Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Nielsen: Greens 17: What Is This?

This week's AC Nielsen poll has created a bit of a flap with a primary reading for the Greens of 17%, and that is not the only unusual thing about it.  This result is a national record - the highest vote polled by the Greens in any reputable national opinion poll.  Ever!  Their previous highest results were recorded during a purple patch surrounding the 2010 election - 16% in Newspoll in late May that year, 15% in Nielsen the week later, 15% in Galaxy in late July, and two 15s in Morgan that September. 

The state breakdowns in the Nielsen (in a preliminary version the PUP row was mistakenly labelled "Independent") are especially interesting because they show the Greens on 27% in WA, compared to only 20% for the ALP, despite the two-party-preferred in that state being 52:48 to Coalition.  I've modelled the implied 2PP from the Senate poll as 53:47, so 52:48 in WA is about what we'd expect. Of course, the sample size for WA is tiny, so we shouldn't take too much notice of the figure.  All the same, might such things as a national Greens vote of 17% really be true?

Whenever we see startling results like these, there are a few general principles to keep in mind.  The first is that the further off-trend a result is, the more likely it is to be nonsense.  Under normal circumstances, a party does not sit on around 10.5% all year and then suddenly attract 17% out of nowhere.  So the reflex response is to suspect that this result is just rogue.  But an event has just occurred that could be driving the Greens vote up, specifically the WA Senate by-election, so that obvious conclusion shouldn't be automatically jumped to.  It's just hard to believe it could be driving it up by that much, and it probably isn't.

As for the 27% in WA, The Greens polled 15 in the WA Senate by-election, but a few percent of the vote also went to a gaggle of Greens-friendly Senate micro-parties, so one might say the 15 is really 18.  Throw in the general tendency for pollsters to slightly overstate the Greens vote, and assume a bit of Bullock factor backlash against Labor, and a bit of random variation, and you're just about there in terms of explaining how 15 might become 27.

Bouncing Vote Or Bouncy Poll?


However, too much commentary on results like the WA 27% involves accepting them at face value as if they were just like any other sample with a given margin of error, and thus assuming that it is highly likely the real result is somewhere between 19% and 35% (and could just as easily be at either end of that scale).  In reality, when a result is out of the normal ballpark, not only is the probability of it being rogue higher, but also the probability of the real value being closer to the mean is higher than that of it being further away.  Also, when a large number of state results are released simultaneously, as in Nielsen, it's almost inevitable that at least one of those is rogue, and if there's an obvious candidate it's most likely to be that one. 

I have the advantage of having lived in Tasmania when local pollster EMRS used to release 200-vote electorate samples.  Implausibles like the Greens polling 36% in a seat were common enough here to be used to very high Green readings in small samples.  They're not worth taking seriously while there are only one or two of them.

That said, the Greens are also up in the state breakdowns everywhere else as well in this poll - by four points in NSW and Victoria, two points in Queensland and three points in South Australia.

On that basis, we can't rule out that what we see here is a "Bullock Bounce" in the Greens vote nationally, as a result of a by-election result in which the Greens were seen as campaigning with vigour and commitment and scored a huge vote.  Meanwhile Labor preselected the wrong candidate to top its ticket, and did so in the wrong way, and finished up with a disastrous one out of six result, that is already producing internal recriminations. 

Unfortunately, the only other test of the Greens' support level this week was Essential.  And Essential's lack of dynamism from poll to poll (even accounting for its two-week cycle) is so well established that a lack of action from Essential doesn't prove all that much by itself.  A one-week bounce of five points in the Green vote would make a 2.5 point difference to the rolling result, all else being equal, but an under-dispersed poll might not even pick up that.  So we have to wait for more polls to come in to see if the 17% is partly real, or a completely rogue result.  However, if it is a very short-lived bounce then we will never known the difference.  

I actually think several months of the Green vote running very high over the Bullock issue at Labor's expense might be a good thing in terms of forcing Labor to get serious about reviewing its preselection tactics, but I tend to agree with Adrian Beaumont that even assuming this surge is real, it probably won't last very long. 

Labor's WA result shocker, caused partly by an uninspired campaign and apparently partly by the preselection of Joe Bullock*, isn't the sort of thing that swings votes from left to right.  No-one is going to be scared into switching from Labor to Liberal because Labor picked Joe Bullock over Louise Pratt and ended up losing Pratt's seat.  But on the left, this seems to be a moderately big deal for the moment.  There's a sense of betrayal that Labor cost itself a seat by putting a right-wing religious socially-conservative unionist on the top of its ticket ahead of a sitting Senator. It suggests the party hasn't learned any of the lessons about internal machinations and the excessive power of union hacks from its 2013 collapse and defeat.  There may have been some on the Left who were OK with the Bullock-Pratt ordering so long as both got elected, but are rather less pleased with it now that it was not only ideologically repugnant but didn't even work.  Is there enough in all of this to swing 650,000 votes on account of a by-election only a tenth of the electorate voted in, though?  Probably not.  

(* It is vaguely debatable.  The primary vote-based evidence for a Bullock Factor is that the Greens polled eight points higher on the day than on postals, compared to the 2013 poll which displayed less than half that difference.  The Greens apparently ran no organised postal vote campaign for the 2014 re-run but it is hard to see that accounting for the whole of such a big difference.)

Nielsen On Rogue Watch

Of the four Nielsen polls since the election, this is now the third that has attracted criticism as a potentially rogue poll in some way or other.  Though this poll wasn't that unusual in terms of its base 2PP of 52:48 to Labor, Nielsen has thus far had the least consistent 2PP results as measured by difference from my aggregate at the time, of those pollsters that have issued more than one poll.  The most consistent - but also the most skewed - has been Morgan (+1.38 for Labor +/- 0.95) followed by Essential (-0.45 +/-1.07), ReachTEL (+0.4 +/- 1.44), Newspoll (+0.22 +/- 1.57) and Nielsen (+0.13 +/- 2.00).  Galaxy has only polled once.

Probably Nielsen's figures will stabilise with more polls (since they've only released four) but given the large sample sizes of Morgan and ReachTEL and Essential's fortnightly average-rolling, it may now be Newspoll and Nielsen that are the most prone to bouncing around.  To this stage we haven't had any completely ridiculous and obviously rogue polls from anyone, but this is not the first from Nielsen to raise eyebrows.  At least the theory that it was leaning Coalition (a rather speculative concept based on the two polls this year and ignoring the one last year) has been well and truly put to bed.

In that light, I'm not sure quite what to make of the news that the current poll's respondent-allocated preferences have Labor ahead by an implausible 54.5:45.5, except that the previous Nielsen also had a big gap between last-election and respondent preferences.  This Nielsen, overall, seems a little bit generous to the left, whatever the true picture between Labor and the Greens.

National 2PP Polling Barely Moving

The 2PP result in the Nielsen, when added to my aggregate, produced a small move to Labor, that was then slightly countered by the 50:50 from Essential.  The final result for this week barring more data is 50.8 to Labor, with the party having had a 52% result in Morgan and a 49% in Newspoll last week to go with this week's figures.  But overall, Spiky Aggedor isn't showing much movement beyond the ups and downs of the odd noisy poll:

(The bottom axis is weeks since the aggregate started last October.)

As for the smoothed version, it's just about fallen asleep:


With 2PP voting intention hardly having moved from around 51:49 for four months now, this could be the calm before the storm.  The storm is indicated in the AFR's article on the Nielsen poll:

"Those who are aware of the severity of some of the budget decisions that have been made, are warning the situation will most likely worsen before it starts to improve. The Coalition is ­bracing to be “deeply unpopular by December”, said one source."

As for leadership figures, Newspoll last week saw Bill Shorten (-11) record his worst result yet and fall behind Tony Abbott (-7) for the first time since his opening poll in the job of ALP leader.  It also had his satisfaction rating at just 31%, below his initial satisfaction on taking the job.  Nielsen also had Abbott on -7 but with Shorten on +2ReachTEL tends to produce ratings that look horrible for both leaders, but I've argued that this is because their "satisfactory" rating includes lukewarm positive sentiment.   By my usual ReachTEL conversion method Abbott came out as -7.7 on their latest, Shorten at +3.1.  Essential's most recent readings were -6 and -4

The polls also had divergent readings on which of Abbott and Shorten would make the better (or preferred) Prime Minister: Nielsen had Shorten only one point behind (the equal closest from any mainstream poll so far) while Newspoll had an eight-point gap and Essential had ten.  This is probably more evidence that Nielsen's sample was a little bit left of average.

That said, even an eight-point gap is underwhelming for the Newspoll, given that it showed a 51:49 to Coalition lead and that Newspolls usually favour incumbent Prime Ministers by more.  A notable trend so far with Newspoll is that every time the Coalition has been ahead, Abbott has severely underperformed on the better PM question compared to the historical average for a given 2PP, but when the Coalition has been behind, the PPM figures have been about as expected.

Finally some attribute polling last week has canvassed some of the Coalition's ideological-fetish culture-war type issues: the surprise reintroduction of knights and dames  scored a -15 net rating from both Nielsen and ReachTEL.  Nielsen also asked "Should it be lawful to offend, insult or humiliate someone based on race?" (a question that goes to the Coalition's proposed revisions of the so-called "Bolt law", section 18C of the Anti-Discrimination Act).  88% said no and only 10% said yes. Most likely 99% were unaware that it is already lawful under certain conditions, but that those conditions do not apply to people who are as sloppy in their research on a sensitive issue as Mr Bolt.  These results have been seized on as evidence the Coalition government is out of touch and has its priorities wrong, but it is unlikely they affect many votes.

This piece will be updated with more evidence concerning the strength (or not) of the Green vote post their WA success, as more data arrive. 

17 April: Bludgertrack has given the Greens 5.1 points of credit for their polling this week, jumping them to a national primary of 15.4.

Monday, April 14, 2014

JSCEM Comes To Hobart

Just a quick note that the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters will be holding hearings into the 2013 Federal Election this Wednesday morning in Parliament House.  Here's the star-studded lineup:


The hearings are open to the public, unless the Committee grants a request from a witness to go in camera so they can disclose sensitive information.  They are also expected to be broadcast on the Parliament House website (I'm assuming this is the federal one).

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

WA Senate Take Two: Preview, Live Comments And Post-Count


Seats Called: 3 Lib 1 ALP 1 Green 1 PUP

Summary and general comments (edited to update as required):

Liberal Senators David Johnston and Michaelia Cash, ALP candidate Joe Bullock and Greens Senator Scott Ludlam are all elected based on party quotas.  Palmer United Party candidate Zhenya Wang is close to quota and will be elected on micro-party preferences.  Liberal candidate Linda Reynolds (who would have won in the first election had it not been annulled) and Labor Senator Louise Pratt were contesting the final seat as of election night.  Both Labor and the Coalition have little over half a spare quota in their own right and the outcome will be determined by the preferences of other parties including the surplus votes of the Greens and, once they cross the line, PUP.

The hope for Labor in the post-count was that the pattern of postal votes relative to ordinary votes would be different to how it was in the 2013 federal election, when the Liberals performed nine points better on postal than ordinary votes.  In particular, it might have been thought Labor's dire final week (with constant bad publicity surrounding Bullock) would have meant that its vote before the last week had been higher.  Postal votes in so far are very consistently showing that the Liberals' performance relative to booth voting is at least as strong as in 2013, possibly stronger, and for this reason Reynolds will win.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Legislative Council 2014: Huon and Rosevears Guide and Candidates

What? Another Tasmanian election?  Yes, I know, the dust has barely settled on the main state poll and it's already time to gear up for an election on May the 3rd for two of the state's fifteen upper house electorates.  I should have more on the Lower House election (oh, and perhaps even the WA Senate by-election!) over the next few weeks but felt like setting up this guide first.  This article will serve as the main outlook and candidate guide piece for the two seats, and will include links to any other articles that arise from the campaigns.  I expect to run a separate live coverage thread here on the night.

A reminder that this site welcomes donations; see the sidebar for details.  Donations assist in increasing the amount of time I can spend on this site and my ability to run it effectively when away from home.

The Legislative Council

For those who've managed not to notice it before (even for Tasmanians, this isn't hard) the Legislative Council (or LegCo) is the state's upper house of parliament.  It consists of fifteen single-member electorates with members elected for six-year terms.  Elections are held on a staggered basis so that each year two or three seats go to the polls.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

SA Election: Libs Fall Short Of Majority, Again!

(Note re Tasmanian state election: the seat postcount threads below will continue to be updated when signficant news is available, in the evenings only from Thursday onwards but hoping for more often once the cutups start mid next week.  Links to them will remain in the sidebar on the right)

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Unfortunately I've been too busy with the largely-as-expected Tasmanian state election thrashing to even manage a proper devouring of some of my pre-election words on the South Australian election.  I thought that the Liberals had good chances to get a majority in SA since only one state poll (when properly interpreted) had pointed to a strong chance of a hung parliament, and even if the 2PP vote was below 53% to the Liberals, then they could have other avenues to majority victory.

As it turns out they've struck out on both their chances - the 2PP vote seems to have been closer to the final 52.3% Newspoll than to any other poll in the campaign (including the 55:45 final ReachTEL of which no other details have been seen) and the Liberals' performance in terms of seat-harvesting has been not much better or worse than random.  Their best hope of victory now is to scrounge a 23rd seat in late counting to place them on a better footing to deal with the two Independents, but even then, success is not assured.   If they can't flip any seat from the ALP's current lead (or even if they flip just one), then Labor may have pulled off an escape even more precarious than last time.  Of course, the Independents will have the final say about that, but it's much easier governing with a 25-22 majority than a 24-23 one.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

State Election Post-Count Thread: Braddon

This is the last of my state election post-counting threads.  There is now one for each electorate and they will be updated frequently.  During the cutup (which starts in the middle of the week after next) I will be on remote fieldwork and will update nightly, but hope to take a day off at the peak counting time.

SEAT OUTCOME:  4-1-0 (Count finished) 
WINNERS: Brooks (Lib), Rockliff (Lib), Green (ALP), Jaensch (Lib), Rylah (Lib)

Braddon is the most fascinating of the five preference distributions unfolding before us, with a real chance something quite unusual could occur.  The Liberals have racked up a whopping 3.53 quotas (nearly 59%), Labor is on 1.40, PUP have 0.43, the Greens have 0.40, the Nationals 0.13 (headed up by their rogue candidate Ken Dorsey!) and the rest a trickle.  

Adam Brooks and Jeremy Rockliff are both way over quota, with 0.91 quotas surplus between them.  Bryan Green is far enough ahead of the rest of the Labor ticket that he will be elected, though it will take him a very long time to do so.  

The Liberals will obviously get at least one of Roger Jaensch and Joan Rylah over the line and the question is whether they can get two.  Their rivals for this feat are Brenton Best (ALP), Kevin Morgan (PUP) and Paul O'Halloran (Green).

State Election Post-Count Thread: Bass

This is the fourth of my state election post-counting threads.  There will be one for each electorate and they will be updated frequently.  During the cutup (which starts in the middle of the week after next) I will be on remote fieldwork and will update nightly, but hope to take a day off during the cutup.  

SEAT OUTCOME: 3 Liberal 1 Labor 1 Green.
WINNERS: Gutwein (Lib), Ferguson (Lib), Courtney (Lib), M O'Byrne (ALP), Booth (Grn)

Sunday 16th:

Bass is one of the two economically struggling northern electorates where the Liberal Party has done exceptionally well.  They're currently sitting on 3.44 quotas (57.4%).  Labor is on a distant 1.40 quotas, the Greens have 0.75, PUP have 0.31 and we should not forget the Australian Christians with 0.06.  The two indies don't have much.

Peter Gutwein and Michael Ferguson are elected with both well over quota.  Michelle O'Byrne is far enough ahead of Brian Wightman that I very greatly doubt that he can catch her, especially as Senka Mujcic's preferences should favour O'Byrne.