Making sense of the polls

Making sense of the polls

Coalition’s pro-coal policy likely a vote loser; optional voting in plebiscite helps Yes

Recently the Coalition and its media supporters have condemned the SA and Victorian Labor governments for allowing coal-fired power plants to close. The Coalition is trying to extend the life of the Liddell power plant in NSW, and is considering building a new coal-fired power plant. This is an attempt to portray Labor as the party of intermittent, unreliable and costly power.

The Coalition has been in office for four years. In July 2014, they repealed the carbon price that Labor had introduced. Many people would now ask why energy prices have kept increasing in the three years since this repeal. In a mid-August Essential poll, 59% thought they were paying a lot more for electricity and gas than two or three years ago.

In February, 45% in an Essential poll said that recent blackouts were mainly due to failures of the energy market, 19% blamed privatisation and just 16% blamed renewables.

In mid-August an Essential poll gave the Coalition a net -34 rating on providing affordable and reliable energy, their worst score from a list of 12 issues. In last week’s Essential, 49% blamed private power companies most for rising energy prices, 22% blamed the Turnbull government, 9% environmentalists and 5% renewable energy companies.

People who blame private power companies are more likely to trust Labor than the Coalition to get tough, given the Coalition’s pro-business reputation.

Last week, The Australian made a fuss over a Newspoll question showing that 49% would pay nothing extra for renewables. 45% thought Labor’s renewable energy target would increase energy prices, 22% decrease and 24% thought there would be no effect, so this is 46-45 for no effect or a decrease. Those who think there will be no effect or a decrease are unlikely to be persuaded by the Coalition.

In this week’s Essential, 28% thought Labor more likely to deliver lower energy prices by a 28-19 margin over the Coalition, with 35% opting for no difference. Renewables were supported over fossil fuels on four issues: the environment (73-8), electricity costs (41-27), the economy (40-28) and jobs (34-26).

Although a 48-34 margin in Essential supported building new coal-fired power plants, and 51-30 supported keeping existing coal-fired plants open, investing in renewables was supported 81-10. The electorate is not anti-coal, but they clearly prefer renewables to coal. Questions about new coal-fired plants are likely to show support, but these do not compare renewables to fossil fuels.

As a result of the Coalition’s pro-coal policy, some Abbott supporters could return, possibly boosting the Coalition’s primary vote at the expense of One Nation and Others. However, respondent allocated preferences are currently more friendly to the Coalition than the previous election method, and this could change. The Coalition risks losing more centrist voters to Labor.

In some parts of the country, such as NSW’s Hunter Valley, coal is important to the local economy, and the Coalition is likely to benefit. In most of the country, being pro-coal is likely to hinder the Coalition.

SA has been the state most subject to attacks from the pro-coal lobby. It has a Labor government that is over 15 years old, and this would be expected to be a drag on Federal Labor in that state. We would expect the SA swing to Labor to be the lowest of any state.

Instead, the Poll Bludger’s BludgerTrack currently gives Labor their second largest swing in SA. Labor leads in SA by 58.4-41.6, a 6.1 point swing to Labor since the 2016 election. The SA sample sizes used in BludgerTrack are small, so this result is much more error-prone than the national BludgerTrack figure (53.7-46.3 to Labor, a 4.1 point swing), but this is still a large swing to Labor in a state that should have the lowest swing.

SA will have only 10 House seats at the next Federal election, but Victoria will have 38. If the Coalition antagonises Victorians as much as they have South Australians, they could suffer a disastrous loss of seats in both states.

Optional voting in SSM plebiscite helps Yes

On 7 September, the High Court ruled that the same sex marriage postal plebiscite would go ahead. Ballots started being mailed out on 12 September. Voters have until 7 November to return their ballot papers, and the result will be declared on 15 November. Voting is optional for this plebiscite.

Yes supporters were concerned that optional voting would imply lower turnout among the young, who are most likely to vote Yes. However, polling has shown that Yes support among those who will definitely vote is greater than among all voters.

Last week’s Essential had Yes leading 69-28 among the 62% who will definitely vote, and 59-31 among the overall sample. Yes supporters are more likely to vote than No supporters, more than compensating for lower turnout among the young.

Furthermore, as Peter Brent writes, if everyone had to vote in the plebiscite, people who were grumpy about being dragged to the polls for something they perceived as trivial would be likely to vote No. With optional voting, these people are likely to toss the voting material in the bin.

With such strong support for Yes, No’s only hope is to persuade people to vote about different issues, such as safe schools and political correctness. These issues have little relation with same sex marriage, but the No campaign will highlight them in an attempt to persuade people to vote on these issues.

Peter Brent says that Yes supporters should not respond in kind to homophobic attacks, as such responses will be fodder for the right-wing media’s vitriol. The Yes campaign should also not be a Labor/Greens/unions leftie love-in, as conservative voters who might otherwise vote Yes could vote No out of dislike for left-wing politicians.

Nick Xenophon’s deals with Coalition could see him crushed

On Thursday, Nick Xenophon’s party helped the Coalition to pass its media reforms. Historically, minor parties and Independents who deal with unpopular governments in a way their voters would not expect have been brutally treated by voters at forthcoming elections. The Australian Democrats no longer exist, and the UK Liberal Democrats were reduced from 57 seats to just eight at the 2015 UK election, following five years of coalition government with the Conservatives.

At the 2016 Federal election, Xenophon Team preferences favoured Labor by 60-40 over the Coalition, implying that his voters were more left than right. With SA the strongest mainland state for Federal Labor according to BludgerTrack, Xenophon’s danger is clear.