Federal election plus five weeks

An already strong result for government in the Senate may be about to get even better, as Cory Bernardi eyes the exit. And yet more on the great pollster failure.

I had a paywalled article in Crikey on the conclusion of the Senate election result, which among other things had this to say:

The Coalition went into the election with 31 senators out of 76 and comes out with 35 — and may be about to go one better if there is anything behind suggestions that Cory Bernardi is set to rejoin the Liberal Party. That would leave the government needing the support of only three crossbenchers to win contested votes.

That could be achieved with the two votes of the Centre Alliance plus that of Jacqui Lambie, who is newly restored to the Senate after falling victim to the Section 44 imbroglio in late 2017. Lambie appears to be co-operating closely with the Centre Alliance, having long enjoyed a warm relationship with the party’s founder Nick Xenophon.

Such a voting bloc would relieve the Morrison government of the need to dirty its hands in dealing with One Nation — though it could certainly do that any time the Centre Alliance members felt inspired to take liberal positions on such issues as asylum seekers and expansion of the national security state.

Since then, talk of Cory Bernardi rejoining the Liberal Party has moved on to suggestions he will leave parliament altogether, creating a casual vacancy that would stand to be filled by the Liberal Party. Bernardi announced he would deregister his Australian Conservatives party on Thursday following its failure to make an impression at the election, and told Sky News the next day that it “might be best for me to leave parliament in the next six months”, although he also said he was “unresolved”. Paul Starick of The Advertiser reports that sources on both sides of the SA Liberal Party’s factional divide say the front-runner would be Georgina Downer, daughter of the former Foreign Minister and twice-unsuccessful lower house candidate for Mayo. The party’s Senate tickets usually pair moderate and Right faction members in the top two positions, and Downer would take a place for the Right that was filled in 2016 by Bernardi, with the other incumbent up for re-election in 2022 being moderate-aligned Simon Birmingham.

In other news, Simon Jackman and Luke Mansillo of the University of Sydney have posted slides from a detailed conference presentation on the great opinion poll failure. Once you get past the technical detail on the first few slides, this shows trend measures that attempt to ascertain the true underlying position throughout the parliamentary term, based on both polling and the actual results from both 2016 and 2019. This suggests the Coalition had its nose in front in Malcolm Turnbull’s last months, and that Labor only led by around 51-49 after he was dumped. An improving trend for the Coalition began in December and accelerated during the April-May campaign period. Also included is an analysis of pollster herding effects, which were particularly pronounced for the Coalition primary vote during the campaign period. Labor and Greens primary vote readings were more dispersed, in large part due to Ipsos’s pecularity of having low primary votes for Labor (accurately, as it turned out) and high ones for the Greens (rather less so).

More Senate entrails examined

The lower house count concludes with the Coalition on 51.53% of the national two-party preferred; the button is pressed on the Senate for Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia; only the Victorian Senate result remains.

The last two-party preferred count for the lower house is complete, leaving the Coalition with a national two-party preferred total of 51.53%, which is exactly the result that was projected by the opinion polls, albeit for the wrong party. The Australian Electoral Commission website continues to record that 288 declaration vote envelopes remain unprocessed, of which 234 are in the seat of Kingsford Smith, but I suspect that may just reflect tardiness in keeping these numbers updated.

We should also have the last Senate result finalised this morning, that being in Victoria, where a result of three Liberal, two Labor and one Greens is assured. Counts were finalised yesterday in Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia. To complement previous efforts for New South Wales and Tasmania, I offer the following displays showing how the preference distributions proceeded. In each case they record where the votes stood after the election of candidates with full quotas at the start of the count, and also in the final stages, where three seats were decided in Queensland, and two were decided in Western Australia and South Australia.

First up, Queensland, where the result was three for the Coalition (Paul Scarr, Susan McDonald and Gerard Rennick, all newcomers) and one apiece for Labor (Nita Green, also a newcomer), One Nation (Malcolm Roberts, returning after falling foul of Section 44 and having his seat pass to Fraser Anning, whose own party proved uncompetitive) and the Greens (Larissa Waters, another Section 44 casualty who had already returned to the Senate after her successor, Andrew Bartlett, agreed to make way for her ahead of the election). Queensland was the one state where the result was not clear long in advance, although in the final analysis it wasn’t really all that close. The Coalition won two seats straight off the bat and Labor one, leaving Green, Roberts, Waters and Labor’s second candidate, Chris Ketter, in the mix for the last three. There never seemed much doubt that the fourth seat would go to One Nation and the fifth to the Coalition, but Labor might have hoped the dual miracle of a strong performance in late counting and unexpectedly strong preference flows could have given Ketter the last seat at the expense of Waters. In fact though, Ketter trailed Waters by 52,767 votes (1.8%) at the start of proceedings, which widened to 78,681 (2.7%) by the end, with Waters doing predictably well out of preferences from Animal Justice and Help End Marijuana Prohibition – although she didn’t quite make it to a quota.

Now to Western Australia, which has returned three Liberals (incumbents Linda Reynolds and Slade Brockman, and newcomer Matt O’Sullivan), two Labor (incumbents Patrick Dodson and Louise Pratt) and one Greens (incumbent Jordon Steele-John). Reynolds, Brockman and Dodson were elected off the bat; O’Sullivan got most of the way there when the 1.4% Nationals vote was distributed; and Pratt and Steele-John were always going to get there late in the count ahead of One Nation incumbent Peter Georgiou.

South Australia produced the same result as Western Australia (and indeed New South Wales and Victoria, if the Coalition is considered collectively), the three Liberals being incumbents Anne Ruston and David Fawcett, and newcomer Alex Antic; Labor returning incumbent Alex Gallacher and newcomer Marielle Smith; and the Sarah Hanson-Young retaining her seat for the Greens. The top two on the Liberal and Labor tickets were elected off the bat; Hanson-Young made a quota after the third Labor candidate and the Help End Marijuana Prohibition candidate dropped out; and Antic stayed well clear of One Nation throughout to take the last seat.

The overall picture in the Senate was summarised here a few weeks ago – all that’s different now is that the “likely” qualification can be removed from Queensland.

Update: Victorian Senate result

The Victorian result was finalised this morning (Wednesday), producing the anticipated result of three seats for the Liberals (incumbents James Patterson and Jane Hume, and newcomer David Van), two for Labor (Raff Ciccone, who came to the Senate after filling a casual vacancy in March, and Jess Walsh, a newcomer) and one for the Greens (incumbent Janet Rice). The chart below follows the same format as those above, and shows that this was not a close run thing. The Coalition and Labor both had two quotas on ticket votes, leaving two seats to be determined through the preference distribution. Labor’s third candidate, incumbent Gavin Marshall, was never in contention, and his exclusion pushed the Greens to a quota with Van, Derryn Hinch and One Nation still in the count. One Nation then were excluded, leaving David Van well ahead of Hinch to take the final seat, without making it to a quota.

NSW Senate entrails examined

A close look at the New South Wales Senate result as finalised yesterday, plus Essential Research findings on attitudes to nuclear power.

Essential Research is continuing to provide The Guardian with polling on a fortnightly basis, but is still limiting itself to issue polling in the wake of the great debacle of last month. This week’s poll is concerned with nuclear power, after a push by Queensland MPs James McGrath and Keith Pitt for a parliamentary inquiry into lifting Australia’s nuclear power ban (showing rather unfortunate timing, in view of the runaway success of HBO’s television series Chernobyl). The poll finds a slight majority of 44% to 40% in favour of Australia having nuclear power plants, compared with a 40-40 tie when Essential last posed the question in 2015 – the kicker being that only 28% said they would be comfortable living near one, with 60% disagreeing. Among the other findings, 47% per cent rated that nuclear would be better than coal-fired power for the environment.

In election counting news, the button was pressed yesterday on the New South Wales Senate result, which, foreseeably, produced three seats for the Coalition (Liberals Hollie Hughes and Andrew Bragg, and Perin Davey of the Nationals), two for Labor (Tony Sheldon and Tim Ayres) and one for the Greens (Mehreen Faruqi). Above-the-line votes accounted for 93.1% of the total, which included more than two quotas each for the Coalition and Labor (albeit just barely in the latter case). This meant the top two candidates on the Coalition and Labor tickets were elected immediately, leaving two seats to be determined by the remainder of the preference distribution. The chart below shows how this proceeded as the last eight candidates were excluded, and also shows how the main candidates were placed after the surpluses of the first four elected candidates were distributed (Count 4).

Under the old system, the entirety of the vote was effectively divided between the sixth elected candidates and the unelected seventh, who was left with what is known as the “wastage quotas”. Now that it’s possible for votes to exhaust, it becomes possible for the count to fail to deliver quotas to six candidates, in which case the final seats go to whoever comes nearest at the final count. Such was the case with the last two seats in New South Wales – 0.39 quotas exhausted, and the final three quotas were distributed between three candidates in such a way as to leave all of them short of a full quota. Two of these candidates, Davey of the Nationals and Faruqi of the Greens, finished just short with 0.97 and 0.96 quotas respectively, causing them each to be elected well ahead of Kate McCulloch of One Nation on 0.68.

The chart illustrates exactly how far Jim Molan, shown in blue, fell short of winning the third seat through the strength of his below-the-line support, notwithstanding conservative excitement that he achieved the highest below-the-line vote in Senate history – in terms of aggregate votes, which is naturally a significant qualification when considering a result from New South Wales. Molan’s total share of the first preference vote was 2.92%, some distance behind a number of recent results in Tasmania, where the rate of below-the-line voting is particularly high. His exclusion unlocked a flood of preferences to Davey that closed the gap between her and Faruqi, who were all but level for the remainder of the count.

However, a good many of Molan’s preferences flowed out of the Coalition ticket and further to the right, with 20% going to McCulloch compared with 71.5% for other Coalition candidates. McCulloch also received a strong flow of preferences when Shooters Fishers and Farmers were the last party excluded two counts later. However, this was well short of what she needed to put her in the hunt for the last two seats, for which her share of the total vote would have had to have been about 2% higher. For more details on preferences, Ross Leedham has determined four-party preferred preference flows along the same lines as I provided in yesterday’s post on the Tasmanian result, observing how small party preferences split between the Coalition, Labor, the Greens, One Nation and exhaustion.

To get a sense of how the result might have played out under the old system, I’ve had a play with Antony Green’s Senate calculator from 2013, using the results from this election where possible and judiciously allocating the residue from new parties to old ones. This suggests One Nation would have won the fifth seat at the expense of either the Coalition and the Greens, who would have been in a very tight race for the last seat. One Nation preference feeders would have included not only Shooters and Fishers, Liberal Democrats, Christian Democrats, the Democratic Labour Party and Australian Conservatives (nee Family First), but also leftist concerns such as Animal Justice, thanks to Glenn Druery-inspired preference networks that had nearly every micro-party preferencing each other ahead of the main three.

The button will apparently be pressed on the Western Australian result this morning and Victoria tomorrow, both of which will assuredly produce results of three Liberal, two Labor and one Greens. Not sure when Queensland and South Australia will be done.

Tasmanian Senate entrails examined

As the finalised Senate results are unrolled one by one, a deep dive into the preference distribution from Tasmania.

A summary of what remains to be resolved of election counting:

• The button is yet to be pressed on five of the eight Senate counts, with Tasmania, the Australian Capital Territory and Northern Territory completed and fully published. More on the Tasmanian result below.

• The Coalition-versus-Labor two-party preferred preference count for Farrer is 54% complete, with the remainder presumably to be knocked over today. Only then will we have a definitive total for the national two-party preferred, but the remaining uncertainty is relevant only to the second decimal place: to the first, the Coalition will finish with 51.5%, a swing of either 1.1% or 1.2%.

• Preference distributions for lower house seats are yet to be published, though in some cases they have assuredly been conducted. As noted previously, only with the distribution could the theoretical (though not practical) possibility of One Nation winning Hunter from Labor be ruled out.

I will be taking a deep dive into each Senate result as they are reported. As discussed here, none of the results are seriously in doubt, with the highly arguable exception of Queensland.

The chart below shows how the late stages of the preference distribution for Tasmania proceeded, after the election of the first three candidates and the elimination of lower order candidates and parties (the latter included independent Craig Garland, who managed a disappointing 3475 votes, compared with the 6633 he polled at last year’s Braddon by-election). The first three were the top two on the Liberal ticket, Richard Colbeck and Claire Chandler, and the first on Labor’s, Carol Brown. Both Liberal and Labor polled clear of two quotas (the primary vote totals can be found here), but owing to Tasmania’s high rate of below-the-line voting (28% in this case), neither scored over two quotas on above-the-line votes alone. However, Chandler was promptly elected after Colbeck as most of his below-the-line votes proceeded straight down the Liberal ticket.

The situation for Labor was more complicated owing to Lisa Singh, who again had to campaign for below-the-line votes to retain her seat after the party placed her fourth on the ticket. This she was able to accomplish at the 2016 double dissolution, when she won Labor’s fifth seat from number six on the ticket. This time though she had the effectively impossible task of winning one of two Labor seats from number four. Singh scored 5.68% of the first preference vote, slightly down on her 6.12% in 2016. This meant she remained in the count longer than the candidate one place above her, who on both occasions was John Short, but she was well behind the second candidate on the Labor ticket, Catryna Bilyk, who received all the above-the-line votes remaining after the election of Brown.

As the chart demonstrates, the race for the last three seats was not close – Labor was always going to win a second seat; Liberal and Labor were both only slightly in excess of two quotas; and the respective vote shares of 12.57% for the Greens and 8.92% for the Jacqui Lambie Network guaranteed them both a seat. Nick McKim of the Greens edged over the line to take the fourth seat after the preferences of various minor parties were distributed. Bilyk and Lambie were both pushed over a quota at the point where Singh was excluded, very slightly behind One Nation candidate Matthew Stephen, although it would have made no difference if Stephen had gone out first. The result was thus clear-cut enough that all elected candidates achieved quotas in their own right, which is not guaranteed under the new Senate electoral system under which some votes can exhaust.

The table below records “four-party preferred” preference splits for those parties that failed to win seats (including Craig Garland as “Group O”).

Mopping up operations

Late counting adds some extra grunt to the backlash against the Liberals in wealthy city seats, slightly reducing the size of their expected winning margin on the national two-party vote.

The Australian Electoral Commission is now conducting Coalition-versus-Labor preference counts in seats where its indicative preference counts included minor party or independent candidates – or, if you want to stay on top of the AEC’s own jargon in these matters, two-party preferred counts in non-classic contests.

Such counts are complete in the seven seats listed below; 94% complete in Warringah, where the current count records a 7.4% swing to Labor, 78% complete in New England, where there is a 1.2% swing to the Coalition; at a very early stage in Clark (formerly Denison, held by Andrew Wilkie); and have yet to commence in Farrer, Indi, Mayo and Melbourne. Labor have received unexpectedly large shares of preferences from the independent candidates in Kooyong, Warringah and Wentworth, to the extent that Kevin Bonham now reckons the final national two-party preferred vote will be more like 51.5-48.5 in favour of the Coalition than the 52-48 projected by most earlier estimates.

We also have the first completed Senate count, from the Northern Territory. This isn’t interesting in and of itself, since the result there was always going to be one seat each for Labor and the Country Liberals. However, since it comes with the publication of the full data file accounting for the preference order of every ballot paper, it does provide us with the first hard data we have on how each party’s preferences flowed. From this I can offer the seemingly surprising finding that 57% of United Australia Party voters gave Labor preferences ahead of the Country Liberals compared with only 37% for vice-versa, with the remainder going to neither.

Lest we be too quick to abandon earlier assessments of how UAP preferences were behaving, this was almost certainly a consequence of a ballot paper that had the UAP in column A, Labor in column B and the Country Liberals in column C. While not that many UAP votes would have been donkey votes as normally understood, there seems little doubt that they attracted a lot of support from blasé voters who weren’t much fussed how they dispensed with preferences two through six. There also appears to have been a surprisingly weak 72% flow of Greens preferences to Labor, compared with 25% to the Country Liberals. It remains to be seen if this will prove to be another territorian peculiarity – my money is on yes.

Note also that there’s a post below this one dealing with various matters in state politics in Western Australia.

Election plus three weeks

A look at how the religious vote might have helped Scott Morrison to victory, plus some analysis of turnout and the rate of informal voting.

I had a paywalled Crikey article on Friday on the religion factor in the election result, drawing on results of the Australian National University’s Australian Election Study survey. Among other things, it had this to say:

The results from the 2016 survey provide some support for the notion, popular on the right of the Liberal Party, that Malcolm Turnbull brought the government to the brink of defeat by losing religious voters, who appear to have flocked back to the party under Morrison. Notably, the fact that non-religious voters trusted Turnbull a lot more than they did Abbott did not translate into extra votes for the Coalition, whereas a two-party swing to Labor of 7% was recorded among the religiously observant.

The charts below expand upon the survey data featured in the article, showing how Labor’s two-party preferred has compared over the years between those who attend religious services several times a year or more (“often”), those who do so less frequently (“sometimes”), and those who don’t do it at all (“never”).

Some other post-election observations:

Rosie Lewis of The Australian reports the looming Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters inquiry into the election will examine the three-week pre-polling period and the extent of Clive Palmer’s campaign spending. There is not, it would seem, any appetite to explore the debilitating phenomenon of fake news proliferating on social media, for which Australia arguably experienced a watershed moment during the campaign through claims Labor had a policy to introduce a “death tax”. This is explored in depth today in a report in The Guardian and an accompanying opinion piece by Lenore Taylor. That said, not all of the mendacity about death taxes was subterranean, as demonstrated by this official Liberal Party advertisement.

• As best as I can tell, all votes for the House of Representatives have been counted now. There was a fall in the official turnout rate (UPDATE: No, actually — it’s since risen to 91.9%, up from 91.0% in 2016), which, together with the fact that not all votes had been counted at the time, gave rise to a regrettable article in the Age-Herald last week. However, as Ben Raue at the Tally Room explores in depth, the turnout rate reflects the greater coverage of the electoral roll owing to the Australian Electoral Commission’s direct enrolment procedures. This appears to have succeeded to some extent in increasing the effective participation rate, namely votes cast as a proportion of the eligible population rather than those actually enrolled, which by Raue’s reckoning tracked up from 80.0% in 2010 to 83.2% – an enviable result by international standards. However, it has also means a larger share of the non-voting population is now on the roll rather than off it, and hence required to bluff their way out of a fine for not voting.

• The rate of informal voting increased from 5.0% to 5.5%, but those seeking to tie this to an outbreak of apathy are probably thinking too hard. Antony Green notes the shift was peculiar to New South Wales, and puts this down to the proximity of a state election there, maximising confusion arising from its system of optional preferential voting. The real outlier in informal voting rates of recent times was the low level recorded in 2007, which among other things causes me to wonder if there might be an inverse relationship between the informal voting rate and the level of enthusiasm for Labor.