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As pollsters, we are rightly in the firing line after the Australian election. What happened?

7 27 0
21.05.2019

While progressives struggle to make sense of the weekend election result, the pollsters whose projections created the security blanket of certainty around a Labor win are rightly in the firing line.

I don’t think there is any simple answer to address what appears to have gone wrong with the polls this election, rather we need to look at the perfect storm of declining voter engagement, shifting demographics and technological change.

Let’s start with the obvious. None of the major opinion polls – Newspoll, Ipsos, Galaxy or Essential – correctly predicted a Coalition win. In fact they all projected a two-party preferred vote of 51-49 and 52-48. While the postal votes are still being counted, it appears the final result will be closer to 51-49 to the Coalition.

Technically all these polls can claim to be within the margin of error of a 95% certainty of the poll being within 3% of the actual result, but this would be an absolute cop-out. The reality is all the polls have been consistently tracking a Labor victory for the best part of three years, albeit narrowing over the life of the campaign.

If we look at the Essential poll in particular, it appears the Coalition vote was about 2.5% too low and Labor’s vote about 2.5% too high. The minor parties appear about right, although it seems that, particularly for One Nation and the United Australia party, the preferences have flowed stronger to the Coalition than previous elections. There are a number of explanations for this disparity.

The first is that the polls were actually an accurate reflection of where the public was at the start of the week, and there was a move to the government in the final days of the campaign. Essential’s poll went into the field the previous Friday, so even if this shift occurred in the final week we would have missed it.

We always knew there was a large cohort of voters with extremely........

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