Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Poll Roundup: Citizenship Chaos Sends Government To New Term Low

2PP Aggregate: 54.2 to Labor (+1 point in a week) - highest reading of term
Labor would win election "held now" with a large margin
Government has lost majority (for now) with two MPs recontesting their seats in by-elections

This week we've seen a highly unusual event in Australian political history: a federal government has lost its majority partway through a term.  This last happened in 1931.  The one-term Scullin government began its term with a robust 46 seats out of 75, but a by-election loss and defections to the opposition UAP and the Lang Labor split saw it whittled down to 35, following which it collapsed before the year was out.  What has happened to the Turnbull government, so far, is much less dramatic - two of its seats are vacant pending by-elections, and the government will recover majority status if Barnaby Joyce is returned, although it would then lose it again if John Alexander is defeated.

However, as the Section 44 eligibility issues continue to unfold (with the tabling of required evidence by December 1 expected to be the next step), we could well see more by-elections early next year in some much more difficult government seats.  The prospect of the government slipping into permanent minority, or perhaps even losing enough seats that it can no longer govern, is a real one.  There may also be by-elections in Labor and crossbench seats, but no incumbent government has gained a seat from an opposition in a federal by-election since 1920 so there would not be too much optimism regarding chances of gaining seats there.  My legally unqualified view, incidentally, is that the "hesitators" (those who filed to renounce UK citizenship too late for the process to complete by the close of nominations) are in trouble.  The references in previous cases to the taking of all reasonable steps as sufficient refer to a context in which a member cannot reasonably renounce an overseas citizenship, not one in which a candidate was needlessly slow about it.

For the time being, the government faces two very unpleasant sitting weeks in which, by vice of it holding the Speakership, it has a floor minority (73-74) compared to the combined forces of Labor and the crossbench.  That is, assuming Bob Katter shows up!  The non-Coalition forces won't be able to suspend standing orders, but they will have extensive control over other operations of the House and should be able to use that to inflict pain.  As noted in my New England preview, it's not likely Barnaby Joyce will spring back into parliament on the Monday after the by-election, and the 17-candidate circus announced for his seat won't help expedite matters there.

I may have a Bennelong preview later, but that seat is not far above the waterline as concerns the expected average swing in by-elections given the shabby state of the government's polling.  As with New England, the fact that the incumbent is recontesting instead of quitting should help soften the swing, and makes Alexander the favourite on paper to retain, but no certainty.  Labor has presumably taken this into account with their surprise candidate selection of former Premier Kristina Keneally.  It is not that Keneally is necessarily a good candidate - she may well turn out to be a bad one given her time at the helm of an extremely rotten state government - but if voters no longer care about that then her high profile could in theory be worth the few extra points the party may need to get over the line.

Voting intention polls

The Yes vote in the same-sex marriage survey may (or may not) bring some respite in future weeks but this week's polls are shockers for the government.  First there was Newspoll with its 55-45 lead to Labor, the second time Newspoll has produced that result in this term.  This included a 38-34 lead on primary votes, Labor's largest lead in any poll this term.  That it was the 23rd straight Newspoll 2PP loss on PM Turnbull's watch was barely even noticed given how dire the result was.

Essential backed it in by drifting a point to 54-46, and YouGov came out with primaries that would have also given 55-45 by last-election preferences (it was 52-48 to Labor using YouGov's respondent preferences).  After results in the 52% to 54% range (based on last-election preferences) for Labor in other polls in the previous weeks since my last update, this was a big jolt to my aggregate which has jumped a whole point to 54.2 to Labor, its highest reading of this term.  If there are no more polls this week, it will also be one of the largest one-week moves since the last election.  Here's the smoothed tracking graph (which will almost certainly tick over 54 next week):

To be trailing worse than 54-46 at any stage of a term is, historically, bad news for an incumbent government.  The break-even point in terms of term-worst deficits is about seven points, so this alone gives the current government a slightly less than 50% chance of re-election.  In this case, however, one might permit an asterisk about whether the 2PP is really that bad, given the uncertainties around One Nation preferences.

Over the 23 Newspolls since the Coalition fell behind, the average 2PP is now 46.87.  That's almost as bad as the 46.80 average for Tony Abbott's 30 consecutive losses, but Abbott had more really dire results (four 45s and a 43) probably as a result of the more volatile nature of the old Newspoll.


This week's Newspoll had Malcolm Turnbull's lead as Better Prime Minister cut to just two points (36-34). The 34% was Bill Shorten's highest Better PM score against Malcolm Turnbull, whose own score was his worst of the term by four points.  Previously, Turnbull had always led by at least seven.  It is still notable that he leads at all, given that Tony Abbott trailed Shorten about half the time.

Turnbull's net satisfaction rating (-29 (29-58)) was one point off his worst of the term, while Shorten's -19 (34-53) was his least worst since early August and second least worst for the year.  Other polls have, as per normal, been more lenient, with Essential giving Turnbull a -12 net rating (though this is down 11 on the previous month), Shorten a -13 (down 6) and Turnbull still keeping a strong lead (40-28).

One poll Turnbull isn't leading is the Newspoll of preferred Liberal leader.  In that one he was thumped 40-27 by Julie Bishop (who is hardly even being talked about as a leadership contender) with Peter Dutton on 11.  Among Coalition supporters, Turnbull had a feeble 42-39 lead over Bishop.  When Newspoll even does these polls at all, it often spells trouble brewing.

Other polls

Some Australia Institute ReachTELs attracted notice because they had implausibly high One Nation figures in rich inner-city electorates.  After redistributing leaning voters, One Nation were on 8.8% in Wentworth, despite polling less than 1% there in the Senate (compared to a statewide 4.1%).  A reading of 7.0% in Warringah, also hardly One Nation heaven and the last place to expect a conservative revolt from Liberal voters for one obvious reason, was almost equally suss.  Results like these raise further concerns about the reliability of seat polling, which did not perform well at the 2016 federal election.  The (respondent-allocated) 2PP results of these polls had scarcely any swing in Warringah but 10.8% in Wentworth and 6.3% in Kooyong.  Prime Minister Turnbull's Wentworth was a popular target for polls predicting large swings in 2016, all of which proved to be nonsense.

Another TAI ReachTEL of Hughes found only a small 2PP swing, while New England results were reported on the by-election thread.

As usual there are many more issue polls out there than I have time to do justice to.  Concerning the dual citizenship issue, Essential found 40% believing Malcolm Turnbull's plan to resolve the issue goes far enough and 44% believing otherwise, but the preamble is misleading as the Turnbull plan (including requiring MPs to provide documentary evidence) goes much further than described.

Newspoll meanwhile found a very narrow (45-42) lead for changing the Constitution to allow dual citizens to be MPs, suggesting that constitutional reform of Section 44 would be a long and rocky road.

Essential found that voters think politicians, CEOs/senior executives and lawyers are paid too much, but that nobody else much is. Essential also found that in party attribute comparisons, all the ones with large differences are in Labor's favour, with the Coalition's score for "divided" up 17 points since November 2015.

How Accurate Was The Same-Sex Marriage Polling?

The abrogation of responsibility and waste of resources that was the Marriage Law Postal Survey has now concluded with a Yes vote of 61.6%, based on a very high turnout of 79.5%.  Every Australian poll on same-sex marriage in the last ten years has shown more voters supporting same-sex marriage than opposed, with the exception of a single fledgling ReachTEL in 2011, so this has been seen initially as another good result for Australian polls.  In contrast, non-polling "big-data" approaches based on social media analytics failed completely, with the EqualityPulse site mostly favouring the No vote until after the polls had closed and a Griffith University study bombing embarrassingly.  (Be wary of anyone who claims their methods predicted Trump would win - most who predicted him to win did so because they wrongly expected him to win the popular vote.)

This is being taken as another strong result for Australian polling, but the reality is not so snazzy, and more consistent with experience elsewhere.  Below are all the final poll results by each pollster that I could find.  (Some pollsters conducted several polls, typically finding little variation through the survey period.) The polls vary in methods - some asked about results based on those who had voted, some asked about the votes of those who intended to vote and some just asked a basic question about support or opposition to same-sex marriage.  One (Ipsos) appears to have asked about voting intention among those certain to vote only.  In many cases, inadequate public documentation means that it is not entirely clear what the pollster did.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Pembroke By-Election: Live And/Or Post-Count

CALLED: Reliable scrutineering reports on Sunday that Siejka (ALP) will win easily with Walker narrowly beating Chipman for 2nd.


Analysis: Still awaiting margins for the two scenarios. As Brad Stansfield has said on Twitter, it's a bit much to be saying first that the Liberals' attack on Chipman wouldn't work at all, then after the result that it worked too well. But if working means getting near winning, it was only a pyrrhic success. It seems that far from generate a sympathy vote for Chipman, the tactic actually worked in driving votes away from him and to Walker, but at the cost of driving Chipman preferences (in droves as predicted by Pete Lawler on Twitter last night) and possibly primaries to Siejka. The Liberals needed to make the final two to have any on-paper chance, but did they cause enough voters to switch their preference from Chipman ahead of Siejka to the other way around to the extent that they caused Siejka rather than Chipman to win ? 

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Not-A-Poll: Best Prime Minister Of The Last 45 Years: Round 3

Image result for gough

"The Honourable Leader of the Opposition, Sir Billy Snedden, has broken his promise: the promise he made to me before the election. He promised not to tell any lies about me, if I didn't tell the truth about him."*

A month ago I started a multi-round Not-A-Poll to determine this site's visitors' choice for the title of Best Prime Minister of the Last 45 Years.  The idea is that each month the Prime Minister in last place is eliminated and the rest continue until someone gets over 50% and wins.  There are rules permitting multiple exclusions in certain cases, to speed up the process a bit.  Each round runs for a month, so you can vote for different candidates from round to round if you want to. Multiple voting is in theory banned and adjustments may be made if I detect it, but there will probably be a lot of low-level multiple voting I can't detect or prevent. Comments about the merits of the contestants are welcome.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Section 44: Could Parry Peril Unelect McKim?

Warning:  Section 44 has now reached Wonk Factor 5/5.  

The Section 44 citizenship crisis affecting the Federal Parliament has reached a new level of electoral law murkiness today with the news that a Tasmanian Senator, Senate President Stephen Parry, is investigating whether he may be a UK dual citizen by descent.  Parry's father was born in the UK but moved to Australia as a child.  If it turns out Parry is ineligible, he is expected to resign from the Senate immediately, and following a referral the High Court would presumably follow the precedents set in Re Canavan regarding Barnaby Joyce and Fiona Nash and give him the flick.

That might all be the straightforward end of proceedings.  The possibility of a special count for Parry's seat (a recount of all votes as if the departing Senator had died before the poll) creates new problems in dealing with the replacements for ineligible Senators.   The reasons for this concern two unusual features of the Tasmanian Senate count: the very high rate of below-the-line voting and the extremely close result for the final seat.  Incumbent Nick McKim (Green) held off Kate McCulloch (One Nation) by just 141 votes.  McKim should have been re-elected easily but the Greens vote was damaged by the successful campaign to save Lisa Singh, who had been dumped to a normally unwinnable position by her party.  

Monday, October 30, 2017

New England By-Election: Prospects And Polls

Seat: New England (Nat vs Ind 8.5%, Nat vs ALP 16.5%)
By-Election 2 Dec 2017
Incumbent: Barnaby Joyce (Nat)
Main opponents likely to include Rob Taber (IND) and ALP candidate
Former incumbent and 2016 opponent Tony Windsor (IND) not contesting
Outlook: High chance of comfortable Nat retain

With the date of the New England by-election set it's time for a general prospects and polls post that I will update through the campaign as opportunities arise.  I may be pretty slack about this as Queensland will be a higher priority and I have a lot of other stuff on at the moment.  I won't be doing live coverage on the night because of previously booked air travel, but there will be a postcount thread if it is needed.

Circumstances and history

The New England by-election follows the disqualification from office of incumbent Deputy Prime Minister and National Party leader Barnaby Joyce, who was found to be in breach of Section 44 of the Constitution because he was a dual citizen of New Zealand by descent, despite having been born in the electorate of New England.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Section 44 Strikes, But The Government Hasn't Lost Its Majority Yet

Many news sites have now claimed that, in light of today's dramatic Section 44 disqualification of Barnaby Joyce from Parliament by the High Court, the beleagured Turnbull government has now lost its majority.

This is an exciting claim, but it isn't actually correct.

Pending the holding of a by-election for the seat of New England, the government will, when the House of Representatives next sits, hold 75/149 seats, with one vacant.  74 seats will be held by other MPs.  75 is larger than 74.  75 is larger than half of 149.  75 divided by 149 is 0.5033557... .  It is more than 0.500000.

The government's new and very temporary position is no different mathematically to that of the Cook Liberal government in 1913, which won 38/75 seats.  The Cook government is widely referred to as having had a one-seat majority.