A fierce battle over the medevac legislation has not affected the polls, which continue to show Labor with an election-winning lead. AAP/Mick Tsikas

Poll wrap: Newspoll steady at 53-47 despite boats, and Abbott and Dutton trailing in their seats

This week’s Newspoll, conducted February 21-24 from a sample of 1,590, gave Labor a 53-47 lead, unchanged on last fortnight. Primary votes were also unchanged, with Labor on 39%, the Coalition 37%, the Greens 9% and One Nation 5%.

This Newspoll contradicts last week’s Ipsos, which had the gap closing to just 51-49. The better news for the Coalition is that this is the third Newspoll in a row with Labor’s lead at 53-47; the last three Newspolls of 2018 all had a 55-45 Labor lead.

The Ipsos poll last week will be regarded as an outlier, but another explanation is that the Coalition undid its effective boats campaign with revelations of scandals regarding Helloworld.

I wrote last Friday that the September 11 terrorist attacks had far more impact on the 2001 election than the Tampa incident, implying that the new boats campaign is unlikely to damage Labor.


Read more: 2001 polls in review: September 11 influenced election outcome far more than Tampa incident


In the latest Newspoll, 42% were satisfied with Scott Morrison’s performance (down one), and 48% were dissatisfied (up three), for a net approval of -6. Bill Shorten’s net approval fell three points to -18, his worst since September. Morrison’s better PM lead was unchanged at 44-35.

The electorate was more polarised on best leader to handle issue questions, and this assisted Morrison. Morrison led Shorten by 52-34 on the economy (48-33 last fortnight). He led by 50-28 on national security (47-27 in October). He led by 51-31 on asylum seekers (47-29 in October).

Newspoll used to ask for party best able to handle issues, rather than leader, but have not done so for a long time. I believe Labor would be more competitive on these issues than Shorten, as Morrison’s incumbency advantage would have less impact on such a question. The issues asked about are also strong for the Coalition. Shorten would do better on the environment, health and education.

I wrote last fortnight that the Coalition’s better polling this year is probably due to a greater distance from the events of last August and the relative popularity of Morrison. While Morrison’s ratings slipped this week, his net approval is still in the negative single digits rather than double digits. The difficulty for Morrison is that his party’s policies are generally disliked.


Read more: Poll wrap: Labor maintains Newspoll lead but Morrison's ratings up, and Abbott behind in Warringah


In economic data news, the ABS reported on February 20 that wages grew 0.5% in the December quarter. Inflation in that quarter was also 0.5%, so there was no real wage growth. In the full year 2018, wages grew 2.3% and inflation 1.8%, so real wages improved 0.5%. I believe the continued slow wage growth will be of crucial importance at the election, and is likely to assist Labor.

In better economic news for the government, the ABS reported on February 21 that more than 39,000 jobs were added in January, with the unemployment rate steady at 5.0%. While other data has suggested a weakening economy, the jobs figures remain strong. Economists say the jobs figures are a lagging indicator of economic performance.

Essential: 52-48 to Labor

This week’s Essential poll, conducted February 20-25 from a sample of 1,085, gave Labor a 52-48 lead, a three-point gain for the Coalition since last fortnight. Primary votes were 38% Coalition (up four), 37% Labor (down one), 9% Greens (down one) and 6% One Nation (down one).

Labor’s two party vote in the four Essential polls this year has been 53-52-55-52, strongly implying that last fortnight’s 55-45 poll was an outlier. Since Morrison became PM, Essential has tended to be worse for Labor than Newspoll.

On the medevac bill, 38% thought it struck a balance between strong borders and humane treatment of asylum seekers, 30% thought it would weaken Australia’s borders, and 15% thought it did not go far enough towards humane treatment. 27% said this bill would have a strong influence on their vote, including 57% of those who said it would weaken our borders.

On tax policy, 53% supported closing tax concessions and loopholes, and inserting the money into schools, hospitals, etc, while 27% supported cutting corporate taxes and maintaining concessions for investors and retirees.

By double digit margins, Labor was regarded as having the better tax policy for first-time home buyers, pensioners and workers earning under $150,000 per year. By even wider margins, the Coalition was regarded as having better tax policies for those earning over $150,000 per year, self-funded retirees and property investors.

Seat polls of Dickson, Warringah and Flinders

The Guardian has reported GetUp ReachTEL seat polls of the NSW seat of Warringah and the Queensland seat of Dickson, both conducted February 21. In Warringah, Tony Abbott trailed independent Zali Steggall 57-43, a three-point gain for Steggall since last fortnight. In Dickson, incumbent Peter Dutton trailed Labor’s Ali France 52-48. After a redistribution, Dutton holds Dickson by a 52.0-48.0 margin.

In the Victorian seat of Flinders, a GetUp ReachTEL poll, conducted February 13 from a sample of 622, gave Labor a 52-48 lead over incumbent Liberal Greg Hunt, a one-point gain for Labor since a January ReachTEL. Primary votes were 40.7% Hunt, 31.1% Labor, 17.0% for independent Julia Banks and 5.8% Greens. A Banks vs Hunt two candidate result was also provided, with Banks leading 56-44, but on primary votes Labor is a clear second.

As analyst Kevin Bonham has written, seat polls are often reported without important details like primary votes, fieldwork dates or sample size. It would be good if the commissioning source released full details of all seat polls. Seat polls have been very unreliable at previous elections.