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. One of the issues in Fowler would also have been the big negative swing that Chris Hayes suffered 2010 – he replaced the retiring Julia Irwin as part of a deal that moved Laurie Ferguson to Hayes’s former seat of Werriwa (where there was also a big anti-Labor swing in 2010). Prior to 2010, the margin in Fowler had always been 20% or above (give or take with redistributions and the like). So the big pro-Labor swing this time would have been due to a combination of (a) the Labor vote being artificially low in 2010; (b) a dud Liberal candidate who spoke up about not being able to say anything during the campaign; and (c) Chris Hayes being a damn good local MP who worked his electorate very well and earned their respect despite the national trend

  2. It seems to me that the time has come to abandon the current Lower House representation method in favour of single member PR, which would closely link actual party support to members in the house.

  3. Good Morning Dawn Patrollers.
    Last night’s arrogant and hubristic performances from Brandis and Kroger confirmed a lot. And did Lenore Taylor fire a shot over their bow? Let’s hope so.

    I don’t agree that Shorten is the man to lead. He has too much baggage. Another favorite of mine, Connie F-V seems to be out of fafour with Abbott, too.
    I’d hate to be the seat!!
    If the nasty mouth for hire Hendy gets up over Mike Kelly it will be a travesty.
    She could be a nightmare for Abbott and Erica.
    Tick, tick, tick . . .
    MUST SEE: I don’t think Abbott will get much help from Alan Moir.
    David Pope – Red “Sails” in the Sunset.
    John Kudelka reminds us of why Rudd must go.

    Ron Tandberg on Abbott’s win.

  4. Congratulations William, for your work on the Bludgertrack, as well as for this blog.

    On Bludgertrack, in my opinion, it goes to show the continued ‘reliability’ of opinion polling as a way to gauge the likely outcomes of elections and is certainly more valuable than merely relying on gut instinct.

  5. Well done Wiliam, both for the accuracy of your analysis, and the logic of your method. Why don’t you write your thesis on Bludgertrack? It is worthy of academic discussion, and an original contribution to the field.

  6. Morning All

    Well done from me as well William – good effort

    My poll clanger for the election would have to go to Newspoll and their guesses on Saturday morning. To come out and claim Labor would lose 7 seats in Queensland was pathetic and showed no grasp of what was happening. My question is was that their genuine belief or what they were told to report??? Either is concerning imo

    Of the major polling companies Morgan is king – I hope they get more respect into the future

    Labor looks ready to have an all out spat with plenty ready to share their opinions – not a bad thing in some ways, get it all out there and move on. If they can. I still don’t see how the left and right can stay together but they probably will.

    Looking forward to watching the count unfold – would love to see the Liberals finish up on under 90

  7. William, congratulations on your Bludgertrack and its accuracy and methodology.

    It was interesting to follow it and compare it to the more extreme predictions of the so-called experts.

  8. If Shorten can cause only half as much damage to the libs and he’s caused to his own party, he’ll do a fantastic job. This is the time to look forward, rather than back.

  9. In the land of the free, the five year anniversary of the collapse of Lehman Brothers is nearly up. That is also the time limit for the SEC to charge any former Lehman’s executives over so. In fact, the SEC gave up in 2012, but never made that decision public. No ratings agency executive has been prosecuted for their conduct either.
    [She was right. Five years after Lehman’s collapse hastened a worldwide economic panic, the government faces lingering questions about the decision to spare executives like Richard S. Fuld Jr., who ran Lehman for 14 years until its demise. Not a single senior executive from any Wall Street bank faced criminal charges from the crisis, either. And the government’s deadline for filing most charges will expire this month, the anniversary of Lehman’s collapse, providing a reminder of the case and its unpopular outcome.

    Federal prosecutors and the S.E.C. have never officially announced their decision to close the Lehman investigation.]

    So the greatest swindle in history will go unpunished. CEO Fuld earned over $200 million in salary alone in the five years leading up to the collapse.

    Corporate criminals +$600 billion
    Justice 0
    US taxpayers -$600 billion

    This is one of the main reasons I am not a fan of Obama. Bush let this happen. Obama let them get away with it. Obama is good on foreign policy, but compromised by links to big money.

  10. Morning all.

    Thanks William for your observations, and good on you for Bludgertrack.

    [the informal vote rate has progressed from 4.18% to 5.82% to 5.92%. ]

    It probably means nothing, but among my social acquaintances, and particularly among my many hundreds of ‘friends’ on Facebook, the prevailing sentiment about voting in the election was the lack of real choice for people given the dislike of both federal leaders.

  11. Psephos

    Good point re Syria. He was correct to get out of Iraq, perhaps that is all. Maybe I should just say Obama is good at speeches, but really lousy at policy. He is no star at economics either. I wanted Clinton to win in 2008. I still wish she had.

  12. So Abbott wants a more courteous parliament than the last one, does he? He and his colleagues will have to markedly improve their behaviour then.

  13. William – Regarding Fowler and Andrew Nguyen.

    This link was posted a day or so ago in another thread, I think by OC.


    Its a long story from a former catholic priest, Kevin Lee from western Sydney who set out to enter federal politics as a lib candidate and ends up disillusioned etc.

    The bit about Andrew Nguyen –

    [ I was naturally angry with what he had done but at the time accepted Ray’s {King}* innocent sounding explanation. He said that there was a certain nominee called Andrew Nguyen, a seventy year old Vietnamese man who had also applied for Fowler.

    Ray told me that Nguyen had re-mortgaged his house to get $300,000 as a campaign contribution and was quite likely to be pre-selected, “because what they are looking for is, who has the money to fund a campaign and the ability to communicate with many of the electorate. Apparently Fowler has a predominantly Vietnamese community”.

    Now in hindsight I don’t believe Ray’s justification because people in the party have told me that they were expecting Ray to be pre-selected because Andrew Nguyen had such poor communication skills and he was seventy years old.

    The fact that Nguyen has been preselected speaks volumes for Liberal’s failures. They do not care about selecting the best person to represent the community but whoever can come up with enough campaign money or supporters to promote the Liberal brand. ]

    So did the Vietnamese Community know about the $300,000 “Sale” of preselection by the liberals (if it did if fact occur) or was it that Nguyen is seventy or they had issues with him beyond that – or all three ?

    Maybe it will come out in the wash down the track.

    Sounds like a great story for an ‘Independent’ media outlet. Hang on a minute – its not a Labor scandal.

    Either way it seems Nguyen has blown $300,000 if Kevin Lee’s story is correct.

    * Ray King (a former Senior Police Commander in the area) and Kevin Lee were former good mates who fell out while seeking liberal pre-selection.

    Interestingly Ray King ended up standing in McMahon but lost to Chris Bowen by a large margin. Over 9,000 informal votes in that seat as well.


    Bill Heffernan gets a few mentions in Lee’s story if anyone wants to wade through the story – or just use the ‘Find’ option in your browser.

  14. Well persons of quality often pass on preselections on both sides, Adam is corect about that. Labor has lost the south of Sydney for the first time in decades largely because of poor candidate choices in banks and barton. Not surprisingly the electorate voted out a guy – melham who announced in June he was already packing up in banks.

    The other labor candidate was a long time electorate officer who had the worst swing in NSW against him. 2 easy throw aways. There are other examples but probably the worst ones are the rotten boroughs of Melbourne which Dr Carr can provide more information should he choose to share.

  15. Confessions

    When you add the informal 5.9% to the over one million people who did not register to vote at all, you have over 10% of the electorate not casting an effective vote, most by choice. Whichever side understands what are the issues motivating this group and responds to them can easily win the next election. Of course, on both sides, that would mean some incumbents retiring, and changes to party processes.

  16. [A ferociously fought issue in the 2010 election was whether to move to a profits-based mining tax. Labor won the election, yet Coalition MPs and Senators voted in parliament against the mining tax.

    Today, Prime Minister Tony Abbott is telling Labor members that we should vote to repeal carbon pricing. Having been a weathervane on both climate science and emissions trading, he seems to think we should do likewise.

    Mandates authorise – and enjoin – individual parliamentarians to act on the issues that they campaigned upon. For example, having gone to the 2007 election promising an ETS, Coalition representatives should have voted for an ETS when it came to the parliament in 2009. Alas, only a handful did so.

    Mandate theory has never meant that oppositions should roll over like poodles after an election, particularly on an issue as fundamental as tackling climate change, following the hottest summer on record.

    Since the carbon price began, electricity emissions are down 7 percent, and Westpac estimates the impact on the CPI was 0.5 percent, which is less than the forecast 0.7 percent. Pricing carbon uses the ingenuity of the market to improve the environment. In the 1990s, the US used an ETS to deal with acid rain, which met its targets at one-third of the projected costs.

    By contrast, Direct Action has been rubbished by everyone from the Grattan Institute to Malcolm Turnbull. It will cost households more – yet do less for the environment.

    If the Coalition wish to repeal the carbon tax, it should take the sensible path of moving straight to an ETS from 1 July 2014. Both parties have a mandate for that.]

    Completely agree! If Abbott wants to implement soil magic then let him negotiate with the numpty incoming Senate.

  17. DAVE 25
    Francie Jones is one of my Twitter followers and I am privileged she sends me her articles, they are always excellent and well thought out. Her latest on Brough is brilliant

  18. [There are other examples but probably the worst ones are the rotten boroughs of Melbourne which Dr Carr can provide more information should he choose to share.]

    Stop changing the subject.

  19. Scott Morrison and Andrew Nguyen.
    Curiously the Liberal candidate in Oxley was also called Andrew Nguyen. The last time this happened was the two Tony Smiths (Casey and Dickson) in 1996.

  20. From a Prof of history, not a politician.
    [On Saturday night, when it had been confirmed that the Labor Party had suffered a massive defeat, with the worst primary vote for more than 60 years, a strangely euphoric Kevin Rudd took to the microphone to deliver a concession speech that sounded not sad or upset, as befitting the occasion, but victorious. His wife, Therese, standing at his side, at times looking worried, glanced at him nervously all the while, but the man himself kept smiling and talking as if he couldn’t contain his happiness. Others in the Labor Party might be feeling despondent, but he felt triumphant, because in the struggle that really mattered, with the woman who had taken his position as prime minister, he had been victorious. This was his celebration.]

    Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/comment/womens-vote-in-play-even-after-gillard-demise-20130909-2tg66.html#ixzz2eR63LS17

  21. Hard to believe this has been written by a member of the Canberra press gallery:

    [The Senate is an orderly place where wise backsides sit on claret-coloured benches and tend to important legislative matters. The undignified antics of the House of Representatives are not welcome in democracy’s great red room, where speeches are measured, voting orderly, and attitudes as pompous as practicable.

    Read more: http://www.watoday.com.au/federal-politics/political-opinion/the-senate-will-come-to-order–or-maybe-not-20130909-2tgc9.html#ixzz2eR6GSxjK ]

    Surely she jests? The Senate is Unhingement Central, home to barely literate figures like Ron Boswell, shrill hysterics like Michaelia Cash and outright loons like that shoplifter who thought carbon pricing legislation could be warded off by a children’s dance.

  22. confessions@42

    Hard to believe this has been written by a member of the Canberra press gallery:

    The Senate is an orderly place where wise backsides sit on claret-coloured benches and tend to important legislative matters. The undignified antics of the House of Representatives are not welcome in democracy’s great red room, where speeches are measured, voting orderly, and attitudes as pompous as practicable.

    Read more: http://www.watoday.com.au/federal-politics/political-opinion/the-senate-will-come-to-order–or-maybe-not-20130909-2tgc9.html#ixzz2eR6GSxjK

    Surely she jests? The Senate is Unhingement Central, home to barely literate figures like Ron Boswell, shrill hysterics like Michaelia Cash and outright loons like that shoplifter who thought carbon pricing legislation could be warded off by a children’s dance.

    Written by Jacqueline Maley.


    Any further comment would be superfluous.

  23. [barely literate figures like Ron Boswell]

    I sat through a Senate inquiry on climate policy with Boswell. There may be stupider human beings on the planet but I hope I never meet them. He simply didn’t understand what was being said. Even the chair (Colbeck) got very snappy with him.

  24. When the trots (ex or current) colonise you it’s usually a sign of terminal decline. Howes in the senate has a very ndp Jo valentine end of times flavour to it.

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