Monthly Archives: March 2024

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Chat with John Stanley of 2GB/4BC this week, at the tail end of yet another hot and humid Queensland summer of cyclones, heatwaves and floods.

John Stanley and John Black – 26th March, 2024

Category:Demographics,Election ProfilesTags : 

I caught up with John Stanley from 2GB/4BC on Tuesday night for an informal chat about an election review article I’d written for the Australian Financial Review on Monday. Here is a  .pdf link to that page.

John and I talked about demographic and political events and themes over the timeline since the May 21, Federal 2022 election, including the curious cases of State and Federal leaders from supposedly opposing parties, and why they manage to share what, for them and their constituents, can be a mutually beneficial political relationship, as Frenemies.

As I was often told when I was a member of the Australian Senate: Your enemies aren’t the ones sitting opposite you mate, they’re the ones behind you.

I’ve just finished writing a longer piece for the AFR on the long term Australian demographic trends dominating Federal politics now and into the next decade, which is in the AFR Easter Edition today. I hope you enjoy it.


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There’s an hilarious cartoon in the Australian Financial Review today, with a story from me below it. My op ed piece runs through the elections and by-elections we’ve had since the last Federal election on May 21 2022. There’s some good news in there for the Government I think, from the evidence and explanations of why it’s occurring.

What happened on the weekend to rev up the week ahead.

Category:Election Profiles,Election Profiles 2024

There’s an hilarious cartoon in the Australian Financial Review today, with a story from me below it. My op ed piece runs through the elections and by-elections we’ve had since the last Federal election on May 21 2022. There’s some good news in there for the Government I think, from the evidence and explanations of why it’s occurring.


Opinion polls are useful indicators to track public opinion, but by-elections and elections (including the big Brisbane Council ballot) are even more useful. It’s one thing for voters to tell someone on the phone how they are thinking of voting at the time, but altogether different when they actually front up to the booth and do it. And there’s more of them of course at an election.

Personal votes need to be taken into account here. The swing against Governments at by-elections tends to occur when it’s a Government sitting members personal vote being lost and if the Government is unpopular at the time, then that can get added to it. So they can get pretty big and bad news for a Government, if it is on the nose at the time, as we saw during the Whitlam Government in Bass.

But if a very popular Opposition MP retires, and the Government is travelling reasonably well with its constituents, we need to consider that the personal vote for the Opposition MP retiring was taken from the Government’s local candidate in the first place. The return of this vote to the Government candidate at the by-election isn’t a swing, just a reset. That’s why Aston’s figures looked good for the Albanese Government and the Dunstan figures looked pretty good for the Malinauskas SA State Government last weekend.

What demographic modelling shows us is an approximation of this personal vote and thus we can take it into account. I started researching personal votes and donkey votes 50 years ago when working for Don Dunstan, the then SA Premier, after whom the SA seat was named. We had a rare occurrence at the time with simultaneous Upper and Lower House elections and a decent set of rolls and, from memory, few minor parties to cloud the major party vote in the upper house. (You can do the same sort of thing with Senate and Reps votes, but it’s a lot harder these days with so many minor parties and more strategic voting.) I was able to isolate the donkey votes, get to the personal votes for the sitting members and the personal vote estimates was very close to demographic residuals for models we were doing at the time. So a strong demographic model, possible then in SA due to a range of demographic, economic and social factors, provided a good estimate of the vote the party could get at the relevant election and a pointer to the personal vote of the candidates.

We’ve been tracking personal votes and party votes ever since for most Federal and some State polls and the evidence tends to hold up pretty well when we look at the outcome for by-elections.

It’s interesting in that the personal vote is just that: personal. An MP in a city seat with a big population turnover tends to have a small personal vote, as the voter who’s been met in electoral office is often voting in another seat the next election and voters meet at social or sporting functions often live in other seats. But a country MP in a stable seat talks to voters who tend to live and play and work and vote in the same seat. This means when the MP meets someone it’s a local voter. And the MP builds up friends and personal contacts. Personal votes can also be negative, for cases where an MP antagonises his or her local constituents on a regular basis. I tend not to mention personal votes in election reports unless they are a couple standard errors of estimate above or below predicted votes. And, for the record, the best performing MPs in the current Parliament are female Labor representatives of regional and rural seats. And long-standing MPs for the Coalition also do well. If you’re ever running a campaign, these factors are taken into account. Or should be.

The other factor taken into account in the article is the voters’ desire for balance between parties at the state and federal levels, especially in Queensland. This is why winning State elections is not necessarily a good thing for Federal Governments of the same party. Anyway, check out the article. I hope its useful.


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I’ve written a profile of the by-election on Saturday in Dunkley for the Australian Financial Review and we have added Map.

Dunkley By-Election

Category:By-Elections,Dunkley By-Election

I’ve written a profile of the by-election on Saturday in Dunkley for the Australian Financial Review, putting it in the context of our 2022 National Election Personal Vote Profiles and our profiles in Aston and Fadden.   

See AFR story here:?

The three individual seat profiles use ADS modelling of personal votes to  estimate the impact of the retirement or death of an MP with a large personal vote on the subsequent by-election result.

The personal vote for sitting members tends to be higher for provincial city or rural seats, as they are demographically more stable and voters are more likely to live and work in the same seat. These voters are easier for sitting members to locate at work or home and they tend to live in the same seat for a few elections and so are more likely to have a personal knowledge of their MP either socially through family sporting events, or officially, if they seek assistance with a federal Government matter, to do with transfer payments for example. The personal vote therefore builds up over time for these MPs.

To illustrate this point ADS modelling of the 2022 General Election showed a personal vote of more than ten percent for three female ALP MPs in Richmond, (Justine Elliot), Eden-Monaro (Kristy McBain) and Corangamite (Libby Coker) and without this personal vote, Labor would not have won their seats in 2022. So the personal vote is crucial when it comes to winning marginal seats.

Because the average personal vote of sitting Government members is typically about three to five percent, this figure is often confused by commentators with an average by-election swing of three to five percent against the Government if the Government MP leaves office unexpectedly in a by-election.

Unfortunately this simplistic use of swings comes unstuck when an Opposition MP with a big personal vote, such as we saw in Aston, retires and the resultant re-allocation of his personal vote back to the Labor tally produces a swing towards the Government. Oops.

Knowing this personal figure for the seat as a whole, we then profile the range of by-election swings for individual seats across booth catchments and profile these against key demographics across the same booth catchments.

This is a tricky exercise, especially with increasing numbers of pre-poll votes in a limited number of booths and a small number of matched pairs of booths. So caution is exercised.

But when we are looking at a strong inferential relationship significant to more than 99 percent confidence levels between votes and big demographics like Female Professionals and Male Construction workers in Dunkley, it is possible to make some comments, especially when it is consistent with longer term trends at general elections and demographic break downs of regular aggregated polling data.

Our Senior Demographic Mapper Dr Jeanine McMullan used our polling booth catchments to show some of the spatial links between Dunkley vote swings and Dunkley demographics at the by-election. Using the various layers, the reader can form their own impressions from the relationship between the swing to Labor and Professional Women and between the swing to the Liberals and Men working in Construction.

The link for the map is here: