Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Poll Roundup: Recovery, Or Just Turbulence?

2PP Aggregate: 52.4 to ALP (-1.1 since last week)
Closest reading of 2017 so far
Labor would win election "held now" with a moderate seat margin

Five weeks since the previous edition, it's time for another roundup of the state of federal polling.  After some really bad readings from Newspoll in February and Essential in March, things seem to have settled down a little for the Turnbull government.  This week the government gained a 2PP point on both Newspoll (47 to 48) and Essential (46 to 47).  I aggregated the Newspoll at 47.8% and the Essential at 47.1%.  With a bit of help from the March Ipsos and (temporarily) last week's Essential falling out of the sample, these polls have improved the government's position on my aggregate by 1.1 points in a week, to 47.6% 2PP.

I normally show just the smoothed tracking graph of rolling averages, but here's the "spiky" graph of one-week end-of-week figures, because it has a story to tell.

The one-week aggregate readings in 2017 so far have been much more turbulent than in the second half of 2016. Perhaps this week's shift is just another case of this turbulence.  (Incidentally, BludgerTrack has been running somewhat lower for Labor than my aggregate lately after disregarding Ipsos, and is bound to hence show a smaller correction based on this week's polls.)  Here's the smoothed tracking graph:

Labor started the year in very strong shape, but haven't built on it since.  However, we shouldn't take that much notice of moves back towards the Coalition until we start to see sustained close or even polling (if that happens.)


The commentariat had decided that this week was all about Prime Minister Turnbull's announcement of changes to citizenship tests and working visa laws, and with articles probably half-written before Newspoll even came out, they weren't going to let such minor changes as a single Newspoll point on 2PP and four points on the Prime Minister's net satisfaction rating put them off.  These changes could have easily been about voters not wanting Tony Abbott back, or the military posturings of North Korea, or a lack of obviously bad news cycle items, or good old statistical random noise.

Anyway, Malcolm Turnbull is up four points on net satisfaction to -25 (32-57), but that change is actually below the average net poll-to-poll change in PM netsats in Newspoll history, which stands at 5.5 points.  So nothing special is needed to explain the shift, since such shifts in PM ratings happen mundanely all the time.  Indeed the PM's netsat changes have now reversed direction six times in a row (up-down-up-down-up-down-up) but he still needs another two reversals to tie the all time record for such things (set by John Howard in early 2000).

The bad news for the PM is that this his his eleventh Newspoll in a row with a netsat of -20 or worse (Howard, Hawke and even Tony Abbott maxed out at a streak of only seven such, though Paul Keating had 17 in a row and Julia Gillard at one stage 29).  Not coincidentally, it's also the eleventh Newspoll in a row in which the Coalition has lost the 2PP.  As Malcolm Turnbull used the loss of thirty consecutive Newspolls as an argument for rolling Tony Abbott, this ticking timebomb is watched with interest by political tragics.  If the clock strikes thirty, the expectation is that Turnbull will be ridiculed out of office, so one can well imagine that for all his denials the PM hopes desperately for a rogue 50:50 to reset the clock.

Or maybe people just generally focus too much on Newspoll!  George Megalogenis has a long-standing theory that the shift to fortnightly Newspolls kickstarted our revolving door of leaders, and apparently this theory popped up again recently.  But I don't think it's actually true.  If we take the ten years either side of the start of fortnightly Newspolls in 1992, the ten years prior had seen the PM change twice (Fraser-Hawke-Keating) and the Opposition Leader change five times (Hayden-Hawke-Peacock-Howard-Peacock-Hewson).  The next ten years saw the PM change once (Keating-Howard) and the Opposition Leader four times (Hewson-Downer-Howard-Beazley-Crean).  Even if we stretch the comparison to the longest possible, 25 years, we get six PM changes and 11 Opposition Leader changes apiece before and after - excluding caretakers.  (The "before" did cheat by one of their number being lost at sea, but Holt may well have been rolled soon anyway.)

The Hewson-Downer-Howard rollercoaster had nothing to do with fortnightly Newspolls and everything to do with Hewson being cooked as leader by defeat in the "unloseable" 1993 election, and Downer being just a dud.  At the time it was also seen as having something to do with Andrew Peacock's effective veto on Howard resuming the leadership, which ended when Peacock retired.

Anyway, that's a pleasant historical diversion from the extremely boring task of writing about Bill Shorten's net rating of -20 (33-53.  Actually, feeble as it is, it's his best of the year), or the preferred prime minister score (42-33 to Turnbull, the same lead as before.)

Essential a few weeks ago had Turnbull up from -17 to -12 in a month, Shorten up from -19 to -13 and the better PM lead to the incumbent at 39-28.

Other polling

I'm pleased to say that I've seen less obviously dodgy polling in the last few weeks than I was seeing in the average day at the time of the previous episode.

Essential polled approval ratings of crossbench Senators, finding that Senators Xenophon, Hinch and Lambie are all reasonably well regarded, Senator Hanson polarises opinion but is more disliked than liked, and Senators Leyonhjelm and Bernardi don't have massive fan clubs.

Essential also polled a voting mobility exercise, which showed that voters who report voting for the major parties (and to a lesser degree the Greens) tend to have voted more stably than those who vote for the smaller parties.  The table takes quite a lot of unpacking - each vertical column gives a party a respondent has said they have voted for in the last ten years, and then lists the chance that they had also voted for each of the other listed parties.  The average voter who has voted Liberal-National reports voting for 1.69 of the listed parties in the past ten years at state and federal elections combined, compared to 1.83 parties for Labor, 2.34 for the Greens, 2.53 for One Nation, 2.95 for NXT, 3.15 for Family First, 2.82 for independents.  The ultimate party-hoppers were those who had voted for PUP (3.57) but that makes sense since no-one could have voted exclusively for that party over a decade.  I suspect voters are over-reporting the extent to which they have voted for One Nation, given that the party's share of the vote in state and federal elections was very poor from 2007 until the 2016 election at which they managed over 4% in the Senate.

Essential voters overall narrowly approved of the recent US bombing of Syria (41-36), but don't think we should get involved (31-50).  There are plenty more issues polls over at Essential for anyone who finds the opinions of a panel of 100,000 grumps interesting, but I thought this one on breaking the law was especially odd. 47% of Greens voters think it is never justified to break the law?  Do these people not even know who Bob Brown is?

A JWS survey taken in March found that 50% of voters wanted longer parliamentary terms (of some sort) while only 13% wanted more elections.

2016 Warringah entrails

The most interesting poll-shaped object of the last few weeks has been the supposedly "leaked" poll purporting to show that Tony Abbott had been in danger of losing Warringah to Labor or an independent until Malcolm Turnbull saved his embattled mate with a robocall.

As appealingly undignified in a classically Abbott way as this story is, the most likely explanation for all of this is simply that the poll results were wrong.  It had a sample size of only 400, and the poll was reportedly conducted by Sexton, rather than Textor, at Abbott's request.  The preferencing seems to have been screwy too, since the reported 57-43 to Labor "aided vote" sample (with Abbott named) off primaries of 34-19 would have required an 81% flow of all preferences to Labor (in reality Labor would have got about a 2PP of about 52-53%, rather than 57%, off the stated primaries.)

The robocalls were real as attested by some (but not very many) sources at the time.  But if a robocall from the boss and the other named interventions were really worth seventeen (or even seven) points in Warringah, it would be likely that the same sort of thing would have been worth quite a lot in other electorates where the Prime Minister was then still regarded well.   And while naming or not naming a candidate sometimes does make a difference, I'd be surprised to see it matter as much as ten points and for that effect to then be repeated at a ballot box.

If the story about Abbott requesting a different pollster is true then that shows a lack of judgement that Turnbull was only too happy to take advantage of.  In reality Abbott's opponents were a rabble and Abbott's vote was never likely to be anything other than, as Antony Green put it, "a whale surrounded by minnows".  If there really was such a savage primary vote slide against the former PM then a ReachTEL conducted by the Australia Institute six months earlier, while suggesting voters wanted Abbott to retire, had shown no signs of it.

Anyway, on we go to the next prism through which every slightest poll move can be misconstrued, the Budget!  Budget polls always need to be put in their historical place, so another roundup is probably not too far away.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Wonk Central: Why We Don't Use The Hare Quota In Hare-Clark (Or The Senate)

For this exciting episode of Wonk Central I turn to the question of the Hare Quota, and why it is deservedly extinct in Single Transferable Vote multi-member electoral systems like the ACT and Tasmanian parliaments, and also the federal Senate and various state upper houses.  A warning that as usual for Wonk Central articles, this piece is especially mathsy.  A more important warning: I strongly advise readers with the slightest interest in the merits of different quotas for STV to stay well away from Wikipedia coverage of the matter.  It is so bad that I can't work out where to start in attempting to improve it.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Legislative Council 2017: Launceston

This is my third of three preview articles for the three Legislative Council seats up for grabs next month.  Rumney has already been posted here and Murchison is here. There will be a live coverage thread for all seats on the night of Saturday 6 May.  There may also be other threads on Launceston if a campaign issue warrants them.  For more about the current political makeup of the Legislative Council see my assessment of voting patterns.

This piece will be edited through the campaign from time to time for updates or changed assessments.

Seat Profile

To the surprise, I would suspect, of nobody, Launceston is based in the city of Launceston. It takes in certain central, southern and inner suburbs of the city and the satellite town of Hadspen.  It includes outer-suburban booths that are notoriously swingy at federal elections, as a result of which the federal Bass electorate habitually dumps sitting members.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Legislative Council 2017: Murchison

This is my second preview article for the three Legislative Council seats up for grabs next month.  Rumney has already been posted here and Launceston will follow. There will be a live coverage thread for all seats on the night of Saturday 6 May.  There may also be other threads on Murchison if a campaign issue warrants them.  For more about the current political makeup of the Legislative Council see my assessment of voting patterns.

This piece will be edited through the campaign from time to time for updates or changed assessments.

Seat Profile

Murchison is a large regional/rural/remote electorate on the west coast of Tasmania.  It contains the north-western centres of Smithton, Wynyard and Stanley, the West Coast mining towns of Queenstown, Rosebery and Zeehan and the tourism and fishing hub of Strahan.  It also includes King Island and the far western suburbs of the small city of Burnie.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Legislative Council 2017: Rumney

With about a month to go until the Legislative Council elections it's time to roll out some preview coverage of the three seats up for election.  I've decided to start with Rumney because it is the one where the Hodgman Government faces the biggest peril to its ability to get bills through the Upper House.  It's also the closest thing to a normal two-party contest and hence the one on which there is the most available data to crunch.  And, at this stage, it's the one with the most candidates.

There will be a live coverage thread for all seats on the night of Saturday 6 May.  There may also be other threads on Rumney if a campaign issue warrants them.  For more about the current political makeup of the Legislative Council see my assessment of voting patterns.

This piece will be edited through the campaign from time to time for updates or changed assessments.

Guides for Murchison and Launceston are also now up.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Legislative Council Voting Patterns 2013-7

(Note: for updates on the Braddon recount go here)

Advance Summary:

1. This article presents a revised analysis of voting patterns in the Legislative Council (the upper house of Tasmanian Parliament) based on contested divisions in the last four years.

2. Although there is a degree of independence in all Legislative Council voting, the Council continues to have a clearly defined "left wing" consisting of Craig Farrell and Josh Willie (Labor), and independents Mike Gaffney, Ruth Forrest, Kerry Finch and Rob Valentine.

3. Excepting Rosemary Armitage and Tania Rattray (and Jim Wilkinson, who does not vote) the remaining MLCs (independents Ivan Dean, Robert Armstrong, Greg Hall, independent Liberal Tony Mulder and endorsed Liberals Vanessa Goodwin and Leonie Hiscutt) can all be clearly placed on the "right wing" side.

4. A possible left-to-right sort of the Council could be Valentine, Forrest, Gaffney, Farrell and Willie, Finch, Armitage, Rattray, Hall, Armstrong, Dean, Goodwin, Mulder, Hiscutt.  However most of the exact positions in this list are debatable.

5. Voting in the Legislative Council was again not very party-polarised in 2016.

6. The Legislative Council is finely balanced going into the 2017 elections.


We're gearing up for another season of Tasmanian Legislative Council fun and games with three incumbents facing the music in May, and eight hopefuls known to be challenging them already.  With the Council now finely balanced, MLCs Forrest, Armitage and Mulder will try to defend their positions, after last year's ousting of former Glenorchy Mayor Adriana Taylor showed that the red couches are not quite the safe seats that they used to be.  As my traditional (and traditionally super-wonky) curtain-raiser for my coverage of the contest, here's my annual review of the voting patterns displayed by the current MLCs in the last four years.

For previous articles on this see last year's piece, which in turn links back to previous years.

Every time I do this review, I only include the last four years of data, which means no Jim Wilkinson this year as it's been four years since his last non-casting vote. I only include votes where there were at least two MLCs on each side of the floor, and not the many unanimous votes or cases where no division was called.  Since the last review there have been another twenty votes to include.  Issues covered in these have included politicians' pay, Uber licences, anti-discrimination law, education, community protection bills and gaming.  There have also been symbolic motions on same-sex marriage and Aboriginal names for electorates.  In general, there have again not been that many big-ticket left-right stoushes coming upstairs from the Lower House, and so there have been more chances for MLCs to display independence from each other.  Or not, as the case may be.

The Council even found time to have a split vote on an amendment to an amendment (the principle issue being a gaming enquiry).  I've been on the Australian Chess Federation Council for 17 years and as weird as chess politics is, we have never had one of those!

I've again aimed to produce a couple of different descriptions of the observed voting patterns.  One of these is a two-dimensional graph and the other is a left-right sort.  Again this mainly follows the methods spelt out in the ultrawonky PDF attachment to an old Tasmanian Times Hobart Council article.

A number of judgement calls were made in the left-right ordering, which is much more rubbery this year than normal, and these are discussed later.  By the way I often get requests, invariably from the left, to separate procedural and substantive motions, but I don't do it.  Split motions that are clearly procedural in the LegCo are rather rare, but in my experience motions that appear to be procedural can sometimes be proxy for something more substantive anyway.

In Two Dimensions

The following is a two-dimensional view of the voting patterns of the fifteen current MLCs over the last four years.   For those unfamiliar with graphs of these sorts, a principal components analysis aims to represent patterns in 2D with as little distortion as possible.  Both the angle of different lines to each other and the distance of different data points from the centre are relevant here.  The angles between different candidates indicate whether or not they display different kinds of voting patterns and the distance indicates how strongly each pattern is realised.  Even if two Legislative Councillors appear opposite each other, if one is close to the centre they will still agree fairly often.  If two Legislative Councillors are at a similar angle and a similar distance from the centre then it is likely their political views are rather similar. The two axes chosen by the analysis do not necessarily mean anything in particular and are not predetermined by me, but it's obvious in this case that the x-axis corresponds pretty closely to "left-right".

The "left-right" axis explains 75% of all the variation in the extent to which different MLCs do or don't agree with each other.  The other axis only explains 9% and might be called the Rattray factor.  In policy terms, it doesn't have any clear definition, and it's possible that the left-right axis is the only real pattern there is and the second axis is mostly noise (see comments.) If I went to three dimensions, a third axis explaining just less than the second one would have Rattray closer to the centre but Armitage well away from it, so the pattern that these two are basically near the centre (but in different ways) while everyone else can be placed on the left or right is well supported.

(Arm: Rosemary Armitage (Ind), Arms: Robert Armstrong (Ind), Dean: Ivan Dean (Ind), Farr: Craig Farrell (ALP), Fin: Kerry Finch (Ind), Forr: Ruth Forrest (Ind), Gaff: Mike Gaffney (Ind), Good: Vanessa Goodwin (Lib), Mul: Tony Mulder (Ind Lib), Hall: Greg Hall (Ind), Hisc: Leonie Hiscutt (Lib), Ratt: Tania Rattray (Ind), Val: Rob Valentine (Ind), Will: Josh Willie (ALP))

The placement of Josh Willie on the chart is a bit unreliable because only sixteen votes by him were included.  Gaffney and Finch appear together not because they always vote together (they don't) but because the differences in how often they vote with other MLCs are basically random.  Goodwin and Hiscutt, on the other hand, have almost always voted together, an exception this year being a vote to support same-sex marriage.

The main change this year is that Rattray is even further away from the right-wing cluster, while Valentine is slightly closer to the rest of the left.  These changes are minor as the removal of Taylor and Wilkinson from the sample could well affect how the PCA sees things.  (The fact that the graph is upside-down as concerns the position of Rattray compared to last year's is irrelevant.)

Left-right sort

As usual the agreement matrix below shows some similar patterns to the PCA graph.  The matrix shows the percentage of contested divisions on which each pair of MLCs voted together.  For instance it shows that Goodwin and Armitage have voted together 57% of the time.

The highest agreement percentages are 100% for the two Labor MLCs (I've assumed the order of names was inverted in the Pair listing for one motion, which otherwise seems to show Willie on the other side to Farrell), 97% for the two Liberals, 90% for Forrest-Gaffney and 88% for Hall-Armstrong.  The lowest are 23% for Valentine-Dean and 24% for Valentine-Hiscutt and Farrell-Mulder.

As usual I've highlighted agreement percentages of 75+% (a common cutoff for identifying clusters) and weakly highlighted those between 70 and 74.

As in last year, I give two different alignment scores.  Score1 reflects how strongly the MLC tends to vote with the left of the Council (red) or the right of the Council (blue), rather than the other way around.  Rattray and Armitage are considered neither right nor left, although both are very slightly closer to the right.  Score2 is based on ratios between the MLCs based on whether a pair of MLCs are more likely to vote with those to the right of them than those to the left (again this is explained in the ultrawonky HCC methods piece.)  For the purposes of Score1, agreement scores involving Willie were downweighted by a factor of three because of small sample size.

* Note: Limited data for Josh Willie so treat all numbers with caution, see comments below

There is an obvious cluster of high scores in each corner, and a couple of MLCs who don't have any 70+% scores with anyone.  These are the same left-right clusters we have seen before but now there are six on the left and six on the right.  Not only did the left gain a seat last year but also over time Tania Rattray, once one of the more conservative independents, has moved towards the centre.

The small sample size for Josh Willie and the relatively non-partisan issues mix means that all the figures involving him have to be treated with caution.  One would not expect that he and Mike Gaffney will only vote together half the time in the long term, assuming Gaffney's normal voting pattern continues.

There are a lot more judgement calls in my ordering of the MLCs this year than normal:

Valentine and Forrest: Score1 (from left to right) says Forrest-Valentine, Score2 says Valentine-Forrest.  Inspection of the figures shows Valentine is less likely to agree with MLCs on both the left and the right.  Score2 is good at picking this sort of thing up if the reason is that someone is more to one side then the rest of their cluster, so I've gone with Score2 and kept last year's ranking.

Gaffney, Farrell, Willie and Finch: The problem here is we have four years of data for Farrell but only one for Willie, and although the two have always voted together so far and possibly always will, the Labor position falls closer to the centre in the last year than normal.  So things get messy - Score1 says Farrell-Gaffney-Finch-Willie and Score2 says Gaffney-Farrell-Finch-Willie.  It makes no sense to separate the two Labor MLCs at this stage and the evidence from Farrell's track record is likely to be more useful.  So I've gone with Gaffney-Farrell-Willie-Finch.

Armitage and Rattray: Score1 says Armitage-Rattray by a small margin, score 2 says Rattray-Armitage at the fourth decimal place.  There's no reason Score2 should be better in the middle of the pack so I've gone with Score1.

Dean, Mulder and Goodwin: Partly because of Goodwin's high agreement score with Hiscutt although Goodwin is more moderate on social issues, Score2 suggests Dean-Mulder-Goodwin and Score1 suggests Goodwin-Dean-Mulder.  I've therefore gone with Dean-Goodwin-Mulder.

We are seeing generally that there is more distance between the Liberals and the "independent Liberal" Mulder on the one hand and the conservative independents, with more data for Armstrong showing that he is less conservative than he initially seemed, and Hall also now closer to the middle than he was.

In the last year, the government got its way on slightly more than half the actually meaningful motions, and one of the losses was the attempt to disallow a pay rise for politicians (the sort of motion they may have secretly wanted to pass, so long as they were seen on the losing side.)  That one aside, none of the losses were remotely front-page stuff, but that could change.

This fine balance of power makes for an election that could mean everything or nothing.  Those facing election are one from the left (Forrest), one from the centre (Armitage) and one from the right (Mulder).  If the left gains another seat then the Hodgman Government could find it very hard to get anything really contentious through the chamber in the last year of its term.  Federally, you'd start looking for a double dissolution, but Tasmania doesn't have those, so the government would just have to deal with it - including if it won the next election.  The Liberal Governments of old, in the terrible days before one-vote-one-value, didn't have to worry much about this problem!

Legislative Council guides should be posted here this week.


Addendum (5 April): I'm commenting on a comment about this article posted by Brent Smedley on Ruth Forrest's Facebook page, following an attack on Forrest's voting record by her opponent.  Brent writes:

"I read Kevin's blog not long after he posted it and my first thought was that his labelling of voting as left or right had the potential to cause misunderstandings. There are several disclaimers in the blog that many votes in the LegCo are procedural. Another way to interpret his statistics are that people on the right are more in lock step with the government while those whose voting record is on the left are more independent. Traditionally independence has been seen as a positive trait for a legislative councillor. Unfortunately your typical voter isn't going to get that distinction."

The problem with this objection, as I read it, is that it's empirically incorrect.  Those who are on the right were by and large also on the right when Labor was in government - they usually voted against Labor and with the Liberals then and are doing the same thing now.  Those who are on the left were also on the left when Labor was in government - they usually voted with Labor and against the Liberals then and are also doing the same thing now.  The only ones who have moved all that much are Rattray who has moved from right to centre, and Mulder who has done the opposite.  It might be suggested from this that Rattray has been cautious about both governments while Mulder has some tendency to try to give the government of the day a go.  Obviously given his Liberal sympathies that would be more pronounced with the Liberals in power.

A consistent left or right position says nothing about whether people are more or less independent of governments of the day than the other side.  It says only that lefties will be more independent of right-wing governments and righties will be more independent of left-wing governments.  That's hardly news to anyone.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Postal Plebiscite: Australia's Biggest Bad Elector Survey

The federal Coalition went to the 2016 federal election with a commitment to hold a national non-binding plebiscite on marriage equality (aka "same-sex marriage") prior to any further parliamentary vote on the issue.  The plebiscite was, as noted here before, a bad idea in policy terms, though it was mostly successful in neutralising marriage equality as a campaign issue.  The plebiscite plan was voted down in the Senate, leaving the whole issue apparently unable to progress within this term.

The option of simply changing the law seems impossible because religious reactionaries within and supporting the Coalition won't allow it.  (They're the ones who don't understand why people keep talking about marriage equality, but would bring down the Prime Minister and/or destroy their own party even in a failed attempt to stop it.) Leaving the issue as a festering distraction til the next election isn't too attractive either, so along comes Peter Dutton with a proposal to have the plebiscite anyway, but to do it by post.  Voting would be optional.

The idea of holding a voluntary ballot that does not need the approval of parliament is not new; this option of a "fee-for-service" ballot under Section 7A of the Electoral Act was discussed in the Senate plebiscite report. The option was not costed at the time because there was no proposed legislation to implement it.