Thanks to everyone that participated in the first survey of the Wentworth by-election study. It is very clear the voters of Wentworth intend to send a message; it is not at all clear what the outcome of the by-election will be.
136 Wentworth voters (including 15 who are ongoing members of the Voter Choice Project Panel) participated in the first survey of the by-election study. That’s slightly more than we had for the Mayo by-election, and almost three times what we had for the other Super Saturday by-election seats. We also had a number of people from outside the electorate complete the survey, which was interesting; unfortunately your responses did have to be removed from the analysis, but thanks for having your say anyway. The sample is great – well balanced, every suburb represented, and only people over 70, Liberal voters and younger women slightly under-sampled. As always, the following numbers are weighted by age, gender and reported 2016 vote to correct those small issues. I’ve posted more about the sample for the data nerds at the end of the post.
A word of caution: this size sample is not representative (unlike the national panel). It is a fused quantitative/qualitative methodology, so is still legitimate and valid, but you need to think of these results as being more like the results of 14 focus groups than a poll. It is the depth and richness of information, rather than just numbers, that these kinds of studies provide.
The overwhelming message from respondents is we’re going to send a message to the Liberals. In fact, the word ‘message’ appeared in the comments 73 times. Liberal voters even used it when they were concerned about the message the rest of you were going to deliver to their party… their other comments largely focused on protecting the Government.
Let’s start with how we got here. Just as we asked the rest of the panel in the September Survey, we asked how people felt about Turnbull resigning and being dumped by the Liberals. The same sentiment was expressed as the rest of the nation, although there’s a lot more anger at the Liberal party (78% No, Liberals were not right to change leaders compared to 57.8% nation wide).
We began the healing (venting) by asking how participants feeling about having to vote again in a by-election, to gauge if there was a likely backlash. This is where the ‘send a message’ comments started, but they appeared in every open text field. The number of people that pointed out the waste of money, with the general election due so soon, was considerably smaller than the Super Saturday by-elections – Wentworth is more keen for the opportunity to exercise their democratic right with bat in hand.
Before we asked who people were intending to vote for, we asked if they knew any of these candidates. Remembering that the survey started September 16 before we knew who all the candidates were, and before Phelps had declared (so the Phelps sample is slightly smaller than the others). The top 8 are below, and it’s not pretty reading for campaign strategists. At this point in the campaign, you’d want to have 50% to know more than your name – only the top 3 candidates have that, and Tim Murray only just. That Dominic Wy Kanak has been on local council in the area for 20 years and 40% don’t know his name says a lot about the care factor for local government (and that he is probably a poor candidate).
Ok, ok, enough foreplay. Remember this is not a representative sample of the electorate, but it has been well weighted. This is the first reason I think Licia Heath is likely to substantially increase her vote – with substantially lower name recognition than both Wy Kanak and Vithoulkas, she’s out polling both of them.
I’m not predicting an outcome of this race for love nor money. For starters, I think there is going to be very significant movement in the next couple of weeks. I will say that any one of the top three candidates – Phelps, Sharma or Murray – can win. I did a series of simulations of three candidate and two candidate preferred, using my inferred preferencing method, and the story goes like this: Murray v Sharma, on these numbers Murray wins, if the Liberal vote is being significantly under-reported, then it’s too close to call, if the Liberal vote is above 35% and Phelps comes in somewhere in the mid teens, Sharma can beat either Murray or Phelps. Phelps v either Sharma or Murray on current numbers, Phelps wins. If Licia Heath does gain significant ground, it’s likely to come from Phelps, then either Murray or Sharma could beat Phelps. If Heath gains ground from elsewhere, and Phelps maintains a 24ish per cent primary, that makes it more likely Phelps wins but also makes it possible for Murray to win even if the Liberal vote is 10 points higher. Follow all that? Good. I’ve put a couple of the alternative scenarios in a separate post (not too many because I don’t people to be sharing hypothetical numbers around the internet like it’s accurate polling). Below is a possible preference flow using the standard weightings.
Why else do I think Licia Heath will gain significant ground? Her problem is name recognition, which is an easy problem to fix. Few know who she is, but when they do, they’re voting for her and – using another of the experimental methods I’m working on – they have locked that vote in. Phelps and Murray’s votes are far more soft (Murray in particular, a quarter of his votes are in the most volatile band), but most of Heath’s preferences are coming back to Murray, probably because of their common commitment to education which is Heath’s tent-pole issue. Sharma’s votes are the most solid, with a full 16% of the electorate’s vote in the most ‘firm’ band – he can put that in the bank, but he doesn’t have a lot of room to grow his vote, as a lot of the undecideds have ‘not Liberal but not sure yet’ type comments.
Heath also doesn’t have any negative comments, which is unusual; by contrast Phelps has more negatives than positives. This survey started before Phelps had declared, and was in the field when she crashed Scott Morrison’s press conference to announce she was preferencing the Liberal Party. So the comments from the early responses are like this:
- If [Phelps’] preferences are going Labor’s way I would seriously consider her….if not I would vote Labor
And after we got walls of this:
- I am incredibly disappointed by Kerryn Phelps’ backflip to preference the Liberals… I believe she made a fatal error in misreading the mood/make up of the electorate and believing she had to preference the Liberals to get in, and has now lost many people’s votes. A great shame.
- I don’t think Independents should declare how they will preference their votes as this compromises their independence!
- Phelps is already all over the place … one day it’s ‘put Liberals last’ and the next it’s give them her preferences. Much of what I hear her say on the media doesn’t make sense to me. Seems internally inconsistent.
- Disappointed and no longer voting for Kerryn Phelps since she announced her preferences would go to Liberals – thought her values were at odds with theirs
The comments about Licia are more like this:
- Licia Heath is a genuine local, progressive independent with a good record public school activism.
- Her videos on social media makes me think that she is an intelligent and socially responsible person who seems concerned with the issues important to me.
I’m highlighting these comments for two reasons: her ‘localness’, for want of a better word, and social media presence.
Heath’s strength is her social media use. Where other candidates are largely using it as a broadcasting channel to shout at people, Heath seeks out discussion of the by-election and injects herself in it. She engages with voters, and is very active in Facebook groups in the area that she has clearly been in for some time. It’s not clear yet if Facebook groups will be as powerful in this by-election as they were in Mayo – so far only the Rose Bay group has a very active level of constant by-election chatter, and there’s references in places to conversations in the closed/secret mums/parenting groups I can’t get into to observe, but if the Bondi Local Loop and it’s 82,000 members decides to jump in to the campaign it will be more powerful than any other information source. As an established, genuine local, authentic presence in these online spaces through her school advocacy, she also presents bore broadly as the ‘real local’ candidate – in an election with a lot of carpet baggers, where ‘being a local’ is emerging as an important candidate quality.
- I can’t believe the liberal candidate is from outside the area
- The Labor guy is from the area. Does a lot for the people, is president of the Tamarama Surf club. Actually knows first hand the issues of the area.
- A local independent, especially since Dave Sharma is not a local.
Twitter is looking to be as big a force in Wentworth as Facebook, which it wasn’t for the Super Saturday by-elections, with considerably more respondents saying they use Twitter and not Facebook than, well, actually, any split of the entire panel I’ve ever done. That says a lot about the Wentworth constituency I guess. Dave Sharma’s refusal to answer Simon Holmes a Court’s question on accepting the scientific consensus of climate change has not gone unnoticed (yes, AFAIK Mike Cannon-Brookes is a Wentworthian) and has also been another opportunity for Licia Heath to shine. (For the record, Sharma is not a climate change denier, has said so in multiple interviews, but just won’t reply to Simon, or any of the others who retweeted, quoted, or reposted the question, or asked him why he hasn’t answered it.)
I digress. Back to the results. Where did these votes come from? In short, votes are moving all over the place. I’ve hidden the micro parties to make it a little easier to read, but the Arts and Science Party retained their voters from the previous election – likely loyal party supporters. The colour indicates who they voted for in 2016. So 12.4% of voters that voted for Turnbull in 2016 are intending to vote for Tim Murray; 4.2% of voters that voted Labor in 2016 are intending to vote for Kerryn Phelps. Sharma isn’t picking up votes from anywhere except a couple of people who didn’t vote in 2013; everyone else except Angela Vithoulkas is getting them from either side of the aisle.
- A strong woman with views that largely reflect mine, with a chance of winning. While I agree with Labor and the Greens on most policies, they do not have a chance to win. However, Tim Murray seems a strong candidate.
- Want to vote for an independent rather than a fringe party or either of the main parties as don’t want to vote Liberal but don’t want to destabilise current administration by voting Labor.
- It could change but will likely be between any of the four candidates mentioned. I had intended to put the Liberals last but now that there are so many nutjobs running … they might end up more in the middle.
They’re thinking it through, carefully, methodically. And should Phelps – or any alternative candidate – have another PM press conference crashing size blunder, this strategic vote will decamp from her and move. The send a message voters have a similar sentiment, but are more emotional than strategic, caring more about the message than the preference flow or the outcome, while still being very unstable in who they will actually vote for:
- I want to send a message to the LNP that their actions re leadership spill were disgraceful, and lack of female representation in the LNP. Thought about voting for Kerryn Phelps but as soon as she changed to preferencing Libs I changed to Labor.
- Libs need to have a message sent. I usually vote independent or greens but preference Labor. I believe higher percentage of labor primary votes will speak to the Libs… Might still switch to independent Licia Heath.
Reasons are broken down for the top 5 candidates below.
When it comes to issues being considered in respondent’s vote decision there were a dizzying array of national issues nominated – particularly climate change, the economy, education and refugees (none of the candidates seem to be really hitting Wentworth’s buttons on all of these), as well as myriad micro local issues: the local park, open green spaces, development proposals at South Head and Bondi Beach Pavillion, watering down of heritage rules in Paddington, the Bondi Monument and so on. Traffic issues and footpaths (walkability and village life being one of the most valued aspects of living in the area) were frequently mentioned, often with an apology for not really being a federal issue, but its what they care about. Environmental issues were equally varied from plastic straws to overfishing, Adani to conservation. There was also a high level of interest in science and technology issues from investment in research and renewables, through to advancements in medicinal cannabis, the NBN, digitising Government and the discourse of attacks on science itself. The below word cloud is the top 100 terms used in issues considered in Wentworth’s vote decision.
Social influence appears to be a relatively weak factor in Wentworth although it may kick in: accounting for most of our respondents being of well above average political interest and knowledge, they are more likely to be the influencers than the influenced in a social situation, but nearly half think their friends and family will vote Liberal.Religion is not a determinant of vote, despite all the discussion of the Jewish Community doing this, that, or the other.
The additional handful of respondents who identified as Jewish but do not adhere to the Jewish religion are equally varied in their vote intent, which completely blows up the ‘Phelps is Jewish so they’ll vote for her’ argument, or the ‘Sharma is the former ambassador to Israel so they’ll vote for him’ argument. I’ll allow one of our participants to say it more eloquently:
- Although there are a lot of Jews in the electorate, we are not a homogenous group.
Those who did identify as religiously Jewish were issued with an additional set of questions, from which we know that the number one issue in the community is not Israel (although it is a big one): it’s security, particularly at synagogues, Jewish schools and other community facilities. We also asked how important was a candidate’s Jewish identity, or position on Israel. Israel dominates: there were no responses for ‘not important’.
ABOUT THE SAMPLE
Yes data nerds. Here’s your sample information.
136 people (76 men, 49 women, 2 non-binary and 9n declined to identify) completed the first survey of the Wentworth By-election study between September 16 and October 1, 2018.
Voters over 70 were significantly undersampled, which in turn caused a significant undersampling of Liberal voters (or more significant than our normal under-sampling of Liberal voters. I don’t know why Liberals don’t like the study…). However, this was correctable with weighting within acceptable limits. It is likely, however, that the Liberal vote is being undervalued in the above numbers. See alternative numbers.