Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Site Notice

I'm sorry that I'm going to have to announce again that the site will be moth-balled for an unknown amount of time, due to personal health issues cutting into the amount of time and effort I can spend on collating polling data.

My final thoughts on AV as we go into the campaign period, is that it's still too unclear to call it. Even after disappointing polling for the Yes campaign, they can't quite be counted out. It's now a matter of differential turnout, how the don't knows will split, and how many will not vote on the referendum even if they vote on their local elections. Such things are impossible to tell from the polling we have.

As for local and Westminster elections, it is now my belief that we are in a time of transition from one political landscape to a significantly altered new one. The polling data of recent times has had a slightly higher amount of 'outlyers' and somewhat pronounced differences due to methodology changes and variations. It may well be that we have back-slid in polling accuracy, due to changes in the electorate following the collapse of the Lib Dems that are not reflected in the representative shaping that polls use. Polling methodology can only ever really be tested by a new election, so it may be some time before we know if the poll firms have adjusted correctly to the new realities.

As such, it isn't that productive to keep producing a model, since the data being fed to it is suspect.

Best of wishes to all my readers.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

AV, a case in Statistics.

A paper published in Significance, the statistics journal, collated election returns of the various government election systems. The aim is to show the various real-world properties of these election systems. It came to some unsurprising, and some surprising results.


We can identify how related the returns are to the proporition of the national votes. This identify if elections produce proportional results, something that smaller parties find is a problem with FPTP. The average deviation from the vote share shows an aproximate guage of this, with smaller numbers being better.

* UK, First Past the Post - 29.4
* Australia, Alternative Vote - 27.3
* Republic of Ireland, Single Transferable Vote - 12
* Netherlands, Open List Proportional Representation - 5.22

Naturarly, the Open List PR provides the closest representation. But despite claims that AV is no more proportional than FPTP it does show a slightly closer result. Some individual results under FPTP have been more proportional than AV. However, this only occurs for a third of the sample set. This suggests that AV is naturally more proportional than FPTP with some error overlap.

Probability of Coalition

Using probability statistics, it's possible to estimate the probability of certain events based on previous ones. Identifying the probability that random variations in future results, based on the known standard deviations from the data.

Here we see the probability, considering a rerun of the most recent election, of there being a coalition. For purposes of comparison, the Netherlands result was modelled as a race between the two largest parties and only one other minor party.

* AV Australia 2007 - 93% (Actual result - Single Party majority)
* FPTP UK 2010 - 87% (Actual result - Coalition)
* Ireland 2007 STV - 77% (Actual result - Coalition)
* Netherlands PRO - 48% (Actual result - Coalition)

The result here is a little muddier. If anything, it shows that the political situation is more likely to generate coalitions than the election system. The statistics suggest that AV has a higher probability of coalition, but the actual result in Australia was one that firmly established a single majority. They also show that FPTP can also produce a very high probability of coalition under the right circumstances.

Seat Changes

Another metric to compare elections is the amounts of seats than change hands in an election. This is somewhat a contentious statistic however, since the differing politics of the countries may produce more difference than the election system used. Numbers indicate more seats changed in the average election.

* FPTP - 17.3
* STV - 17.4
* AV - 19
* PRO - 21

As we can see, the surprising result is that AV does seem to make it slightly easier to unseat incumbents. Being only behind Party List based elections, while STV and FPTP are statistically tied for last.

Even assuming that the differences are more based on differing politics amongst the country; at the very least this indicates there is no incumbency advantage generated by AV, and it will not be harder to vote out unpopular governments.


The conclusions taken from this paper for comparison between FPTP and AV seem to be that AV does produce slightly more proportional results, that there is no clear link to coalitions being more likely, and that it may be easier to vote out unpopular governments under AV.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Disinformation being promoted for a NO Vote

There's a little bit of disinformation being passed around to support voting NO in the upcoming referendum on AV. It goes a little like this, "AV will result in the BNP getting more power. In France they have runoff votes, and the national front almost won the presidential election!" The problem here, is that it starts of with an outright lie, and supports it with a misleading truth.

In 2002 the Left-Wing and Left-Centrist vote in France had become fragmented over an astonishing 11 parties each proposing a candidate for the Presidency, eating deeply into the mainstream Left-Wing candidate's vote. At the same time, the mainstream Right-Wing candidate was hugely unpopular.

This resulted in an election where Jean-Marie Le Pen, leader of the National Front and regular fringe candidate for Presidency was able to get in contention for a First Past The Post win of the election. In actuality he came just shy of it and came second. But it does show the weakness of First Past The Post, in that it can elect a candidate the vast majority can not accept.

The French system however requires a 50%+1 Majority, so a runoff election was held. The French legislation however, only allows for the highest two to be on the second ballot. This lead to an overwhelmingly Left-Wing populace have to chose between an unpopular Jacques Chirac, and a despised Jean-Marie Le Pen. In the end they "held their noses" and voted for Chirac overwhelmingly, so in essence the runoff saved them from any chance of a fringe minority winning by 'default'. In fact, had it been run as FPTP, with all that entails, there's strong possibility that the confusion of tactical voting could have seen Le Pen elected 'by default'.

AV, or my preferred term "Instant Runoff Voting", preference voting allows runoff elections to be conducted on the same night. This allows for a 50%+1 theshold, and in essence works identically to a series of "ordinary" run off polls where all the voting had been conducted by sealed postal vote.

There is no way that this can benefit the BNP, unless by some magical transformation they are able to detoxify themselves enough to gain 50%+1. And this is actually why the BNP support the NO vote, and fear being sidelined entirely in votes conducted under AV.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Energy Minister Makes Unwise Speech, Outdoes Thatcher and Gets His Figures Wrong.

In 2006 the Republican candidate for the United States Senator for Virginia made a mistake that many feel cost him the election. At a fund raiser for his campaign, he was caught on Video saying the wrong things.

Just a few years earlier, this wouldn't have happened. Politicians could, with little worry, make speeches at their fund raising events that they wouldn't dare make "in public". But today, taking video at an event, and uploading it to the internet within minutes is trivial. So any politician should know well enough that a speech to a small group of his best supporters, should be something he'd be willing to say in public. Even should you be half way around the world, and surrounded only by those you think your ideological allies. It takes very little to put the speech on the internet, and if an astute political blogger or newspaper picks it up then the speech may as well have been made in the House of Commons.

However, it appears that some MPs have yet to learn this lesson. Worse still that it was a member of Government. Minister of State for Energy and Climate Change Greg Barker was caught out in making this mistake, in a speech at the Darla Moore School of Business, University of South Carolina. He told his audience that "We are making cuts that Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s could only have dreamt of." And then went on to claim that the U.K.'s deficit is higher than that of Greece, Portugal, Ireland and Spain; possibly when taken at a flat figure, but hardly when taken as a percentage of GDP. He also stated that interest payments on UK Public Debt were 150 billion pounds per year, which is approximately three times the actual interest paid over 2010. (Aprox £43bil.)

It should perhaps have occurred to the minister that his speech would be reported upon by the University's student newspaper, the Daily Gamecock. And that even if it is not his direct remit, he should always be briefed on the actual figures, not use what ever comes to mind as rhetorically useful.

Update: Barker has issued the following statement,
I was making the point that thanks to the mess we inherited from Labour, we are having to make very difficult decisions, much tougher than would have been imagined in the 1980s. Even Alistair Darling himself admitted that Labour overspending meant that they would have been forced to make tougher and deeper cuts than Margaret Thatcher. The fact is that if we don't take steps now to live within our means we'll end up paying higher taxes or making deeper spending cuts just to pay off our debt.
Which does not quite explain the problems he had in using correct figures.

A quick update on AV Referendum Polling

I've noted that a lot of traffic to the site has been coming on from google searches for AV polling. A lot of these readers may be wondering why I don't have a tracking graph for AV Referendum polling, as I do with Voter intent.

The simple answer is that there isn't enough regular consistent and quality polling. Most public opinion firms are only performing a poll on the referendum sporadically, and rarely with the same question format and methodology. The one company that is doing regular polling to a set methogology is YouGov's regular poll question for the Sun, however as I have demonstrated, the question format used produces suspect results.

I hope to see better polling on the referendum soon, but I'm not holding my breath. The last national referendum was in 1975, when polling methodology was substantially less accurate. Even now referenda are difficult to poll, even in areas such as the US which hold them much more regularly than the UK. Since it's polling on a policy, and normally a Yes/No proposition, there is little that can be carried over from polling methods for elections. Combined with sporadic one-off polling, and dubious question format, this does make the current crop of AV Referendum polling useless for identifying any trend or momentum.

Clegg to support Tory NHS reform?

The reports in the press and from downing street seem to state that Nick Clegg will be fully committing himself to support of the Government package of NHS reforms. As things stand, this does seem to put him at odds with the directive from party conference to amend the bill to remove competition based on price, ensure competition is on standard of care, and to require public operation of any funding programs. His announced involvement may mean that the Conservatives have given up on these points as concessions towards the Liberal Democrats. However, it does seem risky for him to be so closely tied to a Conservative lead policy that his party is antagonistic towards.

Nick Clegg has been attempting to portray himself as the moderating force on the Conservative led government, and this may be his attempt to get himself publicly tied to 'guiding the conservatives in the right direction'. However, in the past he has tended to be a weak negotiator with the Conservatives, and has rarely stuck to 'lines in the sand' defined by his own party. Instead backing down to draw a weaker line of his own set somewhere far below the expectations of his back benches. Should the Conservatives push through a bill that still contains something directly opposed by the Liberal Democrat party, it could mean a leadership challenge.

Update: Andrew Lansley is to make a statement to the House soon, that will hopefully clarify what concessions have been offered to the Liberal Democrats, and what amendments will be taken up by Government. It should also be noted that the Government's claim that this is only a "natural" pause between the committee stage of the bill and it's reading in the House of Lords, should be put against the Government being in charge of the legislative time table and able to define these pauses as they wish.

Budget bounce fades amidst reports of NHS climbdown

As predicted, the bounce from the Budget faded quickly, with polling returning to approximately the same place as pre-budget values. With Labour occasionally tipping up into double figure leads over the Conservatives, but being on average around 6 to 7 points ahead. The apparent main beneficiaries of the bounce seem to be the Liberal Democrats rather than the Conservatives, but that could be due to some high outliers in their recent polling.

This does follow a pattern of Osborne's budget statements providing only a short term boost to polling, until people get a chance to "read the fine print". And that news of major protests produces some deflation to Conservative voter intent.

The big political news of the week so far is NHS reform being "delayed for review" by Cameron, in what is being taken as a U-Turn on the policy. Previous policy U-Turns have not produced much benefit for the Conservatives in polling, but then neither has sticking to their policies. Cameron is attempting to steer between Scylla and Charybdis, either dashing his party's right wing on the rocks, or falling into a whirlpool of public opinion on that right wing.

Update: Downing street has issued statements that the delay does not constitute preparation for a major U-Turn. At the same time Ed Miliband has attacked the plans, and called for cross-party consensus saying "My commitment is this: if there is a genuine attempt to address the weaknesses of this top-down reorganisation, then my party will enter into a debate about a new plan with an open mind and accepting that any NHS plan must be delivered within a tight spending settlement."