Saturday, 7 October 2017

The World Keeps Spinning and I cannot Stop It

I was expecting a little down time before needing to update here again, during which I have been working remotely (kinda) in the unicameral state. Yet it seems electoral news is unavoidable right now. Obviously the marriage postal survey is an ongoing story, and one I will dedicate at least one full post to (spoilers, I’m predicting a victory for the Yes campaign). But also local (Queensland) radio is expecting an election to be called any day now up here in the north-east, the NT’s LGA elections are not really on anyone else’s radar but are definitely a thing in this country, Xenophon is pulling out of federal politics to prepare for a lower-house run in my home state--so that race is already on foot--and overseas Catalan’s independence is being probably-not-decided by people risking their safety to illegally vote in Spain while the German election is being viewed as the possible start of the Fourth Reich. In other elections I didn’t get a chance to look into recently, Norway re-elected it’s conservative government, the Swiss passed one and rejected two referenda, Russia held gubernatorial elections and Singaporeans missed out on voting for their president due to a combination of peculiar constitutional provisions restricting this year’s candidates to those of Malay descent and only one eligible candidate standing. Upcoming this month, but also going to be largely ignored by me, are elections in Argentina, Austria, the Czech Republic, Iceland, Japan, Liberia, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Slovenia and Venezuela.

You get some democracy! And you get some democracy!
All of that, and I’m two elections behind in my wrap-up analysis. First, we have a very overdue reflection on the UK general election, and then the New Zealand general.

A very overdue reflection on the UK general election.

Out of 650 seats, I got 78 wrong. That’s an 88% success rate, which isn’t too bad even before you consider the large number of successful minor parties that are notoriously hard to predict. The full table will be in the data dump below, but there is little to be learned from the predictions we got right. The 78 wrong predictions are:

Constituency Prediction Result
Aberdeen South Scottish National Conservative
Arfon Labour Plaid Cymru
Ayr, Carrick & Cumnock Scottish National Conservative
Banff & Buchan Scottish National Conservative
Barrow & Furness Conservative Labour
Bath Conservative Lib Dem
Battersea Conservative Labour
Bedford Conservative Labour
Brentford & Isleworth Conservative Labour
Brighton Kemptown Conservative Labour
Bristol North West Conservative Labour
Bury North Conservative Labour
Caithness, Sutherland & Easter Ross Scottish National Lib Dem
Canterbury Conservative Labour
Cardiff North Conservative Labour
Carshalton & Wallington Conservative Lib Dem
Ceredigion Lib Dem Plaid Cymru
City of Chester Conservative Labour
Coatbridge, Chryston & Bellshill Scottish National Labour
Colne Valley Conservative Labour
Copeland Labour Conservative
Crewe & Nantwich Conservative Labour
Croydon Central Conservative Labour
Derby North Conservative Labour
Dewsbury Conservative Labour
Ealing Central & Acton Conservative Labour
East Dunbartonshire Scottish National Lib Dem
East Lothian Scottish National Labour
East Renfrewshire Labour Conservative
Eastbourne Conservative Lib Dem
Edinburgh West Scottish National Lib Dem
Enfield North Conservative Labour
Enfield Southgate Conservative Labour
Foyle Social Democrat Sinn Féin
Glasgow North East Scottish National Labour
Gordon Scottish National Conservative
Gower Conservative Labour
Halifax Conservative Labour
Hampstead & Kilburn Conservative Labour
High Peak Conservative Labour
Hove Conservative Labour
Ilford North Conservative Labour
Ipswich Conservative Labour
Keighley Conservative Labour
Kensington Conservative Labour
Kingston & Surbiton Conservative Labour
Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath Scottish National Labour
Lancaster & Fleetwood Conservative Labour
Leeds North West Lib Dem Labour
Lincoln Conservative Labour
Mansfield Labour Conservative
Middlesbrough South & East Cleveland Labour Conservative
Midlothian Scottish National Labour
Newcastle-under-Lyme Conservative Labour
North East Derbyshire Labour Conservative
Ochil & South Perthshire Scottish National Conservative
Oxford West & Abingdon Conservative Lib Dem
Perth & North Perthshire Conservative Scottish National
Peterborough Conservative Labour
Plymouth, Sutton & Devonport Conservative Labour
Portsmouth South Conservative Labour
Reading East Conservative Labour
Rutherglen & Hamilton West Scottish National Labour
Sheffield Hallam Lib Dem Labour
South Antrim Ulster Unionist
South Down Social Democrat Sinn Féin
Southport Lib Dem Conservative
Stockton South Conservative Labour
Stoke-on-Trent South Labour Conservative
Stroud Conservative Labour
Twickenham Conservative Lib Dem
Vale of Clwyd Conservative Labour
Walsall North Labour Conservative
Warrington South Conservative Labour
Warwick & Leamington Conservative Labour
Weaver Vale Conservative Labour
Wirral West Conservative Labour
Wolverhampton South West Conservative Labour

Of these, 7 are examples of the Conservatives pulling through against a predicted Labour win, 6 are Conservatives beating minor parties, 14 are unexpected minor party wins (half of those against other minor party predictions and half against Labour or Conservatives), 8 are from Labour doing better than expected against a minor party and the whopping 43 remaining are Labour polling much better than expected and slapping the Conservative party down. That accounts for more than 55% or our wrong calls in this election!

Much has been said of Jeremy Corbyn’s unexpectedly strong polling against Theresa May, in the face of a hostile media. Explanations range from identity politics to economics to evolutionary psychology. But personally, I’m not so much interested in why he did so well as why people didn’t see it coming.

With the election of Trump, the polls appeared to have been flawed by media vilification causing Republican voters to keep their intentions hidden. With Brexit, it has been claimed, there was an over-confidence in a ‘Bremain’ victory that reduced turn out for one side while fuelling protest votes for the other. Neither of these explanations appear to apply in the UK general election. What is of note is that younger generations turned out in large numbers and overwhelmingly supported Labour. Whether the Labour campaign spoke to them, they had resolved to become more active in politics after losing Brexit (as most younger voters appear to see it) or there was some other drive, the youth vote for Corbyn was an unexpected, progressive force.

With all of these inaccurate polls, I’m looking for a common denominator to adjust for; I cannot see one. What we appear to be facing is larger political engagement from groups that normally don’t turn out to vote (frustrated blue-collar workers for Trump, protest voters in Brexit and the youth in this election), stronger political engagement from all sides, and a failure of traditional survey methodology to adapt to a shifting political landscape.

And Now, to New Zealand

My analysis of the Kiwi election was brief and relied on basically estimating the nation-wide vote as a % per party. The actual result was National 44%, Labour 37%, NZ First 7%, Green 6% and others picking up the scraps. This is pretty well on par with our calculation of a mid-40s% National force against a comparable Labour-Greens alliance based on the polling. I, however, stepped away from this polling—based on the recent unreliabilities mentioned above—to suggest the Labour would poll even better than this. Of my three stated predictions:

1) a Labour-Green combined result outperforming the Nationals did not eventuate (58:51 seats in the Nationals’ favour), though I was right on the sub-prediction that Labour would gain at the expense of the Greens.

2) the Labour-Green combined result being sufficient to form government did not eventuate (10 seats short of a majority).

3) NZ First will refuse to cooperate with the Greens IF they end up holding the balance of power; unless Labour can form a >50% coalition with NZ First, they will see NZ First crown the Nationals to public outcry. This is still to be determined, but (with the possible exception of the public outcry) this looks pretty solid.

So, with a somewhat unusual question, I find myself asking ‘why did the traditional, well tested polling methods accurately predict the NZ polling result?’ It would seem the people turning out to vote were exactly those who were expected to. While I had looked at the poll inaccuracies as a left/right or willing-to-speak-out/unwilling-to divides the real focus—particularly applicable to the voluntary postal vote in Australia—should be on:
1) Who is being polled?
2) Who is not being polled?
3) Who should be being polled?

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