Making sense of the polls

Making sense of the polls

Final Queensland election results: Labor’s stunning revival

Queensland Governor Paul de Jersey congratulates Labor leader Annastacia Palaszczuk after her swearing in as Queensland premier. AAP/Dan Peled

At the March 2012 election, the Liberal National Party (LNP) won a crushing 78 of the 89 parliamentary seats to just seven for Labor. Two by-election wins during the last term increased Labor’s representation to a still paltry nine. On 31 January 2015, the LNP’s record majority was swept away in only one term, with Labor winning 44 of the 89 seats, to 42 for the LNP. Labor formed government with the support of Nicklin Independent Peter Wellington. The other two seats were won by the Katter’s Australian Party (KAP).

Following the declaration of all seats on Friday, the Queensland Governor, Paul de Jersey, invited Labor leader Annastacia Palaszczuk to form a government. Palaszczuk thus becomes the first woman to lead her party from opposition to government in an Australian state. Clare Martin won the Northern Territory election from opposition in 2001, but the NT is not a state.

If changes in seats are measured from the 2012 election result, then Labor gained 37 seats, while the LNP lost 36. If changes are measured from the pre-election Parliament, Labor gained 35 seats, and the LNP lost 31. None of the three LNP members who defected were re-elected, and Labor also gained Gladstone following the retirement of Independent Liz Cunningham, who had been the Gladstone MP since 1995. The winning cross-benchers all won their seats in 2012.

Labor won 30 of the 40 seats in Greater Brisbane, a gain of 26 from the 2012 election. In the Central Coast, Labor won seven of 12 seats, a gain of five. In North Queensland, they won seven of eight seats, a gain of six. However, the Gold and Sunshine Coasts, where Labor had some success during the Beattie years, stayed conservative; the LNP held 16 of 17 seats in these two regions, with Wellington winning the other seat.

On statewide primary votes, the LNP won 41.3%, down 8.3%, Labor 37.5%, up 10.8%, the Greens 8.4%, up 0.9%, and Palmer United Party (PUP) debuted with 5.1%. The KAP won 11.5% in 2012, but only 1.9% at this election. Antony Green has tweeted an estimated statewide Two Party Preferred (2PP) result of 50.9% to Labor; this is what Labor achieved at the 2009 election, and would be approximately a 14% swing from the 2012 election.

Despite the use of optional preferential voting that generally helps leading candidates in Queensland, Labor won nine seats from behind on primary votes, after winning no seats from behind in 2012. Antony Green thinks that changes in preference flows accounted for over 2% of Labor’s 2PP swing, something that the pollsters failed to account for. For example, in Mount Coot-tha, Labor was over 10% behind the LNP on primary votes, but won by over 5% after preferences on very strong flows from the 22% Greens vote.

Labor was actually somewhat unlucky to not win an outright majority of the seats. Final figures are not yet available for all seats, but this table shows that the LNP won Mount Ommaney by 0.2%, Whitsunday by 0.4% and Mansfield by 0.6%. The closest Labor seat was Ferny Grove, which Labor won by 0.8%. The LNP also had a close call against One Nation leader Pauline Hanson in Lockyer, winning by just 114 votes or 0.2%.

Turnout for this election was 89.9%, down from 91.0% in 2012. The slightly lower turnout could be due to the election timing in January and the new voter ID laws.

The Greens won 8.43% at this election, slightly higher than the 8.37% they won in 2009. This election is thus a record Queensland Greens vote. PUP peaked in ReachTEL at 15.4% in July, but only won 5.1%.

Poll Performance

The table below compares the polls’ estimates of support for the various parties against the actual result. I have included Morgan and Essential even though neither were final polls; Morgan conducted his Queensland poll two weeks before the election, and Essential was taken over the three weeks prior to the election. Bold in the poll table denotes close estimates.

Qld poll performance.

The final polls from Galaxy, Newspoll and ReachTEL were accurate on the major party primary votes, but the Greens and PUP both performed better than expected, and the “Others” vote was lower than expected. Essential and Morgan were more accurate on the 2PP than the other polls, but that was because both underestimated the LNP vote.

While the final polls were accurate on the major party vote, the 2PP clearly favoured the LNP compared with the election result. This was partly because these polls underestimated the Greens vote, but the most important reason was that all the polls used 2012 preference flows, and 2015 flows were much better for Labor than in 2012.

In the most recent Federal and Victorian elections, preference flows were better for Labor than the pollsters estimated, but the Coalition’s primary vote advantage over Labor was also greater; these errors cancelled. In Queensland, the Labor/Green vote was underestimated, so the errors on both preference flows and primaries compounded.

Individual seat polls in Ashgrove were accurate on 2PP, but the final Ashgrove polls overestimated the primary vote gap between Labor and the LNP. A stronger flow of Greens preferences compensated for this overestimation. Galaxy individual seat polling in North Queensland correctly showed that the LNP could be wiped out there, but they were erroneous in Pumicestone and Greenslopes. A ReachTEL poll of the Gold Coast correctly showed only a single digit swing to Labor in that region.

I recommend that all pollsters report both respondent allocated and previous election preferences for their future polls; currently, only Ipsos does this for all its polls, while Morgan does for just his Federal polls. Respondent allocated preferences would have been closer to the actual 2PP result in Queensland.

More on Ferny Grove

A full distribution of preferences has now been conducted in Ferny Grove, where the PUP candidate, Mark Taverner, was disqualified because he was an undischarged bankrupt. The distribution of preferences shows that 353 Taverner voters did not select a candidate from the three candidates remaining when he was excluded. The number of “1” only Taverner voters is almost certainly slightly less than 353 because Taverner was excluded after an Independent, and some Independent voters could have had Taverner second, then exhaust; the reverse could also apply.

Labor’s Mark Furner won Ferny Grove by 466 votes. At most 353 people voted “1” only for Taverner, Even if Taverner’s name had not appeared on the ballot paper, and all of these 353 votes had gone to the LNP instead, Furner would have won by over 100 votes. According to Antony Green, the courts have previously ruled that votes which give preferences to eligible candidates are fine, even if the first preference candidate is found ineligible.

As a result of the distribution of preferences in Ferny Grove, the Electoral Commission Queensland (ECQ) will NOT refer the count to the courts. The LNP could still challenge the result, but it is unlikely such a challenge would succeed.

Some Further Notes

  • The ECQ has not conducted a statewide 2PP count since 1995, so the statewide 2PP at the 1998-2012 elections has been estimated. In 2015, there were seven seats where one of the two major parties did not make the final two candidates. Unless the ECQ does a two party count in those seats, we will not know a definite 2PP for the 2015 election. The best we can do is to estimate a 2PP in these seven seats.

  • I have seen many media reports, such as this one, that claim that Pauline Hanson lost Lockyer by 184 votes. The 184 vote margin comes from the notional Two Candidate Preferred (2CP). However, this notional 2CP is not carefully checked; it is only displayed so that interested parties can follow the count. The official result for Lockyer is the 2CP result after distribution of preferences. You can find it in this table on the ECQ’s main results page, and Hanson lost Lockyer by 114 votes, not 184 (13,230 to 13,116).

  • A good way to remember how to spell Palaszczuk is: P-A-L-A-S(ydney)-Z(oo)-C(anberra)-Z(oo)-U-K.