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Campaign Diary: Apologies, threats and the election winner, as predicted by Google


In today’s diary, the Liberals apologise for a misleading ad (sort of), the Xenophon party threatens to sue (again), and an analysis of Google searches makes a surprise prediction for Saturday’s election.

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Actually, we are sorry

The Liberal Party has offered the classic political apology after being slapped down by the Electoral Commission for misleading advertising.

Leader Steven Marshall was all bravado yesterday when faced with the commission’s contention that the Liberals’ claims about their electricity plan were misleading.

The commissioner determined the material “is contrary to… the electoral act” and “contains a statement purporting to be a statement of fact that is inaccurate and misleading to a material extent”.

“It appears that the plan includes measures that are already in place and that a significant part of the savings referred to would result from those measures,” he wrote in a letter.

“It also appears that a significant part of the saving as referred to (around $230) will eventuate whether the plan is implemented or not… I note that this appears to have been conceded by Mr Marshall in a press conference on 10 October 2017 and in a later interview [on ABC Radio Adelaide].”

Marshall yesterday refused to back down or apologise, but his party did so quietly overnight.

In a statement posted on the Liberal Party Facebook page, the party waffles about what it believes the commissioner is contesting or not before, finally, offering the following weasel words.

“While we continue to respectfully disagree with the complaint to the Electoral Commissioner, we nevertheless make this statement and restate our policy position to ensure no one has been misled by the publication of our Solution and the advertising of it.

“We also apologise if any person has been misled by the comprehensive documentation publicly disclosed to explain the ‘Liberal Energy Solution’.”

Poking the bear

Some hoteliers were very upset by InDaily’s publication yesterday of work by The Conversation’s fact-checking outfit, which found the industry grossly exaggerated its claims that most of the state’s 26,000 pub jobs would be wiped out by Nick Xenophon’s pokies policy.

That fact check specifically cited a letter distributed by the Lonsdale Hotel, which claimed that a majority of pub employees in South Australia would lose their jobs if the Xenophon policy was implemented.

The same letter claimed that if Xenophon achieves a position of power “it will be the end of Pub’s (sic) as we know them”.

Today, the Electoral Commission agreed with the fact check’s concerns about these claims, saying the hotel’s letter breached the Electoral Act’s prohibition of misleading advertising.

Commissioner Mick Sherry has ordered the hotel to cease distributing the letter and to publish a retraction.

A campaign called Sue

The legal letters are flying in all directions in this campaign, but mostly from the Xenophon camp to the major parties.

Nick Xenophon has a defamation action in train against Steven Marshall for claiming that the SA Best leader had done a backroom deal with Labor.

Today, Xenophon has revealed that three of his candidates were considering legal action against Jay Weatherill, after the Premier accused them of being likely “defectors”.

Tom Antonio, Michelle Campbell and John Noonan say the claims are a “complete load of bull”, according to their leader.

Xenophon said the suggestion that they would defect was “a new low”, “completely false and something that all three are very upset about”.

Meanwhile, there’s a very happy defo lawyer somewhere.

The election winner – as predicted by Google data

An analysis of Google search data by South Australian media agency Kwasi Studios has gone against the grain to predict a disastrous result for the Liberal Party.

The experimental analysis, which the company has done to test its accuracy, examines raw “searches per candidate” data taken from Google’s Keyword Planner.

Put simply, it assesses how many South Australians are searching for each candidate, then uses distribution of search volume as a predictor of votes. It’s based on the assumption that the candidate/party with the most searches in each electorate will receive the most votes.

The findings are out of step from most mainstream predictions, which are leaning towards minority or outright Liberal government.

The analysis predicts that Labor will secure 23 of 47 seats – one short of a majority – with the Liberals claiming a disastrous 15 seats.

SA Best is predicted to win three seats, with the remainder going to minor parties and independents – at least one of whom is likely to support Labor (Frances Bedford looks sage in Florey).

Some of the results look decidedly funky – such as the Conservatives winning Morialta, SA Best winning King and Schubert, and the Dignity party and the Greens fighting it out in Croydon. It also predicts a win for Labor in Steven Marshall’s seat of Dunstan.

Kwasi Studios head Woj Kwasi says there is some evidence overseas that such an analysis can be useful.

He says some of the search volumes are low in individual seats, but he’s keen to see how closely the analysis aligns with Saturday’s result.

“Many experts in the mainstream media, relying on polling and survey data, failed to accurately predict the results of the 2016 US election,” he said.

“If they had just looked at what people were searching for online – instead of what they were saying – predicting the outcome of the election would have been a cinch.”

Kwasi cites author Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, who they say established “convincingly” in his 2017 book, Everybody Lies, that what people search for online is often a much more accurate reflection of what they think and want (as opposed to what they tell pollsters and others what they think and want).

Overseas experience is mixed. In this article, the author explains how he predicted the Greek referendum using Google Trends. This analysis by The Economist suggests that market predictions might be more accurate (while suggesting Google data can be useful and is improving).

You can see Kwasi’s full analysis in the Excel spreadsheet below. The figures are monthly averages.

Final gambits

Policy announcements today included a Labor promise to establish a “space precinct” and a Liberal pledge to end “boozy” lunches by ministers.

In a cost-cutting pledge Opposition treasury spokesman Rob Lucas said the Liberals would introduce new ministerial guidelines outlining who pays for alcohol consumed by ministers and their staff.

“We have had the obscene situation where Labor ministers and their staff have indulged in expensive bottles of wine during cosy dinners that have nothing to do with government business,” Lucas said.

The Liberals also want to amend lobbyist laws to prevent senior members of political parties or unions having a conflict of interest.

“Our prohibition will make it clear that a person can be an official of a political party or a lobbyist, but not both,” Lucas said.

A re-elected Labor government will establish a space and defence precinct in Adelaide’s north.

Premier Jay Weatherill says that vacant land will be set aside at Technology Park, Mawson Lakes to attract companies to establish themselves in SA.

“Our state is transitioning towards a high-tech future and by fostering innovation we will attract global investment opportunities and increase our share of the multi-billion space, defence and cyber industries,” Weatherill said.

– additional reporting by AAP

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