JOHN CARMODY. Same-sex marriage survey is All Over, Red Rover.

Newspapers and the electronic media seem to flourish on controversy, novelty and scandal; the temptation is to expand and prolong their coverage unduly.  The current postal survey on “same-sex marriage” seems to be a classic instance.

Even though it will be weeks until the Australian Bureau of Statistics completes the counting of the returned forms, the data that are already available show that we know the result.  It is “All over, Red Rover”.

On 3 October the ABS announced that it had already received a little over 9 million of the 16 million survey forms which have been distributed – an estimated 57.5% in total.  So, unless those returned votes are “neck-and-neck”, as with a football team which is behind at three-quarter time, making up a significant deficit will be difficult for the trailing side.

An important question, therefore, is the probable number of returns.  At a general election, where (unlike this one) the voting is compulsory, the “turn-out” is typically 90-95%.  My own guess (and the opinion polls support this) is that we cannot reasonably expect more that 75% of recipients to return those survey papers .  In other words, 12 million in all with only an additional 2.8 million yet to come.  Achieving a majority will, therefore, require 6 million votes.  What are the prospects for the “No” and “Yes” sides?

The ABS has not begun counting the votes, so at this point we can only speculate, but repeated polls give us worthwhile guidance.  One poll surveyed those who said that they had already voted and found that 64% reported having chosen “Yes” while 15%“conceded that they had voted “No”.  Can those responses be believed?  I think that the evidence of the “Yes” voters can be trusted.  After all, why would a “No” voter want to boost the “support” of the opposing side?  On the other hand, some “No” voting people might not want to admit their choice – even in the impersonal circumstances of an anonymous telephone call (where a pre-programmed computer has chosen the number to dial); so they might not volunteer an answer or even claim that they had returned the form unmarked.  That might explain the paradoxical figure in that poll: 21% of those who said that they had returned the form, allegedly hadn’t made a choice at all.

So it might be prudent to consider them all “No” voters, making the “true” negative proportion 36%.

This would mean that, of the “votes” which the ABS had received by the end of September, about 5.89 million were “Yes” and 3.32 million were “No”.  Thus, to obtain even the slimmest majority, the “No” side would need an additional 2.68 million votes (but “Yes” only 0.11 million more).  Put more dramatically, whereas, to date “No” has – at most — achieved 36% of responses, to win they must secure almost 96% of those votes which are yet to arrive, a rate which is 2.7 times the most optimistic estimate of what they have so far managed.  Even if their presumed voting proportion were to double between today and the close of sampling, they could not make up the leeway.

So the ball will be tossed back to the Canberra politicians who will, doubtless, ask themselves: how big a margin will compel us to legislate?  What will Malcolm Turnbull do to avoid further damage to his compromised position within his party (not to mention in the electorate)?  Will he, with a wink-and-a-nod, allow Senator Dean Smith to bring on his Private Member’s Bill and secretly hope that it passes (as is likely, given the ALP’s position and the moral force of a Yes vote with, at lease, some of the Coalition)?  But what if that 15% (or even 20%) is a realistic harbinger of the “No” vote – which it could be if some of the “Yes” vote has been inflated by Coalition voters who are dismayed by the spineless irresolution of the Prime Minister and his deracinated government?  That would mean a mere 2.4 million “No” voted in the 12 million returns.  It sounds like a bloodbath and a repudiation of the official Churches and the right of the Coalition. And, further, a serious portent for the election.  Perhaps a political sea-change which might bring 1949 and its 23-year sequel to mind?  That would give the media something substantial to write and talk about!

Dr John Carmody is Honorary Fellow, Discipline of Physiology, University of Sydney




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4 Responses to JOHN CARMODY. Same-sex marriage survey is All Over, Red Rover.

  1. Dr John CARMODY says:

    There are many value judgements here which I don’t want to comment on.
    The general principle, that Parliament should have debated and decided this question, cannot be challenged, however.
    The aspersions cast about the matter of a “conscience vote” are, though, more nettlesome. There is a long Australian tradition of political parties deciding policy issues by debates in their own assemblies and councils and, thereafter, requiring their parliamentary members — as members of the party — to support those agreed positions. It’s a pragmatic procedure to achieve “certainty” and stability. People might have different views about its desirability — but it is the Australian norm, as practised (effectively) by both “sides” of our politics.

  2. Bruce Wearne says:

    There are a number of amazing facts from this publicly-funded national fiasco that are simply avoided in this ongoing scramble for publicity that pretends to be a political debate on this crucial matter.

    One is the failure of social scientists – shall we say “in the line Max Weber”? – to point out that the ABS survey is in contravention of every good principle for undertaking social surveys. I affirm what J Knight says in the 3rd paragraph above.

    Just as we have failed to have public debate about how our Parliamentary Democracy is being malformed – it is a survey that the Liberal Party should rightly have paid for – we have not really had any discussion about the consequences of the all-too-furtive Labor Party’s policy that whatever the outcome of this bogus survey, from 2019 all their candidates will be bound by commitment to same-sex marriage. So much for conscience votes. So much for “letting the people have their say.” So is a vote in the survey, whatever the “say”, nothing but a proxy vote for keeping the Liberal-National Coalition in Government?

    And then of course there is the ABS envelope “Open Today. Have your Say”. This is 1984-speak and a nonsense. The ABS has demeaned itself. Those involved should have refused the over-reach of sectarian party interests.

    What party is standing up for the citizens of this polity who, seeing this survey for what it is, reject the manner in which “both sides” are perpetuating their stupid games with our system of Parliamentary representation?

    There is a mantra put forward by “Yes” pundits that there has been no clear argument from “No”. They totally ignore, and invite people to totally ignore, the political fact that, quite apart from the disingenuous former Prime Minister bleating on about legislative consequences that should have occupied him all the way back to at least 2001 if not 1974 – the bi-partisanship that gave us the 2004 Marriage Act, as it now stands, has neither been explained by both political “sides”, nor have they deigned to explain why they now walk away from that bi-partisan legislative reform. What were they trying to do? If they think it has failed, why has it failed? And what about the prominent “Yes” MPs failing to give a clear explanation on that U-Turn?

    And where is the recognition that no Government anywhere has ever had the power to say that two men or two women can be husband to a wife? Instead, all too often the panic that seems to drive large sections of the “No” has been an endorsement of state absolutism just as much as the blindness to dogmatic raison d’etat has been the driver of “Yes”!

    The political question is now: who will represent those citizens who want just public governance instead of this political fiasco which is simply compliant with a world-wide accommodation to rampant populism?

  3. J Knight says:

    The Irish referendum saw just under 40% not bother to vote. A similar number voted for SSM and the rest opposed the redefinition.

    So we may see a slightly higher participation rate here as you just have to post a letter to participate. Local Council voting by letter is around 80% where used.

    What concerns me is that when we have our highest court not understand the legal reality and a parliament that ignores the public policy position, is it any wonder that the great unwashed and the poorly educated – our tertiary graduates – are easily swayed to embrace a heartfelt but, ultimately, misguided proposition?

    But to the victors go the spoils!

    • Dr John CARMODY says:

      I wasn’t seeking to make ANY value judgements. My intention was merely to state the results of an arithmetical analysis of the data “to date”.
      On those figures — whatever the strengths and drawbacks of either “Yes” or “No” — the “No” side cannot possibly win from this point. Unlike Ireland, however, the return already substantially exceeds 60%.
      Nonetheless, I’d make this observation. Whether or not J Knight’s observation is correct [“the great unwashed and the poorly educated – our tertiary graduates – are easily swayed to embrace a heartfelt but, ultimately, misguided proposition”], the magnitude of the likely “Yes” v0te — one poll of those who had already voted found that 64% of respondents claimed to have voted “Yes” — is FAR GREATER than the proportion of “tertiary graduates” in the population. SO that cannot be a valid explanation for the highly-likely result.

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