Final 2PP: 50.12-49.88 to Labor

The Australian Electoral Commission has finalised the last of its two-party preferred Labor-versus Coalition counts, and it confirms Labor has won a narrow victory on the national total of 6,216,439 (50.12 per cent) to 6,185,949 (49.88 per cent), a margin of 30,490. If distinctions to the second decimal place are what matters to you, Labor did about 0.05 per cent worse than last time due to the arbitrary fact of the Nationals finishing ahead of Wilson Tuckey in O’Connor, meaning the AEC finalised a two-party result on a Nationals-versus-Labor basis where the 2007 Liberal-versus-Labor result was more favourable to them. So while I think it reasonable to cite the published figure as the definitive national result, a slight discount should be factored in when considering the matter of the swing, which should properly be rounded to 2.5 per cent rather than 2.6 per cent.

Whatever the specifics, the result leaves quite a few people looking foolish:

Barnaby Joyce: “We’d won the two-party preferred vote by the time the independents made their decision.” (Lateline, 7/9).

Andrew Bolt: “Labor won fewer votes, fewer seats of its own and less of the two-party preferred vote.” (Herald Sun, 8/9).

Alan Jones: “Is it a healthy democracy when a party wins the majority of the two party preferred, wins the majority of the primary vote and wins more seats in the Parliament than the other party but the other party forms government?” (2GB, 8/9).

Sarah Martin: “Yesterday, Julia Gillard’s Labor Party won government despite losing the primary vote and the two-party-preferred vote, or securing a majority of seats.” (The Advertiser, 7/9).

Kerry Chikarovski: “The Coalition won the primary vote, they won the two-party preferred …” (The Drum, 7/9).

Lateline: “Labor loses two-party preferred vote” (report headline, 30/8).

Kenneth Wiltshire: “It is probable that the Coalition will win more third-party preferences.” (NB: This of course is absurd – Labor got 65 per cent of third party preferences, much as they always do – but I think we know what he’s trying to say.) (The Australian 6/9).

Lisa Wilkinson (to Wayne Swan): “Now, you won fewer primary votes, fewer two-party preferred votes and fewer seats.”
(Swan explains to her that she’s wrong.)
Wilkinson: “But in the end you got 49.9 per cent of the vote and the Opposition got 50.1.”
Swan: “No, I don’t think that’s … Lisa, that is not a final count.”
Wilkinson: “Well, that’s what the AEC is saying and that’s what Australia said at the polls.” (The Today Show, Nine Network, 9/9).

No doubt there were others.

Our troubles here began on August 30, when the AEC removed three electorates from the national total on the basis that the Labor-versus-Liberal counts there had been discontinued after election night, as it became apparent the Greens (in the case of Batman and Grayndler) or Andrew Wilkie (in the case of Denison) rather than the Liberals would face Labor at the final count. As three of the weakest seats in the land for the Liberals, these were by extension among the strongest seats for Labor in two-party terms. The resulting adjustment in Labor’s two-party vote from 50.4 per cent 50.0 per cent led to a great many uncomprehending reports of a “surge” to the Coalition, which had an added edge due to Julia Gillard’s post-election claim that Labor had, apparently, won the two-party vote. Those who wanted a clear and accurate exposition of the news had to ignore, say, The Australian, and look to an evidently more reliable source of information in Bob Brown, who explained the absence of eight electorates from the published result and correctly concluded: “If you look at the whole of Australia and you treat every seat equally, when you do that Labor’s ahead and is likely to keep that lead right the way through to the finishing pole.”

Antony Green defends journalists on the basis that they were within their rights to take an official AEC figure at face value, but I’m not so kind. Even if awareness of the missing electorates was too much to ask, those quoted above should at least have been aware that the count was incomplete. As it stands, we have a result that leaves those of us who had done the sums with exactly what we were expecting, and a lot of dopey pundits and dishonest politicians with egg on their faces.

UPDATE: Morgan has published results from a phone poll of 541 respondents conducted on Wednesday and Thursday evening which has Labor leading 52-48 on two-party preferred from primary votes of 35.5 per cent for Labor, 42.5 per cent for the Coalition and 15 per cent for the Greens. The margin of error on the poll is about 4.2 per cent.

UPDATE 2: As Peter Brent points out, the 52-48 result comes from the less reliable two-party measure based on respondent-allocated preferences – going on previous elections, which the most recent election has again vindicated as the superior method, Labor’s lead is only 50.5-49.5.

D-day plus 17 …

… and finally, the small matter of the result. The winner is Labor. Not a famous victory by any stretch of the imagination, but under the circumstances they’ll be happy with the four points. For my part, I have my doubts about members of parliament going against the obvious preference of their constituents in so fundamental a matter as government formation, barring the proverbial extraordinary and reprehensible standards. I’m not entirely sure that a bit of creative accounting from the Coalition clears the bar on this count. That said, I have no doubt – none – that conservatives tempted to echo these sentiments will find themselves constrained by their philosophy’s most eloquent champion, Edmund Burke, who famously told his constituents: “Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion”. (Burke’s speech has been given a fair run around the place in recent times, including by apparently learned people who would do well to read it through to the end.)

Besides, my difference of opinion with Windsor and Oakeshott is purely a matter of degree – there were respectable arguments that could have been mounted whichever way they jumped. Ultimately they deserve our gratitude for the patient and considered fashion with which they have navigated through their delicate position. Most particularly, they should be heartily congratulated for ignoring a fortnight’s worth of quacking and bleating from a section of the media that does not at heart believe in consensus, checks and balances or even particularly in democracy. Whatever uncertainties might lie ahead, one thing is sure: these voices will spend the coming months and/or years peddling distortions and hyperbole to create a sense of crisis about a situation which in reality has every chance of serving Australia well. Long may the independents continue to turn a deaf ear.

Essential Research: 51-49 to Labor

The latest weekly Essential Research poll has Labor opening a 51-49 lead after 50-50 results over the previous two weeks, including the weekend of the election. Labor is up a point on the primary vote to 39 per cent and the Coalition down one to 43 per cent, with the Greens steady on 11 per cent. The survey also finds a majority supporting a fresh election, 52 per cent to 33 per cent, with 42 per cent thinking minority government will deliver worse government against 30 per cent better, and 70 per cent thinking an election within the year likely against 16 per cent unlikely. This is contrary to the weekend’s JWS/Telereach poll which had only 26 per cent plumping for a new election against 37 per cent for a Labor and 31 a Coalition minority government – possibly this indicates you get different responses when a respondent can choose a minority government of their favoured party over a new election. The Newspoll targeting the three rural independents’ electorates shortly after the election found opinion evenly divided on the subject of a new election, which is perhaps less appealing to those whose local members are presently holding the balance of power.

Newspoll: ALP favoured for government 47-39

The Australian has published a Newspoll survey of 1134 respondents which finds 47 per cent of respondents want the rural independents to back Labor, compared with 39 per cent for the Coalition. There is, predictably enough, “almost unanimous partisan support among voters for the party they supported” – which can only mean primary vote support for the Coalition has taken a solid hit since the election, at which they polled 43.7 per cent. Hopefully more to follow.

UPDATE: We also have another JWS/Telereach robopoll courtesy of the Fairfax broadsheets, this time of 4192 respondents, which has 37 per cent for Labor, 31 per cent for the Coalition and 26 per cent for a new election. However, on voting intention the Coalition leads 44.9 per cent to 35.4 per cent on the primary vote and 50.4-49.6 on two-party preferred, suggesting most of those in favour of a new election are Coalition supporters.

UPDATE 2: Full JWS-Telereach release here, courtesy GhostWhoVotes. I gather the poll targeted 55 seats with post-election margins of less than 6 per cent, and the vote results above extrapolate the swings on to the national results. On Coalition costings, 40 per cent of respondents professed themselves very concerned and 19 per cent somewhat concerned, with only 35 per cent showing little or no concern. People are more concerned about the Greens balance of power in the Senate (49 per cent say “bad for Australia” against 39 per cent good) than the value of the Labor-Greens alliance (opinion evenly divided). Julia Gillard only just shades Tony Abbott as preferred prime minister, 43 per cent to 41 per cent, and respondents are evenly divided on which party would prove more “stable and competent”.

Limbo dancing

While you wait:

• The media has finally awoken to the possibility the Steve Fielding might yet win the race for the final Victorian Senate seat, which is the only result of the election still in doubt. The ABC projection has John Madigan of the Democratic Labor Party winning the seat after narrowly escaping exclusion at “count 21”, where he keeps ahead of Fielding with 3.29 per cent of the vote against 3.14 per cent. If Fielding gets ahead – and there is reason to think name recognition will boost him on below-the-line preferences – it will be he rather than Madigan that snowballs to victory with the help of the other preferences. However, Antony Green reckons it more likely whoever gets ahead will ultimately land short of the third Coalition candidate, Julian McGauran, who will benefit from the Coalition’s traditional strength on late counting. More from Andrew Crook at Crikey. Those wishing to discuss the Senate count are asked to do so in the dedicated post below.

• Government formation negotiations have turned up a number of agreements on campaign finance and electoral reform. The Labor-Greens alliance proposes that the two parties will “work together” to enact reforms that were blocked in the Senate last year by the Coalition and silly Steve Fielding: lowering the threshold for public disclosure of donations from $11,500 to $1000, closing the loophole that allows separate donations below the threshold to be made to multiple state party branches, shortening the gap between receipt of donations and disclosure, tying public funding to genuine campaign expenditure, banning foreign donations and banning anonymous donations over $50. Julia Gillard has said the deal she has offered to the independents, which has not been made available to the public, is along the same lines. According to The Age, “Tony Abbott has signalled he is prepared to consider significant reform but is yet to reveal the specific options he is putting to the three rural independents”.

• Also in the Labor-Greens agreement is a promise to “consider” a long-standing Greens private members bill which proposes to abolish the “just vote one” above-the-line Senate option that commits the voter to the party’s registered Senate ticket, to be replaced with preferential ordering of at least four party boxes above the line (seven at double dissolutions). This would result in votes exhausting where no further preference is indicated, rather than locking every vote in behind the sometimes highly obscure candidates who survive to the final stages of the count.

• Labor and the Greens also promise to “work together” to enforce “truth in advertising”, which the Greens have been very keen on since Labor targeted them with a smear campaign before the March state election in Tasmania. Establishing the terms of such a measure would be highly fraught, as noted recently by Robert Merkel at Larvatus Prodeo.

• Labor has agreed only to “investigate” the possibility of legislated fixed terms; the rural independents are calling for the length of the current term to be set by “enabling legislation or other means”.

Tim Colebatch of The Age fancies Senate figures suggest Labor should ultimately win the two-party arm wrestle, the results of which won’t be known to us for at least a month.

• Tasmanian firm EMRS has published one of its regular polls of state voting intention, which has the Liberals down from 39.0 per cent at the election to 35 per cent, Labor down from 36.9 per cent to 34 per cent, the Greens up from 21.6 per cent to 26 per cent – overstatement of the Greens being a feature of EMRS polls. The firm suffered a further dent during the federal election campaign when its poll failed to detect the strength of support for Andrew Wilkie.

Moral majority

Yesterday, the Australian Electoral Commission performed an act which in a rational world would have excited no interest. Since last weekend the commission has featured a “national two party preferred result” on the front page of its Virtual Tally Room, which has assumed tremendous psychological interest as Labor’s margin has steadily eroded from 0.6 per cent to 0.4 per cent. However, the tally had a flaw which biased it in Labor’s favour: there were no Labor-versus-Coalition figures available from strongly conservative Kennedy, Lyne, New England or O’Connor, where the notional two-candidate preferred counts conducted on election night involved independents. This was only balanced out by left-wing Melbourne, where Labor and the Greens were correctly identified as the front-running candidates for the notional count. For whatever reason, the AEC decided yesterday to level the playing field by excluding seats where the notional preference count candidates had been changed since election night, which in each case meant left-wing seats where the Liberals had finished third to the Greens (Batman and Grayndler) or Andrew Wilkie (Denison). The result was an instant 0.4 per cent drop in Labor’s score, reducing them to a minuscule lead that was soon rubbed out by further late counting.

In fact, very little actually changed in yesterday’s counting, which saw a continuation of the slow decline in the Labor total that is the usual pattern of late counting. The media, regrettably, has almost entirely dropped the ball on this point. Mark Simkin of the ABC last night reported that Labor’s lead had been eradicated by the “latest counting”, as opposed to an essentially meaningless administrative decision. Lateline too informed us that Labor’s two-party vote had “collapsed”, and Leigh Sales’ opening question to Julie Bishop on Lateline was essentially an invitation to gloat about the fact. Most newspaper accounts eventually get around to acknowledging the entirely artificial nature of the 50,000-vote reversal in Labor’s fortunes, but only after reporting in breathless tones on the removal of votes that will eventually be put back in.

The reality is that nobody knew who had the lead on the two-party vote yesterday morning, and nothing happened in the day to make anybody any the wiser. The Prime Minister equally had no idea on election night when she made her ill-advised claim to the two-party majority mantle. Only when all seats have reported Labor-versus-Coalition counts, which is probably still a few weeks away, will we be able to say for sure. The best we can do at present is to construct a projection based on the votes counted and our best assumptions as to how the gaps in the vote count data will be filled when all the figures are in.

At present we have completed “ordinary” polling day totals for all electorates and advanced counts of postal votes in most cases, but there has been no progress yet on absent or pre-poll votes in roughly half. Where counting of any of these three categories has been conducted, I have projected the party results on to the expected total of such votes (derived from the “declaration vote scrutiny progress” for absent and pre-poll votes, and from the number of applications for postal votes discounted by 16 per cent as per experience from 2007). Where no counting of a particular category has been conducted, I have compared the parties’ 2007 vote share in that category with their ordinary vote share, and applied that difference to the ordinary vote from this election. For example, the 2007 Liberal two-party vote in Canberra was 7.19 per cent higher than their ordinary vote share, so their 40.54 per cent ordinary vote at the current election has been used to project an absent vote share of 47.73 per cent.

For Batman, Grayndler and Denison, I have used the figures from the two-party Labor-versus-Liberal counts that were conducted in these seats from ordinary votes on election night, calculated the swing against the ordinary vote in 2007 and projected it over the expected absent, pre-poll and postal totals. For Melbourne, New England and Kennedy, where no Labor-versus-Coalition figures are available, I have used preference shares derived from the Labor-versus-Coalition counts from the 2007 election to determine the swing on ordinary votes, and projected that swing through the other categories. It’s with Lyne and O’Connor that things get crude, as we have no case study of how Rob Oakeshott’s or Wilson Tuckey’s preferences split between Labor and Nationals candidates. For O’Connor, which has at least been a Labor-Liberal-Nationals contest at successive elections, I have crudely arrived at a 7.9 per cent swing against Labor derived from the primary vote swing plus moderated by a 70 per cent share of the swing in favour of the Greens. The best I could think to do for Lyne was average the two-party swings from the neighbouring electorates, producing a 5.14 per cent swing against Labor.

Plug all that in and here’s what you get:

Labor 6,313,736 (50.02 per cent)
Coalition 6,307,924 (49.98 per cent)

In other news, Andrew Wilkie says the two-party vote total is “not relevant” in determining which party he will back. Good for him.

UPDATE: An Essential Research poll has it at 50-50, which is “unchanged” – I’m not sure if this is in comparison with the election result or a previously unpublished Essential result from a week ago. Basically no change on preferred prime minister. UPDATE 2: The 50-50 from last week was indeed an unpublished Essential result from their rolling two-week average, which they understandably felt was not worth publishing under the circumstances.

Morgan phone poll: 51.5-48.5 to Labor

In normal circumstances a poll conducted immediately after an election would be intrinsically uninteresting, but for those of you have just joined us, present circumstances aren’t normal. Enter Roy Morgan, which has published a small-sample phone poll of 530 respondents conducted on Wednesday and Thursday night. This shows Labor’s primary vote at 36 per cent compared with 38.4 per cent at the election and the Coalition on 40 per cent compared with 43.6 per cent, while the Greens are up 1.6 per cent to 13 per cent and “others” benefiting from their post-election high profile with a 4.4 per cent increase to 11 per cent. Labor leads 51.5-48.5 on two-party preferred, compared with what looks like being very close to 50-50 at the election. The margin of error on these results is about 4.3 per cent.

Julia Gillard is favoured over Tony Abbott as preferred prime minister 44-36, down from 48-37 on August 3, but Abbott’s approval rating is higher than Gillard’s – the former up one on approval to 53 per cent and steady on disapproval at 38 per cent, the latter respectively up three to 49 per cent and down two to 37 per cent. Interestingly, questions on preferred party leaders find Malcolm Turnbull (up three since a month ago to 32 per cent) favoured as Liberal leader over Tony Abbott (down one to 23 per cent), while Julia Gillard has dropped 17 points to 35 per cent and Kevin Rudd is up four to 25 per cent.

In other news, the Australian Electoral Commission announces it will conduct a “provisional” distribution of preferences in Denison to ascertain whether the Liberals are likely to be excluded from the count before Andrew Wilkie, a necessary precondition for the latter winning the seat. Those wishing to discuss the Denison count in particular are asked to do so on the relevant thread.

UPDATE: Newspoll replicates the Galaxy exercise in Kennedy, Lyne and New England, with a much bigger sample and much the same result: 54-34 in favour of the Coalition, with little variation between the three seats.

Some day this war’s gonna end

In the meantime:

• The Australian reports the dunce of the Senate, Steve Fielding, is contemplating adding constitutional vandal to the extensive list of black marks against his name. Fielding polled all of 2.7 per cent of the vote in Victoria on Saturday, yet remains a serious prospect to retain his Senate seat thanks to a disastrous electoral system that Labor has been determined not to reform.

• Today’s Sydney Morning Herald editorial offers some fascinating speculation about Tony Abbott’s tactics in the past few days. The paper’s national editor, Mark Davis, detects a high-stakes game with the objective of final victory at a fresh election. It is evident he will be backed to the hilt in this endeavour by The Australian, which has jacked up the hysteria today by (among other things) running a lead news story that describes former Office of National Assessments intelligence analyst Andrew Wilkie as a “radical”.

• On Wednesday, the News Limited tabloids published a Galaxy poll of 600 voters in the rural independents’ electorates of Kennedy, New England and Lyne, which predictably showed a 52 per cent supporting a Coalition government against 36 per cent for Labor. Respondents were evenly split as to whether they wanted a fresh election. Some national polling at the moment would be uncommonly interesting.

• There has been talk of a legal challenge, or at least the possibility of one, against the election of Coalition candidates Russell Matheson in Macarthur and Natasha Griggs in Solomon, on the basis that their position as councillors runs foul of the archaic constitutional requirement that candidates not enjoy “office for profit under the Crown”. Constitutional expert George Williams has been quoted saying such a challenge would have a “one-in-four chance of winning”. Labor successfully engineered a re-match in Lindsay in similar circumstances after the 1996 election, only to have the voters respond to their sore-loser act by delivering a further 5 per cent swing to the successful Liberal candidate, Jackie Kelly.

UPDATE: Here is a link to the Brisbane late counting thread, which has dropped off the front page. I’ll come up with a more enduring solution to this issue later today.