Less educated Australians swung spectacularly to the Coalition.

Luke Metcalfe
Data Scientist

So the polls predicted a big swing to Labor but yesterday we saw the opposite: a swing away from them and a returned conservative government.

I wasn’t too surprised. I ran the numbers and found the same mismatch between experts and reality that I see in my consulting to major consumer brands:

The less educated polling booths were, the less they behaved as predicted

The above graph shows that the 20% of the polling booths with the fewest people with a graduate degree saw a swing of nearly 7% to the Coalition. On the other end of the spectrum, the most educated fifth of polling booths- actually swung 0.5% towards Labor (two party preferred).

How I did it: first I got this morning’s results for each polling booth in the country from the electoral commission and looked at the population in the Microburb directly surrounding it, making the assumption that if you live within a few blocks of a polling booth, that will be the one you vote at.

Then I gave it over to the machine to find the drivers of the swing. Out of the many tens of thousands of potential predictors I’ve collected over the years, university education came up #1. All the other top factors were education-related too. It has a correlation of -0.4 with a negligible P value (6061 polling booths could be matched and had enough data).

A pattern of bias among experts

The core problem is that when humans ask specific questions in surveys or of databases, they are starting with bias. Whereas the “big data” approach to throw in as much data as possible and let the machine scan for patterns. This empowers the human analyst to have a wider perspective in looking for core drivers.

In this case, survey targets no longer reliably answer land line calls and even when called on their mobiles, most don’t agree to be surveyed. So it was left to the experts to try and make the surveys representative. Chances are they weren’t entirely empirical about this and relied on their intuition.

My work analysing the data of big Australian consumer brands has routinely uncovered this systematic bias: market researchers and analysts make sense of numbers using a mix of stats and intuition. That intuition is always informed by their own life and experiences. They are mostly cosmopolitan, don’t encounter uneducated people so their voice is not properly extracted or smoothed over as noise.

There are many factors at play of course and I’m certainly not saying that all the Left has to do is send people to university. In the corporate world, I encounter lots of assumptions about them like that they are simply poorer versions of us and all they want to do is be like us. But these forgotten people have their own values, and don’t understand the world in the same way.

Nor am I saying intuition is worth nothing. It’s very valuable in coming up with hypotheses. But eventually these assumptions are tested in the marketplace and the polling booth.

The two Australias

In predicting behaviour these days, my models end up dividing Australia into two classes: a university educated, affluent, multicultural, cosmopolitan one on one side and on the other have to be very delicately described – the people who go against the brand’s values. But every mainstream brand should strive to understand the latter, not least ones that are supposed to champion the working class.

Luke Metcalfe is founder of Rapid Intelligence, a data science consultancy specialising in scanning for core business drivers across disparate datasets. He is also created Microburbs, a free service which uses big data to calculate liveability of Australian suburbs.

11 thoughts on “Less educated Australians swung spectacularly to the Coalition.

  1. Note I didn’t include SA1s that lacked polling booths because I was less confident of which one voters used. That could account for why the swing to the LNP overall looks so massive.

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    • Last election the AEC published a big CSV which said how many voters from each SA1 voted at each polling booth. So once all the dust has settled it should be very possible to rerun the analysis with more exact numbers.

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  2. Just because I didn’t attend University or have a said degree does not mean that I am not educated. I am educated with real life values. So your whole story means not a thing. Education comes in many forms. So please get your facts right before you write this bull dust. I would give my right arm to see an University degreed person try and live my life without doing some form of harm to themselves or drugs and alcohol. You make me laugh

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  3. Well why don’t they teach people how to bloody vote in VCE????? along with superannuation and loan interest..
    would solve half the country’s problems

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  4. No real surprise there. What else can we expect when so many people get their news & information through Murdoch media outlets & other sources such as YouYube & other forms of social media. Most of these people are unlikely to have a tertiary education & will have little or no real research skills.

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  5. The causative factor seems to be affluence rather than education (the fact that degree-holders are likely to be more affluent would be reason for the correlation). Richer electorates have frequently voted differently to “less wealthy” ones – you’ve simply found another correlative factor and suggested it as the cause.

    Would love to see data on affluent-non-degree holders, and whether they break the same way across electorates.

    Liked by 1 person

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