Of swings and misses: episode three

From my paywalled article in Crikey yesterday:

In the wake of its most unambiguous failure at a federal election since at least 1980, Australia’s polling industry is licking its wounds.

The Nine/Fairfax papers have announced the Ipsos poll series will be put on ice, and those pollsters who do return to the field shortly will face catcalls whether they persist in recording a Labor lead we now know doesn’t exist, or only now start detecting a Coalition lead that eluded them through the entirety of the past parliamentary term.

Despite it all though, the pollsters’ performance hasn’t been without its defenders.

Spoiler alert: the latter refers to David Briggs and Nate Silver. But Peter Brent can now be added to the list, up to a point, following a review of the issues raised by the polling failure in Inside Story. Specifically, Brent observes that the primary vote miss was less severe than the two-party preferred; that the difference arose from a stronger-than-anticipated flow of minor party and independent preferences to the Coalition; that herding was less apparent on the primary vote (most markedly in the case of Ipsos’s reading of the balance of support between Labor and the Greens); and that the result was, if nothing else, no worse than the Victorian state election.

Another point noted is the strange consistency with which polls have pointed to extravagant gains for Labor in Queensland before and during election campaigns, only for them to fall away at the end. On this occasion, the falling away as recorded by pollsters wasn’t remotely on the scale needed to predict the result, with statewide polling published towards the end of the campaign landing at least 7% shy of what looks like being the Coalition two-party vote in the state.

The question of geographic variability in the pollster failure seemed worth exploring, so I have put together a table of state and electorate level polling published in the last fortnight or so of the campaign, available below the fold at the bottom of the post. Almost all of this polling was conducted by YouGov Galaxy, whether under its own name or as Newspoll. The only exception was a set of state-level two-party preferred totals from Ipsos, published at the tail end of the campaign by the Age-Herald (which performed rather poorly).

Below all this is a list of “average bias” figures, consisting of straight averages of the observed errors, be they positive or negative, rather than the absolute errors. This means combinations of positive and negative results will have the fact of cancelling out — although there were actually very few of those, as the errors tended to be consistently in the one direction. The national and state-level two-party results are estimates provided to me by Nine’s election systems consultant David Quin. With no Coalition-versus-Labor figures available from 15 electorates, this inevitably involves a fair bit of guess work.

A few points should be observed. Given that poll trends pointed to a clear long-term trend to the Coalition, pollsters may be excused a certain amount of Labor bias when evaluating polling that was in many cases conducted over a week before the election. This is particularly true of the Newspoll state aggregates, which cover the full length of the campaign.

Another issue with the Newspoll state aggregates is that One Nation was a response option for all respondents in the early part of the campaign, despite their contesting only 59 out of 151 seats. Their vote here accordingly comes in too high, and as Peter Brent notes, at least part of their failure could be explained by stranded One Nation supporters breaking in unexpectedly large quantities to the Coalition, rather than other minor party targets of opportunity like Clive Palmer.

In seat polling though, where the issue did not arise, the polls were remarkable in having understated support for One Nation, and overstated it for the United Australia Party. This was one face of a two-sided polling failure in Queensland, of which the other was a serious imbalance towards Labor in support recorded for the major parties. While Queensland has caught most of the attention on this score, the polls were just as far out in measuring the primary votes of the major parties in Western Australia. Things were less bad in Victoria, but Coalition support was still significantly underestimated.

The only bright spots in the picture are New South Wales and South Australia, where Newspoll just about nailed the Coalition, Labor and Greens primary votes, and got the big things right in four seat polls. While Labor’s strength was overstated in Macquarie, it does now appear Labor will pull through there – for more on that front, stay tuned to the late counting thread.

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.

1,256 comments on “Of swings and misses: episode three”

  1. Without pollsters telling us anything, even one example, of what its raw figures were before any adjustments, the debate is hopelessly compromised.

  2. Wow! Thanks so much for the detailed analysis William.

    I think understanding the difference between what we believed the polls were telling us, compared to how the total population actually voted, is crucial for the health of our democracy in Australia. Political parties use the polls to tell them how far they can push the progress of their various agendas, and so if the polls are wrong, they overstep what the community want / can cope with as far as change goes.

    Two weeks after the Federal election I am still coming across a large number of people disbelieving of the final result, many of whom are more likely to vote Liberal than Labor.

  3. Good morning Dawn Patrollers.

    Eryk Bagshaw opines that Labor’s loss is not just the fault of its economic team. He says much of the fault for the May 18 disaster also rests with those shadow ministers who pushed for an extra $32 billion to fund an array of spending programs and failed to sell them properly.
    And David Crowe says Labor failed to understand the ‘aspirational’ voter.
    Bagshaw also reports that Anthony Albanese says Labor wants to be seen as pro-business as well as pro-worker.
    James Packer has sold almost half of his stake in the casino operator in a deal that is set to spark questions about whether it breaches the conditions of its licence with the NSW government.
    Michelle Grattan wonders if it good for Labor, or Bill Shorten, for the former leader to stay in parliament.
    Phil Coorey writes that Labor faces a big test on whether it will pass the income tax cuts. If it doesn’t, Morrison will be ready to whack them as enemies of getting ahead.
    Scott Morrison has won government but he now has to win the economic and political challenge of governing, writes Jennifer Hewett.
    Katharine Murphy explains how Labor is vexed over the Coalition’s tax plan that benefits the wealthy.
    In a sobering contribution Stephen Bartholomeusz concludes that If the confrontation between the US and China continues to intensify, the global economy slows and China (whose growth shielded us from the global financial crisis) slows more than most, the RBA may have no option but to lower rates further, and perhaps even adopt the kind of unconventional monetary policies that the US and Europe resorted to in response to the global financial crisis.
    Simon Johanson writes that Fast-growing non-bank financiers expect to grab a 10 per cent share of Australia’s $300 billion commercial property lending sector as mainstream banks continue to limit their exposure to developers. An increasing number of development projects and property investments are being financed by non-bank lenders as developers and investors struggle to get funding through traditional banks.
    The prudential regulator is poised to give smaller banks a leg up in the first of a series of announcements
    APRA is weeks away from releasing new standards for banker pay that seem certain to emphasise non-financial pay metrics.
    As Morrison heads to the Pacific, our nearest neighbours will be looking for more than kind words says Mark Kenny.
    The climate crisis might be an inconvenience for the resources minister but the election result hasn’t changed basic facts, writes Katharine Murphy as she tells Canavan to stop waving his finger at at those who want climate action.
    Tony Wright takes a bit of a swipe at Albo, saying that he may have the prolixity of Kim Beazley.
    Christian Porter is (wisely) pushing back on calls from within the Coalition to exempt religious beliefs from employment contracts, which could afford legal protection to views like those expressed by rugby player Israel Folau.
    The Age reports that an elite police unit repeatedly accused of using excessive force is the subject of complaints from within its own ranks about alleged bullying and safety breaches during a training drill that left an officer with a serious eye injury.
    Georgia’s long-standing and lucrative relationship with the Walt Disney Co could be headed for a break-up over the state’s new, restrictive abortion law.
    The SMH editorial praises yesterday’s minimum wage ruling.
    “Will Australian companies take modern slavery seriously?”, asks industrial relations and business ethics lecturer Martijn Boersma.
    There are certain logical steps we could take to fix Australia’s flawed voting system, writes Adam Jacoby. If only!!!
    Tony Walker writes that politics and religion collide in the Knesset as Netanyahu faces the fight of his political life. The big issue is the exemption accorded ultra-Orthodox men from serving in the military. A new law had been proposed that would set modest quotas for the enlistment of ultra-Orthodox males.
    Woolworths now believes the path to customer loyalty lies with consistently lower prices, rather than weekly specials.
    Tony Featherstone has some sound advice to companies where circumstances force them into making good people redundant.
    In the wake of the Federal Election, not much seems to have changed with the Government’s stance on climate change, writes Sue Arnold.
    Centrelink has raised more than $500 million through so-called robodebt to the end of March this year, surpassing the previous year’s total by more than $150 million with three months still to go, reports Sally Whyte.
    The big fine landing on Jetstar reminds us of the subtle ways airlines try to gouge money from passengers.
    George Pell’s appeal against his convictions for child sex crimes will be broadcast live by the Supreme Court next week. The camera will be focused solely on the three Court of Appeal justices, even when the lawyers are talking. Pell will not be shown on camera.

    Cartoon Corner

    Cathy Wilcox with some perspective on the Falau issue.
    David Rowe in Washington.
    John Shakespeare reckons ASIC has its work cut out.
    From Matt Golding
    Andrew Dyson and what the battlers did.
    Some HR from Jim Pavlidis.
    Jon Kudelka at the Labor leadership handover.

    From the US


  4. So Newspoll decided to give a higher preference flow to the Coalition from UAP and PHON votes than had been demonstrated by PUP and PHON in past elections. And this decision by Newspoll was heavily questioned by many, including on this forum. But the reality was that the preference flows to the Coalition from these minor parties was even higher than Newspoll had adjusted for.

    I know many posters on here simply don’t want to believe it, but this outcome seems to me to be entirely consistent with the idea that it wasn’t that the Coalition won the election but that Labor lost, because swinging voters couldn’t stomach the tax package and Shorten’s uninspiring leadership.

    My understanding is that internal Coalition polling showed that the anti-Government feeling among voters was very strong, and many on the Coalition side were resigned to the thought of losing. But, at the final hurdle, a large number of the people whose votes would determine the election couldn’t bring themselves to trust Labor. So they registered a protest by voting for PHON, UAP, an independent or even the Greens, but gave their second preferences to the Coalition.

    Similar things have happened in the past. Labor now needs to rebuild itself as a viable and safe alternative, as it did after 2004. It shouldn’t be all that hard.

  5. Do we know what the Greens preference flow to Labor was this election? I thought it was slightly higher than previous election?

  6. After an election loss it is not only natural but vital that the losing Party should examine the entrails to work out exactly what went wrong. This is interpreted by MSM as “the blame game”, and they love to point the finger.

    In an emotional address to colleagues in Canberra moments before Mr Albanese was formally endorsed as the new opposition leader, Mr Shorten sought to blame others for Labor’s defeat on May 18.

    As I watched, I didn’t think that Bill was especially emotional. He also spoke, quite correctly, about the “Powerful vested interests (that) campaigned against us.” The media, of course, raise their hands in protest, “Who, us?” I have even read that Palmer’s shower of derogatory advertisements meant nothing because he didn’t gain a seat, when we also know that wasn’t the point of them.

    Of course Labor will reassess their strategy in the light of the loss, and I think the campaign manager should be sacked immediately, but to pretend that Bill doesn’t know that he was targeted as unpopular and untrustworthy is to ignore his intelligence. Can’t any of them acknowledge his hard work in holding the party together?


  7. I for one had real doubts throughout the last parliamentary term, Labor could have won this election. I attributed it to Bill Shorten being Labor leader, also the negative gearing and franking dividends proposals as well.

    Although I believe those policies are more sell-able if Australia had experienced an economic downturn like that of Ireland’s during the Global Financial Crisis, which I believe is likely in the next couple of years. A lot of voters have the mentality at the moment they have too much to lose, which would be a lot more different when the value of their houses goes down by up to 80% and the value of their shares wiped out.

    If Anthony Albanese had been Labor leader in the last term, Labor not proposing negative gearing and franking dividend changes, along with focusing the election campaign on the incompetence and corruption of the government. I reckon Labor would have won one of its biggest victories on record

  8. I can see big problems ahead if Morrison tries his forced relocation of migrants to the country areas. They are running out of/some have run out of water and if Morrison tries to load those places up with more people, the locals won’t like it all.

  9. bug1 @ #14 Friday, May 31st, 2019 – 7:22 am

    Looking at the seat Tallys, it appears Labor will need a 4.5% swing to gain the 8 seats needed to get a majority in 2022.
    Which works out to be 52.8% 2PP, in other words, we (progressives) are fcked.


    Thanks for the uplifting words, bug1. Not.

    As has already been noted elsewhere, it is not an impossible ask for Labor to win the next election. You only have to look at the figures from 2004, where another unpopular Labor leader lost badly and Howard won big, and the win in 2007 under a popular Labor leader.

    So, if you want to get depressed about it, fine, but I hope you leave it at just this one comment because the stakes are too high to give up the ghost.

  10. How about some good news from Michelle Grattan?

    Albanese will allocate portfolios, to be unveiled Sunday, and also announce parliamentary secretaries (the leader chooses these and this could, and should, provide an opportunity to use Husic).

    I reckon Ed Husic should be Parliamentary Secretary for Multiculturalism. A kind of Shadow Minister but not a Shadow Minister, shadowing the odious Jason Wood in Multicultural Affairs.

  11. Rudd got a big swing, in part because Howard had a majority in the Senate and had a once in a generation opportunity to pass extremist legislation.
    I dont expect the Coalition to be the big target that Howard and workchoices where.

    I could have worded it better than saying we are fcked, but at the same time we need to be realistic about where we stand, the bad feedback loop from the pollsters is what lost this election.

  12. @bug1

    I have been predicting that the worst economic crisis this country has experienced at least since the Great Depression is coming in the next two years. It is likely there will be a bank failure and the government will bail out the banks.

    Also the issue of climate change is shaping up to be like what Brexit was for Britain, I predict the issue will polarize and radicalize the populace. So far Anthony Albanese attitude on the issue of Climate Change is shaping up to be like Jeremy Corbyn on Brexit, that is not a good sign.

    So as I see it the economic crisis will be our Brexit moment that will trigger this process as I have described above. Since people will debate how to rebuild the Australian economy.

  13. bug1,
    The Coalition majority in the Senate is virtual this time but just as real as 2004 imho. Coalition + PHON + Bernardi + ?Lambie +?CA will be enough to get contentious legislation through if Morrison is audacious.

  14. It’ll be tough but not impossible to win the next election. Queensland and New South Wales need to see an improvement for Labor. There could be two gains in Tasmania with negligible impact on the national 2PP.

    The most important thing for our country will be the Senate result. The Coalition and One Nation controlling it could see some changes made that will be very hard to reverse.

    Labor should be looking long term as well though and planning leadership succession and improving preselection a, particularly for the Senate. Having a large number of safe seats filled by people who arm seat warmers is just not acceptable.

  15. Tristo;

    Im not sure how Albo will work out on policy, he does seem like a consensus person to me, so dont know i would pin him down on particular policies.

    I do think he might have the personality and image to appeal to ‘the unwashed masses’ more than other party leaders, his flaws make him more human, but we will have to wait and see how that works out too.

  16. @ABCthedrum
    13h13 hours ago

    “If we keep on treating Australia like an offshoot of Great Britain in terms of climate & soil type we’re bound to fail. If we look at our country and see how 120k years of Aboriginal society behaved we’re more likely to make good decisions.” Bruce Pascoe #auspol #TheDrum

  17. Yes they only need Lambie OR CA to get legislation through (or the Greens, but that’s far less likely). The difference between the Howard Government and the Morrison Government is that Howard had actual policy goals, regardless of whether you agreed with them or not.

    The modern Liberal Party is a black hole of policy thought. They seem to think cutting taxes is the only thing that can be done, when there are many policy areas that need thought and attention. The solutions to these problems could come from a conservative place, but at least do something!

    I hate to think that Australia could possibly be saddled with a do nothing government for approaching 15 years by the time they’re voted out.

  18. There is an interesting post on Voter Choice re the 2PP.

    It’s well worth a read for anyone still fixating on the 2PP and pendulum.

    Which brings us back to the 2PP, given it was the incorrect interpretation of the 2PP numbers creating that ‘landslide’ narrative. When Malcolm Mackerras did his work on 2PP and the pendulum back in the 70s, it was sharply criticised at the time for concealing the true rate of change in the electorate. His PhD thesis was rejected. Twice. But the damage was done, the media had latched onto the 2PP and the pendulum as an easy tool to explain and predict elections.

    And if you have a consistent national trend, and a stable electorate, you can usually get away with it. Not this time.

  19. Morning all. Thanks William and BK for your efforts.

    Pleased to see Don Farrell no longer in a leadership position in the Senate. There was an article by Keane in Crikey the other day outlining how as Shadow Minister of State he’s been hopeless and totally absent in holding what has been the least transparent, most dodgy bros govt to account, despite the govt daily offering many morsels for him to work with. KK should get the gig as she’s already proven herself a tenacious performer in Estimates, and she has a good media profile.

  20. Just thinking on William’s post, I wonder which pollster will be the brave one to go first with post-election polling?

  21. Morning all

    Thanks again to bludger Hugh who gave me the heads up on YouTube livestream of the Cure vivid concert at the opera house last night.
    It was amazing. This is when the internet really comes into its own.

  22. bakunin; Interesting read, but 2PP will never be ditched for superficial analysis and historical comparisons.
    I get the point about more detailed polling is needed though, sampling more people, excluding non ALP vs LNP seats, focus on median of seat based swings, or regional swings etc.

  23. Meanwhile whilst Shorten is very disappointed in not becoming PM, I doubt he is a sucker for punishment. He had two attempts and didn’t get over the line.

  24. Long term i think Labor needs to prioritize fighting at the State level, and increasing state power.

    Libs will always have an advantage at federal level because thats where voters priorities economics ahead of humanity.

  25. Climate change is exacerbating the impacts of Trump’s trade war with China is having on midwestern farmers. They’ll still vote for him though.

    For months now, the Culps — and many farmers across wide swaths of the Midwest — have rarely seen days dry enough to work, leading to what agricultural experts are calling a historically delayed planting season that could exacerbate the economic and personal anxieties brought on by a multiyear slump in farm prices and the Trump administration’s trade war with China, the world’s largest soybean buyer.

    For the past five years, the 18 states that produce the majority of the United States’ corn crop had an average of 90 percent of their fields planted by the end of May, according to data released Tuesday by the Agriculture Department. At the same point this year, 58 percent of the corn crop is in the ground. The outlook for soybeans is just as dismal, with 29 percent in the ground compared with 66 percent in years past.

    In individual states, the gap is even more severe. Just 22 percent of the corn crop had been planted as of May 26 in Culp’s home state of Indiana. Soybeans stood at 11 percent.


  26. Victoria @ #34 Friday, May 31st, 2019 – 8:22 am

    Meanwhile whilst Shorten is very disappointed in not becoming PM, I doubt he is a sucker for punishment. He had two attempts and didn’t get over the line.

    And I think he will again disappoint the naysayers in the media and instead of being a disruptive influence will be a team player for the next 3 years. He realised that the party needed to be a united force when he was leader and I don’t think that perception will change now that he is not leader any more.

  27. It seems that the “turn back boats” policy holds, whether or not the passengers are refugees or potential immigrants. Doesn’t this need a review?

  28. Albo is being praised for intending to ‘work with business’. Shorten was criticised for being a friend of the big end of town, who had talks with business.

  29. Had lunch the other day with a friend.
    We started talking about franking credits.
    1. He didn’t know Labor introduced dividend imputation.
    2. He hadn’t registered the distinction between franking credits and excess franking credits.
    3. As we discussed it the penny dropped and he realised what it all actually meant.
    4. A lot of voters thought Labor was ditching franking credits altogether including my friend.
    5. My friend is a member of a state legislature.

    What hope for the average punter.

  30. lizzie

    Yes, I once put out a presser after an election loss (which was entirely expected, so I hadn’t been too emotional about it) and in ONE sentence mentioned that we’d been outspent ten to one (which was actually me boasting a bit, because we’d got a decent swing to us) — and I got wall to wall ‘twisted and bitter’ ‘whinging’ ‘shifting the blame’ media articles.

    (Just to demonstrate that this is not me being ‘twisted and bitter’, one local blogger used one of these media reports to write his own piece on what a sore loser I was, so I emailed him the original media release – he apologised and took the piece down).

  31. bug1 @ #26 Friday, May 31st, 2019 – 7:48 am


    Im not sure how Albo will work out on policy, he does seem like a consensus person to me, so dont know i would pin him down on particular policies.

    I do think he might have the personality and image to appeal to ‘the unwashed masses’ more than other party leaders, his flaws make him more human, but we will have to wait and see how that works out too.

    I take it from this then that Bill was just too damn human?

  32. I think there are some Bludgers who felt the need for a break from politics after the election result. It wouldn’t surprise me if GG and sprocket were among them.

  33. I repeat: it was mining communities threatened by action on climate change what done it.

    We might have won (or retained) a handful of seats here and there if we didn’t have the franking credits/negative gearing policies but not enough to offset the ones lost in Queensland to WA. William pointed out the other day some seats in other states which swung away heavily from Labor could also be described as mining seats.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *