Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Poll Roundup: One Year Behind

2PP Poll Aggregate: 53.4 to ALP (+0.4 in a week)
ALP would easily win election "held now"
Coalition has trailed on smoothed aggregate for one year

Usually this would be an "off week" for the poll roundup series as it is not a Newspoll week, but the presence of Ipsos and Galaxy justifies squeezing in an article amid all the postcount chaos going down in Prahran and Fisher.  Another reason for putting something up now is that this week the Abbott federal government celebrates an unwanted anniversary.  It is one year since it lost the 2PP polling lead to the Labor opposition. 

Aggregates have now and then fleetingly shown the government back in front or nearly so.  My own showed it leading narrowly (50.3%) for a single week in mid-February, and Bludger Track has produced a weekly reading of exactly 50:50 three times (mid-Feb, early April, early October).  But when any kind of smoothing is applied to weekly figures to tone down the effects of the odd stray inaccurate poll, these blips have disappeared.  Both the smoothed version of Bludger Track and my own more primitive smoothed version now show the Coalition to have been behind for one year.

The government is currently not having a lot of fun.  Events in recent weeks have included a serious gaffe by Defense Minister David Johnston,  problems trying to get bills through the Senate (though with one success on refugees), the Victorian state election loss, reports of tension between Tony Abbott and his deputy Julie Bishop, resurgence into the issues mix of various unpopular budget items, and even leadership speculation.  The appearance of losing the Fisher by-election to Labor added to the mess, though a massive post-count run by the Liberal candidate has put them back in the game in that one (see Fisher thread) and even if they cannot save it, an Independent win might still alleviate the disaster.

This week's polling

This week's Galaxy was one of the more startling federal polls of the year, with a 55:45 lead to Labor.  Newspoll has already had the same lead three times, but Newspoll is much bouncier than Galaxy, which tends to be uncannily steady.  I suppose even Galaxy must produce something resembling an outlying sample eventually but all the same the result was rather more serious coming from them than from any other pollster.

Galaxy had an amusing Turnbull-vs-Hockey preferred Treasurer question with Malcolm Turnbull predictably coming out on top 41-22.  Actually, I'm surprised that Hockey didn't do worse! The split by party was 53-10 to Turnbull from Labor voters, 42-32 to Hockey from the Coalition's, and I infer about 34-9 (with a huge uncommitted rate) from everyone else.  Galaxy found, unsurprisingly, that 64% of voters want the government to scale back its paid parental leave policy and redirect money to childcare.

The second ever federal Ipsos produced a slightly more benign result for the government on voting intention, 52:48 (from primaries of Coalition 40, Labor 37, Green 12, PUP 2, Other 9).  While the voting intention figures were not so bad, Tony Abbott's net approval rating was down ten points in a month to -17 (38-55). Given that Bill Shorten scored +5 (46-41) it might be inferred that Ipsos ratings are a bit friendlier than Newspoll's and that Abbott's rating is slightly worse than it looks.  Shorten had a very large preferred-PM lead of eight points (47-39) in the context of a government not trailing by so much in that poll, and in the context of the advantage for incumbents in preferred-PM polling.

The Ipsos poll came with other nasty issue and personal results for the PM.  57% of respondents including 30% of Coalition voters and 76% of Labor voters thought the Coalition wasn't doing enough about climate change (see interactive graph).  Ipsos also looked at leader attributes and found Bill Shorten beating Tony Abbott on competence (58-50), trustworthiness (44-36), openness to ideas (68-39!), having a firm grasp of social policy (61-30!) and so on.  While it wasn't all plain sailing for Shorten, he was only slightly behind in Labor's traditional weak spots like the economy and foreign policy.  The full Ipsos tables on the attitude questions show Abbott in a bad light even compared to the doomed April-2013-model Julia Gillard, with only 50% of voters considering the PM competent. Voters are also unsure whether Abbott has the confidence of his party.

The bad polls for Abbott prompted a flood of critical articles in both the Murdoch and Fairfax presses, the interesting thing in this case being that the Murdoch tabloids were running with the harsher poll.  Dozens of articles have tried to nut out what exactly is the government's problem and most of them have concluded that the problem is either Abbott's current Cabinet, or more often Abbott himself.  The holy word "embattled" is starting to appear in commentaries on the Defence Minister and other apparent disposables including the Treasurer.  The Fairfax website walls have at times been nothing but a chorus of Abbott-is-in-trouble op-eds, mostly using the various negative personal ratings in the Ipsos poll as ammunition.

The disconnect between the Fairfax flood of Abbott-doom and a reasonably harmless 2PP did not escape notice on the other side of the fence:

Probably the real point here is that if Abbott's attribute ratings are that bad in a poll that is "only" 52:48, when aggregated polling is worse than that, then the real picture for Abbott's leadership is even worse than Ipsos suggests (if that is possible). However, media mostly don't function in aggregates.  There's a general unwritten rule to regard one's own house pollster as gospel but take from it the bits that support the story that you want to tell.  My own experience in poll analysis is that nothing is a more popular story with readers than car-crash ratings of any kind for Tony Abbott.

Essential split the difference between the above two pollsters with another 53:47, but again there were bigger problems lurking below the headline. Abbott's net rating of -23 (32-55) was his worst from said pollster since July and close to his worst since election.  His approval score of 32 was his lowest of his Prime Ministership.  He also trailed Bill Shorten (whose netsat was -4) by five points as preferred PM (31-36), the largest gap of his term.

Essential's annual performance rating survey for the year found Julie Bishop rating extremely highly with a net score of +28 compared to -22 for Abbott, -24 for Hockey, -5 for Shorten, -23 (oddly) for Christine Milne and -50 (9-59) for Clive Palmer.

We do have a few uncertainties in aggregation this week.  On the one hand, at the risk of committing lèse-majesté the Galaxy might be thought a slight outlier, on the other the first two federal Ipsos polls have been slightly on the Coalition side compared to other polling (as was their final Victorian poll, but not the two before it.) All up my aggregate gave Labor another 0.4 points this week, and while it's not quite back to the full Budget blowout level, it's still quite a big lead:

Governments that have trailed for a whole year

So this invites the obvious question: what is the fate of governments that have spent a full year behind in polling?  It's not easy to answer because of the gappy nature of older polling, but here are the clearer ones:

* The Menzies government 1951-54 trailed from late 1951 to early 1954 but was re-elected.
* The Menzies government 1961-63 trailed from early 1962 to April 1963 and was re-elected.
* The Fraser government 1977-80 trailed from August 1978 to around March 1980 and was re-elected.
* The Fraser government 1980-83 trailed from a few months after re-election for the rest of its term and was defeated.
* The Hawke/Keating government 1990-93 trailed from June 1990 til November 1992 and was re-elected.
* The Keating government 1993-96 trailed for very slightly over one year leading into its defeat.
* The Howard government 1998-2001 trailed from January 2000 til August 2001 and was re-elected.
* The Howard government 2004-07 trailed from about September 2006 until its eventual defeat in November 2007.
* The Gillard/Rudd government 2010-13 trailed from November 2010 at least until the return of Kevin Rudd in June 2013 and was defeated.

So that's five wins, four losses from nine attempts.  There are some surprise omissions from this - the McMahon and Whitlam governments had brief spells above 50:50 in the middle of long runs of bad polling, and the Keating government also had these earlier in its losing term.  It might be possible with more data to include Chifley 1946-49 (loss) in this list.  It is a similar thing to any other form of historical comparison looked at so far: that precedents say not that this government's re-election is unlikely or impossible, but rather that there is an elevated risk of defeat compared to the normal rate for first-term (or indeed any) governments.

None of the above governments were first-term.  Three were second-term and all the rest were later.

Treasury Reshuffle?

There has obviously been much speculation about Joe Hockey's future at Treasury.  Treasurer is often considered to be the "engine room" of government and the most important Australian government portfolio after Prime Minister, and this invites a look at the past history of changes in the position.

Treasurers tend to be kept until one of the following happens:

* the Treasurer accepts appointment to a role outside politics (for instance, a major embassy)
* the Treasurer is forced to resign for health reasons
* the Treasurer becomes the Prime Minister, attempts to do so or is a casualty of a change in Prime Minister
* the Treasurer is the Prime Minister but stands down from one role to focus on the other
* the Treasurer is forced to resign, temporarily or permanently, because of a scandal affecting only themselves and not the rest of the government

Billy Hughes had six Treasurers in eight years as a result of party-switching and a succession of retirements.  However, instability in the position for reasons other than the above has often been a bad sign.  The McMahon government, the second Whitlam government, the first Menzies government, and the second Keating government all replaced Treasurers for reasons other than the above and were all defeated.

Especially for a government that made economic constraint such a crucial part of its election campaign, having to throw the Treasurer under the bus because he was perceived as not up to it would be a bad look and a massive admission of policy defeat.   If removing Hockey is being seriously considered then it might be a good idea to find him a juicy position outside politics somewhere.


If there is another Newspoll there will be one more, probably short, article in this series for the year.  Fieldwork over summer means it it possible the next instalment after that won't be til the second week of February.

Meanwhile, a valuable resource I should make note of is the Hawker-Britton analysis of Senate voting patterns.  Also of interest in that light was this Galaxy polling showing that NSW voters, both Labor and Coalition alike, would support a fresh election "to make the Senate more workable".  Of course, to achieve that aim under a double dissolution would certainly require electoral reform first.

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