Random observations

Scattered thoughts on the Senate, the western Sydney electorate of Fowler, Bob Katter, the informal vote rate, and the fine art of poll aggregation.

Time for a new thread, so here’s some very scattered thoughts that it occurs to me to share at this late hour:

• I had a piece on the Senate result in Crikey yesterday, and have been keeping a low profile on Poll Bludger in part because I’ve been busy fielding inquiries from media outlets eager to hear an election wonk’s take on the whole affair. If you’d like to comment on the progress of late counting in the Senate I’d encourage you to do so on the dedicated thread, or at least re-paste your comments there after leaving them on this one.

• I’d also like to encourage those with particular insights to offer on late counting in close lower house seats to share the love in the relevant comments threads, which can serve as useful clearing houses for information for those of us trying to keep up. Note that these posts can be accessed through links near the top of the sidebar.

• So what the hell happened in Fowler? There was, as we know, a much milder swing against Labor in western Sydney than media hype and certain local opinion polls had primed us for. However, that scarcely explains the thumping 8.8% swing enjoyed by Labor journeyman Chris Hayes. What presumably does explain it is Liberal candidate Andrew Nguyen, chosen by the party with a view to snaring the Vietnamese vote in Cabramatta, who suffered swings approaching 20% in that very area. As to what Vietnamese voters might have known about Nguyen that the Liberal Party did not, I cannot even speculate. However, it won’t be the only question the party has to ask itself about its candidate selection processes in New South Wales, for the second election in a row.

• It wasn’t a very good election for Bob Katter, who failed in his bid to bring new allies to Canberra and had his seemingly impregnable hold on Kennedy cut to the bone. One reason of course was that he was squeezed out by Clive Palmer (with due apologies for the unattractiveness of that image). However, another was very likely a preference deal he cut with Labor which in the event did neither party any good. I would also observe that this is not Katter’s first failed attempt at empire-building. At the 2004 Queensland state election, Katter organised an alliance of independents with a view to activating discontent over sugar industry policy, and the only one to poll a substantial share of the vote had done nearly as well without Katter’s help at the previous election. Even the much-touted successes of Katter’s Australian Party at last year’s Queensland election involved it a) absorbing probably transient protest votes which formed part of the huge swing against Labor, and b) electing two members who could just easily have won their seats as independents. Katter’s constituency would evidently prefer that he stick to being an independent local member, and limit his broader ambitious to bequeathing the family firm to his son.

• As well as witnessing an explosion in the micro-party vote, the election has at the very least seen the rate of informal voting maintain the peak scaled at the 2010 election. Limiting it to ordinary election day votes to ensure we’re comparing apples with apples (pre-poll and postal voters being generally more motivated and hence less prone to informal voting), the informal vote rate has progressed from 4.18% to 5.82% to 5.92%. Presumably the Australian Electoral Commission will be conducting a ballot paper study to let us know how much this is down to proliferating candidate numbers leading to inadvertent mistakes, and how much to disaffection leading to deliberate spoilage of ballot papers.

• If I do say so myself, my BludgerTrack poll aggregate performed rather well. The Coalition’s two-party preferred vote is at 53.15% on current counting, which is likely to edge up towards the projected 53.5% as the remaining votes come in. Better yet, there’s a good chance the state seat projections will prove to have been exactly correct, allowing for the fact that the model did not accommodate non-major party outcomes such as the possible wins for Clive Palmer in Fairfax and Cathy McGowan in Indi. No doubt this is partly down to luck. There was some imprecision on the primary vote, with the Coalition about a point too low and the Greens about a point too high (though the model in fact scaled down the latter from the pollsters’ published results), with the circle being squared by a preference allocation method that proved over-favourable to the Coalition, based as it was on the 2010 election result (although I’m pretty sure it still performed better than a method based on respondent allocation would have done).

Nonetheless, the model was certainly successful enough to confirm the wisdom of its basic premise that the best way to read the campaign horse race is to a) only pay attention to large-scale polling, i.e. national and state-level results, b) adjust pollsters for bias according to their past performance where sufficient observations are available from recent history, c) instead use the pollster’s deviation from the aggregated poll trend where sufficient observations are not available, and d) weight the results of each pollster according to how historically accurate/consistent with the trend they have been. As to the performance of the polls themselves, I’ll have a lot more to say about that when all the votes are in. In the meantime, here’s a broad brush overview from Matthew Knott at Crikey.

Author: William Bowe

William Bowe is a Perth-based election analyst and occasional teacher of political science. His blog, The Poll Bludger, has existed in one form or another since 2004, and is one of the most heavily trafficked websites on Australian politics.

2,937 comments on “Random observations”

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  1. back from teen driving (and L plating)

    On the subject of dying politicians, I think Congressman Leo Ryan is the only member of US Congress to be murdered in office (in more than 200 yeras) when he was killed in Guyana in 1978 just before the Jonestown Massacre. Though Gabriel Giffords nearly died after being shot in 2011.

  2. And old politicians – John Garner born Nov 22, 1868, died Nov 7, 1967 – FDR’s first VP. Was a Texas “elder” frequently contacted by Democrats, including JFK who rang him on his 95th birthday a few hours before leaving for Dallas.

  3. I’m pretty sure Hockey has spent the last few days curled up in the fetal position in a corner of his office, crippled with the existential terror of the reality that he is now the Treasurer of Australia.

  4. 2906

    The only Senate reforms that can be passed without the HoR (Coalition majority) passing them are those that involve a constitutional referendum but the GG would never hold a referendum against the Government`s wishes (the ALP did try during its 1 year stint in opposition 1913-1914).

    DDs cannot happen on bills passed by the Senate but blocked by the House.

  5. 2909

    You misunderstand. It would be like the NSW LC above the line voting system (A number in the ATL box preferences the candidates in that group only and if you want to preference any other groups you preference they ATL box with a higher number) but with a 6 ATL preference minimum.

  6. Tom Wrong

    The Voting rules are determined by legislation. A deal between the ALP and LNP can be struck

    One option is to Just allow Above-the-line-preferental voting and adopt a 4% group threshold and increase the deposit to $5000 per candidate.

    We would need to also fix the flaws in the calculation of the Surplus Transfer value and segmentation of distribution of excluded candidates,

    This would be better then optional preferential voting

    A group vote would be applied equally to all candidates in the group.

    This is all by legislation. The States may have to agree as the senate is the States’ house

    If we can not address this issue then we might as well adopt William Bowie’s solution and implement a party list system

  7. Alias 2857

    4% threshold is common. Some states have adopted a 3% some 5%

    4% is half of 1/12th. Its also the figure that is excepted for refunds of deposits.

    I think it is better to just allow Group preferential voting above the line and scape BTL voting.

    The method fo counting the vote would need refinement to remove some of the flaws in the system.

    Calculation of Surplus Transfer Value to be weighted. Remove segmented distribution and adopt a single transaction distribution. Allocate the vote evenly across all candidates in the group. Abolish the Droop quota and keep remainders with the vote

    Increase the deposit to $5000 per candidate and allocate a refund for each 4% of the vote received.

  8. [Joe would be pretty busy planning how to deal with the debt and deficit emergency and finding ways to cover his $70 billion black hole.]

    More like joe would be busy fabricating evidence of a non existent debt and deficit emergency and deciding which, if any promises they’ll keep.

  9. I particularly like this section from Antony’s Drum piece:

    [I no longer support threshold quotas because it has become more evident that above the line ticket voting is the real cause of parties being elected from low votes. A better solution is to deal with the cause of the problem, not impose an arbitrary threshold.]

    It’s hard not to be swayed by the logic of his arguments, although I’d always urge parties considering changing electoral laws exercise caution about unforeseen future consequences.

  10. Roxanna

    [Reform is simple. Six senators are elected from each state. Voters would be required to number the parties from one to at least six in the order of their own choice above the line. That’s it.]

    Why not number only one senator or party if that is all you want?

    You might be an ALP voter who didn’t like Farrell or Bullock, or a National who thought Boswell was an embarrassment.

    If there aren’t six parties or people you could support why nominate them?

  11. Certainly as far as ATL goes, if optional preferencing gets up (and I think it is the way to go) it seems hard to justify forcing more than a first preference.

    BTL I had thought that a minimum number (like the number of seats up for election) would be the way to go, given that the system wouldn’t work if, say, a significant number of people just vote ‘1’ for the first person in a list there would be a problem, but provided BTL remains the domain of people who both care and know enough about their vote then I guess they should be allowed to have a single approved candidate and after that their vote exhausts if that is what they want.

    I would hate to see single preferences being valid in lower house seats (as this frequently devolves back to FPTP with a lazy population of voters and parties advocating ‘just vote 1’), but for the Senate it’s just one step closer to a clunky version of actual PR if most just vote ‘1’ ATL and then exhausting, and that wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing.

    So yeah, OPV with a single preference being the minimum works for me.

    I think as soon as you scrap the group ticket preferencing you solve the artificial micro-party issue. Without the magic merry-go-round of preference harvesting, any party that gets a quota will have earnt it through explicit preferencing from voters and I agree with Antony Green that there should therefore be no need for any artificial thresholds or other barriers to election, and that these would be bad for democracy. Regardless it seems like something that can be assessed down the track – see how OPV and scrapping group ticket cross-party preferencing works and if there is still a problem in a decade or so then worry about it.

  12. BK

    Lovely city, not as nice as Edinburgh, weather still good over there so fingers crossed. Who are you flying with?

    Wish I could talk to Mrs BK re shopping 😀

  13. Morning all. I realise Conroy is stupid, but why must he raise Labor leadership methods in public now? He raises Rudd again, despite Rudd resigning all but his seat. Cnroy is Labor’s answer to Derryn Hinch. Move on Stephen, or volunteer for the SA number two spot yourself.

  14. GrogsGamut 2m
    My latest for @GuardianAus: “Joe Hockey wants an external auditor – I volunteer for the job” http://gu.com/p/3ty8z/tw

    they say u get what u pay for now u get what u vote for

    poor aust, what sick sick place we will become

  15. 8h
    Ministries dumped by Abbott include Health & Aging,Disability, Science, Women’s affairs via
    “@william7424: #auspol pic.twitter.com/UvRixrdxcf”

    Retweeted by Jo
    View photo Reply


    is that true no health minister,

  16. On AFL Grand Final day – the biggest day of the year – comes the biggest news of the year. Fitzroy are to be re-admitted into the competition. Speaking at the Grand Final breakfast this morning the Prime Minister let slip this policy announcement to a stunned audience.http://cafewhispers.wordpress.com/2013/09/28/newsflash-fitzroy-re-admitted-into-the-afl/


    the reason I posted it twice was to check that it was to day

    in stunded silence but he laughed

    and people had just drowned

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