Podcast #28: Polling after the federal election

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This week I’m joined by Kevin Bonham to discuss the failure of Australian polls at the 2019 federal election and the limited improvements in transparency by Australian pollsters since that election.

You can subscribe to this podcast using this RSS feed in your podcast app of choice, but should also be able to find this podcast by searching for “the Tally Room”. If you like the show please considering rating and reviewing us on iTunes.

You can’t just legislate ‘fairness’ in our voting system

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The South Australian Liberal government failed on Tuesday in its attempt to restore the “fairness clause” which used to apply to SA state redistributions. The clause was an attempt to ensure the “correct” winner in state elections by requiring the redistribution commissioners to draw boundaries that would give a majority of seats to a party that won a majority of the two-party-preferred vote.

The clause was introduced by a state Labor government via a statewide referendum in 1991, and was then abolished by the outgoing state Labor government in 2017, shortly before they lost the 2018 state election.

The clause is based on a false premise: that you can require “fairness” between major parties in a system of arbitrary winner-take-all contests which is by its very nature unfair. If you want a fair voting system, you need to look to proportional representation systems.

New data – NSW 2019 election results

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I’ve added a new dataset to my data repository. This dataset covers the entire results of the 2019 New South Wales state election.

The dataset includes voting figures at the polling place and electorate level for both houses, including two-candidate-preferred and two-party-preferred data for the Legislative Assembly.

It also includes full lists of the candidates in both houses and a list of polling places including the address and geolocation of each booth. These lists include unique IDs to be matched to the voting data.

There’s a number of elements in this dataset which are not easily accessible elsewhere.

Brisbane City – final boundaries

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The final ward boundaries for Brisbane City Council were released last Friday. These boundaries will apply for next March’s council election.

The changes from the draft boundaries were relatively mild, although it was enough to push Doboy from being very marginal for the LNP to becoming a notional Labor ward.

QLD council elections 2020 – ward redistributions

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I’ve posted a few times recently about the Brisbane City Council ward redistribution, but it’s not the only Queensland council redrawing its electoral boundaries.

A total of 17 councils are undergoing redistributions during this council term in the lead-up to next March’s election.

So far 11 of these 17 councils have finalised their boundaries. The draft boundaries have been published for the other six (including Brisbane) and I would expect them all to be finalised fairly soon.

I’ve partly been absent from the blog recently because I’ve been pulling together Google Earth maps of these 11 councils. These are now finished, and can be downloaded from the maps page. The 2020 file includes the draft Brisbane boundaries and the final boundaries for the other eleven.

Redistributions have been held in every large urban council in the south-east (Brisbane, Gold Coast, Ipswich, Logan, Moreton Bay, Redland and Sunshine Coast), as well as a handful of others, including Gympie, Rockhampton and Townsville. The other councils are Cassowary Coast, Fraser Coast, Isaac, Scenic Rim, South Burnett, Tablelands and Whitsunday.

We are still waiting for the final boundaries in Brisbane, Ipswich, Rockhampton, Townsville and Whitsunday.

I won’t go into any detail about what these changes mean but feel free to download the 2016 and 2020 maps and look at the changes if you know the area, and comment below about what you think they might mean.

I will be starting my 2020 ward map for New South Wales later this year, so if you know if your council is redistributing its wards let me know. I’ve started a spreadsheet listing the decisions here.

Queensland government backflips on compulsory preferences for councils

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The Queensland government has dropped the key piece of its council reform package, by abandoning plans to change the council voting system, a change that would have likely boosted Labor’s chances of taking control of the City of Brisbane.

Victoria 2018 – Voter numbers keep rising thanks to enrolment boost

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The Victorian Electoral Commission has published more information about turnout at the 2018 state election as part of their submission to the inquiry into that election, with some interesting bits I wanted to pull out. In particular, there’s evidence that turnout dropped due to an increase in enrolment, but the proportion of the eligible population who have cast a vote is higher than at recent elections.

The pre-poll surge: what, exactly, is the problem?

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A parliamentary inquiry into the 2019 federal election has recently finished receiving submissions, and amongst other issues a number of commentators have bemoaned the growing numbers of voters casting their votes early.

Federal minister Paul Fletcher is worrying about how the volume of pre-poll voting may “erode the integrity” of our electoral system, while law professor George Williams worries about a “distorted election process”.

But I don’t see why it’s a problem if some voters decide to vote up to three weeks early, particularly considering that most of those voters cast their ballot in the final week.

Victoria 2018: informal voting trends

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The Electoral Matters Committee (EMC) of the Victorian parliament is currently holding an inquiry into the conduct of the 2018 state election, and as part of that process the Victorian Electoral Commission (VEC) has provided a long and detailed submission into the election, and over the next week I’ll be blogging about a few of the interesting elements of this submission.

The submission provides the results of the VEC’s survey of informal votes cast for the Legislative Assembly at the recent election, showing how the shape of the informal vote has changed.

The informal rate has been steadily increasing at Victorian state elections, as can be seen in this chart from the VEC submission:

The Legislative Assembly informal rate has increased at every election since 1996, from 2.6% to 5.8%. The Legislative Council informal rate peaked in 2006, which was the first election to use the proportional representation system, before dropping to a plateau in 2010 and 2014, but it has increased again in 2018. The report puts the blame for the increase in the upper house informal rate down to the increased number of candidates but it doesn’t look like the survey covers the upper house. I wouldn’t be surprised if the campaign to encourage voters to mark their own preferences may have led to some more informal votes.

The most interesting part of the report breaks down informal votes cast at the 2014 and 2018 elections into categories based on the markings on the ballot (p68).

No names above the line hurt independents

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The Senate race in the Australian Capital Territory often promises to get interesting, but never really does. The quota for election in the ACT is just over one third of the total formal vote, and the two seats have been split evenly between Labor and Liberal at every election since the ACT gained seats in the Senate. This is despite Labor consistently outpolling the Liberal Party (and outpolling them by quite a lot when you factor in preferences from other parties).

The Greens have often targeted the Liberal seat, and have driven the Liberal vote down, but have not quite pushed them far enough to win the seat. In 2019 there was a spirited Greens challenge, but also a challenge from an independent group led by Anthony Pesec.

Pesec aimed to fill a similar space to centrist independents in Liberal seats like Kerryn Phelps in Wentworth and Zali Steggall in Warringah, aiming to pull away Liberal voters alienated by Liberal senator Zed Seselja’s position on the right wing of his party.

Pesec ended up falling a long way short of winning the Senate seat, polling 4.7%, compared to 32.4% for the Liberal ticket and 17.7% for the Greens. But the result was marred by voter confusion over the lack of any group name above the line for Pesec’s group. In addition to reports about voter confusion, there’s evidence in the election results to suggest the electoral rules hurt Pesec’s vote, and should make us consider what we can do to improve ballot paper design so it doesn’t happen again.