Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Newspoll: More Off-The-Scale Leader Ratings

Newspoll has returned with a second round of the very welcome State Premier approval ratings first seen in late April.  I thought a brief (by my standards) post about the current round of Newspolls was worth putting up overnight as the results are already sparking discussion in Tasmanian politics.

In each case I give the Premier's net rating, followed by the change from April, followed by the satisfied and dissatisfied split.

Gladys Berejiklian (NSW) is on +42 (-4) (68-26)
Daniel Andrews (Vic) is on +40 (-18) (67-27)
Annastacia Palaszczuk (Qld) is on +24 (+8) (59-35)
Mark McGowan (WA) is on +79 (-4) (88-9)
Steven Marshall (SA) is on +52 (+5) (72-20)
Peter Gutwein (Tas) is on +82 (+9) (90-8)

And just for completeness, Scott Morrison (PM) is on +41 (+4) (68-27).

I noted in April that McGowan's satisfaction rating (or "approval rating") of 89% was then not only the highest in Newspoll history, but also the highest I could find in any scientific opinion poll in Australia ever.  (In calling a poll "scientific" I don't necessarily mean that it is accurate, I just mean that it tries to follow proper sampling and scaling procedures and isn't an unweighted opt-in.)  However records are made to be broken, and McGowan's 89% has been broken by Peter Gutwein who, in this sample, hits 90%.  McGowan, however, retains the record for the highest ever net satisfaction rating, with his 83% from last time one point ahead of Gutwein's 82%. 

Of course, with samples of only a few hundred voters per state, these ratings are more than a little bit rubbery, and the ratings of McGowan and Gutwein are not significantly different from each other.  The real margins of error on these ratings are likely to be larger than those quoted by Newspoll (see graphic) but it really doesn't matter whether a given Premier is on +70 or +80 at this point of time.  In contrast, state voting intention samples that were this small would be very unreliable for the purposes of predicting an election, and this is probably why only personal ratings have been sampled.

Andrews' Moderate Loss Of Support

Daniel Andrews is still a very popular Premier, but in this poll he drops from third to sixth in the list of leader ratings, dropping from a net rating of +58 to a less remarkable +40.  Prior to this poll I was especially interested in how much damage Andrews' rating would sustain and to what extent it might be caused by COVID-19 issues as opposed to the Adem Somyurek scandal that has deprived the Premier of three ministers.

The answer seems to be that it is all down to perceptions of Andrews' handling of COVID-19.  Newspoll has very usefully asked a separate question on this subject.  The following graph shows the relationship between Newspoll ratings for the leaders' handling of COVID-19 and their overall ratings, for the April and June polls combined.


The red dots are rating combinations for Andrews and the blue dots are for the other Premiers.  Andrews' April ratings fall exactly on the trendline; his June ratings are the biggest outlier from it.  That is, it appears that Andrews is actually polling much better personally than voter perceptions of his handling of COVID-19 imply - far from being damaged further by the Somyurek scandal, he's more likely being cut slack for his performance as Premier to date.  (This should be treated with a little caution as the only other ratings at that end of the COVID-19 handling axis are for Palaszczuk).

Early Tasmanian Election?

Speculation about an early Tasmanian election has been bubbling along at a low level among Tasmanian politics junkies in recent months, and started firing up immediately when news broke about Gutwein's record rating.  Tasmania is not due for an election until March 2022, and is the one remaining state without "fixed" terms.  The state Labor Opposition has adopted a confused series of positions over COVID-19 and the best strategy it seems to have come up with is to work out what the government is going to do next and then call for it before they do it.  At times, senior members have not seemed to have their ducks in a line in communicating the same messages about COVID-19 (especially on border closures) to the media.

Tasmania has not seen an unforced election as early as the one proposed since 1979 when Doug Lowe (ALP) went a year and a half early in search of a larger majority than the one-seat majority left to him by previous Premier Bill Neilson.  It worked - Lowe won in a relative landslide by Hare-Clark standards - but those were simpler days when major parties only had to beat the other major party.

This government, like Lowe's, would have some valid reasons to sneak off to an early election.  The Lower House is not entirely stable, though the Government hasn't lost a vote since ex-Labor independent Madeleine Ogilvie rejoined the house on a recount and promptly started voting mostly with the Liberals.  Under normal circumstances it will only lose votes if all of Labor, the Greens, Ogilvie and its own periodically renegade Speaker Sue Hickey vote together, something they are yet to do.  An early election might create clear air while the government grapples with COVID-19 economic challenges over the next few years, and would give the government a clear mandate to spend massively on state-building programs.   What it won't do is get rid of the Legislative Council where the left has a majority.

However, an early election would carry risk.  Voters sometimes punish governments that go early unnecessarily, and might prefer to just relax and not think about politics too much at the moment.  Majorities are so difficult to guarantee in Hare-Clark and a bad bounce of the ball might result in the government being suddenly out of office (as was Robin Gray's government despite polling 47% of the vote in 1989).  A sudden resurgence of COVID-19 as is occurring in Victoria could also be a disaster on the campaign trail, especially if the point was rammed home that voters were being exposed to unnecessary risks.

The government has the good fortune that on August 1 there is a Legislative Council election for the seat of Rosevears where it is running a candidate.  However LegCo elections are challenging to interpret at the best of times, and in this case the Liberal candidate is a household name who was widely expected to romp in anyway.  A very high vote indeed for Jo Palmer (an outright majority or nearly so) would be needed before one would take the election as a pointer to Gutwein's popularity converting to votes.  It will be interesting to see if any more Tasmanian polling comes out soon.

Federal Newspoll

This week's federal Newspoll saw very little change, with the 2PP unchanged at 51-49 to Coalition, Scott Morrison up four points on net satisfaction to a personal high of +41, Anthony Albanese down one to +2, and Morrison's lead on the skewed (to incumbents) Better PM metric up two to 32 points (58-26).  As my recent technical article notes, neither Better PM nor PM approval ratings seem to add any predictive value at election time, so they are better seen as figures that help explain voting intention, except for times like this when they don't.

Anyone looking for a signal of a national mood that might influence the Eden-Monaro by-election (in which pre-day voting is well underway) would have been sorely disappointed.  The main takeaway is that to this point nothing has dented the PM's approval in what seems to be a good time to be in government and a bad time to be in opposition at any level.

I am keeping an eye on the volatility (or lack thereof) of the new version of Newspoll since it commenced late last year.  The version running from 2015 to 2019 was especially "under-dispersed" (more prone to repeat similar values from poll to poll than would be expected for its sample size).  It is far too early to draw robust conclusions about the new version, but should the pattern of very little poll to poll 2PP change continue for long I will be exploring this issue in detail.

It's Time To Go, Simon ...

It is really past time for The Australian to find (or return to) someone who can write about polls in a mathematically informed fashion.  Simon Benson's output is embarrasing, it's just wrong for Australia.  In the latest howler, he claimed Scott Morrison was nearly twice as popular as Annastacia Palaszczuk in Queensland because his net rating was twice as high.  As William Bowe pointed out such a comparison would run into problems if the leaders had netsats hovering around zero.  Indeed if Morrison had a netsat of +5 and Palaszczuk's was -10, would Benson report that Morrison was minus half as popular as her?

The day before, he continued to compare Morrison's approval ratings to early-period Kevin Rudd's, while ignoring the methods change in late 2019 that has meant they are no longer comparable.  (Using positive satisfaction as the yardstick, Morrison is the most popular Premier over a two-month period since the early months of Rudd, but using the better yardstick of net satisfaction, Rudd was up there in early 2009 too.)

Really if the Oz can't do better than Benson it would be better off just publishing the figures and outsourcing the commentary to members of the blogging psephosphere.  Those of us with fewer  moral scruples than the others would do the same thing much better and probably more cheaply.  After all, we understand Newspoll because we don't own it.

PS: Morgan

There was also a Morgan poll but Morgan's data-reporting practices are so horrible I'm finding it difficult to regard them as useful data.  Twitter thread here.  

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