Strike two: the Bennelong by-election

Some recent historical perspective on another looming federal by-election.

Hot on the heels of Barnaby Joyce’s disqualification by the High Court, there is now a second Section-44 related by-election on the way following Saturday’s resignation announcement by John Alexander, the Liberal member for Bennelong. As in Joyce’s seat of New England, reports suggest the government will act quickly to get the by-election over and done with, which could mean writs being issued today for a pre-Christmas poll on December 16. Whereas the New England by-election looks like being nothing more than an expensive diversion that will shortly restore Joyce to his place in parliament, Bennelong is a loseable seat, as John Howard memorably discovered on the occasion of his government’s defeat in 2007.

As you can see on the sidebar, I now have guides up for both the New England and Bennelong, although the latter as yet has no detail to relate concerning candidates other than Alexander. For some perspective on how much danger the goverment is in, the chart below compares results in federal and state by-elections that were contested by both the Coalition and the Labor going back to the 1980s with the state of play in opinion polls at the relevant time. Results in both cases are conceived in terms of swings to the government party, which in the case of opinion polling is determined either through the most recent Newspoll or, where available, my own poll trend measurement.

The red line constitutes a line of best fit for the available data, which suggests that there is indeed a relationship between polling and by-election results, even if it’s far from ironclad. The Turnbull government has been looking at an adverse swing of around 3% in poll trend measures for some time now, which translates into a typical by-election swing of around 8% – not quite enough to erase Alexander’s margin in Bennelong of 9.7%. However, it today’s 55-45 result from Newspoll is more indicative of the government’s true form, the anticipated swing lands right on the mark. A comparable feat was achieved by Labor at the by-election for the Brisbane seat of Ryan in February 2001, at which a Liberal margin of 9.5% was barely accounted for by a swing of 9.7%.

North Sydney by-election live

Live coverage of counting for the North Sydney by-election.

Primary vote

# % Proj. Swing
Lou Pollard (Arts Party) 1276 1.9%
William Bourke (Sustainable Population) 2032 3.0%
Sam Kennard (Liberal Democrats) 1395 2.1%
Kerry Bromson (Voluntary Euthanasia) 663 1.0%
James Jansson (Future Party) 474 0.7%
Arthur Chesterfield-Evans (Greens) 10883 16.1% 16.1% +0.8%
Maryann Beregi (Independent) 2416 3.6%
Silvana Nero (Christian Democratic) 1754 2.6% 2.6% +1.6%
Robert James Marks (Palmer United) 320 0.5% 0.5% -1.2%
Trent Zimmerman (Liberal) 32107 47.5% 47.4% -13.6%
Stephen Ruff (Independent) 12732 18.8%
Luke Freeman (Australian Cyclists) 717 1.1%
Tim Bohm (Bullet Train for Australia) 800 1.2%
Formal 67569
% of enrolled voters 64.8%
Booths returned (of 43) 39

1am. I’ve finally updated with final numbers for the night. The Liberals reportedly say they expect to win 58-42, which is at the high end of what I would have been expecting for them.

8.59pm. The AEC have stopped publishing the Liberal-versus-Greens results, in recognition that this is a Zimmerman-versus-Ruff contest.

8.30pm. Shellbell in comments points out the Palmer United candidate is coming last, with all of 199 votes.

8.16pm. For a point of comparison, Sophie Mirabella got 21% of preferences when she was defeated in Indi. If Zimmerman does about that well, his winning margin will be about 5%.

8.04pm. Now up to 26 booths on the primary vote. The situation there isn’t fundamentally changing, apart from a slight improvement in the Liberals’ position.

8.02pm. For what it’s worth, preferences are favouring the Greens over the Liberals by 59.5-40.5.

7.57pm. Sorry, wasn’t thinking in that last entry. The 2CP result in Liberal-versus-Greens, so it’s not surprising it’s heavily favouring the Liberals. What we need to know is the flow of preferences between Zimmerman and Ruff, which we won’t know this evening. Nonetheless, I’ve managed to fix up my table so the Liberal-versus-Greens 2PP is flowing through to it correctly.

7.51pm. There are, in fact, eight booths down as reporting on 2PP on the AEC site, and they suggest a clearer win for the Liberals than I’d thought – a 15.3% margin, although the early reporting booths were particularly strong ones from the Liberals.

7.43pm. Primary vote booth results continue to trickle in, bringing us up to 18 out of 43, but none of them are radically changing the outlook of a Liberal primary vote of around 46%-47%. In other words, a two-party booth result will be needed before there will be much of interest to add, unless some of the outstanding primary vote results throw up some surprises.

7.38pm. Now out to fourteen booths, and I’m still tracking the Liberal primary vote to come in at 45% or maybe a bit higher. Stephen Ruff’s lead over the third-placed Greens has narrowed a little, but I expect he’ll do better on preferences so still looks set to finish second. On current indications, he’d need 86% of preferences to win.

7.30pm. Eleven booths in now, and the primary vote swing against the Liberals is a more moderate but still imposing 14.7%. Zimmerman clearly headed for victory, but we’ll need some two-party results before we have a clear idea what the margin will look like.

7.26pm. A further two booths don’t change the situation on the primary vote. Still no two-party booth results yet, so no idea of preference flows.

7.17pm. Seven booths in now, and Zimmerman’s position has improved enough to suggest he should make it home. But with Ruff maintaining second place, he won’t have a hugely impressive margin after preferences.

7.10pm. Two booths in – St Leonards and Neutral Bay West – and they suggest a bigger drop in the Liberal primary vote than they’d feel comfortable with, particularly given that independent Stephen Ruff, who could presumably expect a pretty strong preference flow, has so far outpolled the Greens.

6pm. Voting has closed in the North Sydney by-election. Results should be a while coming, given that this is a city electorate with large booths, and there is a very large field of 13 candidates. This post will feature result projections and commentary as results start to roll in, which I’m guessing will be in a bit over an hour.

North Sydney by-election: December 5

A regularly updated thread following the action, if any, in the campaign for the by-election to replace Joe Hockey in the safe Liberal seat of North Sydney.

Thursday, December 3

With two days to go, the Sean Nicholls Sydney Morning Herald reports that a ReachTEL automated phone poll of 678 respondents, conducted privately by the Save Our Councils Coalition, shows Liberal candidate Trent Zimmerman on 54.7% of the primary vote after exclusion of the 15.3% undecided. Accurately interpreted, this amounts to a 6.4% drop from Joe Hockey’s vote in 2013, rather than the 14.7% identified in Nicholls’ report, which ignores the undecided component. The poll result has the Greens on 22.8%, the Christian Democratic Party on 4.1%, and everyone else on 18.3%.

Friday, November 13

The declaration of candidates and ballot paper draw was conducted today. There are 13 candidates, with the ballot paper order shown here. I have a paywalled article on the by-election in in Crikey today.

Friday, October 27

Things are moving very quickly towards a by-election to replace Joe Hockey in North Sydney, with Hockey formalising his resignation and conducting his farewell speech on Friday, the date of December 5 being set yesterday, and the Liberals conducting their preselection last night. As anticipated, the winner of the preselection was Trent Zimmerman, the party’s acting state party president and a former staffer to Joe Hockey, and more recently deputy chair of the Tourism and Transport Forum. Sean Nicholls of the Sydney Morning Herald reports that North Sydney mayor Jilly Gibson is considering running as an independent, potentially following the same path as Ted Mack, a former mayor who held the seat as an independent for two terms prior to Joe Hockey’s entry to parliament in 1996. The Greens are reportedly set to endorse Arthur Chesterfield-Evans, a former Australian Democrats member for the state upper house. Given the seat’s 15.9% margin, it is very unlikely that Labor will field a candidate.

The haste with which the Liberals wrapped up their preselection process has aroused controversy, which can be broadly understood in the context of factional disputes that pit an alliance between moderates and the Centre Right, who between them control the state executive, against harder-edged Right elements who are frozen out by the arrangement. James Robertson of the Sydney Morning Herald reports that registration forms were emailed to eligible preselectors on Thursday evening, with the requirement that they be submitted no latter than noon the next day. The ABC reports that the preselection meeting attracted a small group of protesters, whose complaints partly related to the state council’s recent rejection of a push by the hard Right to have preselections determined by party plebiscites, in place of the existing model where the vote is divided between branch delegates and members of the state council and state executive.

In the event, Zimmerman enjoyed a fairly modest winning margin of 47-35 over John Hart, chief executive of Restaurant and Catering Australia. Hart was described by the Sydney Morning Herald as “another ally of Joe Hockey’s”, but David Crowe of The Australian reports that conservatives threw their weight behind him, presumably as an expression of displeasure with the way things were handled. A third nominee was Helen Cartledge, a late entrant whose credentials included a doctorate in engineering and a position as science adviser in the Australian Defence Organisation, could manage only two votes.

Canning by-election live

Live coverage of the count for the Canning by-election.

Two-party: full preference estimate

# % Proj. Swing
ANDREW HASTIE (Liberal) 36933 54.4% 54.8% -7.0%
MATT KEOGH (Labor) 30989 45.6% 45.2% +7.0%

Primary vote

# % Proj. Swing
Liberal 34291 46.4% 46.7% -4.4%
Labor 26544 35.9% 36.2% +9.5%
Greens 4479 6.1% 6.0% -1.4%
Palmer United 2264 3.1% 2.3% -4.6%
Family First 531 0.7% 0.8% -0.5%
Australian Christians 2280 3.1% 2.8% -0.3%
Others 3519 4.8% 5.1% +1.5%
Formal 73908
% of enrolled voters 65.5%
% of projected turnout 89.2%
Booths counted (of 46) 46

Two-party: raw count

# % Prefs Pref. Swing
LIBERAL 40600 54.9% 48.3% -0.6%
LABOR 33307 45.1% 51.7% +0.6%
Formal 73907
% of enrolled voters 65.5%
% of projected turnout 89.2%
Booths counted (of 46) 46

City of Armadale booths

# % Proj. Swing
LIBERAL 15490 49.2% 49.2% -9.3%
LABOR 16025 50.8% 50.8% +9.3%
Booths counted (of 18) 18

City of Mandurah booths

# % Proj. Swing
LIBERAL 10868 58.3% 58.3% -3.3%
LABOR 7765 41.7% 41.7% +3.3%
Booths counted (of 10) 10

Other booths

# % Proj. Swing
LIBERAL 10575 59.5% 59.5% -6.7%
LABOR 7199 40.5% 40.5% +6.7%
Booths counted (of 18) 18

Concluding summary

In political terms, the result is anti-climactic, in that the swing is neither a triumph nor a disaster for either side. However, it’s interesting to note that the swing was concentrated in Armadale, given that a lot more suburban territory cut from the same socio-economic cloth sits beyond the electorate’s northern boundaries, in Hasluck and the newly drafted seat of Burt, both of which are marginal Liberal. Another standout factor from the results is that the non-major party vote was down on the last election, contrary to the usual by-election form. The drop in the Greens vote can only partly be explained by competition from Animal Justice and the Pirate Party, and the loss of two third of the Palmer United vote wasn’t entirely matched by an increase for other right-of-centre minor parties. Contrary to the indications of some polling, Labor’s share of preferences was essentially unchanged.

Live count commentary

10.15pm. Results above are final for the night, there evidently being no counting of postals this evening. The results include two pre-poll voting centres – Armadale, which is included in the booth-matching calculations as the centre was in use at the 2013 election, and Mandurah, which isn’t and wasn’t.

9.01pm. The Armadale pre-poll voting centre — which along of the PPVCs I’m including in my booth-matching results projections, since it’s the only one that was in use at the 2013 election — has pushed the Labor swing over 7%. It will be interesting to see if there’s a general pattern of Labor performing better on pre-polls, since part of the vote will have been cast before the leadership change. Conversely, this may just be the oft-cited Armadale swing in action.

8.44pm. Two more results added, typical of the whole in being a strong result for Labor from Armadale and a weak one from Mandurah.

8.41pm. Still to report: two large booths at Halls Head in Mandurah; two Armadale booths, plus two others are yet to report two-party preferred; and in the vicinity of Armadale, full results from Harrisdale, and two-party from Byford.

8.32pm. More Armadale-heavy data has added a further increment to the Labor swing, although outstanding booths from Halls Head in Mandurah may well rein it back.

8.27pm. The addition of some further results from Armadale, where the swing is approaching 10%, has added half a point to the projected Labor swing.

8.22pm. I’ve been progressively adding newly reporting booths without comment, there being no surprises.

8.02pm. A very soft result for the Greens, who have gone backwards, and the minor party vote in general. Modest though it may be, Labor has at least achieved its two-party swing off its own steam.

8.00pm. Contrary to my expectations, the results have come in at a bewilderingly fast clip. But the swing has stayed around 6%, and the impression of a swing strongest in Armadale and weakest in Mandurah has been consistent.

7.49pm. I strongly suspect the AEC has the Labor and Liberal vote in Boddington entered the wrong way round. Otherwise there’s been a 40% swing there.

7.42pm. Five booths in from Armadale and now and three for Mandurah, and so for the swing in the latter looks to be the smaller. Despite that, the swing projection has remained been pretty stable at around 6%.

7.32pm. Fair bit of surgery required there on my results display, but I think it’s in order now. The swing Labor looks to be headed for is about 6%. It doesn’t seem that their preference share has picked up at all.

7.18pm. A fairly solid 11 booths in now, and I’ve had the swing at around 8% for a little while now. Antony Green only says 6%, but he’s less aggressive than me in extracting projections from incomplete results.

7.10pm. Three booths have been added on the 2PP vote, and these results are now being used to project preference flows on to booths that have reported the primary vote only.

7.05pm. A bunch of booths in now, including a couple from the larger centres, and the swing is looking stable so far — but I’m still going off 2013 election preferences. I’ll sort that out in a minute.

6.53pm. Carcoola and Dandalup North booths added on primary vote — so still only booths from the smaller semi-rural centres.

6.35pm. Still a lot I’m trying to work out here, but we’ve got primary votes in from the Preston Beach booth, and from that very small data point I’m projecting a result in line with expectations.

6pm. Polls have closed, so welcome to the Poll Bludger’s live coverage of the Canning by-election count. The table below will be updated as the numbers are reported to track both the raw vote and projections based on booth-matching and preference trends. With 12 candidates in the count, progress might be a bit slow. There are some small semi-rural booths in the electorate, and we should be hearing from these first in about an hour.

Canning by-election: September 19

A progressively updated post reporting on the campaign for the Canning by-election. LATEST UPDATE (15/9): In the last hours of Tony Abbott’s leadership, ReachTEL recorded a 57-43 lead to the Liberals under a then-hypothetical Malcolm Turnbull prime ministership.

Saturday, September 19

The West Australian produces one final poll for the campaign, being the only one conducted since the leadership coup. The poll, once again, was from ReachTEL, conducted on Thursday night from a sample of 1130. It suggests a movement of over 3% in favour of the Liberals, who record a primary vote of 48.4% compared with 32.9% for Labor and 7.6% for the Greens. Respondent-allocated preferences come out at 57-43, which is no different from previous election preferences. Here then is the final and definitive list of polling for the by-election:

Tuesday, September 15

A ReachTEL poll conducted in the electorate as the action unfolded last night found the Liberal lead at its usual 52-48, but that this would blow out to 57-43 if Malcolm Turnbull was leader. Under the assumption of Tony Abbott’s leadership, Andrew Hastie had 45.3% of the primary vote, Matt Keogh 36.4%, and the Greens 7.4%. Three earlier ReachTEL polls had Hastie between 46.5% and 47.3%, Keogh between 33.0% and 35.5%, and the Greens between 8.0% and 9.6%. The respondent-allocated two-party preferred result is 52-48 to Hastie, suggesting a preference share of a bit under 40% – quite a bit higher than the 25% or so of earlier ReachTEL polls, but still below the 2013 result of 48%.

Sunday, September 13

Two new polls, together with an updated table of all Canning polling a little further below:

• Tomorrow’s Fairfax papers have an Ipsos poll that is particularly interesting for its big sample size (around 1400), and the fact that both respondent-allocated and previous-election two-party results are provided. The respective results are 53-47 and 52-48 in favour of the Liberals – suggesting a preference flow to the Liberals of over 40%, compared with a little below 25% in the last two ReachTEL polls. The primary votes are Liberal 45%, Labor 36%, Greens 9% and Palmer United 2%. The poll also has Tony Abbott with 39% approval and 54% disapproval, Bill Shorten on 34% and 50%, and Abbott leading 42-36 as preferred prime minister.

• This morning’s News Corp tabloids had a Galaxy robopoll of 557 respondents, conducted on Thursday night, crediting Andrew Hastie with 44% of the primary vote and a two-party preferred lead of 52-48, with Matt Keogh on 36%, the Greens on 9%, Palmer United and Australian Christians on 3%, and all others on 5%. Tony Abbott led Bill Shorten as preferred prime minister by 41-38.

Saturday, September 12

We haven’t had any new polling on voting intention for a while, but watch this space tomorrow evening. All there has been is a second tranche of the earlier Essential Research poll for GetUp!, which found 59% of “swinging voters” (probably a pretty small sample overall then) were less likely to vote Liberal because of “ongoing government handouts to big mining companies”, and 66% of them said health and education cuts made them less likely to do so.

Andrew Burrell of The Australian reports that a Liberal source saying the party is “anticipating a narrow victory in Canning by a margin of 3-5 per cent, down from the current margin of 11.8 per cent”. The Mandurah Coastal Times observes that SportsBets odds for Andrew Hastie have come in from $1.45 to $1.22 over the course of the campaign, while Matt Keogh is out from $2.75 to $4.

• The Liberal Democrats are directing preferences to Labor ahead of the Liberals, in retaliation against the latter’s action through the Administrative Appeals Tribunal to force the party to change its name. Minor-party how-to-vote cards mostly follow predictable lines, with the Greens, Animal Justice and Pirate Party favouring Labor over Liberal, while Family First and Australian Christians go the other way, and Sustainable Population advises voters to work it out for themselves. The Palmer United how-to-vote card features an “example” consisting of a simple donkey vote, as their candidate has drawn top position on the ballot paper. Those who follow the example – and it takes fairly careful reading of the card not to conclude that it is the party’s active recommendation – will end up delivering their votes to sixth-placed Andrew Hastie ahead of eighth-placed Matt Keogh. The cards can be viewed on Antony Green’s Canning by-election page.

• Relatedly, Antony Green reviews the past behaviour of preferences in Canning, and notes that the Liberals’ share of Australian Christians preferences in the electorate has consistently been about 10% above par – or around 85%, compared with around 75%. “Either the Australian Christians are very good at handing out how-to-votes in Canning”, he concludes, “or they have tapped into local church networks, alerting supporters to how they should direct preferences”. No such party was evident with Family First preferences.

• Independent candidate Teresa van Lieshout, who made a splash in her run for the Vasse state by-election by appearing in a campaign video wearing a bikini, has made an even bigger one this time around by having a warrant issued for her arrest, after failing to appear in appear Fremantle Magistrates Court on a number of charges which appear to relate to her refusal to pay fines. She also took to Facebook to describe the Mandurah Mail newspaper as “evil cowardly lying slanderous violent pro liberal/labor govt fascist Nazi stealing, torturing, murdering dogs”.

• State Labor has used the occasion of the by-election campaign to reboot its Metronet policy from the 2013 state election, which promised a dramatic expansion of Perth’s rail network. Opposition Leader Mark McGowan this week promised that a new station would be built on the Mandurah line at Karnup if his party wins election in 2017.

Monday, September 7

Michael Gordon of The Age reports that polling of 400 respondents in Canning, conducted for Labor by UMR Strategic Research, found “34 per cent of voters agreeing that Abbott was doing a good job for Western Australia”, with “50 per cent of voters agreeing he was doing a bad job and 16 per cent unsure”. It’s instructive to compare this with the national result from the latest Newspoll, which has his approval rating at 30% and disapproval at 63%. Laurie Oakes sums up the general perception of the press corps when he writes that “optimism is growing among Liberals they will hold the seat by a reasonable margin”. In other news, Andrew Hastie has continued to dominate headlines from the campaign, having intervened during a doorstop interview to protect Tony Abbott from a question about leadership speculation, and been similarly forceful in heading off questions about his father’s and wife’s apparently conservative religious views.

Thursday, September 3

Later. Here’s a chart showing results of all five Canning polls, including ReachTEL’s numbers after forced responses from the undecided. ReachTEL and Essential did automated phone polls, the former targeting both landlines and mobiles, the latter just landlines. I believe the Newspoll was the same mode as the ReachTEL, but I await confirmation on that. The Liberal 2PP columns successively show preferences as based on the 2013 result (calculated myself for the ReachTEL polls) and, where available (i.e. only for the ReachTEL polls), respondent-allocated results and Liberals’ implied share of minor party and independent preferences.

Click on the image for a clearer view.

Earlier. However ambiguous the political situation may be, one clear winner from the by-election has been ReachTEL, which has been doing a roaring trade in automated phone polling of the electorate for private clients who have then been making the results available to the media. The latest clients are GetUp! and a coalition of environment groups, both of whose polls show the Liberals leading 51-49, as reported by The Guardian (UPDATE: Correction – the GetUp! poll was conducted by Essential Research, and it used previous election preferences, so the result is particularly worrying for the Liberals. See table above for full results.) However, those who have been following this thread will be aware that ReachTEL’s two-party totals have been reached through surprising Labor-friendly numbers on respondent-allocated preferences, such that you would want to see primary vote numbers before analysing them too carefully – and so far, no such numbers are available.

Saturday, August 29

The latest outfit to commission a ReachTEL poll of the electorate is Australian Marriage Equality, and its figures look rather a lot like those for the recent United Voice poll. After excluding 6.5% undecided, the primary votes are Liberal 47.7%, Labor 33.8% and Greens 8.0%. However, there may have been a forced preference on the undecided if the United Voice poll is anything to go by, and if the undecided had responded as they did in that poll, the Liberals would be about a point lower and Labor and the Greens little changed. Either way, the two-party result of 51-49 in favour of the Liberals credits Labor with a seemingly implausible share of preferences – this time 80%. The poll also found 46.9% supportive of legalising same-sex marriage with 40.8% opposed, and had Malcolm Turnbull favoured over Tony Abbott as Liberal leader by 38.2% to 25.8%, with Julie Bishop on 24.3% and Scott Morrison on 11.7%. The sample for the poll was 782.

Meanwhile, Andrew Hastie has said he will not vote in the by-election after a mix-up over his enrolment, which he has blamed on “ambiguous” Australian Electoral Commission paperwork. Shortly before the closure of the roll, Andrew Hastie changed his enrolment to his new rental address in Dudley Park. However, the Electoral Act requires that a person live at an address for over a month before they are eligible to do so. A statement by Hastie says he explained his circumstances to the returning officer in full, who directed him to complete the form and told him the application would be processed.

In fairness to both Hastie and the AEC, the Electoral Act itself is fairly ambiguous, with section 99(1) providing that one is only entitled to enrol at an address after one month of residence, but section 99(5) prohibiting the questioning of a person’s enrolment on that basis. Were Hastie to vote, he would be making a purely technical breach of the former section. But since he is not going to vote, he will be sent a letter from the AEC asking that he explain his failure to do so, to be followed by the formality of it accepting his explanation. The matter will also be investigated by the AEC’s Electoral Integrity Unit, which was established recently in response to the Abbott government’s push to hype “voting fraud”. Matt Keogh will also not be voting at the by-election as he remains enrolled at his old address in Mount Lawley, having moved into the electorate at Kelmscott less than a month ago.

Friday, August 28

With today’s declaration of nominations, it emerged that there will be 12 candidates standing at the by-election, with the ballot paper order as follows:

Vimal Kumar Sharma (Palmer United)
Connor Whittle (Liberal Democrats)
Michelle Allen (Pirate Party)
Greg Smith (Australian Defence Veterans Party)
Katrina Love (Animal Justice)
Andrew Hastie (Liberal)
Teresa van Lieshout (Independent)
Matt Keogh (Labor)
Vanessa Rauland (Greens)
Jim McCourt (Family First)
Jamie van Burgel (Australian Christians)
Angela Smith (Sustainable Population Party)

I had a paywalled article on the by-election in Crikey today, which did a bit of reading between the lines (not always a good idea) to observe that Tony Abbott seems to be more optimistic about the result than Bill Shorten. The article also noted that historical observation of by-elections over the past 25 years suggests that the roughly 7% swing shown against the Coalition by opinion poll aggregates suggests the by-election swing will be around 12%, or exactly equal to the existing margin. The scatterplot below shows how this was determined. Each point represents one federal or state by-election since 1990, with the most recent available opinion poll swing shown on the x-axis (based on my own poll aggregations where possible, or the most recent Newspoll where not, which was rather more often), and the swing recorded at the by-election on the y-axis. The linear equation tells us we should multiply the minus 7% opinion poll swing by 1.3717 and then subtract a further 2.26%, which gets us to 11.86%, compared with a Liberal margin of 11.81%. The r-squared tells us the model only explains 45.73% of the variation across the 45 results, so there is plenty of scope for the actual result to land on either side of the prediction.

Thursday, August 27

Latest developments:

Phillip Coorey of the Financial Review reports that Malcolm Turnbull, Julie Bishop and Scott Morrison will all campaign in the electorate over the next 10 days. However, “Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who is in Northern Australia for the rest of this week, would not say on Tuesday if he would make another appearance”. When confronted about the matter by Mark Riley of Seven News, Andrew Hastie gave a clear impression that he didn’t have any lines rehearsed.

• Further candidates to add to the previously noted Andrew Hastie (Liberal), Matt Keogh (Labor), Vanessa Rauland (Greens) and Vimal Sharma (Palmer United): Jamie van Burgel of Australian Christians, whose multiple runs for election in the past included a bid for Canning in 2010; Greg Smith, a former army major, for the Australian Defence Veterans Party; Michelle Allen, a software development manager, for the Pirate Party; and Teresa van Lieshout, a teacher and serial election candidate (most recently seen donning a bikini to promote her run at last year’s state by-election in Vasse) who once ran for One Nation and is now under the banner of the unregistered Voters Rights Party. Nominations close at noon today, with the ballot paper draw to follow tomorrow.

• With the electoral roll having closed on Monday evening, the Australian Electoral Commission relates there are 112,809 people enrolled to vote at the by-election. A breakdown by age can be found here.

Wednesday, August 26

The West Australian reports a ReachTEL poll has Liberal candidate Andrew Hastie on 44.4%, Labor’s Matt Keogh on 30.2%, Vanessa Rauland of the Greens on 8.6% and Vimal Sharma of Palmer United on 2.3%, which compares with 2013 election results of 51.1%, 26.6%, 7.4% and 6.9%. However, it’s not clear if the 14.5% remainder includes those who opted for a response of “undecided”. My guess is that it does, since otherwise the two-party result would pan out to 57-43 in favour of the Liberals based on 2013 preferences, whereas the report states that Labor leads 50.1-49.9. Even so, it’s clear enough that this must be based on respondent-allocated preferences, and that the flow credited to Labor is substantially stronger than what they achieved in 2013. There is a slight further complication in that the report refers to a “Coalition” primary vote, when the Nationals fielded a separate candidate in 2013 but are not doing so again this time. The Nationals only scored 1.9% of the vote in 2013, but this delivered a remarkably weak 67.5% share of preferences to Don Randall over Labor. The ReachTEL poll was conducted for the United Voice union, and had a sample of 768.

UPDATE: The primary vote numbers cited above include 5.9% others and 8.6% undecided, adding up to the “14.5% remainder”. The undecided were then asked to indicate who they were leaning towards, after which the result was Liberal 47.3%, Labor 33.0%, Greens 9.6%, Palmer United 2.7% and others 7.5%. The 50.1-49.9 two-party preferred is based on respondent-allocated preferences, and implies a remarkable 85-15 split in favour of Labor. The poll question did not identify the candidates, and the prompt was for the Liberal Party rather than the Coalition, with no mention of the Nationals.

Monday, August 24

Noteworthy occurrences of the first week of the campaign:

• Whoever emerges the winner of the by-election will have their political future coloured by the redistribution currently in progress, draft boundaries for which were published last week. About a third of the voters currently in Canning, in the south-eastern Perth suburbs area encompassing Armadale, Forrestdale and Kelmscott, are set to be transferred to the new electorate of Burt, which further extends north to Canning Vale, Thornlie and Gosnells. It is proposed that Canning be compensated for the loss by gaining the northern part of Mandurah, which is currently in Brand. Should Matt Keogh win the seat for Labor, he will presumably be keen on a transfer to Burt, which has a notional Liberal margin of about 5%, and encompasses his old stamping grounds of Armadale and Kelmscott. But if Andrew Hastie retains the seat for the Liberals, the redistribution will make the seat about 1% more favourable for him, the Armadale area in particular being relatively strong for Labor. More on the redistribution here.

• The first weekend of the official campaign has been dominated by a Fairfax report’s revelation that Andrew Hastie was the officer in command of a troop of around 30 soldiers which is being investigated for “chopping the hands off dead Taliban fighters in Afghanistan”, which were “believed to have been removed for the purposes of identifying them by fingerprinting”. The Defence Department has declined to say if Hastie himself was being investigated, but Hastie says he had been in a helicopter overhead at the time, and that all but one soldier from the troop has been cleared.

• The subsequent outbreak of dubious jokes from Labor partisans on social media has made headlines after two entries in the field were retweeted by state Labor MPs Chris Tallentire and Darren West. Julie Bishop described the tweets as “simply appalling”, and the MPs have been admonished by state Labor leader Mark McGowan (“completely unacceptable”) and federal front-bencher Brendan O’Connor (“distasteful … no one should be seeking to reflect adversely on a soldier who’s defended this nation”).

• The other theme of the early part of the campaign has been one-upmanship regarding the major party candidates’ local credentials. Andrew Hastie is preparing to move into a rental property in the Mandurah suburb of Dudley Park, but he was born in Victoria and has spent most of his life in New South Wales, and currently lives in Defence Force housing in the inner Perth suburb of Shenton Park. Matt Keogh grew up in Kelmscott and Armadale, but now lives in the bohemian inner-city suburb of Mount Lawley, prompting Julie Bishop to label him a “hipster lawyer”.

• The Greens have preselected Vanessa Rauland, a lecturer in sustainability and climate policy at Curtin University and co-director of SimplyCarbon, “a boutique sustainability and carbon consultancy that assists businesses to become leaders in sustainability”.

• The Palmer United candidate is Vimal Sharma, managing director of Clive Palmer’s Mineralogy company, who ran for the party in the seat of Cowan at the 2013 election. Sharma was not present at the press conference Clive Palmer held on Friday to announce his candidacy.

Friday, August 21

A report in The West Australian yesterday related that a ReachTEL poll of 734 respondents conducted for the Australian Workers Union on July 29, eight days after Randall’s death, had Labor leading 50.8-49.2.

Thursday, August 20

This post started life recounting the Newspoll result you can see immediately below, but it shall henceforth provide a rolling account of by-election news as it emerges. It was announced this week that the date for the by-election would be September 19 – evidently a little earlier than Labor expected, given their as-yet-unresolved preselection process – with the roll to close on Monday, nominations to close next Thursday, and the ballot paper draw to be conducted on Friday. The by-election looms as a contest between Liberal candidate Andrew Hastie, an SAS officer who has served three tours in Afghanistan, and Labor’s Matt Keogh, a commercial lawyer and president of the WA Law Society.

Hastie won a preselection vote last week from a field which, as described by Colin Bettles of Fairfax, included “company director Daniel Nikolic, local school teacher Ashley King, and small business owners Marisa Hislop, Steve Marshall and Lance Scott”, as well as Pierrette Kelly, electorate officer to Senator Chris Back. The vote involved mostly delegates from local branches, and is set to be signed off today by the party’s state council. A vote of local Labor members will be held on Sunday, but this appears to be a one-horse race following the withdrawal yesterday of Kelly McManus, a staffer to state Mandurah MP David Templeman currently, and formerly to Kim Beazley. Nathan Hondros of the Mandurah Mail reports it is “understood” that McManus withdrew to give Keogh a clear run. The by-election seems to have restored some of Clive Palmer’s vigour, with his party set to unveil its candidate tomorrow.

Monday, August 17

The Australian has published results from a Newspoll survey in Canning, for which the date was set today at September 19. The poll finds the Liberals grimly hanging on with a two-party preferred lead of 51-49, suggesting a swing of around 11% since the 2013 election. The primary votes are 41% for the Liberals (down 10.1%), 36% for Labor (up 9.4%), a 11% for the Greens (up 3.6%). The poll also finds Tony Abbott favoured over Bill Shorten in the electorate as preferred prime minister by 36-32, and 78% opting for a “people’s vote” option on same-sex marriage over 20% for “vote by politicians”. The poll was conducted over the weekend from a fairly small sample of 508 respondents, with a self-ascribed error margin of 4.3%.

I’ll flesh this post out into a proper by-election overview when I get time, but for the time being, here’s a 2013 booth results map for the electorate:

Griffith by-election live

Live coverage of the Griffith by-election count, featuring booth-matched swing calculations and result projections.


While Terri Butler’s 2.3% buffer at the end of the night is enough to secure her victory, Bill Glasson can at least claim the uncommon feat of delivering a by-election swing to the party in government. The current margin represents a 0.7% two-party swing to the Liberal National Party compared with the September election result, which is likely to widen a little further on postals.

Commentators around the place have been scrambling to place the result into historical context, mostly with reference to the long record of federal by-elections. A general paucity of swings to governments is easy to spot, but closer examination shows how much swings can vary according to the circumstances of the by-election, and how unreliable a guide they can be to a government’s future electoral performance. The last pro-government swing federally was achieved when Carmen Lawrence moved from state to federal politics in Fremantle in 1994, and it was followed by a shellacking for the Keating government at the next general election two years later. The most recent state example I can think of is the Peel by-election in Western Australia in February 2007, when Alan Carpenter’s Labor government boosted its margin 18 months before being dumped from office.

Given the array of circumstances that can bring by-elections about, an effort should be made to compare like with like. Griffith is part of a long tradition of by-elections held when a member of a defeated government decides opposition isn’t for them. Unfortunately, those involved tend to be senior figures representing safe seats which the opposing party doesn’t bother to contest. During its first term, Rudd Labor only took the field when Peter McGauran departed in the seemingly winnable seat of Gippsland, only to cop a bloody nose for its trouble. Few were surprised Labor stayed out of the fray in Higgins (Peter Costello), Bradfield (Brendan Nelson), Mayo (Alexander Downer) and Lyne (Mark Vaile). Labor likewise went undisturbed during John Howard’s first term at by-elections to replace Paul Keating in Blaxland and John Langmore in Fraser.

The one by-election held during the parliament elected in December 1975 was occasioned by the death of Rex Connor, with the remainder of Labor’s diminished caucus staying put. It was a different story early in the life of the Hawke government, as Malcolm Fraser (Wannon), Doug Anthony (Richmond), Billy Snedden (Bruce), Jim Killen (Moreton) and Tony Street (Corangamite) headed for the exit at a time when forfeiting a by-election was still thought poor form. The last useable example in anything resembling modern history is the Parramatta by-election of 1973, which brought Philip Ruddock to parliament.

From this field of seven, the only result to match Griffith is Richmond in 1984, when Labor picked up a slight swing upon the retirement of Doug Anthony. No doubt this reflected an unlocking of the loyalty accumulating to brand Anthony, which between father Larry and son Doug had occupied the seat for an unbroken 46 years. Even so, the other Hawke government by-elections weren’t far behind, with the exception of Bruce where voters seemed to take a shine to Liberal candidate Kenneth Aldred for some reason. Coincidentally or otherwise, the two worst swings, in Gippsland (a 6.1% swing against Rudd Labor in 2008) and Parramatta (a 7.0% swing against Whitlam Labor in 1973) were suffered by the two shortest-lived governments of the modern era.

However, Griffith looks quite a bit less exceptional if the eight state results I can identify going back to the early 1990s are thrown into the mix. Four swings in particular dwarf those in Griffith, the two biggest being at by-elections held in country seats in New South Wales on May 25, 1996. Results in Clarence and Orange provided a fillip to Bob Carr’s year-old Labor government and a severe blow to the Nationals, perhaps reflecting the party’s recent acquiescence to the Howard government’s post-Port Arthur gun laws. On the very same day, Labor had an historically mediocre result against the Liberals in the Sydney seat of Strathfield, and finished third behind the Democrats in the Liberal stronghold of Pittwater.

The third and fourth placed results are from early in the life of the Bracks government in Victoria, when Labor pulled off rare victories in Jeff Kennett’s seat of Burwood in 1999 and Nationals leader Pat McNamara’s seat of Benalla in 2000. Also higher up the order than Griffith is the Elizabeth by-election of 1994, held four months after Dean Brown’s Liberal government came to power in South Australia. This may have indicated the popularity of outgoing member Martyn Evans, soon to be Labor’s federal member for Bonython, who had been designated as “independent Labor” for most of his ten years as a state member. Rob Borbidge’s Queensland government of 1996 to 1998 did less well, with the looming Liberal collapse in that state foreshadowed by swings to Labor in the Brisbane seats of Lytton and Kurwongbah.

All of this is laid out in the chart above, which ranks swings to the government (positive at the top, negative at the bottom) from the eight federal and eight state by-elections just discussed. Red and blue respectively indicate Labor and Coalition governments, the lighter shades representing state and the darker representing federal. Stats enthusiasts may care to know that the model y=10+44.3x explains 38% of the variability, where y is the government’s eventual longevity in office measured in years and x is the swing to the government across 15 observed by-elections. For what very little it may be worth, the positive 0.5% swing in Griffith associates with 10.3 years in government.


# % Swing 2PP (proj.) Swing
Timothy Lawrence (SPP) 570 0.8% +0.7%
Geoff Ebbs (Greens) 6,890 10.2% +0.3%
Christopher Williams (FFP) 651 1.0% +0.3%
Karel Boele (IND) 458 0.7%
Anthony Ackroyd (BTA) 526 0.8%
Anne Reid (SPA) 379 0.6% +0.1%
Terri Butler (Labor) 26,356 39.0% -1.6% 52.5% -0.5%
Melanie Thomas (PPA) 1,051 1.6%
Travis Windsor (Independent) 585 0.9%
Ron Sawyer (KAP) 694 1.0% +0.4%
Bill Glasson (Liberal National) 29,456 43.6% +0.9% 47.5% +0.5%
FORMAL/TURNOUT 67,616 71.2%
Informal 2,093 3.0% -1.8%
Booths reporting: 42 out of 42

Midnight. Finally got around to adding the Coorparoo pre-poll voting centre result.

9.22pm. Or perhaps not – Coorparoo pre-poll voting centre still to report, which is likely to amount for a lot – 5859 votes cast there at the federal election.

8.51pm. Morningside 2PP now in, and I’d say that’s us done for the night.

8.36pm. Camp Hill reports 2PP, leaving just Morningside. Glasson and LNP reportedly not conceding, but 2.4% leads (which accounts for the fact that the LNP is likely to do better on postals – Labor’s raw lead is 3.3%) don’t get overturned on late counting.

8.29pm. That’s all the fixed booths in on the primary vote; the outstanding ones referred to in the table are special hospital booths that may not actually exist (but did in 2013). Camp Hill and Morningside still to come in on two-party, and then I think we’re done for the night. It’s been a pretty quick count.

8.03pm. Two more booths a slight move to the LNP.

8.00pm. Four more booths in and a slight tick in Labor’s favour on the swing projection.

7.53pm. One more primary result and a number more on two-party preferred, it remains unclear who will end up with bragging rights to the negligible swing. What is clear though is that Terri Butler is over the line.

7.45pm. Thirty-two of 43 booths reporting, and the picture of a status quo result is unchanged.

7.36pm. A big rush of results that taxed my data entry chops to the limit has produced very little change to the projection, which essentially looks like no swing at all.

7.26pm. Coorparoo Central was a tricky one from a booth-matching perspective, as it’s a “merger” of two booths from the 2013 election.

7.25pm. Coorparoo Central, Greenslopes, Morningside South and West End in on the primary; Buranda West and Norman Park South on two-party. Upshot: a bit more breathing space for Terri Butler, who will be difficult to pull in from here.

7.19pm. The informal vote seems to be down pretty solidly.

7.18pm. I note that none of the booths from the electorate’s north-western latte belt have reported yet.

7.15pm. Bulimba, Carina Heights, Greenmeadows and Norman Park find Labor still with its nose in front, despite a slight swing against. Annerley has also reported a two-party result, so I’ve switched on preference projections based on the booths that have reported so far. This finds Labor’s share of preferences up 6% on 2013.

7.12pm. Annerley, Bulimba Heights and Norman Park South booth results provide better news for Labor, with Butler now pulling into a projected lead. However, I’m still going off 2013 preferences here, as only two very small booths have reported two-party results.

7.03pm. Holland Park and Buranda West are in, and also Murarrie on two-party, and the swing to the LNP is sticking, as is the extremely close projected result.

6.53pm. Another small booth on the fringe of the electorate – Mount Gravatt East in the south-east – and it’s another bad result for Labor, down almost double digits on the primary vote. I’ve switched off the preference swing calculation for now, so the two-party is going off 2013 preference flows.

6.50pm. The preference result is in from Holland Park West, and Labor has 7.2% more preferences than it got in 2013 – but we’re only going off 14 votes here. Nonetheless, my model is extrapolating off it to project the result for the other booth, causing Labor to go up about 1%. Bottom line: hold off reading anything into anything yet.l

6.42pm. Both booths are on the very fringes of the electorate: Holland Park West in the south and Murarrie in the east. The dynamic nearer the city may well be very different. I’ll stop getting a “#VALUE!” result on the Stable Population Party when I get a result from a booth where their vote in 2013 wasn’t zero.

6.38pm. Two very small booths on the primary vote provide a measure of encouragement for Bill Glasson, suggesting a very close result if 2013 preferences are any guide.

6.30pm. There have apparently been 2090 ballots cast at the Whites Hill booth, which compared with the 2083 cast at the election suggests a pretty healthy turnout.

6pm. Welcome to the Poll Bludger’s live coverage of the Griffith by-election. With polls closing round about now, first results should be in in maybe about an hour, although this can be a bit variable. Results in the table will show raw figures for the primary vote and booth-matched swings for both primary and two-party vote, together with a projected two-party total based on the booth-matching. Where available, the latter will be based on booth two-party results; at booths where only primary vote totals have been reported, two-party projections will be derived from 2013 preference flows taken together with the “swing” in preferences recorded across booths where two-party results have been reported. I’ll be copping my results off the ABC Elections page, as the AEC annoyingly does not publish booth results as they are reported (or at least, never has in the past). So those without a minute to lose should note that my table updates will lag about that far behind the ABC.