Saturday, 8 June 2013

Aves Et Apes (Et Vespertili)

Australia was federated in 1901, and our first federal parliament was replaced by an election held on December 16, 1903.

110 years on, we are facing a very different election. A lot has changed in the last century. Twenty years ago mobile phones and the Internet were emerging, groundbreaking developments.

Only fifty years ago Aboriginal Australians were not counted in the calculation of how many seats each state got in Parliament. They would not be counted until the passing of the 1967 referendum (although they were legally allowed to vote since the introduction of Australian Citizenship in 1949). The idea of a female Prime Minister in Australia, or an African-American President in the US, were seen as distant dreams by idealists.

Seventy years ago, during the Second World War, cars were still novel and home television was a new emergence.

In 1903, the only one of these developments considered to be plausible in a practical way was the car. And back then they looked like this:

On the upside there was no Fast and Furious franchise;
on the downside, a 1903 Fast and Furious would have been great.

These are just some of the changes that have altered the basics of political life. Most people would appreciate and embrace the benefits these advantages have brought. Politics has a role to play in encouraging this progress, particularly social progress. Sadly, further progress is needed.

Today there are 66 women in parliament (37 in the House of Reps and 29 in the Senate) which is around one-in-three. This is important not only because it brings a diverse range of views and opinions to the government, but because - to compare government to business as many misguided politicians do - repeated studies have shown companies perform significantly better when there is gender diversity in leadership positions.

This is promising, although there is obvious room for improvement. I reported a while back on a study that suggested that donkey voting is significantly less likely if it gives the first preference to a woman. It is not impossible that male candidates may have an edge in Australian elections, being seen as stronger, firmer and less emotional by a small but crucial number of voters.

Da-na-na-na Na-na-na-na Batman!

Recently in the Electoral District of Batman, publicly recognised as the coolest named electoral district in the country, one of Labor's most promising female potential candidates has pulled out of the race. Now, here's a little info about Batman:

Fast and Furious would be better with Batmobiles, too...
Firstly, it's pronounced /beɪt·mən/, but we will forgive them that.

Secondly, it has been around since federation. It has been a Labor seat since before the Second World War, with the exception of independent Sam Benson in 1966. Benson was the first independent to win a seat in 20 years, and had the advantage that he had previously held the seat for four years as a Labor candidate.

Thirdly, in the last election Batman was retained with over 52% of the primary vote. That means a swing of more than 2% might still not win another party the seat even if they get all the other preferences! The two party preferred opponent here is not the Liberal party, or any other Coalition party. In second place are the left-wing Australian Greens. And even if the Greens win the seat, they will side with Labor on most of the votes in parliament. So it is an understatement to state that it is an understatement to state that this is safe Labor ground. Try and get your head around that!

In the past, getting preselected by the ALP for this seat was basically the same as recieving a free government pension. This is less the case with the slide against Labor over the last few years, but Batman is still a much prized seat.

On the last day of May, ACTU boss Ged Kearney was thought to be the running to be Batman's first female member by several sources, saying that she was "considering it". On the first day of June she announced she would not run (again reported by several sources). It has been suggested that she was pressured not to run by the right-wing faction of the party who wish to support Senator David Feeney. If the name is familiar, it is because he was supposedly one of the "faceless men".

I figure they at lest have mouths, since they are able to pressure people into things.
Now perhaps she was pressured not to run. And perhaps that is the reason Ged pulled out of the race. And perhaps the pressure was because she was a woman.

Or perhaps not.

Either way the story has certainly been spun that way. The implication is always that Labor's faceless men -- who put Gillard in power -- are sexists. Regardless of the truth of any of the assumptions, if we accept Kearney was opposed on the grounds of her sex then there is an important question that is not asked: was the opposition to her as a woman the result of sexism in the party, or is it the result of political tactics. Perhaps it is the voters, not the politicians, who are sexist.

If, for example, women polled 3% less support than men - all else being equal - then it would be too dangerous to put a woman in the seat of Batman. After all, if Labor loses the seat then Kearney would not have got into Parliament anyhow.

Now I'm not going to get into my personal feelings on the subject, or whether such polling information would justify encouraging Ms Kearney to pull out. I am not convinced her sex was a factor at all, and I believe it is quite possible that no pressure was applied, since the right would have backed Feeney anyhow and Ms Kearney may well have known that she would have been trounced in the pre-selection.

I am merely interested in the statistical question; do female candidates receive less votes? Already I've mentioned this may be true purely from the donkey-vote point of view, but does sexual discrimination at the ballot stretch further than this? Even putting aside the social equality issue, it is an interesting question purely from a predictive psephological point of view.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

There are some quick stats on gender provided by the AEC.

Last election there were 619 men nominated as candidates, and only 230 women. Women, therefore, made up only about 27% of the candidates. Looking at the two major parties, women made up only 31% of ALP candidates and 20% of the Liberal party. Including the Nationals, CLP and LNQ, this dropped to just over 19% of Coalition candidates. Data for all of the parties are provided below:

Data from the AEC.
However, this may not entirely be the fault of the political parties. Less than 21% of Independents were women, suggesting fewer women are trying to get into politics in the first place. Perhaps politically savvy women feel that they will be at a disadvantage in an election. Perhaps the persistent problem of wage inequality makes running a campaign unaffordable for many female would-be-politicians. Perhaps the expectation on a mother to raise her children while the father works dissuades potential leaders from entering the arena.

However I personally know many strong, determined and intelligent women who would (and will, and do) make fantastic leaders outside of politics. I cannot believe that if any of these women had the specific ambition of entering government they could not at least get onto the ballot. But then perhaps I move in similar circles to the 21% who make it.

In the early days of women in the workforce, the hard part was not getting jobs. Female secretaries and assistants were not uncommon. The problem was moving up the ladder. The glass ceiling. The invisible barrier between women and promotion to the top.

Getting onto the ballot is not the hard part. It is getting elected that is the real contest. After all, the question we are chiefly concerned with this week is voter responses to female candidates, since these may explain the behaviours of parties and the reluctance of would-be Independents.

With women making less than 27.1% of the candidates, and yet over 29.2% of the parliament, it might seem that women have no difficulty getting elected once on the ballot.

Now a lot of my calculations here use imperfect data, back of the envelope calculations and a subjective selection of which parties to include or exclude from those calculations. I am the first to admit that my data is biased and lacks a lot of finesse that you might expect from a professional, but I am not a professional and I don't pretend to be. I also try to announce those biases wherever I spot them.

I am purely interested in developing rough systems that let me approximate electoral outcomes, so I have no problem with people who subjectively choose to take that simplistic stat and run with it. However I want to delve a little deeper and try and weed out some of the other possible variables throwing up some interferrence.

For example, if parties are concerned that female candidates may be a liability in close-run seats, then women will mostly stand in safe seats, and it should be no surprise that they are overrepresented in the parliament (as a proportion of the candidates, I mean). Also pro-women PACs like EMILY's list may help some women across the line once pre-selected, which may counter the general voting trend for those other, unsupported candidates.

Likewise it would prove nothing to look at the percentage of the primary vote women get in such seats. Instead, I'm going to look at swing for or against women as opposed to men. While this won't actually show how women perform on their own merits, it should indicate if support for women is subject to the tides of public opinion more than that of men.

The thing is, I don't thing many people go to the ballot thinking 'I won't vote for A because she is a woman'. I think how an individual votes is a cocktail of many factors, and policy - for example - will normally trump sex.

Here is my hypothesis on how sex would influence voters: if a voter is subject to this hypothetical sexist influence, it could determine which way the vote falls in an otherwise equal contest. If the general swing is against a party, the gender of a candidate could be enough to push the vote over the line to the other side. Conversely, when the swing is towards a candidate, that candidate's sex could be enough to repel some of the wave. If this were the case we would therefore expect to see swings skewed towards candidates of one sex and away from the other.

As I said, I try to announce my biases. In the following analysis I have made some subjective choices regarding the statistics I use, and which seats I look at:

For simplicity I'm going to look at the swing in the TPP House of Representatives vote and ignore any contest where both TPP candidates are of the same sex, or where the TPP contest is not between Labor and the Coalition. I'm only looking at the 2010 federal election, since attitudes to women have changed over time and I want to keep to the most recent data.

Data from the AEC.

Before we start any analysis, a little background on these seats. In 2010 the average magnitude of the swing for all seats was marginally greater than 4% of the voting public. The average magnitude for these seats is in the range of 3.5%, so these seats were less volatile. This does not mean they were safer in terms of proportion of seats changing hands or size of their margins, merely that the net change in voter opinion was not as extreme in these seats as in others.

The average swing against the ALP in these 54 seats is around 2.2. Where Labor's candidate was the female in the equation this dropped to less than 1.9%. Where the Coalition's candidate was female, swing away from Labor averaged closer to 2.9%. In other words, the average swing was in fact skewed toward the female candidates. If anything female candidates perform better than men in elections (in terms of swing, at least.)

Now I haven't factored in incumbency. Nor have I factored in the possibility that some of these candidates may not be the same person (or even the same sex as the person) who ran in 2007 (and thus against whom the swing's baseline is calculated). However it is worth noting that of the 16 seats above that exhibited against-the-trend swings towards Labor, 13 were towards female candidates.

So perhaps that simple back-of-the-envelope equation we did before is right. Perhaps, once on the ballot, women do not struggle any more than men to get elected. It would seem that pre-selection is the actual limiting factor.

Not so much a glass ceiling as a glass doorway.

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