Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Poll Roundup: Feeble In February

2PP Aggregate: 53.5 to Labor (+1.1 since last 2016 reading)
Labor would comfortably win an election "held now"

It is one of nature's most amazing seasonal events.  As wildebeest migrate in vast numbers, as salmon throw themselves up rivers then spawn and die, so each February on the continent of Australia, a federal government disintegrates.  At least it seems this way, with polling for the incumbent government of the time having gone pearshape around this time in six of the last seven years.  Usually the causes for the downturn have been extremely obvious.

In the longer term this hasn't been such a thing, with average 2PP polling in February since 1986 (49.4% for the government) being only a point worse than those polls taken in January (50.4%) and no worse than polls taken in June and September.  But just in recent years there is something about the annual reopening of Parliament that tends to bring with it the smell of chaos.  What is happening with the current government is not (yet) as bad as the Week From Hell experienced by the Gillard government in 2013, but yet again we find a government under assault on multiple issues at once.



The News Cycle Cluster

At this stage the news cycle includes:

* The departure of Senator Cory Bernardi to the crossbenches.  It remains to be seen whether Bernardi's ultra-reactionary social-issue policies will win his new party any traction but even if they don't, he will be another cat the Coalition has to herd for five and a half years (if the government lasts anywhere near that long.)  Speculation of further departures will dog the government for the rest of the term.  It is all very well to truly say Bernardi has betrayed his party and the voters who elected him, but most of the blame should go to those in the South Australian Liberals who preselected him again for the 2016 election although this had been coming for years.  What were they thinking?

* The dressing-down given to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull by the new US President Donald Trump, over a refugee resettlement deal made with the Obama administration after Trump won the election.  It seems that the deal - inconvenient to Trump's agenda - will stand but the perception is that Australia's relationship with the United States has been weakened.

* The reminder that Turnbull donated a large sum of money, now revealed to be $1.75 million, to his party during the last election campaign.  The donation itself isn't new, but reminders of the conflict of interest issues involved and the poor state of the party's finances are hardly welcome.

* Continuing blowback over the Centrelink "debt-recovery" issue, albeit muted for now because (i) the Government has succeeded in demonstrating that many of the cases highlighted by its political opponents were legitimately raised debts or fell outside the new system and (ii) some changes to the processing of alleged debts have been made.

The Polling

A few weeks back we had a commissioned ReachTEL at 54-46 to Labor, but there were issues with the preferencing in that one. What we've seen since, however, has been genuinely quite bad for the government: a 54-46 to Labor from Newspoll and a run of 53-54-54-53 from Essential.  The key feature in both polls has been a surge of support for One Nation, which polled 8% in Newspoll and 10% in the last two weeks of Essential.  Readout design might be affecting the Newspoll reading.

After considering the primaries I aggregated the Newspoll at 53.9% to Labor and the most recent three Essentials at 54.2, 54 and 53.1.  My overall aggregate resumes at 53.5% to ALP.  This is the worst position for the Government since Malcolm Turnbull became PM, and about the same as where things stood when Tony Abbott was removed.  (Abbott, of course, had been in such trouble on and off for much longer).

Historically governments that poll this sort of deficit at some stage of a term will still be re-elected slightly over half the time.  However this probably isn't as bad as it will get yet.

Here's the smoothed tracking graph (it being a smoothed graph, I have just put a straight line through the six weeks for which the aggregate was suspended.)


Leaderships

The leadership results in this Newspoll were slightly odd.  Malcolm Turnbull was up two net satisfaction points to -21 (33-54) while Bill Shorten was down five to -22 (32-54).  This was Shorten's worst result since March 2016 and the first time his netsat has been worse than Turnbull's since the election.  There doesn't seem to be any obvious cause for this and it may just be sample noise.

Malcolm Turnbull recorded a 12-point better Prime Minister lead over Shorten (42-30) despite the 46-54 2PP deficit.  There are no recorded cases of a PM ever being this far ahead while their party trailed by more on 2PP.  However, in late 2005, John Howard polled leads of 24, 22 and 21 points in three polls that had Kim Beazley's ALP up by the same amount.

Immigration polling 

Both Newspoll and Essential have taken the temperature on public support for a Trump-style ban on immigration from "terrorism-prone" Islamic nations to Australia and found support more or less evenly divided (44-45 from Newspoll, 41-46 Essential).  Intriguingly Essential found support for Trump's own ban to be somewhat weaker (36-49) with Greens and Coalition supporters most likely to adopt the "not in my backyard" approach.  Voters tended to agree (53-36) with Turnbull's statement that it was not his job to comment on US domestic policy - which, at least, is some sign that voters do not always reject comments purely because they were made by PM Turnbull.

As with the second half of last year, I am intending to put out new roundups roughly monthly, but I may put them out more often if good reasons to do so emerge.

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