The first Newspoll of 2018, conducted February 1-4 from a sample of 1,616, gave Labor a 52-48 lead, a one-point gain for the Coalition since the final Newspoll of 2017 in mid-December. Primary votes were 38% Coalition (up two), 37% Labor (steady), 10% Greens (steady) and 5% One Nation (down two).
While this Newspoll is Malcolm Turnbull’s 26th consecutive loss (four short of Tony Abbott’s streak), it is the Coalition’s best position since April 2017. This is the Coalition’s highest primary vote, and One Nation’s lowest Newspoll vote, since December 2016, before Newspoll started asking for One Nation as part of the party read-out.
As the Coalition’s primary vote gains have come at the expense of another right-wing party, the overall left/right balance is unchanged at 47-43. The two-party vote changes are exaggerated by Newspoll’s assumption, based on the 2016 election, that the Coalition will win only half of One Nation’s preferences.
At the recent Queensland election, about 65% of One Nation preferences flowed to the LNP. It is likely that previous Newspolls, which had high One Nation votes, overstated Labor’s lead after preferences.
Turnbull’s approval rating bumped up to 37% (up five), and 50% were dissatisfied (down seven), for a net approval of -13, up 12 points. Bill Shorten’s net approval also improved six points to -18, and both leaders are at their highest net approval since August. Turnbull led Shorten by 45-31 as better prime minister (41-34 in December); this is Turnbull’s biggest margin since September.
Voters were given four options for best Liberal leader: Turnbull, Julie Bishop, Abbott and Peter Dutton. Turnbull had 30% support (up five since early December), Bishop 26% (down four), Abbott 13% (down three) and Dutton 7% (steady). Among Coalition voters, Turnbull had 48%, Bishop 19%, Abbott 16% and Dutton 6%. Abbott and Dutton performed best with One Nation voters.
Voters were given three choices for best Labor leader: Shorten, Tanya Plibersek and Anthony Albanese. Plibersek had 25% support, Albanese 24% and Shorten 22%. Among Labor voters, Shorten had 37%, Plibersek 27% and Albanese 23%. Plibersek was the clear favourite among Greens voters (43%).
Both leaders appear to have benefited from the lack of any major controversies over the summer holidays. Turnbull has done better, perhaps due to the absence of hard-right Coalition backbenchers from the media environment.
Shorten’s ratings as preferred Labor leader are so low because conservatives detest him for strongly opposing much that the Coalition is proposing or has done, while many on the left do not regard him as a genuine leftie. Turnbull is helped as best Liberal leader by Abbott and Dutton being more right-wing.
The most important factor regarding the next federal election, due by early 2019, is likely to be the performance of the economy. Greg Jericho wrote in The Guardian recently that the strong employment growth in 2017 was consistent with the government being re-elected.
The government is inhibited by the continued low wages growth. If wages growth lifts this year, the Coalition would be far more likely to be re-elected. The strong US economy has benefited Donald Trump.
65% supported leaving Australia Day as it is, while just 29% supported referendums on Indigenous recognition and the republic proposed by Albanese.
Essential will now appear fortnightly rather than weekly, so there was no Essential poll this week. You can read about last week’s Essential here.