Photo finishes: the Senate

Electoral reform and an unexpectedly strong election result give the Coalition much the strongest hand it has had in the Senate since it came to power.

At last, some commentary on the Senate count. Only one of the results is in doubt, with New South Wales, Victoria, Western Australia and South Australia all turning in good old-fashioned results of Coalition three, Labor two and Greens one, Jacqui Lambie snaring a seat in Tasmania at the expense of a third Liberal, and the territories behaving as they always do.

The exception is Queensland, where the third Liberal National Party candidate, the second Labor candidate, and the first candidates of the Greens and One Nation are in a game of musical chairs in which one will miss out when the music stops. In actuality, LNP and One Nation are pretty much home and hosed at this point, so the issue is whether the last seat will go Labor or Greens.

Based on the primary vote, it looks like Labor will miss out, reducing them to a single Senate seat, for which the only precedents are the Western Australia and South Australian results in 2013. Labor has only 0.60 quotas spare after the election of its first candidate, adrift of the LNP on 0.76, One Nation on 0.72 quotas and the Greens on 0.68. Probably the leading authority on the count is Ross Leedham on Twitter, who it appears expects Labor to narrow the primary vote gap a little on late counting, and then to take it up to the Greens with preferences.

To get a sense of how preferences are likely to behave, I have wrangled with the data file from the 2016 election, to produce “four-party preferred” measures for the various minors and micros who will be excluded from the count. This only uses above-the-line votes, and uses Australian Liberty Alliance preferences for Fraser Anning’s party, Family First’s for Australian Conservatives, the Renewable Energy Party’s for two micros with “climate” in their names, and the Health Australia Party for an anti-vaxxer party. Some very small parties that couldn’t be matched are ignored.

With these results used to project the preferences of the small parties, the Greens’ lead over Labor extends slightly, from 1.1% to 1.3%. This is somewhat contrary to the assessment of Kevin Bonham, who used preference guesstimates to conclude Labor would close the gap but not by enough. These estimates look like they might be on the high side for Labor, and I have further credited the Greens with some fairly heavy duty preference flows from micro-party minnows Bonham hasn’t bothered with.

Two complications arise from the United Australia Party, which will be the last party excluded before the conclusion. One is their how-to-vote card, which recommended a second preference to the LNP and a lower order preference to Labor. This renders unreliable the projection I have extrapolated from the tiny Palmer United Party vote in 2016, which gives One Nation too many Palmer preferences and the LNP too few. However, I’m projecting both to do well enough to win seats in any case.

The other is the possibility raised by Kevin Bonham that either the LNP or One Nation will make a quota before the UAP is excluded. If the former, UAP votes following the how-to-vote card will end up with Labor instead of the LNP, potentially making them competitive in the race against the Greens. However, I’m projecting the LNP to be fairly well short of a 14.3% quota with 13.0% at the point where the UAP are excluded, with One Nation also just shy at 14.0%.

With all that in mind, I’m going to work on the basis of a result of Coalition three and one seat each for Labor, One Nation and the Greens in offering the following summary of the state of the Senate post-election.

New South Wales. With the Coalition on 2.72 quotas, Labor on 2.11 and the Greens on 0.60, the result here looks sure to be three, two and one seats respectively, unless One Nation on 0.35 quotas can do something astounding on preferences. Jim Molan has clearly failed in his bid to have below-the-line votes overturn his demotion on the Senate ticket – he appears to be getting about 80% of the below-the-line votes, which could be generously estimated to account for 10% of the total. That would leave him with about 3% of the vote, or 0.2 quotas, to take on Nationals candidate Perin Davey, who will have the 0.7 or so quota surplus left after the election of the second Liberal.

Victoria. Very similarly to New South Wales, the Coalition are on 2.54 quotas, Labor on 2.23 and the Greens on 0.70, guaranteeing a result of three, two and one. Way behind the Greens on 0.20 quotas apiece are Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party and One Nation. Hinch’s failure is something of a surprise, his 2.8% vote share being well below the 3.7% recorded by his party at the state election last November. Presumably the 2.5% United Australia Party vote, modest as it was, came largely at his expense.

Western Australia. A clean result of Liberal three (2.93 quotas), Labor two (1.96 quotas) and Greens one (0.82 quotas). One Nation polled a reasonably solid 5.5%, but not nearly as well as the Greens, who recorded an insurmountable 11.7%.

South Australia. Three Liberal (2.63 quotas), two Labor (2.16) and one Greens (0.78), with One Nation too far behind the pace on 0.32.

Tasmania. Two Liberal (2.21 quotas), two Labor (2.17 quotas), one Greens (0.88) and one Jacqui Lambie (0.61).

Of swings and misses: episode two

Talk of a new industry body to oversee polling standards gathers pace, even as international observers wonder what all the fuss is about.

The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age – or the Herald/Age, to adopt what is evidently Nine Newspapers’ own preferred shorthand for its Sydney and Melbourne papers – have revealed their opinion polling will be put on ice for an indefinite period. They usually do that post-election at the best of times, but evidently things are more serious now, such that we shouldn’t anticipate a resumption of its Ipsos series (which the organisation was no doubt struggling to fund in any case).

This is a shame, because Ipsos pollster Jessica Elgood has been admirably forthright in addressing what went wrong – and, importantly, in identifying the need for pollsters to observe greater transparency, a quality that has been notably lacking from the polling scene in Australia. In particular, Elgood has called for the establishment of a national polling standards body along the lines of the British Polling Council, members of which are required to publish details of their survey and weighting methods. This was echoed in a column in the Financial Review by Labor pollster John Utting, who suggests such a body might be chaired by Professor Ian McAllister of the Australian National University, who oversees the in-depth post-election Australian Election Study survey.

On that point, I may note that I had the following to say in Crikey early last year:

The very reason the British polling industry has felt compelled to observe higher standards of transparency is that it would invite ridicule if it sought to claim, as Galaxy did yesterday, that its “track record speaks for itself”. If ever the sorts of failures seen in Britain at the 2015 general election and 2016 Brexit referendum are replicated here, a day of reckoning may arrive that will shine light on the dark corners of Australian opinion polling.

Strange as it may seem though, not everyone is convinced that Australian polling really put on all that bad a show last weekend. Indeed, no less an authority than Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight has just weighed in with the following:

Polls showed the conservative-led coalition trailing the Australian Labor Party approximately 51-49 in the two-party preferred vote. Instead, the conservatives won 51-49. That’s a relatively small miss: The conservatives trailed by 2 points in the polls, and instead they won by 2, making for a 4-point error. The miss was right in line with the average error from past Australian elections, which has averaged about 5 points. Given that track record, the conservatives had somewhere around a 1 in 3 chance of winning.

So the Australian media took this in stride, right? Of course not. Instead, the election was characterized as a “massive polling failure” and a “shock result”.

When journalists say stuff like that in an election after polls were so close, they’re telling on themselves. They’re revealing, like their American counterparts after 2016, that they aren’t particularly numerate and didn’t really understand what the polls said in the first place.

I’m not quite sure whether to take greater umbrage at Silver’s implication that Antony Green and Kevin Bonham “aren’t particularly numerate”, or that the are – huck, spit – “journalists”. The always prescient Dr Bonham managed a pre-emptive response:

While overseas observers like Nate Silver pour scorn on our little polling failure as a modest example of the genre and blast our media for failing to anticipate it, they do so apparently unfamiliar with just how good our national polling has been compared to polling overseas.

And therein lies the rub – we in Australia have been rather spoiled by the consistently strong performance of Newspoll’s pre-election polls especially, which have encouraged unrealistic expectations. On Saturday though, we saw the polls behaving no better, yet also no worse, than polling does generally.

Indeed, this would appear to be true even in the specifically Australian context, so long as we take a long view. Another stateside observer, Harry Enten, has somehow managed to compare Saturday’s performance with Australian polling going all the way back to 1943 (“I don’t know much about Australian politics”, Enten notes, “but I do know something about downloading spreadsheets of past poll data and calculating error rates”). Enten’s conclusion is that “the average error in the final week of polling between the top two parties in the first round” – which I take to mean the primary vote, applying the terminology of run-off voting of the non-instant variety – “has been about five points”.

Of swings and misses

The Coalition’s parliamentary majority looks secure, as the polling industry starts facing up to what went wrong.

The latest – or some of it at least:

• It is now reckoned beyond doubt that the Liberals have held on in Chisholm, thereby guaranteeing a parliamentary majority of at least 76 seats out of 151. As related in the latest update in my late counting post, I think it more likely than not that they will supplement that with Macquarie and Bass, and wouldn’t write them off quite yet in Cowan. You are encouraged to use that thread to discuss the progress of the count, and to enjoy the reguarly updated results reporting facility while you’re about it.

• If you only read one thing about the collective failure of the opinion polls, make it Kevin Bonham’s comprehensive account. If you only read two, or don’t have quite that much time on your hands, a brief piece by Professor Brian Schmidt in The Guardian is worth a look.

• The three major polling companies have each acknowledged the issue in one way or another, far the most searching example of which is a piece in The Guardian by Peter Lewis of Essential Research. A statement released yesterday by Ipsos at least concedes there may be a problem with over-sampling of the politically engaged, but Monday’s offering by David Briggs of YouGov Galaxy in The Australian was defensive to a fault.

• Note the guest post below this one from Adrian Beaumont on tomorrow’s European Union elections in Britain.

Term three, day three

Anthony Albanese emerges the clear favourite to assume the Labor leadership, as the emergence of the party’s internal pollling belies the notion that it had any clearer an idea of what awaited it than the rest of us.

Some notable links and developments, as the Coalition inches closer towards a parliamentary majority in the latest counting:

• A few bugs remain to be ironed out, but I now have an regularly updated election results reporting facility in business that provides, among other things, booth results and swings in a far more accessible format than anything else on the market. If you would like to discuss the facility or the progress of the count in general, you are encouraged to do so on the late counting thread.

Samantha Maiden at The New Daily has obtained the full gamut of tracking polling conducted for Labor throughout the campaign, which is something I can never recall being made public before. The overall swing shown at the end of the campaign is of 1.5% to Labor, just like the published polls were saying. The polling was conducted by YouGov Galaxy, as indeed was much of the published polling during the campaign, this being the organisation responsible for Newspoll and the polls commissioned by the News Corp tabloids.

• Nathan Ruser of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute has produced fabulously revealing maps showing the distribution of two-party swings.

• Ladbrokes (no doubt among others) has a book open on the Labor leadership, which, with the withdrawal of Tanya Plibersek, has Anthony Albanese a clear favourite on $1.28, Jim Chalmers on $3.00, Chris Bowen on $5.50 and Tony Burke on $10.

The second morning after

A second thread for discussion of the post-election aftermath, as the Coalition waits to see if it will make it to a parliamentary majority, and Labor licks it wounds and prepared to choose a new leader.

I had a paywalled piece in Crikey yesterday giving my immediate post-result impressions, which offered observations such as the following:

Unexpected as all this was, the underlying dynamic is not new, and should be especially familiar to those whose memories extend to Mark Latham’s defeat at the hands of John Howard in 2004. Then as now, the northern Tasmanian seats of Bass and Braddon flipped from Labor to Liberal, with forestry policy providing the catalyst on that occasion, and Labor performed poorly in the outer suburbs, reflected in yesterday’s defeat in Lindsay and its failure to win crucial seats on the fringes of the four largest cities. There were also swings to Labor against the trend in wealthy city seats, attributed in 2004 to the non-economic issues of the Iraq war and asylum seekers, and touted at the time as the “doctors’ wives” effect.

So far as this blog is concerned though, other engagements have prevented me giving the post-election aftermath the full attention it deserves. I will endeavour to rectify that later today, so stay tuned. In the meantime, here is a thread for discussion of the situation. Note also the post below this one, dedicated to updates and discussion on progress in the late count.

The morning after

A quick acknowledgement of pollster and poll aggregate failure, and a venue for discussion of the surprise re-election of the Morrison government.

I’m afraid in depth analysis of the result will have to wait until I’ve slept for just about the first time in 48 hours. I’ll just observe that that BludgerTrack thing on the sidebar isn’t looking too flash right now, to which the best defence I can offer is that aggregators gonna aggregate. Basically every poll at the end of the campaign showed Labor with a lead of 51.5-48.5, and so therefore did BludgerTrack – whereas it looks like the final result will end up being more like the other way around. The much maligned seat polling actually wound up looking better than the national ones, though it was all too tempting at the time to relate their pecularities to a past record of leaning in favour of the Coalition. However, even the seat polls likely overstated Labor’s position, though the number crunching required to measure how much by will have to wait for later.

Probably the sharpest piece of polling analysis to emerge before the event was provided by Mark the Ballot, who offered a prescient look at the all too obvious fact that the polling industry was guilty of herding – and, in this case, it was herding to the wrong place. In this the result carries echoes of the 2015 election in Britain, when polling spoke in one voice of an even money bet between the Conservatives and Labour, when the latter’s vote share on the day proved to be fully 6% higher. This resulted in a period of soul-searching in the British polling industry that will hopefully be reflected in Australia, where pollsters are far too secretive about their methods and provide none of the breakdowns and weighting information that are standard for the more respected pollsters internationally. More on that at a later time.