(See comments on 2PP estimates below)
Poll shows Lambie support sufficient for one Senate seat.
This weekend the Sunday Tasmanian is publishing ReachTEL polling of the five Tasmanian federal seats. The poll includes several questions and other questions will be released by the Mercury through the week. At this stage two questions have been released - voting intention and a question on the Budget and economic management.
Tasmania has three marginal Liberal-held seats: Lyons (Eric Hutchinson, 1.2%), Braddon (Brett Whiteley, 2.6%) and Bass (Andrew Nikolic, 4.0%). All were won from Labor at the last election so the new members should have some buffer against swings because of their new personal votes. It also has the Labor-held seat of Franklin (Julie Collins, 5.1%) and independent Andrew Wilkie's seat of Denison (15.5% vs ALP), neither of which have been considered really "in play". Until now there has been no released polling of these seats since Malcolm Turnbull became Prime Minister. There have been small state samples aggregated by Poll Bludger, which have generally looked OK for the Liberal incumbents except for a wobble after the short-lived "state income tax" proposal.
This is the first large-scale poll we have seen, but it has a number of unusual aspects that make interpreting it challenging. While the Liberal incumbents could take some heart from it, there is plenty of room for other interpretations.
The Poll Design
The poll uses large samples of around 600 voters (based on recorded-voice polling or "robopolling" of both landline and mobile phones) per seat. Such large ReachTEL samples were also the only public seat polling available for Tasmania before the 2013 election. They predicted the winner of every Tasmanian seat correctly, but had the Liberal 2PP vote on average 4-5 points higher than the ultimate outcome. There was a widespread national tendency of published seat polling to skew to the Coalition compared to both national polling and the end results in 2013. It is probable that pollsters have taken measures to combat this, but I am not aware of any details of such measures.
The main oddity of the poll design as commissioned is the inclusion of the Jacqui Lambie Network in the readout. At this stage, JLN appear to be contesting the Senate only in Tasmania. While including the JLN is very useful in terms of getting some kind of a vague idea of their possible Senate support, this does mean that respondents are being asked what sounds like a House of Reps question ("If a federal election were to be held today, which of the following would receive your first preference vote?") but includes a Senate-only party.
The published preferences are all respondent-allocated. If last-election preferences were used I get some different results. See discussion of the 2PPs below.
As with many other recent ReachTEL polls (but not all) questions have been asked in a two-step format - in the first stage voters can press a button for "undecided", but those who pick that option are then asked which party they are leaning to. While this can provide useful data about the softness of particular party votes, it also means the results of the headline question are not directly comparable to those of other polls like, say, Newspoll.
Primary Vote Results
I have published the results below in a format that more closely resembles that of other polls, eg with the Undecided voters all reallocated. I am showing the swing for Labor, Liberal, the Greens and Wilkie since the last election for each sample. It should be kept in mind that the in-theory margin of error for any given result here maxes out at about 4%, but that is ignoring the impact of scaling, which tends to increase it slightly. Furthermore because so many individual figures are being published at once, it is quite likely that at least one or two will be outside the margin of error.
The inclusion of the Lambie Network creates swings against parties that may not actually exist in a lower house vote (though some of these voters may vote for Ind/Others). However, the Lambie vote in this poll by electorate very closely follows the PUP vote at the last federal election. Whether the Lambie voters and PUP voters are more or less the same people is not so clear.
Bearing all this in mind, the poll shows an average primary "swing" of 1.1 points to the Liberals, 2.3 points against Labor and 3.5 points to the Greens. Seat by seat, the Green vote in Lyons at least looks too high and the Labor vote there too low, and I think this is also true of Franklin and probably also Denison. (The Labor brand can't be too trashed in Denison given that the party just won a Legislative Council seat covering slightly over a third of it with a 10% swing!) Even allowing for this, the primaries look rather strong for the Liberals.
There are three possible explanations for this, any or all of which could be valid or partly valid:
1. The poll could be supporting the finding of the other state samples that the Liberal vote is holding up rather well in Tasmania.
2. The poll could be overmeasuring Liberal support, as the equivalent series did in 2013.
3. While the JLN votes and 2013 PUP votes are distributed very similarly, they might not be the same voters. The Lambie Network might be "taking" more votes from Labor in this poll, and fewer from the Liberals, than PUP did.
A more House of Representatives specific survey design would have assisted in ruling out 3.
Here I will deal with Denison first. The 2PP has been published as between Andrew Wilkie and the Liberals. However, in 2013 the Greens' preferences in Denison split 55.8% to Wilkie, 40.7% to Labor and 3.5% to the Liberals. With the split from "others" also slightly favouring Labor, my own estimate is that Labor would overtake the Liberals and make the final two in this sample, albeit by only 0.1 of a point. It's very likely that the Labor vote is understated compared to the Liberal vote in this sample anyway, so the poll's Wilkie-vs-Liberal 2PP is likely to be irrelevant. However, the 2PP for Wilkie against Labor would also be about 66:34 based on this sample. Although the sample shows some primary vote swing away from Wilkie (probably down to declining influence and profile in a lopsided parliament, if real) he would still be returned easily on these figures.
For the other seats, the table above includes the pollster's published 2PPs for Labor and Liberal, but also my own estimate of the 2PP based on last-election preferences (2PP (LE)). Here I have assumed the Lambie voters would split fairly evenly between the majors, as the PUP voters did in 2013, but this might not actually be the case. Note that Green preferences in Tasmania flow very strongly to Labor. Anyway, on that basis I find my "last-election" 2PPs to be about a point more favourable to the Coalition on average (52:48 Bass, 53:47 Braddon, 54:46 Lyons, 47:53 Franklin) than those published in this poll. The one that really deserves comment here is Lyons. There is just no way that a Liberal lead of 16.8 points in Lyons would really come down to only a 51:49 lead after preferences. This would require Labor to get about 80% of all preferences!
There are some risks involved in using respondent-allocated preferences in small samples. A sample of 600 has a non-major party vote of about 100-150 voters per electorate. These subsamples then have a margin of error of 8-10 points on a good day, which means that the use of respondent preferences can easily cause up to two points of 2PP error by itself. This then increases the effective error margin on the 2PP estimate.
However, it's possible (especially see the table for question 2 below) that the Lambie voters lean fairly strongly to Labor. If this is the case then the published 2PPs all seem very accurate off the primaries, except in Lyons. In the case of Lyons it may just be that the sampled minor party voters happened by random chance to be unusually pro-Labor.
So What Does It Mean?
Firstly, while the Liberals lead in their three seats in these samples, their leads are narrow. If a properly random sample of 600 voters shows a 51:49 lead in an electorate (as is the published 2PP for Bass and Lyons) then there is actually about a 30% chance the party polling the 49% would win the seat. Even if the 2PPs aren't really that close there would still be a realistic chance based on this sample that Labor would gain one of the three seats (could be any one). The sample also doesn't prove Franklin is safe for Labor by itself; it is just consistent with the widespread belief that this is so.
Also if the overestimation of the Coalition vote in seat-polling was seen to the same degree as in 2013, it's plausible these results could be re-spun as four ALP wins. (I think this is unlikely). If we take the poll as close to face value as we can, then it's not by itself saying any of the "Three Amigos" are rock-solid, but it is still better for their chances to be polling narrow leads than to have no information.
While the poll gives us some insight into the size of the Lambie vote and hence her Senate prospects, this should be treated with caution. Some voters who intend to vote for a major party in the lower house but Lambie in the Senate may have interpreted the question as being about the House of Reps only, so the poll may underestimate Lambie's appeal. On the other hand, Lambie is named in the readout while the major party candidates are not.
Anyway with the undecided redistributed, the poll has the JLN on 5.1% statewide, plus what little it might get from Andrew Wilkie's voters. Although the Senate quota is 7.7%, in practice because of the new preferencing system it is very likely a primary of 5.1% would be enough for Lambie to retain her seat - and this could well be an underestimate anyway. The poll is therefore consistent with the idea that Lambie herself will retain but will not have enough vote for a second seat. The poll provides no support whatsoever for the idea that the Greens will win more than two seats, while the strong Coalition primary points towards them gaining a fifth at Labor's expense (much as I have doubted this outcome recently). Extrapolating such a poll to the Senate is always risky especially given the new parties that may well emerge and become factors.
Question 2 is rather interesting.
Economic management is a Coalition strength area so it would be expected that the Coalition would have a healthy edge here, in the context of a poll showing at most a narrow 2PP lead to Labor statewide. However I think the "and the core issues facing Tasmania" add-on has muted the normal response to economic questions and created a lot more scope for a classically partisan response. Thus, the lukewarm result for the Liberals may not be as disappointing as it looks.
I will update this article with more as more findings are released through the week.
PS I've had a request for the original primaries so here they are. Click for larger versions:
A question on issue importance has been released by The Mercury (sorry, the text here is hard to read):
This is at least the third ReachTEL in the past year in which health has topped the list in Tasmania, albeit against various competition. In the leadup to the 2013 election, "jobs" topped the list in Bass, Braddon and Lyons and was a close second to economy in Franklin. It is possible that the more restrictive wording "job creation packages" has contributed to a lower finding in this survey, but that would not alone explain the massive differences. There are no big surprises here - the preference for health among female voters and the economy among male voters are common and partly reflect the standard tendency for male voters to lean more to the right.
MP Ratings (Tuesday)
The Mercury has now also released a very important question on approval ratings for the five incumbent local members:
Eric Hutchinson (Lyons) has a reasonable net +9.8, but a very high 15.3% score for "never heard of them before", which is consistent with some doubts about I see about whether he has done enough profile-building. He also has the highest "average" score of those listed. Julie Collins (Franklin) also has a high non-awareness rate (perhaps a result of the obscurity of Opposition) but a strong net rating of +22.7.
Brett Whiteley has the weakest net rating in the survey (with almost 20% rating his performance "very poor"), but a net +2.9 is still not especially bad. Recently Whiteley proposed drug-testing long-term welfare recipients and it's possible this culture-war sop to the irate talkback right may have gone down like a lead balloon with the broader community. However there are probably other explanations.
Senatorial Obscurity (Saturday)
The Mercury on Saturday has run a two-pager on Tasmania's senators and their obscure nature. At this stage it's in the print edition only (edit: up online now). The poll asked voters how many Senators they thought they could name, though it didn't put their ability to do so to the test. 20% said they could name no Senators, 34.6% "Three and under", 30.5% "Between three and six", 12.5% "Between six and eleven", 2.4% "All twelve". It's not clear how those who thought they could name exactly three or six would have voted, but it really doesn't matter to the point.
Female voters and young voters were least confident of their Senator-spotting abilities (though it would be interesting to see whether females really performed worse than males when put to the test) and there was not a vast amount of variation by voting intention (except undecided).