Federal Newspoll A Big Clue NSW Coalition Will Be Re-elected

ANOTHER BIG MOVEMENT to the Coalition in Newspoll — appearing in The Australian today — is unlikely, as I criticised a similar finding a month ago, to be rogue; rather, as some 30% of the national electorate is readying to vote in a NSW state election on Saturday, it holds a clear sign the Baird government will be re-elected. The poll offers a sliver of hope to the Prime Minister. It remains to be seen if he and his colleagues can capitalise on it.

Opinion polling is a notoriously inexact science — as most readers know — and in an apparent reversal of the prevailing wisdom that the Abbott government is dragging down the stocks of its state-based Coalition counterparts across Australia, it seems today’s Newspoll sees the opposite phenomenon: one popular Liberal state government dragging the federal Coalition up with it as voters in that state are focused on an actual election, rather than the usual hypothetical caveats that apply to polling exercises.

Every indicator from Newspoll today (and you can see the tables here) sees improvement in the Abbott government’s numbers, including the headline finding of a four-point movement after preferences that slashes Labor’s lead to sit at just 51-49: and whilst it’s only an estimate, if NSW voters are readying to re-elect their Liberal state government by, say, a 54-46 margin and such a buffer has bled into the federal figures, that would be enough to offset a 56-44 result for the ALP in the rest of the country.

Of course, such considerations are not as cut and dried as that, but this column is a discussion about politics — especially when talking about routine polling, unless I’m doing something especially forensic with it. I simply think that this movement back to the federal Coalition can’t be dismissed as a rogue result, as wary as I am of it: and that means something else must be distorting its findings. In that sense, it is only necessary to look north of the Murray River to ascertain what that factor might be.

I think there is a mix of things going on here, and whilst I might be wrong to infer the relatively better standing of the NSW Coalition is colouring federal voting intentions in this particular poll, there are sound reasons for thinking so.

For one thing, the two most recent state-based opinion polls conducted in NSW — one by Galaxy, the other a Fairfax-Ipsos survey — both found the Baird government set to receive 54% of the two=party vote in Saturday’s state election: and whilst the state Coalition could be forced into minority if its vote dips below 53%, the movement against the Liberals in that state appears to have halted.

For another, NSW is not generating any of the kind of headaches for the conservatives in its own right that the unpopular, divisive, confrontational LNP government in Queensland did; Campbell Newman was regarded dimly in the end by most Queensland voters, fairly or unfairly. Baird, by contrast, is the most popular political leader in the country at the present time.

And despite Labor’s best efforts to replicate the stunning upsets it engineered at state elections in Victoria and Queensland, the effort in NSW is less cohesive, and the latest example of this can be found in former ACTU leader and senior Labor minister Martin Ferguson tearing strips off NSW ALP leader Luke Foley over his irresponsible and populist standpoints on energy policy, utility sales and relations with the union movement.

But just as NSW seems intertwined with this particular survey, so too is there plenty happening in federal politics to mirror and augment that influence.

It seems some in the Labor Party — to say nothing of the electorate — are finally beginning to wake up to the stupidly dishonest populism and rank opportunism of their so-called “leader,” Bill Shorten, who seems to think he can coast into the Prime Ministership by sitting back and waiting for the Abbott government to make mistakes; it’s a theme we have explored in this column before.

But just as Labor hardheads realise — thanks to “reforms” to their party’s leadership selection process designed by Kevin Rudd to enable him to rule forever, elections notwithstanding — that they are saddled with Shorten, it seems the penny may have finally dropped that the utter dearth of meaningful policy ideas and a sheer vacuity in Labor’s dealings with the electorate have left it dangerously exposed to the risk of being gazumped.

It is perhaps no surprise that the federal Coalition has enjoyed better weather whilst Prime Minster Tony Abbott’s Chief of Staff, Peta Credlin, sunned herself — literally — on a holiday to Fiji; it is a great shame she didn’t stay there.

But if the amateurism and poor judgement that have marked the Coalition’s first few months this year again return to characterise its day-to-day behaviour, it will add impetus to calls from those hellbent on seeing Credlin dismissed from her post.

And all of this comes in the run-up to a critical federal budget that many Liberals are dismayed will be delivered by Joe Hockey as treasurer, given the spectacularly ham-fisted fuck-up last year’s effort has proven to be, and especially in light of recent rhetoric from the government suggesting it will be a ho-hum exercise that will do little to rock to boat.

Or make a serious attempt at fixing the budget without squibbing some obvious hard decisions, for that matter.

In this vein, Hockey’s antics in Question Time yesterday (following an apparently leaked story that suggested Foreign minister Julie Bishop’s aid budget is set to be slashed, in a revelation that was “all news” to her) did little to inspire any confidence.

In fact, the japing good time Hockey appeared to be having for himself was a poor look, and it is to be hoped he puts as much energy and effort into crafting a budget worth implementing this time rather than the disparate and unsaleable series of measures aimed at enraging Coalition voters in marginal seats that he passed off as fair and appropriate ten months ago.

And there are signs — the furore over the foreign aid issue one in a long list of them — that the federal Liberal Party is silently falling in behind Bishop, rather than Malcolm Turnbull, as the likeliest replacement for Abbott should his leadership finally be judged terminal.

In turn, this means that any leadership switch in the government is increasingly likely to be accompanied by the dual positives of the departure of Credlin from Canberra and the avoidance of an unedifying brawl between Liberal moderates and conservatives over the merits of Turnbull as an appropriate frontman to attempt to sell to sometimes sceptical branch members and constituents.

So where does all this leave us?

Tellingly, Shorten’s approval numbers — as they always do when the Abbott government’s mistakes are not explicitly driving its poll fortunes — have collapsed, and with just 36% approving and a rising 47% disapproving of his performance, Shorten is once again trending to be only marginally more popular than Abbott.

Is it any wonder the blowtorch is beginning to be applied to this most lightweight of Labor show ponies.

Abbott’s numbers — despite a second consecutive small improvement — are dreadful, as they almost always have been for the past five and a half years, although it is a perverse fact they are no bar to winning an election. Abbott himself has proven as much.

But a conjunction of circumstances has conspired to offer the Abbott government some clear air: what it does with it, of course, rests in its own hands, and the return of Credlin and the imminent 2015 budget should not be underestimated as fertile and febrile resources with which to plunge the Coalition back into the abyss of scathing public opinion.

Yet all of this adds up to the Abbott government being confronted, for the first time in some time, with a sliver of hope: and should Baird survive in majority government on Saturday as seems increasingly certain, there might even be — dare I suggest it — a modicum of momentum behind the government, and a little wind in its sails to boot.

As has been the case for most of the parliamentary term thus far, however, the Coalition will be the master (or mistress, with a nod to Credlin) of its own fortunes: and whilst the chickens might be wandering ominously toward their roosting spots in Labor’s coop, it is the Coalition that will continue to drive the shape of electoral opinion in the immediate sense.

What it does with the tiny opportunity that appears to exist is entirely its own decision.



12 thoughts on “Federal Newspoll A Big Clue NSW Coalition Will Be Re-elected

  1. The Coalition’s primary vote is up 6% since early February, or 1% a week. It looks like that’s where the momentum is. I believe it’s difficult to win government with less than 40% of the primary vote, a level that the ALP has had more trouble holding for the past 6 or 7 years than the Coalition.

    It seems a bit strange though that the Coalition needs 53% to win a majority, especially after being in office for four years. I could understand some sort of gerrymander in South Australia where the ALP has held government for several terms, but surely the Coalition Government could have the Electoral Office examine the boundaries to reflect recent voting patterns more representatively.

    • Well Greg, 52.5% in 1991 got Greiner a minority and 51.8% in 1995 lost Fahey government outright. The problem is the concentration of votes on the North Shore. It is only anecdotal (although I note Antony Green agrees, among others) but it does rather seem that the decline in the NSW Coalition’s vote stopped at just the right point to eke out a narrow win.

      • You’d think they could have used their big majority to introduce some new seats into the North Shore and other pockets that don’t have fair representation in that case, Yale. Such an arrangement couldn’t be seen as corrupt.

        • It is not really about unfair boundaries just those seats have massive margins, so a bigger proportion of voters are in safe seats.

  2. It’s an interesting theory – but how do you explain simultaneous large movements in the opposite direction in both Essential LNP 46 (-2) ALP 54 (+2) and Morgan LNP 44 (-2.5) ALP 56 (+2.5).

    Essential’s findings on Hockey’s approval ratings are worth noting too – Approve 27 (-8) Disapprove 51 (+7) as is the question on the state of the economy – Good 27 (-10) Poor 33 (+7).

      • So because ABC and Fairfax don’t talk about it makes it incredible? The methodology used in Morgan is more representative of the population for a start and the key to all good polls is that the sample represents the real population.

      • The argument doesn’t make sense. Morgan found LNP 56 (+0.5) / ALP 44 (-0.5) for the state of NSW and then federally LNP 44 (-2) / ALP (+2). Considering that Newspoll has gone from 43/57, 47/53, 45/55, 49/51 in the last 4 polls, it’s all over the place, and clearly not tracking anything real in the politics. Abbott & co have been performing consistently appallingly for the whole period.

        • I know reader Deknarf places great store in Gary Morgan’s polling Alex, but the reality is that they almost always overstate the Labor vote — often spectacularly — and when they don’t, they can just as often swing violently back in Labor’s direction from one poll to the next (the same thing used to happen with official radio survey numbers when Morgan was responsible for them).

          There is a value in Morgan’s polling insofar as the trend lines of them are often useful to keep an eye on even if the headline numbers aren’t worth a pinch of it (an example I always remember is driving down Collins Street the day before the 2004 federal election, and the ticker at the front of the Morgan building proclaiming Labor was on track to defeat the Coalition 57.5-42.5%. It didn’t).

          So please, forget about Morgan’s polls. It’s not that they show Labor leads I object to (remembering I’ve called enough “good” results in Newspoll for the Coalition as rogue results over the journey) but the fact they almost always do, even when they bear absolutely no resemblance to the prevailing political climate whatsoever.

          That said, Alex, what I wrote should make perfect sense if you dismiss Morgan from consideration.

          Newspoll has had two “narrow deficit” findings for the Coalition in the past month; one was rogue (the Labor 2PPV rebounded a fortnight later to the exact median point of the reputable polling) and this latest one.

          I don’t think it’s rogue, but rather coloured by the fact NSW voters are preparing to re-elect Mike Baird (which I think will happen, narrowly, despite a swing that seems settled at about 10%).

          You will also see a state-based Newspoll in the next 48 hours and it is a fair bet Newspoll’s field workers were surveying state voting intentions in NSW whilst compiling research for the federal poll we saw on Monday night.

          If the next federal survey in 2-3 weeks (I suspect we might miss a week with the NSW state election) shows the Coalition holding is ground or even advancing, then we can say the Coalition vote has drastically recovered.

          My tip is that in the absence of anything else, it will slip by 2-4 points.

          Even so, the Liberals have a better set of polling numbers than they have seen in 12 months to buoy them and put some spring into their stride, and a likely state election win in NSW would add to this sense of momentum: and this is why I say there is still scope to capitalise on the bounce even if it is a methodological oddity. As you likely know, politicians can create their own momentum from nowhere to change the game, and it remains to be seen whether Abbott and Co can. But with Joe Hockey to deliver another budget and Peta Credlin continuing to direct the goings-on at every level of the government and in every detail — and the two biggest problems the government has laboured under remaining very much in their places as a consequence — I wouldn’t bet on it.

          And as a rusted on Liberal member and voter, it grieves me to be that honest with you — but there you are.

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