Preferences and preselections

More data on One Nation voters’ newly acquired and surprisingly forceful enthusiasm for preferencing the Coalition.

The Australian Electoral Commission quietly published the full distributions of lower house preferences earlier this week, shedding light on the election’s remaining known unknown: how close One Nation came to maybe pulling off a miracle in Hunter. Joel Fitzgibbon retained the seat for Labor with a margin of 2.98% over the Nationals, landing him on the wrong end of a 9.48% swing – the third biggest of the election after the central Queensland seats of Capricornia and Dawson, the politics of coal mining being the common thread between all three seats.

The wild card in the deck was that Hunter was also the seat where One Nation polled strongest, in what a dare say was a first for a non-Queensland seat – 21.59%, compared with 23.47% for the Nationals and 35.57% for Labor. That raised the question of how One Nation might have done in the final count if they emerged ahead of the Nationals on preferences. The answer is assuredly not-quite-well-enough, but we’ll never know for sure. As preferences from mostly left-leaning minor candidates were distributed, the gap between Nationals and One Nation barely moved, the Nationals gaining 4.81% to reach 28.28% at the final distribution, and One Nation gaining 4.79% to fall short with 26.38%. One Nation preferences then proceeded to flow to the Nationals with noteworthy force, with the final exclusion sending 19,120 votes (71.03%) to the Nationals and 28.97% to Labor.

Speaking of, the flow of minor party preferences between the Coalition and Labor is the one detail of the election result on which the AEC is still holding out. However, as a sequel to last week’s offering on Senate preferences, I offer the following comparison of flows in Queensland in 2016 and 2019. This is based on Senate ballot paper data, observing the number that placed one major party ahead of the either, or included neither major party in their preference order. In the case of the 2016 election, this is based on a sampling of one ballot paper in 50; the 2019 data is from the full set of results.

It has been widely noted that the Coalition enjoyed a greatly improved flow of One Nation preferences in the lower house, but the Senate results offer the interesting twist that Labor’s share hardly changed – evidently many One Nation voters who numbered neither major party in 2016 jumped off the fence and preferenced the Coalition this time. Also notable is that Labor received an even stronger share of Greens preferences than in 2016. If this was reflected nationally, it’s a phenomenon that has passed unnoticed, since the flow of One Nation and United Australia Party preferences was the larger and more telling story.

Other electorally relevant developments of the past week or so:

Laura Jayes of Sky News raises the prospect of the Nationals asserting a claim to the Liberal Senate vacancy created by Arthur Sinodinos’s appointment to Washington. The Nationals lost one of their two New South Wales seats when Fiona Nash fell foul of Section 44 in late 2017, resulting in a recount that delivered to the Liberals a seat that would otherwise have been held by the Nationals until 2022. Since that is also when Sinodinos’s term expires, giving the Nationals the seat would restore an order in which the Nationals held two out of the five Coalition seats.

• Fresh from her win over Tony Abbott in Warringah, The Australian reported on Tuesday that Zali Steggall was refusing to deny suggestions she might be persuaded to join the Liberal Party, although she subsequently complained the paper had twisted her words. A report in The Age today notes both “allies and opponents” believe Steggall will struggle to win re-election as an independent with Abbott out of the picture, and gives cause to doubt she would survive a preselection challenge as a Liberal.

• Labor is undergoing a personnel change in the Victorian Legislative Council after the resignation of Philip Dalidakis, who led the party’s ticket for Southern Metropolitan region at both the 2014 and 2018 elections. Preserving the claim of the Right faction Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association, the national executive is set to anoint Enver Erdogan, a workplace lawyer for Maurice Blackburn, former Moreland councillor and member of the Kurdish community. The Australian reports former Melbourne Ports MP Michael Danby has joined the party’s Prahran and Brighton branches in registering displeasure that the national executive is circumventing a rank-and-file plebiscite. Particularly contentious is Erdogan’s record of criticism of Israel, a sore point in a region that encompasses Melbourne’s Jewish stronghold around Caulfield.

Foreign affairs and Senate preferences

A comprehensive new survey on attitudes to foreign affairs, and deeper-than-ever dive into Senate voting and the preference question.

We’re still yet to have a new poll of federal voting intention after the election, for whatever that may still be worth, but I would imagine Newspoll will be breaking its drought to mark next week’s resumption of parliament. We do, however, have one of the Lowy Institute’s occasional surveys on attitudes to foreign affairs, the results of which are attractively presented on the organisation’s website.

The headline topic of the poll is Sino-American relations, and the results point to a sharp decline in trust towards China, which a clear majority of respondents rated the “world’s leading economic power”. Even clearer majorities, of around three-quarters, believed China was pursuing regional domination, and that Australia should do more to resist its military activities even if it affected our too-close economic relationship.

However, the poll also finds a further decline in trust in the United States, to add to the body-blow it took when Donald Trump was elected. Of particular interest here are the age breakdowns. Whereas there was little to distinguish the age cohorts in their positive view of the US on Obama’s watch, respondents in their youth and early middle-age now take a substantially more negative view than older ones.

Relatedly, the highly negative and worsening view of Trump personally, while evident across all age cohorts, is most pronounced among the young. This carries through to a head-to-head question on whether respondents should prioritise strong relations with the United States or China, with a majority of those aged 18-30 favouring China, and a large majority of the 60-plus cohort favouring the United States.

Beyond that, the survey offers no end of interesting material:

• Respondents were asked about their satisfaction with democracy – which, one often reads, is in freefall throughout the western world, particularly among the young. However, the Lowy Institute’s yearly tracking of this question going back to 2012 doesn’t show any such thing. If anything, there seems to be a slight trend in favour of the response that “democracy is preferable to any other kind of government”, which is up three on last year at 65%. While the young are less sold on this notion than the old, there has been a solid improving trend among the 18-to-30 cohort, with this year’s result up six on last year’s to 55%, a new high over the course of the series.

• Evaluations were sought on a limited sample of foreign leaders, specifically concerning whether they could be trusted in world affairs. Donald Trump ranked down alongside Vladimir Putin, while Jacinda Ardern recorded near-unanimous acclaim, with 88% expressing either a lot of or some confidence. New Zealand was rated “Australia’s best friend” out of six available options by 59%, up from six since 2017.

• Brexit was rated a bad thing for the United Kingdom by 62%, a bad thing for the European Union by 70%, and a bad thing for the West in general by 58%. The UK’s rating on a “feelings thermometer” fell six points, to 76.

• Concern about climate change maintained an upward trajectory, with 61% favouring action “even if this involves significant costs”. The long-range trend on this question going back to 2006 suggests climate change is less of a problem when Labor are in office.

• Views on immigration were less negative than last year, after a significant hardening of opinion between 2014 and 2018. However, the immigration rate was still held to be too high by 48% of all respondents, and a very large majority of older ones.

The survey was conducted online and by telephone from March 12 to 25 from a sample of 2130.

The second part of today’s lesson relates to Senate preference flows, from which we can obtain no end of information thanks to the Australian Electoral Commission’s publication of the data files containing the preference order for every single ballot paper. By contrast, we’re still waiting on the two-party preference splits the AEC eventually publishes for each party in the House of Representatives. There will be a lot of analysis of this information here over the coming weeks, but for starters I offer the following:

This shows, from left to right, the rate of voters’ adherence to their favoured party’s how-to-vote-card; the rate at which minor party voters’ preference orders favoured Labor over the Coalition or vice-versa, or neither in the event that they did not number either party (“two-party”); and a similar three-way measure that throws the Greens into the mix (“three-party”).

This shows that United Australia Party voters heavily favoured the Coalition over Labor, but not because they were following the party’s how-to-vote cards, a course followed by around 0.1% of the total electorate. One Nation preferences were only slightly less favourable to the Coalition, and even fewer of the party’s voters followed the card. Since One Nation’s preferences in the lower house split almost evenly in 2016, out of the 15 seats where they ran, it seems safe to assume a shift in One Nation preferences accounted for a substantial chunk of the two-party swing to the Coalition. I will calculate Senate preference flows from 2016 for comparison over the next few days.

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”).