Nielsen: Swing To Coalition, Preferred Leader Ratings

YET ANOTHER POLL showing the Coalition reclaiming lost support is out this morning, with the Fairfax-Nielsen Poll showing Labor’s predictable post-budget lead halved to now stand at 53-47 after preferences; the results are in line with other polling we have been tracking, with the trend back to the government now both unmistakable and gathering pace. Nielsen also asked the “preferred leader” questions — we’ll briefly analyse these as well.

Certainly, any election at which the ALP scored 53% of the vote after preferences is — funnily enough — likely to be won by the ALP.

But as I heard one commentator remark last week, opinion polls canvass people’s views about their voting intention “if an election for the House of Representatives were to be held this weekend” and that, clearly, there is no election on foot at present (the wildest dreams of the Communist Party Greens and the ALP notwithstanding).

It is important to remember that mid-term opinion polling is more likely to favour opposition parties generally, and that after an event of great controversy (such as the recent federal budget) that tendency will almost invariably be more emphatic.

Yet it is equally important to remember that the ALP was thrown from office in a landslide not so long ago, and whilst voters may be angry with some of the measures the Abbott government is attempting to legislate as part of its budget, Labor has offered nothing to indicate what it would do differently, and to date has paid only lipservice to any meaningful attempt to clean up its act as an organisation and as a political entity.

In other words, it should surprise nobody that the polls — from a trend perspective encompassing the major reputable surveys — are, at the very least, returning to a more neutral level.

Nielsen has recorded primary vote support for the Coalition at 39% (+4% since mid-May), with Labor on 37% (-3%), the Greens 13% (-1%), and “Others” — including the Palmer United Party — at 11% (unch). And this, as readers have already seen, translates into the 53-47 headline finding in Labor’s favour.

I have had a look through some historical data overnight (which is a good thing: my memory is formidable but it isn’t infallible, and I would have shortchanged Labor very slightly had I relied on it). The purpose of this was to check out something that has been bugging me about these post-budget polls, and ironically the primary point of the exercise was to quantify something on the Labor side rather than to defend the Liberal tally.

To look at the 26 federal elections in Australia since (and including) 1949, the Coalition has only recorded a primary vote of less than 40% once: in 1998, when the Howard government was re-elected off a primary vote of 39.6%. Even then, the 8.5% polled by One Nation at that election (largely siphoned off the Coalition’s 1996 tally) returned very strongly to Howard through preferences, which (statistically speaking) was the primary reason the government was re-elected despite trailing Labor on primaries.

By contrast, the ALP has, in the past 25 years, recorded a primary vote of more than 40% at just three of the nine elections held since the 1987 double dissolution: in 1993 (when Paul Keating was re-elected), in 1998,* and in 2007 when Kevin Rudd ended 12 years of Coalition rule.

Across the latest round of polling, Labor’s primary vote is averaging a shade better than 36%, and this latest Nielsen poll has the ALP slightly ahead of that marker. But the real reason I wanted to look at historical election numbers is to provide a counterweight to some of the wild (and perhaps understandably enthusiastic) claims of looming electoral Armageddon for the Coalition, and similarly of a smashing return to office pending for Labor.

It is very unlikely that the Coalition will record a vote of less than 40% at an election, and in the unlikely event that it were to do so, an inflated level of support for the Palmer United Party would be the logical explanation. In such an eventuality, most of those votes would flow back to the Coalition on preferences — just as the One Nation votes did in 1998, not that anyone in the conservative parties wants to acknowledge it.

Labor is a different kettle of fish altogether, and despite the residual source of guaranteed additional support in the form of Green preferences, Labor has only won an election once — in 1990 — with a vote of less than 40% (although Gillard achieved minority status in 2010 with 37.9%).

This is a critical point for the simple reason that most of the support the Coalition “lost” in the wake of the budget went to minor parties and the Greens, not directly to Labor; and whilst a poll here and a poll there has shown Labor on a vote with a “4” in front of it, the trend across surveys is a more reliable reading of this kind of research, and on that consideration begs the difference.

Hence the rationale for looking at Labor’s “average” at 36% which, incidentally, is virtually static over the five weeks since the budget, whilst the Coalition number (at about 38%) has already begun inching upwards again. It’s just another way to sift and interpreting the data in trying to get a firm read on the state of the parties, and whilst I certainly have no desire to ever see Labor hold office in Australia, I equally have no desire to present pro-Coalition arguments predicated on an erroneous interpretation of this material, which is why I’ve undertaken the historical snapshot presented here.

And having presented it — let’s get back to the rest of the Nielsen numbers.

Like every other poll since the high water marks achieved by Labor in the immediate aftermath of the budget, Nielsen finds a deterioration in the standing of opposition “leader” Bill Shorten and a corresponding improvement in the position of Prime Minister Tony Abbott; the only variation across the lot of them has been the rate and degree of the change, but the direction has been uniform — and this poll continues the trend.

Having said that, Nielsen does find Shorten to be on firmer ground than almost all of the other surveys, although this is consistent with Nielsen’s numbers for Labor generally being at the upper end of findings across the polls, which it has been more or less since that disgusting, hypocritical “misogyny” speech by Julia Gillard in late 2012.

This month, Nielsen’s results see approval for Shorten at 42% (-5%) with disapproval sitting at 41% (+2%); as Fairfax’s political analyst Mark Kenny rather triumphantly crowed in today’s papers, it sees him “enjoying” a net approval rating of +1%. It’s heroic spin to put on these findings, given any continuation of polling trends is certain to see Shorten slip back into net unpopularity where, arguably, he belongs.

(SPOILER ALERT: Special article on Bill Shorten later this week at The Red And The Blue).

Tony Abbott — as I seem to say a lot — continues to record “Tony Abbott-style” numbers in this survey, although they’re looking up slightly: 35% (+1%) of Nielsen respondents approve of his performance, and 60% (-2%) don’t. It’s nothing for Labor to crow about; the findings are typical of numbers about Abbott for years, and are not in themselves any bar to either his continued leadership of the Liberal Party or to his ability to win another election. But more on that in a moment.

The “preferred PM” measure sees Shorten (47%, -4%) continue to head Abbott (40%, unch): this is a better result for Shorten than he achieves in all of the other major opinion polls but again, the trend of a narrowing of his lead is common to all of them, and in most of the others that lead has been virtually erased.

I come back to the point I made at the outset: these numbers remain positive for Labor overall, but there’s no election this week; for those who sit in Labor shoes that’s possibly a very good thing, because by the time an election does roll around, Labor’s numbers might not be much chop at all.

This is the first poll taken in the washup from Abbott’s successful international trip; ahead lies the change in the composition of the Senate, the impact that event may or may not have on the implementation of the budget and its impact on the polls and, of course, more allegations and revelations from the Heydon Royal Commission into the union movement.

I tend to think the trend away from Labor will continue, but the rest of the year will be a volatile time in Australian politics; as ever, we will wait and see.

Very quickly, I also want to look at the results of questions Nielsen asked its respondents about who their “preferred leaders” of each of the major parties are; I think readers know I think these kinds of questions are absolute drivel, but the Nielsen numbers do warrant mention on a couple of points.

We had a look at a similar survey conducted at the beginning of the month by Morgan Research; I link that article to this because to a large degree my thoughts are the same. The findings of the two, broadly, are the same. But a few points.

Overall, Nielsen finds Malcolm Turnbull the preferred leader of the Liberal Party by a 62-30 margin; among Liberal Party supporters, however, the numbers favour Tony Abbott over Turnbull, 59-39. Just as Morgan found near-absolute unanimity of support for Turnbull over Abbott among those identifying as Labor or Greens voters, it’s a reasonable bet to assume Nielsen has uncovered precisely the same phenomenon.

The hatred of the Left for Abbott is unreasoning, unreasonable, and total. Its penchant for Malcolm Turnbull is similarly unified. Yet the Left can love Malcolm all they like, but they would mostly never vote for him, and this survey once again shows why any fool in the Liberal bunker who sought to draft Turnbull as a “messiah” would be engineering the party’s likely death warrant.

More useful conclusions might be gleaned from Nielsen’s questions over the preferred leadership of the ALP, however; at the headline, Shorten (25%) is found to be preferred over Anthony Albanese (19%) and Tanya Plibersek (17%).

The numbers for the trio in the Morgan survey were 32%, 13% and 16% respectively.

I made the point in my piece on the Morgan findings that the combined numbers for Albanese and Plibersek were almost on par with the support Morgan found for Shorten; in the case of this Nielsen poll, the aggregate of Albanese/Plibersek support is well ahead of that for Shorten.

It might sound like a marginal argument, but I actually think the deterioration in Shorten’s position as “leader” is accelerating more quickly on his own side of the divide than it is in a head-to-head with Abbott and the Liberal Party.

Despite my aversion to this kind of polling some additional research on the question would be useful in either supporting the deduction or to scotch it, but whether Labor wins an election any time soon is one thing; whether Bill Shorten ever becomes Prime Minister is an entirely different proposition altogether, and in my mind the two are mutually exclusive.

As indicated in the body text of this article, I will be writing on Bill Shorten later this week; I can’t commit a precise date on account of various other activities I know are on my slate this week, but I do encourage readers to keep an eye out for it.

It will address the question of Shorten and his “leadership,” and I trust it will prove most illuminating.


*In 1998, the ALP polled primary votes totalling 40.1% of votes cast: the “slight shortchanging” my reliance on memory would have rendered, if unchecked, would still have been to note Labor won the primary vote, but at a level of 39.9% (which for some reason sprang instantly to mind when I considered the respective support for the parties at that election).



Post-Budget Polls: Big Labor Leads, But Message Is Mixed

AS UNIVERSALLY EXPECTED, the Abbott government has taken a hefty hit in major opinion polls conducted since Tuesday’s federal budget, with leads after preferences to the ALP of as much as 12%; even so, both Newspoll and Nielsen carry mixed messages, with below the line findings that place qualifications on their headline results. These are bad numbers for the government, yet with no irony at all might have been far worse.

As I said in my article yesterday afternoon, the Left will revel in the numbers this week’s opinion polls record, perhaps justifiably so; yet when an election is eventually held the odds must favour the re-election of the Abbott government, and this contention remains very much the case.

That said, findings published overnight by Newspoll, appearing in today’s edition of The Australian, along with material from Nielsen — both of which correlate with figures released a day earlier by Galaxy — are extremely bad for the Coalition whichever way they are sifted and presented, and whilst they do not signal the death knell of the government, they inarguably declare that Treasurer Joe Hockey’s first budget has been very poorly received indeed.

There are three things I will say upfront: one, and broadly speaking, Bill Shorten is likelier to have been found to be more popular this week than he ever will be again in his political career. Two, despite its leads after preferences, the Labor primary vote in all surveys should be far stronger for it to represent anything truly meaningful. And three, just as respondents to these polls are reacting against measures that clearly affect them adversely, there are indicators that suggest today’s stated voting intention may not translate into tomorrow’s vote.

Newspoll finds Labor ahead after preferences, by 55% (+2% since last fortnight) to 45%; on primary votes, this breaks to 38% (+4%) for the ALP, 36% (-2%) for the Coalition, 11% (-3%) for the Greens and 15% (+1%) for “Others.”

In other words, fully one-third of that 55% two-party lead is totally dependent on attracting preferences from other parties; preferences from the Communist Party Greens might well be a given in 75-80% of cases, but beyond that it becomes a much tougher ask. As a rough rule of thumb, the “Others” typically split 50-50 at elections, so the glitch in the headline finding of 55% Labor support after preferences is a glaring one.

It’s a similar story with findings from a Nielsen poll, which found primary support for the Coalition at 35% (-5% from its poll a month ago) and 40% (+6%) for the ALP; it also found the Greens sitting on 14% (-3%), the Palmer United Party on 6% (-2%), and “Others” on  5%, for a two-party lead to Labor of 56-44. Preferences in Nielsen’s research increase the overall ALP outcome by almost half as much again as its primary vote, and whilst anything is possible such a scenario sits at the upper outer reaches of anything that could be regarded as plausible.

For comparison, a Galaxy poll released late on Saturday night had Labor at 53% (+1%) after preferences to the Coalition’s 47% (-1%); it found primary Coalition support at 38% (-1%), Labor 38% (+1%), Greens 10% (-1%), the Palmer United Party 8% (+2%) and “Others” on 6% (-1%).

The point I would make is that whilst Labor support has certainly risen across the board (in contrast to the round of polls leading up to the budget) there is no decisive shift of support directly to the ALP that suggests an election win is locked in, or at the very least an outcome motivating the sentiment being expressed by respondents of the respective surveys. Its 40% in Newspoll is Labor’s best federal primary vote, anywhere, in years. The fact it is not mirrored elsewhere at a time of favourable political circumstances should be very worrying for the ALP indeed.

During the last term of Parliament, the Coalition primary vote in these surveys typically fluctuated between about 45% and 50%, and usually at the upper end of the range, and whilst the ALP has the “Green factor” hiving off a considerable portion of the Left-leaning vote, a similar phenomenon seems to have appeared in recent times with the emergence of parties linked to Clive Palmer and Bob Katter Jr.

And a primary vote of 37.8% in 2010 was only strong enough to win Julia Gillard government in minority; of course every election is different, but the fact is that even with the sizeable overall movements these polls are picking up, Labor’s actual support is no better on average than it was in 2010 or for much of the period it spent in opposition during the Howard years.

I’m not trying to piss on Labor’s parade, mind; the point is that in context and as these polls are shaped by political circumstance, the reality beneath the headline result is far less rosy for Labor than it will no doubt seek to claim.

This point is borne out to some extent by some of the questions each of the surveys asked its respondents about the budget.

For instance, Newspoll asked whether the ALP would have produced a better budget: only 39% thought it would, with 46% saying Labor would have done no better. This was despite 69% of its respondents saying it would leave them worse off personally.

Nielsen found that 33% of its respondents thought the budget was fair; 63% thought it was unfair. Yet its respondents split 50-37 in favour of the so-called “deficit tax,” and 49-46 in favour of the abolition of the carbon tax. (They also split 30-66 against raising the GST — a measure not included in the budget at all).

And Galaxy — 11% of whose respondents said the budget would leave them better off, and 75% saying they would be worse off — nonetheless split 41-46 on the question of whether they felt the budget would be good or bad for the economy, with “bad” attaining only a narrow plurality over “good” despite Labor’s doom and gloom rhetoric in recent weeks.

For these polls to give Labor real succour, they ought to be so overwhelmingly one-sided as to enable us to close off the betting and start paying out. They are nothing of the sort. And whilst it is very clear the government has a hell of a lot of work to do, it is equally clear the ALP remains well short of the compelling movement it will need to stand a serious chance of winning the next election.

Ironically — given they’re probably the most meaningless aspect of these polls — the best numbers for Labor come on the personal approval measures. Yet the caution on these is perhaps even stronger than the flimsy nature of the voting intention figures: Shorten is not a popular or particularly well-liked leader, and the big gains he has achieved this week are likely to prove illusory at best.

Newspoll has Shorten (44%, +6%) leading Abbott (34%, -6%) as preferred Prime Minister; over at Nielsen, it’s Shorten on 51% (+7%) over Abbott on 40% (-5%). The movements record both a swing against the government and reflect the obvious hostility of respondents across all the surveys to the budget. Yet they pit two relatively unpopular men against each other, and like virtually every similar finding since Shorten became ALP “leader” late last year, neither man has scored a runaway win over the other on any of these personal preference measures.

Similarly, Shorten records some improvement on the personal approval front, with Newspoll finding 42% of its respondents (+7%) approve of his handling of the opposition leader’s role, and 39% (-2%) don’t; at Nielsen, 47% (+4%) approved of him and 39% (-2%) didn’t. Yet again, these are hardly Earth-shattering numbers coming off an extremely low base, and reflect the fact Shorten is a fundamentally unpopular individual receiving the rub-off effects of the sentiment being expressed against the budget.

And Abbott? With disapproval in both polls now topping 60% and his approval numbers only barely in the 30s, it’s a case of “enough said.” Yet it must be remembered that Abbott has made a career as leader out of surviving these kinds of approval ratings. He won an election with them last year in a canter.

A lengthy post, yes, but there are three sets of numbers — plus dedicated questions on the budget — to sift through. What can we take out of them?

At the risk of being blase, there is nothing in any of this that shouldn’t have been expected.

Yet just as the government shouldn’t panic today, neither should the opposition crow: the results are bad for the government, but not dire; they are good for the Labor Party, but not convincing or solid.

One thing that occurred to me after my post yesterday is that the ALP has basically front-loaded its attack; in going hell-for-broke on the budget before it was even delivered based on the aspects of it that were leaked, it could be that it’s turned what might have otherwise been a slow burn into a single shot that may yet misfire. As I said yesterday afternoon, if the government can legislate the bulk of its measures and the sky doesn’t subsequently fall in, this budget mightn’t even be an issue when the next election rolls around — arguments over broken promises from the Coalition or not.

It is still very much the case that the government has followed the textbook: get into office, “discover” things are far worse than its predecessor claimed, drop the bomb of a horror budget and ride the storm out knowing there is ample time to turn public opinion back in its favour before it next faces the people.

This strategy has worked too many times in recent political history — 1983 and 1996 specifically — for Coalition strategists not to tread a similar path with some confidence. Labor failed to do so in 2007 (and tacitly acknowledged the strength of the budget it inherited) and was almost booted out after a single term in office.

In the longer run, these polls are meaningless, although we have to take the time to pull them apart.

Readers know I believe there are measures in the budget that should not have been included and which are certain losers of Coalition votes, but notwithstanding my criticisms there is an awful lot more that will influence the next election and the degree — if any — to which the budget shapes its outcome.

How much of Hockey’s budget even gets implemented is a very big question mark as at today’s date; how much is dropped, blocked, modified beyond recognition or enacted all promises to create ripples and knock-on effects whose outcomes — and consequences — cannot be foreseen.

And the budget aside, the electoral cards still remain very much in the Coalition’s hands.

After all, it faces a Labor Party booted from office in a landslide eight months ago; “led” by an odious and unpopular individual, that same Labor Party shows no inclination to either acknowledge the errors it made in office or even to be honest with the electorate when its own dishonest way of doing things was such a contributor to its fall from grace.

Abbott — to the extent a case can be made about broken promises — at least has the mess he inherited from the ALP to point to as an excuse. The ALP doesn’t even have that.

And smouldering away in the background are the Royal Commissions into Pink Batts and corruption in the union movement; various criminal investigations that may well see a throng of senior ALP figures charged and, potentially, jailed; and the Labor Party making noises about reform and inclusion and democratisation at the same time it refuses to dilute the level of union control of its conferences, which risks alienating even more of its rank and file than it already has when the betrayal it is wilfully committing becomes apparent.

Let’s call this for what it is: the best week of polling Labor has enjoyed in five years, and a bloodied nose for the government.

And yes, the budget process will have cost the Coalition some of its political capital, and its effort is in no way an emulation of either the fabled Costello budget of 1996 or the stellar level of acceptance it met with in the electorate.

But nobody — on either side — should get carried away by any of this. To do so is premature, baseless, and a dangerous political miscalculation to make.



Shock Nielsen Poll: Labor Leading In NSW

FOR THE FIRST TIME in years, a reputable opinion poll has found the ALP ahead of the Coalition in NSW, with Nielsen finding Labor leading 51% to 49% after preferences; the results come with heavy caveats and must be interpreted with caution, but they reflect a horror start to the year for NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell, and appear to mirror the growing disenchantment with O’Farrell and his government that we have discussed several times now.

I have to say that whilst I’m not surprised to find opinion polls registering significant and increasing movement away from the NSW government and from Barry O’Farrell in particular, I didn’t think it would show up as an ALP lead anytime soon — and especially not this side of a state election that is now due in twelve months’ time.

And before we really get into the Nielsen numbers, I should make the observation that these are the first findings on state voting intention in NSW that Nielsen has posted since March last year: the (hefty) movements in its numbers have to be read with that consideration in mind, as more surveys in the intervening period may have produced a more gradual trend rather than the huge jump this one appears to record.

Even so, the Nielsen poll is a shocker for the NSW Coalition, whichever way you spin it, and one that will do little to shore up O’Farrell’s tenure as Liberal leader and Premier.

Nielsen finds (remembering, again, that it’s a year since its last poll) primary vote support for the Coalition down 12 points to 40%, with Labor rising by the same amount, to 35%. It sees the Greens sitting at 12% (+2%) and “Others” at 13% (-2%). After preferences, this equates to a 51-49 lead for Labor: a swing of 15.7% since the state election held in March 2011 and one which, if applied uniformly to the NSW pendulum, would see the ALP win 25 seats from the Coalition to fall a single seat short of a majority, although in such a scenario Labor would fancy its chances of reclaiming Balmain — from the Communist Party Greens — and with it, government.

Satisfaction with O’Farrell’s performance as Premier, measured by Nielsen, sits at 46% (-8%), with 40% (+5%) disapproving; by contrast, Labor leader John Robertson — for so long regarded as a dead man walking until the ALP’s stunning result in the Miranda by-election resuscitated his fortunes — records personal approval of 34% (+2), with his disapproval number sitting at 36% (-7). The Robertson numbers certainly aren’t Earth-shattering, but tellingly enough they aren’t far short of the average of the numbers O’Farrell recorded as opposition leader either.

As preferred Premier, Nielsen finds O’Farrell (50%, -12%) remaining ahead of Robertson (30%, +5%) in a solid but by no means overwhelming result that is certainly nowhere near as robust as other leaders facing first-term opposition leaders have scored.

Whilst my usual cautions about reading polls in isolation, waiting for trends to develop and so forth remain absolutely in effect, I think the Nielsen result is exceptional for the fact alone that it shows Labor ahead in a state it wasn’t expected to be sighted alive again in until at least 2019, and probably later.

That said, the “trend” can already be picked out to some extent: in the Miranda by-election, a subsequent Newspoll showing Coalition support in NSW starting to slip, and now this result from Nielsen. It will be interesting to see what the other survey companies find when next polling state voting intention in the Premier State.

To me, this simply reinforces what I think is the negative effect of Barry O’Farrell’s leadership of the Liberal Party that I wrote about in January; if anything nothing has really changed, and if anything the pattern that saw O’Farrell start to drag his party’s vote downwards has continued apace since that time.

For example, his so-called “coward punch” laws — to deal with the spiralling problem of alcohol-fuelled violence in nightclub precincts in inner Sydney — have universally been decried as too little, too late; in any case, I saw during the week that a mass movement of drinkers toward suburban venues unaffected by the government’s early lockout laws appears to be taking place in response, and where the epicentre of the drinking population imbibes, the troublemakers will soon enough follow.

Across a raft of issues, I’ve noticed “unnamed sources” briefing the Sydney press to the effect that O’Farrell rarely — if ever — heeds expert advice or counsel, even when it is advice he commissioned himself: it’s a portrait suggestive of a leader who refuses to listen to anything other than his own views and prejudices, which is exactly as it is intended to be. The problem is that it’s a picture many who view it find to be reflective of their own opinions of O’Farrell.

Since my article in January, O’Farrell has maintained his vehement and at times almost childish refusal to contribute a cent from NSW revenues to either the soon-to-be-confirmed second Sydney airport at Badgerys Creek, or to any of the critical infrastructure it requires; it is difficult to think of a leader so obviously out of lockstep with a clear and growing majority of public sentiment in recent times, and not least in view of the direct contradiction such a stand makes of the federal government position — a government operated by the Liberal Party also.

Then again, Prime Minister Tony Abbott and O’Farrell aren’t exactly noted as factional bosom buddies within the party, so perhaps this is of no surprise. Even so — after decades of gutless politicians on all sides refusing to deal with the airport question — the opposition of the NSW government, directly spearheaded by O’Farrell personally, is petulant in the extreme.

But the suspension of three Liberal MPs a fortnight ago to face investigation by ICAC is likely a driver of this result as well; certainly, if the trio are cleared, one would expect any damage the NSW government might suffer in polling to be temporary, and thus reversed.

But for now at least, a distinct “pox on both your houses” attitude toward the NSW government is discernible, at least in Sydney; on balance, this is a far greater risk to the Coalition than to Labor, elected as it was to clean up the quagmire of corruption left behind by the last Labor government once and for all.

Should it turn out that both sides have their share of miscreant MPs who have been up to no good, the central pretext for electing the Coalition will have been shattered. In that eventuality, the Coalition will require tangible and substantial reasons to base its case for re-election upon, and as we’ve discussed — under O’Farrell’s leadership — it is growing increasingly difficult to ascertain how such a case might be made.

We will continue (as ever) to watch the goings-on in NSW, and discuss as need be. My feeling, however, is that this particular poll is no rogue, and merely builds on the warning signs that have been apparent — and growing in number — for quite some time.

Perhaps my previous comparison of O’Farrell’s government with Nick Greiner’s ahead of the 1991 election aren’t so far fetched. Perhaps O’Farrell’s leadership really will come under the harsh glare of his colleagues. I have called in the past for O’Farrell to be replaced as leader and Premier for the good of the Liberal Party. Nothing in these numbers suggests the call was made in error.


Liberals Lead, Shorten Crashes: Nielsen

IN THE WAKE of last week’s Newspoll showing support for the Coalition beginning to recover, a new opinion poll is out today: a Nielsen poll, appearing in the Fairfax press, shows the Coalition regaining its election-winning lead to head Labor 52-48 after preferences; it also shows support for opposition “leader” Bill Shorten collapsing. The poll is a disaster for Labor, which has only itself — and Shorten — to blame.

Readers will recall that last week’s Newspoll showed support for the Coalition starting to inch upwards, and I opined at the time that we would need to wait for more findings from other research to ascertain whether this was the beginning of a trend; the Nielsen poll findings published by Fairfax across the country today validates the general movement against Labor Newspoll identified, and suggests that it may even be accelerating.

Based on movements since its last poll (published on 24 November — coincidentally, the sixth anniversary of the election of the Rudd government), Nielsen finds primary support for the Coalition up three points to 44%; it finds support of the ALP sliding four points, to the disastrous 33% it polled at the 7 September election; and it finds the Greens sitting on 12% (+1%). Support for independents and “others” collectively sits at 11% (-1%).

After preferences, this equates to a four-point turnaround from the November findings to see the Coalition leading, 52-48, which if replicated at an election would see the government returned with a solid but reduced majority.

The “preferred Prime Minister” question sees Tony Abbott increase the lead he has held over Shorten ever since the latter obtained the ALP leadership; last time Nielsen found Abbott ahead 49-41. Today, it finds that lead sitting at 49-39.

But the personal approval ratings tell the story: Abbott remains fairly evenly split, according to these numbers, with 45% (-2%) approving of his performance as Prime Minister, and 47% (+1%) disapproving — a result that is beginning to look the norm for Abbott, as he leads a government with broad support yet fails (as he did in opposition) to generate the personal approval that would manifest itself in the findings of reputable opinion polling.

By contrast, Shorten takes a big hit in this poll, with 40% (-11%) approving of his performance as “leader,” and 40% (+8%) thinking otherwise.

It is very early days for the opposition “leader” of course, but nobody at the ALP would take any solace from these numbers, which — in something that should send a chill down the spine of Labor strategists — almost perfectly mirror the movement Newspoll recorded against him last week.

It doesn’t take a lot of nous to recognise what’s driving the swing back to the government.

Firstly, the case Abbott and his ministers have been making about the need for a royal commission to investigate union corruption is resonating with the public, bolstered by allegations made by union insiders that will be tested by any such commission.

The Labor position — to say it opposes union misconduct, but to leave cracking down on it to the Police — is a cop-out (no pun intended) and the ALP knows it; to an imbecile, statements of this nature give the impression that Labor is indeed tough on such matters. To anyone with half a brain, it’s clear that such a position rests on a hedge: knowing the state Police forces are hopelessly under-resourced to conduct any such inquiry in a methodical or rigorous fashion, Labor’s bet is that most of its mates will escape scot-free on account of the fact there won’t be the manpower to ever investigate them. There are now too many Labor and union figures parroting variants of exactly the same line for this to be an accident, and no conclusion other than this can be drawn from it.

Whether he realises it or not, by opposing a royal commission into his union mates, Shorten has failed to come down on the side of probity and decency, to say nothing of legality: and the more dirt a royal commission uncovers, the more will stick to him.

Abbott and his government will have been helped, too, by the growing cogency of its case: after some early stumbles that can be attributed to a new government finding its feet, there is a real perception that on economic matters especially, talk of ending “the age of dependency” and restoring the country’s finances to a sounder footing is also beginning to resonate.

There is no palpable evidence to date that Abbott is blamed for the decisions of Holden and Toyota to cease building cars here; in fact, Holden’s decision to leave probably sealed Toyota’s fate, and as we have discussed, there is a good case to make that any responsibility to be carried by an elected government for that should be borne by Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard.

The poll was taken in the aftermath of the Griffith by-election, at which Labor’s narrow win — suffering a swing against it — hardly represents an enthusiastic endorsement of new MP Terri Butler or, indeed, of Shorten. It is possible that result will continue to feed into polling in the next little while, especially with state elections in SA and Tasmania — in which Labor is tipped to suffer beltings in both states — now just four weeks away. If it also fails to win the state by-election in Redcliffe in Queensland on Saturday, real questions about what condition Labor is actually in will need to be asked internally.

And one sleeper issue that I suspect may be starting to work against the ALP is Qantas, and its requests for government help: Labor says it resolutely opposes amending or repealing the Qantas Sale Act, yet claims it is committed to seeing a “strong, successful Qantas that is majority Australian-owned.” The two components of that position, with Qantas in the state it is in at present, are irreconcilable, and it isn’t lost on many people I suspect that the biggest cost blowout it faces is labour, the cost of which is ceaselessly being driven higher by the entitlements contained in union-negotiated enterprise agreements. We will see how that plays out, but my feeling is that this is working against the ALP, and increasingly viewed by the public as yet another attempt not to rock the boat wherever its union mates are concerned.

I think we may be at a crossroads for Labor, and one that will define it for at least the balance of this term of Parliament: does Labor choose to knuckle under and take a proper look at itself, the reasons for its loss of government, and start working on some policies that might elicit broad support? Or does it drag its knuckles, parroting endless buckets of verbal diarrhoea, oblivious to the fact that as clever as it thinks itself it is turning more and more people away from supporting it?

Based on current form, I suspect it will be the latter path Labor chooses. Certainly, it is almost impossible to imagine “leader” Bill Shorten standing for much more than Labor’s current gimmickry. I said to a senior Labor insider last night that Shorten was an unmitigated political disaster in the making, unelectable, and not so much as a real leader’s bootlace. The analysis, with no partisan spin attached to it, was met with silence.

That silence is deafening. If Labor wants to eventually return to government rather than have a fun time playing silly games, it had better start listening.

Disparate Opinion Polls: Interpret With Caution

THOSE who take their cue from opinion polls will either be discombobulated this week, or ignoring one set of numbers o’er the other; Newspoll finds the Abbott government ahead 52-48 after preferences, whilst Nielsen sees Labor in an election-winning 53-47 position. It’s likely neither is right.

We cover polling in this column not because I believe it (or more specifically, that I believe individual survey results) but because survey findings are snapshots, and taken together — as a basket of data over time — are very useful in identifying and monitoring trends.

It’s safe to say the polls are registering something; we haven’t seen the weekly Essential Media report just yet (which in any case has been stuck at 53-47 to the Coalition ever since the election) but two polls in two days have recorded wildly different findings.

(Oh, and last fortnight — in the face of the antics of Kevin Rudd — we missed a Newspoll that showed a 53-47 Coalition lead).

Newspoll is out again today, in The Australian, finding Labor closing the gap on the Liberals by one percentage point since that missed survey: the Coalition leads 52-48.

Nielsen, published in a flurry of jubilant sensationalism in the Fairfax press yesterday, shows Labor making a stunning (and stunningly quick) recovery from its election rout to lead the Coalition 53-47: to put that into perspective, Bill Shorten would win an election more convincingly on those numbers than Kevin Rudd did six years ago.

The one thing I would say is that the ALP shouldn’t break out the Bollinger just yet.

Obviously there is a lot beginning to feed into the polls — and not least, of course, the diplomatic problem that has blown up with Indonesia.

The Abbott government is beginning to flex its muscles as well, and starting to make general statements about some of the less-than-popular medicine it will soon begin to administer as it starts the onerous job of bringing Australia’s finances back under control.

And Labor, too, is making some running: under “leader” Bill Shorten it seems determined to keep having a bob each way, as it makes the kind of “magic pudding” pronouncements Kevin Rudd was so fond of which promise many things to many people, but likely amount to nothing.

It’s not unusual, whenever there is a lot of activity, for polls to record a high degree of flutter, which is what we’re probably beginning to see; despite the considered, quiet way in which the Coalition commenced its term and the Indonesia issue this past week, we’re actually seeing a relatively normal political pattern resume after years of latent voter anger running in one direction.

My sense is that an election this weekend would see the Coalition re-elected. By how much I don’t know, other than to say it wouldn’t be close.

But it would be less than it won by on 7 September, something reflecting the day-to-day development of political issues since the election rather than any solid move back to Labor.

I had an almighty brawl with some ALP apparatchiks last night on Twitter; filled with smug triumphalism about the Nielsen results, the ALP was as pure as driven snow. Abbott, by contrast…well, even daily running sheets find their way to Twitter one way or another.

The point they couldn’t answer was my response to a barb about Abbott “increasing debt by 66%” (by raising the debt ceiling from $300bn to $500bn): when I pointed out these fellows knew quite well that the debt “increase” was recurrent ALP spending that was locked in and legislated, they changed the subject.

It’s a point Shorten would do well to heed: he’s been running around in the past couple of days playing the same semantic game; it’s the kind of duplicity that helped get Labor booted from office, and if he’s not careful, it will cost him the next election too.

In both polls — even the Nielsen one that ALP types are cock-a-hoop about — Abbott leads Shorten on the “preferred PM” measure: by 44% to 33% in Newspoll, and by 49% to 41% in Nielsen.

Newspoll finds Shorten’s disapproval rating continuing to chase his approval number higher; 39% (+2%) approved of his performance, whilst 27% (+3%) disapproved. By contrast, Abbott scored 42% on both measures, down from 45-38 a fortnight ago.

Neither of them are all that popular; nothing new for Abbott, although Shorten’s rating in Newspoll isn’t worth celebrating either.

Yet looking at Nielsen’s other numbers, I just wonder if there’s a rogue element to them: they are so far out of kilter with Newspoll (and Newspoll is the more recent survey) as to be difficult to believe.

According to Nielsen — in its first post-election survey — Shorten is on his way to being a messiah, with 51% of respondents approving of his performance as opposition leader and just 30% disapproving.

It begs the question of how two weighted polls taken within a couple of days of each other (and both since the Indonesia ruckus started) could find such different things.

The same question arises over primary voting intention, with Nielsen finding the ALP on 37% (+2% on its Newspoll number), the Coalition on 41% (-2% on Newspoll), the Greens on 11% (+1% on Newspoll) and Independents/”Others” on 11% (-1%) on Newspoll.

I’m asking the question of Nielsen rather than Newspoll because Newspoll, over the past few years, has been very consistent, and twice now has been the pre-election poll closest to the actual result on polling day.

I’ll also point out (in case anyone thinks I’m picking on Nielsen from political preference) that Nielsen was the most strongly pro-Coalition of the polls for much of the last term of Parliament.

But its differences with Newspoll are at the outer limit of what might be written off as sampling error; its approval figure for Shorten defies all other available evidence.

And in terms of the likely effect of the Indonesia crisis, I have expected the Coalition would take a hit in the short term — the Indonesians don’t exactly seem able to make the distinction that Abbott wasn’t in government when the phones were tapped — before recovering.

This is why I tend to think neither of these polls is correct. Newspoll is probably closer, but even then I wouldn’t bet tens on it in such a febrile political environment.

Diplomatic crisis or not, I think we’ll see quite a bit of fluctuation in the polls over the next few months as the government beds its program down, and the ALP plays trivial politics.

(Sorry, but the ALP will. And it does).

But if you vote Labor, a cold shower is probably better than a bottle of plonk as a reaction to these latest surveys.


Final Polling: Big Coalition Win; 53.5%-46.5% Lead

SIX YEARS of Labor government is set to end in landslide defeat today, if the final opinion polls across all mainstream pollsters are accurate; with an average lead of seven points after preferences across the polls, Tony Abbott is set to be elected in a win that will rival John Howard’s triumph in 1996.

Over the past 24 hours, I have been watching the special election eve survey results from each of the major polling outfits filter through; there is some variation between them, but nothing beyond the margin of sampling error — or anything even approaching it.

I am only going to focus in detail on the two-party figures, because — after all — every seat in the House of Representatives will be determined on a two-candidate final count.

At the business end of the process it’s votes that ultimately matter: approval ratings and “preferred Prime Minister” contests are useful in the middle of the cycle, but tomorrow Australians will vote for who they will — and with neither leader recording messianic ratings, those questions now seem redundant.

I will however make the observation that across all of the latest polls, on average, Tony Abbott ends up with a modest lead over Kevin Rudd in the “preferred PM” stakes.

Indeed, Abbott ends this campaign more popular than Rudd.

And that’s an absolute indictment on Rudd and the ALP, with Rudd purportedly the most popular politician in the country, and Labor supposedly having executed an electoral masterstroke by restoring him to its leadership to contest today’s election.

Instead, it may well have worsened the inevitable defeat.

In this final round of special polls, the two-party preferred breaks (all in favour of the Coalition) are: Newspoll, 54-46; Essential, 52-48; Galaxy, 53-47; and Nielsen, 54-46.

I saw a poll yesterday from industry newcomer Lonergan Research, effectively finding 51-49 for the Coalition; this, however, was a mobile phone only poll, and it is reasonable to expect its findings were disproportionately drawn from the younger age quintiles where ALP/Greens support is higher (even if the data was weighted to compensate).

And even the often-maligned Morgan poll — whose results are often inclined to wild and inexplicable fluctuations, quite literally, from one week to the next — has posted final figures showing a 53.5-46.5 result in the Coalition’s favour.

And that, dear readers — 53.5% to 46.5% — is the exact average of the Coalition lead over Labor, after preferences, across the four usual polls we follow, plus Morgan.

In turn, a 53.5% result for the Coalition today would represent a 3.6% swing away from the ALP and easily elect Tony Abbott Prime Minister.

Applying a 3.6% movement to the electoral pendulum sees the Coalition win 14 additional seats from Labor (plus those of Peter Slipper in Queensland and the two independents in NSW) for a total of 89 of the 150 House of Representatives seats, and a majority of 28.

It isn’t that simple, of course, and I expect Abbott to do a bit better than that.

The polling figures we are looking at today come at the end of a campaign in which the overall trend and movement has been back to the Coalition following the end of Kevin Rudd’s “honeymoon” as a restored PM.

That movement, however, can be broken into three phases: a marked movement to the Coalition immediately after the calling of the election; a very slight drift back to Labor about two-thirds the way through the campaign; and more movement to the Coalition this week to round out the run to the polling stations.

Based on these last survey results, that movement appears to be continuing, even now; this is the first reason 53.5% probably understates the current level of Coalition support.

A second reason is that the most recent findings — Newspoll, Nielsen and Morgan — all fall closer to 54% (and in the case of Nielsen and Newspoll, may well have been rounded down to that level for publication).

It’s an especially valid point in the case of Newspoll, which in 2010 published its findings to one decimal place (which I seem to recall was a 50.3% ALP lead). It hasn’t done so this time, so it becomes a matter of speculation.

But that speculation becomes a little less…er, speculative…when it’s remembered that at most of the elections won by John Howard, conservative support as measured by election eve polls was typically understated when compared to the actual results (which, of course, are determined by actual preference allocations rather than the statistical distribution of same based on the patterns at the preceding election).

And a third factor is that no election swing is uniform: the pendulum may move x seats on y swing, but with fluctuations from seat to seat, an efficient swing can yield more seats than the pendulum suggests — and that also applies in reverse, although today I doubt it.

My guess, therefore, is that the Coalition result will look more like 54%, or even 54.5%.

(And regular readers will know that I have long expected the actual election result to come in at around 54% for the Liberals, after preferences — even when the Coalition was pulling in 57-58% numbers in the polls early this year, and again prior to that).

Simply stated, if these numbers are broadly accurate — and there is little reason to believe they are not — the Liberal win today will be on the same scale as Howard’s in 1996, and may even edge toward that gold standard of election beltings: Malcolm Fraser’s in 1975.

Whichever way you cut it, though, even the polls we are talking about are already out of date; there are factors influencing people’s voting intentions even now, and if there is a continuing drift one way or the other there is still a full day of voting for more votes to shift from one column to the other.

But with all that considered, my personal prediction is that the Liberals and Nationals will collectively win 95 seats; the ALP 52; Adam Bandt will retain the seat of Melbourne for the Greens; and there will be one Independent (Andrew Wilkie), plus Bob Katter in Kennedy.

This adds up to a 40 seat Coalition majority: the same buffer secured by Howard in 1996.

If all of this comes to pass, the ALP will have many wounds to lick; and with Kevin Rudd defeated in Griffith (yes, I see that happening), its humiliation — and its punishment for six self-indulgent, dysfunctional and chaotically misspent years — will be absolute.

Election Polls, Week 1: Galaxy, Nielsen Spell Trouble For Rudd

TWO NEW POLLS signal trouble for Kevin Rudd and the ALP, with movement in the first week of the campaign to the Coalition; they by no means spell the end of Rudd’s valiant — if fundamentally dishonest — attempt to pinch the election, but the ongoing trend leaves him with no margin for error.

I intend to make this a very succinct post; I will be back later today to look at other issues, and broadly, readers can see some of the figures from relevant tables.

(And at the time of writing — 2.30am, Melbourne time — I’m about done for the “day.”)

Nielsen’s poll — its first in four weeks — shows a national split of 52-48 in the Coalition’s favour; a movement toward the Coalition of two points over that period.

This period, of course, is entirely marked by Kevin Rudd in the Prime Minister’s office, and — like Newspoll and Galaxy’s last national findings — suggests the upward bounce experienced by Labor under Rudd is now well and truly finished.

Indeed, a week into an election campaign, it shows the Labor vote in reverse.

But Nielsen’s poll brings the recent average of all of the reputable polls to an even 52-48 for the Coalition, or perhaps even a sliver better than that; only a couple of weeks ago we were talking of this average sitting at 51-49 for the Liberals.

As readers will have heard me say many times, it’s the overall trends identified in polling that make it useful, not individual polls themselves; even so, Nielsen’s findings are of particular interest on account of the fact they are the first to be sampled entirely within the formal election campaign period.

Nielsen’s full findings can be accessed here.

The key take-outs from this poll all mirror and validate the trends that have shown up — almost uniformly — in the other reputable published polls over the past couple of weeks. The actual numbers may vary a bit (for example, Nielsen has far fewer “undecideds” on questions of, say,  leadership approval), but the trends are unmistakable.

These are:

  • The Coalition remains on track to win the 7 September election;
  • Kevin Rudd’s overall “popularity” is fading quickly;
  • Tony Abbott is increasingly perceived as more popular; and
  • Rudd’s lead over Abbott as “preferred Prime Minister” is shrinking.

The other poll out today is a Galaxy poll, which appears to have delivered results for Queensland only at this stage, and which shows Labor lagging behind the Coalition in the Sunshine State by a 56-44 margin.

Significantly, Galaxy’s researchers were in the field on Wednesday and Thursday, so at least a portion of these results will have been recorded after word spread on Thursday morning that ex-Premier Peter Beattie was throwing his hat into the election ring.

On this account, the findings should alarm Labor; Queensland — on paper — is the only state in which it can plausibly make gains (aside from perhaps a solitary seat in WA, and at a stretch) to offset expected heavy losses down the rest of the east coast and in Tasmania.

Even so — and as I opined yesterday — I’ve never been a convert to the theory that either Rudd’s resuscitation as Prime Minister or the performance of the Newman government in Queensland were at all likely to translate into solid electoral gains for the ALP in that state.

And if we take the average of the Nielsen and Galaxy numbers for Queensland (Nielsen found a 53-47 advantage for the LNP there), the resulting 54.5-44.5 split still represents a paltry swing of 1.4% to Labor, and if applied uniformly on the pendulum would net the party a single additional seat: ironically, not the one Beattie has opted to contest.

Of course, swings are rarely (if ever) uniform, so it’s dangerous to read too much into such a scenario. But I make the point simply to illustrate just how difficult it will be for Rudd to extract any electoral joy — even in his beloved Queensland.

The short synopsis of these new numbers is that Labor is doing it tough; barring a colossal (and highly improbable) gaffe by Tony Abbott in tomorrow night’s leaders’ debate, I don’t see anything in the immediate term that is likely to change that.

My sense is that — on a points call — the Coalition has won the first week of this campaign, and the numbers we’re talking about here underline the contention.

As ever, we’ll look at further results during the campaign as they are published.