Possums Pollytics

Politics, elections and piffle plinking

Archive for July, 2008

Newspoll Tuesday – Climate Change Edition

Posted by Possum Comitatus on July 29, 2008

As is wont to happen with Newspoll Tuesday and political party room or cabinet meetings, Newspoll once again – in an act of impeccable timing – manages to flick the bird to the party in trouble.

Not merely content with giving the Coalition party room and shadow cabinet meeting a nasty piece of 57/43 Two Party Preferred context to bicker about off the back of primaries running 47/37 the same way (MoE 3%), Newspoll decided to throw in a leadership question, two Costello questions and three climate change questions to boot – the results of which aren’t exactly encouraging for the party but will undoubtedly make for a nice conversation starter come the Coalition meetings today and tomorrow.

But first onto the main game.

Updating our Pollytrack and Loess regression series for the last week, we get.

Since the last update we’ve had a Newspoll addition for the Pollytrack series and a Newspoll and two Morgan face to face polls for the All Polls series. Currently the local regression in the All Polls series shows the ALP leading on primaries 45.2/39.2 with a two party preferred lead of 55.7/44.3 – giving us a difference between Pollytrack and the Loess All Polls series of 0.2% or less for all metrics.

Pollytrack is currently running with a pooled sample size of 3939 for a minimum margin of error of 1.56%.

Next up is a comparison of how the three major pollsters are performing in relation to each other. We’ll do the primary votes of both parties and the TPP of the ALP (since the Coalition TPP is just the mirror image).

You might notice that the Morgan face to face polling has been running a little hotter for the ALP than the phone polls for most of the year, continuing on from last years pattern, while Nielsen has been generally more Coalition friendly than the other pollsters.

Next up comes the qualitative data on leadership and climate change.

On the question of who is best to lead the Liberal Party, Peter Costello must be cheering from his holiday bunker having finally found not just one, but two people he is more popular than.

Costello is way out in front on 41% compared to Turnbull on 24%, Nelson on 18% and that serial candidate Uncommitted rounding out the contest on 17%.

65% of people want Costello to stay in Parliament compared to the 23% that want to see the back of him and 12% uncommitted.

The last Newspoll question is the most insightful though – it asks:

If Peter Costello were to become the leader of the federal Liberal Party, would it make you more likely to vote for the Coalition, less likely to vote for the Coalition or would it make no difference to the way you would vote?

While the headline results have 23% more likely, 15% less likely, 57% no difference and 5% uncommitted (the last being a pretty low number for these things, suggesting that the public has a very firm view of Costello) – the interesting part is the crosstabs on party support.

The Coalition needs ALP voters to shift to the Coalition, yet ALP voters have a breakdown of 15% more likely and 20% less likely. If Costello became leader, he might not lose voteshare, but neither does he look like he would gain much based on these results.

Finally we have three climate change questions with 84% agreeing that Climate Change is occurring and 96% of those that agree believe that climate change is fully or partially caused by human activity.

I guess that’s a big Newspoll “stick that in your pipe and smoke it Nick Minchin”.

On the question of whether Australia should introduce an ETS, 60% say yes regardless of what the rest of the world does, 23% say yes only if other countries do the same, while 11% said No period and 6% were uncommitted.

On the crosstabs, 70% of the 18-34 group says yes regardless of what other countries do, 65% of the 35-49 group says the same while only 50% of the 50+ agree. This is interesting as only 47% of Coalition voters say that Australia should introduce an ETS regardless, which hints at the demographic problems the Coalition is facing and how their vote is getting skewed to older demographics.

And as we’ve talked about before, the Coalition simply cannot win without getting larger numbers of younger voters.

All up, this Newspoll seems to be a slap in the face to Nelson, the Minchin led ETS political positioning and the Coalition generally. Today’s meeting should be a doozy.

Elsewhere: Poll Bludger and Larvatus Prodeo.

Posted in Political Risk, Polling, Pollytrack, Voting behaviour | 34 Comments »

Kick the Media Open Thread

Posted by Possum Comitatus on July 23, 2008

OK folks – it’s vent your spleen over political reporting time! :mrgreen:

What is bad, but more importantly why is it bad?

And what is being lost in the process?

What should political reporting entail?

Do bloggers fulfill a role in Australian political reporting, and if so, would they if political reporting in the MSM was of a higher quality? What shits you to tears about political bloggers? While you’re at it, what shits you to tears about me?

What is the future of political reporting and analysis in the media? How would you like to see it evolve into the future?

If alternative media went commercial to take the MSM on head to head for the pointy end of the market (that’s you dear readers), would you think more or less of them for doing that? What would be the pitfalls and perils of such a move?

And name who you think are the better MSM political journo’s and why?

I’m interested in all of your thoughts over this – just try to keep the defo in your pants.


2 Tanners in comments raised the issue of expert knowledge and writers, and how knowing what you’re talking about is always helpful.

On this point, here’s a really good example of two opinion pieces on the same topic from the last few days, where there’s a vast chasm between the expertise of the authors – the results speak for themselves.

Kohler vs Albrechtsen over an Aussie Mac.

Posted in media | 85 Comments »

Oh Please – spare us the Costello horsefluff.

Posted by Possum Comitatus on July 23, 2008

21 months ago, back in October 2006, one of the ALP focus groups had their attention turned to Peter Costello – the results pretty much stated the obvious. Costello was considered the usual things like smug and snide, with some going so far as describing him as a weasel and a creep.

But once that rather large problem was overlooked and the focus group members were forced to find good things about Costello (which is the way these focus groups tend to work) , they thought he carried a share of the responsibility for the “good economic management” of the Howard government and he wasn’t as out of touch as Howard. The former being a coat tail issue for the government as a whole that Costello rode, and the latter being nearly entirely a function of Costello having less years on the clock than Howard had.

From this single finding of October 2006, an outbreak of horseshit has swept the land of political columnists – particularly those of the Coalition cheerleading variety.

To give an example of the types of silliness exhibited by most of the miles of column inches written over this in the last week – today The Oz editorial says:

“The research warned Labor that if Mr Costello was given the freedom to establish his own profile as leader, he could quickly neutralise the generational-change strategy that swept Mr Rudd to power.”

The first problem with this is simply chronological. The research was undertaken months before Rudd took the helm of the ALP. The research couldn’t have “warned” Labor that Costello could neutralise a strategy that hadn’t yet been developed against a guy that hadn’t yet become leader.

So what we actually have is focus group research from one period of time framed in the reality of the events and status quo of that time, being projected onto a later period of time where the reality of that later period of time and the status quo of that later time were completely and fundamentally different.

Focus group research of this kind has what’s called “intertemporal sensitivity”. The results you get from this type of research are based on the political reality of the time the research was undertaken. As reality changes via political events occurring as well as time itself simply passing, the context that determined those focus group results changes.

The further away in time that you apply focus group results, the exponentially larger is the uncertainty that accompanies them because certainty, in this case, is dependent on there being no change in either the political reality that frames the public’s opinion, or time itself changing the public’s opinion.

So the chronological basis for the argument is weak to begin with. Secondly, it misinterprets what “generational change” meant in practice. Rudd being younger than Howard helped win the ALP victory, but only because it was consistent with the general “it’s time for a change of government” theme, which was one of, if not the most common single response that came out of focus group research on why people would elect the ALP – and it came out on both sides of politics, both before and after the election.

The leadership of the government might have changed, but it still would have been the same government, it still would have been the same problem.

The other problem here is what we touched on at the beginning – the focus group research found that Costello was considered the usual things like smug and snide, with some going so far as describing him as a weasel and a creep. It was only after the respondents were forced to look beyond their dominant thoughts and forced to think nice things about Costello that they could actually come up with any.

Leaders can reshape the publics view of them and bring those subterranean “good things” to the front of the publics attention if, and only if, that top layer of association isn’t actually true – the public tends to have a good long term rather than short term bullshit detector.

If we look at Mark Latham, what came out in focus group research was that he was erratic, aggressive and untrustworthy, but underneath those top level associations a large number of people genuinely thought that he had the best interests of the country at heart and that he gave a real stuff about the plight of people.

But the latter message could never be fully exploited simply because the top level negative issues were true.

And that is Costello’s problem – and ironically it’s a problem largely created by his cheerleaders in the media. His Question Time performances were lauded by his lickspittles and they received greater media prominence than they ordinarily would have if sections of the media weren’t so fond of them.

But when Joe Public sees 5 and 10 second grabs year after year of Costello’s politicking in QT, far from seeing Parliament as theater or the making of copy for newspaper columns – they see a smug, aggressive boofhead throwing the type of shit that would get his lights punched out in any self-respecting watering hole around the country.

The good things voters believed about Costello when they were forced to look could never rise to the top because the negative things they thought about Costello were simply true. But importantly, every time they watched the nightly news it reinforced just how true they were.

The whole basis of the last week of nonsense about Costello, that if he became leader he could have neutralised the ALP themes or he could have quickly made up ground in the polling, is based on a gross misunderstanding – or deliberate misrepresentation – of the reality of focus group research and a complete ignorance of the quantitative data we have.

Focus group research is interesting and gives important insights and ammunition for a political strategists – but if you got every major political strategist worth their salt and asked them if they had to run an election and could only have either focus group research or quantitative data to do it with, London to a brick every one of them would opt for the quantitative data.

And what does the quantitative data tell us? It tells us that Costello wasn’t popular against Howard (who wasn’t popular against Rudd), and it tells us that he wasn’t popular against Labor leaders generally.

First, the Newspoll results since 1998 that measures the question of who would be best to lead the Liberal Party:

That speaks for itself. What needs to be noted here though is that Turnbull scored 12 percent for the September 2007 poll in a three way between Howard and Costello whereas the other results were always Costello and Howard head-to-head.

Next up we’ll take a look at how Costello stacked up in the Newspoll hypothetical questions of preferred PM against the Labor leaders:

Two things to note here – apart from the regularity of being thumped by opposition leaders in hypothetical PPM numbers, there is one entry missing. The May 2005 survey put Costello against both Beazley and Crean, and Costello out rated Crean 47 to 28 with 25 uncommitted.

The other thing to note is that Costello did beat Beazley in April 2006 – when Beazley had satisfaction ratings of 26% and dissatisfaction ratings of 61%. Yet by July when Beazley’s dissatisfaction rating was down to 50% and his satisfaction rating up into the low 30’s, Costello again was beaten.

So we have the cheerleaders waxing on about grossly misunderstood or blatantly misrepresented focus group research from 21 months ago vs the quant data over the last 9 years.

Does anyone really need to buy a vowel here to figure out which one is the most likely?

The cheerleading commentators better be careful lest they get what they wish for and Costello comes back to lead the Libs.

Posted in spin, Voting behaviour | 41 Comments »

Pollytrack week ending July 19

Posted by Possum Comitatus on July 21, 2008

With todays ACNielsen out showing an ALP TPP lead of 54/46 coming off the back of primaries running 43/40 the same way, we have the numbers to crunch where the Pollytrack was sitting at the end of last week. (WordPress was having a bit of a hiccup when I posted this and some of the images weren’t showing – it’s only a temporary problem)

The ALP primary vote is slowly but surely grinding down, mostly going to third parties and mostly to the Greens at that, with a small and jittery growth in the Coalition primary vote over time. Since we started the series in the week ending May 17th, the ALP Primary has dropped from 46.6 % down to 43.9% while the Coalition has lifted from 37.4 % to 38.9 %. Currently the minimum MoE on this baby sits at 1.56%.

The two party preferred chart shows a similar but slightly less dramatic pattern with the ALP TPP having reduced from 57.2 % down to 55% where it sits today.

Moving along to the Loess Allpolls charts, where we throw in every poll by the three major pollsters and run a local regression through it as the line of best fit we get:

The Pollytrack and Loess Allpolls series are tracking each other almost identically with the current values of the regression lines being identical to those of the Pollytrack series to 1 decimal place – except for the Coalition primary vote where the regression line has it on 38.4 % rather than the 39.6 % of Pollytrack.


The US Election page has been updated for the current Intrade data. This is where the State by State outlook stands at the moment.

And this spiffy toy for the US election is worth a play with (thanks to EC for the heads up)

Posted in Polling, Pollytrack | 12 Comments »

Some carbon is more equal than others.

Posted by Possum Comitatus on July 17, 2008

It’s a funny world aint it?

One of the fundamental points of having something like a carbon market is to let carbon (or more particularly, carbon emissions resulting from the production of some good or service) to flow to their highest value use.

Those producing higher value goods and services can afford to pay more for the carbon emissions their products create. If all energy inputs were based on their production costs and we wanted to reduce emissions, we’d simply increase the price of carbon permits and let the market sort out the details of which energy source to use for what, in order to provide a good or service that the public demanded. Innovation works best when all things are equal. We’d truly have a system where our goods and services were anchored to the costs of our carbon emissions.

But we don’t have such a system – we have one where some carbon is more equal than others.

Coal is more equal than petrol for instance.

Petrol has a great big excise whacked on it whereas coal has nothing of the sort. If we were really serious about reducing our emission levels, we’d treat all carbon equally and encourage innovation, we’d encourage carbon emissions to flow to their highest value use and we’d have a really easy lever at our disposal to push the market – the price of a carbon emissions permit.

But we don’t live in an ideal world.

It’s a pity we don’t, as the intertubes would have been pretty funny today.

In that ideal world, the Green Paper on the ETS wouldn’t have stated that petrol excise would merely be cut cent for cent to match the increase in costs caused by carbon emissions permits – nope. In an ideal world, the Green Paper would have stated that excise would be abolished.

Imagine the headlines in the newspapers this morning:

“Rudd to slash petrol by 30 cents a litre!”

Imagine the cheering in the streets.

Then imagine the wrist slashing and outrage by the carbon emissions hardliners on the intertubes – they had conniptions over the matching cent for cent excise reduction, the complete removal of excise would have been quite the spectacle! :mrgreen:

It might seem a bit counter-intuitive – how would reducing the price of petrol reduce emissions I hear you ask?

It would create a level platform on which all energy sources compete equally, controlled only by the price of carbon that we set through our emissions permits. As we move through time and increase the carbon price by reducing permit numbers (or increasing their price), the best energy source – which would be the most efficient energy source for any given job – would prevail. The more efficiency we allow, the higher the cost of our carbon permits can be, the lower our total emissions would be, and the smaller our (meaning you and me) total costs to reach those reduced emissions would be.

Markets work, especially when they’re allowed to.

We’d pay more for electricity, we’d pay less for petrol – but only as a result of carbon costs being equalised. Once that happened, once that equalisation washed through the system we’d then be in a position to do carbon emissions reduction properly.

But we don’t live in an ideal world.

We live in one where politics matter – and politics matters on petrol.

It matters for governments because excise provides a big chunk of their revenue, and it matters to consumers because everywhere you drive and everytime you fill up the tank of your Tarago (with obligatory wheelchair and five kids in the back in need be), all you can see are these great big signs pointing our exactly how much the stuff went up compared to last week.

It’s the price visibility of petrol that makes it so sensitive to consumers, and the slush fund it gives to Treasury that makes it so sensitive for governments.

The matching excise cuts for petrol work on the politics – it’s a relatively small cost, it removes petrol from being the bugbear of the system when it comes to public support and it strengthens the possibility of Labor actually getting a system through the Senate because it opens up two possible routes for the legislation to be passed.

The Coalition has their petrol populism taken out from under them and brings them, nay forces them to the table if they want to look like a credible alternative government, Xenophon and Fielding have their own version of the same petrol populism addressed bringing them into the game – and that leaves the Greens. They will be forced to either accept it for the greater good of actually having an emissions trading system, or refuse to accept it and look like a bunch of isolated extremists.

Which should serve as a warning for the Greens; if they play politics in the Senate and try to block any eventual ETS on the basis of the excise cut, a measure that will be popularly supported across the country, they will be massacred by the press and by the electorate. The Greens will, for the first time in a long time, have to start owning the responsibility of their actions.

The overall document is pretty much an acceptable starting gun for a major long term reform – there’s nothing in it to really scare the horses now that petrol has been dealt with, there’s little in it that can be used as a political beat up by the Opposition parties, it’s pretty timid in what it sets out to achieve – meaning change is incremental, something usually necessary to bring the public on the journey. It also seems flexible enough to be easily modified to fit into any broader international carbon architecture should it eventually be developed.

I couldn’t actually find any seriously problematic issues here for the ALP on the politics of it – anyone else have a view?

There are a few stranger bits in it – the direct assistance to the shareholders of coal powered generators on the basis that the policy change will affect their asset values looks a bit of a sop. Actually, it looks quite pathetic. I’m sure the NSW government being a major owner of generators and caught in a shitfight trying to flog them off had nothing to do with it.

[I’ve had my mind changed on this – see Labor Outsider’s at comment number 6 ]

But what really stood out for me was the absence of focus on creating offsets to carbon emissions. Wouldn’t an ideal system of carbon trading have at least some focus on the capability to create carbon permits through initiatives that lock carbon up? I understand this is done through Kyoto, but I’m surprised it wasn’t treated more solidly in the Green Paper.

Humanity’s greatest material capability is figuring out how to produce more stuff cheaper while making a buck out of it – I would have liked to see a little more focus on facilitating that regarding carbon storage, and not just the usual geosequestration and forest sinks, but an actual set of proposed benchmarks that would tell the market what needs to be achieved in order to bring a carbon abatement product to the market, what that market is (if there is one) and how those products would interact more directly with emissions trading. I thought the carbon capture and storage coverage suffered a bit too much tunnel vision – or have I just read that part of the report wrong?

Focusing a little more on net emissions rather than mostly on gross emissions would have been a more fruitful approach I would have thought, particularly for the early transition years.


For those folks that dont read the comments, it’s probably worth doing here – as is often the case, the comments are far more interesting than the article.


Peter Hartcher over at the SMH makes the same, dreadful mistake that too many people are making on “The Big Question”.

He says:

The trick to easing the strains on Earth’s natural systems is to develop ways of allowing economies to grow in a way that does not generate ever-increasing resource intensity. Countries have to be able to get richer without sucking in ever-greater volumes of energy and water and food. And without pumping out ever-growing amounts of carbon and pollution. The human race needs to work out how to break the link between economic growth and resource-intensity.

No no no NO! Being half right is still being entirely wrong!

Energy drives standards of living, period. Conserving energy solves nothing, absolutely nothing at all – it merely delays the need (and not very well at that) to substitute those energy sources that have large externalities with other, better energy sources that have smaller externalities.

We don’t want less energy.We want, nay we need MORE energy, lots more energy and we need it cheaper over the longer term than it is today once the costs of externalities (like carbon emissions) are accounted for in the per unit costs of energy produced.

The biggest danger for climate change policy in western nations (and it really is only western nations – China, for instance, wont have a bar of this silliness) is that we fall for the line that less energy (or less food for that matter) is “better”.

It’s the wrong answer to the wrong question that if taken seriously will put us a decade behind where we should, and will inevitably end up in policy terms.

Posted in Uncategorized | 58 Comments »

Newspoll, Pollytrack, Satisfaction Ratings and the Greens.

Posted by Possum Comitatus on July 15, 2008

Another Newspoll Tuesday, another bunch of charts. Todays poll has the TPP the same as last time at 55/44 with the ALP and the Coalition both down 1% to 43% and 38% respectively in the primary vote.

First up, we’ll take a look at where Pollytrack stands at the moment on both primaries and TPPs. This is the three pollster rolling aggregation weighted by sample size of Morgan Phone Polls, ACN and Newspoll. Current MoE from sampling error stands at 1.56% from a sample size of 3931.

Next up, the bastard cousin of Pollytrack, Loess Allpolls for primaries and TPP. This runs a Loess regression through every poll of those three pollsters, including Morgan Face to Face.

Next up, let us have a little squiz at how the Newspoll satisfaction ratings have been playing out this year.

That kind of speaks for itself.

And finally, we always follow the ALP and the Coalition, but this time it might be worth adding the Greens to this to see how their support levels have been changing over time. Newspoll goes back to 1997 for the Greens, so we’ll just start from there. Note, I made this yesterday before todays Newpsoll came out. The greens are currently on 11% in todays poll.

Who else thinks something dodgy was going on in the sampling for the Greens to jump from around 4% in mid to late 2007 to 12% last month?

The alternative is that many Greens voters played tootsie with Labor last year but couldnt quite bring themselves to actually go through with it on the primary vote, resorting to a kind of preferential love instead.


In comments, Sir Ian Upton, apart from cracking a funny, made a very good point about the Greens vote in regard to Gippsland.

So let’s look at the Greens vote at the last election in terms of which kinds of seats the Greens do better or worse in. We’ll use the AEC socio-demographic seat categories here of Inner Metro, Outer Metro, Provincial and Rural.

If we turn those into dummy variables and run a regression using the Greens primary vote at the last election, by seat, and those variables – we get the following results.

We didn’t include the Inner Metro seats as a variable as that’s our baseline. So what this tells us is that in Inner Metro seats the Greens got an average of 9.79% of the vote (the Constant C value for this regression).

In Outer Metro seats the average vote is 2.32% less than the Inner Metro vote, in the Provincial seats the vote was on average 1.81% less than the Inner Metro Green vote, and in Rural seats the Greens scored an average of 3.58% less than their Inner Metro seats.

If we look at Gippsland, at the election the Greens scored 5.54% of the vote, or 4.25% less than their Inner Metro vote which is around what we would have expected.

If we run that regression again, but this time just against the dummy variable of the Rural seats, we get a result that tells us the Green vote in Rural electorates is 2.29% below their average national vote.

During the recent by-election, the Greens scored 7.04% of the vote which, ignoring any by-election dynamics for a second, would suggest the current Greens national polling should be around the 9-10% mark (7.04% +2.29% ) to be consistent with the Gippsland result.

And that’s about where it is at the moment. So it would seem that the Greens have probably had a bit of a boost in their vote since the election, which is coming out in the polling.

Posted in Uncategorized | 54 Comments »

Climate change rocks and hard places.

Posted by Possum Comitatus on July 7, 2008

This was me in Crikey today. It’s a spin-off of the Coalition demographic trends we looked at earlier.

Voter support for the Coalition has been undergoing a long term demographic shift over the last 21 years, and not a particularly fortuitous one at that. At every election since 1987, those aged under 40 have voted less for the Coalition as an age group than has the country as a whole.

That’s to be expected. That older groups in the country hold up the Coalition vote is hardly rocket science. The problem comes in how that combines with the changing voting patterns of the over 40 age groups during the last 21 years.

The Coalition has dominance in the pre-Baby Boomer age cohort, this group overwhelmingly votes for the Coalition, usually in the high 40’s to mid 50’s on the primary vote, and shores up the total Coalition primary vote as a consequence. However, as this group is ageing and reducing in size through attrition, the Coalition has failed to find new demographics of support to completely replace the votes they are losing, and will continue to lose, as this group of pre-Boomers reduces in total size.

Ordinarily we might expect that people will vote more conservative as they get older, and while this is partially true, these younger groups are coming off a much lower level of base support for the Coalition than the pre-Boomers did. If we play with the Newspoll data provided in Ian Watson’s excellent paper “Is demography moving against the Coalition?” published at Australian Policy Online, we can track how certain age groups have changed their voting behaviour over time.

So while it’s true that these groups are slowly moving towards the Coalition, in raw number terms it doesn’t account for the number of votes being lost in the pre-Boomer generation through the continual reduction in size of that group. We can see this by taking the difference from a number of age cohorts, from the average of the Coalition vote.

Groups with negative numbers are that many percentage points below the Coalition primary, those with positive numbers are that many percentage points above the Coalition primary.

As we can see, only the 55-59 and 60+ age groups are pulling the Coalition primary vote upward, with all other groups over 40 having slowly moved from supporting the Coalition vote to reducing it. The 2007 election may well be the last election that the 55-59 age group drags the Coalition average primary vote upward. Also noteworthy is how the distance between the pre-Boomers level of support and the rest of the community is growing.

For age groups below 40 years of age, they all vote below, often far below the Coalition average.

So we have the Coalition facing a long term demographic trainwreck on their primary vote if they don’t start generating far higher levels of support among younger demographics. And it really is a trainwreck — if the long term trends of the last 21 years continue for the next 10, the Coalition will become mathematically unelectable.

And this brings us right into the politics of climate change and any emissions trading system. Newspoll has undertaken two important qualitative surveys this year, one on demographic concern about climate change in February, and another on the support of an emissions trading system in June.

We can summarise the results in a spiffy chart.

The two groups that have the most concern about climate change generally are the two youngest demographics that the Coalition must improve their standing with if they are ever again to become a government. Similarly the youngest demographic has the highest level of support when it comes to their willingness to pay more to address climate change.

But the big kicker here is the survey results from the emissions trading poll, where the younger the demographic, the more they believe that an ETS will combat climate change, and the more committed they are to having an opinion in the first place.

If the Coalition starts trying to make political mileage out of any proposed emissions trading system, they risk alienating the very demographic groups that their standing must, absolutely must improve dramatically in if they are ever to become a government again.

The Opposition have so far tested a few political lines, trying to angle some partisan benefit out the ETS, but their target here is already the least likely to believe climate change is an issue, are the least willing to pay for it and are the least likely to believe that an ETS will combat climate change.

Partisan preaching to the converted will continue to deliver the Coalition nothing in return, as the converted have nothing to give.

Workchoices will already hang around the necks of the Coalition like a piece of smelly roadkill for the under 40s for years to come — partisan games over climate change risks kissing that demographic goodbye, and with it any chance of government for a considerable period.

The Coalition might believe that their base is important, but pandering to that base is simply an exercise in palliative care for their primary vote over the long term.

Posted in Crikey | 36 Comments »

Updates here and there.

Posted by Possum Comitatus on July 7, 2008

The US Election page has been updated with the latest Intrade data and I had an article in Crikey today similar to the post on the changing demographics of Coalition support, but I also had this chart in there which sums up the last two Newspolls on climate change and views over an emissions trading system. Worth looking at in the context of the demographic changes and their consequences for political positioning – especially in terms of how the Coalition needs to pick up younger voters.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

The Coalitions’ Demographic Train Wreck

Posted by Possum Comitatus on July 6, 2008

Back in March over at Australian Policy Online, Ian Watson published a really interesting paper titled “Is demography moving against the Coalition? ”, which was an update of a larger, earlier paper that added new results for the 2007 election period. What Ian Watson did was use Newspoll figures to look at the way different age groups have been changing their voting intention patterns over the period of 1987 through to the present.

What is really interesting about this paper is the dataset it contains at the end – age profile breakdowns on primary voting intention going all the way back to 1987 when Newspoll first started.

It doesn’t take long playing around with the data to realise that, putting it bluntly, the Coalition is facing a demographic train wreck of catastrophic proportions. It isn’t some short term problem that just appeared at the last election and which could easily be dealt with by a bit of vote targeting. Far from it, the impending train wreck is the result of a long slow demographic assault on the Coalitions’ primary vote that has been happening for at least 21 years.

They are losing ground among all age groups under 60, their only strong voting age demographic, the pre-Boomer over 60’s, are declining in number through attrition and will start being replaced by more Labor oriented Boomers over the next decade. As we will see, this pre-boomer demographic is carrying a large weight of the Coalition’s voter support. When that vote becomes neutralised by boomers moving into the 60+ age group, which is expected to occur sometime around 2018-2020, the Coalition primary vote will have lost around 4 to 5 points, perhaps a little more, should prevailing long term trends continue for the next 10-15 years in the same way they’ve played out for the last 21 years.

First up, we’ll just repeat what Ian Watson did and show how various age group voting intentions have been running for the Coalition at each election period since 1987 to give us a bit of a feel for the data. This data is Newspoll data, so the average Coalition primary vote result will be slightly different from the primary vote result that they achieved at each election, simply because of sampling error and late movement, but not by a great deal – it works out as an average of 1.47% mean absolute error.

As there are quite a few age cohorts here, we’ll split the demographics into two groups; the under 40’s and the over 40’s and we’ll also add the average Coalition primary result as well to show which groups are under and over that average.

Notice here that all groups under 40 have had a voting intention less than the average Coalition voting intention for every election since 1987.

Here it starts to get interesting. Up to and including the 1993 election, all groups over the age of 40 supported the Coalition to levels higher than the Coalition average support. But in 1996, the 40-44s were voting under the average, in 1998 the 40-49s were voting under the average, by 2001 it became the 40-54s all voting under the average and by 2007, the 55-59 group was voting just slightly above average but will probably vote below average next election and beyond.

If we play around with the data a bit and subtract the average Coalition primary vote estimate from each age cohorts’ support level for the Coalition, it shows this in starker terms. So, for instance, if the Coalition average was 40% and a particular demographic had only 36% support for the Coalition, they’d get a score of -4.

Again, we’ll do it for both the under 40’s and over 40’s.

From these two charts we can see that it is the over 60’s that are really carrying the weight of Coalition average support here. As the levels of support for the Coalition decline in younger cohorts, it drags down the average Coalition vote, leaving the Coalition more and more reliant on that over 60’s group to shore up their vote. But the problem here is that the over 60’s group is just about to be flooded with Baby Boomers, which will start reducing the Coalition dominance in their most important age cohort.

We can see how this might play out if we use the Newspoll data to track how people born between certain years have behaved over the last 21 years. The problem we have with the data here is that the age groups we’ll track don’t perfectly fit into the age classifications we have – but we can get pretty close on a number of elections. For instance, if we track the 25-29 age bracket from the 1987 election onwards, in the 1993 election that group would be 31-35, but we don’t have that as an available cohort. Yet we do have the 30-34 which is only out by 1 year. At the 1998 election those people were 36-40 years of age, and we can use the 35-39 age cohort for that and so on an so forth.

In the following chart, each age group is only out by a maximum of a year either side of their actual age, so it’s a fairly decent match to give us an idea of how people born in different years have voted over time.

There’s a couple of things to note here. Firstly, I stopped tracking groups when they got into the 60+ age group because it contains too many different ages all bunched together to be useful, so our last age cohort we can use effectively is the 55-59 age bracket. Secondly, you’ll notice a big drop in Coalition support in 1998 by those born between 1938 and 1942. Most of that lost Coalition vote went to One Nation. In 1987 that group voted 7.3% for minor parties and independents, in 1993 it was 6.5%, but in 1998 it was a big 17.3%. In 2001 that vote would have jumped back up to 50+% for the Coalition.

As you can see, those early Boomers born between 1948 and 1952 vote for the Coalition in substantially less numbers than do the older age groups – yet this group has just started to turn 60 this year. By the next election nearly all of that group will be over 60, by the election after that, the 1953-1957 boomers will be starting to turn 60. As time goes on, the Coalitions hold on that over 60 demographic gets further washed out, especially since many of the pre-boomer Coalition supporters in the 60+ group will be increasingly dying out.

If we take these same age groups and do what we did before and measure the difference between the average Coalition vote and the Coalition vote for each age group we get:

We would expect those born between 1938 and 1947 to have increased their “difference from the mean” over the last few elections if we could actually measure it with the Newspoll data, but unfortunately we can’t. However, since that group is reducing in number every year at a faster rate than their younger cohorts, it is slowly allowing the average Coalition vote to fall, and as a result reducing the “difference from the mean” for the younger cohorts.

Looking back over all of the charts, the voters the Coalition are losing aren’t being replaced by younger voters, to the point where it’s reducing the total Coalition primary vote. If the trends that have been happening for the last 21 years continue for the next decade, by 2018 thereabouts, the ALP will simply become unbeatable with TPP results coming in with a an expected demographic floor of around 55%.

(I thought I better bold that point)

So the Coalition has to start appealing to much younger demographics or they will likely find themselves in permanent opposition.

Something for them to keep in mind if they start trying to play political games with the emissions trading system and climate change – issues with large support in the younger demographics.

I’ll do some more with this data later, as well as start applying these results on a seat by seat basis to see which regions face the largest political changes, but I thought you folks might be interested to see how your sub-generation has been voting over the last 21 years or so. I’ll also take a closer look at those born after 1969 in another post.


I’ll stick this chart in here as well since it’s relevant. It’s a basic graphic of the results of the two Newspolls that dealt with climate change and the proposed ETS.

The demographics that the Coalition needs to attract are the ones that have the strongest views on climate change, willingness to pay for it and the benefit of an ETS.

It makes the politicking of the Opposition a hard slog for any long term partisan benefit.

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Posted in Election Forecasting, Political Risk, Polling, Voting behaviour | Tagged: , , | 25 Comments »

Foolwatch – The Power of Information

Posted by Possum Comitatus on July 4, 2008

The Rudd government has made a mistake.

Not just a mistake on data analysis, nor just a mistake on managing information flows, nor even “just” a mistake of implementing a policy that has no evidential foundation.

They’ve made a mistake that will undermine their entire policy agenda for the next three years unless they rectify the process responsible for creating it.

We all remember the FuelWatch saga – where the ACCC assured us that their modelling was correct (even though they refused to release the relevant data), where they assured us that FuelWatch in WA reduced the price differential between Perth and the Eastern Capitals even though there were those of us that thought the data, at least the data we could independently scrounge up regarding petrol prices at the time, didn’t really show any such thing.

“Evidence based policy” was how FuelWatch was spun. A noble cause in and of itself – I’d imagine we’d all prefer policy to be based on evidence, it sure beats the alternatives .But what if the evidence the policy was based on was so questionable that the line between “evidence based policy” and “policy based evidence” – that style of political management where data is interpreted according to the needs of the policy rather than policy being designed to meet the needs of the evidence – became indistinguishable?

Professor Don Harding, economist at the Department of Economics and Finance at La Trobe University , was kind enough to give us a peek at an as yet unpublished draft paper he’s currently working on called “Foolwatch- A Case study of econometric analysis and evidenced-based-policy making in the Australian Government

He has kindly allowed his draft version of the paper to be downloadable here and Don encourages anyone with any views on its content, particularly the econometrics, to contact him with feedback via his details which can be found on his page linked to his name.

Professor Harding went through the painstaking task of pulling the actual data out of this ACCC supplied chart that we’ve talked about here previously, in order to model it. There’s quite an irony here – the ACCC refused to release the data for a whole lot of basically spurious reasons, but made the mistake of releasing a graph of the data which determined folk like Don could actually use to extract the very data the ACCC were trying to hide.

What he found was disturbing.

Far from the ACCC econometric modelling that was used by the Rudd government to justify their longstanding Fuelwatch proposal being robust, it was misspecified and incorrectly tested. Their use of the nominal retail margin as a variable rather than the real retail margin is inconsistent with standard econometric approaches to this kind of modelling and their explanations of what their data actually represented were seriously lacking in specificity – to the point where it was difficult to derive just what it was they were actually measuring, how they were measuring it, how they tested it -and this uncertainty has lead to all conclusions drawn from the ACCC research to be seriously questioned.

Don Harding found that on the evidence available to the ACCC, the conclusions drawn by the Commission – that FuelWatch did not increase petrol price margins in WA – is in fact false and that no such conclusion can actually be derived from the data once it is modelled correctly. At most, the average reduction in the real price margin due to Fuelwatch is less than one third of one cent per litre, but could statistically be between a 1.01 cent per litre reduction, through to a 0.43 cent per litre increase using an orthodox 95% confidence interval.

Don also goes to great lengths to point out that it isn’t the fault of the ACCC econometricians here, and this is something that I wholeheartedly agree with. The data monkeys aren’t responsible for the problems here – far far from it.

It is the process that is at fault, and those whom manage that process.

The conclusions that Graeme Samuel was feeding to the media when the FuelWatch shitfight was happening were incorrect, because the modelling he was basing them on was incorrect. It cannot be proven that FuelWatch in WA did not increase petrol price margins.

Labor’s “evidence based policy” spiel over FuelWatch was nothing but political spin – but it was probably not deliberate spin. Wayne Swan no doubt believed that the modelling he received was accurate. Yet the problem was that the modelling in question that became the basis of the Labor political justification was created in an environment of zero-transparency.

And this gets us back to how the Rudd government has made a mistake that will undermine their entire policy agenda for the next three years unless they rectify the process responsible for creating it.

At the moment, the Rudd government is following a very astute and responsible technocratic process for the high volumes of future policy delivery they will engage in over the next three years.

“You cannot manage what you do not know” is the basic currency of good policy development.

So Rudd, correctly, instituted large numbers of reviews and government inquiries to ostensibly gather information and make recommendations so that the government will be in a position later this year to formulate policies armed with information on observable reality.

Despite the bleatings over these reviews from the shallow end of the media pool in this country with their profound ignorance over the pointy end of politics, the army of inquiries and reviews initiated by the government is, in and of itself, a necessary requisite for the type of “evidence based policy” program Rudd has been stating he will pursue.

But the big problem here, and one that will (and I say “will” pretty confidently) derail this policy program is the way in which the Federal government, their departments and their agencies treat third party access to the very data whose analysis often becomes the basis of policy recommendations.

We’ve got this enormous communications technology infrastructure that enables the efficient and near instantaneous aggregation of knowledge and expertise being effectively sidelined and ignored by political and management practices that are 15 years out of date – but done at their own peril.

The gatekeeping of information by departments and agencies used to be possible, having the public treat unseen internal analysis of that data as gospel from which policy was recommended was also generally accepted – but those days are gone.

What has just happened here with FuelWatch, a fairly comprehensive debunking of the analysis that was used to justify a relatively irrelevant piece of policy, will increasingly happen to other areas that are far, far from irrelevant.

The reason it will increasingly happen is simple – there is a greater number of interested policy specialists, analysts and general expertise that is external to government than there is within government. While this has pretty much been the case over the last 15 years or so, what differentiates then from now is that the external expertise can easily be aggregated and organised at virtually zero cost by the online world and the results of their independent analysis can be distributed widely to a very large, highly influential and still rapidly growing audience.

If the Rudd government is actually interested in “evidence based policy” rather than descending into the world of orchestrating ‘policy based evidence’– they need to adopt a data accessibility regime where as much of the data that is the basis for policy recommendations is made available to the wider public at the earliest possible time in the policy development cycle. Likewise, departmental and agency analysis must be released publically for scrutiny.

The FuelWatch saga is the perfect example of the need for such a data treatment regime.

Under an “evidence based policy” approach, the government wouldn’t have stated that FuelWatch was going to be implemented; they would have said that here is one possible proposal – will it work?

Then they would not only have commissioned the ACCC to do research, but made the relevant data publically accessible at the same time. This way, the external expertise would have had their say, it would have been in the public domain getting refined, praised or smashed under the burden of scrutiny, and the best pieces of research would have been propelled to the top of the pile under the power of their own merit -all before the ACCC research was completed.

If the full ACCC research was then released for public scrutiny once it was finished, the larger external expertise would have not only highlighted the inaccuracies and poor methodology of the ACCC analysis, but highlighted independent competing analysis that would have killed off a poor policy initiative before it was ever implemented.

Yet now the government is facing the ultimate embarrassment of not only getting slugged because the ACCC analysis on which they relied was wrong, but also from having to wear analysts, and consequently the media, pouring big buckets on the policy in the near future when the results of the policy will be measured and most likely demonstrated to be a failure.

The two benefits of this approach to third party data access are simple. Firstly, it’s a far superior political risk-management approach. The worst thing a government can do is implement a policy that becomes a failure – making the data whose analysis becomes the basis of policy recommendations publically accessible not only increases the likelihood that poor data analysis and modelling will be fingered before it gets a chance to pollute government policy (as well as being widely publicised as doing just that), but also provides the government with a zero cost alternative resource from which they can pinch and co-opt the better bits at their leisure.

Secondly, the competitive effects between internal and external analysis will reduce lazy analysis or analysis tweaked to favour certain agendas unrelated to actual policy outcomes, particularly from government departments and agencies which, as a result of basic human nature, often get influenced by random bouts of empire building and inter-agency and inter-departmental pissing contests.

The big excuse that always gets dragged out about now on why such a thing cant happen, that the government doesn’t have the resources nor time to review the external analysis, is usually said by people that have close to zero understanding of the way the crowdsourcing of information in today’s technology and communications rich environment actually works in practice.

The agencies and departments won’t have to follow the external debate – the external debate will make itself known quite comprehensively when departments get it wrong, and when better ideas are available. At the end of the day, while there may be large volumes of expertise available external to the government – in reality only a small amount will be deployed on any given piece of data or policy, with larger amounts being deployed critiquing that external analysis which is where the value of distributed and aggregated knowledge comes in. The government simply won’t be flooded with hundreds, let alone thousands, of competing pieces of data analysis – they’ll just be made aware of the best few, which is really all it takes.

If the government believes that evidence based policy is truly desirable, then they need to open up the relevant data to third party access. Policy development in this country will be far better for it, the quality of public debate will be far better for it and over the longer term, the political fortunes of the government will be far better for it.

I encourage everyone to have a squiz at Professor Don Harding’s draft paper (and it is only a draft paper at this stage) – even though some of it is econometrics heavy, most of it isn’t, and it makes for a damn fine read about the key issues that surround “evidence based policy” and it’s possible pitfalls when not undertaken properly.

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Posted in General Economics, general politics, Political Risk | 30 Comments »

Newspoll Quarterly Breakdown – 2008 1st Edition

Posted by Possum Comitatus on July 3, 2008

The Newspoll Quarterly aggregation has been released in The Oz, so continuing on from last year, it’s probably about time we updated it. I’ve changed it around from what you might remember seeing last year so that it’s now classified by party rather than by government/opposition to give it some consistency.

First up, primary votes of the ALP and Coalition by State from 1996 through to second quarter 2008.

WA is still holding up as the strongest Coalition State with NSW and SA being the ALPs’ strongest on 49% a pop.

Next up, the two party preferred. Because Newspoll doesn’t have a full series of TPP breakdowns by State, we’ll just do from the beginning of 2004 onward.

What’s notable here is that the Coalition is currently recording its lowest TPP vote since 2004 in WA, while the ALP is recording its highest ever TPP vote in South Australia. Does that hint about the potential results in the Mayo by-election?

Probably not.

Moving right along to demographics, we have primary vote age breakdowns for the ALP and Coalition.

Worth looking at here is the slight erosion in ALP support by the 18-34 cohort over the last 12-18 months, unlike the 50+ group whose support for the ALP has been rock solid around 45% , which is the highest it’s ever been for this age cohort for over 30 years from what I can tell using the old gallup polls.

Also interesting is that the Coalition vote share of the 50+ group is showing a long term decline, consistent with increasing number of boomers moving into that age bracket, and the size of the Coalitions strongest demographic – the pre-boomers- slowly reducing in number through attrition. Big consequences there for the long term vote share of the Coalition, but that’s an argument for another day.

Finally we’ve got primary votes by gender and capital/non-capital city.

There’s something interesting happening with the Coalition non-capital city vote. In 12 years it’s reduced from 55 down to 38, reflecting the rapidly changing demographics of provincial seats, particularly coastal seats and particularly those in Queensland and NSW. Along with age group dynamics, it’s the other nasty long term trend running against the Coalition.

But it’s not all roses for the ALP – their female vote looks a little softish, which surprised me a bit as I thought it would be the other way around. Maybe Nightwatchmans’ Emo Man routine, with his verbal props of Tarago owning families with five kids and a wheelchair in the back, resonates with females more so than males.

Then again, probably not if you take a squiz at the results of the Petrol Price Newspoll.

So folks, any views on why females seem to be a little softish for Labor and why Nelson has been lifting his support there a bit?

Over the weekend I’ll try to update the satisfaction ratings breakdowns and put up a permanent page for the Newpoll Quarterly poll. Also some excellent stuff on Fuelwatch by a prominent economist which also gets into the really important issue of public accessibility to government data if “evidence based policy” is to be anything more than piss and wind in an era when there is more analysis capability outside of the government system than there is in it.

So I’ll be a bit busy over the next few days – I’ve got some Possums Box posts backing up that I probably won’t be able to get to until the weekend (apologies to the authors) and I also have to apologise for being a bit slack on my email this week. Does anyone know where I can buy a few 29 hour days by any chance?


Newspoll quarterly doesnt let us break down the composition of the minor party vote over a long period, so instead all we have is the “Others” vote. This is what their State by STate, age cohort and gender and location breakdown looks like.


Here’s something for the oncer brigade and other MSM peddlers of random bits of stuff plucked from dark orifices to think about. Partisan political support is largely about long term demographic positioning and slow grinding movements. When an election campaign is launched, it can shift a bit of the variability of the vote around a given longer term support level, but the further away from that mean line a campaign tries to shift support in a very short time, the more difficult it becomes. It takes a Tampa type event to move the trend quickly.

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Posted in Uncategorized | 14 Comments »