Coronial inquest

A precis of the Liberal Party’s Review of the 2022 Election, one of two major party federal election post-mortems published last month.

Both major parties published reviews of their federal election campaigns last month, the Liberal Party’s being conducted by former federal director Brian Loughnane and current Victorian Senator Jane Hume, and Labor’s being the work of Greg Combet, Lenda Oshalem, Linda White and Craig Emerson, the first two being listed as chairs and the latter two as panel members. To the best of my recollection, the publication of such reviews started to become standard some time in the noughties, although it was then generally made explicit that parts of the reports – presumably the most interesting bits – were redacted for internal viewing only. This post offers a summary of what the Liberal Party’s report had to say, and will be followed by a similar effort on the Labor report when I can find an idle moment for it.

In contrast to suggestions that Liberal internal polling had performed poorly during the Victorian state campaign, the report states that the party got its money’s worth out of its “benchmark” polling during the campaign, which it notes did not employ robo-polling. This polling showed the Coalition two-party preferred “improved at least 3-4% over the campaign period in the key seats polled”, although there wasn’t much evidence of this in published polling. Further detail that is provided tells a familiar story of weak support for the Liberals among young women, compounded at this election by a heavy swing among middle-aged women.

On this basis, the review reaches the uncontroversial conclusion that a perceived unresponsiveness to issues important to women was “not sufficiently and effectively addressed”. As is often the case with these reviews though, it does a more convincing job of identifying problems than solutions. The report rejects following Labor’s example by introducing quotas, calling only for “targets” for parliamentary representation and party membership with no mechanism for meeting them. It notes the difficulty of a membership becoming ever less representative of the electorate as it declines in numbers, a problem with deep causes that the listed recommendations are unlikely to overcome.

What remained of the party membership was said to have been further demoralised by widespread denial of rank-and-file preselection ballots. Delays to the process arising from factional disputes discouraged strong potential candidates from nominating and in some cases caused the wrong ones to be chosen, which was “a particularly problem in New South Wales”. State party administrations in general are said to have become dominated by factional warlords who had failed to build networks in the community. Once again though, the scope of the recommendations offered is limited: the federal executive is advised to set preselection timelines to be followed by the state divisions, and to implement a code of conduct for those involved in party affairs, “collegial and professional standards” having been found wanting in some quarters. The report rejects the notion of a US-style primary system, as advocated recently by Dominic Perrottet.

While Scott Morrison’s unpopularity is noted, the report to some extent paints the government as a victim of the pandemic, which allowed it little leeway to pay due regard to “political management” and elevated the profile of Labor Premiers to the Coalition’s disadvantage. This was accompanied by a failure to “define Labor and its leader before the campaign”, causing Anthony Albanese to appear as a “low-risk alternate Prime Minister”.

Perhaps constrained by a lack of authority to address policy issues, the report has little more to offer on the teal independent challenge than suggesting a well-resourced campaign of personal attacks might make the problem go away, notwithstanding the abject failure of such efforts during the campaign and the enthusiastic co-operation they received from News Corp (here some credit is due to The Australian columnist Katrina Grace Kelly, who in the wake of the Victorian result wondered if “sections of the electorate now conflate the party with sections of the media, which they regard as toxic, and perhaps they are voting to reject both this type of media as well as the party they think it represents”).

Other points of note: waiting until late in the campaign to announce major policies encouraged a perception that the government lacked a fourth-term agenda; the government’s initial support of Clive Palmer’s High Court action on border closures was an unforced error contributing to the party’s Western Australian debacle; and the party needs to pay closer attention to emerging social media platforms.

Polls: Essential Research and JWS Research (open thread)

Essential Research finds Anthony Albanese’s personal ratings as strong as ever, but perceptions of the national direction have taken a knock.

Without bursting out of the confines of the error margins, the monthly prime ministerial ratings featured in the fortnightly Essential Research poll give Anthony Albanese his highest approval rating to date, up two points to 60%. His disapproval is up one to 27%, which leaves him one point shy of his previous best net approval rating. However, an occasion question on the national direction finds a five-point increase since September for “wrong” to 34% and a two-point drop for “right” to 46%.

Once a lengthy explanatory spiel was out of the way, 50% expressed support and 27% opposition to the government’s multi-employer bargaining laws, and has further results supporting industrial relations policies that strengthen the hand of low-paid workers. The poll also finds 43% of the view that it is inappropriate for politicians to use Twitter, compared with 16% favouring the option that it is a “vital channel” for politicians and 41% for a middle course. The full report is here – the poll was conducted last Wednesday to Monday from a sample of 1035.

JWS Research has also released its occasional True Issues survey on issue salience, distinct from the one a fortnight ago that focused specifically on the budget. Asked unprompted to name the three most important issues, 44% came up with a response the pollster categorised as “cost of living”, up from 38% in August and all the way from 11% a year ago. Housing and interest rates increased over the year from 10% to 19%, which environment and climate change was steady at 26% and hospitals, health and ageing fell eight points to 29%. The poll was conducted October 28 to 31 from a sample of 1000, and also features results on national direction and government performance in various policy fields.

Note that a dedicated thread for discussion of the Victorian election continues in the post below.

Call of the board: outer Sydney

Episode three in a series that will go deep into the results for all 151 lower house seats at the May 21 election, this week moving from inner to outer Sydney.

You might do best to read this post in tandem with the previous entry on inner Sydney, which in several respects produced interestingly different electoral dynamics from the seats covered here. As before, I am going off the Australian Electoral Commission’s electoral classifications here, these being the seats it designates “outer metropolitan” – except that, for the table below, Cook has been reassigned as outer metropolitan and Mackellar as inner. Note that the One Nation swings are inflated by the fact that the party contested all eleven outer metropolitan and fifteen inner metropolitan seats this time, after doing so in only three and one respectively in 2019.

Inner Sydney Outer Sydney
% Swing % Swing
Primary vote
Labor 35.2% -0.9% 36.1% -3.6%
Liberal 33.5% -7.8% 37.5% -6.2%
Greens 11.4% +1.1% 8.2% +2.1%
UAP 3.6% +1.7% 5.6% +2.7%
One Nation 2.6% +2.3% 4.7% +2.8%
Independent 12.0% +8.9% 4.8% +4.6%
Others 1.8% -5.4% 3.1% -2.5%
Labor 56.5% +5.1% 50.6% +2.6%
Liberal 43.5% -5.1% 49.4% -2.6%

As with last week, we begin with colour-coded representations of their booth results, with two-party preferred on the left and the swing on the right. Being two-party measures, these boil the contests down to Labor-versus-Liberal, including where the final preference counts involved independents (which get maps of their own further below). Click on the image for a closer look.

Now for the blow-by-blow account.

Continue reading “Call of the board: outer Sydney”

Call of the board: inner Sydney

A detailed seat-by-seat look at the results for the 15 seats of inner Sydney at the May 21 federal election.

Way back on June 9, I launched the Call of the Board series that promised to progressively shine a light on the results for all 151 seats at the May 21 election. This started with the target of opportunity of the Northern Territory, then in the news because Anthony Albanese had blamed a gutting of Australian Electoral Commission resources for low turnout and a consequent near-defeat for Labor in Lingiari (not coincidentally, the just-launched parliamentary inquiry into the election will pay special attention to “encouraging increased electoral participation and lifting enfranchisement of First Nations People”). Since then though, I’ve done nothing. But now the ball starts rolling for real, starting with the core of the Australia’s premier (for now) city.

The Australian Electoral Commission classifies fifteen of Sydney’s seats as “inner metropolitan”, and these will be the focus of this post. The image below shows colour-coded representations of their booth results, with two-party preferred on the left and the swing on the right. Being two-party measures, these boil the contests down to Labor-versus-Liberal, including in the four seats where the final preference counts were between independents and Liberals (which get a map of their own further below) and the two that were Labor versus the Greens (Sydney and Grayndler).

Going into the election, Liberal and Labor held seven of these seats apiece, the other being Warringah, which independent Zali Steggall won from Tony Abbott in 2019. Coming out, the Liberals were reduced to three after losing Bennelong and Reid to Labor and Wentworth and North Sydney to independents. As shown in the map on the left, Labor continues to dominate a swathe of Sydney’s inner south, while the Liberals lost their grip immediately to the north. But as future instalments will more fully reveal, the picture further afield was more complicated, a premonition of which is provided by the small Liberal swings indicated by patches of blue at the westward end of the swing map.

This post will first consider the classic Labor-versus-Liberal contests out of the fifteen in alphabetical order, then turn its attention to the four seats in which the final preference counts were between Liberals and independents.

Continue reading “Call of the board: inner Sydney”

Preference flows and by-elections (open thread)

A look at preference flow data from the 2019 and 2022 elections, and the latest on looming by-elections in the Northern Territory, Tasmania and (sort of) Western Australia.

Something I really should have noted in last week’s post is that the Australian Electoral Commission has now published two-candidate preferred preference flow data from the election, showing how minor party and independent preferences flowed between Labor and the Coalition. The table below shows how Labor’s share increased for the four biggest minor parties and independents collectively (and also its fraction decrease for “others”) from the last election to this and, in the final column, how much difference each made to Labor’s total share of two-party preferred, which was 52.13%.

Note that the third column compares how many preference Labor received with how many they would have if preference flows had been last time, which is not the same thing as how many preferences they received. Labor in fact got nearly 2% more two-party vote share in the form of Greens preferences at this election because the Greens primary vote was nearly 2% higher this time.

State and territory by-election:

• Six candidates for the August 20 by-election in the Northern Territory seat of Fannie Bay, in ballot paper order: Brent Potter, described in a report as a “government adviser, army veteran and father of four”, for Labor; independent George Mamouzellos; independent Raj Samson Rajwin, who was a Senate candidate for the United Australia Party; Jonathan Parry of the Greens; independent Leah Potter; and Ben Hosking, “small business owner and former police officer”, for the Country Liberals.

• Following the resignation of Labor member Jo Siejka, a by-election will be held for the Tasmanian Legislative Council seat of Pembroke on September 10. Siejka defeated a Liberal candidate by 8.65% to win the eastern Hobart seat at the periodic election in 2019. There will also be a recount of 2021 election ballots in Franklin to determine which of the three unelected Liberals will replace Jacquie Petrusma following her resignation announcement a fortnight ago. As Kevin Bonham explains, the order of probability runs Bec Enders, Dean Young and James Walker.

• Still no sign of a date for Western Australia’s North West Central by-election.

Liberal with the truth

A look back on what internal Liberal polling appeared to be saying ahead of the May election, and the related matter of the Katherine Deves controversy.

Last week I took a big picture look at how the main public pollsters performed in their immediate pre-election polling. Today I offer a necessarily incomplete account of the only partly knowable subject of internal party polling – specifically that of the Liberal Party, and how it played out against the backdrop of bitter conflict over its strategy of the campaign of pursuing culturally conservative constituencies at a time when those under threat from the teal independents needed every socially liberal vote they could get.

Much of this story relates to the controversy surrounding Warringah candidate Katherine Deves, which Scott Morrison appeared to consider the key to unlocking enough Labor-held seats in the outer suburbs and regions to balance defeats in inner metropolitan seats, at least to the extent of allowing him to hold on to power in a minority government. The notion that this strategy might have been hitting its mark was not the exclusive preserve of Liberal Party optimists. Shortly after the controversy first emerged early in the campaign, Phillip Coorey of the Financial Review wrote that “in the suburbs, the regions and the religious communities, the government – and Labor – believes the Deves issue is going gangbusters in Scott Morrison’s favour, messy as it may be”. A week later, Chris Uhlmann cited a Labor strategist in the Age/Herald who believed the issue was playing “90/10 in Deves’ favour” in the suburbs and the regions. Cameron Milner, a former Queensland Labor state secretary now all too comfortable in a new perch on The Australian’s op-ed page, described the Liberals’ exploitation of the controversy as “brilliant foghorn politics” that would yield a bumper crop of Hanson and Palmer preferences.

When Deves recanted her initial apology for her comments a fortnight out from the election, Niki Savva in the Age/Herald cited a Liberal source saying this had been “set up deliberately to resuscitate the issue”. Complicating the notion of a divide between what Uhlmann called “the inner-city bubble” and mainstream opinion further afield, Lanai Scarr of The West Australian reported that some were “even tipping Deves could pull off her own ‘miracle’ win and insulate other conservative electorates nationally in the process”, potentially saving the Liberals in such difficult contests as the Perth seat of Swan.

Needless to say, none of this looks terribly prescient now that the election’s unknowns are known. The possibility that the Liberals were acting on faulty intelligence is intriguingly raised by a report from Peter van Onselen on Ten News four days out from the election, which related that Liberal polling had Katherine Deves trailing Zali Steggall by only 53-47 – quite a lot closer than Steggall’s eventual winning margin of 61-39. Lest it be thought that this was some kind of Liberal Party psyop, it formed part of a batch of polling that was otherwise disastrous for the Liberals, with two-party preferred scores inclusive of an uncommitted component showing them trailing 50-43 in Bennelong and 50-41 in Parramatta (worse than their actual losing margins) and 49-48 in Reid (better), with particularly large deficits among women.

This happened to be the second batch of Liberal seat polling that van Onselen had been able to report late in the campaign, the first of which emerged as a bone of contention post-election in the party’s deepening culture war over the teal independent seats and whether they should be cut loose in favour of a more populist approach that took its cues from Donald Trump. This had the Liberal primary vote at 43% in Kooyong, 37% in Goldstein and 44% in Higgins, which bore up quite well against respective final results of 42.7%, 40.4% and 40.7%. Shortly after the election, Sharri Markson of The Australian recorded the following reaction to the leak inside the Liberal camp:

Senior Liberal figures scratched their heads, wondering where it had originated. The precise numbers did not reflect what was emanating from the party’s official poster, Crosby Textor. An internal probe discovered that (Senator Andrew) Bragg had submitted expenses to the NSW Liberal division of about $35,000 to $40,000 to conduct his own alternative polling in many NSW seats. There is no suggestion that Bragg leaked the polling to van Onselen, which he denies. It was not in his interest to depress the prospects of candidates he was fighting hard to help win. It’s not even clear whether the polling Bragg commissioned was the same polling broadcast on Ten. However, Morrison’s team believed it was.

Bragg had circulated the polling he commissioned to many Liberals – an action one source described as “sloppy” – and the suggestion is a recipient subsequently leaked it to the media. Questioned about the research for this article, Bragg admits he commissioned alternate polling and is scathing about the way Liberal headquarters and Crosby Textor treat Liberal candidates, who he says are kept in the dark about how they are faring.

“The Liberal Party and Crosby Textor treat the candidates like absolute shit and don’t give them the information they need,” Bragg says. “The candidates, who are often members of parliament, all they are given is a phone briefing and if they’re lucky they might get a piece of paper. Crosby Textor omit key things like the favourability of the leader because they’re worried that will leak to the media. If you know the party leader is massively unpopular you’ll differentiate so you can hang onto the seat. But if you’re not told that how are you supposed to know? It’s conflicts galore.”

Echoes of Bragg’s criticism were to be heard outside the tent from Kos Samaras, who as one of the principals of the Redbridge Group had provided polling and strategic advice to Climate 200 (with which, as per the disclosure notice at the bottom of this site’s sidebar, I was involved myself):

Why did the teals win? Many reasons. But at the centre of the campaign was an absolute commitment to the data. There were no games with what the internal polling said. There were no favourites shown, whereby resources are sent into a seat, even though the polling painted a different picture … (The Liberals) poured resouces into one seat, Kooyong, at the expense of others, even though their data was indeed showing a grim picture. That picture of course was never told, as the constant backgrounding into the media was akin to a story-telling session, skunk drunk, at a pub. The Liberal decision-making was riddled with bias and subjectivity, fuelled by an internal factional structure that made it impossible for data to be utilised correctly.

If early indications are anything to go by, the tension between the Liberal Party’s determination to tack to the right on cultural issues and electoral imperatives to win the favour of more liberally minded voters could be set to play out again at the Victorian state election in November. Stay tuned.

The polls and the sum of the parts

An overdue appraisal of the pollsters’ performance at the May federal election.

The 2022 federal election was a much happier experience for the polling industry than 2019, with each of five pollster producing election eve primary vote numbers broadly suggestive of the actual result. However, there was a collective error in favour of Labor, whose actual primary vote came in 2.3% below the pollster consensus while the Coalition landed 0.4% higher. While not at the standard Australian consumers had come to expect before 2019, such errors were fairly moderate by historic standards, particularly in the international context.

The pollsters in the national voting intention game before the election: Newspoll, conducted by YouGov for The Australian; Ipsos, for the Financial Review; Resolve Strategic, for the Nine Newspapers; Essential Research, for The Guardian; and Roy Morgan, which tacks voting intention on to its market research survey for its own amusement and, in the pre-election period at least, regularly published its results. The charts below show their final pre-election poll results for the Coalition, Labor and the Greens as black dots that lie at the centre of the span of their margins of error, with the relevant party’s actual result shown as a thick vertical line.

In the case of the three who are members of the Australian Polling Council (Newspoll, Ipsos and Essential Research), what is shown are the pollsters’ effective margins of error, which account for the fact that their results are weighted to emphasise or de-emphasise demographic cohorts who are over-represented or under-represented in their samples. Since Resolve Strategic and Roy Morgan don’t provide this detail, the margins of error have been calculated from their raw sample sizes, making them somewhat smaller than they would be otherwise.

Some caveats must be applied here: the final survey periods ranged from over a week before the election in the case of Roy Morgan (from May 9 to 15) to the course of the final week (Saturday to Wednesday from Ipsos, Thursday to Thursday from Newspoll), and pollsters may always plead they were caught out by late shifts in voting intention that it was beyond their power to foresee. There’s also a certain injustice in evaluating a pollster’s performance entirely by its pre-election poll, as the unavoidable randomness of the exercise means an element of luck is involved in who gets the honours. The best we can do is keep that in mind in the analysis that follows.

Essential Research did not have a great result, having systematically understated the non-major party vote (results here exclude a 7% undecided component). Other than that, three results are clearly outside the margins of error: Newspoll’s 36% and Ipsos’s 35.8% (after exclusion of 5% uncommitted) for Labor, whose actual result was 32.6%, and Resolve Strategic’s 14% for the Greens, whose result was 12.3%. None of these final poll results look like outliers for the pollster concerned. Newspoll’s four previous polls, which were published weekly during the campaign period, had Labor one to three points higher than the final result; Ipsos’s polling consistently had Labor clear of their actual result even without excluding their uncommitted component; and Essential Research’s numbers bounced a few points at a time within a consistent range throughout 2022.

Resolve Strategic’s evident inflation of Greens support was peculiar to its last two polls, which had it at 15% and 14% compared with 10% to 12% in its earlier polling. It should be noted here that margins of error are tighter for parties with lower vote shares, and that it’s conceivable that bad luck with rounding put the final poll outside the error margin at 14% rather than within it at 13%. State breakdowns show the inflation of the Greens vote arose from New South Wales and Queensland, which was respectively balanced by unduly low results for Labor and the Coalition. The latter was a peculiarity of the final poll, which had the Coalition at 31%, down from 41% at the previous poll a fortnight earlier and comparing with an actual result of 39.6%.

Essential Research’s issues were consistent across the board, landing too high for the Coalition and Labor and too low for the Greens in each state. The Victorian numbers were particularly far off the mark, perhaps reflecting their unusually high reading of 11% undecided in this state. It should be noted that the results for Western Australia and South Australia are three-week rolling averages, which means they ought not be regarded as strictly election eve results.

By process of elimination, it might be thought that the honours belong to Roy Morgan, whose reputation never really recovered from a series of poor federal election performances two decades ago. However, state breakdowns suggest a certain amount of luck was involved here, in that every one of its results during 2022 put Labor much higher in Victoria than they managed at the election. The element of luck was that the least askew of these results came in the pre-election poll, which had Labor’s lead in Victoria at a relatively narrow 57-43 compared with an actual result of 54.6-45.4. UPDATE: Adrian Beaumont also points out that they always had the United Australia Party implausibly low, the final result coming in at 1% compared with an election result of 4.1%, and this was matched by an excessive reading for independents/others.

Unfortunately there are state breakdowns available for Newspoll, for which we disappointingly did not see any of the usual aggregated breakdowns during the campaign period, and Ipsos, which did not maintain the finely detailed breakdowns it offered for its first few polls a the business end of the election. I’ll have more to say though about pollster performance at the election during quiet moments over the weeks or months to come, so stay tuned.

Final TPP: 52.1-47.9 to Labor

The final national two-party preferred total from the election is now settled, give or take a few hundred votes.

Click here for full display of House of Representatives election results.

The Australian Electoral Commission has completed its Labor-versus-Coalition two-party preferred counts for what it calls “non-classic” contests, namely those in which independent or minor party candidates made it to the final exclusion in the preference distribution – notwithstanding two minor errors which, by my estimate, will add an all-important 0.01% to Labor’s total when corrected. That will produce a final result of 52.14% and Coalition 47.86%, for a swing to Labor from the 2019 election of 3.67%. I have revised the entry guide to my results feature, linked to above, which had previously been projecting 51.9-48.1 to Labor based on preference estimates.

As well as a national figure, the two-party preferred counts have also yielded a number of interesting results at electorate level. Mayo tipped over to Labor for the first time by 1.6%, the Liberal margin having shrunk over the three previous election from 12.5% in 2013 to 5.4% when Rebekha Sharkie won the seat in 2016 to 2.5% in 2019. Labor also won the two-party vote in Ryan by 2.4% after a swing of 8.4%, in Brisbane by 4.4% after a swing of 9.3%, and in Griffith by 11.1% after a swing of 8.2%, for all the good it did third-placed Terri Butler.

In the teal independent seats, Liberal two-party margins over Labor were reduced to 1.3% in North Sydney by a swing of 8.0%; 8.6% in Mackellar by a swing of 4.6%; 5.9% in Wentworth after a swing of 3.9%; 4.8% in Goldstein after a swing of 3.0%; 4.2% in Kooyong after a swing of 2.2%; and 5.6% in Curtin after a swing of 8.3%. Despite/because of the absence/presence of Tony Abbott/Katherine Deves, the two-party swing to Labor in Warringah was only 0.7%, reducing the Liberal margin to 1.4% after a 9.0% swing in 2019 reduced it to a then-unprecedented 2.1%. In Bradfield, where Nicolette Boele rode the teal independent wave to make the final count and reduce Liberal member Paul Fletcher to a winning margin of 4.2%, Labor picked up a 10.0% two-party swing to reduce the margin on that measure to 6.5%. The Liberals’ previous lowest winning margin over Labor in Bradfield was 13.5% in 2007, when it was held by Brendan Nelson.

On the other side of the coin, Kristina Keneally suffered an 8.3% two-party swing in the course of losing Fowler to independent Dai Le, reducing the margin there to 5.7%, breaking a previous record in that seat of 8.8% in 2010. In what might have been seen as a warning to Labor, the 2010 result came off the back of a 13.8% swing after Labor used the seat to accommodate Chris Hayes. Hayes’ existing seat of Werriwa had in turn been used to accommodate Left faction powerbroker Laurie Ferguson, whose existing seat of Reid had been made a lot less safe after being effectively merged with its abolished neighbour, Lowe.

The AEC has also published a zip file of full preference distributions for all 151 seats, pending the data entry required to make them available in a more accessible format on the site. Groom was a late addition to the AEC’s non-classic contests lists when the preference distribution made it apparent that independent candidate Suzie Holt had received enough preferences from minor party and independent candidates to close a gap of 18.73% to 8.26% on the primary vote. The Liberal National Party member, Garth Hamilton, ended up within a winning margin over Holt of 6.89% at the final count. If you observe the booth results map at the bottom of my results page, you can observe that support for the two candidates was finely balanced in the electorate’s dominant population centre of Toowoomba, with rural and small town votes tipping the balance in favour of Hamilton.