Happy Easter, Prime Minister: More Signs Of The Belting Ahead

NOT that she’d appreciate it, but the Easter Bunny has left its little presents for Julia Gillard this weekend; a marginal seats poll by JWS Research shows Labor losing 24 seats, whilst Newspoll has tipped a bucket on Labor’s hopes in Queensland. And after that…there’s a nasty little surprise in store, too.

First, here’s the good news for the ALP: the JWS Research survey, of 54 marginal seats on both sides of the political spectrum held by margins of 5.9% or less, involved a total survey sample of 4,070 people, or an average of 75 per electorate.

The good news for Labor is that on a seat-by-seat basis, 75 voters is hardly a representative sample, and could not be regarded as a reliable indicator of a prospective result in an individual electorate.

That’s the end of the good news for the ALP though; the flipside of what I have just said is that 4,070 interviews is an excellent overall sample, and certainly much higher than most of the regular weekly and fortnightly polls everyone who operates in political circles spends so much time analysing and number-crunching over.

In other words, as an indicative marginal seats poll in its own right, the JWS Research survey is pretty good statistically, and should be regarded as a very credible indicator of voter movement across the 54-seat bloc it is reporting on.

And from there, it’s all downhill where the Labor Party is concerned.

JWS Research has Labor on an aggregate primary vote, across the seats it sampled, of just 32.2%, as opposed to the Coalition on 52.1%.

After preferences, this equates to 59.4% for the Coalition and 40.6% for Labor, and an overall swing against the ALP of 9.3% since the 2010 election.

This follows an earlier poll conducted by the same company in January, at which time its findings were a 4.8% swing against Labor and the loss of 18 seats.

And the current JWS Research report notes, correctly, that a swing against Labor of that magnitude, were it to occur at this year’s election, would see the ALP reduced to just 32 of the 150 seats in the House of Representatives.

These movements broadly reflect the trend against Labor that all of the other reputable polls have been picking up since late January; importantly, the extent of the Coalition lead in those other polls has most recently widened, and so a finding of such a high swing against Labor here — whilst not necessarily in terms of the exact numbers — is nonetheless, in trend terms, completely consistent.

The upshot of this latest JWS Research poll is that Labor would lose every seat it holds on margins below 6%, and almost as many again that are nominally safer than that; remembering that election swings are seldom uniform, such findings, if replicated on polling day, would see huge swings in some seats, and some unexpected names fall.

Indeed, JWS Research does note that the swing it has identified is concentrated most heavily in Queensland, New South Wales, Western Australia, and regional areas in general. Even so, it scores off net gains to the Coalition of ten seats in NSW, seven (of Labor’s eight) in Queensland, three in Victoria, and all three of the seats Labor currently holds in WA — as an overall minimum.

Such a result would wipe the ALP out completely in WA and the Northern Territory; I believe it would do so in Queensland too, where based on these numbers Kevin Rudd’s seat of Griffith (held by 8.5%) would seem unlikely to withstand the tidal wave.

And, by extension, it would leave Labor as a parliamentary rump, based mainly on electorates in Melbourne’s west and north, with a handful of seats in SA and NSW to round out its (heavily depleted) party room in the lower house.

JWS Research also asked the approval questions of the two party leaders.

It found approval for Julia Gillard running at 25%, with 48% disapproving of her performance; by contrast, 38% of JWS Research’s respondents approved of Tony Abbott’s performance as opposition leader, with 41% disapproving.

On the question of who was preferred as Prime Minister, Abbott led Gillard, 37% to 28%.

Again, these numbers mirror the trends that have been picked up in the other major opinion polls; this simply reinforces the point highlighted by other surveys that Gillard really is on her way to a hiding.

All of this comes as a Newspoll of state voting intentions in Queensland was published in The Weekend Australian this morning; it showed voter support for the LNP recovering to post a 62-38 lead over the ALP — or within one percentage point of the state election result that annihilated the Bligh government just over a year ago.

Significantly, that Newspoll also showed personal approval of Campbell Newman climbing, his disapproval numbers falling away, and a lead over opposition leader Annastacia Palaszczuk as preferred Premier of 53% to 21% — just two points shy of his best result on this measure, a 55-21 lead in the July-September Queensland Newspoll last year.

So much, therefore, for Queensland being Labor’s great white hope; ALP figures have believed — delusionally, in my view — that they stood to win an additional six seats in Queensland off the back of perceived voter fury at the state’s conservative government.

There is, however, nothing in the Newspoll figures to substantiate such a belief.

And this in turn follows the recent leadership change in the Liberal Party in Victoria; an early published poll just a few days after the change showed new Premier Denis Napthine cutting into state Labor’s lead on voting intentions.

There is a lot of anecdotal evidence since then to suggest Napthine is not only performing well, but that he is being extremely well-received by a Victorian electorate that I have opined previously does not want to re-install Labor in Spring Street if the conservative alternative is regarded as feasible.

I think Dr Napthine has been a breath of fresh air, and has revitalised Victoria’s state Liberal government; the next round of state polling — much more reflective of public sentiment, given the passage of time — should be very interesting indeed.

The Liberal government of Barry O’Farrell in NSW — according to reputable polling in that state — has suffered a swing of 1% to Labor in two years from its record-breaking election win in 2011, and would seem to pose no risk to the capacity of Liberals and Nationals to seize electorates at the coming federal election.

The bottom line here is that conservative state governments (in Victoria and Queensland especially) were meant, in Labor Party consideration, to potentially yield up 10 seats to offset gains elsewhere; the reality is that Labor is unlikely to win a seat from the Coalition anywhere in Australia, and there is nothing in these most recent polls to suggest otherwise.

Once again, we’re talking about a basket of quality opinion polling results that point Labor in one direction: six feet below ground.

But as bad as all these numbers are for Labor, and as disastrous a portent they herald, there is something all of them have missed.

It’s called Tasmania.

None of these polls even sample in Tasmania regularly; some never do so at all.

Yet the small quantity of polling that has been done in the Apple Isle — combined with private polling undertaken by both the Liberal Party and Labor (and I understand the two largely validate each other’s findings) — suggests the Liberals are in line to win at least three, and perhaps all five, of the seats up for grabs there.

Nobody disputes there is a massive swing against the ALP brewing in Tasmania; the only variables seem to be its overall scope, and whether or not it is uniform.

I’m reliably told the swing is currently running at 11%, and that is enough — more than enough, depending on where the votes fall — to bag the Liberals five more seats above and beyond what the published polls are already scoring off to them.

(For perspective, John Howard’s biggest election win in 1996 saw Labor retain three of the five Tasmanian electorates).

So Tasmania rounds out Gillard’s basket of Easter goodies with a little sting in the tail; yet in light of Labor’s performance since 2010, and especially after its shenanigans of last week, none of this should come as much of a surprise to anybody.

It’s going to take something very special from Labor — or a political mistake by the Liberals unprecedented in Australian political history — to stop the Coalition recording a monumental win in September now, it seems.

And with an economically literate electorate increasingly aware of the mechanics of governance to have to navigate, Labor won’t get much joy from promising to shovel buckets of money — borrowed from China — to fund elaborate election bribes that its track record suggests would never be delivered on anyway.

Happy Easter, Prime Minister.