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. Yes, I did, and if he died in 1982 then I started it wrong. Mind you, I also started the Wikipedias for A LOT of politicians, so the memory fades a bit …

  2. Frickeg @ 2838: Hughes and Page, for starters. There can’t be too many others, and I can’t recall any in the last 40 years. Sir John Cramer was 78 when he retired from being Member for Bennelong in 1974.

  3. The best way to limit micro parties is to adopt a 4% Group representation threshold. All groups with less than 4% are bulk excluded from the count

    You also need to Increase the deposit to $5,000 per candidate and only issue a refund for each 4% of the vote. 8% two deposit refunds 12% Three, 16% four 20% five…

  4. Psephos, I just checked and it didn’t come from you! I have no memory of where it came from. I’ve just fixed it, though.

    Pedant – I count eleven, six senators and five MPs. Hughes and Page are definitely two. Hughes was 90 when he died, Page 81.

  5. With fewer micro parties if would be possible to introduce ATL preference voting.

    Alternative we could just have preferential group voting above the line

  6. Further to my Wikipedia blunder – that was very early in my editing days, and I remember we had him as a knight for some reason too, so I expect at some point in my amateur and amateurish research I came upon a completely different William Arthur and collated the two. I’m only guessing, though.

  7. Have any federal politicians made it to 100. I know both King O’Malley and J T Lang were past 99.5 but I don’t know of any who got the telegram.

  8. No federal politicians have made it to 100. Jack Lang was the oldest at 98 years and 280 days. O’Malley’s birthday is unclear, but the ADB has it at 1898, making him only 95 when he died.

  9. [Have any federal politicians made it to 100. I know both King O’Malley and J T Lang were past 99.5 but I don’t know of any who got the telegram.]

    No, I don’t believe so. Whitlam at 97 must be close to the record.

  10. Indi: Sophi can not make up the difference now that an additional 1000 votes have been added to the tally that go against her. There is not enough votes left to ti the result unless there is another missing box of votes out there

    Unfortunately HTML tables can not be posted

    Indi FORMAL % Est Formal
    Enrolled 98,399 0.9025 88805.0975

    Total 80,808 0.821227858 7,997 3998.54875 4,749

    1000 Cathy 39,731 1,501 0.406153451 0.4358 Win
    Sophi 38,230 0.593846549 0.5743

  11. Collings and Maloney were both right. The other octogenarians by my reckoning were Senator Don Cameron (ALP, Vic, 1938-62, retired at 84 and died a few months later), Senator Thomas Crawford (Nat/UAP/Ind, Qld, 1917-47, retired at 82), George Lawson (ALP, Brisbane, 1931-61, retired at 81), Senator Sir Simon Fraser (Prot/Lib, Vic, 1901-13, retired at 80), Harry Gregory (Lib/Nat/CP, Dampier/Swan, 1913-40, died at 80), Senator Gordon Brown (ALP, Qld, 1932-65, retired at 80), and possibly John West (ALP, East Sydney, 1910-31, died at possibly 80 but his birthdate is uncertain).

    Talking about age of MPs, I get Senator Frederick Ward (ALP, SA, 1947-51) as the oldest newly-elected parliamentarian at 75, although Senator Stephen Barker (ALP, Vic, 1910-20, 1923-24) was elected to his second term at the age of 78 (and died about a year after taking his seat).

  12. I think people occasionally add a few years when they get passed 90. The wiki on O’Malley has been changed in the last few months to 1854 but of course there is no citation.

  13. Whitlam is easily the oldest prime minister, though. If he reaches 98 he will be only the seventh, I believe, after Lang, George Hannan, James Corbett, Aubrey Luck, Reg Turnbull and Sir John Cramer. He is also easily the oldest living federal parliamentarian; Senator Peter Sim is his nearest rival, about eleven months behind him.

  14. If the Parl Handbook is correct, there are still two survivors of the 1949 Parliament alive. George Pearce (Lib, Capricornia) born September 1917, and Bill Grayden (Lib, Swan), born August 1920.

  15. Oakeshott Country @2877: I had nothing to do with that wiki entry, but it is cited in the text, with an article in the SMH about O’Malley celebrating his 99th birthday.

  16. Psephos: I remember media types talking about about Clyde Cameron being the last of the 1949 Parliament, but they all overlooked Pearce and Grayden.

  17. [If Labor can sort itself out, it will once again be back in govt. I have this nagging feeling that Abbott is going to entrench himself in office as Howard did, however.]

    Well he certainly going to try, and I doubt the LNP will be giving massive free kicks to the opposition like the ALP did.

    But thats normal.

    Only 3 in 100 Australians have to decide he’s no good by 2016. If the ALP keeps on its toes, and doesnt stuff up, thats doable. Sooner or later Abbott will stuff up – in its his nature. The question is whether the Credlin PR machine of the ALP win the spin when he does.

    I maintain the greatest risk to the ALP is one of voerestimating Abbott, just because he won an election against a completely disunited ALP. So what?

    His policies are crap (really,they are just silly crap) and everyone knows it too. Now he has to institute them – he’s in govt.

    The wheels will come off. Thats for sure. Whether the ALP regroups to capitalise on that is what is far less certain.

  18. [Psephos: I remember media types talking about about Clyde Cameron being the last of the 1949 Parliament, but they all overlooked Pearce and Grayden.]

    He was the last member of Chifley’s Caucus.

  19. Reservations about Abbott aside I actually won the double with both Beattie and Sophie going down. Given the size of the result I probably got the trifecta with Wyatt being re-elected as his seat was not important in the final election result.

    Now if only Abbott can prove my concerns unfounded.

  20. Centenarian politicians from other countries? Again, I can think of four for starters: Emanuel Shinwell, Sir Hartley Shawcross, Strom Thurmond and Jimmie Davis. Plus General Vo Nguyen Giap, if you count him as a politician

  21. [Psephos
    Posted Wednesday, September 11, 2013 at 11:10 pm | PERMALINK
    If Wyatt Roy lives to be as old as Whitlam is now, he will still be alive in 2087.]

    …and the ALP will probably still not have delivered a surplus!


    (runs away to bed…..Good night all!)

  22. Foreign centenarian politicians: Wikipedia actually has a list of these at “List of centenarians (politicians and government servants)” (I don’t know how to do markup on this site). A quick look tells me that Elizabeth Couchman is surely the oldest Australian MP ever, state or federal, at 106.

  23. Confessions – 2796 Re Hockey MIA,

    Nothing wrong with that, let him get on with the work that needs doing. Have never seen the need to come out with announcements every single day.

    Libs will not feed the 24/7 news cycle as much as previous Govt i reckon. Just have a couple of major policies on the go at any one time and if they have learnt anything from the last 6 years, under promise and over deliver is the way to go, implementation is critical and defend rather than backflip.

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