Friday, 5 December 2014

Gone Fishing

T’was the night before a by-election in the seat of Fisher, and a prediction was thus due. The problem with by-elections are that you get the result 100% right or 100% wrong, which in a close race either massively exaggerates or conceals the actual value of the predictions. For this reason I won’t be comparing my prediction to any baseline, although the vote itself will still count towards the blog’s tally whenever I get around to updating it.

Also due to the all-in or all-out nature of the prediction, a lot of sources that typically toe the “it’ll be a close race, let’s wait and see what happens” line have flipped off their psephological perches.

It’s been one of those elections…
ABC state news has tonight tentatively backed Liberal candidate Heidi Harris to win. The Advertiser seems to be leaning that way too. is backing first-time Independent Dan Woddyatt which would normally be quite a gutsy bet, but is probably pretty sound. And everyone keeps saying that Labor will put up a strong contest, although no one will touch the idea of an ALP victory with a 10-foot poll. (Hahaha. Poll.)

There is some dubious polling available for the seat. The Advertiser sampled 400 voters to produce this little gem:

which is particularly uninformative despite what The Advertiser assures is a sufficient sample size. The lack of detailed survey methodology, demographic breakdown or any of the basic standard requirements for a meaningful poll aside, it demonstrates only that preferences are going to play a huge role and provides absolutely no data on preferences.

Polls apart

So, on a first-past-the-post count the Liberals would win this. Their primary vote is the highest, but not enough to win outright, so it comes down to preferences. One bad way to estimate preference flows is to assume that voting preferences are a series of independent probabilities; in other words if a three-party race splits the vote 4:3:2, the 2/9ths of voters that go to second preference will split 4:3 in accordance with all the other votes. In such a scenario there is no real difference between preferential voting and first-past-the-post and the Libs would win Fisher. Obviously, though, some parties (and Independents) are more closely aligned than others, so this rarely works.

We could look at how preferences flowed last election and approximate something similar, but the comparison is a poor one. The issues are different. The campaign is different. Television channels are not plastered with grainy black-and-white scare campaigns. The last election saw long-term Independent Bob Such outpoll the Liberals on their primary vote; now the Libs lead the field against three independents and several minor party reps. Malwina Wyra, the Greens candidate, is the only candidate from the March election also running this time.

The other option is one of broad generalisation. One major theme of the campaign has been the value of an Independent representative traded off against the power of a candidate with party backing when they come to the negotiating table. The Independent vs Major Party issue was covered in one of the four questions polled by The Advertiser. 50.5% of respondents thought an Independent would do a better job representing the seat of Fisher than a major party (although the Labor and the Liberal candidates polled a combined 54.75% of the primary vote).

68% say we spend too much on foreign aid. 59% want foreign aid cut.
I’m going to assume that, based on the reporting so far and possibly because of it, people who vote 1 for an Independent will probably preference other Independents pretty highly too.

The Stop Population Growth Party and Democrats are predicted to drop out first, but their preferences are unpredictable. Even if they go entirely to Labor (which is highly unlikely to feature anywhere nearly that high in the preferences of either voter base) who then also scoop up the Greens vote, Dan Golding and Rob de Jonge will keep Dan Woodyatt in a safe second. So long as Woddyatt out-polls the ALP he’ll do very well from the anti-Liberal vote and will be in a very good position to win. This is my gut instinct on how things will actually play out, and if Woddyatt only absorbs Labors primary vote he still gets over 50%.

Of course in the real world, he won’t get all of Labor’s vote. Still, Woddyatt’ll do well from ALP support along with preferences from other Independants, a share of the Dems and the Stop Population Growth Party, and a fair chunk of the Greens. This is despite reports that “strategists in both major parties say they still expect Labor’s more polished ground game to lift their actual vote at the weekend into second place behind the Liberals”.

Dramatis Personae

After Bob Such passed away, a by-election (which would normally draw more contenders than usual anyhow) seemed like a good shot for any aspiring Independent. It also attracted yet another round of attempts from the Stop Population Growth Party, saw the Democrats (now the Independent Australian Democrats) enter once more into the breach, and also has a Greens candidate because the Greens are now making a point of contesting every seat every time.

My gut instinct that Dan Woddyatt will ride a wave of preferences until Labor pushes him over the line is partly based on Bob Such’s early successes as an Independent in Fisher. It is also partly based on the campaign material I’ve seen.

Dan Woodyatt (IND) has primarily campaigned on continuing Bob Such’s legacy. His “party” on the ticket will be listed as Independent Continue Such’s Legacy, and he has the added bonuses of Bob Such’s widow’s endorsement and (as a result of the ensuing news coverage) is the highest profile of the Independents.

Heidi Harris (LIB) has campaigned on two fronts. She has taken the somewhat radical approach of actually listing things she supports or intends to do in her document Heidi Harris’s plan for Fisher to get 50 things done in the first 50 days: Includes 10 benefits for the people of Aberfoyle Park.
This includes:

18. I will help eligible multicultural organisations to apply for a Land Tax Relief Grant
24. I will establish a ‘footpath register’ so people can inform me of footpaths in their neighbourhood that need maintenance
38. I will work with Trees For Life to revegetate local parks

Now I don’t normally comment on policy, but I will talk about campaigning and advertising so I should at least point out that I have chosen these examples because I find them amusing in that they can be done without winning a seat in parliament (and, in the case of the footpaths, are actually a Local Government issue). There are more traditional promises with regards to the Emergency Services Levy (point 1), Payroll tax (13) and road upgrades/bus services (3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 12, 14, 16, 20, 29, 32, 37, 39 and 41). Back on the less predictable side there are also plans for: talking with the fire brigade to make sure they’re ready in case of a fire (17) and let them know when they need more money (27), conducting fundraisers for causes yet to be determined (19), handing out stickers (21), talking about graffiti (26), making a website (28), networking young professionals (34), reading to students at every local primary school (43), helping volunteers to volunteer for stuff (45), taking guns off the streets (47) and planting vegetables in schools (49).

The second prong is an attack campaign (no surprises there) against Labor (predictably) and to a greater extent Dan Woodyatt (okay, maybe there is a small surprise), including a letter from Bob Such’s Electorate Officer suggesting that Ms Harris is the real Bob Such 2.0, and (separately) criticisms of Woodyatt include that he used to be an ALP member, referred to Jay Weatherill as a “Statesman” and lives at Bellevue Heights just beyond the electorate boundary.

This is particularly ironic given that Nat Cook’s (ALP) campaign includes a comparison with Ms Harris, pointing out that Ms Harris also lives outside the electorate. The remainder of Ms Cook’s leaflets that I have seen do not outline her plans or ideals (which is probably unnecessary since they’ll be in accordance with publically available Labor policy information), but emphasises her 25 years as a nurse and creation of the Sammy D foundation after her son was murdered.

Possibly in a completely unrelated move (but also totally not unrelated, given that it is apparently unique to the Fisher electorate) Labor has been delivering its own attack campaign documents, criticising the Abbott (i.e. Federal) government over proposed outsourcing of submarine production, university deregulation, cuts to health and education, the GP tax and petrol levy, backed up by an impersonalised letter from Penny Wong. The fact that none of these federal issues really come into play in state politics is not really mentioned anywhere.
That covers all three candidates polling above 5% of the primary vote, but for completeness Rob de Jonge (IND) is baking on 8 years experience in council and supports fairer fines, unspecified health and education improvements and two-weekly green waste collection. Dan Golding (IND) has apparently posted some leaflets but I have not found any, and conducted an online campaign through low-resolution policy images

Jeanie Walker (DEM) and Malwina Wyra (GRN) are both running campaigns from facebook like de Jonge and Golding, which in my opinion just looks like a lack of party backing, although at least Ms Wyra links to the SA Greens website so you can get some idea of the policies involved. Bob Couch (SPG), by contrast, has a manifesto listed by the ABC as his primary campaign website, where he blames unemployemt, housing affordability, utility costs, health care quality, traffic, high density urbanisation and loss of biodiversity on population growth, and provides his policies ranging from tripling penalties for drug-related crime, legalising euthanasia and preventing foreign ownership of Australian real estate.

While I have not found a lot of additional information on any but the three leading candidates (Harris, Woodyatt and Cook), I feel confident that there are unlikely to be any surprises form the back field. The Libs seem keen to keep Woodyatt down, presumably because if he falls behind Nat Cook and dros out the Libs get a lot more preferences than Labor. Labor, in turn, is prepared to forego any obvious policy campaigning to keep the Libs back in striking range of Woodyatt.

Bonus Prediction

Obviously Labor will try to win, but Fisher is so heavily pro-Liberal I doubt there will be too much ALP disappointment if Woodyatt wins off Labor preferences and sides with the government.

My additional prediction is that Woodyatt will be reasonably happy to work with the ALP given:

A)     They have the power
B)      He used to be an ALP member and is therefore presumably more closely aligned with Labor policies than Liberal
C)      The Liberals have targeted him specifically in this campaign


Woodyatt wins on preferences, and sides with ALP for matters of confidence and supply but will make enough noise to retain his Independent for Fisher status next election.

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