Possums Pollytics

Politics, elections and piffle plinking

Archive for June, 2007

IPDI and the Primary Vote Redux.

Posted by Possum Comitatus on June 30, 2007

Over in The Oz, George Megalogenis writes, “THE existential divide between real and imagined financial stress can decide the coming election. Well-off Australians can be convinced to toss out the Government on the false assumption that their living standards have gone backwards, whether through the spectres of Work Choices, interest rates or climate change.”

He’s spot on – but he’s missed the economic measurement that ties most of this up in a neat little bundle that longer term readers here know about well.

Interest Payments to Disposable Income

So let’s redo the two key graphs again. First the Newspoll estimations of the Opposition primary vote (on the left hand side) and the Interest Payments to Disposable Income percentage (on the right hand side) going back to 1985.


Next let’s do the Newspoll government primary vote estimation (on the left hand side) and the Interest Payments to Disposable Income (on the right hand side, log scale and inverted).


Source: http://www.rba.gov.au/Statistics/Bulletin/B21hist.xls

What’s important here is not necessarily the growth in the size of interest payments to disposable income, but how how that growing debt servicing obligation impacts upon discretionary (rather than disposable) income for a key demographic- middle income earners with 1.5 jobs and a large mortgage.That’s where it bites in the self-perception of living standards for mortgage holders as discretionary spending is what funds lifestyle, and lifestyle is a key self-perceived yardstick of household standard of living. As a greater proportion of disposable income keeps flowing to debt servicing, that leaves a smaller proportion of income for discretionary spending.We discussed the ins and outs of this at length over here for anyone interested and whom may have missed it the first time.

The Howard government may have many problems on its hands, but its this one that will cause them the most electoral grief.

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Posted in Leading Indicators, Political Risk | 4 Comments »

Determining the Swinging Voter and Their Behaviour

Posted by Possum Comitatus on June 28, 2007

If we look at the primary votes of the parties over the last 20 years, it becomes pretty clear that there are a certain amount of voters that support a given party regardless of how that party is behaving. The Coalition for instance never gets below 35 in Newspoll for the primary vote. It has received Newspoll estimated primaries of 35.5 in June 98, 36 in March 01 and 35 in May 07 – but never below 35. This suggests that there is about 35 percentage points of the Coalition primary vote that is rusted on given the ordinary course of politics.

Likewise with the ALP there is a bottom limit of 33% of the primary that they never go below. In April 04 they had 33, January and October 2002 they had 34 and for 8 consecutive months between October 1990 and May 1991 they received 33 to 35.This suggests there is about 33 percentage points that the ALP primary vote that is rusted on given the ordinary course of politics.

The minors and undecideds are a more complicated kettle of fish.They have scored as low as 6.25 back in 1987, but this segment has been growing over the last 20 years as highlighted in Time Trends and Primary Votes .

However in may 1996 they scored 9% and December 1999 scored 10%.So let us take a conservative estimate here and assume that there is 9 percentage points of rusted on minor party and undecided votes. As this group includes both parties and those that haven’t decided, the variation of this group over time is large with a maximum Newspoll estimation of 20% or greater occurring in 28 months over the last 20 years. But for the issues we are going to explore here this variance really doesn’t matter.

These minimums combined add up to 77%.This suggests that only 23% of the electorate are swinging voters, and this 23% of the electorate determines governments.

So now that we know the rusted on component of each groups primary vote, let us produce 3 new modified series that represents the Newspoll primary vote for just the swinging voters.

This is easy to do – we simply subtract the rusted on vote of each group from their estimated Newspoll primary each month. When we do this, the swinging voter primary vote series for each party become:



The above series tell us how much of that 23% of swinging voters are supporting each group.

For example, Junes Newspoll primary vote results had the ALP 46%, Coalition 39% and Minors+Undecideds 15%.

Once we subtract the rusted on component for each group, this becomes ALP 13%, Coalition 4% and Minors+Undecideds 6%. This means that of the 23% of swinging votes, the ALP has 13 percentage points of it, the Coalition 4 percentage points of it and the Minors +Undecideds have 6 percentage points of it.

Now we have this, we can do some snazzy analysis of where those votes are moving, and where they’re moving from, and to where.

Firstly, let’s look at this over the period of October 2006 through to today. If we take the first difference of these three series, which means measuring the change that occurs in each of these three series each month, we get the following:



A word of warning – as Newspoll has a margin of error, taking this graph as gospel is a silly thing to do (and we’ll get onto a means to get around that margin of error problem a little later on). So, acknowledging FIRST that the above observations could be out by a few a points – let us make an initial assumption that they’re true, even though they probably aren’t exactly true (there’s a self-deprecating joke about economists to be had somewhere here).

Now we can read the graph. This graph shows where the swinging voters votes are going between the three parties each month by looking at the distance of each observation from zero. Pay no attention yet to the coloured lines that join the observations – at this stage they’re irrelevant.

So if we take the November 2006 observations, they show that the Minors and Undecideds primary vote increased by 3.5 points from the previous month (the distance between the observation and zero), the Coalition primary vote fell by 0.5 points and the ALP primary vote fell by 3 points. This tells us that in November 2006, the Minors and Undecideds gained 3.5 points on their primary vote completely at the expense of both major parties (3 points from the ALP and 0.5 points from the Coalition).

If we look at the last Newspoll (June 2007) it tells us that the Coalition primary increased by 4 points, the Minors +Undecideds increased by 2 points and the ALP primary decreased by 6 points. This tells us that in June the Coalition and the Minors+Undecideds gained totally at the expense of the ALP primary.

That’s all interesting enough, but we can do something far more interesting still. If, for each series we take the cumulative sum of the values of the first differences (i.e. cumulatively add the observations that we observed above for each specific series), two things happen:

First – we end up with a series that shows the size of the swinging voter movement between parties over time.

Second – we remove most of the margin of error problem associated with political polls. The estimated Newspoll value of the primary vote for each group will fall randomly above or below the true value of the primary vote for that group within a couple of points each side. By cumulatively adding our above series, the influence of the margin of error will approach zero as the number of observations approach infinity.

For what we are about to do, we don’t quite have an infinite number of observations, but we do 34 monthly observations based on averaging nearly 70 Newspoll observations. That means we can safely use the below graph to draw conclusions generally free from the problems of error margins, or at the very least, we have seriously diminished their effects.

So let us now graph these three new series over the period from the last election through to today:


What this shows us is how the swinging voter has changed their votes over the period since the last election, and to where they have changed them.

Over the first 7 months of Howards 4th term, swinging voters didn’t change their voting intention a great deal. There was a small bit of movement between the three groups.

Then came the 2005 Budget. After that budget (maybe even because of that budget), swinging voters started to move away from the Coalition and parked their votes with the Minors+Undecideds.5% of the governments primary vote was lost to the Minors and Undecideds and has NEVER RETURNED. The ALP didn’t benefit at all with their primary vote staying around what it was at the 2004 election.

Between April and December of 2006, there was a bit of voting intention change with the ALP and the Minors+Undecideds swapping supporters, and the Coalition and the Minors+Undecideds swapping supporters and a handful of Coalition swinging voters moving to the ALP.But only is small amounts.

That 5% block of swinging voters that moved away from Howard after the 2005 Budget didn’t come back to him. They might not have wanted to vote for ALP, but they weren’t going to vote for Howard. Then along came Rudd in December 2006 and three interesting things happened.

Firstly, that entire group of AWOL Coalition supporters that abandoned Howard after the 2005 Budget went straight across to Rudd lock stock and barrel – let’s call them Group 1.

Secondly, a few percentage points of the Minors+Undecideds vote that wasn’t the ex-Coalition voting block went across as well – lets call them Group 2

Thirdly, another 5% of the Coalitions primary vote, a completely separate group of swinging voters, went across to Rudd – lets call them Group 3.

At Rudds height in May, he had the entirety of the 23% of swinging voters except for the 4% that were in the Minors+Undecideds camp. The Coalition in May had zero swinging voter support.


Group 1 that abandoned Howard after the 2005 Budget 2 years ago isn’t coming back, they’ve had repeated chances and they haven’t moved anywhere except to the ALP and a few of them back to the Minors+Undecideds. None seem to have gone back to Howard.

With the June decline of Rudd, Howard seemed to only get half of Group 2 back, while the Minors+Undecideds picked up a few points of Group 1.

If we look at the 23% of primary votes available that are cast by swinging voters which ultimately determine the election result – things look bleak for the Coalition.

First lets take the Minors. Remember that the rusted on Minors+Undecideds was a conservative estimate at 9%.During the last 4 elections, the minors have never received below 14%. If that continues, this leaves only 18 percentage points of the primary votes left for to be grabbed. (The 23% of swinging voters minus the 5 percentage points minimum that has gone to the minor parties in the last 4 elections)

For the Coalition to win, they need 44% of the primary to be sure. As they have 35% already rusted on, that leaves them needing to get 9 points. Yet Group 1 have abandoned the Coalition, and have placed their vote over the last 2 years anywhere but with the Coalition. That means that Howard has to get 9 points of primary vote from 13 points available to him (the 18 left after the Minor Party vote minus the 5% points from Group 1).

That leaves Howard needing 9 from 13, or 69% of those votes.

The ALP however can easily win with 42.That means they too need 9 points of primary vote (coming from a rusted on base of 33), but they can get it from the 18 available to them.

That leaves the ALP needing to get only 50% of the votes available to them. And this is the Coalitions best case scenario.

I actually believe that the ALP has already picked up 5%, boosting their rusted on vote to 38.This is made up of 3-4 points from Group 1 and 1-2 points from the Minors+Undecideds, particularly in Qld.

Under this scenario, that leaves the Coalition needing to get 9 points from the 11 or 12 available to them to win, which is between 75% and 82% of the votes available to them.

The ALP on the other hand only needs to get 4 points from the 13 available to them. That means the ALP needs to get 30% of the votes available to them to win.


Just a note – when I posted this yesterday, somehow I ended up with 23-5=19… ick!

This looks better.


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Time Trends and Primary Votes

Posted by Possum Comitatus on June 26, 2007


If we look at the Newspoll primary vote level of the three political blocks; the ALP, the Coalition and the Minor Party+Undecided group and apply a quadratic time trend to that vote of the type:



We get some very interesting results.

The above graph measures the time trend for the Minors+Undecideds group. The size of the primary vote can be read from the right hand side of these graphs, on the left hand side (the blue line), the residuals from the time trend regression can be read. Those residuals represent how far away from the time trend the primary vote is at any given time.

What stands out is the growing size of the Minors primary vote. Where is it coming from?

Well let’s do the ALP quadratic time trend next:



The minors were growing at the expense of the ALP up until the 1998 election. After that election, the ALP has itself experienced a growing primary vote trend.

No guesses what the Coalitions time trend looks like:



Up until the early 1990’s the Coalition was pulling in votes from the ALP as well, but since then their primary vote has been slowly declining, leaking to both the Minors and the ALP.


To sum up:

The Minor primary vote is growing, but at a decreasing rate and has been doing so for 20 years.

The ALP vote is growing, at an increasing rate and has been doing so since the end of 1998.

The Coalition vote is declining at an increasing rate, and has been doing so since 1994.

Those trends hold over the long term, but what about the short term, say just since 1996?

Well this time well use a cubic time trend of the form:


….which is the time trend that best fits the data for this shorter term.






So while these shorter term trends dominate the data, they are all actually consistent with the longer term quadratic trends looked at earlier. These cubic trends explain some of the shorter term volatility that occurs around the longer term quadratic trends.

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Primary Vote movements and Shocks 1999-2007

Posted by Possum Comitatus on June 22, 2007


The above graph is fairly self explanatory. On the left hand side we have the primary vote levels for the two major parties, and on the right we have the minor + undecided vote level.The grey dashed lines are the general elections. 

The horizontal dashed blue line represents 43% which is the rough primary vote level the Coalition needs to get more than for it to win an election. The horizontal dashed red line represents 40% which is the rough primary vote level the ALP needs to get more than for it to win an election.

 Also marked on there are some things which have caused shocks to one or more of the groups primary vote series. The GST, the Ryan by-election, Workchoices and the Latham and Rudd leaderships. 

There’s a lot of info contained in that graph, such as where the minor party and undecided vote goes when it contracts, which party is gaining support at the expense of which other party. It shows the difference between the spikes of the Rudd and Latham leaderships to name but a few.


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How Important was the Ryan By-election?

Posted by Possum Comitatus on June 22, 2007


I think that says it all.

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Leader Dissatisfaction and the Minor Party/Undecided Vote.

Posted by Possum Comitatus on June 22, 2007


This caught my eye the other day. The red line is the net leader dissatisfaction value given by the PM dissatisfaction level minus the Opposition leaders dissatisfaction level as determined by Newspoll. The black line is the minor party primary vote and the undecideds also given by Newspoll.

Between 1996 and the Ryan by-election, the level of the minor party votes and undecideds combined tracked the net leader dissatisfaction levels extremely well.The Ryan by-election started a divergence and by February 2002 the two series went their separate ways. As can be seen by the below graph which shows the dissatisfaction ratings of the two major parties, while the PM dissatisfaction rating roughly tracked the minor party vote, the difference between the two dissatisfaction levels really tracked the minor party and undecided votes over the 1996-2001 period.


I’m not quite sure what this means, but if anyone has a good explanation of what dynamic could have been at play here – I’d love to hear it.

Another piece of related data is the total dissatisfaction levels compared to the minor party vote + undecideds, where the total dissatisfaction levels are simply the dissatisfaction ratings for the PM and the Opposition Leader added together.This is graphed below:


This seems to show that while the satisfaction levels with the two major parties does in fact drag the minor party and undecided vote level around; it doesn’t actually do it as much as I was expecting to be the case. There are a number of spikes (both up and down) in the dissatisfaction levels that weren’t matched by movements in the minor party + undecided vote level. The electorate seems to regularly say to the major parties “I think you’re shit, but you still get my vote”.


Economan thoughtfully pointed out that I had indeed missed the obvious downward spikes in Total Dissatisfaction levels (dont ask me how I did that) and that this could well mean that the voters are saying to the major parties “I think you’re OK, but I’m going to tell the pollster I’m voting Green/Dem/whatever”


Posted in Voting behaviour | 7 Comments »

Election Prediction Model 1 Update

Posted by Possum Comitatus on June 21, 2007


Here’s what it means and how it works for those that dont know.

The June Newspoll data rolled in, was fed into the model and not much changed.

The predicted ALP primary vote for the election reduced from 45.6 in May to 44.54 in June and the predicted Coalition primary vote increased from 39.7 in May to 40.04 in June.

The predicted ALP 2 party preferred vote for the election decreased from 53.7 in May to 53.02 in June, while the Coalition 2 party preferred vote increased from 46.3 in May to 46.99 in June.

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ALP Victory Index Update

Posted by Possum Comitatus on June 21, 2007


Heres what it is and how it works for those that dont know.

The drop in the ALP primary support from 52 to 46, combined with the 7 point shaving from the net satisfaction ratings for Rudd (which is Opposition leader satisfaction – dissatisfaction) have dropped the index by 3.15 points. The big hit came from the decline in the ALP primary vote as two thirds of the index originates from how far away the ALP primary vote is from 40 compared to how far away the Coalition primary vote is from 43.The distance between the May primary ALP vote and 40 halved in June. Likewise, the Coalition vote threw its contribution in by reducing the distance they were from the magical 43 number – being 8 points behind in May and cutting it down to 4 in June.

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Into the Swing of Things Part II

Posted by Possum Comitatus on June 16, 2007


Following on from Part One, which looked at the primary vote swing history of all governments going back to December 1985, we now move on to the Opposition primary vote swing so that we can eventually combine the two to pull out some interesting voter behaviour which has some pretty chunky implications for the forthcoming election.

The above graph measures the swing in the primary vote of the Opposition by taking the difference between the Oppositions primary vote as estimated by Newspoll each month and the Oppositions primary vote at the election previous to the monthly observation.

Some clear patterns emerge over the last 22 odd years.

There was a consistent swing away from the Opposition up to the 1990 election and there was a consistent swing to the Opposition from the 1990 to the 1996 election.

For the ALP since the 1996 election however, the pattern has been mixed. To explain this better, we need to combine the two swing graphs. To refresh the memory, here is the Government primary vote swing from Part 1.


Now lets combine those two graphs below. This might seem a bit counter intuitive to start with and be a bit hard on the brain so try and bear with me. If we take the Opposition Primary Vote swing (the red line) and put its values on the left hand side of the graph we get a the usual swings to the opposition being in the top half of the graph and swings away from the Opposition being in the bottom half of the graph just as they were in the graph at the top of the post. If we then overlay the Governments primary vote swing (the blue line) but put its values on the right hand side of the graph and invert the values, we end up with swings to the government being in the bottom half of the graph, and swings away from the government being in the top half of the graph – the opposite of what happens with the Oppositions swings. This is what we end up with.


The reason we do it this way is simple: If the two lines stay very close to each other it means that one side of politics is losing votes and the other side is picking those votes up. If however a gap appears between the two lines it means that one of two things:

1. A major party is losing votes but the minor parties are picking those votes up

2. A major party is gaining votes, but gaining them from the minor parties rather than the other major party.

Before we go any further though, one thing needs to be pointed out. The One Nation Effect that is marked in the graph had persistence beyond the 98 election because of the way the swing is calculated. Due to the Coalition getting a relatively low primary vote in 1998, when One Nation collapsed shortly thereafter its primary vote flowed back to the major parties (but mostly the Coalition) so that we see a large gap between the blue and the red lines over the 1999-2001, and where both major parties had swings TO their primary vote. That’s the One Nation effect washing out of the system.

If we go back to the lead up to the 1990 election, where the ALP got returned off the back of Green preferences, we can see how that Graham Richardson strategy worked in practice, and why he took it. In that period, both the Government (blue line, right hand axis) and the Coalition (red line, left hand axis inverted) were getting swings away from them, opening up that gap, and with the Greens and the Dems taking most of that vote. The preference deals of the ALP pulled most of that Gap back into the ALP two party preferred vote to get them over the line at the 1990 election.

If we now head along the timeline up to the last 7 years we can see some interesting dynamics at play. For those that haven’t read Part 1, I suggest you do now and come back because the accelerating swing away from government and arguments over why and how the Coalitions vote is soft become important here.

The slow but accelerating swing away from the government that started in 1999, and which has continued to snowball hasn’t been completely transferred across to the ALP vote. And likewise, big swings to the ALP primary vote haven’t completely come at the expense of the Coalition, but have come at the expense of the minor parties vote.

If we take the Latham period for instance, we clearly see in the lead up to the 04 election a large swing to the ALP, but it wasn’t matched by a similar sized swing against the Coalition (the gap opened up between the lines).What this tells us is that Latham was getting a large chunk of his headline primary vote swing at the expense of the minor parties like the Greens. It wasn’t coming from the Coalitions vote base.

But more interestingly, in terms of importance for the coming election, in early 2005, there was a large swing away from the Coalitions vote that wasn’t picked up by the ALP. This swing against the government was picked up by the minor parties. It wasn’t until Rudd became leader that these AWOL former Coalition supporters again changed their vote rapidly from the minor parties to the ALP. Rudd has also picked up a different group of voters than ex-Coalition supporters from the minor parties which can be seen at the very end of the graph where the swing to the ALP is larger than the swing away from government. These are minor party voters that are slowly switching to the ALP from their minor party homes.

This has a few implications.

Firstly, a large chunk of those voters have already deserted Howard. They deserted him under Beazley Mk II and changed their vote to the minor parties rather than to the ALP. Howard has already lost them. The idea of him getting them back is, short of the ALP and minor parties imploding, a ludicrous proposition.

These voters have already decided to vote against the government – they decided it over 2 years ago. The only question for them now is the decision where other than the Coalition to put their votes.

Secondly, apart from the 1990 election, the minor party vote grows during the election campaign, and is nearly always underestimated by the polling organisations at all times. Likewise the methods the polling organisations use to distribute preferences in the opinion polls are borderline rubbish when you compare their preference distribution estimates in the final poll of an election campaign to the actual preference flows at the election itself.

A better idea of preference flows can be ascertained by satisfaction rating dynamics, and for anyone interested I suggest they check out the ALP Victory Index to see how they work in terms of election results.

What this means is that as we get closer to the election, the usual behaviour of primary votes of the two parties converging will start to play out. But it also means that the two party preferred estimates from the polls will start to converge. That’s all fair enough and to be expected, but the underestimation of the minor party vote by the polls combined with the behaviour of that group that changed their vote from Howard to the minor parties and then again to Rudd will be underestimated in the TPP figures because of the poor preference distribution results from the polling organisations.

What this actually means is that as we approach the election I strongly suspect that the two party preferred estimates of the polling organisations will actually underestimate the ALP and overestimate the Coalition, by as much as 1.5% if the satisfaction dynamics play out like they have at previous elections in terms of real preference flows. The larger the size of the negative net satisfaction ratings, which is roughly the electorate seeing the Opposition leader being better than the Prime Minister which is calculated as:

(PM satisfaction – PM dissatisfaction) – (Opposition leader satisfaction – Opposition leader dissatisfaction)

… the larger will be the size of the underestimation of the ALP two party preferred vote by the pollsters.

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Posted in Election Forecasting, Leading Indicators | 3 Comments »

Into the Swing of Things

Posted by Possum Comitatus on June 15, 2007


The above graph is the swing in the primary vote of the government. What it shows is the difference between the governments primary vote as estimated by Newspoll each month and the governments primary vote at the previous election.

A few things stand out.

Firstly, the dramatic effect that One Nation had on the Coalitions primary vote. The One Nation period in the above shaded area starts in June 1997 with the formation of the party, and ends with the October 1998 election.

The other thing that stands out, as in its utterly impossible to miss, is the slow terminal decline of the Howard governments vote that has been gathering momentum well before Rudd came onto the scene.

From the beginning of 1999, the swings to the government started getting smaller, then the swings turned negative and started going away from the government, then they started snowballing.

This is a slow, but long term acceleration away from the government and something we don’t see very often in Australian politics. But what must really be concerning the Coalition is the momentum behind that acceleration.

It isn’t some temporary shock to the primary vote that peaks rapidly and washes out of the system relatively quickly as can be seen occurring in other periods on that graph. Nor is it the consistent mean swing away from the incumbent that the Hawke/Keating governments experienced up to the 1992 budget if you look beyond the volatility – this is an entirely different phenomenon.

This gets us onto another point.

Every journo, commentator, pundit and their dog wax lyrical about the ALP vote being soft.

Well let me be contrarian and suggest that it isn’t the ALP vote that is soft, it’s the Coalition vote. One Nation clearly demonstrated that the Coalition has got a soft underbelly for some demographics. I’d go as far to say that the Coalition primary vote has never fully recovered from the One Nation raid on its primaries.

Another piece of evidence is that the Coalitions primary vote makes a surge a few months out from the election. That last heave-ho effort to get the waverers back into the Coalition fold (which you can see from the spikes on the election lines for the last two elections) is not an exercise in shoring up the base as the US Republicans do, far from it. Shoring up the base is a gradual process of moral bribery and throwing the odd ideological bone (albeit to much fanfare) to stop the base from deserting or disappearing up their own apathetic fundaments.

What Howard has been doing is wresting back a largish number of people in the lead up to the elections, people that had already deserted him. And we can see how that operates – in 2001, the 60 odd billion of bribery, Tampa, 9/11 and an emphasis on what the ALP would do on national security and refugees.

In 2004, it was another 60 odd billion of bribery and an emphasis on what the ALP will do to your interest rates, and what Latham would do to anyone or anything that came near him.

Both of those campaigns weren’t so much about the Coalition, but about the Coalition talking about the ALP. The Coalition was effectively saying “it’s not about us, it’s about them”. Why? Because “them” had the votes.

If the Coalitions vote weren’t soft, the Coalition would have used the significant media power of incumbency to make the campaign about the Coalition. That’s what governments with strong support do – look no further than Peter Beattie for the handbook on that particular type of behaviour.

But the Coalitions vote isn’t strong, it’s soft. And it’s been soft for a very long time and getting softer.

One problem for Howard is that the number of Coalition voters gone AWOL has continued to increase, meaning the spikes he generally needs to achieve to win elections (such as 2001 and 2004) are becoming larger. The spike required in 2007 is unprecedented.

The other problem is that if he keeps making it all about the ALP and Kevin Rudd, he risks the electorate waking up one morning and agreeing with him that it is all about the Labor Party- and they don’t mind what they see.

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Posted in Leading Indicators | 7 Comments »

ALP Victory Index

Posted by Possum Comitatus on June 6, 2007


This index represents whether the ALP would have won an election were it held at any time since December 1985.If the ALP score is above zero, it would have one, if it was below zero it would have lost.

The elections are shown on the graph, as is an assumed date of November for a 2007 election.

This index (which successfully accounts for every election result since the 1987 election) suggests that the ALP is better placed to win this election than any party has been for 20 years.

The index was constructed in two parts; a separate index that measured primary vote levels as determined by Newspoll and a second index that measured satisfaction differentials again, as determined by Newspoll

For the primary vote index, a series was constructed that measured how far away the ALP primary vote was from 40.It’s generally held that the ALP needs to get above 40 to win an election without some extraordinary circumstances such as that which prevailed in the 1990 election. So we’ll use 40 as our baseline.

This “above or below 40” series was then normalised by subtracting the mean from each observation of the series and dividing by the standard deviation of the series.

Next I took the Coalition primary vote series and did the same thing, except whereas I used 40 for the ALP, I used 43 for the Coalition. Because the conservative vote isn’t as split as much as the non-conservative vote with minor parties, unless there is a group around like One Nation that attracts a large share of the minor party vote, the Coalition cannot win if its primary vote is below 43%.

Next, a problem came up – the One Nation vote had distorted the historical Coalition primary vote series. To accommodate for this I tested the size of the vote that One Nation took away from the Coalitions primary vote using a number of regression models. They all suggested that One Nation reduced the Coalition primary vote between 5.5-6.2% during the period May 1997 through to just after the 1998 election.

With this info, I then adjusted the “Coalition above or below 43%” series for the period May 1997 through to the end of the 1998 election to accommodate for the One Nation effect on the Coalition. This final series was then normalised.

This gave me two modified series. A normalised ALP primary vote series with a zero value representing a primary vote of 40 and a normalised Coalition primary vote series, adjusted for the One Nation effect, with a value of zero representing a primary vote of 43%.

I then subtracted the Coalition series from the ALP series to give me a series called ALPtoWin1 which represents the relative strength of the ALP compared to the Coalition in terms of their primary vote.

Next up I used satisfaction and dissatisfaction levels as determined by Newspoll for each party going back to December of 1985.I subtracted the dissatisfaction levels from the satisfaction levels of each party to give me a Net Satisfaction rating for each party.

Those net satisfaction levels were both normalised, and the Coalition normalised series was subtracted from the ALP normalised series to give me a series called ALPtoWin2, which represents the relative satisfaction levels of the ALP compared to the Coalition.

I’ve been playing around over the last few weeks with finding the explanatory power of all manner of variables on primary voting movements. In order to keep this post from being a thesis length, basically the relative primary voting performance of the two sides of politics has twice the explanatory power that satisfaction differentials do when it comes to determining elections. As a result, to keep the components of this index realistic, the satisfaction index “ALPtoWin2” was divided by two to give it a realistic weighting.

Finally the simple bit – we just add the two components together to give us the ALP Victory Index.

How well does it work?

Here are the results for the elections since 1987.If the ALP gets a positive index number it should win the election, if it gets a negative number it should lose the election.

July 1987 = 1.54 ALP win

Mar 1990 = 0.76 ALP win

Mar 1993 = 1.51 ALP win

Mar 1996 = -1.60 Coalition win

Oct 1998 = -0.0016 Coalition win (just)

Nov 2001= -0.50 Coalition win

Oct 2004 = -0.60 Coalition win.

The October 1998 result is interesting as the ALP actually won a higher two party preferred vote than the Coalition, even though the Coalition retained government. I was surprised the index worked for that election.

The current value of the index has the ALP on 7.233.That is the highest value the ALP has ever had since the series starts on December 1985, and it is also higher than the absolute value of any Coalition score, even during the 1991 recession when the ALP vote and satisfaction ratings tanked.

Considering the nature of the previous movements of the index, it doesn’t look possible for the Coalition to turn that around in the time available. This too, like Election Prediction Model 1 posted earlier on the blog, points to a Rudd victory.


It was asked if a close-up of the 2001, 2004 and 2007 periods could be done to help gauge the magnitude of the turnaround Howard needs to make.

Here they are:








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Posted in Election Forecasting, Leading Indicators, Political Risk | 14 Comments »

Satisfaction Guaranteed – But not for the Primary Vote

Posted by Possum Comitatus on June 5, 2007


Satisfaction just aint what it used to be for the government. Once upon a time the net satisfaction for the government (which is the PMs satisfaction level minus his dissatisfaction level as determined by Newpoll) used to be a driving force behind the primary vote –but alas, something happened after the 2001 election that completely spoiled the party… so to speak.

But we’ll get back to that. As this argument is marginally complicated, we’ll need some background.

Let us look firstly at the net satisfaction ratings for both governments and oppositions going back to December 1985.These net satisfaction ratings are simply the PM and Opposition leader satisfaction levels minus their dissatisfaction levels as determined by Newspoll.


Interesting little graph in itself that explains an awful lot of electoral behaviour if you take the time to have a bit of a think about all of the things it could represent.

What really stands out to me is how the public were mostly dissatisfied with both governments and oppositions until the 1996 election (the elections are marked with vertical lines).The norm was for big blocks of blue and red to coexist together on the negative side.We weren’t satisfied with our governments, and our oppositions didn’t do much for us either.

After the ‘96 election though, things changed. Apart from a bit of Simon Crean, some Beazley MkII and Howard when he got into is whole 1997/98 One Nation fiasco, we’ve generally been satisfied with both our governments and our oppositions – a stark contrast to the the first 10 or so years of that graph.

This can be highlighted even further if we take the relative satisfaction levels of the government compared to the opposition. This relative satisfaction is the net government satisfaction from above minus the net opposition satisfaction level from above:


What this highlights is which side of the parliamentary chamber we thought was doing the better relative job at a given time, even if we were dissatisfied with both sides. When those blue blocks are below zero, we were more satisfied with the Opposition. When they’re above the line we were more satisfied with Government. The taller the lines, the larger the difference in our relative satisfaction levels.

From this, it might be easy to draw comparisons between the period leading up to the 1996 election and today in terms of the way satisfaction levels are playing out.

But do not be fooled! Let’s not wank ourselves silly by going down the easy route of historical comparison. That might well keep the thinking down to a minimum – which is what we’ve all come to love and admire so much about our treeware commentariat in the Canberra press gallery, but it also completely misses what is actually going on.

If you look at the red and blue figure – the differences between 1996 and 2007 are so enormous they don’t need to be pointed out.

So keeping all of that in your thought orbit, let’s now go to how that relative satisfaction plays out in terms of the primary government vote:


The striking part of this graph is how the relative satisfaction level of the government has historically moved with the governments primary vote. The primary vote was delivered to the government proportional to the size of their relative satisfaction level. Now getting back to what we were originally saying – something has broken down since the 2001 election.

The red line (the government primary vote) has become decoupled with the blue line (the relative government satisfaction) since early 2002. Being satisfied more with the Prime Minster compared to the Opposition leader no longer delivers the goods for the government.

But on top of this interesting, nay unique phenomenon we also have another interesting, nay unique phenomenon playing out. This time, with the relationship between the Oppositions net satisfaction level and their primary vote:


Since the 2001 election, the Oppositions satisfaction levels have started to become recoupled to their primary vote, and since the 2005 budget have become intimately linked. That’s the first time its happened to the Opposition in 25 years of Newspoll and is why comparisons between 1996 and 2007 aren’t worth much. Something more important and much more profound is going on.

The Rudd ALP are experiencing a net satisfaction/primary vote relationship that governments have always experienced, and the Howard Coalition is experiencing a net satisfaction/primary vote relationship that has usually been reserved for oppositions.

The Opposition is being treated by the public like a government in terms of their satisfaction dynamics while the government is being treated like an Opposition. That does not bode well for Howard which gets us back to that very first graph:


The level of net satisfaction with the PM and his government that is now required to deliver a given primary vote has increased by between 4-7 points. The government now requires a much higher level of satisfaction to give them a primary vote that historically they achieved with much lower levels of satisfaction.

Apart from the turbulent period after the 91 recession, the PM and the government having as many people satisfied with them as dissatisfied used to deliver a primary vote of about 43% Now it delivers a primary vote of 36-38%. That gap between the red and blue lines after the 2001 election signifies a structural change in the relationship – and the government knows it.

It actually explains EXACTLY why they have been doing what they’ve been doing over the last few months, because it’s a deliberate strategy and the only one they’ve really got left to use.

Governments carry the burden of being judged as governments, where their satisfaction levels derive from what they actually do and what they actually implement, their policy choices and the way those choices affect the country.

But now, after having their satisfaction levels decoupled from their primary vote, the satisfaction levels they need to boost their primary vote back to an election winning position are so enormous they are virtually unattainable. They need to get their net satisfaction ratings back into the mid 30s to approach the 44% primary vote level they need to win the election. After 11 years and all that baggage – that isn’t going to happen.

Their only alternative is to buy the satisfaction levels they need in key marginal seats (in an attempt to artificially boost their net satisfaction ratings above the average in those seats) and to drive the Rudd ALP satisfaction ratings into the ground (because the opposition now has their net satisfaction ratings recoupled to their primary vote).All the while doing everything they can to stop their satisfaction ratings from slipping any further.

But that requires huge amounts of marginal seat pork barrelling, a huge advertising blitz and a massive negative election campaign the likes of which we simply haven’t ever seen before in Australia.

Does that all sound familiar?

The government is doing exactly this, because it is the only thing they can do – it is the only shot they have. They too have figured out the nature of the unpleasant reality they find themselves in.

Which gets us to the last point: Those pundits calling for the government to “get back to governing” as a way to win back the electorates favour have missed the point. Getting back to governing might lift the satisfaction ratings a bit, but that is simply not enough because the satisfaction ratings for the government have become decoupled from their primary vote. The government would lose in that scenario – lose nobly but still lose.

Nope, this election is about clawing out the eyes of Rudd and the ALP to hit their primary vote via their satisfaction levels, it’s about preventing their own satisfaction levels from declining further with advertising blitz after advertising blitz and its about raining pork into the marginals. What its not about for the government is policy, because the government cant win with policy. The only policy that the government will float will relate to either pork, or an attempt at neutralising an ALP policy.

This election will get very very ugly. And the problem for the government is that their only shot at winning carries a high risk of turning the public away in droves because it has to be ugly.


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