Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Poll Roundup: Sympathy For Shorten, But Not Votes

2PP Aggregate: 51.6 to Labor (-0.3 since late last week, -2.1 in six weeks)
Labor would probably still just win election "held right now"

Four federal polls have come in in the last few days, and the overall picture is more of the steady drift back to the Coalition that kicked off in mid-July following the MH-17 air disaster.

Two polls, ReachTEL and Newspoll, have put out 51:49s to Labor.  Both had 52s in their previous surveys though in the case of ReachTEL the previous survey must have been very close to rounding to 51 as well.  These two are the first polls by anyone other than  Essential to have it this close since mid-April.  ReachTEL got there via a slight rise in the Coalition primary at the expense of the Others column (especially Palmer United) while in Newspoll there was a two-point shift from the Labor-friendly Greens to the nonspecific Others.  As Newspoll continues not separating results for Palmer United, we do not know which Others those were.

Morgan encountered no 2PP change (still at 54:46 based on last election preferences, which equates to about 52.5:47.5 accounting for house effect) but concurred with ReachTEL in finding a drop in primary support for the Palmer United Party following various rants against China by Clive Palmer and Jacqui Lambie.  Finally, Essential remained at 52:48.

All up my aggregate now stands at 51.6% to Labor.  Labor would still probably just win a majority with this share of the 2PP vote, and would have a very high chance of forming a government of some description, but there's not a lot in it (the break-even point is around 51:49).  Last week's BludgerTrack gave the ALP 77 seats out of 150 off the same 2PP score.

It's not quite time to declare the budget blow-out that started in early May over, but of the roughly 3.5 points that the Budget damage was good for at its peak, less than a point now remains.  Here's the current smoothed aggregate tracking graph:

If we do get back to a cross-poll 51:49 to Labor average soon, then it will be easy to finally describe the size and duration of the Budget blowout, since it started following five months of more or less stable polling at that level.  Measuring the impact of the MH-17 incident will always be much harder.  It occurred when voting intention was already affected by the prolonged negative reaction to the Budget.  It seems that the MH-17 event re-fired and also accelerated the Coalition's recovery from the Budget slump, but we'll never know how fast or how much the Government would have recovered without it.

Sympathy Lifts Shorten's Ratings

Last week something highly unusual happened in the career of Australia's 35th Leader of the Opposition: Bill Shorten revealed that he had been cleared of a decades-old rape claim after Victoria Police investigated the matter and found no prospect of conviction.  Shorten chose to confront the matter directly rather than to allow it to fester away as a source of gossip unaddressed. This wasall  marketed as "shock news" by some of the less principled sectors of the media, but in fact it had been well known in the political blogosphere for some time that Shorten was the man under investigation, and this was only a revelation to the greater public because the mainstream outlets had self-censored his involvement.

Public knowledge of the situation is considered by some commentators to be a big deal and a major risk to Labor, on the assumption that either the mud will stick even if there is nothing to it, or that there may be widespread curiosity about the story with the possibility of new facts emerging.  So far the story has more or less disappeared following Shorten's announcement.  Shorten's rating does tend to bob about without much apparent reason but results this week are at least consistent with some degree of sympathy bounce following his handling of the matter last week.  His Newspoll netsat improved by seven points to -1, its highest level since a May and second-highest since February.  On the ReachTEL scale there was a 3.8 point improvement, with his negative rating coming down by 2.8 points and his clearly positive scores up by a point.  (I convert Shorten's current ReachTEL scores to about +2.4 on the Newspoll scale.)

Shorten also improved his better PM score in Newspoll, recapturing the lead despite the 2PP being only slightly in Labor's favour.  This is only the tenth time in Newspoll history, and the first for sixteen years, that the Opposition Leader has led while the Opposition 2PP is 51 or lower (not 52 or lower as I briefly erroneously tweeted).  The previous cases were six Keating vs Hewson polls in the leadup to the 1993 election, one Keating vs Howard in 1995 when Howard had just been appointed, and two Howard vs Beazley polls in 1998.   There has never been a case where the Opposition Leader has led as better PM while the Government has led on 2PP.  This unusual result, while probably partly down to Tony Abbott's less than stellar popularity, is very consistent with a sympathy response for Shorten that is not translating into voting intention.  Probably Labor would not expect it to, the best hope being that the incident just disappears.

Abbott's ReachTEL ratings showed modest improvement, with 32% (up 1.9%) rating his performance good or very good, and 52.1% (down 2.1%) rating it poor or very poor.  Normally this ReachTEL net rating of around -20 would convert to about a -12 from Newspoll.  It was hence slightly surprising to see Newspoll come out with -19 (36-55) for Abbott in spite of his party's 2PP improvement.  That might sound like good news for Labor, but it isn't, at all.   A large part of the case for the Coalition losing the next election is that Tony Abbott struggles to poll good personal ratings.  Because Prime Ministerial net ratings appear to strongly drive voting intention, Labor would want to see bad ratings for Abbott connect to bad 2PPs for his party.  However as his tenure has progressed, the relationship between Abbott's netsats and the Coalition's 2PP may be weakening (it now explains "only" 80% of variation) and results like this will push Abbott's break-even score (the netsat he on average needs for his party to reach 2PP parity) down further.

Even Abbott, however, was leaving Joe Hockey in the dust as the Treasurer polled some pretty nasty results.  58.8% of ReachTEL respondents grabbed the offered bait that Hockey is "out of touch with Australians", while only 25.7% said otherwise.  Among Coalition supporters the breakdown was 24% Yes, 50.2% No. I think I've seen some reporting of the Coalition supporter figures the wrong way around, but even the real figures aren't at all flattering.  Essential also sent Hockey into a cage-match for Best Australian Treasurer against Costello, Keating and Swan (it seems Dawkins, Kerin, Willis and Bowen failed to qualify) and here our man finished up last, with 5% to 30 for Costello, 23 for Keating and 8 for Swan.  Perhaps only a year into his tenure it's a bit too early for these sorts of questions.

Just after MH-17 I suggested it was bad for the government that although its voting intention results were improving, it was continuing to poll bad results on economic management, with the ReachTEL Hockey result the latest of many such.  As that trend has continued, I've suspected more that voters actually now don't think much in economic competence terms of either side, and thus that bad economic perceptions are not likely to be such an effective brake on the Coalition's polling.

What Might This Week Mean?

Some will see this as a big week in federal politics with the Government trying to get its Budget decisions through the Senate.  There will be a widespread tendency to see success in passing the program as necessary to the Government's prospects over the rest of its term.

I have almost the reverse view - I think it will benefit the Government's prospects if it is forced to compromise or backtrack on many of its most contentious Budget proposals, so that it can fly the flag for having tried to "do the right thing" without having to live with the consequences.  Thus, if anyone is of the view that a wave of blocking by the Senate will see the Government's figures back where they were a couple of months ago, in my view that is not very likely.  Even complete rejection of the Government's remaining program would leave it only with a "budget crisis" that was largely confected in the first place, and the opportunity to find less contentious ways of solving it.  Having its agenda implemented in full would be much more testing.

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