Wide of the mark

A consideration of whether the poor reputation of seat polling is really deserved (short answer: yes).

Still no new polls, so let’s take a look at some old ones instead. After the 2016 election, I wrote an article for Crikey on the performance of the pollsters, particularly in regard to seat polls, and published here a chart showing the distribution of their errors. After being asked if the findings bore up over the seat polling conducted since, I have now conducted a similar exercise on seat polls conducted since the 2016 federal election, of which I identified 25 conducted in the final fortnight of various state elections and federal by-elections. However, rather than use the two-party results, which have separate issues of their own, I have produced separate results from Labor and Coalition primary votes. These can be found at the bottom of the post.

In the 2016 analysis, I concluded that the polls behaved more like they had a 7% margin of error than the 4% margin theoretically associated with polls sampling 500 to 600 respondents, as is typically the case with seat polls. It turns out that this chimes quite well with the polls conducted since. The mean error for the Coalition was +1.9%, which is to say the average poll had the Coalition that much too high high, while for Labor it was -0.5%. The difference is just inside statistical significance (the p-value on a two-sample t-test coming in at 0.047).

However, this does not mean you can confidently treat any given seat poll as biased to the Coalition, because their record is so erratic that any given poll could fall either way. The charts below record the spread of pollster errors (i.e. their result for a given party’s primary vote minus the actual result) as histograms, with two distribution curves laid over them – a thinner one in black, showing what the curve should theoretically look like with a 4% margin of error, and a thicker one in blue, showing their actual distribution. The lower and flatter the blue curve, the more erratic and unreliable were the results. As such, the charts show seat polls have been particularly wayward in predicting the Coalition primary vote. They have been somewhat nearer the mark with Labor, but still below theoretical expectations. The distributions suggest an effective margin of error for Labor of 6.5%, and for the Coalition of fully 9.5%.

It should be acknowledged, however, that a lot can happen over the last fortnight of an election campaign, and pollsters can always defend an apparent misfire by asserting that the situation changed after the poll was conducted. Perhaps significantly, the two worst performing polls in this analysis only barely fit within the two-week time frame. These were YouGov Galaxy polls from the Victorian “sandbelt” seats of Mordialloc and Frankston at the state election in November last year, crediting Labor with two-party votes of 52% and 51% in seats where the final results were 62.9% and 59.7%. If these cases are removed, the mean Coalition error comes down to +1.1% and the effective margin of error to 8.4%; while for Labor, the mean becames +0.1% and the margin of error 5.3%.

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.

831 comments on “Wide of the mark”

  1. Nath

    I responded to Wayne at 5:32PM

    Would you care to respond to the issues in lieu of your demeaning and inconsequential abuse

    Australia deserves better that the likes of you, Wayne and some others with no conception of commercial protocols, protocols which have stood the test of time for a reason

    Some do not abide by convention – and they are ultimately found out both thru the Laws of the land (including as amended) and public opinion

    My view of the current political landscape is that Labor occupies the acceptable, confirmed by their response to the Greens whilst the Coalition occupies the right wing austerity and the most effective form of regulation is self regulation (giving advantage to those self regulating as Royal Commissions are educating) demographic, confirmed by aligning with Hanson and Palmer (whose objective is self interest as is his history)

    Those who have no appreciation of society, blinded by idealism over achievement, need to be called out because they are dangerous

    Single issues are an irrelevant base – society is just far to complex including reliance’s

    So Climate is not just about fossil fuels, Capital is not just about advantage, Transport is not just about Public Transport, domestic violence is not just about “women and children” and the List goes on and on covering any subject that can be named

    And there is another parameter – Respect, and you miss out here as well

    Anyway the gardening show my wife is engrossed in (guess who the gardener in the house hold is – although I do mow the lawns!) is about to conclude, so other interests now (unlike you I would suggest!!)

  2. Confessions @ #639 Friday, April 26th, 2019 – 8:00 pm

    C@t:

    Yeah it was tongue-in-cheek. Obviously it’s sedentary lifestyles that increase the risk of heart disease.

    I saw on the Washington Post website yesterday or day before that the WHO has released new guidelines for children recommending that zero to very limited screen time for 1 to 5 year olds. I blinked at the thought that there are families out there putting 1yos in front of TVs.

    I saw that as well and I’m not convinced by it. I have 2 perfectly healthy young men that I brought up watching more TV and having more computer screen time than recommended because that’s just the sort of family we were-early adopters of new technology and possessing a love of cartoons and other satirical shows, of which there were a lot more around back in the day. However, we also made sure that they got lots of fresh air and exercise and ate properly. It’s possible to do it all!

  3. HughB @ #649 Friday, April 26th, 2019 – 8:07 pm

    As a parent whose 1 yo used to wake up at about 5.30am, I was rather relieved that I could stick her in front of the (reasonably good quality) kids programs on the ABC at that time of morning and go back to bed for another hour or so. Sometimes sanity, or having a life other than 24 hr child carer, demands that some low effort entertainment be utilised. I don’t claim it as ideal practice, but, realistically, it’s a very handy tool in the box.

    Kids can use devices creatively too, as well as just passive entertainment.
    I was fascinated to see how one of my granddaughters created an ‘animation’ by taking multiple still shots with a phone as she moved objects in front of it. Kept her totally absorbed for about an hour and a most impressive result.

  4. Steve Davis

    I thought I told you to shut your mouth unless you had something nice to say

    Our great LNP will are going to win on May 18 like it or lump it

  5. EGW @ #644 Friday, April 26th, 2019 – 8:05 pm

    Darn @ #643 Friday, April 26th, 2019 – 8:01 pm

    Confessions says:
    Friday, April 26, 2019 at 7:37 pm
    Speaking as an occasional poster I couldn’t give a shit if EGW is actually Bemused.

    Provided EGW/Bemused treats others, and their opinions, with respect, he should be welcomed, regardless of any past history.

    There was a time when sockpuppetry was frowned on and shunned. Especially when a commenter had been banned from commenting because of consistently poor behaviour.

    Fess

    My recollection is that Bemused was banned because he abused William. If he has been allowed back, presumably William has decided that a lengthy stay in coventry followed by a suitable apology is sufficient to redress the insult.

    Your recollection is not correct.

    How do you know?

  6. C@tmomma @ #655 Friday, April 26th, 2019 – 8:13 pm

    EGW @ #644 Friday, April 26th, 2019 – 8:05 pm

    Darn @ #643 Friday, April 26th, 2019 – 8:01 pm

    Confessions says:
    Friday, April 26, 2019 at 7:37 pm
    Speaking as an occasional poster I couldn’t give a shit if EGW is actually Bemused.

    Provided EGW/Bemused treats others, and their opinions, with respect, he should be welcomed, regardless of any past history.

    There was a time when sockpuppetry was frowned on and shunned. Especially when a commenter had been banned from commenting because of consistently poor behaviour.

    Fess

    My recollection is that Bemused was banned because he abused William. If he has been allowed back, presumably William has decided that a lengthy stay in coventry followed by a suitable apology is sufficient to redress the insult.

    Your recollection is not correct.

    How do you know?

    The blog records it.

  7. Chinda63 @ 8.08
    They’re proving to be a prissy & delicate lot this time round, these journalists.
    Perhaps they should’ve listened to Julia & not write crap.

  8. Observer
    says:
    Friday, April 26, 2019 at 8:09 pm
    Nath
    I responded to Wayne at 5:32PM
    Would you care to respond to the issues in lieu of your demeaning and inconsequential abuse
    Australia deserves better that the likes of you, Wayne and some others with no conception of commercial protocols, protocols which have stood the test of time for a reason
    _______________________________________________
    Observer, I have no idea what you are going on about in this post, or in most of your posts. However, I would suggest that your assumptions that you are the only one who knows how to make money is a bit odd. Some of the best earners I have ever met could barely read and write yet they have made untold millions because commercial cunning seems to be very little related to pompous posing as an English aristocrat. imho.

  9. Darn:

    Your recollection is different from mine. I distinctly recall William saying bemused should take his rantings to twitter and see how he fared there in terms of garnering a follower base (or wtte). That suggests to me it wasn’t about how he’d behaved towards William, but his poor behaviour overall on the blog, which had been continuing for many years.

  10. EGW @ #654 Friday, April 26th, 2019 – 8:14 pm

    C@tmomma @ #655 Friday, April 26th, 2019 – 8:13 pm

    EGW @ #644 Friday, April 26th, 2019 – 8:05 pm

    Darn @ #643 Friday, April 26th, 2019 – 8:01 pm

    Confessions says:
    Friday, April 26, 2019 at 7:37 pm
    Speaking as an occasional poster I couldn’t give a shit if EGW is actually Bemused.

    Provided EGW/Bemused treats others, and their opinions, with respect, he should be welcomed, regardless of any past history.

    There was a time when sockpuppetry was frowned on and shunned. Especially when a commenter had been banned from commenting because of consistently poor behaviour.

    Fess

    My recollection is that Bemused was banned because he abused William. If he has been allowed back, presumably William has decided that a lengthy stay in coventry followed by a suitable apology is sufficient to redress the insult.

    Your recollection is not correct.

    How do you know?

    The blog records it.

    The apology that bemused gave to Mr Bowe ‘sufficient to redress the insult’ of Mr Bowe by bemused? I’d like to know where that is recorded?

  11. C@t:

    Growing up we had very strict access to the TV; we were allowed to watch one hour per day as children. I guess that has influenced my own TV watching now which is hardly ever.

  12. The Labor Party have not run too many negative ads so far, against the wishes of some hand wringers here.

    People have yearned for less negativity in politics, and Labor is campaigning on this theme. Given they are leading the race currently, they likely have resisted the urge to run nasty ads.

    Why bother when what is being done currently is working?

  13. C@tmomma @ #661 Friday, April 26th, 2019 – 8:17 pm

    EGW @ #654 Friday, April 26th, 2019 – 8:14 pm

    C@tmomma @ #655 Friday, April 26th, 2019 – 8:13 pm

    EGW @ #644 Friday, April 26th, 2019 – 8:05 pm

    Darn @ #643 Friday, April 26th, 2019 – 8:01 pm

    Confessions says:
    Friday, April 26, 2019 at 7:37 pm
    Speaking as an occasional poster I couldn’t give a shit if EGW is actually Bemused.

    Provided EGW/Bemused treats others, and their opinions, with respect, he should be welcomed, regardless of any past history.

    There was a time when sockpuppetry was frowned on and shunned. Especially when a commenter had been banned from commenting because of consistently poor behaviour.

    Fess

    My recollection is that Bemused was banned because he abused William. If he has been allowed back, presumably William has decided that a lengthy stay in coventry followed by a suitable apology is sufficient to redress the insult.

    Your recollection is not correct.

    How do you know?

    The blog records it.

    The apology that bemused gave to Mr Bowe ‘sufficient to redress the insult’ of Mr Bowe by bemused? I’d like to know where that is recorded?

    From what I saw on the blog, Mr Bowe was not owed any apology.

  14. Desert Qlder @ #664 Friday, April 26th, 2019 – 8:19 pm

    The Labor Party have not run too many negative ads so far, against the wishes of some hand wringers here.

    People have yearned for less negativity in politics, and Labor is campaigning on this theme. Given they are leading the race currently, they likely have resisted the urge to run nasty ads.

    Why bother when what is being done currently is working?

    I advocate poking fun at the Libs negative advertising.
    Get people laughing at it and it becomes entirely counter productive.

  15. bemused

    ‘The blog records it.’

    No, William’s account was that you were so miffed at him for telling you not to post in a certain way that you sent him a series of abusive emails and so he banned you.

  16. C@tmomma

    I have a right to stop people attacking me and you should not make fun of some one who as a disability and I can complain about you to the equal opportunities board about you and pls stick your nose out.

  17. Confessions @ #659 Friday, April 26th, 2019 – 8:18 pm

    C@t:

    Growing up we had very strict access to the TV; we were allowed to watch one hour per day as children. I guess that has influenced my own TV watching now which is hardly ever.

    We were discriminatory, definitely no open slather policy. We also provided plenty of books to read. With the pleasant upshot that now the children are discriminatory as well. One prefers reading books and the other selectively downloads what his peer group tells him is worth watching. Sometimes we watch TV together. Light entertainment mostly, but not often.

  18. I think the Change the Rules campaign (which has calmly negative advertising) sits well alongside the more positive ads I’ve seen from Labor – though there have been a few negs as well

  19. Wayne @ #666 Friday, April 26th, 2019 – 8:22 pm

    C@tmomma

    I have a right to stop people attacking me and you should not make fun of some one who as a disability and I can complain about you to the equal opportunities board about you and pls stick your nose out.

    Wayne,
    You can’t tell me, or anyone else, what to do, just because you are Disabled. Plus, I don’t think there even is an ‘Equal Opportunities Board’ in existence any more. 🙂

  20. EGW @ #671 Friday, April 26th, 2019 – 8:25 pm

    C@tmomma @ #672 Friday, April 26th, 2019 – 8:24 pm

    EGW @ #663 Friday, April 26th, 2019 – 8:20 pm

    C@tmomma @ #663 Friday, April 26th, 2019 – 8:19 pm

    Indulgent commentary about his granddaughters. Tick! 🙂

    Misogynistic behaviour?

    Selectively.

    So not gender dependent.
    More related to the stupidity of the comment being responded to.

    No, just whether they are part of your family or not. Or Jennifer Yang.

    Same as it ever was. 🙂

  21. C@tmomma

    That’s where you are wrong again there is a equal opportunity board and I can get compensation from you for discriminating against me and I would want to be you after paying me out for making fun of a disabled person

    So now I am asking you to pull your head in as your not the boss of the blog

  22. Confessions says:
    Friday, April 26, 2019 at 8:15 pm
    Darn:

    Your recollection is different from mine. I distinctly recall William saying bemused should take his rantings to twitter and see how he fared there in terms of garnering a follower base (or wtte). That suggests to me it wasn’t about how he’d behaved towards William, but his poor behaviour overall on the blog, which had been continuing for many years.

    Fess

    I distinctly remember William saying that Bemused had called him a ‘fucking disgrace’. I think that would be enough to get someone banned from most blogs.

    But I don’t want an argument over it. Perhaps I came to the wrong conclusion. Whatever the reason was, it seems Bemused has been allowed back and at the end of the day, if that’s what William has decided we must accept that it’s his blog and his call.

  23. C@tmomma @ #676 Friday, April 26th, 2019 – 8:27 pm

    EGW @ #671 Friday, April 26th, 2019 – 8:25 pm

    C@tmomma @ #672 Friday, April 26th, 2019 – 8:24 pm

    EGW @ #663 Friday, April 26th, 2019 – 8:20 pm

    C@tmomma @ #663 Friday, April 26th, 2019 – 8:19 pm

    Indulgent commentary about his granddaughters. Tick! 🙂

    Misogynistic behaviour?

    Selectively.

    So not gender dependent.
    More related to the stupidity of the comment being responded to.

    No, just whether they are part of your family or not. Or Jennifer Yang.

    Same as it ever was. 🙂

    I have always got along just fine with intelligent women.
    The female ALP candidates in my electorate and surrounding electorates are just admirable.
    Jennifer Yang, Shireen Morris, Stella Yee, Jana Stewart, Clare O’Neil. Intelligent, articulate, charming, excellent company.

  24. Steve Davis

    Unless you want to be paying me out lots of money I would shut that mouth of yours and stop your nasty comments as I can take you to the equal opportunity board too

  25. That’s really bad news if bemused is back under an assumed identity.

    He was one of the nastiest cyber stalkers to ever grace this blog — and that’s saying something!

  26. William Bowe says:
    Friday, April 26, 2019 at 8:31 pm
    Bemused didn’t, and never would, say “fucking”.

    Sorry to misquote you William and apologies to Bemused too. But obviously you felt very aggrieved at the time, whatever the exchange of words was.

  27. I am Bemused by all the Musings

    Tough call by the AEC Overseas though. Electors could vote at nominated overseas polling booths on Election Day (in our case the Australian Embassy). This is no longer the case. The two weeks before polling day has been set aside instead with no voting on the 18th.

    Makes it harder for our group of Labor volunteers.

  28. Steve Davis

    The only nutter on this blog is you mate
    And you need to get used to the coalition being our government for a very long time

  29. Someone mis-heard this as weatherboard nine.

    I’m 85% sure this comes from Tony Windsor and is one of two different sets of scandals he keeps encouraging to come out.

  30. Steve Davis

    Keep it up and you will be getting a letter in the mail all my lawyer needs to do is look u up on the electoral roll to get your address to send that letter

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