Friday, 15 March 2013

Half-Year Exams

The Results Are In...

A full six months – almost to the day – from the Australian federal election and it is time to check how we are doing. I was planning to assess my predictions for the WA state election, and I will, but yesterday we also got the results of the papal conclave. I wasn't expecting any results from Italy until today at the earliest, but now we get to look at all the predictions in one fell swoop.

Let's do the bonus question first, then the lengthy multiple choice section

Don't Cry for Me Argentina:

Okay. Two things straight up. A) I got this one wrong. B) It is Pope Francis. That is all. Full stop. The end. He is not Pope Francis I until we have a Pope Francis II.

Now normally these self-reflective posts are about learning how to form better predictions next time and me parading how right I was. Since I wasn't right and there may not be another papal election for over a decade it might seem a bit redundant to dwell on this. However, I would not be worthy of my place on the blogotubes if I did not get personally offended whenever reality impinges on my interpretation of the facts and try to justify my way out of it. So, like a seven year old who explains you only won because s/he had a sore leg (which s/he never bothered to mention before hand) this is why I am right and the Cardinals are wrong:

Very few expected Bergoglio to win, especially as the conclave drew nearer. Everyone was either backing a European or clinging to the idea of an African pope. Latin America might have made more sense than Africa, since it has a larger Catholic population, but a black pope would be a more obvious break with tradition and would allow easy parallels with Obama. Or so the media thinking seemed to run (because the Catholic Church is all about breaking with tradition and totally bases its choice of pope on superficial similarities to world figures). So there is at least the consolation that I'm not the only one to get this wrong.

Secondly, he's a Jesuit. There has never been a Jesuit pope since the order was founded in the 16th century. There have been Franciscan popes and Dominican popes but no Jesuits, until yesterday. Jesuits do not pursue high office unless ordered to by their superiors. I'm not going to criticise Pope Francis for taking the job – though I reserve the right to tut in the strongest possible way if I disagree with his actions later – it is just that it is really strange to think that a Jesuit would become pope. Clearly he thought that the Church was in need of him, and that the Church itself, and God, were the superiors that required he take up the role.

Thirdly, there was the whole accused of kidnapping thing. It was ages ago, and unsubstantiated, but I thought we were past the age of Popes with shady pasts.

I decided against a Hitler Youth reference here.
Oh wait, no, there it is in the caption...

Again I'm not judging the guy (yet). He is innocent until proven guilty. I just did not expect the conservative Cardinals to take that risk – especially given the current reputation problems the church is facing.

A lot is being made of the fact that he is the first Latin American pope. In fact he is the first non-European pope. After almost 2000 years of popes poping their papacies I'm all for a change. I didn't expect one though. I've already mentioned that he's the first Jesuit pope. And he was elected after the first papal resignation in six centuries. That's a lot of records broken. He has also taken an unused Papal name. The last pope to do that (not counting John-Paul I, who really reused two names) was Pope Lando in 913. That's one-thousand, one hundred years ago exactly.

He lived a long time ago in a Vatican far, far away.
What is it with Popes and Star Wars?

So yes, this was a surprise pope. A decision, I would argue, that was very difficult to predict. But he seems sincere and his assumed name has been read to imply that he will try to rebuild the church's reputation – just as St. Francis physically rebuilt churches by hand. And he may be a conservative against gay marriage and broad use of contraception, but he did stress that it is important to respect people who identify as homosexual and that the use of condoms is acceptible to help stop the spread of HIV.

The surprise is not necessarily an unpleasant one.

Labor Pains

Closer to home (especially if home is Western Australia) there were the state elections. While final counts are expected to be completed over the next day or so, we have enough data to be pretty confident in calling most of the seats. The good news is that our predictions were far better here than in Rome. By which I mean we got over 0% right. In fact, if we assume there are only two parties in contention for each seat (which there aren't) then you would expect to get 50% right just on dumb luck, and we did better than that too!!!

On the latest data our accuracy in the WA elections was 92.45%. That sounds really impressive, but remember you get 50% right by flipping a coin, and a lot of those seats were no-brainers. When Wagin was held by the coalition with a margin of 28.4%, and second place was another coalition party, it is not hard to guess that it will not be going to the Labor party in an election with a clear pro-Coalition swing.

I would say that anything below 90% accuracy in mediocre at best, and you'd need to break 95% to consider your predictions to have been particularly good. So we're in the comfortable mid-ground at the moment, but I'm looking to improve in the short term.
Counting is still underway, with just shy of 90% of the vote counted in the lower house. Since you never get a turnout of 100% of eligable voters this is more or less complete, and very few seats could change hands (if any - I haven't done the maths on this) with the remaining count. Some seats can be called on first preferences alone - in Cottesloe for example the Liberals received 64.6% of the primary vote and win the seat before preferences are redistributed.

Others require some guesswork as to how the voters second and third preferences ran. I am relying on Antony Green's predictions of how preferences will flow for these, which I understand are based on approximate figures from previous elections. I will be developing my own preference predictions for the Federal election closer to the date [Editor: no you won't], but in the mean time these are as below:

Greens: 7:3 Labor to non-Labor ratio
Australian Christians – 3:7 Labor to non-Labor
 Family First – 3:7 Labor to non-Labor
  Independent – split 50:50
(unless something is known about the candidate)
National Preferences – 1:3 Labor to Liberals
Liberal preferences – 3:17 Labor
to Nationals
Directed Labor preferences - 4:1 Nationals to Liberal or Other
Undirected Labor preferences - 3:2 Nationals to Liberal or Other
Labor preferences (North West Central only) - 3:7 Nationals to Liberal or Other
(Non-Labor is basically the Coalition unless there is something going on with an Independent.)

So this is how we'll be calling seats until I get better data, and what I'll be basing this review on. There is no time like the present, and no place like the results table:

Before we jump into the errors (in bold) lets look at the ones I got right. After all I know why we got those ones right (or at least I think I do).

If we ignore all seats over 10% (i.e. safe or very safe) then I got 34 right out of 38. That is around 89½%, and a more reliable assessment of how we did. Not bad by any means, but not mindblowing either. Like I said, it's a comfortable result with room for improvement. Everything over 10%, in fact, is so safe that swings in excess of this cannot be accepted by the ABC's election calculators, and on election night coverage the angular swing graph maxes out. The highest margin seat to change hands (ignoring the retiring Independent in Churchlands) was Perth, on 7.7%, and this was a particularly bad election for the incumbent's party.

Of course, even with such a foregone conclusion, Collin Barnett still insisted the election would be close in order to rev up supporters into a pro-Coalition campaigning (and voting) frenzy. The rest of us knew that the swing was strongly against Labor - so much so that I had all Coalition seats, no matter how marginal, being retained. Polling was indicating swings of 7%, but I knew that it could be much lower in non-safe seats so I labelled all Labor seats under 5% as likely wins for the Coalition and all seats under 8% as too close to call.

This was a rough approximation, and much more simplistic that I would have liked with more forward planning on my part and less technical problems on my computer's. Given the polarised electorate, however, it proved to be generally pretty accurate.

Error. Error. Error.

Even given this, I just want to say "what the heck, Albany? What. The. Heck." I don't think even my best prediction methodology could justify why the most marginal Labor seat in the state (indeed, the most marginal seat in state of any persuasion, excepting Morely which was nominally Labor with a Liberal incumbent) did not fall. 0.2% is nothing. In an electorate of around 20,000 voters that is about 40 votes. Labor was holding on by 40 votes, and did not lose them! In fact it was one of only 4 seats to see a primary vote swing to Labor (the others were Kwinana and Rockingham - safe Labor seats - and Churchlands where the incumbent independent was retiring.)

The other mistakes I made were the three Labor seats with margins between 3.8% and 4.8% (inclusive): Collie-Preston, West Swan and Gosnells. Perhaps I should have stretched the tossup range down to include these, but only calling seats with half the predicted state-wide swing or less seems like overkill. If you don't want to take a view on difficult seats, then why not just give up on saying anything useful, predict Wagin as a Coalition win, call everything else a tossup and claim a 100% accuracy?

Instead, I'm going to do the sane thing and try to learn what actually unfolded in these seats. On election night there was a lot of talk about sandbagging. Seats like Perth with 7.7% margins were changing hands, and little Collie-Preston with 3.8% didn't move because Labor was "sandbagging". Local factors were coming into play as Labor tried to hold what ground it could. Local promises, spending and visits to the area are all traditional sandbagging tactics, where a party tries to shore up specific seats at the cost of neglecting others. I'll discus this more next week, just to keep you on the edge of your seats, but essentially there are several reasons why this might be advantageous. This particular election I think Defence Minister Stephen Smith was on the right track when he kept talking about setting up springboards for next election.

Labor knew it was going to lose and, despite Barnett's insistence, the Coalition knew it was going to win. Labor decided to stop focusing on the unwinnable battle (though not by any means pull back on the attack) and looked long term. By my count McGowan still has 21 seats, two more than Geoff Gallop A.C. won in 1996 before gaining 13 seats for victory in 2001. While this was the largest rejection of a sitting WA state government since federation, Minister Smith was still very optimistic about 2017. If McGowan was indeed looking back to Gallop, then holding on to the less reliable seats with margins around 4% is going to be a good head start. Safer seats like Perth (last held by the Coalition from 1965 to '68) and Pilbara ('74 to '83) can be expected to return to 'normal' Labor positions and would be pretty marginal under the coalition. In short, the safer, re-winnable seats were sacrificed for the harder-to-regain (but still defensible) 4% region.

In future it will pay to give a closer look to seat-specific issues in borderline tossup seats.

Upper House:

Assuming that everyone votes "above-the-line" (which is actually left of the line in WA state voting), the current WAEC figures give the following results:

Northern Metropolitan

2008 Previous Seats: 3 Coalition (Liberal), 2 Labor, 1 Green
My Predicted Seats: 4 Coalition, 1 Labor, 1 Green
Likely Resulting Seats: 4 Coalition (Liberal), 2 Labor

Southern Metropolitan

2008 Previous Seats: 3 Coalition (Liberal), 2 Labor, 1 Green
My Predicted Seats: 3 Coalition, 2 Labor, 1 Green
Likely Resulting Seats: 3 Coalition (Liberal), 2 Labor, 1 Green

Eastern Metropolitan

2008 Previous Seats: 3 Coalition (Liberal), 2 Labor, 1 Green
My Predicted Seats: 3 Coalition, 2 Labor, 1 Green
Likely Resulting Seats: 3 Coalition (Liberal), 3 Labor


2008 Previous Seats: 5 Coalition (3 National, 2 Liberal), 1 Labor
My Predicted Seats: 5 Coalition, 1 Labor
Likely Resulting Seats: 4 Coalition (2 Liberal, 2 National), 1 Labor, 1 Shooters and Fishers

Mining and Pastoral

2008 Previous Seats: 3 Coalition (2 Liberal, 1 National), 2 Labor, 1 Green
My Predicted Seats: 4 Coalition, 1 Labor, 1 Green
Likely Resulting Seats: 3 Coalition (2 Liberal, 1 National), 1 Labor, 1 Green, 1 Shooters and Fishers

South West

2008 Previous Seats: 4 Coalition (3 Liberal, 1 National), 2 Labor
My Predicted Seats: 5 Coalition, 1 Labor
Likely Resulting Seats: 4 Coalition (3 Liberal, 1 National), 2 Labor

This was calculated from the preference flows using this calculator and these numbers as of March 15. In the Northern and Eastern Metropolitan regions the Greens failed to get enough votes and their seats passed, perhaps predictably, to Labor. I was fully aware that I had done no research into the Greens and that this could happen, but those are simple errors that can be corrected by not writing my predictions an hour before election day.

In the South West region the coalition failed to take a fifth seat from Labor, which may be because the Coalition has maxed out its support, something I also mentioned last week.

The real surprise, for me at lest, was in the Agricultural and Mining and Pastoral regions, where one predicted Coalition seat in each went to the Shooters and Fishers. Given I didn't look into the Greens it should not be surprising I didn't even consider the SFP. However, as Antony 'Pseh-God' Green points out, in the Mining and Pastoral region this could easily revert to a Nationals seat with right-of-the-line votes counted - especially considering how many flow-ons the SFP required to get that far (Liberal, ACP, Family First and independent).

In the Agricultural region the SFP benefits from a couple of independents, ACP, Family First and Labor. Even before these it is only 1000 votes from the lead, so there would have to be considerable upset to the flow of preferences to give the Coalition the fifth seat I predicted.

Southern Metro was the only region I got 100% correct. In terms of accuracy, I'm going to use a calculation which is favourable to me but also, I think, fair. Where the Coalition won one fewer seats than predicted and the Shooters and Fishers picked one up, some might count that as two errors. I'm counting it as one, since only one seat was incorrectly predicted (the SFP seat was predicted Coalition).

North Metro: 5/6
South Metro: 6/6
East Metro: 5/6
Agricultural: 5/6
Mining & Pastoral: 5/6
South West: 5/6
TOTAL: 31/36

That is around 86% accuracy. Again, this figure looks good because there are always some givens - such as the Coalition and Labor gaining enough support to win at least one seat in most cases.


In the upper house I correctly predicted 31 of the 36 seats. This could be improved by paying more attention to parties outside the Labor-Coalition dichotomy and by running through expected preference flows to see just how many people are supporting surprises like the SFP.

In the lower house I correctly predicted 49 of the 53 seats I did not rule as tossups, but need to pay more attention to local issues in tossup or near-tossup seats.

I also called the next government/premier of WA correctly (Coalition) for one easy point.

In the papal elections I correctly predicted 0 of the 1 popes. Oh well. Ignoring the easy next premier question this is a total of 80/90. With or without the next premier point, were sitting on more or less 89% accuracy.

Then again, if it were possible to predict all of these votes with 100% accuracy, there would be no point in me running this blog in the first place. Don't get your hopes up - I'll be blogging away for a while yet.

Although on that note, I will be rather busy next week doing that thing again. You know, that thing that gives me money? Anyhow, I wouldn't dream of leaving you unblogged, so there is a post about Western Sydney automaticly scheduled for next Friday. It was written more than a week in advance (before this post, actually,) so it could be irrelevant, outdated and far from topical. Then again that's about par for the course with this blog.


  1. Yeah, he's only Francis.
    Unlike John Paul I, who declared himself that, pretty much requiring the next guy to be John Paul II just to save what looked like (and might have been) an embarrassing clerical (excuse the pun) mistake.

  2. Yeah, he's only Francis.
    Unlike John Paul I, who declared himself that, pretty much requiring the next guy to be John Paul II just to save what looked like (and might have been) an embarrassing clerical (excuse the pun) mistake.