate who thereby gained a larger surplus) to change the outcome.  For instance, had David Bartlett's (ALP) Denison seat from the 2010 election been recounted with all votes redistributed as if Bartlett hadn't contested, it's possible that the full recount would have unelected Elise Archer (Lib) and replaced her with fellow Liberal Richard Lowrie.

There is also the possibility of this proposal electing a candidate from a different party to the one actually elected.  For instance, one candidate has a massive surplus, some of which leaks.  If that candidate resigns, in a full recount the leaking surplus votes now leak at full value rather than reduced value.  This could change the outcome of the final seat by party, creating a disincentive for that member to resign even if they ideally should. This sort of thing becomes a more serious problem in cases where a party only has one or two low-profile candidates left from the original count (which in Tasmania happens quite a bit).

It's also philosophically unsound to argue that restaging the election as if the retiring member had never stood is a fair way to resolve a vacancy.  If a retiring member had actually never contested the election, then that would have resulted in differing decisions by other parties and candidates (including, for starters, that their own party would have run one more candidate.)  So why is the reconstruction of the whole election under a hypothetical candidate lineup that would not have happened even had that member never stood a fair way to model how a retiring member ought to be replaced?

Providing a trouble-free Hare-Clark recount system is actually an extremely difficult problem.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Poll Roundup: Sympathy For Shorten, But Not Votes

2PP Aggregate: 51.6 to Labor (-0.3 since late last week, -2.1 in six weeks)
Labor would probably still just win election "held right now"

Four federal polls have come in in the last few days, and the overall picture is more of the steady drift back to the Coalition that kicked off in mid-July following the MH-17 air disaster.

Two polls, ReachTEL and Newspoll, have put out 51:49s to Labor.  Both had 52s in their previous surveys though in the case of ReachTEL the previous survey must have been very close to rounding to 51 as well.  These two are the first polls by anyone other than  Essential to have it this close since mid-April.  ReachTEL got there via a slight rise in the Coalition primary at the expense of the Others column (especially Palmer United) while in Newspoll there was a two-point shift from the Labor-friendly Greens to the nonspecific Others.  As Newspoll continues not separating results for Palmer United, we do not know which Others those were.

Morgan encountered no 2PP change (still at 54:46 based on last election preferences, which equates to about 52.5:47.5 accounting for house effect) but concurred with ReachTEL in finding a drop in primary support for the Palmer United Party following various rants against China by Clive Palmer and Jacqui Lambie.  Finally, Essential remained at 52:48.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Recent Victorian and Queensland Polling

This week is officially a "boring week" in federal polling so far, with only Essential appearing to date.  Essential moved back to Labor by one point to 52:48, but that was from a Coalition-friendly excursion that no other pollster had been replicating, and so there is no net move on my aggregate, which stays at 52.3.  However, this will reset to 52.1 if nothing happens before midnight tonight, since the probably unrepresentative result of the Newspoll before last will fall out of the system. If there is nothing else today then the aggregate will briefly be based on just three current polls.  So much for too much polling!  At this stage, the touted Fairfax replacement for Nielsen has yet to surface.

The coming federal polling will be of interest to see whether Bill Shorten's clearing by Victoria Police of a decades-old rape claim has any impact on perceptions of Shorten as a leader; indeed, it will be the first time for quite a while that Shorten's ratings have been of much interest or driven by anything.  I don't think we'll know the answer right away.  There may well be sympathy for him in the short term, and then it depends on whether the whole story dies off or branches out in new directions.  More on that next week.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Poll Roundup: Slow Move Back To Coalition Continues

2PP Aggregate: 52.3 to Labor (-0.4 since last week, -1.4 in four weeks)

This week's federal polling sees the Coalition's gradual recovery in recent weeks continue, with some of the government's best results since before the Budget.

This week's polls

This week Newspoll recorded a 2PP result of 52:48 (-2) to Labor, this being the closest Newspoll has had the two parties in any poll since April.  Morgan recorded 54:46 (unchanged) to Labor by last-election preferences (56:44 respondent-allocated), which is worth about 52.5 once Morgan's house effect is considered.  Essential recorded its third straight 51:49.  Essential and Newspoll more or less concurred on personal net ratings for Tony Abbott (-17 and -18 respectively), for Bill Shorten (-6 and -8) and on Tony Abbott reclaiming the preferred prime minister "lead" (by 4 points and 1 point). As always noted, preferred prime minister is an indicator that is blatantly skewed towards incumbents and so Abbott's lead has little meaning except that the Coalition is less badly behind than a few weeks ago.  Shorten's ratings continue to bob around with little apparent meaning but it is vaguely notable that his dissatisfaction score of 44 is his second-worst thus far.

All up my aggregate sees the Coalition up to 47.7% 2PP, not too far now from the 49-ish position it was in for about five months before the Budget.  That said, half of this week's gain comes from the last remaining influence of pre-MH17 polling falling out of the system. 

Monday, August 11, 2014

World Chess Federation Election

A Kasparov election poster in Tromso. Just a little one ...
Greetings from TromsΓΈ, Norway (69.40.58 N, 18.56.34 E), a very pleasant if pricey city of about 72,000 people (plus lots of students and seasonal visitors) up above the Arctic Circle.  I'm currently staying here for the world chess federation (FIDE) Congress and four-yearly elections. As I so often write about elections on this site, I thought it was well worth covering this one, eccentric as it is by the standards of those I usually cover.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Poll Roundup: Small Bounce, Deeper Issues For Coalition

2PP Aggregate: 52.8 to Labor (-0.3 since last week, -0.9 in two weeks)

Available polling results for this week on average show the Coalition in its best 2PP position since before the Budget, with Tony Abbott's personal ratings substantially improved.  So it may be a surprise to readers to see me offer this right from the outset: that the last two weeks of polling should be actually the most troubling the Coalition has so far seen in its time in office.  The reason I say this is that the recent MH17 disaster was an event that allowed the Coalition to play to one of its supposed strengths - national security - but the voting intention gain has been so small, and such gains tend to be temporary anyway.  When we look past these event-driven aspects of current polling, the government still has a lot of work to do to turn around the early negative perceptions.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Poll Roundup: A Brief History Of Disaster Bounces

2PP Aggregate: 53.1 to ALP (-0.6 since last week)

"I actually think Tony Abbott is doing us proud.  I didn't think he would, I didn't think he had it in him, but he's put his foot down and now other countries are supporting him".

The above was one of a number of vox-pop style voices in a Tasmanian ABC radio segment about reactions to the MH-17 air disaster.  Interviewees, all or nearly all of them female, spoke about the way the disaster is being seen in the community and the issues involved in talking about it to children.

MH-17 coverage is inescapable in media of just about any kind, and some of the more lurid excesses of disaster-porn (Daily Telegraph and Herald Sun, that would be you) have just about had me reaching for the JG Ballard collection in disgust.  But what effect does this sort of thing have on polling and perceptions of the government?

When I put to various left-leaning online political circles the idea that this might see a rather large improvement in the Abbott government's fortunes, the consensus reaction was pretty sceptical: no bounce, or if any bounce lost in the noise.  After three polls out this week, we're seeing what looks like some movement back to the Coalition, but it's modest so far and far from conclusively real.  Untangling what is going on is made more difficult by the government having succeeded in repealing the carbon tax in the same polling cycle.