Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Poll Roundup: Budget Blowout Over

2PP Aggregate: 51.0 to ALP (-0.5 in one week, -0.9 in three weeks)
Chances would be roughly equal in election "held now"

It's taken twenty-four weeks, an air disaster, "combat operations" and various backdowns but national polling has finally returned to where it was before advance reports of an unpopular Budget caused a blowout that at times was worth close to four points in Labor's favour. 

This should not cause very much comfort for the Coalition, since "where it was" in April wasn't by any means  good; based on current figures an election "held now" would be a tossup.  But the view about from hopeful ALP supporters during the initial stage of the Budget backlash - that this was a basically uncompetitive government that was always going to trail badly from that point on - turns out to have been incorrect.  With it goes one of the main scenarios under which this government would have been heading for defeat in 2016.

This fortnight's polls

This fortnight we have no fresh Newspoll, because of public holidays in some states.  The pollster did release quarterly breakdowns, which were unusually unpleasant for the government in Victoria when compared to other data. 

We did however get a Galaxy, which turned in a completely unsurprising result of 51:49 to Labor.  Notably the Coalition primary of 42% in the Galaxy was the highest released reading since a 43% score from Essential for one week in mid-April.  (Not by much though, as the most recent ReachTEL gave the government 41.6.) 

Essential recorded two successive 52s for the ALP.  Morgan released a headline figure of 53:47 for Labor, which might sound rather strong, but as usual with Morgan the released figure was deceptive.  The result by last-election preferences was only 51.5%, which was the closest Morgan has had the parties since mid-February.  Taking into account Morgans 1.5 point leaning to Labor brings it back to 50:50, indeed perhaps slightly better than that for the Coalition based on the released primaries.  That made it a new best result for the government since mid-April.

We're yet to see any pollster actually release a 50+ 2PP poll for the Coalition, but with two consecutive 51s from ReachTEL, two 51s out of three (one probably and one certainly on the 50 side) from Newspoll, the 51 from Galaxy and now this result from Morgan, it would be surprising not to get one soon.  The main difference between now and the polling in late March and early April is the uniformity across pollsters of the small ALP lead.  Statistically, if we stay around 51 for any length of time, individual polls are bound to appear that claim a tie or a Coalition lead.

Here's the unsmoothed aggregate tracking graph:

And here's the smoothed version:


The only new leadership results this week came from the occasional Morgan leadership phone surveys.  These have been getting smaller and in the latest case Morgan did not release the voting intention figures.  They have frequently released them in the past but in recent times the small sample sizes have resulted in an increased risk of rogue results.

Unfortunately, with the voting intention figures not released, what has come out lacks context.  We might be more sceptical of a poll showing Tony Abbott to have better personal ratings than Bill Shorten if we knew the poll had a 51% to Coalition 2PP, but the 2PP hasn't actually been released.  It turns out that this poll does indeed show Abbott to have a better netsat than Shorten (-3 (44 approve, 47 disapprove) to -5 (37:42).  The last poll with such a result, one of an extremely small number to do so this whole term, was the Newspoll in early April, and that had a Coalition-friendly 2PP compared to other polls at the time.  For the same reason, Abbott's seven-point lead over Shorten as "better PM" in the Morgan sample can't be easily benchmarked.

What might not be explained away by an unknown underlying 2PP is the lack of enthusiasm for Shorten among Labor voters.  Morgan's smorgasbord poll of leader options has only 27% of ALP supporters preferring Shorten from a list of Labor options, a figure scarcely better than his 21% support from Coalition voters.  In contrast, 41% of Coalition voters prefer Abbott as Coalition leader, but only 4% of Labor voters do.  Given that the question design asks the voter to put themselves in the shoes of the other side's voters, it's possible that even those 4% do not prefer Abbott as Coalition leader themselves.

Also, 15% of Labor supporters can't even pick who they would prefer to lead their own party, while only 4% of Coalition supporters have the same problem.  This, together with the continually very low Very Good ratings for Shorten in those polls allowing that option, furthers the pattern of very lukewarm receptions to Shorten from the ALP base.

The main notable trend in the Morgan is the rise of Julie Bishop into third place on the list of preferred Coalition supporters, behind Turnbull and Abbott and supplanting Hockey, who has crashed following the Budget.

Issue Polls

A new Galaxy poll on action against IS militants in Iraq appeared in some Murdoch tabloids, showing a very strong 62:21 support for air strikes.  However as usual the commissioned question wording was rather contestable.  In this case the question was "Thinking now about the Islamic State, or IS as it is also known.  Do you support or oppose the Australian Air Force joining other countries in air strikes against IS?"  The main thing I'd comment on here is that the phrase "the Islamic State" implies an opposing force of a much more established nature (and hence greater danger) than actually exists.  Despite its claims to be one, IS is not established as a State.  (It's also roughly no more Islamic than David Koresh was Christian, but that's another story.)

Even the seemingly harmless expression "joining other countries" - a type of expression also seen in other polls on this issue - might influence a response, since it implies a positive argument (that we are helping others), when a question like "Do you support or oppose the Australian Air Force committing troops and resources to air strikes against IS?" implies a negative argument (that the whole thing costs money) but is equally factual.  It's no surprise that there is strong public support for Australian assistance with air strikes but I doubt it would be quite that strong.

Another question "Is the threat of terrorist attack on Australian shores real?" scored an unsurprising 75:16 response.  That almost everyone agrees that terrorist attacks could potentially occur in Australia is not interesting compared to the questions of what the risk level is, what responses are appropriate and whether given actions will increase or reduce that risk. 

Essential this week put out some polling on support for major government decisions, with its respondents supporting government action on asylum seeker boats, freezing foreign aid and cutting the carbon tax, ambivalent to military aid to Iraq and dumping the mining tax, and against pretty much else.  Bernard Keane in today's Crikey email interpreted changes on GP copayments (net rating was -21 in late May, now -39), cutting ABC funding (changed from -14 to -33), cutting public sector jobs (-12 to -18) and the soon-to-be-deservedly-scrapped six-month dole wait (-2 to -14) as evidence of voters hardening against the Budget. 

But this is another case of Crikey unfortunately aping the mainstream tendency to have a house pollster and consider its trends to be the fountain of all wisdom while ignoring contrary evidence.  In this case the contrary evidence comes from the 2PPs of the various pollsters.  In late May, Essential's 2PP was 52% to Labor and it is still 52% to Labor.  But the aggregate status of polling across all pollsters has gone from 54% to Labor down to 51% to Labor and again Essential is the one that doesn't follow the trend.  Essential has swayed from its respondents being more Coalition-friendly than voters in general to them being more Labor-friendly than voters in general.  Hence its results probably underestimated voter anger at various Budget measures when first polled, and are overestimating it now, and on that basis the conclusion of hardening opposition to the changes has no merit.

Essential showed a +11 rating (39:28) for how Australia's government has handled the economy compared to other countries, but this seems to be a pretty useless measure as the Gillard government at its most chaotic still managed +7.  Some other findings include that voters are more likely to be concerned about basic living costs than major economic indicators (but are still likely to be at least somewhat concerned about the latter), and as usual that Coalition supporters are more likely to choose less government services in return for lower taxes, Greens supporters are more likely to want more services if somebody (not necessarily them) will be paying more tax, and Labor supporters might go either way.

Edit 14/10: I did promise a possibly late Poll Roundup this week but it looks like there is no Newspoll, possibly delayed to coincide with the resumption of parliament.  So on that basis the next action here on that front will be next week.

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