Making sense of the polls

Making sense of the polls

Labor extends poll lead beyond 53-47

Both major parties have had members involved in expenses scandals over the last week. Although these scandals would usually result in a “pox on both your houses” effect, this time Labor has been the clear beneficiary, perhaps because Bronwyn Bishop’s expenses were perceived to be so outrageous. Here is this week’s poll table.

polls mid Aug.

This ReachTEL was conducted only a week after the last one. Usually, ReachTEL has a monthly poll for Channel 7, but this week’s poll was conducted for the Sunday Fairfax papers. ReachTEL’s leaders’ ratings were not included in this poll. While the headline Two Party Preferred (2PP) figure showed no change, the decimal primaries implied about a 0.3% gain for Labor.

This Newspoll is the third “new” Newspoll; it is now conducted by robopolling and internet panel methods. After three Newspolls by the new method, the new series appears to have a slight lean to Labor relative to other polls.

Newspoll had a tie on the better PM question, while ReachTEL gave Shorten a 17-point lead. This is because Newspoll had an “uncommitted” option, so this poll had Abbott and Shorten each with 38%, and 24% uncommitted. In ReachTEL, there is no uncommitted option; respondents are forced to choose between Abbott and Shorten. It is clear that voters who dislike both leaders prefer Shorten to Abbott, with Shorten leading by 58.5-41.5 in ReachTEL.

Morgan only had a one point Labor gain when the primary vote changes suggested Labor should have gained two points. This happened due to rounding, with last fortnight’s poll rounded up for Labor, and this one rounded down. Morgan leans to Labor by about one point relative to other polls.

For the last few months, Morgan’s respondent allocated preferences have closely tracked the previous election preferences, but in this week’s poll respondent allocated preferences recorded a blowout to Labor; Labor led by 57-43 on this measure, a gain of 3%, and 2.5% above the previous election measure.

Newspoll had Abbott’s satisfied rating at an unchanged 33%, and his dissatisfied rating up 1 to 61% for a net approval of -28. Shorten’s net approval improved four points to a still dismal -28, equal with Abbott’s. In Essential, Abbott’s net approval was -15, up from -16 in early July, and Shorten’s net approval was -23, up from -25. Essential’s ratings are much better for Abbott than Newspoll, perhaps reflecting a more pro-Coalition Essential sample.

During June and July, Labor’s negatives, such as The Killing Season, the Trade Union Royal Commission and the speculation over the Labor conference, were cancelling out the Coalition’s negatives, and thus the polls were flat at about 52-48 to Labor. I think the recent movement to Labor is because voters are no longer focused on Labor’s negatives. However, the key question is whether a heightened focus on Labor’s negatives could cost Labor at a formal election campaign.

The Greens continued to record strong results; their support is 15.5% in Morgan (up 0.5), 13% in ReachTEL (steady), 13% in Newspoll (up 1) and 11% in Essential (down 1).

Kevin Bonham’s poll aggregate is now at 53.4% 2PP to Labor, a gain of 0.6% for Labor since last week, and the best Labor 2PP since early March. Bonham suggests that the Australian cricket team’s humiliating 60 all out in the Ashes may have rebounded on the government.

The Poll Bludger’s BludgerTrack is now at 53.7% 2PP to Labor, a gain of 1.3% for Labor since last week. Primary votes are 38.5% for the Coalition, 37.3% for Labor and 13.6% for the Greens. Since last week, Labor has gained 1.4%, and the Coalition has lost 1.1%. Labor’s current 2PP in BludgerTrack is the highest since the brief Labor spike in early February.

Notes on these polls

ReachTEL asked who would be the best leader of both major parties. For the Coalition, Malcolm Turnbull led with 45%, followed by Julie Bishop at 24%, Abbott at 19% and Scott Morrison at 11%. Among Coalition voters, the results were Abbott 43%, Turnbull 25%, J. Bishop 20% and Morrison 13%. Turnbull had over 55% support from Labor and Greens voters.

For Labor, Anthony Albanese had 40%, Tanya Plibersek 35% and Shorten 25%. Among Labor voters, Shorten had 37%, Plibersek 32% and Albanese 31%. Coalition voters gave Albanese 51%, probably because they disliked Shorten and Plibersek even more, and Greens voters gave Plibersek 56% support.

In Essential, 66% thought Bronwyn Bishop should now resign from Parliament, and only 18% thought she should continue. 45% thought that those who booed Adam Goodes were not being racist, while 29% thought they were being racist.

Essential and ReachTEL both asked about the Productivity Commission’s proposal to reduce Sunday penalty rates to Saturday rates for hospitality and retail workers. Both polls had similar results, with Essential finding those opposed leading by 54-32, and ReachTEL 53-33.

Same sex marriage plebiscite proposal

On Tuesday night, the Coalition decided not to allow a conscience vote on same sex marriage, instead maintaining a binding vote in favour of traditional marriage for the duration of this term. Abbott has suggested that a plebiscite on same sex marriage could be proposed at the next election. Unlike a referendum, a plebiscite does not change the Constitution, and does not bind Parliament to support the voters’ verdict. Effectively, a plebiscite is the government giving the electorate a say over an issue that Parliament alone could legislate.

There have only been three national plebiscites in Australia’s history. One was held in 1977 to select Australia’s national anthem, and the other two were held during the First World War on whether to introduce conscription (both were narrowly defeated).

I think the plebiscite suggestion is a politically bad idea for two reasons. First, polls show same sex marriage support leading opposition by about 2:1, and most people may think that Parliament should just deal with it. Marriage equality is not a vote changer for most people, and these people may think that other government policies which impact more on them should also be referred to the people.

A separate plebiscite on same sex marriage, conducted without a concurrent election, would be a costly exercise. This could undermine the Coalition’s pitch as the party of economic responsibility.

Kevin Bonham has a long article on why “a same sex marriage plebiscite is a terrible idea”.

Morgan state polls

Morgan has conducted SMS polls of all states from 31 July to 3 August; comparisons are with late June polls. In NSW, the Coalition led by 56-44, a 1% gain for Labor. In Victoria, Labor led by an unchanged 56.5-43.5. In Queensland, Labor led by 51-49, a 0.5% gain for the Liberal Nationals. In WA, Labor led by 51.5-48.5, a 4% gain for Labor. In SA, Labor led by 51-49, a 2% gain for Labor. Sample sizes for these polls ranged from 570 in WA to 1200 in NSW.

Greens support was very high in all states in these polls. They had 15.5% in NSW (up 1.5), 14% in Victoria (up 1), 13% in Queensland (up 3.5), 17% in WA (up 3) and 14% in SA (up 0.5). I am sceptical of these figures as Morgan’s SMS polling has overestimated Greens support in the past.

In summary, these polls showed a big Coalition lead in NSW, a big Labor lead in Victoria, and narrow Labor leads in Queensland, SA and WA.