Polls and preferences: the new challenge for election watchers

24 Feb 2015

Elections in Victoria and Queensland have caught the pollsters wrong-footed. Are unexpected preference flows making Australian elections harder to predict?

Between now and the federal election, due late next year, dozens of polls will be thrust on us. For the next month, a deluge of them will come from New South Wales. But we’ve got a problem: we can’t be sure they are right any more.

We saw that dramatically illustrated in the Queensland election result. Apart from Morgan, the pollsters predicted the two-party-preferred vote would be LNP 52 per cent, Labor 48 per cent. The actual outcome, on Antony Green’s estimate, was very different: LNP 49, Labor 51.

As Peter Brent explained in Inside Story immediately after the election, this wasn’t because the pollsters got their polling wrong: Queenslanders voted exactly as they had told the final Galaxy Poll they would.

So what went wrong? The pollsters tripped themselves up by assuming that preferences would flow as they had at the last Queensland election in 2012. In fact, the preference flows this time were very different, as this summary shows…

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