Poll blackout

The big political news yesterday was a national opinion poll showing, on its face anyway, that Labor would easily win an election held right now. you didn’t see it? I wouldn’t have either, except that it was in my Twitter feed for about five minutes and I happened to be looking at it. AFAICT, none of the major national news organizations even mentioned it. There seem to be a couple of possible reasons for this. One is that some people don’t like Morgan as a pollster (I don’t follow the polls closely enough to have a view on this).

The second is the idea that a result so far out of line with other polls (52.5-47.5 for Labor) must be a “rogue” or “outlier”. This reasoning reflects the fact that political journos still don’t understand stats. It would be sensible to ignore a poll finding if it was the result of a breakdown in sampling procedures, or a biased question. But this is the same poll Morgan has been running for many years, presumably with the same procedures. What is more likely is that, by chance, this particular sample population was more pro-Labor than the population as a whole. Every sampling procedure is subject to this kind of error. But the correct response is not to discard the data, but to collect more, or combine it with existing evidence.

Given four or five of recent polls with results around 53-47 for the coalition, simple averaging suggests that the best estimate would now be around 52-48. A better procedure would be to use a Bayesian model. This guy has done it, and Hey Presto, concludes that the best estimate is 51.9-48.1.

Coming back to the statistical illiteracy of journos, the problem may be put as follows. On the one hand, they know that it would be silly to run a “Labor ahead” story. On the other hand, they don’t have the technical chops to explain Bayesian updating, or even weighted averaging, and to do so would make it impossible to write future stories suggesting that small variations in poll numbers have any meaning.

Even so, I think Tony Abbott has had a lucky break here (as has, in a secondary way, Julia Gillard). The only thing keeping him in his job is the perception that, while he may be unpopular, the LNP are sure to win. Even a single poll challenging that could pave the way for a spill. And if the result were to return Malcolm Turnbull, the outlook for the Gillard government would suddenly get a lot worse.

58 thoughts on “Poll blackout

  1. the trouble with a Labor ahead story is what have they done right lately? hard to stay ahead when you do not know why you are ahead again.

  2. Morgan’s face to face polls are consistently better for labor than their phone polling, or any other pollster. Consequently most people who follow polls deduct 2-3% off the labor vote for Morgan’s face to face. Even doing so in this case makes it a good poll for labor – they’d love to be running even at this point – but not quite the earthquake it would be if a different pollster Morgan phone produced these figures.

  3. If you run a regression line through the numbers from late May onwards, there is a clear upward trend that must be concerning for the Liberal Party. Just as importantly, of you overlay Morgans Government Confidence Rating dataset for the same period, it is up at 105, 5 points ahead of the last Federal election which produced a hung parliament.

    I am just shaking my head at those figures but have to accept hard figures over anecdotal rantings and a gut feeling. What is telling is where that GCR dataset will move now that the Treasurer has announced the budget is not in surplus and that goal has been abandoned. I do not consider this holy grail stuff but Swan hitched his reputation in delivering one and now the opposition will exploit this to the hilt.

  4. @Jim Rose
    Our economy is NOT in the toilet like most of the rest of the world. Labor has enough nous to admit that chasing a surplus won’t benefit anyone except them politically. They are still prepared to spend (yes, spend…dirty word to conservatives I know) to implement social initiatives like NDIS and Gonski for the long term future of Australians. Wake up…we can’t afford to miss out on ‘good’ while waiting for ‘perfect’. Take a lesson from QLD’s disasterous LNP experiment.

  5. Comments such as “nobody pays attention to Morgan” just show the level of ignorance among some commentators. Why would anyone exclude Morgan? Is there something in their methodology that invalidates the results? If so, what is it? There needs to be a statistically valid reason for discounting the result. If, on the other hand, the commentator is discounting it on on the basis of gut feel then they’d do better pulling out their voodoo doll and some pins.

  6. the recent US electoral campaign had the samish picture didn’t it.

    broadcasters adamant that the polls showed the conservative party would do it in a landslide.
    a small voice disagreed.

  7. @may
    It only takes one person to start a change. Bugger the Surplus. Let’s hope the reality of doing what is right rather than hanging onto what may seem desirable rings bells with voters. Obama stuck to his guns about social reform when Tea Party Republicans ran huge campaigns against him and them. You don’t keep apromise if it’s going to harm people.

  8. Anyone trumpeting Morgan’s latest as God’s Honest Psephological Truth is an idiot. But equally, anyone trumpeting Essential’s latest (55:45 Libs) as God’s Honest is also an idiot. As with the recent US election, it is left to experts in the blogosphere to deliver the true picture. This is one of a number of areas where mainstream journalism is hopelessly compromised.

  9. Correct me by all means ‘Edumak8’,

    But I’m proceeding on the assumption that you are what they call a ‘rusted on’ ALP supporter.

    NDIS is a neo-liberal, free-market-fundamentalist privatisation/’market based’ concept pushed by the ALP right to shovel tax-payer $$ into the private sector (and away from the public sector) under the guise of providing for the needs of the disabled. As far as I can tell, it merely amounts to a government sluch fund to spend with private providers – much like Howard did with the CES – to create a few more millionaires (like, eg: Therese Reine) who do very well out of these types of neo-con ideas.

    As for Gonsky, I don’t know enough about it yet but so far it looks like falling into the same basket – in actual implementation if not intent.

  10. I don’t think the media discarded or destroyed the data. I’m pretty sure the data still exists.

  11. I think that if Abbott and Gillard are both leaders come the next election, it will be a very close run thing, despite the blatant partisan campaigning by most of the MSM in favour of Abbott the past several years.

    But if the Libs change their leader to Turnbull (or even Hockey) in enough time before the election, it’s goodnight Ms Gillard, the coalition in a landslide.

  12. @wilful

    Probably correct, but I think they’ll also need some policies if they change leader. Abbott + no policies = fair chance, but Turnbull/Hockey without policies = no chance, for some strange reason.

  13. Call me an optimistic fool but I am hoping on the fact that Abbott is seriously on the nose with women voters. I doubt they will vote for him and his party in sufficient numbers. Julia and her crew are an ideas-free zone (the Libs are no different) but Julia and her mob have some basic human kindness and decency left for the disadvantaged. The others have none whatsoever.

  14. You haven’t considered another explanation, that the newspapers are biased against the Gillard government? It seemed pretty obvious to me right from the outset. The Murdoch outlets have been hunting her down assiduously probably because of her resistance on mining taxes and greenhouse, since the Murdoch corporations no doubt have investments to protect in those areas.

    On the surface your arguments that the papers would not want to publish something so out of line with perceived trends seems reasonable, but to me it seems that the press do manufacture reality and rarely reflect real public opinion. I think they manipulate share prices and sales of goods as well through the articles they publish.

    I take your point that one should look at the content and methods of the polls, and have not done so, so feel free to rap me over the knuckles.

  15. You haven’t considered another explanation, that the newspapers are biased against the Gillard government? It seemed pretty obvious to me right from the outset. The Murdoch outlets have been hunting her down assiduously probably because of her resistance on mining taxes and greenhouse, since the Murdoch corporations no doubt have investments to protect in those areas.

    On the surface your arguments that the papers would not want to publish something so out of line with perceived trends seems reasonable, but to me it seems that the press do manufacture an ‘unreal’ reality and rarely reflect real public opinion. People unfortunately are trained to think that what they read is what lots of their fellows really think. This manufactured perception isolates us from each other because we are unlikely to admit to being so different from the invented herd of public opinion. I think the press also manipulate share prices and sales of goods as well through the articles they publish. They are, after all, nothing but corporate investment bodies and mouths.

    I take your point that one should look at the content and methods of the polls, and have not done so, so feel free to rap me over the knuckles. I’ve been polled two or three times and always felt that I was being quizzed within a corset-like paradigm that left a lot out. When I talk to people around me and ‘in the street’ I get the impression that my views are not all that unusual.

  16. @Megan
    Hi Megan,

    I’m interested in your sources for your conclusion about the NDIS. I have many years as a health professional and the services for the disabled would be hard to outdo in awfulness, although some states are slightly better than others. I have seen what you fear in the planning and environment sector, where whole departments have been outsourced to land speculators with a mechano-leggo mindset, but where do you see this happening with the NDIS? (I’m looking for a short cut because I haven’t had time to investigate myself.) I am also looking for articles about this on candobetter.net where you can get in touch with me via the comments or contact section.

  17. gistme,

    if you trundle through possum then you will find out why Morgan’s face to face should not be considered. Possum certainly doesn’t use them.

  18. @Megan
    Yes, you are wrong. I’m not a rusted on any Party supporter. I prefer to look at and read about policy and the future rather than choose simply on Party lines, or leaders who can be changed at a whim. The sooner the voting public stops regarding the coming Fed election as a Leadership contest the better off we’ll all be, but with the media continually beating this up, and creating hype around it, it would seem a wish in vain. So far ALP has policies which are taking into account a future which is supportive of wider community needs in both the NDIS and Gonski. They may not be perfect, but they are a start, and we have to start somewhere. As I have said before: We cannot afford to miss out on ‘good’ while we wait for ‘perfect’. You may correctly assume that unless there was a massive ideological as well as policy shift in the conservative Party/s this section of politics is unlikely to ever receive my vote. Living in QLD means I will also actively campaign against Lib/LNP for the foreseeable future. I urge you to go to the I Give A Gonski website and read all the info there. It is not the whole answer to Education in Aus but it is an important part of it.

  19. nottrampus, would you please pay attention and read the first paragraph of our host’s OP! It is not about whether Morgan is used by Possum or not, it is about The Black Out.

    If the Morgan poll would be favoring the LNP, guess what would have been Limited News’ MESSAGE on it’s dead tree titels, banners and posters on vacant lamp posts and ajar lavatory doors? Ditto for the hoards of breakfast and talking head infotainment fluffs making waves in the ether.

    And since the good Professor’s post points out the duplicity of rusty media empires .

  20. @Sheila Newman

    One of the biggest problems with the NDIS is precisely what you seek in your question. NOBODY seems to have any details about exactly how the NDIS will work, how the money will be spent and on what etc..

    I’ve tried to ask all the biggest NDIS cheer-leaders I can find. Nobody has the faintest idea of any detail which would suggest it isn’t just another neo-con con to hoover tax dollars into a very profitable niche (for a select few – not those working in this new sector) while providing less to the putative beneficiaries than they would get if the money was simply spent directly on publicly provided services.

    Sorry, I’ll have to throw it over to the pro-NDIS mob to explain why it is NOT a con.

  21. @Megan
    This is a cross-posting of my response to Eleanor Gibbs who made similar comments on NDIS at New Matilda http://newmatilda.com/2012/12/03/can-gillard-get-ndis-details-right#comment-46734

    You raise many points querying the details about how NDIS will work, though some of your issues might be expected to be in the regulations rather than the Act itself. This is early days in what is seen by everyone as a new model of disability support, which will take many years of experiments and iterations to get there. There’s been a lot of prep done already, it’s going in the right direction, it deserves to be given a chance doesn’t it?

    As you note, the advocacy groups are solidly behind the principle:a transfer of power over resources to the people who need it and their circle. Why? Because NDIS is the local application of a worldwide trend to make bureaucracies and service providers accountable to people with disabilities and their close circle, rather than the existing system, which is the reverse. For people with severe disabilities in particular, the decisions of others dominate every aspect of their life, and normal choices are limited. There is currently no entitlement or “universal service provision” for disability accommodation or respite, and these are core human needs. And we don’t want to go back to the bad days of abusive institutions.

    This is why disability support does not need the standardised rules around mainstream education and health provision – person-centred support rather than “one size fits all” is more important. This elevates personal decisionmaking on when, where, with whom and how disabled people live their lives – about accommodation, food, therapies, recreation and lifestyles, carers and co-residents who they choose, and how they spend their time to fashion a worthwhile life.

    I note some apprehension about private providers rather than state employees taking a stronger role, but innovation and flexibility will not come from expanding the role of DOCS, DHSVIC, and other “benevolent” monopolies and gatekeepers. Standing up for people who can’t express themselves in the usual way makes for a wearing and conflict-ridden life for their close supporters, especially if they are dealing with a “franchised” service. There is a useful role which can be played by “private” brokers and providers here who can tailor their services. In the case of my autistic and intellectually disabled son, a privately engaged Feldenkrais therapist was able to reach him and enhance his wellbeing. State-chosen and funded therapists are not always the best way.

    With the devolution of authority over resources to beneficiaries, parents or close supporters, NDIS should allow more responsiveness. IMO, the closing of residential institutions and mainstreaming of education for many disabled people was a game changer in getting acceptance of their worth as people. Recognition of their status as first class citizens means giving them the tools to own their own lives, and NDIS looks like the way to do that. My experience is different to yours but that’s how I see it.

  22. Wilful @13 is right. However we also need to bear in mind that the hard right in and around the Coalition including the Murdoch Press, Quadrant, the IPA, George Pell, the loonies at Catallaxy, etc., will die in a ditch to try to keep their kind of Liberal Party leader, no matter how strong the evidence that it would be electorally rational to restore Turnbull.

  23. @Bring back Birdy at Catallaxy

    Let’s hope so. Abbott is much closer to place the Liberals and their backers really want to go and is in that sense if no other, more honest than Turnbull. He is likewise a threat to the ALP precisely because large sections of the ALP don’t oppose his paradigm — merely the unpleasant PR associated with it.

  24. I agree that Labor wuld be disadvantaged if Tony Abbott was replaced. On the other hand it would be an advantage to the country as it is hard to imagine any other LNP leader who is a dreadful as he is. I doubt that the LNP will take Turnbull back into the leadership fold because he is popular with the people not the party. A replacement will be found elsewhere as the truly awful prospects under Abbott are more apparent; women’s positions are likely to harden rather than weaken in their distaste for his failure to recognise women’s role except in limited reproductive capacity and they will take men with them who are themselves appalled at the prospect of an Abbott led government. Christopher Pyne will see himself as a starter as will Joe Hockey. They will make sure that Turnbull stays in the background.

  25. Thanks for this John. I too only found out by accident about the Morgan poll yesterday – I was commenting in The Conversation when a student made a post about it. I then searched everywhere on the net, assuming it would be top news – but no, as you say a blackout. Not only in the Murdoch press though, it wasn’t anywhere on Fairfax or the ABC. Re the reasons, I’m not usually a conspiracy theorist but I do tend to think that there is a grain of truth in what Sheila Newman has posted. If that poll had been featured in the MSM, it would be a really big advantage for Labor, on the lemming principle. Re Morgan polls. My background is in survey research. I have not looked into the details but the Morgan one is a face-to-face as they say – usually much more reliable in terms of sampling rigor and response rates. My understanding is that a number of the other pollsters don’t even pretend to do random sampling any more – they have some sort of paid regular panel sets that they just keep re-interviewing, very dodgy. Thanks again, I re-read the Morgan results a number of times, because I thought I couldn’t have correctly read them when there was no coverage. If anyone wants to go to the source here is the link: http://www.roymorgan.com/news/polls/2012/4852/

  26. Supporting the question of the polls, maybe what it is saying is that people are not as decided as the surveys suggest. If a different technique of collection gets a different result, it does suggest that reliability of the panel selection may be suss. Re NDIS, the market assumptions underpinning it suggest that it will work well for informed and already active consumers and carries perverse incentives to continue, even increase disabilities to be pass the threshold.

  27. @Edumak8 The Old Left dream that the secret of electoral success is to go left, go left!

    Abbott is as successful as he is by going after the middle ground made up of the working class Tory, and hip-pocket middle class voter who did not like any great big new taxes.

    Abbott saw of a first term PM, and stopped a first term government from winning re-election to a majority government for the first time since 1931. Abbott is the most effective opposition leader of the modern era. that is why Labor hates him. he is a threat.

  28. Jim Rose have a go at defining ‘successful’ in a way that makes sense given Abbotts very low approval rating.

    I can’t speak for Labor, but I totally disapprove of him because he is a stupid man who is doing very bad things for our country.

  29. Julie,
    That sure doesn’t make him Robinson Crusoe. Maybe the big difference is that his presentation is especially antipathetic to the Left, however, if we changed his language and put a cheesy grin on his face and just judged him by his impact, how different would his effect on the country be from Kev or Julia’s. Well, I guess that industrial relations would deteriorate a tiny bit faster, but with the massive population growth, land speculation and unaffordability, how much should we rely on rhetoric, presentation and even policies? Reassure me…

  30. @Julie Thomas Most opposition leaders are forgettable – forgotten by all but political junkies.

    Abbott was the third opposition leader in two years for the Liberals – voted in by one vote. Cuddly old Joe Hockey was supposed to win. To everyone’s surprise, Abbott was a success through relentless negativity.

    Labor give the Liberals free advice on how they should change their leader. That is because anyone else would be less effective – less of a threat to their re-election.

    Keating was a very unpopular but got re-elected because he was strong and he was effective as a campaigner. Hawke was 70%+ popular but that did not lead to landslides.

    Beazley, Latham and even Hewson were popular opposition leaders who never made it to the Lodge.

    For all his failings, Abbott stands for something – even if you hate what he stands for. He gambled and won in opposing the carbon tax. He showed the strength to state a position and aim to persuade people to his cause rather than just follow the opinion polls.

    Gillard is always seen as playing politics, which was Rudd’s undoing too – living for the next news cycle. That is worse that been for something against been against it. Neither have the ticker to be prime minister. It’s the vision thing.

  31. Sheila lol you need to find your own reassurance. My comment was a spur of the moment response to Jim – sorry but I am impulsive – who presents banal analyses at the drop of a hat.

    If you don’t already understand that an Abbott led ‘Liberal’ government would be more ‘stupid’ and less liberal, than a liberal led Liberal government, I won’t be able to reassure you.

    It seems to me, from my position in the world, that the arguments against an Abbott led government doing anything in the way of policies that will provide me with more freedom and the country with more opportunities to cope with the significant changes that are happening, are quite obvious.

    But you have different concerns and a different analysis of the problems we face. Neither of us is likely to be able to see the complete ‘truth’ but… c’mon, Tony Abbott?

    In any analysis of his ‘character’ his ‘intelligence’ and ‘integrity’ and ability to cope with new ideas etc, really doesn’t inspire confidence or reassure me that he has any idea what to do.

    All his ideas are from the past; he has nothing to offer as a solution to the problems I see as being important – the need for co-operation rather than competition, the need for more socialism rather than more individualism, the need for more diversity in the way we structure our social systems.

    Many more reasons I have for not trusting the man but today is our family Christmas day lol and I should be cooking.

    Happy Holidays to you and everyone including Jim and a huge thank-you to Prof for the blog. Awesome!

  32. Yeah whatever Jim. your analyses are from such a narrow point of view, you read widely but you just cherry pick little bits of information, the bits that seem salient to you because of your ideology, and you don’t structure your bits and pieces of knowledge into a coherent argument.

    Are you saying that the leader doesn’t matter to what the party does?

  33. Jim Rose,

    “He gambled and won in opposing the carbon tax”…..

    What th…!

    Abbott won nothing . All he achieved was to frustrate the process of running the country. He prevented nothing, he achieved nothing. And he told a huge number of lies in the process.

    Abbott is a sociopath who should be set aside from politics. As David Marr concluded after studying Abbott at length, whereas Abbott can express morals and integrity, he instantly abandons all principles in the pursuit of political gain.

    The Coalition, in casting Turnbull aside in favour of Abbott have done a deal with the Devil simply to gain power.

    And as for vision. The Coalition have zero. Their only platform is to run a balanced budget, drown refugees, and burn as much fossil fuel as it takes to achieve this. If you call that vision, you do yourself no credit.

  34. The definition of a successful Opposition leader is one who becomes Prime Minister. On that basis, it’s too early to determine whether Abbott is a success or not, although the polling certainly suggests he’s in with a good shot.

  35. @Tim Macknay
    Thanks for the info that Tony hasn’t won yet. I guess it’s just sell the product. “Never mind the quality, feel the width.” Ever heard of “It’s not whether you win or lose it’s how you play the game.”

  36. That is a very loose definition, there Tim M.

    Your interpretation allows for coup mounters, ballot box stuffers, electorate bribers, and in Abbotts unlikely case those who mount massive missinformation campaigns with the aid of corrupt media organisations, all as “successful” opposition leaders.

    No,…I don’t support you in that view.

  37. @eva cox
    Parent groups organising their own support services and accommodation for disabled children in the face of govt indifference was what happened till the 80s; assisting people to define their problems and solutions is the new paradigm. How many more Inquiries into state disability services depts are needed to demonstrate their flaws? When you cede power to others, expect them to use it!

    I’ve been hearing stories for 20 years personally and through the media ( these are regularly reported) of desperate parents threatening suicide, abandoning their autistic or severely disabled children or threatening them in order to get accomm care because state govts are extremely reluctant to provide it. Talk about perverse incentives!

  38. @BilB
    Presumably though, you do agree that Tony Abbott hasn’t yet met a reasonable criterion for a successful” opposition leader, which was my main point. Or does your apparently compulsive need to reject or wilfully misinterpret everything I say cause you to disagree with that too?

  39. @kevin1
    I’m not sure what you think I said, kevin1. I was pointing out, mainly for the benefit of Jim Rose, that by any sensible criterion Tony Abbott is not (yet, at least) a successful opposition leader. I hope that clears it up.

  40. Yes I support you in that assertion, Tim.

    I go further in that I argue that he is not a suitable person to even contemplate that high office.

    In my defence, it is difficult to mention Tony Abbott without being negative.

  41. if you scroll the sidebar of Mark the ballot you will find a number of articles which suggests that on a historical basis the ALP is not yet the dead beast it appears to be. ( great blog by the way.)

  42. @BilB
    Couldn’t agree more BilB – exactly my reaction to “He gambled and won in opposing the carbon tax…” Abbott hasn’t won yet, and this Newspoll may well be the start of a new trend in voters’ perceptions. By the way, there is still no mention of the ALP 52.5/Coalition 47.5 result in any MSM, nor in any alternative media that I can find. Even if the methodology were flawed, which there is no reason to suppose, since when has the media the right to decide which polls we, the public, can see or not see.

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