Wrap-up Queensland election

Every pollster, including us, was saying that Labor was in trouble in the Queensland election. The predicted swing was in the realm of 7 percent. From what you can tell, internal ALP research also seems to have supported this. In our last poll it appeared that the “undecideds” were breaking towards the LNP as well, and the LNP was well-placed on the issue of health, which was much more significant to voters than jobs, which was Labor’s issue.

So my prediction was that Labor would lose 12 to 15 seats. This was based on a uniform swing of around 6.6% to 8%.

In the event the Labor government may have lost 5 seats or less and has experienced a swing against it on primary votes of 4.36%. (I’m not counting seats here that were held by another party although notionally theirs). http://www.abc.net.au/elections/qld/2009/guide/changingseats.htm

Whatever movement occurred most probably happened in the last few days of the campaign. As there were no major policy announcements, or any blunders, in that period the change is most probably the result of a shift of mind by voters.

Early on the election was framed by voters as a vote of confidence in the government. Expectations were high that Labor would win. These expectations had decreased dramatically as the election progressed as you can see from the table below, to the point where a majority of our respondents expected Labor to lose.


This would have concentrated voters’ minds on the alternative government. As our polling showed, voters were unimpressed with both parties. In the end result it appears that judged one-on-one they were less impressed with the Liberal Nationals than the Labor Party.

Another factor in the swing was undoubtedly the marginal seat campaigns of both parties, local issues and the quality of local candidates. There was a huge variation in swings from a swing to the LNP of 13.6% in Hinchinbrook to a swing of 3.2% to the ALP in Whitsunday.

To adequately map these factors you would need an opinion poll sample of somewhere around 24,000, which is obviously not economically feasible. The accuracy of opinion polls therefore relies on incumbency, candidates, local issues etc. cancelling each other out. But this is not necessarily the case.

It looks from the swings as though the LNP did a very poor job of local campaigning. For example, the seat of Chatsworth would have been expected to go close to the average swing because the sitting member Chris Bombolas retired after one term in parliament, meaning that the incumbency factor was taken out of the equation. Yet the LNP failed to get any swing at all. This was the most marginal ALP seat in the state and should have been well in focus. Perhaps they were so cocky that they took it for granted.

I have produced two Leximancer maps below. The one on the left shows the issues as they were at the beginning of the campaign, and the one on the right as they were by the middle of the last week. (I know they are too small, but click on them and you will get something you can decipher.)


The image on the left is much more fragmented than the one on the right, suggesting that both the parties had successfully reduced the election to a smaller set of propositions by the end of the campaign.

Interestingly the (Global financial) Crisis has completely disappeared, even though it was Anna Bligh’s stated reason for calling an early election. A new concept appears in the second map – Government. This is larger than all the other themes and closely related to Health and Infrastructure. It suggests that the LNP has been successful in turning the election into a referendum on the government. It should also be noted that Health encompasses more than just health, with concepts inside the Health circle indicating that it is actually a catch-all for service provision.

Climate change also played a part in some electors’ minds.

The fact that judged on these maps the LNP appears to have gotten the better of the debate, underlines an important aspect of political campaigns – they are rarely about issues. In the case of this election Labor appears to have won based on a decision by voters not to risk Springborg and the LNP even though they agree with their analysis of what is wrong with the state.

I’m happy with our performance on this poll. While we didn’t capture the final result, no-one else did either, indicating that it was determined at the last moment at a time when we couldn’t have been measuring responses.

Our polling, along with that of others, would have actually helped to cause the final result by accurately measuring the level of dislike for the Labor government. By accurately describing voting intentions during the campaign we would have alerted voters to how close it could be, and inadvertently affected their decisions. This is something that professional campaigners take into account, and is part of the price you pay for knowing what is happening.

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0 #41 CommentGreg 2009-03-24 17:34
I live in the city and I was undecided,I wanted to vote LNP as I believe the State Govrment did a poor job. What kept putting myself off the LNP was Springborg, I was tempted but at the end I just could not vote for him.
0 #42 Commentd. 2009-03-24 19:10
Comfort zone – change especially in times of uncertainty is very uncomfortable.
0 #43 CommentJudy 2009-03-24 20:17
Hi Graham,
I am terribly disappointed at the result of the state election and I am very,very afraid for the future of food producers in this state. We have taken a terrible battering since Labour came to power and now family farmers may not be able to continue under the weight of more unreasonable green legislation. I would like to see you do a survey on family farmers who own a few properties and actually live and work on their properties,not big consortiums who are run from a capital city and hold many properties. The survey needs to ask the real effects of various legislation like tree clearing, wild rivers, water policies etc etc, and the monetary state of farmers in this day and age.
We grow cattle and they still bring a very similar price to what they were bringing 30 years ago. Then we could buy a Toyota tray back for 17 bullocks, now we spend 50 bullocks, but we are being constrained on producing more cattle by unreasonable tree clearing, fencing areas that then prevent cattle reaching higher ground to get away from flood water etc. If things continue in this vein food production in Australia will be compromised. Imported food doesn't have the same constraints on it that our exports are required to uphold, do you want to eat melanin or pork fed with something that killed many people in China recently? Does Australia want farming tourism? There will be none if they continue down the track they are on now. We need help with this and surveys of RURAL people may bring this to a head with your help.
0 #44 CommentAngela 2009-03-24 20:24
To Katie, re Chatsworth. The greens did no deals with the LNP anywhere. If you saw green how to votes with preference to the LNP, they were illegal how to votes.
0 #45 CommentJill 2009-03-24 20:43
I consider myself a small "l" Liberal so I find any harking back to the bad old Joh days an aberration.Anna Bligh has achieved some positives in her time which hardly even rate a mention...her introduction of the Prep Year which was sorely needed.The lack of that extra year at school still shows in the Literacy/Numera cy Tests which Qld children complete in May.They are still being disadvantaged until catch-up time is taken into account.Introdu ction of fluoridation has also been a plus.Anna,we do need Daylight Saving !
0 #46 CommentJohn Peach 2009-03-24 20:51
Graham, I appreciate that most of your contacts genuinely have concerns and various conclusions. Unfortunately a huge proportion of electors rarely ever think about government matters outside their own except by quick decision at election time. We appear stuck with this and the fact that less than 50% can elect governments that then assumes a 100% mandate to rule by complete party vote compulsion. Those who speak out of line are even derided in our public media.
We are all a party to destroying traditional debate and true democracy and therefore any party that can convert/con/mis lead the 10% in the middle to get past 50% of seats rules all of us for 3 or 4 years. Labor abolished Queenslands Upper House (Senate) over 80 years ago so Qld governments are or can be virtual dictatorships if they have absolute majorities. This has vastly changed the internal workings of late and led to huge power of the so-called public service over the day to day lives of Queenslanders. This now will further intrude and increase for another 3 years over all our private endeavours and this has come about by the vote of a few thousand in the middle and in many cases thoughtless first preferences & often the result of actors in propaganda and untrue TV commercials.
As I said, we have prostituted true democracy and the government must be continually reminded that the majority did not chose them at all, so they should be very careful about arrogance and talks of mandates for this and that and be mindfull of fact.
0 #47 CommentKim 2009-03-24 22:29
Ironically the polls didn’t get it wrong; it was what you made of it that was at fault.

As a pollster you believed your own take on the results – your own spin – instead of sticking to what we actually know about polls.

So what do we know? We know that polls simply tell us how electors are thinking of voting. Emphasis on “thinking of”. So you poll was probably accurate; people were thinking of voting for a change. But thinking of is not the same as actually doing it.

We also know that the most accurate polls are exit polls, as these poll what people have actually done; not what they might (or might not) do. But obviously this can’t be done until after the election.

So can we ever rely on pre-election polling? Yes – when the government is clearly on the nose and the opposition looks electable, polls turn out to be accurate. Just take a look at the last federal election – Howard’s government looked old and tired, there was the “it’s time factor” and crucially, Rudd looked electable. The polls gave Labor a wide victory margin, and while the final result was a bit closer, Labor romped it in.

In the Queensland election there was the “it’s time” factor, the government looked incompetent at everything it touched, but crucially, the opposition didn’t look particularly electable – the LNP should have been in front 55 – 45 (or more). So the thought of voting LNP was very weak and didn’t materialise into the fact of voting LNP.

Hence as a pollster, you believed your own press about the poll results looking like fact instead of intention and got it wrong.

Of course we all make mistakes, but this is one you shouldn’t have made. In the previous Queensland election, the Patel fiasco should have resulted in the government being turfed out on its ear like the old National Party government was after the Fitzgerald Inquiry. But Labor actually increased their majority because the Nat-Lib opposition imploded rendering them so unelectable that voters preferred the devil they knew.

Fast forward to last weekend and the writing was on the wall – voters didn’t like Labor, but the polls only put the LNP marginally in front - 51-49 or closer. While the LNP didn’t implode like last time, they still looked like economic dunderheads. If the polls said 60-40, then that’s so overwhelming that a late swing back to Labor wouldn’t have mattered. So you should have been on guard that even though the government was completely on the nose the tight poll results actually indicated the intention to vote for a change was so weak it was likely to break down at the ballot box.

And so it did.
0 #48 CommentVivienne 2009-03-24 23:33
I think there were hidden issues in this election. For instance, I was leaning to the NLP on the basis of rampant development on the part of the Blig government. However, a campaign by our union basically changed my mind. The election was ccalled before most of the public service had their enterprise bargain deal ratified. The union handed out 'how to vote' cards only supporting candidates who said they would support the deal. Also, some Springborg policies were unacceptable environmentally .
0 #49 CommentRandall 2009-03-25 02:20
Further to my comments re the prepolls being counted today, the result is looking better for the LNP. Currently less than 20K primary votes behind Labor and intriguingly, the LNP polled more than 50% of the primary vote in 20 electorates VS 19 seats for labor so an LNP 'win' of sorts. Additionally, looking at the results in Brisbane, many of the large margins that the ALP had have been halved to winnable levels. Gaven now looks like an LNP win. Everton will probably remain with the Government but winnable next time.
This is the best Conservative result in Brisbane since the Borbidge Government so clearly at least some reasonable size section of the metropolitan electorate warmed to Springborg. Even Flegg got a swing !!!
0 #50 CommentGraham Young 2009-03-25 03:09
Thanks Randall. I've checked a couple of seats and there does appear to have been quite a strong result to the LNP in some prepolls. This suggests that a larger swing was there earlier on in the campaign. Makes me feel a little better about our polling results.