On Vote Compass

Media manager for ABC News and Current Affairs’ Sally Jackson writes: Re. “Vote Compass complete bunkum” (Monday). Crikey’s item on Vote Compass demonstrates a lack of understanding of how this election tool works, as well as a weak understanding of modern survey research overall.

The criticism is especially surprising given that in 2013 Crikey named Vote Compass the “media innovation of the year”, saying: “The winner, though, is the ABC’s terrific Vote Compass: a major initiative that allowed voters to explore how their policy preferences lined up with those of the major parties. It could have been a disaster for the ABC but 1.2 million Aussies used the tool, which delivered a fascinating and useful pool of data.”

The calibre of the statistical treatment of the Vote Compass data is both methodologically rigorous and scientifically sound. It is based on recognised and respected social scientific techniques for treating Big Data advanced by leading political scientists and statisticians in the field of public opinion research.

Most commercial polls — which media outlets including Crikey report on without hesitation — have issues with sampling. While Vote Compass is an opt-in tool, the data we report are weighted against the Census to ensure it provides a representative sample. That process happens on a sample of half a million people and we do the weighting across a whole range of variables — gender, geography, age, educational attainment, occupation, religion and more. The weighting process Vote Compass uses is used by all the major polling companies in order to overcome sampling bias.

So far in this election campaign Vote Compass has received more than 560,000 responses. In the 2013 election it had more than 1.4 million responses, making it the largest survey of voter attitudes that has ever been undertaken in Australia.

Vote Compass is created by a team of political scientists at Vox Pop Labs and is an award-winning civic engagement application that has been used by millions of people during elections around the world. The University of Melbourne is the local academic partner and provides an independent panel to create the Australian questions and analyse the political information that is used. The ABC is the Australian media partner. The full methodology of Vote Compass is outlined here:

On drug and alcohol policy

Emeritus Consultant, St Vincent’s Hospital and President, Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation Dr. Alex Wodak writes: Hey St Vincent’s — get your own house in order before nanny stating” (June 1). Why can’t Bernard Keane have a calm and sensible discussion about alcohol policy? For an article responding to St Vincent’s Health Australia’s newly announced policy on reducing alcohol related problems in Australia, Bernard Keane’s response curiously doesn’t touch on the policy. Rather, Keane focuses entirely on attacking the hospitals’ past hand hygiene record, cherry picked elements of its financial performance and a recent cancer issue, none of which relate to the organisation’s management of alcohol problems. In sporting language, Keane is playing the man rather than the ball.

As the report issued by St Vincent’s Health Australia made clear, alcohol results in very significant health, social and economic costs in this country. It is also true that many Australians enjoy alcohol and that the drinks industry employs many people. Few would want Australia to experience the laissez faire Gin Epidemic of 18th century England, so memorably depicted in Hogarth’s etchings. Nor, after the experience of the USA from 1920 to 1933, should we contemplate Australia prohibiting alcohol. What is required from alcohol policy is to try and find the ‘sweet spot’ between these extremes. St Vincent’s Health Australia made an overwhelming case that we are nowhere near that sweet spot. Many members of the community — many major and highly regarded organisations — agree with the analysis and recommendations proposed by St Vincent’s Health Australia.

For example, the 2010 Henry report on taxation argued for taxing alcohol according to alcohol content rather than beverage class. The NSW Police Association fully supports reducing the availability of alcohol. Reductions in alcohol availability undoubtedly reduce alcohol-related violence. Surely improving safety and reducing in the community is a worthwhile gain?
The extent of alcohol related violence and alcohol-related problems in the community also helps hospitals to live within their budgets. So surely hospitals and health organisations have a legitimate stake in this policy debate as well? It is very disappointing that Bernard Keane took cheap shots at St Vincent’s Hospital Sydney over recent matters quite unrelated to alcohol policy. The fact that he resorted to ad hominem attacks rather than argue the substance of the debate suggests to me that he knows he has a weak argument.

Your readers may be unaware that in the 1960s St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne was probably the first major health organisation in Australia to argue for an improved response to alcohol problems. The hospital opened a clinic and established a research unit which published some important studies. In Sydney throughout the 1980s and 1990s, St Vincent’s pioneered several harm-minimisation models in relation to drug and alcohol management that are now commonly adopted throughout the country as well as making a profound contribution to the nation’s response to the HIV epidemic which helped Australia to respond so effectively to what was such a serious threat at the time.  That response of St Vincent’s Health Australia was in turn influenced by the compassion of the Sisters of Charity.   St Vincent’s Health Australia and Australia’s debate about alcohol policy deserves a more respectful and thoughtful contribution than Bernard Keane has been able to muster. I retired from St Vincent’s Hospital Sydney in 2012 and write this entirely on my own initiative.