Making voting both simple and secure is a challenge for democracies



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The US compares relatively poorly with equivalent countries when it comes to voter registration.
Reuters/Bria Hall

Pippa Norris, Harvard University; Sarah Cameron, University of Sydney, and Thomas Wynter, University of Sydney

Recent elections around the world have raised concerns about the procedures used for voter registration and their potential consequences. The effects include disenfranchisement (voters being prevented from casting a ballot) and voter rights, fraud and security, and mismanagement and accuracy.

It’s critical to strike the right trade-off between making registration accessible and making it secure. But how many countries are affected by these sorts of issues? And which is more problematic – lack of security or lack of inclusion?

Our study

Our Perceptions of Electoral Integrity survey asked experts for their assessments of electoral integrity in 161 countries that held 260 national elections from January 1 to June 30, 2017.

The study used three criteria to monitor the quality of the voter registration process: inclusion, accuracy, and security.

These aspects can be considered equally important to ensure all and only eligible citizens are able to vote. The items can be analysed separately and also combined into an index.

As illustrated below, the results show the quality of the voter registration process in Northern Europe and Scandinavia performed well, as did several Latin American countries like Brazil.

At the same time, voter registration proved problematic in many countries in Africa and the Middle East, as well as in India and parts of Asia.

The US compared relatively poorly with equivalent liberal democracies on voter registration. This is in no small measure due to the partisan polarisation over the issue, and past reliance on self-registration. By contrast, governments in many other countries register voters on their behalf.

The quality of voter registration worldwide.
Authors

Inclusiveness versus security

The global comparison below shows mean ratings on the measure of inclusion on the vertical axis. The measure of security is shown on the horizontal.

Some countries performed well on both indicators – notably Sweden, Denmark and Finland, as well as Slovakia, Costa Rica and the Czech Republic.

By contrast, many other places (located in the bottom left quadrant) performed poorly on both measures, such as Syria (which failed to allow citizens to vote if they had fled to neighbouring states as refugees), Haiti (which lacked the capacity to administer elections), Bahrain (with internal conflict), and Afghanistan (with high levels of electoral corruption).

Finally, several countries scored worse on inclusiveness than on security. In these elections, experts thought the more serious problem was the exclusion of eligible citizens.

These problems can arise for many reasons – such as disputed citizenship rights, attempts at voter suppression, lack of capacity to include young people, women, linguistic or ethnic minorities and hard-to-reach rural populations, or failing to maintain up-to-date electoral rolls.

Monitoring inclusion and security worldwide. Scale ranges from strongly agree (1) to strongly disagree (5). Regimes classified according to Freedom House.
Authors

Responding to the challenges

So, the challenge is to strike the optimal balance between security and accessibility, to make ensure eligible citizens – and only eligible citizens – cast a ballot. Doing so strengthens public confidence in the electoral process and democracy.

Easier registration processes, such as the availability of online applications and same-day registration, usually strengthens voter turnout. But the introduction of more accessible registration without sufficient verification raises security risks of abuse and fraud.

In the US, parties are deeply polarised over whether the use of strict photo ID at polling places helps maintain accurate and reliable lists, or whether this suppresses voting rights for eligible citizens who lack such ID.

A 2012 report found many American states faced major challenges of accuracy, cost, and efficiency in their voter registration systems. Since then, they have made many efforts to upgrade electronic procedures by allowing citizens to register and check their records online.

An initiative sweeping the US – led by Oregon in 2015 – is states requiring citizens to opt-out rather than opt-in to being registered to vote.

But new risks have also became evident, not least Russian meddling and cyber-security threats to official voting records. To tackle this, the US Electoral Assistance Commission has recently issued new guidelines, working with the states and the Department of Homeland Security to implement them. Yet the overhaul of America’s ageing voting equipment will carry a hefty price tag.

Foreign attempts at interference in voting have been reported in other countries, including Germany and France.

Following the 2017 UK general election, the Electoral Commission expressed concern about the risks of double voting and duplicate registration applications.

In populous developing countries like Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, without reliable census information or identification documents, the challenges are even greater. Poor quality records can create opportunities for vote manipulation.

The ConversationStrict registration processes, such as those relying on biometric technologies for ID, may remove ineligible applicants but simultaneously throw out legitimate voters and make the list less accurate, not more. And biometric voter registration, which many African countries have adopted, presents challenges for the protection of personal information.

Pippa Norris, ARC Laureate Fellow, Professor of Government and International Relations at the University of Sydney and McGuire Lecturer in Comparative Politics, Harvard University; Sarah Cameron, Electoral Integrity Project Manager and Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of Sydney, and Thomas Wynter, Research Associate, University of Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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In Trump we trust: why continual disasters fail to shake the president’s loyalists


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Donald Trump’s overall approval ratings are low, but among his base they remain relatively strong.
Reuters/Joshua Roberts

Kumuda Simpson, La Trobe University

Who are the people who make up US President Donald Trump’s base? They are the loyalists who not only supported and voted for him, but also seem impervious to his more outrageous scandals. It’s those who continue to strongly approve of his performance despite his failure to get signature policies through Congress, his support for white supremacists in Charlottesville, and who probably won’t abandon him despite his scandalous neglect of Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

A recent article claiming that Trump was on track to win the 2020 presidential election has once again focused attention on that elusive group of voters who remain loyal to him despite everything and will provide the cornerstone of any re-election strategy.


Further reading: All the lessons Donald Trump has taught us


Among those who voted for Trump in 2016, there seem to be two categories: those who supported other Republicans but eventually voted for Trump once he won the nomination, and those who have supported him right from the beginning. Of those who voted in the election last year, about 20-25% seem to make up his base.

There is, however, something interesting happening with Trump’s approval ratings. While they have been consistently low, currently sitting at around 37%, his base – that 20-25% – has consistently “strongly approved” of his performance.

That figure has experienced two sharp declines – each one after Trump’s failure to reform health care. Trump can’t win a general election without appealing to those beyond this base, but digging deeper into the polling to understand those who still strongly support him can tell us something about the divisions in the US and what drives his behaviour.

Cultural anxiety

The FiveThirtyEight website conducted a fine-grained analysis of voting by county not long after the election. It found that a voter’s level of education was the greatest indicator of whether or not they would be likely to vote for Trump. This is particularly interesting given the earlier analysis on cultural anxiety and race relations in America.

As FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver pointed out, it’s possible that education correlates with cultural values, particularly a more progressive and inclusive outlook.

Yet in interviews with Trump supporters in rural Colorado, it was clear that economic and cultural anxiety were intertwined with feelings of exclusion and resentment towards those who lived in large cities, and were perceived to be benefiting economically in ways that they weren’t.

The fact that the partisan divide in the US is also reflected in the country’s geography is not particularly new. Rural America has traditionally voted conservative. But the overwhelming support for Trump in 2016 has focused greater attention on the ways in which this geographical divide also reflects a deep cleavage in identity and values.

Cultural anxiety can mean a lot of different things to different people, but there is also important evidence that in 2016, both racism and sexism played a key role in some people’s perceptions of the two presidential candidates.

The cultural anxiety argument is very much about race and identity, and perceptions of inclusion and exclusion.

Research conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute and The Atlantic found that when controlling for demographic variables, three factors stood out that are key in understanding what drives Republican white, working-class anxieties: cultural change, immigration, and valuing higher education.

The analysis explored the ways in which these particular voters reported feeling like strangers in their own country. They write:

Nearly seven in ten (68%) white working-class Americans – along with a majority (55%) of the public overall – [believe] the US is in danger of losing its culture and identity.

These people were more likely to support stricter immigration controls, but not necessarily deportation. They fear foreign influence on American culture, and are far less likely to believe that higher education was a good investment.

Divided they stand

So what does this tell us about Trump’s base, and whether or not he will still occupy the White House post-2020?

I’m not sure we can ever disentangle the myriad factors that inspire people to turn out on Election Day and cast their vote for a particular candidate. As the more in-depth reporting has shown, the individuals who we divide into groups based on age, gender, education level and income are invariably more complex and diverse than any survey can possibly show.

However, we can discern important patterns in how Americans identify, and the issues they feel most strongly about. We know the country is increasingly divided along ideological lines. Recent polling shows that Republicans and Democrats have become even more sharply divided on issues to do with government, race, immigration, national security, and environmental protection.

Trump’s political strategy has so far sought to exacerbate these divisions. Health care, immigration, and economic security, as well as identity and a sense of exclusion, will probably continue to be the issues that his voters care most about.

The ConversationWhether or not his continued failure to tackle those concerns will cost him his base is an open question. What is unlikely to change, however, are the deep divisions within American society – and that has seriously worrying implications for the health of American democracy.

Kumuda Simpson, Lecturer in International Relations, La Trobe University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Strengthened Xi and Abe could help moves toward peace in our troubled region



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Reuters

Tony Walker, La Trobe University

They may not be co-ordinated, nor linked in any way. But two events in Asia over the next week will help define Australia’s political and security environment for the next period.

First is the convening of the five-yearly Communist Party of China congress. This gets underway on Wednesday with a much-anticipated “work report” from party boss Xi Jinping.

Second is the Japanese elections scheduled for October 22. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is bidding to become the longest-serving leader of his country. He seems determined to enlarge Japan’s security footprint by continuing to beef up its defence forces and seek changes to its pacifist post-war constitution.

From an Australian perspective, the North Korean nuclear crisis invests both the reaffirmation – and strengthening – of Xi’s leadership for another five years, and the re-election of Abe, with particular importance.

A glance at the factsheets compiled by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade underscores the overwhelming economic importance of China and Japan to Australia’s wellbeing.

In 2016, China ranked first and Japan second as a destination for Australian merchandise trade exports. Trade in services to China ranked first, and Japan ranked eighth.

Japan’s economic and security importance to Australia tends to be underplayed. But it’s worth noting that Japanese investments in Australia are more than double China’s.

Xi’s signature statement to the party congress assumes critical importance given China’s expanding global leadership amid concerns about the Trump administration’s commitment to such a role. Each word and sentence will be parsed for its implications for regional and global security, and for the direction in which he plans to take the world’s second-biggest economy over the next five years.

This will be a speech – given the circumstances of China’s continued rise – that will rank with a US presidential State of the Union address.

The party congress will stretch over the best part of a week, and will be closely observed for indications of Xi’s continuing efforts to strengthen his grip on China’s leadership. As things stand, he has emerged as the most powerful Chinese leader since Deng Xiaoping.

Given his relative youth in Chinese leadership terms, the 64-year-old Xi may well be ruling for the next decade – in other words an additional five-year term past 2017 to 2022. This is well past a nominal retirement age of 68.

In a paper for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Michael Swaine painted a generally optimistic picture of China’s continued evolution under a dominant Xi. However, he also acknowledged that China’s continued rise would inevitably result in tensions over:

… trade, investment, sovereignty rights, and a variety of anxieties involving Chinese and US or Japanese military forces in the Western Pacific.

There’s no doubt Xi and the Chinese leadership are seeking to more effectively use China’s growing international presence to promote the nation’s interests in such sensitive. As a result, tensions with China will in fact likely increase.

The good news is that, rather than marking a turn toward confrontation between China and the West and Japan, the 19th Party Congress will likely signal a high level of stability and continuity in Chinese foreign policy. The bad news is that this continuity is unlikely to reduce the most serious challenges facing China’s relations with the United States and its allies.

In all of this, Japan’s importance in regional security calculations is likely to come more sharply into focus in the next period. This is investing Abe’s likely re-election with a super majority in the Diet in partnership with his Komeito allies with more-than-usual significance.

Latest opinion polls are predicting a surprisingly big win for the Abe-led Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) after indications he may have been struggling against the New Hope Party, which was formed on the eve of the election campaign by Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike.

According to a poll in the Yomiuri newspaper and Kyodo news agency, the LDP-led coalition is on track to win 300 or more seats in the 465-member lower house. This would be an improvement on its standing in the previous parliament.

If the Abe-led coalition is returned with a substantial majority, he is likely to push forward with attempts to revise Japan’s pacifist post-war constitution to enable a clearer definition of Japan’s military to enable it to assert itself militarily – if necessary.

Such a development would have implications for Australia’s growing security relationship with Japan. This partnership has not attracted much attention, but it has been substantial and evolving since a Joint Defence and Security Agreement was struck in 2007.

The two countries have progressively upgraded a bilateral Acquisition and Cross Services Agreement that enhances interoperability between the Australian Defence Force and the Japanese Self-Defence Force. Australia and Japan have also declared a Special Strategic Partnership aimed at strengthening security ties in the Indo-Pacific.

What’s driving closer defence co-ordination between the second world war protagonists is concerns about China’s rise, and the implications for a regional power balance. This would seem to be a prudent course.

In the aftermath of the Communist Party congress and the Japanese election, with Xi and Abe’s positions enhanced, it might be reasonable to assume that the sometimes-tense relations between China and Japan will take a turn for the better. Concerns about instability on the Korean Peninsula should provide a catalyst for greater co-operation, and a lessening of tensions over territorial disputes.

An early opportunity for a show of amity will come at next month’s APEC forum in Vietnam. This will also be attended by US President Donald Trump.

Abe is thought likely to press China for a long-delayed summit with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and South Korean President Moon Jae-in. North Korea would be a focus of those discussions. For its part, China is anxious that Japan lend its weight to the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

One indication that Abe is anxious to improve ties with China is that no cabinet ministers in Abe’s party visited the Yasukuni Shrine on the August 15 anniversary of the war’s end. China has previously angrily protested these visits.

From an economic perspective, close attention will be paid to statements by Xi and others at the party congress on China’s GDP growth targets and economic priorities for the next five years. Indications from the first half of this year are that China’s growth will exceed a 6.5% target for 2017. The economy has been strengthening in the second half of this year thanks, in part, to a construction boom.

But China’s debt-to-GDP ratio remains a significant concern. In the first quarter of 2017 total debt to GDP reached 257.8%. This is up from 187.5% five years ago.

In the end, China-watchers will be animated by personnel shifts in the Chinese leadership evidenced by announcements of a newly constituted Central Committee, Politburo, and, most importantly, Standing Committee of the Politburo.

The ConversationWhen these personnel shifts are unveiled they will reveal the extent to which Xi has strengthened his power over the party apparatus, and thus over China. The betting is this will be a win-win for Xi.

Tony Walker, Adjunct Professor, School of Communications, La Trobe University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Household savings figures in Turnbull’s energy policy look rubbery


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The big questions about Malcolm Turnbull’s energy policy will be, for consumers, what it would mean for their bills and, for business, how confident it can be that the approach would hold if Bill Shorten were elected.

The government needs to convince people they’ll get some price relief, but even as Turnbull unveiled the policy the rubbery nature of the household savings became apparent.

Crucially, the policy aims to give investors the certainty they have demanded. But the risk is this could be undermined if Labor, which is well ahead in the polls, indicated an ALP government would go off in yet another direction.

And most immediately, there is also the issue of states’ attitudes, because their co-operation is needed for the policy’s implementation. Turnbull talked to premiers after the announcement, and the plan goes to the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) next month.

Turnbull describes the policy as “a game-changer” that would deliver “affordability, reliability and responsibility [on emissions reduction]”.

Unsurprisingly – given it would end the subsidy for renewables, rejecting Chief Scientist Alan Finkel’s recommendation for a clean energy target – the policy sailed through the Coalition partyroom with overwhelming support.

Finkel later chose to go along with it rather than be offended by the discarding of his proposal. The important thing, he said, was that “they’re effectively adopting an orderly transition” for the energy sector, which was what he had urged.

In the partyroom Tony Abbott was very much a minority voice when he criticised the plan; his desire for a discussion of the politics was effectively put down by a prime minister who had his predecessor’s measure on the day.

The policy – recommended by the Energy Security Board, which includes representatives of the bodies operating and regulating the national energy market – is based on a new “national energy guarantee”, with two components.

Energy retailers across the National Electricity Market, which covers the eastern states, would have to “deliver reliable and lower emissions generation each year”.

A “reliability guarantee” would be set to deliver the level of dispatchable energy – from coal, gas, pumped hydro, batteries – needed in each state. An “emissions guarantee” would also be set, to contribute to Australia’s Paris commitments.

According to the Energy Security Board’s analysis, “it is expected that following the guarantee could lead to a reduction in residential bills in the order of A$100-115 per annum over the 2020-2030 period”. The savings would phase up during the period.

When probed, that estimate came to look pretty rough and ready. More modelling has to be done. In Question Time, Turnbull could give no additional information about the numbers, saying he only had what was in the board’s letter to the government.

So people shouldn’t be hanging out for the financial relief this policy would bring. Although to be fair, Turnbull points to the fact it is part of a suite of measures the government is undertaking.

Business welcomed the policy, but made it clear it wanted more detail and – crucially – that it is looking for bipartisanship.

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry said the policy’s detail “and its ability to win bipartisan and COAG support will be critical”. Andy Vesey, chief executive of AGL, tweeted that “with bipartisan support” the policy would provide investment certainty.

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The Australian Industry Group said it was “a plausible new direction for energy policy” but “only bipartisanship on energy policy will create the conditions for long-term investment in energy generation and by big energy users”.

It’s not entirely clear whether the government would prefer a settlement or a stoush with the opposition on energy.

Turnbull told parliament it had arranged for the opposition to have a briefing from the Energy Security Board, and urged Labor to “get on board” with the policy.

But Labor homed in on his not giving a “guarantee” on price, as well as the smallness of the projected savings. Climate spokesman Mark Butler said it appeared it would be “just a 50 cent [a week] saving for households in three years’ time, perhaps rising to as much as $2.00 per week in a decade”.

But while the opposition has gone on the attack, it is also hedging its bets, playing for time.

“We’ve got to have … some meat on the bones,” Butler said. “Because all the prime minister really announced today was a bunch of bones.”

“We need detail to be able to sit down with stakeholders, with the energy industry, with big businesses that use lots of energy, with stakeholder groups that represent households, and obviously state and territory governments as well, and start to talk to them about the way forward in light of the announcement the government made today,” he said.

The initial reaction from state Labor is narky. Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said it seemed Finkel had been replaced by “professor Tony Abbott as the chief scientist”, while South Australia’s Jay Weatherill claimed Turnbull “has now delivered a coal energy target.”

These are early days in this argument. Federal Labor will have to decide how big an issue it wants to make energy and climate at the election. Apart from talking to stakeholders and waiting for more detail, it wants to see whether the plan flies at COAG.

If it does, the federal opposition could say that rather than tear up the scheme in government, it would tweak it and build on it. That way, Labor would avoid criticism it was undermining investment confidence.

The ConversationBut if there is an impasse with the states and the plan is poorly received by the public, the “climate wars” could become hotter.

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/sk78v-786f19?from=site&skin=1&share=1&fonts=Helvetica&auto=0&download=0

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Newspoll 54-46 to Labor as Turnbull’s ratings slump. Qld Newspoll 52-48 to Labor


Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

This week’s Newspoll, conducted 12-15 October from a sample of 1580, gave Labor a 54-46 lead, unchanged from three weeks ago. Primary votes were 37% Labor (down 1), 36% Coalition (steady), 10% Greens (up 1) and 9% One Nation (up 1). This is Turnbull’s 21st consecutive Newspoll loss as PM.

32% were satisfied with Turnbull’s performance (down 3) and 56% were dissatisfied (up 4), for a net approval of -24, down 7 points. Shorten’s net approval was -22, down two points. According to Kevin Bonham, this is Turnbull’s worst net approval since July, and Shorten’s worst since June.

By 63-23, voters favoured continuing renewable energy subsidies. However, 58% said they would pay nothing more for electricity or gas to implement a clean energy target. In a mid-September Essential poll, voters thought renewables better for electricity costs than fossil fuels by a 41-27 margin.

The general public would like more investment in renewables, and expects that renewable energy would not increase current power prices. However, the Coalition backbench is strongly opposed to renewable energy. By siding with the backbench, Turnbull is undermining his standing with the public.

Labor should ferociously attack the Coalition’s new energy policy that was announced today. In recent global elections, major left-wing parties have performed best when they have clearly distinguished themselves from conservatives. Where the left has become close to the conservatives, they have performed dismally, with Austria (see below) the latest example.

While Newspoll was good for Labor, Essential and YouGov below are not as good. All three polls this week agree that One Nation’s vote is up by 1-2 points.

Last week, The Australian published the July to September quarter Newspoll breakdowns by state, region, sex and age. Since the 2016 election, there has been an 8 point swing to Labor in Queensland, WA and outside the five capitals, but milder swings elsewhere.

SSM plebiscite turnout and polling

As at Friday 13 October, the ABS estimated it had received 10.8 million same sex marriage forms (67.5% of the electorate). The turnout is up from 62.5% on 6 October and 57.5% on 29 September. Weekly updates will be provided until 7 November, the final day for reception of SSM envelopes.

In this week’s YouGov poll, 67% of respondents had already voted, a very good match for the ABS. Among these, Yes led by 61-35. The remaining 33% favoured Yes 54-28, including 13% who were very likely to vote.

Wednesday morning update 18 October: In Newspoll, 65% said they have already voted and another 19% definitely will, implying an 84% turnout. Among those who have already voted, Yes led by 59-38, and by 49-37 among those who have not yet voted. For the whole sample, Yes led by 56-37 (57-34 three weeks ago). By 50-43, voters were opposed to the postal plebiscite (46-44 opposed three weeks ago).

Essential 52-48 to Labor

This week’s Essential, conducted over the last two weeks from a sample of 1850, gave Labor a 52-48 lead, a 2 point gain for the Coalition since last week. As Essential uses two week rolling averages, this implies that this week’s sample was close to 50-50. Primary votes were 37% Coalition (up 1), 36% Labor (down 2), 9% Greens (down 1), 8% One Nation (up 1) and 3% Nick Xenophon Team (up 1). Additional questions are based on one week’s sample.

Voters approved 65-15 of the Clean Energy Target, 74-10 of renewable energy subsidies and 62-18 of Labor’s 50% renewable energy target. These questions can be said to be “pony polls”, in that the voter is asked whether they approve of something that sounds nice, without considering cost or other issues.

61% (down 10 since February) thought the government was not doing enough to ensure affordable, reliable and clean energy, 15% thought it was doing enough (up 3) and 5% that it was doing too much (up 2).

42% thought Abbott should resign from Parliament (down 1 since April), 14% that he should be given a ministry (down 4), 16% remain a backbencher (up 2) and 9% challenge Turnbull (not asked in April).

In contrast to Newspoll, last week’s Essential gave Turnbull a net -1 rating, up from -5 in September. Shorten had a net -7 rating, up from -11.

Essential asked which people’s interests the major parties best represented, with expected results. Labor was seen as best for low-income working people (+33 vs the Liberals), people on welfare (+28) and students (+22). The Liberals were best for big business (+51) and high-income working people (+49).

By 55-36, voters thought it likely there would be a war between North Korea and the US. 33% said terrorism was the biggest concern for their personal safety, with 20% selecting a car accident and 13% nuclear warfare.

YouGov primary votes: 34% Coalition, 32% Labor, 11% Greens, 11% One Nation

YouGov continues to have Labor much lower than other polls. Primary votes in this week’s YouGov, conducted 12-16 October with a sample of 1067, were 34% Coalition (steady), 32% Labor (down 1), 11% Greens (steady), 11% One Nation (up 2), 3% Nick Xenophon Team (down 1) and 4% Christian parties (steady).

As usual, YouGov’s two party result, using respondent allocation, is skewed to the Coalition; they lead 51-49, though the previous election method would give Labor about a 52.5-47.5 lead according to the Poll Bludger.

56% thought Australia should have stricter gun laws, 34% thought they should remain about the same and just 7% thought they should be less strict. By 45-37, voters thought the Constitution should not be changed to allow dual citizens to run for office.

Qld Newspoll 52-48 to Labor

A Queensland Newspoll, conducted 10-12 October from a sample of 917, gave Labor a 52-48 lead, a one point gain for the LNP since the July to September Newspoll. Primary votes were 37% Labor (steady), 34% LNP (steady), 16% One Nation (up 1) and 8% Greens (steady). The next Queensland election must be held by early 2018.

42% were satisfied with Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk’s performance (up 1), and 45% were dissatisfied (down 1), for a net approval of -3. Opposition leader Tim Nicholls had a net approval of -11, up five points.

The narrowing in Labor’s two party lead is partly because Newspoll are now assuming that One Nation preferences flow to the LNP at a 60% rate, up from 55% previously. Unlike most state Newspolls, this poll was taken over three days last week, rather than a period of months.

Austria election: conservative/far-right coalition likely outcome

The Austrian election was held on 15 October. The conservative OVP won 31.5% of the vote (up 7.5 points since the 2013 election), the centre-left SPO 26.9% (steady) the far-right FPO 26.0% (up 5.5), the liberal NEOS 5.3% (up 0.3), the Greens breakaway party PILZ 4.4% and the Greens 3.8% (down 8.7). Turnout was 79.4%, up 4.5 points.

Seats are awarded roughly proportional to vote share with a 4% threshold. The OVP won 62 of the 183 seats (up 15), the SPO 52 (steady), the FPO 51 (up 11), the NEOS 10 (up 1) and PILZ 8. Thus the FPO holds the balance of power, and will probably join the OVP in a conservative/far-right coalition government. Although a few votes remain to be counted, the Greens appear to have missed the threshold, losing all 24 of their seats.

The centrist parties, the SPO and OVP, had been in coalition for the last two terms. According to this article in The Guardian, both parties became more right-wing in an attempt to appeal to FPO voters. From what we have seen in other countries, this strategy only helps the far-right.

In the December 2016 Austrian Presidential election, Greens candidate Alexander Van der Bellen defeated the far-right Norbert Hofer 53.8-46.2, showing that a left-wing candidate could win. However, the SPO did not embrace a left-wing agenda.

The ConversationThis election was an utter disaster for the Austrian Greens. The Greens won 12.4% in 2013. With the major parties becoming more right-wing, this should have been an opportunity for the Greens to increase their vote. However, the Greens split into the PILZ and Greens before the election, and only the PILZ made it back into Parliament.

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The government’s energy policy hinges on some tricky wordplay about coal’s role


John Quiggin, The University of Queensland

The most important thing to understand about the federal government’s new National Energy Guarantee is that it is designed not to produce a sustainable and reliable electricity supply system for the future, but to meet purely political objectives for the current term of parliament.

Those political objectives are: to provide a point of policy difference with the Labor Party; to meet the demands of the government’s backbench to provide support for coal-fired electricity; and to be seen to be acting to hold power prices down.

Meeting these objectives solves Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s immediate political problems. But it comes at the cost of producing a policy that can only produce further confusion and delay.


Read more: Federal government unveils ‘National Energy Guarantee’ – experts react


The government’s central problem is that, as well as being polluting, coal-fired power is not well suited to the problem of increasingly high peaks in power demand, combined with slow growth in total demand.

Coal-fired power plants are expensive to start up and shut down, and are therefore best suited to meeting “baseload demand” – that is, the base level of electricity demand that never goes away. Until recently, this characteristic of coal was pushed by the government as the main reason we needed to maintain coal-fired power.

The opposite of baseload power is “dispatchable” power, which can be turned on and off as needed.

Classic sources of dispatchable power include hydroelectricity and gas, while recent technological advances mean that large-scale battery storage is now also a feasible option.

Coal-fired plants can be adapted to be “load-following” which gives them some flexibility in their output. But this requires expensive investment and reduces the plants’ operating life. The process is particularly ill-suited to the so-called High Efficiency, Low Emissions (HELE) plants being pushed as a solution to the other half of the policy problem, reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

Given that there is only limited capacity to expand hydro (Turnbull’s Snowy 2.0 is years away, if it ever happens) and that successive governments have made a mess of gas policy, any serious expansion of dispatchable power would realistically need to focus on batteries. The South Australian government reached this conclusion some time ago, making a decision to invest in its own battery storage. That move was roundly condemned by the federal government, which at the time was still focused on baseload.

The government’s emphasis on baseload was always mistaken, but the confusion and noise surrounding energy policy meant that few people understood this. That changed in September when the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) reported that Australia’s National Electricity Market faced a capacity shortfall of up to 1,000 megawatts for the coming summer, and that older baseload power stations will struggle to cope.

Clearly this situation called for more flexibility in dispatchable sources in the short term, and widespread investment in dispatchables for the long term.

A question of definition

Obviously, this presented Turnbull with a dilemma. The policy advice clearly favoured dispatchables, but vocal members of his backbench wanted a policy to subsidise coal.

The answer was breathtakingly simple. The new policy redefines coal as dispatchable, despite it having the opposite technological characteristics.

This is not an entirely new approach. Before the government decided to abandon the proposed Clean Energy Target it put a lot of effort into redefining coal as “clean”. The approach here involved creating confusion between carbon capture and storage (CCS) and HELE power stations. CCS involves capturing carbon dioxide from power station smokestacks and pumping it underground, thereby avoiding emissions. This would be a great solution to the problems of carbon pollution if it worked, but unfortunately it’s hopelessly uneconomic

By contrast, HELE is just a fancy name for the marginal improvements made to coal-fired technology over the 30-50 years since most of our existing coal-fired plants were designed and built. The “low” emissions are far higher than those for gas-fired power, let alone renewables or, for that matter, nuclear energy (another uneconomic option).

The core of the government’s plan is a requirement that all electricity retailers should provide a certain proportion of dispatchable electricity – a term that has now been arbitrarily defined to include coal. By creating a demand for this supposedly dispatchable power, the policy discourages the retirement of the very coal units that AEMO has identified as ill-suited to our needs.

Elusive certainty?

Given that the policy is unlikely to survive beyond the next election, it’s unlikely that it will prompt anyone to build a new gas-fired power station, let alone a coal-fired plant. So the only real effect will be to discourage investment in renewables and create yet further policy uncertainty.

This undermines the basis for the (unreleased) modelling supposedly showing that household electricity costs will fall. These savings are supposed to arise from the investment certainty resulting from bipartisan agreement. But the political imperative for the government is to put forward a policy Labor can’t support, to provide leverage in an election campaign. If the government had wanted policy certainty it could have accepted Labor’s offer to support the Clean Energy Target.

The ConversationIt remains to be seen whether this scheme will achieve the government’s political objectives. It is already evident, however, that it does not represent a long-term solution to our problems in energy and climate policy.

John Quiggin, Professor, School of Economics, The University of Queensland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Turnbull’s ratings fall in another bad Newspoll


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The Coalition is trailing in its 21st consecutive Newspoll, with Labor maintaining its two-party lead of 54-46% and Malcolm Turnbull suffering a setback in his personal ratings.

As parliament resumes, with the energy issue preoccupying cabinet and the government nervously waiting on the High Court’s citizenship decisions, Turnbull’s lead over Bill Shorten as better prime minister narrowed to 41-33%, a margin of eight points, compared with 11 three weeks ago (42-31%).

Turnbull’s net satisfaction in the poll, published in Monday’s Australian, worsened from minus 17 points to minus 24 points. Shorten’s rating also worsened, from minus 20 to minus 22.

The run-up to the poll was marked by Tony Abbott’s controversial speech on climate change, delivered in London. It also saw further public uncertainty over the government’s yet-to-be-announced policy on energy, which cabinet is expected to consider on Monday.

Last week, the government effectively dumped any prospect of bringing in a clean energy target, which kills the chance of any bipartisanship. Opposition spokesman Mark Butler on Sunday told the ABC that if Turnbull walked away from a clean energy target “he won’t get the support of the Labor Party”.

When he challenged Abbott in 2015, Turnbull pointed to the Coalition being behind in 30 Newspolls in a row. His government is now more than two-thirds of the way to that benchmark.

Labor’s primary vote fell one point to 37%, while the Coalition was steady on 36%. One Nation rose one point to 9%; the Greens rose one point to 10%; and support for “others” fell from 9% to 8%.

The poll of 1,583 voters was done from Thursday to Sunday.

In parliament, the government this week will press its efforts to lower the company tax rate for larger enterprises. A deal with Nick Xenophon earlier this year saw the passage of the tax plan reductions for companies with a turnover of up to A$50 million annually. But the government has not been able to win support for the cuts proposed for big business. It is the cuts for the large companies which have the more significant economic impact.

Xenophon on Sunday night reiterated his Nick Xenophon Team (NXT) would not support the cuts. “We’ve ruled it out. Our position won’t change,” he said.

The ten-year tax plan was a centrepiece of the Coalition’s 2016 election policy.

The Business Council of Australia (BCA) has stepped up its lobbying for the cuts, with a booklet titled “Why Australia needs a competitive company tax rate”.

The BCA says Australia’s top company tax rate of 30% is the fifth-highest in the OECD and could soon be the third-highest. The average company rate across the OECD is 24%, while in Asia the average is 21%.

The UK has plans to cut its federal rate from 35% to 20% and the UK has legislated to go from 19% to 17%, the BCA points out.

BCA chief executive Jennifer Westacott said the “global action should be a wake up call for the Senate that Australia cannot afford to stand still, since every company tax reduction overseas is a de-facto tax increase on Australia”.

Westacott said parliament’s decision in March to restrict the tax cut to businesses with a turnover up to $50 million per year “leaves the job half done and our economy at risk as other countries become more competitive in the global race for investment.

“Those who attack the case for company tax cuts have no alternative credible plan to get investment growing strongly again,” she said.

The government is also battling to get the numbers to pass its higher education package. On this Xenophon said the NXT had serious reservations “but we’re still talking to the government”.

Xenophon is one of those MPs whose citizenship status is before the High Court, but he plans to leave federal politics even if the court decision goes in his favour (although he hasn’t said exactly when). He intends to lead his SA-BEST party at next year’s South Australian election.

The government has two ministers – Barnaby Joyce, the deputy prime minister, and Fiona Nash, the Nationals’ deputy – before the High Court, as well as former minister Matt Canavan, who quit the frontbench when the question of his constitutional eligibility for parliament arose.

The ConversationThe High Court is expected to make its decisions on the seven citizenship cases quickly.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Middle income earners probably won’t be paying as much tax as the government expects



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The PBO has likely overestimated future personal income tax revenue.
Shutterstock

Phil Lewis, University of Canberra

The federal government’s return to a budgetary surplus by 2020/21 will mainly be due to a projected increase in personal income tax revenue, according to a report from the Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO).

The PBO modelling shows that people in the middle of the income spectrum will bear the brunt of this, due to bracket creep. This occurs when tax thresholds (including the tax free threshold) stay constant while income grows due to inflation.

But the PBO modelling includes assumptions about inflation and wages growth that do not bear a resemblance to what is happening in the economy. Both inflation and wages growth have been depressed for some time, and there’s little reason to believe there will be a sudden increase.


Read more: How market forces and weakened institutions are keeping our wages low


The fundamental assumption driving the PBO projections is nominal (not adjusted for inflation) income growth of between 4% and 5%. This consistutes 2% to 2.5% annual inflation and 2.5% to 3% percent annual increase in real income.

The difference between nominal and real incomes is important as it is increases in real income (adjusted for inflation) that result in higher standards of living. But taxes are levied on our nominal incomes, regardless of inflation. Because of this difference, bracket creep means that real incomes after tax (otherwise known as disposable income) will actually fall.

What the PBO report projects

To calculate how much tax we will be paying in the future, the PBO first makes assumptions about inflation and real earnings growth and uses these to project individual incomes. Current income tax rates are then applied to these projected incomes, and the increased amount paid by each individual is added together.

According to the PBO’s modelling, the average individual tax rate will increase by 2.3% from 2017–18 to 2021–22. And every income group will see their tax rates increase over this period.

The largest tax increase is expected for individuals in the middle incomes, who have an average taxable of A$46,000 in 2017/18. This group are projected to face an increase in their average tax rate of 3.2% by 2021–22. Their average tax rate is expected to increase from 14.9% to 18.2%.

Meanwhile, those in the second lowest and two highest income quintiles are expected to see their average tax rate rise between 1.9% and 2.5%. The average tax rate for individuals in the lowest income group is projected to rise by only 0.2%, as most of their income remains below the tax free threshold.

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The increases in average tax rates are even greater if a comparison is made with 2016/17, the latest year for which individuals have been paying tax. As you can see in the previous chart, when compared to 2016/17, individuals in the middle income quintile will see their average tax rate rise by 3.8%.

As you can see, the largest burden of the tax brack creep will fall on “average Australians”. This is because they will see their nominal (before adjusting for inflation) incomes rise. Typically, the lowest income earners do not earn enough to get above the tax free threshold and the highest income earners already pay a large portion of their tax at the top marginal rates.

Because of increasing inflation and wage growth, the Parliamentary Budget Office projects that even the lowest income earners will be liable to pay income tax by 2019/20.

Heroic assumptions?

The 2% to 2.5% inflation assumed in PBO’s forecast is in the mid-point of the Reserve Bank’s target range of 2% to 3%, so this is not entirely unreasonable assumption.

But both PBO’s inflation and wage growth (2.5% to 3%) assumptions are currently way above the levels seen in the economy. According to the ABS annual inflation currently stands at just 1.8%, and the earnings of all Australian employees is growing at 1.6% per annum.

The reasons for persistent low inflation, not just in Australia but in most other industrialised countries, are not well understood or agreed upon.

And a number of theories have been put forward to explain low real wage growth including, the degree of underemployment, reduced job security, declining bargaining power of unions and increased potential competition, either from advances in technology or from international competition.

But regardless of the reasons for the persistently laggard growth in wages and inflation, there are also no signs that these rates will rise significantly any time soon, let alone to the levels assumed by the PBO.


Read more: Budget explainer: why is Australia’s wage growth so sluggish?


Given the information contained in the PBO report we can’t calculate exactly what the impact of these tax increases will be for individuals.

However, it is clear that if the current wage and price conditions persist the actual tax revenue will fall way short of the projected figures for all years up to and including 2021/22 and make a Budget balance even further off.

We can also make some extrapolations based on averages. As a simple example, consider someone on an annual income of A$84,000 in 2017/18 (which is around the current average earnings in Australia). Under the assumption that nominal incomes increase by only 2% per year, the tax paid (including Medicare levy) in 2020/21 would be A$23,158.

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However, if you compare this to nominal income growth of 5% (which is what the PBO assumes) the tax paid would be A$26,357 in 2020/21.

That is, tax collected from this individual would be 12% less under a low growth scenario than under the PBO’s more optimistic scenario. In the years 2018/19 and 2019/20 the tax collected would be respectively 4% and 8% less. This illustrates how precarious the projection of a balanced Budget in 2020/21 is.

The ConversationWhatever the outcome, it is for certain that income earners will see any nominal increases eroded not just by inflation, but also through bracket creep.

Phil Lewis, Professor of Economics, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

NSW ReachTEL: Coalition leads 52-48 as One Nation slumps. Xenophon tied or ahead in SA’s Hartley


Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

A NSW ReachTEL poll for Fairfax media, conducted 5 October from a sample of 1650, gave the Coalition a 52-48 lead by preference flows at the 2015 election, a 3 point gain for Labor since a Channel 7 ReachTEL poll, conducted just after Mike Baird’s resignation as Premier in January. With 8.1% undecided excluded, primary votes in this ReachTEL were 40.9% Coalition (down 1.8), 33.7% Labor (up 5.7), 9.9% Greens (up 1.5), 8.9% One Nation (down 7.4) and 2.4% Shooters, Fishers and Farmers. NSW uses optional preferential voting.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian held a 52.1-47.9 lead over opposition leader Luke Foley in ReachTEL’s forced choice better Premier question, which tends to favour opposition leaders over polls that have an undecided option.

The January poll was taken when One Nation was at its peak, both nationally and in state polls, and that poll had One Nation at a record for any NSW poll. As One Nation’s right-wing economic views have become better known, it appears that much of their working-class support has returned to Labor.

In Queensland, One Nation’s support in a recent ReachTEL was 18.1% including undecided voters. Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk’s support for the Adani coal mine does not distinguish Labor from the LNP. If the two major parties are seen as similar, anti-establishment parties can thrive.

At the recent NZ and UK elections, the total major party vote increased substantially. I believe this increase occurred at least partly because the major NZ and UK parties had very different policies, and anti-establishment parties were denied the “this mob is the same as the other mob” line. In contrast, the major parties were in coalition before the German election, and both slumped badly, with the far-right AfD winning 12.6%.

NSW state by-elections: Nats hold seats despite big swings against

Yesterday, by-elections occurred in the NSW National-held seats of Murray and Cootamundra, and in Labor-held Blacktown; all three seats were easily won by the incumbent party at the 2015 election. The Liberals did not contest Blacktown.

In Murray, Shooters candidate Helen Dalton stood as an Independent at the 2015 state election. The Nationals won by 53.5-46.5, a 19.2 point swing to Dalton since 2015. Primary votes were 40.5% Nationals (down 15.0), 31.4% Dalton (up 13.2) and 21.0% Labor (up 4.8).

In Cootamundra, the Nationals won by 60.1-39.9 vs Labor, a 10.3 point swing to Labor. Primary votes were 46.0% Nationals (down 19.9), 24.2% Labor (down 1.8) and 23.5% Shooters, who did not stand in 2015.

With no Liberal in Blacktown, Labor romped to 68.9% of the primary vote (up 15.0). The Christian Democrats were a distant second with 17.7% and the Greens won 8.8%.

These results do not yet include postal votes, which are likely to favour the Nationals. Further pre-poll votes in Murray and Cootamundra also remain to be counted.

Galaxy poll in SA seat of Hartley: Xenophon leads Liberals 53-47, but ReachTEL has a 50-50 tie

Nick Xenophon has announced he will leave the Senate after the High Court’s ruling on whether current members are eligible has been delivered. Xenophon will contest the SA state Liberal-held seat of Hartley at the March 2018 election. A Galaxy robopoll in Hartley, from a sample of 516, had Xenophon leading the Liberals by 53-47, from primary votes of 38% Liberal, 35% Xenophon, 17% Labor, 6% Greens and 3% Conservatives.

However, a ReachTEL poll for Channel 7 had a 50-50 tie, from primary votes of 36.7% Liberal, 21.7% Xenophon and 19.7% Labor. The primary votes probably include an undecided component of a little under 10%; these people can be pushed to say who they lean to. It is likely leaners strongly favoured Xenophon, as the Liberals would lead on the primary votes provided.

The Galaxy poll is encouraging for Xenophon, but the ReachTEL poll is more sobering. Labor will target Xenophon during the campaign over votes he has taken in the Senate that have helped the Coalition pass its legislation. Currently, only those who follow politics closely are aware of these votes, but Labor’s campaign is likely to increase this awareness. Such a campaign could undermine Xenophon’s support among centre-left voters.

Essential state polling: July to September

Essential has released July to September quarterly polling for all mainland states, by month for the eastern seaboard states. In September, the Coalition led by 51-49 in NSW, unchanged on August. In Victoria, Labor led by 54-46, a 2 point gain for Labor since August. In WA, Labor led by 54-46 for July to September, a 1 point gain for the Coalition.

In Queensland, Labor led by 53-47 in September, a 2 point gain for the LNP since August. Primary votes were 35% Labor, 35% LNP, 13% One Nation and 10% Greens. By splitting One Nation and Others preferences evenly, Essential is likely to be overestimating Labor’s two party vote.

In SA, Labor led by an unchanged 52-48 in July to September. Primary votes were 37% Labor, 30% Liberal, 18% Nick Xenophon Team and 6% Greens. If these hard-to-believe primary votes are correct, Labor is far further ahead than 52-48. The NXT won 21.3% in SA at the 2016 Federal election.

The ConversationEssential’s state polling was not good at any of the Victorian 2014, Queensland 2015 or NSW 2015 state elections.

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Shorten promises $1 billion fund to finance manufacturing enterprises


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Bill Shorten is promising that a Labor government would set up a A$1 billion fund to assist “advanced manufacturing”.

Modelled on the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC), which was established by Labor, the Australian Manufacturing Future Fund “will support innovative Australian manufacturing firms who want to grow their businesses and create jobs, but who might find it difficult to obtain private sources of finance”.

Shorten will make the announcement on Saturday in Adelaide. It comes as South Australia is hit by the shutdown of Holden’s car production plant there on October 20, with a loss of about 950 jobs. It also highlights the more interventionist policy approach being seen from both sides of politics.

A state where manufacturing struggles, SA faces an election early next year in which jobs and business opportunities will be issues. Last week’s announcement that Nick Xenophon will leave the Senate to lead a team of state candidate has thrown a wildcard into the poll.

Shorten and Shadow Industry Minister Kim Carr said in a statement that the proposed fund would help local manufacturers innovate and diversify. This could mean:

  • auto component manufacturers re-tooling or diversifying into other industries;

  • food manufacturers investing in new equipment for new products to export to Asia; and

  • metals fabricators expanding into pre-fabricated housing.

They said that an ALP government would ask the fund to give priority to considering “transformative investments in the automative manufacturing and food manufacturing sectors”.

Shorten and Carr quoted the Australian Industry Group saying that financial institutions were “downgrading manufacturing industries and making access to finance more difficult and expensive”.

“Labor won’t let the big banks hold Australian advanced manufacturing back,” they said.

The fund, which would not be financing large-scale enterprises, would partner with private finance to reduce the perceived risk in innovative projects. It would “apply commercial rigour” when investing and would offer financing in the forms of equity, concessional loans and loan guarantees. It would not make cash grants.

It might partner with the CEFC to invest in energy efficient projects and equipment to help with a business’ energy costs, or with the Export Finance and Insurance Corporation to access new export markets with new products.

The ConversationThe fund would be off-budget. It would be expected to be financially self- sufficient and achieve a benchmark rate of return across its portfolio.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.