Results of the New England by-election exit poll

During election day, December 2, I ran a short exit poll of New England voters who had voted in the by-election caused by Barnaby Joyce being found ineligible to be a candidate because he was a dual citizen. The results are outlined below.

A few things first: this is not part of the Voter Choice Project or my PhD. New England is my home electorate – and the one I am most passionate about well above and beyond any other electorate or seat anywhere, at any level. It was driving me beyond crazy that there was no polling, no information, no nothing! coming out of the by-election other than the same groupthink press coverage. I also have been struggling with some methodology for a bit of a side project to my PhD, so at 1am on Saturday morning I whipped up a quick poll and just put it in a bunch of Facebook groups… thusly the following is by no means an academic paper. That would take me a week, I would need to cite things… I thought you would appreciate the speedier turn around and I hate writing academically. Win-win.

Most importantly, thank you so much to everyone who participated. I particularly loved how forthright you were, and have included many of your comments verbatim at the end of this post.

Respondents were recruited from Facebook and Twitter starting from the very early hours on election day. Unfortunately, a good sample was not obtained, largely due to a technical glitch I should have foreseen: at about 11am, Facebook banned me from posting in groups because I had been overusing the feature. As I had most of the Armidale groups and only a few of the groups from surrounding towns, very few groups below the Moonbis, and almost none in Scone or Tenterfield. Some Facebook advertising later in the day did start to rectify the problem, and the Tamworth sample got to where it should be at 30%, but Inverell, Scone and the smaller villages never recovered, and Armidale was still well over sampled at 45% of respondents (it’s 16% of the electorate).

Figure 1: Geographic source of respondents

A total of 160 people responded, with 103 completing the entire questionnaire. The rest of the demographics were fine – gender balance was spot on at 53% female, 47% male. Age of respondents was well spread, although older voters were under represented: 9% were aged 18-24, 17% 25-34, 25% 35-44, 23% 45-54, 20% 55-64, 6% over 65. 60% lived in a larger town (pop over 10,000), 21% in smaller towns and villages and the remaining 19% on rural properties (including both farms and people who just live in homes beyond town limits). 59% of respondents have lived in New England for more than 10 years, which is also about right.

The reported votes reflected the geographical bias, with it looking like a three-way tie between Joyce, Taber, and Labor’s David Ewings for most of the day, and Greens performing well. When the Facebook advertising kicked in Taber dropped away and it became a Labor/Greens race with Joyce in third, and that’s when I knew the sample was bad (about 4pm). Doing every correction I could think of, even giving Joyce a significant bump for the rural communities that weren’t sampled, it still had a very competitive race which obviously didn’t bear out.

Figure 2: All reported votes

I tried removing Armidale completely from the dataset, but the responses still had a significant Labor/Green bias – it got worse. It’s a bad sample, it happens, and it is really too small a sample to do much with anyway quantitatively.

Figure 3: Reported votes, excluding Armidale responses

Because it’s a bad sample I’m not going to look at preference flows, how to vote usage or any of that stuff – it’s meaningless. If you want to know, email me at kc@voterchoice.com.au and I’ll tell you what the number was.

However, all is not lost. My academic interest is not in predicting outcomes of elections, or even interpreting electoral outcomes. I’m interested in why people vote the way they do. Who and what influences that voting decision, when they make their decision. At the point they walk in to an election booth is when I lose interest… and hand them over to the capable hands of people like Antony Green.

As mentioned, my motivation for doing this poll is because I’ve been trying to adapt something called the Mushiness Index, which is a scale of four questions developed at the end of the 1970s to test issue opinion volatility (how likely someone will change their opinion on an issue), to apply it to vote intent volatility (how committed someone is to vote for someone they say they’re going to vote for). The Mushiness Index questions are a scale from 1 to 6, with only the two ends of the scale labelled: best practice says you should name each point on the scale. So, I dropped two of the 4 questions that would still be relevant to a vote already made into the exit poll, using a slider to see if that would work.

The first volatility question was: On a scale from 1 to 6, where 1 means this by-election affects you very little, and 6 means that you really feel this election affects you personally a great deal, where would you place yourself? Please drag the slider below to indicate how much this by-election affects you personally.

Table 1: Feeling personally affected by the by-election

I’ve removed from these tables those candidates with less than 5 responses as they aren’t statistically meaningful (and to save space…), but there’s some significant variance in how much people felt this election affected them personally. The lower figure for Rob Taber is matched but the ‘he’ll do’ type comments (we’ll get to the comments at the end). While the stats geeks may like the table, I think others may appreciate the graph.

Figure 4: Feeling personally affected by the by-election

This makes it a bit more obvious that there was a higher care factor (well, that’s what it’s measuring) with Greens and Mailler supporters, and about a third of the Labor respondents gave the maximum score, but the bulk of the Labor, Joyce and Taber voters were hanging around the middle. That may go some way to explaining the over-representation of Labor and Green voters in the poll - the geographic bias explaining Taber’s over representation - as they are more motivated to respond (it’s still a bad sample).

The question is does it work… there’s a correlation between those who scored 5s or 6s and those who said in the long text answers to open questions they were voting on partisan, policy, ideology, or issue lines, or used words like ‘vision’ or ‘passionate’; while far more votes for Joyce and Taber (who had run twice before remember, they knew him in Armidale almost as much as they knew Joyce) were in the ‘kinda’ middle range and less expressive in their comments. So this might work, but I think the scale points each labelled would work better than the slider – the 6 point scale doesn’t have a midpoint, but the slider does, and I think it might have caused some satisficing. More testing required.

The second volatility question was: Thinking about your conversations during the last couple of weeks, on a scale from 1 to 6, where 1 means that you and your friends and family rarely, if ever, discuss the by-election, and 6 means that you and your friends and family discuss it relatively often, where would you place yourself? Please drag the slider below to indicate how often you have discussed the by-election.

Table 2: Reported frequency of discussion

This doesn’t tell me much at all. Which is disappointing. But the way this works is that the four scores of the individual are added up to get a score for that individual, and that is useful. Again, the bar graph is more demonstrative showing how Taber and Joyce voters were talking about the election much less than Mailler, Labor and Greens voters were – there’s a good correlation between frequency of discussion and feeling personally affected by the election. (Apologies for the inconsistent colours, these are screen shots straight out of Qualtrics and I wanted to be sure I didn’t get these two charts mixed up.)

Figure 5: Reported frequency of discussion

There were three open (long text) questions to get some insight in to voter motivations and influences.

The first asked simply what is your main reason for voting this way. Many respondent left this blank, which is fine. Others just said they’ve always supported that party. That’s fine too. Other comments are grouped under themes below. Not all comments are reported – I personally love the expletives, so much so I keep those ones just for me, and one would be arguably defamatory so it’s not for publication either – those that are reported are reported in full so you can draw your own conclusions.

Anti-Joyce

· I’m sick of Barnaby does nothing for country area but cheat way in won on cheating

· Science party seemed best of a terrible lot and I hate Barnaby

· Sick of the corruption, double standards and sense of entitlement displayed by Barnaby Joyce and his ilk.

· Because Barnaby Joyce does not represent the entire New England! He only looks after the city of Tamworth and I’m sick of a university city playing second fiddle to a bunch of bumpkins

· Barnaby is untrustworthy and a puppet of Gina and the coal industry

· Joyce is an embarrassment.

· I hate how Barnaby has conducted himself during this campaign and the lack of quality or care that his office took in any of their advertisements

· A vote for Labor was a clear vote against Barnaby.

· Peter was passionate about sustainable issues as I am. His POV was positive and realistic. He did not have the baggage Joyce carries with links to Rinehart, CSG and water mismanagement in the Murray Darling.

· It's time for a change and it's time for Barnaby to get off his high horse

· I think Barnaby Joyce is not representing New England, only miners and rich cotton growers.

· Not a conservative and a general dislike of Barnaby Joyce

· In my opinion Mr Joyce should not have been allowed to stand after his dual citizenship dilemma

· Keep Barnaby out/Don’t trust Barnaby/Hate Barnaby/Anyone but Joyce/Barnaby needs to go! Etc.

Anti-Nationals or Anti-Government

· The Nationals do not represent my major interests.

· Always been a lnp voter but sick of Turnbull and his lack of listening to the voters

· We need a change in government. Poor policy on alternative energy, NBN

· Sick of the Nationals doing nothing

· More support for Nationals alternative.

· Sick of LNP destroying our country

· Extreme disillusionment with sitting member, wanted to vote for someone who actually cares about the community.

· Don't want Barnaby Joyce. Also, felt New England was better served by an independent.

Pro-Joyce or ‘anti-everyone else so we’ll stick with this guy’

· Because he has already been doing the job well.

· Because Barnaby is the only candidate who can further improve the agriculture industry in Australia

· Wanted Joyce returned. Taber was the next best candidate

· Do not like Labor /Greens policies and other candidates are a non event

· I like Barnaby, he has helped me in the past.

· Barnaby is decent person who represents his constituents well.

· Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t

· Better off with Barnaby

Pro-Independent or local things

· Hopefully a candidate who actually lives in the electorate will get in. Labor candidate was invisible.

· I want a local, independent representing our electorate

· Tired of career politicians of all persuasions, with their snouts in the trough and born to rule attitudes. Need local "little guy" who truly loves the electorate.

· I am not a fan of Barnaby, never have been. I voted for Rob Taber because he is the only Candidate who made himself known to me both this Election and the previous one. I also mostly vote Independent

Strategic voting (indications of voting not on personality or policy, but to achieve a desired outcome in terms of preference flow, voting by who they put last)

· I thought Labor might have the best chance at winning (apart from the Nationals)

· To ensure the major parties were last

· My focus was having Barnaby in the last box.

· Because I support Labor and picked the candidate I thought had the best chance of beating Barnaby Joyce.

· I have no interest in politics and the only reason I show up is because they send a fine if I don’t get my name ticked off. It’s a flawed system. Voting should be a right but not an obligation.

There were also some that listed ‘Policy’ (by which I mean they just wrote the word policy) and some Greens voters that indicated climate change and/ or CSG/fracking as the main reason for their vote.

Watching the Facebook groups today and people talking there about why they voted for Barnaby the ‘better the devil you know’ sentiment was a recurring one. This is from the Thumbs Up Thumbs down Armidale group:

Combine these comments with the ‘affect me personally’ and discussion indicators as measured above and there’s a couple of inferences that can be drawn:

· There was a strategic vote for Labor. The party, not the candidate, as the best way to get rid of Barnaby Joyce.

· Not much of Joyce’s vote is personally loyal – some are, mainly those that have had personal dealings with his office, but those numbers would be tiny. By contrast, there is a clear block of voters who voted for Joyce who do not like the man and are willing to look at someone else if a decent candidate is put up. This is consistent with past New England voting behaviour. However, they were not willing to vote for just anyone to get rid of Joyce (despite the Anyone but Joyce campaign), they have to be someone decent.

· Those who hate Barnaby hate him with a white-hot heat. There’s some that ‘never liked the guy’ but most use much stronger language. It’s not Nationals hate – it’s Barnaby hate.

· Barnaby’s personal attitude and arrogance is disliked, as is his connection to mining/Gina Rinehart, even by those who vote for him. (I suspect this has come out in recent focus groups, given the cheque returned and the displays of humility in media appearances today.)

Voters were also asked what they thought of Barnaby Joyce being found ineligible to be a candidate. I was fishing here to see if there was a sympathy vote, as predicted. Judge for yourself from the below responses, but note that in the motivations for vote above, no one cited that they felt sorry for him as a cause for their vote decision (one cited it as a reason to vote against). Again, this is just a sample, grouped under headings.

It’s the law.

· I don’t think he should be in parliament at all he should have pay back any and all earnings made whilst in the role as he was a fraud and broke our rules

· They all should have known with all the resources they have its unbelievable they didn’t know or didn’t even look at the criteria to be electable

· He should not be allowed in parliament again.

· I am disgusted. It is a declaration they are required to sign. If any politician can't be truthful and can't check their own facts right, how can they be competent and accurate in representing the electorate?

· He should have checked. And he should have stood down the moment he found out about his dual citizenship. He did not act with integrity.

· The Law is the Law. There are no two ways about it.

· I think he should have denounced his NZ citizenship before going into politics, it’s after all our constitution

· Disappointing that the deputy pm doesn't know the constitution

· He should have had to pay back his salary. And not run again for being so careless with a simple issue

· It's something that should have been discovered much earlier.

· He should pay back everything

· I think it is disgusting that he can’t even do his homework the fact he has known about it for years. It is a disgrace to the constitution it is there for a reason and he broke the law.

· Should not have been allowed to re-contest the seat for at least 2 years.

· He’s an idiot for not doing his due diligence. He does nothing for the electorate.

· He should have made sure he was eligible in the 1st place, wasting taxpayers money

· I think that there should be a harsher penalty for committing a Constitutional crime, plus he shouldn’t be able to get his old job back either!

· The rules are the rules and Joyce should have done his homework!

· The right decision if that was the legal requirement

· He should not have been allowed to stand at this by-election because of this...

· He knowingly broke the law

Mixed feelings

· I think he was arrogant to not step aside while waiting on the ruling .... But I don't love the law ... many fantastic people lived in other countries before moving here... the law should be about doing the best for Australia and Serving Australian citizen's a second passport is not the be all and end all

· Disappointing that this wasn’t found out before he was elected although recognise it wasn’t a clear cut issue.

· I find it embarrassing for New England and a bit insulting to his supporters who trusted him.

· It was a bit of a let down. I thought he'd be gone for good, instead we have to vote again. Why is he allowed to run again? Why isn't he just out?

· It's the law, so I get it. However he didn't know and renounced the citizenship straight away. I think he should have been found eligible

· Rules are rules. Especially when you go on and on and on about the other people affected as rule breakers before it happens to you. The rule is racist though, in its original intention, and should probably be changed. Never the less, those running for election have a responsibility to make sure they are eligible at the time.

Should not have happened

· Bloody ridiculous (Note: a common answer, along with stronger expletives)

· I think the Constitution needs to be amended to allow those who are eligible for citizenship by descent to be MPs.

· Unfortunate and not really his fault

· Utterly stupid. Someone born here must rate more highly than someone who migrated here and brought a citizenship with them. Sect 44 needs work

· It is a crock of poo, quite irrelevant given there are others in similar situations and did not put their hands up by hiding behind their party lines, it also did not need to go to the High Court given information disclosed by an expert in the constitution

· I think it’s ridiculous as he was born in Tamworth Australia. The whole dual citizenship needs to be looked at

· It is honestly an outdated section of the constitution and we make an amendment but nevertheless he should of educated himself with the nation's constitution before trying to help run the country for more than a decade.

· Unfortunate. He's a victim of an outdated law

· It’s rubbish he was born in the electorate and is truly Australian It’s a massive waste of tax payer money

· Stupid rule. And I believe it was wrong. But it was opportunistic to give him a wakeup call and show his true colours.

· It’s ridiculous. Born in Australia. Don’t think his New Zealand heritage would ever affect his decisions on policy matters. Waste of money considering a general election is due in 18 months time

· It stinks. If you are born in Australia or have accepted Australian Citizenship you should be eligible. Goodness I have heritage of 5 generation Australian on one line, I am German on another, English on another BUT I was born in Australia and always have been and always will be Australian.

Don’t care

· Not particularly concerned. I wouldn't vote for him anyway.

· Shouldn’t be surprised. Always acts like he can get away with anything.

· I honestly don’t think anyone cares.... I don’t like Barnaby but it would have just been simpler and cheaper to ask him to renounce his citizenship and continue on in his role. By-election is a waste of time and money.

· No feelings.

· I think the whole debacle was a waste of tax payers money for a non significant issue

· A technicality that doesn't mean a whole lot to me

· Strange, he was born here so to me is an Australian. I have bigger issues with his involvement with CSG (and his goanna farm) and his loyalties laying with big business.

Haha!

· Amusing/Good/Funny

· Couldn’t happen to a better bloke

· It was great! Such a shame he decided to re contest his seat.

· I thought it was great because he: - has been terrible for NE. - is from the LNP who have a whole range of terrible policies that are badly damaging our country. - had been a smart arse about Scott Ludlam (Note: Labor voter, not Green)

· Hilarious, but also indicative of the fact that he thinks that the rules don’t apply to him.

There were two common themes that crossed the comment groups here: the waste of taxpayers’ money, which was frowned upon by voters for all candidates and of all opinions with regard to the s44 issue; and dislike of Barnaby’s response to the issue. My general deduction is there is no good news for John Alexander in these responses, and Ann Sudmalis (Liberal member for Gilmore who is in a bitter stand-off with her local press, insistent that citizenship questions raised of her are irrelevant or have no basis… just like Barnaby did) should also take note of the voters’ strong dislike of disregard of the law and arrogance in response.

The waste of money also came out in the final open question, where I invited respondents to say anything else about the by-election or their vote. Again, highlights, grouped and I kept the juicy and expletives all to myself.

Hate politics and/or the Government

· Sick of politics. None of them are doing their job. Had enough of the rot

· Liberals and nationals are doing nothing for Australia and I am ashamed with the actions of Peter Dutton

· Believe there is a groundswell of voters who are tired of the incompetent antics of the major parties. Neither party can lead, they have thought bubbles and decisions are based upon media reporting. Make a decision, stick with it, carry it out, regardless of media bleating.

· People of this region need to take notice of what's happening. I ignored things myself for too long and just voted the same way without looking into things.

Comments about the by-election

· Disappointed about the high number of non-local candidates standing

· Many of the candidates in this by election live outside the electorate, which is ridiculous. It has made a mockery of the election (which many people feel is a waste of time and money anyway).

· The lack of understanding of the election process in this electorate is horrifying. Thank god for compulsory voting and thank god for preferential voting.

· I felt it was a waste of time as I do not support the National party and I feel that's the only party that has a chance of winning the seat in this area.

· a waste of time, most people in this area are National biased so my vote means little

· Ridiculous the number of candidates on the card.... didn’t even know more than 2 or 3 people

· It’s ridiculous that we had to do this the amount of wasted money tax payer money spent is a joke these funds could of been used elsewhere or to pay down our national debts. I hope Barnaby gets back in and he can get on with running the country

· Pre-poll station was difficult to get to in terms of traffic. I didn't know about any of the candidates other than Barnaby and felt that if I accepted a leaflet from one party I was interested in, then the rest would bombard me. They also make it hard to get in the door.

· Waste of time and money.

· It has cost a lot of money. It has also not helped the economy in the New England. In the past couple of years we have had 3 Elections and Council Amalgamation. It is no wonder the Economy here is depressed.

Joyce’s extracurricular activities and other related disquiet.

· Journalists should ask Mr Joyce about rumours surrounding his affair. Whose advice he acted on by staying as long as he did even if he suspected he was ineligible and why he refused to front public forums during the campaign

· I think it’s a disgrace how much Joyce has spent of public money refurbishing his offices while people are dying on waiting list in public hospitals

(Note: a couple of comments that would fall in to this category cannot be published as they identified other individuals and/or specific events. I thank those voters for making those comments, and want to assure them their comments were noted.)

Positives

· I always tend to live in electorates that are safely held by parties I disagree with. However, I live in hope, and perhaps this time the new people enrolling due to the equal marriage survey may tip the scales, or at least surprise some complacent people. Hopefully the future of voting in Australia will go a more people oriented way.

· The polling staff were very professional and friendly. The venue was very quiet at 9am - easy voting process with no waiting in queue.

I love voters so much. The complexity, the contradictions, the passions – love it all. Voters are unique, and New England voters are a particularly unique breed of engaged and volatile voter that will actually consider a full slate of 17 candidates even though they think it’s insulting. If you’ve made it all the way to the end here you probably are looking for the why New England swung to Joyce: well, it seems to be they didn’t have anyone else they considered worthy of voting for.

If you’d like to sign up to be part of the Voter Choice Project studies on the next Federal, Victorian and New South Wales elections, you can do that here.

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