Friday, 3 May 2013

Girt by Sea

Before I get to the main body of this post and my next set of predictions I should take this opportunity to reflect on my previous predictions. Counting has well and truly finished in WA now, and it turns out that the Shooters and Fishers party did not win the Mining and Pastoral seat they were in line for.

I noted that this may well happen in my review of that election, but I can now confirm that I did in fact get my predictions for the Mining and Pastoral region correct. This brings my accuracy rating up to 90.1% which is above my arbitrary "mediocre" threshold of 90% and below my "good" threshold of 95%.


Tasmania does elections differently to (and in many ways better than) the rest of us. I'm not going to go into Hare quota vs Droop/Hagenbach-Bischoff quotas here, but there are some other, less well known differences. For example, federally and in all other states (except Queensland*) the upper house is elected state-wide and the lower house is elected by electoral divisions or "seats". In Tasmania the lower house is elected state wide (which is why the Greens so regularly play such a big role - they garner enough support state-wide rather than out-muscling the Liberal and Labor candidates in an expensive seat-by-seat campaign). The upper house - or Legislative Council (or LegCo) - is therefore elected across seats.

Another difference is that ballots do not need to be fully filled in to be valid. You can always leave your last preference blank, and you never have to list more than your first three preferences. Also, a process called 'Robson rotation' is employed, where the candidate order is randomised between different ballots in the hopes of reducing the influence of the dreaded Donkey Vote.

Like other Legislative Councils and the Federal Senate (and other upper houses around the world, such as the U.S. Senate) candidates are not elected all at once. For example, in the Federal Senate, half of the senators are elected every three years (assuming the Senate is not overhauled by a double dissolution or the like) and serve for six-year terms as a result. In the U.S. one third (roughly) of the Senate is replaced every two years, again setting six year terms. This means there is continuity in the Senate  minimising the disruption of an election to ongoing processes  and ensures that the party makeup is more stable than the lower house, so a landslide in one election does not necessarily give one party both houses.

The Tasmanian LegCo has six year terms as well, but there is a LegCo election every year. The numbers of councillors has changed a fair bit in recent years, but the current system has three seats up for election in odd numbered years and two in even numbered years for a total of 15 seats. (One previous incarnation had 18 seats, and thus three seats up for election every year.)

Being an odd numbered year, three seats are up for election on Saturday: Montgomery, Nelson and Pembroke.

Because the state of Tasmania is divided into seats for the upper house elections, is is not uncommon for safe seats to emerge, and incumbency is reasonably stable. In most cases you expect the same person to be re-elected. Interestingly, only two upper house members are party affiliated - one Liberal and one ALP. One of these is up for re-election.

There is little valid polling available for the LegCo. Many seats are not contested by all major parties (Labor is not officially contesting any this year). When seats are contested, the major parties do not necessarily do well. This means margins and predicted swings - the bread and butter of the psephologists predictive sandwich - are not applicable. Instead, we're going on past voting trends (but without me having the time to put together any variable-dependent transparency arrays...) and other, less reliable factors. This round of predictions is going to be a bit rough as a result.


Incumbent: Jim Wilkinson (Indepenent)

Mr Wilkinson was elected for the seat of Queenborough in '95. In the 1998-99 redistribution caused by the above mentioned alterations to LegCo seats, he was shifted to the newly created seat of Nelson. Wilkinson won the 2001 elections with 48.99% of the primary vote in a 4-way contest, almost double his nearest competitor. In 2007 he won again with 61.60% of the vote in a two-way race against a Greens candidate. Boundary redistribution since then has removed some of the strongest Greens sections from this seat.

Mr Wilkinson will be running against three other candidates on Saturday. Two are independents unlikely to garner enough support to topple the current MLC. The third is a Greens candidate which is likely to be Mr Wilkinson's main competitor. However, given Mr Wilkinson's comfortable victory over the Greens in 2007 and the subsequent redistribution, the incumbent is in a strong position.

Prediction: Jim Wilkinson Returned


Incumbent: Vanessa Goodwin (Liberal Party)

Ms Goodwin is the only Liberal party member in the LegCo, and one of two party affiliated MLCs (the other being Labor's Craig Farrell in the Seat of Derwent, up for election in 2015). After the withdrawal of Labor-associated Allison Ritchie - an active advocate for women in politics and the youngest person ever elected to the Tasmanian LegCo - Ms Goodwin won the 2009 by-election. In this eight-way contest she collected 38.55% of the primary vote - more than three times her nearest competitor (and the only other party affiliated candidate, who stood for the Greens).

Ms Goodwin faces two contestants on Saturday - the Greens candidate she beat in 2009 and Allison Ritchie, who is running again. General opinion supports Ms Goodwin, however Ms Ritchie may yet benefit from her 2001** and 2007*** victories to get her message out and is likely to be the main competitor.

With the exception of Ms Ritchie, however, Pembroke has been repeatedly strong performer for Liberal or Liberal-leaning politicians. I suspect this trend is the reason for the socially conservative campaigns run be all candidates (even the Greens candidate suggesting moderation to her own party's proposed abortion bill).

Prediction: Vanessa Goodwin Returned


Incumbent: Sue Smith (Independent)

Ms Smith actually began as the Councillor for Leven after the 1997 election. She was shifted into the newly formed seat of Montgomery when it was created in the same redistribution as Nelson. She won the seat in 2002 with 51.71% of the primary vote in a 4-way contest - more than twice the votes of her nearest competitor - and again in 2007 where she was unopposed. From 2003 until 2005 she was President of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and in 2008 she became President of the Tasmanian Legislative Council.

Normally this would be a classic example of an incumbent that would be nearly impossible to dislodge. However, I am predicting that Ms Smith will not hold her seat because of one specific factor: she is retiring.

Because it is so hard to remove a sitting MLC, an opening like this attracts a lot of speculation and a few more candidates than normal. This will be the main seat to watch, hence I will go into more detail than for Nelson or Pembroke.

Montgomery, like much of Tasmania's northwest coast, is rather conservative. Liberal candidates would be expected to outperform Labor or Greens, especially in the current federal political climate. There are, however, no Labor or Greens candidates in Montgomery, so in the absence of polling it becomes a question of who the "others" are.

Candidate 1: Kevin Morgan (Independent) has past links to Labor. He has made a campaign around the insistence of his independence which is probably necessary to give him any real chance, yet also distracts from getting any policy across. When he does get down to his guiding values (paragraph 13 of this media release provided on his website) he admits:

"I do have Labor values in equality and social justice, I strongly support Education, Health and Law Enforcement and believe that all these systems must be sustainably supported and run efficiently to attain high levels of service to the state and the community."
I suspect he's the right candidate in the wrong seat, and expect him to place last.

Candidate 2: Leonie Hiscutt (Liberal) is the only officially party-endorsed candidate in this race, and playing the exact opposite strategy. Although the prevalence of independents in the LegCo is generally believed to be the result of conservative voters preferring conservative independents to Lib/Nat coalition members (and non-conservative voters supporting non-conservative independents over Labor or the Greens) Ms Hiscutt is flying the Liberal flag high.

This certainly allows her to bring in more political muscle (although there is a $14,000 funding cap for campaigns in Tasmania, so she won't be dipping into a bottomless Liberal Party slushfund). This political muscle is evidenced by her updates on her campaign Facebook page (which, according to ABC is her main election website). Her formulaic short-post-and-a-photo updates are punctuated by such distractions as:
"My baby was playing for the Two Blues today at Penguin for the seconds. They won by one point!"
"I am just opening the mail and have come across a letter from the Fox Baiting Task force. The letter tells me where the baits have been laid in our area. Would you believe the name of the Operations Manager of the Fox Eradication Branch is Nick Bates!!"
Feigned folksy amateurism, or the result of cost-cutting at every turn? Ms Hiscutt was the Liberal candidate for Braddon at the 2010 Tasmanian Election, and may be missing her $20,000 warchest.

Candidate 3: Ed Vincent (Independent) is a former Liberal candidate, differing from Ms Hiscutt chiefly on the Forestry legislation. Competing for similar voters, Mr Vincent will chip away some of Ms Hiscutt's support; the question is "how much?"

The "forest peace deal" is broadly opposed by Liberal voters in the only polling I am aware of (actually more applicable to Nelson voters). It may be that these people identify as Liberal voters because of their stance on the forestry bill, or they may have adopted this position because it is the Liberal position and they are long-time Liberal supporters. In reality there is probably a bit of both going on. As a result, this polling suggests Mr Vincent is on the losing side of his only point of difference.

Candidate 4: Cheryl Fuller (Independent) is an active and outspoken candidate with two strikes against her. Firstly she is Deputy Mayor in her Local Council. If this sounds like a good start for a politician, I should point out that Ms Ritchie came to power in Pembroke - the lone Labor leaning candidate in a considerable Liberal history - after defeating Liberal Cathy Edwards who was also a Mayor; that Ivan Dean lost his Mayoral role after winning the seat of Launceston; and that the main campaign against Mr Wilkinson in Nelson is that sitting on the LegCo should be his full-time job - the same argument used to thwart Edwards and Dean.

Secondly, Ms Fuller is a moderate, even a centrist, describing her political stance as "somewhere in the middle" and certainly not a conservative. She will probably pick up a lot of the Left-wing vote, though, especially if Mr Morgan drops out in the first round.

Scenarios: I'm going to call Mr Morgan as the first to drop out, with most of his support flowing to Ms Fuller. The three way battle is hard to predict.

1) If Mr Vincent is leading at this point then we will probably see either:
Ms Hiscutt eliminated and (being the most right-wing of the candidates) the preferences going to centre-right candidate Mr Vincent over Ms Fuller
Ms Fuller eliminated with preferences going to Mr Vincent (or rather, not going to the Liberals) for a comfortable win.
Outcome: Mr Vincent elected.

2a) If Ms Fuller leads and Ms Hiscutt is eliminated, right wing preferences will flow to centre-right Mr Vincent before moderate Ms Fuller.
Outcome: Mr Vincent elected.

2b) If Ms Fuller leads and Mr Vincent is eliminated, preferences may flow to Ms Hiscutt with similar policies, or away from the far right and towards another Independent (Ms Fuller)(it seems Tasmanians like Independents in their independent house of review...)

Assuming a roughly even split, Ms Fuller would maintain her lead. In reality a pro-Hiscutt skew would be expected.
Outcome: Tossup.

3) If Ms Hiscutt leads, it is probably at the expense of Mr Vincent. Vincent voters would split preferences as above: perhaps 50-50, but probably towards Hiscutt.
Outcome: Ms Hiscutt elected.

Of these, the general feeling I'm getting is Scenario 3 as the most likely. However, while I will predict Ms Hiscutt elected as a best guess, I am not prepared to stake anything on this.

Prediction: Tossup.


Although the Legislative Council's low news rating means little polling and rough approximations in our predictions, I'm suggesting:

  • Jim Wilkinson will retain Nelson, and
  • Vanessa Goodwin will retain Pembroke for the Liberals

I'm also making some informal predictions, not counted in my record tallies (for the reasons mentioned in parentheses):
  • Leonie Hiscutt to win Montgomery for the Liberals (tentative)
  • Cheryl Fuller to place second in Montgomery (tentative, prediction has no practical value)
  • Kevin Morgan to place last in Montgomery (prediction has no practical value)
  • Allison Ritchie to place second in Pembroke (prediction has no practical value)
  • Tom Baxter to place second in Nelson (prediction has no practical value)

While it may seem a little cheap, and even pointless to call the perhaps obvious seats of Nelson and Pembroke while shying away from the tough case of Montgomery, there really isn't enough data to judge this case and I have been burnt too many times by my hesitation to use the 'tossup' category. However, I have still made my best guess, which is all you would have got out of me anyhow. I'm just stating that I'm not confident enough to risk reducing my success rate on it.

Check back next week for a review of these predictions!

* Queensland only has one house in its parliament
** 2-Way contest, won with 57.09% of the vote
*** 6-way contest, won from 42.87% of the primary vote

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