Wentworth by-election minus three days

As the Wentworth race enters the home strait, Liberal internal polling reportedly records a blowout lead for Kerryn Phelps.

Panic stations in the Liberal camp ahead of Saturday’s Wentworth by-election, according to latest reports:

The Australian reports that “leaked” (by which they mean “dropped”) Liberal internal polling has found Kerryn Phelps breaking out to a 55-45 lead, after being level pegging a week ago. Caution should always be taken with reports of internal polling, which is invariably selectively released even if not actually fabricated, and it is clear in this case that the objective is to scare potential protest voters back into line. Nonetheless, an apparent turn against the government is all too explicable given its performance over the past week or so, and is also consistent with the evident desperation of the Prime Minister’s thought bubble about moving the Australian embassy in Israel to Jersualem – an all too obvious pitch at the 12.5% of the Wentworth population that identifies as Jewish, the highest proportion of any electorate in the land.

• The reported movement in internal polling has been reflected on the betting markets, with Ladbrokes now has an unspecified independent a very slight favourite to win, from $2.75 at the start of the week to $1.70, while Dave Sharma is out from $1.33 to $1.80. Labor’s Tim Murray is out very slightly from $7.50 to $8. If you’re up for a bet, particularly a losing one, it would help me out if you signed up through the Ladbrokes advertisement on the sidebar.

• Evidently recounting complaints from the Kerryn Phelps camp, a report by Joe Hildebrand of the Daily Telegraph made overheated claims that a poll conducted for independent candidate Licia Heath a fortnight ago was an example of “push polling”. In particular, a question on Heath’s campaign for a new high school in the electorate prompted an unidentified Phelps campaign operative to assert, “if that’s not push-polling I don’t know what is”. It would seem the spokesperson does not, indeed, know what push polling is – properly understood, the term refers to efforts to disseminate false information under the guise of conducting an opinion poll. But the information in this case is not false, and the poll was very clearly a poll, even if it may not have been a particularly good one. Kevin Bonham notes that such a question may have contaminated voting intention responses if it had preceded it in the question order, but my attempt to clear this up did not elicit a response.

UPDATE: Now Greenpeace has produced results of ReachTEL poll that tends to confirm the picture painted by the reported Liberal internal polling – after allocation of a forced response question for the 2% initially undecided, the primary votes are 33.5% for Dave Sharma (Liberal), 26.4% for Kerryn Phelps (independent), 21.7% for Tim Murray (Labor), 9.2% for Dominic Wy Kanak (Greens) and 5.6% for Licia Heath (independent). Applying the remarkable results for respondent-allocated preferences, which finds over 90% flowing to Phelps, Phelps emerges with a crushing lead of 62.4-37.6. The poll was conducted Monday from a sample of 661. Respondents were also asked about their vote in 2016, and the results aligned fairly well with the actual result. Among the other findings were that a remarkable 66.0% agreed, including 54.0% who strongly agreed, with Alex Turnbull’s assertion that the Liberal Party had “been taken over by extremists on the hard right“. For perspective, the course of four ReachTEL polls to have emerged through the campaign has run like so:

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.

108 comments on “Wentworth by-election minus three days”

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  1. There’s a claim here: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/uk-voting-systems-elections-tactical-game-system-research-general-theresa-may-conservatives-reform-a7903961.html that about 20% of voters who voted may have voted tactically in the 2017 UK election, but I don’t know how sound the methods behind that claim are.

    I’m not aware of any attempt to measure it in Australia because seats where it matters are so rare. I do think that in most three-cornered cases (one exception being Rockhampton last year) the voters have managed to get the candidate most likely to win from second into the top two.

  2. Phelps has directed lib above lab in her htv BECAUSE she full well knew that the converse would cost her too many primary votes leaking back to Sharma.

    She knows it, Shorten knows it… but some here think in spite of this that pissed Libs will ignore her htv and pref lab when she switched her htv precisely to get their primary vote!!!

  3. Something that has been exercising my mind in recent days is that unless Dave Sharma wins by a reasonable margin, we are unlikely to have any idea of the Wentworth outcome on Saturday night.

    The AEC’s standard procedure is to count first preferences for each candidate and then conduct a notional two-candidate-preferred distribution of preferences. The two candidates are selected by the Australian Electoral Officer for the State after the close of nominations and the names are provided in a sealed envelope to each polling booth presiding officer to be opened after the close of polling. In general elections the choice will be the ALP and Coalition candidates for most seats, and the AEC only has to think carefully where there is a sitting independent or perhaps competing Coalition candidates.

    There are so many independents and minor parties in the field that it seems unlikely to be clear on Saturday night whether Murray or Phelps will be the last candidate eliminated in the full preference count. If the AEC chooses Murray for the 2CP and he ‘loses’ narrowly, we won’t know whether Phelps might still actually win the election if the full distribution of preferences favours her over Murray. And if the AEC chooses Phelps for the 2CP count and she ‘wins’ narrowly, we won’t know whether the full distribution will put Murray ahead of her but in a losing position to Sharma. In any event, unless Sharma wins pretty clearly, we’re going to have to wait for postal votes to be certain of the outcome.

    My bottom line here is to say that we should all be deeply suspicious of the media calling the result on Saturday night in favour of either Phelps or Murray. If Sharma is not comfortably ahead, I’ll be very interested to see how Antony Green tries to explain the uncertainties to his audience.

  4. Expat Follower, don’t get me wrong. I think Phelps would comfortably beat either Sharma or Murray in a final TCP, whereas Murray would be no better than 50-50 to beat Sharma, if that. If your priority as a voter is to kick the Liberals out of Wentworth, the proper vote to ensure this is for Phelps.

    What I am saying is that you shouldn’t draw a conclusion that Murray definitely won’t win on Oct 20. I think he has a real chance. Being a Labor voter, I would see this as a great and historic victory if it happened. But I am under no illusion that he is anywhere near a favourite over Sharma in a TCP.

  5. Re post above by canberra boy, it is worth bearing in mind what happened in Denison 2010 which was initially counted as Labor vs Liberal. It soon became clear that Labor vs Wilkie was the real action and so booths had to be re-aligned to a Labor vs Wilkie 2CP. This process is done more or less alphabetically by booth and in the process the 2CP swayed around like crazy causing many people to incorrectly call that Wilkie had lost because he was 53-47 behind in the early booths. In reality the distribution of pro-Wilkie and pro-Labor booths through the alphabet was very uneven with the top half heavy in pro-Labor booths.

    One thing we might be able to call: if Sharma is behind on the 2PP on the night, it is pretty safe to assume he has lost, the question then being who to.

  6. I’ve obtained the full results from the Greenpeace/ReachTEL poll. On respondent-allocated preferences, 93.8% said they would preference Phelps ahead of Sharma – although a little confusingly, it appears Phelps primary voters were redundantly asked this question, but Sharma primary voters were not. Assuming this is right, Phelps emerges with a lead of 62.4-37.6. The poll also finds climate change is rated the dominant issue, and that 66.0% agree, including 54.0% who strongly agree, with Alex Turnbull’s assertion that the Liberals had been “taken over by extremists on the hard right”.

  7. Kevin Bonham if AEC do a Phelps-Sharma 2CP and Phelps ‘wins’ narrowly, even without postals the actual outcome might be Murray losing to Sharma. Some will preference Phelps over Sharma but not Murray over Sharma.

  8. I dont think anyone disputes that Sharma will be the primary vote leader… so “behind on 2PP” on the night assumes he is behind someone specific. I dont know if one can simultaneously measure lib-lab 2pp and lib-phelps 2pp on the night?

    Michael… we agree Murray winning is a <<50% proposition as you say. Enough to be a "real" chance is a qn of calibration… whatever the degree that voting for him increases his probability of winning, i argue it increases the probability of Sharma winning more (all at Phelps' expense). If murray finishes 2nd, sharma's probability of hanging on i would rate at 80+%… if phelps finishes 2nd i think that drops by half. Makes no empirical sense to advocate for it that i can see

  9. Will be interesting to see if the AEC use their discretion to do a Lib-Phelps 2CP on the night rather than Lib-ALP.

    This is what the AEC says about this:

    * After nominations close, the AEC selects two candidates in each division to whom preferences of all other candidates will be distributed indicatively on election night. These candidates are chosen in most cases on the basis of previous election results.
    * The names of the two candidates are not made public before the close of polling. At each polling place, the ARO announces the names of the two candidates at the commencement of the count.

    Not clear how soon after nominations close this decision is made.

  10. Expat Follower says:
    Wednesday, October 17, 2018 at 7:07 pm
    I dont think anyone disputes that Sharma will be the primary vote leader…

    Probably, but that doesn’t mean he’ll lead the penultimate (3-way) count. Or even make the final TCP. Remember, Phelps and Murray could very well attract much higher Heath/Green/Other preferences flows than Sharma, and if these come from a pool of 20%+ primary votes, and Sharma’s PV is sufficiently below 33%, he could absolutely miss the final TCP.

    If ReachTEL is right in tracking his PV as falling sharply, it could fall as low as 30 by Oct 20. If Phelps scoops up all his lost votes, she gets a PV of 29. Now, if Murray stays put on 21% PV, the penultimate (3-way) count could feasibly end up:
    Phelps 35
    Murray 34
    Sharma 31

    So, people can accept a proposition that Sharma will definitely be in the final TCP count, but if so, it is on the basis of intuition rather than reason.

  11. Interesting Kevin.

    Anyhoo ive made my case every way i can so will stop repeating myself

    But i cant guarantee that i wont appear in a frothing rage on sat night if Murray finishes above Phelps but Libs retain !!!!

  12. Expat Follower, I think we agree on the soundness of Bill Shorten’s and Labor’s strategy in Wentworth (let’s keep this what it is: a disaster for the Libs in losing a blue ribbon seat), but disagree in our assessments of the likelihood of Labor winning, either the seat itself, or the ALP-Lib TPP. Am I right?

  13. 54% strongly agree …..

    How long ago did Malcolm Fraser say the Liberal Party is no longer a liberal party?

    Only now it seems the population at large is coming to recognise that Fraser was absolutely correct – and always has been

  14. Sigh… i have to bite… its an interesting scenario you raise Michael. Both Murray and Phelps share enough of the 15% other to both leapfrog Sharma. Really low probability… not intuition to assert that.

    But even if it happens, all it does is guarantee a Phelps win on Sharma preferences?

    The game theory claim is that there is no strategy that net increases Murray’s chance of winning the seat. There are only strategies that help Sharma (inc voting for murray such that he overtakes Phelps) or Phelps. So DON’T HELP THE LIBS!!

  15. Greens voters hold the key to swing success towards Phelps or the ALP: They only have to vote ALP1 or Phelps1 (rather than the more obvious Greens1). That alone will decide second place behind the Libs and then the distribution of preferences will take that second place to first, to beat Sharma and the Libs.

    So, in my view Sharma is gone but there is still a question mark who the winner will be: ALP or Phelps?

  16. “Phelps has directed lib above lab in her htv “….
    But she has also written this on Twitter recently:

    “If you understand the Federal preferences system, people CAN and WILL decide their own preferences. The main thing is for people to vote 1 for me first if they want a socially progressive and economically sensible representative. #Wentworth”

    She is obviously retracting from her previous advice that Sharma should be preferred over Murray, thus leaving her voters free to decide what to do.

  17. I know this sounds incredible, but ……..

    The ABC is reporting that there is an email circulating in Wentworth, that Phelps has withdrawn from the election as she has been diagnosed with HIV.

    Menzies House work experience kid on the job?

  18. The Liberal Party campaign in Wentworth has now officially reached “desperate”. This isn’t even a clever lie in one of the most highly educated electorates in the country, with one of the highest % Yes votes as well.

    Sunday 21 October will be renamed “Recrimination Day”. Scott Morrison is already booked to be unavailable for all non-Fox interviews.

  19. the question of course is how much the liberal party primary vote falls and to what extent do people vote tactically…..it may be a close thing like Wagga but could the libs come third? and their preferences distributed?

  20. The email looks like the work of a lone homophobe crackpot to me; we have some of them in my state and election time seems to set off their loopiness and lack of composure. But even so some people will suspect the Liberals and mark them down for it; they cannot take a trick at the moment.

  21. probably true KB, re email source, however because of history (2007), some people will suspect ‘rogue staffers’ or ‘administrative errors’

  22. The HIV smear is so outdated, plainly wrong, ludicrous, hamfisted, extremist, juvenile…. and for a sophisticated electorate beyond misguided….. words (almost) fail me.
    For Sharma to refuse to comment (he is named on it), even just to dismiss it, is another blunder.

  23. KB
    You may be right about the Liberals and the lone crank theory. But given how loudly they have been blowing the dog whistles lately, I find it hard to have any sympathy for them.

  24. Regarding the email smear, the more problematical element isn’t the HIV claim, but the assertion that Dr Phelps has pulled out of the by-election. This is likely to be a breach of s.329(1) of the Electoral Act (misleading electors in relation to the casting of a vote), since it could well lead a voter to place no mark in Dr Phelps’s square on the ballot paper, which would then be deemed to be a last preference. @joshgnosis has pointed out on Twitter that “One detail about this story is because the emailer stupidly used an ISP-hosted email address rather than some overseas one it is actually super easy for police to identify who sent it.” Dr Phelps’s campaign should put in a complaint to the AEC and the AFP about this double-quick, and it could be extremely interesting to see who was behind this. (Shades of the behaviour of people close to Jackie Kelly in 2007.)

  25. So, how traceable are E-mails these days?

    Option 1: Lone homophobe crackpot, as per K.Bonham … though why this person would then go on to urge voting for a Jewish-Indian cosmopolite is a bit of a head scratcher. If a homophobe/happy clappy crackpot though, perhaps.

    Option 2: Young Libs or Menzies House loose cannon. It does have that Lindsay anti-Muslim shit-sheet quality to it. The Sharma no-comment doesn’t look good, though I suspect he has just spent an intensive period of re-education by his handlers due to the past 3 days of … stuff. As a result he may offer a “no comment” if asked whether he thinks the sun will rise tomorrow.

    Option 3: Young ALP or “progressive analogue of Menzies House” loose cannon. Are one or more comrades getting overconfident? An E-mail tailored to ping the confirmation bias of media commentators and progressive voters, and if you can feel the tide turning then it doesn’t hurt to start rowing in that direction, does it?

    Option 4: Abbott demanded a Sharma endorsement from Turnbull. Looks like he came through.

  26. This is such a disgustingly bad smear and will backfire so badly, that part of me thinks that it must have originated from *within* those who support Phelps.

    Mind you, I often encounter conservatives so dim that I have to ask whether they’re actually left-wing trolls.

  27. who is responsible for the fake email? people have argued everyone from a lone crank to each of the 3 contenders political party………… what impact? who knows…. but what is does suggest is some one is very worried

  28. A little snippet for anyone interested in etymology. The name “Sharma” in the languages spoken in northern India translates roughly into the plural of “shame”.

    For what it is worth!

  29. If those numbers from Canberra Boy (Sharma close to 40%) turn out to be true then i would say with certainty that Murray has close to zero chance of winning (if finishes above Phelps needs >70% of all preference flow inc Phelps’).

    Phelps, if finishes 2nd with ~22%, needs 90% of Murray’s preferences (to get to ~40) and two thirds of the others – or a similar combo… this is not a doddle, but not massively improbable either?

    Sharma truing in towards 30% makes it slightly more probable for Murray off a zero base if he finishes 2nd, and takes a 2nd place Phelps into almost impregnable certainty to win the seat.

    Three cornered contests with preferential voting are a psephological wet dream!!!

  30. RE: Email smear. Who gets info from emails these days? Especially one that is plain text. It has all the hall marks of someone who is trapped in the 1990s.

  31. I don’t know how anyone votes for the LNP in the current circumstances.

    If we don’t turn climate change around in 10 years the world is f*cked, surely nothing else matters.

    Too late for Paris accords or carbon price signals, the whole world has to massively directly invest in an as immediate change to renewables as is possible. Coal needs to be retired now, today, not in 15 years.

    It is as if the report never came out in Australia, f*ck we are stupid.

  32. They waited a LONG time to condemn, probably waiting until they’re 100% sure it didn’t come from anyone with a link to him.

    I don’t expect Sharma to get to 30% or less. Labor is clearly running dead, which tells you their internal polling shows Murray is probably close to Phelps, but Phelps is a better shot at taking the seat.

  33. I agree with J341983 that Labor is now running dead. Fran Kelly said this morning that there had been an open invitation to Tim Murray to appear on RN Breakfast any morning this week and he had declined. That said, it is of course very hard to know how a campaign is actually being conducted in these days of highly targeted social media ads.

  34. I think Labor’s strategy shows they judge themselves to be a minor chance to defeat Sharma, but Phelps a major chance. So, they are still out to win votes, because they do want to finish at least third (who knows how Heath/Green/Other preferences will pan out if Labor drops out too soon in the count), but under no circumstances to weaken a Phelps tilt at winning the seat off the Liberals. If this is “running dead” it is a very nuanced and sophisticated version of it. “Threading the needle” comes closer to describing it in my book. I have to say I have become very impressed with Labor’s political nous in this campaign.

  35. WeWantPaul @ #89 Thursday, October 18th, 2018 – 9:22 am

    It is as if the report never came out in Australia, f*ck we are stupid.

    We certainly are.

    It is almost as if the most recent stuff-ups by the COALition have been specifically designed to take any discussion of the approaching climate catastrophe off the table. The only reason I can think of not to think so is that they have never previously demonstrated that they are anything like that clever 🙁

  36. I am actually rather dubious about ReachTel polling because it is commissioned polling and not straight down the line Newspoll/ Ipsos or whoever. I have been polled several time in the last few months – start the survey – and then hang up after a few questions – the questions are loaded with an inbuilt bias to one issue or another. It is easy to agree with what is being offered.

    This is not to say that the Libs are not in a world of trouble but a reachtel poll may not be that accurate.

    But based on what there is in the Reachtel and from what we know about the HTV cards, it would seem that the ALP could be pushed above Phelps. If a large number of her supporters then follow the HTV then Sharma will win.

    The two wild cards are:
    1) where the Heath preferences go. Or they to go to informal as the punters lose their way without a HTV and 16 candidates to choose from.
    2) the turnout – there is always a lower turnout than a general election – this would seem to hurt the non-Libs more .

  37. blackburnpseph interesting that you have been polled several times in recent months by ReachTEL, because so have I. Calls made to my mobile phone, some seem to be regular voting intention etc, while others have explored particular issues. The latter category do seem inclined to the biases you mention. I always complete the poll out of interest in what is being polled and for whom. Most interesting though is that we have both received multiple calls – in my case I think at least four and possibly five. What does this say about their randomness and sampling methodology?

  38. Breakdown of polls seen so far, in part or full, re Wentworth:

    4 commissioned by left-wing lobby groups
    3 candidate internals
    2 party internals
    1 experimental by new pollster
    0 media-commissioned or independently conducted by established pollster

    The polls collectively or individually could be total garbage. The desperation of the Liberals’ tactics and the number of things that have gone wrong for them in the final weeks seem more indicative.

  39. In seats where the top two candidates are not very certain, such as in Wentworth at this coming election, the AEC should do indicative 3CP counts before deciding on an indicative 2CP count.

  40. Tom the first and best, expanding the 2CP process at first seems to make some sense, until you start to think about the practicalities of implementing something different. First and foremost is who would decide, and on what basis, to go to 3CP or even 4CP? If it’s the state head of the AEC (who determines which two candidates for 2CP), then in what circumstances or under what guidelines? If we say only in circumstances such as Wentworth, then we are effectively saying to do it on the basis of conjecture and possibly dodgy polling (see Kevin Bonham’s last post). Doing a two-step notional preference count would add to election cost and delay provision of numbers on election night. But perhaps leaving it at the AEC’s discretion would be OK, because they are unlikely to do it very often.

    I note that the AEC already has the power to conduct a 3CP. Sub-section 274(2A) of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 provides for a direction to electoral officers “to conduct a count of preference votes (other than first preference votes) on the ballot papers that, in the opinion of the Australian Electoral Officer, will best provide an indication of the candidate most likely to be elected for the Division.” Perhaps we’ll see that happen this time? If so, you’d think the media would already be aware, because the AEC would need to have discussed the data feed with them. Antony?

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