Making sense of the polls

Making sense of the polls

Federal Poll Analysis - 3.5 weeks to go

This Week’s Polls

As before, the table below shows the poll, two party result, change from the last issue of that poll, fieldwork dates and approximate sample size. Other than Monday’s Essential sample, all fieldwork in these polls would have been conducted before Sunday night’s leaders’ debate.

poll table.

Newspoll must have been very close to 53-47 to the Coalition, with the Coalition up 2% on primaries, Labor down 2% and the Greens up 2%. Rounding saved Labor from a worse result.

We also had a Queensland Federal voting intentions poll from Galaxy taken last Wednesday and Thursday nights from a sample of 800. This poll showed the Coalition crushing Labor in Queensland by 56-44. Two ReachTEL polls in Rudd’s seat of Griffith and the Coalition seat of Forde, which Beattie is a candidate for, confirmed the Queensland trend. While Rudd was comfortably ahead in Griffith, this was a 4% swing to the Coalition, while Forde was 54-46 to the Coalition; the Forde poll was taken on the day Beattie announced his candidacy.

Morgan’s Queensland sample from this week’s national poll offers a ray of hope for Labor, as it has a 50-50 tie from a sample of 740 using respondent-allocated preferences (probably 52-48 to LNP using previous election preferences). Perhaps the Beattie announcement has had a positive effect for Labor in Queensland.

The Poll Bludger’s Bludgertrack poll aggregate now puts the Coalition ahead by 51.9-48.1 (Update 14 August: With Essential included, Bludgertrack is now at 51.6-48.4 to LNP). The Coalition would definitely have won an election held last weekend.

Notes on these Polls

  • Nielsen is normally published by the Fairfax papers every four weeks, but I think it will be published weekly every Saturday during the election campaign. Currently this phone poll seems to lean slightly to the Coalition. In 2007, Nielsen made a huge blunder when its final pre-election poll showed 57-43 to Labor; Labor only won by 52.7-47.3. In this Nielsen, the Coalition led 56-38 on the economy, up from 52-41 at the July Nielsen. Labor reduced a 54-34 Coalition lead on asylum seekers to 47-39. This result clearly shows that the economy is more important than asylum seekers when it comes to shifting voting intentions.

  • Galaxy asked voters their opinion of each leader’s greatest weakness. On Rudd, 31% said his greatest weakness was his record in government, while 28% thought that Abbott’s greatest weakness is that he’s not prime ministerial. The Coalition is regarded as better at economic management by a 48-36 margin. I believe that Galaxy is the only phone pollster in Australia that calls mobiles.

  • While robopollster ReachTEL’s voting intentions figures are only a point or two more pro-Coalition than other polling, their preferred PM measure exhibits a heavy house effect relative to other pollsters. ReachTEL has Abbott as preferred PM by a 53-47 margin, compared with Rudd being preferred PM by 50-42 in Nielsen, 47-34 in Galaxy and 46-37 in Newspoll. Some of this is due to the forced choice nature of ReachTEL’s preferred PM question, which doesn’t give a “don’t know” option. However, it is difficult to believe that everyone who answers “don’t know” on preferred PM in other polls has a slight leaning to Abbott. I find ReachTEL’s preferred PM numbers hard to credit.

  • Newspoll will be published weekly during the election campaign. This Newspoll has Rudd’s net approval rating unchanged at -9, with both his approval and disapproval up a point on last week. A question on voting commitment has 59% saying there is no chance they will change their vote, 30% a slight chance and 10% a good chance. Coalition supporters are more rusted-on than Labor supporters. Unsurprisingly, respondents say the Coalition is more likely to win the election by a 54-26 margin. Issues polling has health, education and the economy considered to be the most important issues, and the Coalition leads by 49-33 on economic management, down somewhat from 50-28 under Gillard. Labor has clear leads on health and education.

  • Morgan’s respondent-allocated preferences have been better for Labor than his previous election preferences, and this week there is a 1.5% gap between the two measures, with respondent-allocated at 50-50, while previous election preferences are at 51.5-48.5 to the Coalition.

  • Essential has Rudd’s approval rating down, but he still has a net positive approval rating of +2.

Tasmanian statistician Dr. Kevin Bonham has a long article that assesses each pollster’s strengths and weaknesses.

Will the Debate Matter?

The short answer is that the leaders’ debate last Sunday night probably won’t affect voting intentions very much. The debate occurred four weeks before election day, so its impact will be limited. In the four previous elections, the Channel 9 Worm has given the Labor leader the win, yet Labor won only two of those elections, and the second in 2010 only barely. Most TV news panels gave the win to Rudd; the exception was Channel 7, but their panel was self-selecting, and therefore useless. A Morgan SMS poll had 24% saying Rudd won, 23% Abbott, 5% draw, and 48% saying they didn’t watch the debate.

Is the Election Over?

The Coalition is now ahead by about 52-48, and has been leading by often crushing margins since Gillard announced the carbon tax in early 2011. As a result, the vast majority of pundits and the betting markets clearly favour the Coalition to win. However, the current Coalition margin is much smaller than it was under Gillard, and while Rudd’s approval rating has slipped, he is still doing far better than Gillard.

An increasing number of voters are not rusted-on to a party, and decide late in a campaign. In 2004 and ‘07 the Howard government received a substantial swing in its favour in the last week of the election campaign. The old saying is that a week is a long time in politics, and we have 3.5 weeks left until the election.

An election is a choice, not a referendum. If voters could throw out Labor without electing the Coalition, Labor would definitely lose. However, the Coalition is led by Tony Abbott, who voters find off-putting. The election will come down to whether Labor can persuade voters that Abbott is too big a risk, or whether the desire to throw Labor out overcomes the fear of Abbott.

Three pollsters this week asked about economic management, and found that the Coalition led on this question by between 12% and 18%. Over the long run, the Coalition is generally seen as better for the economy, with Labor better on health and education. Labor does not need to beat the Coalition on economic management to win the election, but they do need to reduce the Coalition’s margin on this issue. If the Coalition’s lead is in the single digits rather than double digits by election day, that could be enough for a Labor victory.

Although the current polling is certainly encouraging for the Coalition, it is too early to call it for them. Political commentator Peter Brent has successfully predicted electoral behaviour at Australian state and Federal elections, and he says that Labor will probably win.

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