Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Poll Roundup: Are Malcolm's Newspolls Worse Than Tony's?

2PP Aggregate: 53.2 to ALP (-0.2 since last week)
ALP would easily win election "held now"

Five weeks since the last Poll Roundup, things have not improved for the Turnbull government in opinion-poll horse-racing land. If anything, things have got worse.  We've had twin 53-47s to Labor from Newspoll and an Essential run of 52-53-54-54-53.  Closer 2PP readings from ReachTEL (52 then 51 for ALP) have arisen only because of the use of respondent preferences, and new entrant YouGov has produced a 49-51 followed by a 52-48 lead by a new respondent preferencing method off primaries that offer the government no more joy than the others.  (More on that later).  I'm not aggregating YouGov until later this week after its third poll has arrived, but my overall read of the others comes out at 53.2 to Labor this week.  Here's the smoothed aggregate:

The rot looks increasingly set in, with no large or lasting movement away from 53-47 since the start of the year.  As with the Gillard government, voters so far do not give this government credit for passing legislation or policy announcements. In polling terms, everything the government sends out comes back dead.  History doesn't say this position can't be won from, but it will probably need something large and unexpected to rebound in the government's favour.

I won't go into detail on leadership ratings and so on this time, as there is really not much to see, and I want to devote more space here to the metrics of the Turnbull Newspoll clock.  Since Turnbull used "We have lost thirty Newspolls in a row" as a justification for removing Tony Abbott, focus on how many Newspolls Turnbull has lost in a row and by how much has been intense.

Turnbull Vs Abbott Newspolls

As the self-inflicted "clock" strikes sixteen straight two-party preferred defeats,  some commentators and/or agitators have decided that April or so next year is too long to wait for Turnbull to lose another fourteen for his fate to be declared.  They've said Turnbull has already lost enough polls to be toast (Newspoll: Turnbull Has Reached The Denominator Of Doom) or they've said that while Abbott did lose 30 consecutive Newspolls, Turnbull's defeats are worse.

So, is losing a lot of consecutive Newspoll 2PPs a valid predictor of doom?  Peter van Onselen makes the point that no leader (government or opposition) has lost even 14 straight Newspoll 2PPs and gone on to win the next election.  Generally those who have lost that many in a row have been removed by their own parties without even making it to the next election.  van Onsolen writes "The only leader since Newspoll began doing fortnightly polls who has trailed for 14 or more polls and survived till election day is Howard."  What he fails to mention though is that Newspoll has only been releasing 2PPs outside of election time since late 2002.  This means that any observations about the fate of past leaders at elections are only based on a sample size of five elections.  It's really not enough to say too much.

It does turn out, however, that even going back to 1985 using 2PPs derived from the primaries (thanks again to Peter Brent for doing these on his old site some time back) the pattern holds: the most consecutive 2PP losses a leader has overcome and gone on to win the election would have been ten, by (who else) Paul Keating between April and August 1992.

Another line of attack has been that while Abbott did lose 30 consecutive Newspolls, in that time he was sometimes competitive.  Abbott's 30 losses included five 49-51 2PP scorelines but Turnbull's 16 straight losses have all been 48-52 or worse.

The problem with all of these claims is that they ignore something very significant: the switch from Newspoll being run by its own company to Newspoll being outsourced to Galaxy, this switch coming in mid-2015.  The switch involved an increase in sample size, a change from a single polling method to an amalgam of two methods, and perhaps most importantly of all, a switch to a company noted for producing polls with little poll-to-poll variation.

The following are the average 2PP movements from Newspoll to Newspoll (again using derived 2PPs where necessary) for PMs in the Newspoll era: Hawke 1.69 points, Keating 2.25, Howard 1.87, Rudd (first term) 1.75, Gillard 1.98, Abbott 1.55, Turnbull 0.74.  Spot the odd one out!

In terms of averages, Turnbull's losing Newspolls have had very slightly better 2PPs than Abbott's (47.2 vs 46.8).  His problem is that the static nature of the new Newspoll has greatly reduced his chances of picking up a stray lucky 50-50 or even a 49-51.  In the past, rough trots for leaders were often disrupted by outlier Newspolls that would have reset the 2PP clock if it had even existed.  For instance, here's a run of derived 2PPs for Howard in 2001:


Had the new Newspoll been in the field at the time, it's quite likely Howard would have lost all sixteen of these 2PP polls.  In reality the losing streaks were broken up by bouncy results.  Going back even further, there was the case of Menzies in 1954, who trailed badly in polling for almost the whole of his term, but was returned.  Had there been Newspolls in those days, Menzies may well have lost 50 straight.

It is under the new Newspoll's watch that Turnbull's Coalition has just recorded exactly the same 2PP five times in a row, an all-time record, but two of the three previous cases of four in a row also came since the change in Newspoll methods.  It should be clear that this statically rather-bad stream of results under Turnbull is a product of a polling method change, and not a fact about Turnbull's government.  Indeed, other polls that were in the field under both PMs have not become less dynamic in a similar way.

A final claim I want to mention here is Rita Panahi's claim that Turnbull has "made Bill Shorten look prime ministerial" (and earlier did the same thing with Kevin Rudd).  In fact Rudd was hugely popular against all leaders he opposed except Abbott.  As for Shorten:

* Turnbull has beaten Shorten by more as preferred Prime Minister in every Newspoll than Abbott did in any Newspoll after the 2014 budget (when Abbott even beat Shorten at all, which he often didn't).
* Shorten's average net personal rating of -22 is the worst by any Opposition Leader for a term since John Hewson's lame-duck term after losing the 1993 election.
* Shorten's rating on Newspoll attributes has worsened in every case since 2015, by an average of nearly ten points.

If anyone made Bill Shorten look prime ministerial, it was clearly Tony Abbott!

On the other hand, Newspolls during Turnbull's losing streak have been slightly less frequent, so his 16 are worth about 19 of Abbott's.

We Need To Talk About Respondent Preferences

A running theme in current poll-watching is the tendency of respondent-allocated preferences to favour the Coalition more than 2016 election preferences.  This is historically odd, because in the past respondent preferences have tended to favour Labor, and have usually (but not always) done so to an excessive degree compared with election results.  One recent time when the reverse applied was the Turnbull honeymoon period, but that's a long time ago now.

The obvious reason why respondent preferences could be different is the nature of current One Nation support.  One Nation preferences broke only 51% to the Coalition in the 2016 election, but they contested only a few seats, and decided in one of them that Wyatt Roy was "a little leftie" who they wanted to remove.  Historically, One Nation preferences break around 56% to the Coalition, so that's a difference worth about half a 2PP point at current PHON support levels right there.  But there could be much, much more, because One Nation has become a vote-parking lot for the disgruntled low-information right, so it could be that the proportion of One Nation voters preferencing the Coalition is actually much higher than at any time in the past.  If that's the case, voting intention is actually much closer than the headline Newspoll 2PPs are saying, and the Coalition's current level of poll-driven panic is unjustified.  However, past experience should make us treat the idea of radical preference shifts with a lot of caution.

Assessing what is going on with respondent preferences is complicated, for the following reason:

* None of the pollsters reporting respondent preferences (those being ReachTEL, Ipsos and YouGov) have reported very often since the last election.  Therefore there are not a lot of data.

* ReachTEL's June poll was found to be distributing the preferences of Nationals voters, which should in theory create a skew of nearly a point to Labor.  It is unclear if they are still doing this in their current poll.

* YouGov are doing something unusual, and getting 2PPs that so far have leant to the Coalition by 2.4 and 4.3 2PP points compared to last-election preferences from the same primaries.  They are asking voters to fill in a simulated ballot paper with full preferences.  It is unknown whether they are using a single or a rotated ballot order, but perhaps a single order with a high degree of "satisficing" by respondents might explain the difference from other polls here.  That said, a further complication with YouGov is that their "others" primary vote category has at least once included an item "Christian parties", meaning that their "others" might be a little bit more right-leaning than they seem.

A useful way to look at respondent skew in ReachTEL over time might be their recent commissioned seat polls that have published 2PPs.  The set linked to (of Cook, Curtin, Dickson, Flinders, Kooyong and Sturt and finding the Coalition easily holding all) shows an average respondent-over-last-election gap of 1.6 points, but this is greatly blown out by a 7.7 point gap in Cook, where One Nation forms over half of the third-party vote and Scott Morrison is supposedly getting 64% of all preferences.

Hanson Is The Sensible Centre of The L-NP

A very interesting piece of polling by JWS Research has asked voters to place themselves and various parties and politicians on axes of "politically left" vs "politically right" and "socially progressive" vs "socially conservative".  There is a certain skew in that respondents tended to rate all the parties as right-wing and conservative on average, but ignoring that the most interesting cluster involves Abbott, Turnbull, the Coalition and One Nation.  Voters rate Turnbull as well to the left of his party and Abbott to the right of it on social issues especially.  But they rate One Nation closer to the Coalition average than either the PM or the ex-PM.  This mirrors a view that Abbott and Turnbull are close to opposite extremes within their own party.

Phillip Coorey has suggested that this places Turnbull closer to the "sensible centre" of the political spectrum and flags this as an argument for keeping him as leader.  Conservatives might well object that once you remove everyone who will never vote Liberal in a fit, Turnbull is well on the left among those remaining, and that someone midway between Turnbull and Abbott (say, Scott Morrison) might be able to reach out to the centre and right at the same time, in a way that neither Turnbull nor Abbott can.

Speaking of Abbott, polling continues to show that his antics are widely rejected by voters, with almost half the sample of a recent Newspoll insisting that Abbott should zip it, and voters preferring Malcolm Turnbull's values to Abbott's by an overwhelming margin (just as they preferred Turnbull to Abbott 68-32 in a recent ReachTEL - tellingly, only One Nation voters choose Abbott).  Moreover polling of preferred Coalition leaders continually finds that Coalition voters support Turnbull more than supporters of other parties do, putting the lie to lazy claims that no-one who supports Turnbull would vote for them.  (This is a typical pattern - party supporters will tend to support the current leader at most times).  However polls that show voters considering Abbott to be unfit to return to the top job miss the point.  Abbott isn't in this personal validation crusade to be popular and isn't likely to stop based on what the voters think or even what it means for the next election.

There are many other polling matters I could probably cover but these ones will do for this month.  In a few days I will be introducing YouGov into my aggregate, though I'll be calculating my own 2PP off the primaries, and using a starting weight of about 0.5 or 0.6 in view of the poll's odder aspects so far.

YouGov update (26 July): I have been able to include YouGov faster than expected.  Their third poll (50-50) shows a respondent-preferences difference of 1.7 points, reducing the average difference so far to 2.8 points.  However the average primaries for the three polls so far also suggest the primaries may skew slightly to the Coalition.  The inclusion of YouGov makes no difference to the current aggregate.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Reachtel: It's All About Lyons

Mercury ReachTEL Lib 43 ALP 32.9 Green 13.4 Other 10.7 (after redistributing "undecided")
Interpretation Lib 43 ALP 36.7 Green 10.7 Other 9.8
Most likely result right now based on this poll would be hung parliament (12-10-3) closely followed by narrow Liberal majority (13-10-2)
New aggregate of all polling: Liberal majority (13-10-2) with hung parliament (12-10-3) next most likely.

A Mercury ReachTEL of state voting intention is now out with a sample size of a whopping 2817 voters.  My initial comments on it will be very brief because I am playing in a chess tournament this weekend and also so that the Mercury get good commercial value for their polling data, which I expect can be found in full in the Sunday Tasmanian.  More detailed comments may be posted on Sunday night.  There was also a commissioned poll of Lyons this week - see Fishy Prospects In The Seat Of Lyons.

This new poll again presents a story that I have repeated so many times in state polling coverage over the last two years that presumably something entirely different will happen and it will all be wrong!  The overall picture of polling for some time has shown the Hodgman Government's majority hanging by a thread, given the virtually certain loss of a seat in Braddon and the likely loss of another in Franklin.  With the Greens struggling to hold their seat in Bass, the key question then is whether the Greens (or somebody) can knock off one of the three Liberal MPs in Lyons.  If that happens the majority goes, and it could be that the government goes with it.  There are a number of possible fourth-party/independent wildcards, but at this stage none of them are known to have their acts together.

Polling is consistently showing the Greens are ahead of the Liberals on raw quotas in the race for the last seat in Lyons, but that they are short of a quota themselves. On the raw numbers in this poll the Greens would win in Lyons anyway, but ReachTEL polling in Tasmania has typically had the Greens too high and Labor too low.  If this is the case again, the Green vote drops to the point where it is possible for three Liberals to beat them if the votes for the three main Liberal contenders are evenly spread.  As a typical example, suppose the Greens have 0.7 quotas and the Liberals have 2.4.  It seems the Greens would win easily, but if this Liberal vote ends up spread between three Liberals with, say, 0.85, 0.8 and 0.75 quotas each (after the preferences of their minor candidates), then the three Liberals win.  This is because Hare-Clark is about candidates not parties.

In this particular poll, the Liberals would really have to be lucky to get an even enough spread.  In theory given the house effect of past ReachTELs in the state, Labor might even outpoll the Liberals in Lyons based on this sample, but Labor is not so well placed to take advantage.  As leader and the only sitting Labor MP in Lyons, Rebecca White may well get a quota, meaning what's left over splits between two candidates rather than three.  If she has well over a quota, surplus votes will leak, and it's unlikely the rest of Labor's Lyons team will poll massive votes in their own right (meaning more leakage as they pull up towards quota.)

This poll has a high Ind/Other vote in Bass, which may be a result of small sample size, but much of the seat did recently have a Legislative Council election where independents ran first and second and the parties that bothered contesting were crushed.  Hence there are rumours that Neroli Ellis, who ran a close second for the LegCo seat, might want a go at this one too.  In general, any high-profile and well-funded fourth party run will be bad news for the government.

I'll post a new state aggregate soon but I expect little will have changed and it will still be hovering between 12-10-3 and 13-10-2.


This poll shows Rebecca White as preferred premier against Will Hodgman, 50.6-49.4, with big leads in Denison, Franklin and Lyons.  ReachTEL polling generally does not favour incumbents on this question in the way that other polls do, but even so this finding suggests the change to White remains rather well received.  There is a common beltway view in Tasmanian politics that Will Hodgman is super-popular, but I am not aware of any empirical evidence whatsoever that supports it.  The fact that he routinely belted Bryan Green as preferred premier in EMRS polling proves nothing in this regard.  There has been no actual approval rate polling.  Certainly Hodgman does not appear to have many enemies who are not just implacably anti-Liberal, but the question is to what extent dissatisfied views of his government may have dragged his personal standings down.  I get tired of saying it but these kinds of "beauty contest" preferred premier polls can only compare two leaders and do not tell us whether both are popular, both are unpopular or something else.

ReachTEL preferred premier figures should not be compared with those of EMRS because EMRS includes an undecided option, which can favour the incumbent.  The best comparison is with the statewide ReachTEL last November, where Will Hodgman led Bryan Green 59.8-40.2, so there has been a 10.4 point swing since that poll.  That comfortably exceeds the modest swing in voting intentions of 2.6 points away from the Liberals and 2 points to Labor.  I don't have the breakdowns from the November poll to hand, but from memory the main thing that is going on here is that Labor supporters are much more solidly behind White than Green.

I am a little surprised that the Premier has been referred to in this poll as "William Hodgman".  He is pretty much universally known as Will.

Detailed Breakdown Estimates

Breakdowns with "undecided" included were published in the Sunday Tasmanian.  The full poll report includes a statewide breakdown of the 6.4% of "undecided" votes (Liberal 35 Labor 26.1 Green 8.9 Ind/Other 30) but there is not an electorate by electorate breakdown, making scaling the specific samples a bit tricky.  I have done this in such a way as to make the "undecided" votes lean more strongly to the Liberals in areas where the Liberals are strongest (etc).  On this basis this is my estimate of how the poll looks on a seat by seat basis with the "undecided" passed to the party they are leaning to, and with no adjustments for house effects:

Not too much should be read into the seat-specific samples because they are not that large and seat-polling is a risky business at the best of times, but the result is probably fairly representative.  In this case the seats are all straightforward, save that perhaps if someone was able to scoop nearly all the Other vote in Bass they might dislodge the third Liberal there.

Now here is what it looks like with adjustments for apparent house effects from past elections:

In this case the final Lyons seat is a mess.  With no party anywhere near the fifth quota, much would depend on the candidate totals within each party and the distribution of preferences from minor candidates.  In practice, 11.4% worth of minor candidates may well not exist, making it pretty much guesswork as to where those votes would go.

New Aggregate

In adding this poll to my aggregate I've decided not to focus too heavily on the electorate breakdowns, because the sample sizes by electorate are not that large and there is obviously a lot of noise in the specific breakdowns.  I've decided to aggregate this poll at 30% for the total and 15% for the individual electorate breakdowns, with the previous aggregate carrying 55% of the total weight.

In this aggregate all the seats are straightforward except Lyons, though again this might change if a fourth party runs prominently for one of them.  In the case of Lyons I believe the three Liberals with 2.48 quotas would probably beat the lone Green with 0.68.  Therefore, I am altering my sidebar aggregate to give the Liberals the third seat back in Lyons.

It is possible that the assumptions I am making about house effects will prove to be wrong.  ReachTEL may have changed their weightings in Tasmania in response to past errors and not told us about this.  In general, Australian polling is very opaque in this regard.  Perhaps the Greens will actually poll the 13.4% ReachTEL are giving them, or more.  But the past history of Tasmanian polls overpolling the Green vote is a very strong one and one that no polls have previously made any effective attempt to fix.


There is also a question on handling of the economy, which finds the Liberals rated best by 50.3%, Labor by 38.7, the Greens by 11.0.  The Liberals lead in every electorate.  Given the history of polls of this sort favouring conservative parties, this is actually not a very strong result, though the inclusion of the Greens in the mix does mess up comparisons somewhat.

More issues questions to come; updates may be added through the week.\

Cable Car

Updates on the proposed kunanyi/Mt Wellington cable car poll have been added to a previous article on cable car related polling.

Issues Polling

A question about the most important issues in the state sees health (36.4%) narrowly leading jobs and the economy (32.8%) and education (14%), with energy security (6.9), forestry (3.7), same-sex marriage (3.3) and fish farms (2.9) barely troubling the scorers even in the more pro-Green electorates.  What is interesting here is that Bass and Braddon have jobs and the economy well ahead of health (38.6-33.1 and 40.3-31.2) but the others (Denison 27.2-40.7, Franklin 28.4-37.3 and Lyons 29.8-39.6) all have it trailing.  If the Lyons result holds up this could suggest the electorate is breaking away from the profile of its northern neighbours (they tended to move in lock step around 2013-4 when all were swinging to the Liberal Party) and that could be a big concern for the government.  But it could also be that this sample - which was unusually weak for the Liberals in Lyons - was just atypical.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Fishy Prospects In The Seat Of Lyons

ReachTEL Lyons: Lib 42 Labor 30.4 Green 12.4 Lambie Network 10 SF+F 2.7 Others 2.5
ReachTEL polls in Tasmania have in the past skewed against Labor and to the Greens
Seats that would be won based on this poll: Liberal 3 Labor 2 (status quo)

The Australia Institute has released a large-sample ReachTEL of the state seat of Lyons.  Lyons has long looked like the most crucial seat in determining whether the Hodgman Government can maintain a majority at the next state election, as on a more or less uniform swing to Labor, the third Lyons seat is the third to fall.  Polling has long appeared touch-and-go as to whether the party is likely to hold three seats there or lose one to the Greens or maybe someone else.

The commissioned ReachTEL also covers fish farms, which are seen as a significant environmental issue in the leadup to the next election.  I am satisfied that the poll has not been selectively released and also that ReachTEL have a good record in not letting commissioning sources tweak the primary vote polling design.  So while all commissioned polls are to be treated with some caution, and all seat polls always require special care, I'll have a look at what the data from this poll suggest.

As usual with ReachTEL the data require a lot of unpacking.  ReachTEL use a different format to most other polls, by initially giving voters a set of options that includes "undecided", and then allowing those who are "undecided" to say which party they are leaning to.  However the "undecided" in ReachTEL polls would be included in other polls' headline figures, while the truly undecided voters (those not even leaning to any party) are excluded, as they are by other pollsters.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Scott Ludlam Mess Scores Four Bob Days Out Of Five

Well here we go again.  After the departures of Senators-who-sort-of-never-were Rod Culleton and Bob Day we've lost another one.  After nine years in the Senate, one of the sharper minds in the place, Greens Senator Scott Ludlam, has suddenly realised he has been a dual New Zealand citizen all along and was never validly elected in the first place.  That sound you heard all afternoon was at least 200,000 Greens supporters banging their heads on the nearest available tree in disbelief.  As for me, I was so distracted by this situation that I needlessly got off a bus in the middle of Hobart city, forgetting it continued past a common stopping point to much closer to home.  No problem though, since I then managed to beat the bus to its next stop on foot and catch the same bus again.  Ludlam's path to getting his seat back, should he want to, would be rather less straightforward.

For the most part this one is a familiar situation.  Although Ludlam has resigned, the fact that he has raised eligibility issues as his reason for doing so should prompt an immediate referral to the Court of Disputed Returns (the High Court in theory though it may well get kicked downstairs to the Federal Court if there are no new legal issues) to determine whether Ludlam was validly elected in the first place (to which the answer is evidently no) and to supervise the filling of the vacancy.  The vacancy will be filled by a recount (called a "special count") as with the vacancies for Day and Culleton.  The Greens won two seats in the original election and in the Culleton recount, beating the WA Nationals' Kado Muir by 25175 votes in both cases.  The recount could shave a few thousand off this (about 2800 personal votes for Ludlam leak out of the Greens ticket based on the original counts) but there's no doubt the Greens would keep two seats.  One of these will be their other existing Senator, Rachel Siewert, and the other will be the third candidate on the original ticket, Jordon Steele-John.

However this recount does raise some new ground. Firstly it's the first time a state will have had to be recounted for two disqualifications from the same election, meaning that the new count will be without both Culleton and Ludlam. Secondly and more interestingly, it creates previously unseen complications with the original allocation of three and six year terms. Scott Ludlam was elected third in 2016 with Rachel Siewert elected 12th.  In the special count to replace Ludlam, Siewert will be elected third and Steele-John will be elected 12th.  So if Steele-John replaces Ludlam and serves out Ludlam's term, then this will create a bizarre situation of the candidate second on the Greens ticket being a Senator for three years while the third candidate on the ticket is a Senator for the balance of six, clearly not the preference of the party's voters.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

How Often Are Federal Newspolls Released?

A humble little subject, but I just thought I'd put up a resource piece about how often federal Newspolls are released and have been released over time.

The timing of federal Newspolls is frequently a subject of discussion, much of it clueless or biased.  One fairly prominent claim links the switch to federal Newspolls in the early 1990s with the frequent turnover of major party leaders, although there is actually no evidence that this is true at all.  On social media, Newspolls are eagerly awaited and considered "due" every second Sunday, mostly by one-eyed Labor supporters.  If Newspoll fails to appear this is claimed to be evidence that it is being "hidden" because the results are bad for the Coalition.  If this were actually the case, Newspoll would skew towards the Coalition compared to other polls (it doesn't), Newspoll would have gone AWOL during obvious Coalition low points like the Hockey budget, the Prince Philip knighthood and even the collapse of Malcolm Turnbull's "utegate" attack on Kevin Rudd (it didn't), and Newspoll conspiracy cranks would be able to post reliable advance predictions of when Newspoll would come out (they don't.)  But those tweeting these nonsense never let the facts get in the way of their inane barracking.

This week I saw a new strain of the viral dumbness that is Newspoll truthism - a claim that Newspoll was becoming less frequent in order to string out the time it would take for the Coalition to lose 30 consecutive Newspolls on Malcolm Turnbull's watch.  (Turnbull has lost 14 in nine months, while Abbott's 30 spanned sixteen months, making Newspolls 17% more widely spaced so far during Turnbull's losing streak.)

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

All Polling On The Plebiscite Has Problems

In the last few weeks we've seen some new polling results concerning the Coalition's proposed plebiscite on legalising same-sex marriage (or as it is more accurately described, marriage equality).  It is extremely well-established in polling that a clear majority of voters support legalising same-sex marriage, but whether voters support deciding the matter by plebiscite or parliamentary vote has been less obvious.  The very inconsistent results from various polls on this subject are causing a fair degree of interest and confusion.

In this article I suggest that the range of results we are seeing on the question of a plebiscite vs a parliamentary vote is largely a result of differences in design between different polls.  Which poll is right and which poll is wrong?  My view is that all of them are suspect.   The question is a difficult one to poll and none of the polls offered thus far have even got close to a design that accurately reflects the choices the parliament, voters and activists face.