The crazies are coming; Senate predictions 2013
Russell Degnan

Polls close soon, so best get on to a now recurring tradition of incorrectly predicting the Senate outcome. Actually, in terms of reading the polls, 2010 was pretty close. Looking back and comparing to the image of what actually happened shows that, unlike in 2007, the problem was under-estimating the swings in WA and Queensland, underestimating the increase in minor party support in Victoria and NSW and over-estimating the swing in NSW and Tasmania. South Australia was practically perfect.

Translating that into seats worked, for the most part, but not always for the right reasons, and the DLP victory in Victoria came somewhat out of left field given the incumbent was Family First - though both sailed in on preference deals, not merit.

Unfortunately, that scenario, where a party rides a preference wave is becoming increasingly likely. That makes calling the Senate a mugs game, because although you an make reasonable predictions about the major parties, the rest depend on the fluttering of butterfly wings. Most importantly, with the minor party vote now consuming more than two quotas in many states, Labor and Liberal become king-makers for whoever is left over.

Anatomy of a Preference Deal

Antony Green has already said everything that needs to be said about the proliferation of metre long Senate ballots and the perverse nature of deals creating Senators from tiny votes. But it is worth dwelling for a second on why this works.

If you are a minor party your aim is to stay in the count; that means harvesting preferences from parties smaller than you, to get bigger than parties bigger than you, then doing the same to them. There is never any value in trading with the Greens (inevitably nearly a full quote and one of the last removed from the count) and only late in the count with Labor or Liberal. The aim early on, promise, and effectively combine your vote with someone else. Thus, if two parties have 0.5% of the vote, and deal with each other, they effectively become one party with 1.0% of the vote. Do that ten times and then target the mid-size parties - the Palmers, Katters, Family Firsts, DLPs and Liberal Democrats (if they sit left of Labor/Liberal on the ballot). With the major party vote dipping below half a spare quota, a combined vote of 7% means any late preference deal with them can propel a party to a seat.

In a few cases in this election, the right party, in the right place, at the right time, can get up with less than one percent of the vote. With luck, leakage from below the line voting will prevent this, but how much leakage can occur when voters are filling in 100+ boxes? It isn't even clear to me where my vote might eventually end up, because it depends on subtle sliding-doors points in the count.

For this reason, take what follows with a grain of salt. Minor parties can definitely claim seats (for good or ill, some variation doesn't really hurt), but predicting it is nearly impossible, even with the sort of monte-carlo simulations Truth Seeker is using. What I'll highlight here is where certain scenarios become more likely, and why, if you are following the count late into the evening.

2013 - Historically Significant

Track back over the minor party shifts in the last 30 years and one thing becomes clear. They are capturing a lot more of the vote. In the mid-80s Labor and Liberal were taking 6 quotas by themselves Now they are struggling to put together five. There is a magic line at 72.85% combined first preferences for Labor and Liberal that takes us into the unknown. Above that, and the Greens will generally get one spot, and the minor parties elect the stronger of the two others (normally the Liberals). Below it and there is enough of a quote remaining for the minor parties to pull a quota without the Liberals help, leaving the stranded in the count.

The shift to this territory is new. There is no guarantee the shift will happen either, as the strength of minor party votes are unpredictable, even after polling. But the historical trend, and the polls says it probably is happening. In the last few elections the first-preference major party vote in the Senate has been 4-7% below the house of representatives. Combine that with the latest polling: welcome to Crazy Town.

Let's see what we have. Primary votes aren't mentioned often enough. Obviously two-party preferred matters for the house but the Senate tracks nearly perfectly along first preferences, with an adjustment for minor party losses. And what losses! Newspoll predicts a 4% increase in minor party votes over 2010; the BludgerTrack is, if anything, even stronger. Given they were already historically low numbers this takes at least three states into unprecedented sub-70% mark.

South Australia
Nick Xenophon is back to reverse the strong shift back to the major parties in the last election. Even if he fails to meet a quota he is helped by the Palmer United party and the Nationals. The Greens, by contrast, might be struggling if Labor fails to get far enough over a second quota to push them over the line. This ought to be straight-forward Liberal 2, Labor 2, Xenophon and Green. The No Carbon Tax Climate Sceptics have a ridiculously good preference run, winning often from almost impossibly low positions. Watch that combined Labor-Green vote.
Liberals 2, Labor 2, Xenophon 1, Greens 1(0) NCT 0(1)

Western Australia
Western Australia is pretty much seceding at this point. Their vote went strongly to the minor parties in the last election, but that looks less robust this time, with a slight shift to the Liberals. As in SA the Greens need to get very close to a quota AND hope Labor passes a second quota, neither of which are certain. If not Palmer United (especially given recent polling), the Liberal Democrats (with a good ballot position) or who knows are all in with a shout.
Liberals 3, Labor 2, Greens 1(0) Palmer Utd 0(1)

As in WA, I am not convinced the minor party will increase by a lot, but it was already running 10% better than in the HoR, so increasing to around 30% is possible. From that position, anything can happen. Labor is not preferencing the Greens first, AND has very little over a quota which could lift Katter or the Stop CSG into a senate seat. That's if they get a second quota, which they might not, given how close to the line they are. Palmer United look well placed to stay in the count and win a seat, but their vote is not that strong, and this could go any number of ways.
Liberals 2(3), Labor 2, Greens 1(0) Palmer Utd 1(0) Someone Random 0(1)

If you thought the above was bad wait until neither Labor nor Liberal have close to a half quota and drop out before the important bits. Labor's late vote collapse - if polls are accurate - has probably rescued the Liberal's third candidate from being overtaken by the right-wing party, or someone random. But this presumes a fairly substantial swing to Labor and no substantial swing to the minor parties. A drop straight down will throw up any number of odd scenarios; though fortunately a number of parties lack the competency to hand in a group-ticket form, which cut down the number of random results markedly.
Liberals 3(2), Labor 2, Greens 1, Family First 0(1)

New South Wales
This should be fairly straight forward, as the Liberals are close to three quotas, and Labor will push the Greens over the line. The major party has held up fairly well in NSW in recent elections though, making it somewhat higher than elsewhere. If the voters come out with baseball bats for Labor then their remainder might not elect the Greens and with the mega-ballot-paper anything can happen (see Queensland).
Liberals 3, Labor 2, Greens 1

Let me quote from three years ago "who knows what is going on here". Lack of polls doesn't help. Are we really looking at a 12 per cent swing? And if so, is it to the Liberals or to others? Tasmania has a strong tradition of voting below the line, which is good, because a couple of parties (the Independents) have phenomenal harvesting runs. The Greens should pass their first quota easily, but as above, that last seat could go anywhere as the major party vote dips below 70%.
Liberals 2(3), Labor 2, Greens 1, Family First 1(0) Someone Random 0(1)

Australia Capital Territory
Always the easiest count, but with a really high below the line vote, and personal connections to candidates there is always the chance that the Greens will finally tip the Liberals below the 33% quota and them in. It seems unlikely in an election favouring the Liberals, but some think it is possible.
Liberals 1(0), Labor 1, Greens 0(1)

Northern Territory
Normally a ridiculously straight forward vote, the complete collapse of Labor support has both significantly increased the minor party vote and made them vulnerable to minor party challenges. I've no way of verifying if Labor will drop below 33%, but this is at least interesting for once, as explained here.
Liberals 1, Labor 1(0), Greens 0, First Nation 0(1)

By the numbers:
Liberals 17(17), Labor 14(13), Greens 6(5) Others 3(5)

Liberals 16, Labor 13, Greens 6, Others 1

In total:
Liberals 33, Labor 27, Greens 12, Others 4

If the Liberals have a very good election they might just avoid having to negotiate with the Greens or Labor, in favour of a collective mostly right-leaning group. But that seems unlikely, and the balance is sure to lie with the opposition. Which, incidentally, with over 30% of the vote going to minor parties, even if not to just that minor party, might be how it ought to be.

Sterner Matters 7th September, 2013 18:43:22   [#]