Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Poll Roundup: Citizenship Chaos Sends Government To New Term Low

2PP Aggregate: 54.2 to Labor (+1 point in a week) - highest reading of term
Labor would win election "held now" with a large margin
Government has lost majority (for now) with two MPs recontesting their seats in by-elections

This week we've seen a highly unusual event in Australian political history: a federal government has lost its majority partway through a term.  This last happened in 1931.  The one-term Scullin government began its term with a robust 46 seats out of 75, but a by-election loss and defections to the opposition UAP and the Lang Labor split saw it whittled down to 35, following which it collapsed before the year was out.  What has happened to the Turnbull government, so far, is much less dramatic - two of its seats are vacant pending by-elections, and the government will recover majority status if Barnaby Joyce is returned, although it would then lose it again if John Alexander is defeated.

However, as the Section 44 eligibility issues continue to unfold (with the tabling of required evidence by December 1 expected to be the next step), we could well see more by-elections early next year in some much more difficult government seats.  The prospect of the government slipping into permanent minority, or perhaps even losing enough seats that it can no longer govern, is a real one.  There may also be by-elections in Labor and crossbench seats, but no incumbent government has gained a seat from an opposition in a federal by-election since 1920 so there would not be too much optimism regarding chances of gaining seats there.  My legally unqualified view, incidentally, is that the "hesitators" (those who filed to renounce UK citizenship too late for the process to complete by the close of nominations) are in trouble.  The references in previous cases to the taking of all reasonable steps as sufficient refer to a context in which a member cannot reasonably renounce an overseas citizenship, not one in which a candidate was needlessly slow about it.

For the time being, the government faces two very unpleasant sitting weeks in which, by vice of it holding the Speakership, it has a floor minority (73-74) compared to the combined forces of Labor and the crossbench.  That is, assuming Bob Katter shows up!  The non-Coalition forces won't be able to suspend standing orders, but they will have extensive control over other operations of the House and should be able to use that to inflict pain.  As noted in my New England preview, it's not likely Barnaby Joyce will spring back into parliament on the Monday after the by-election, and the 17-candidate circus announced for his seat won't help expedite matters there.  [Update (20 Nov): The government has eliminated one of the unpleasant sitting weeks by postponing the resumption by a week.  However, it is unlikely Joyce will be back for any business that could be required in the Dec 11 week - Damon Muller advises me that the writ can't be returned until all votes are in, even if the winner has been declared.]

I may have a Bennelong preview later, but that seat is not far above the waterline as concerns the expected average swing in by-elections given the shabby state of the government's polling.  As with New England, the fact that the incumbent is recontesting instead of quitting should help soften the swing, and makes Alexander the favourite on paper to retain, but no certainty.  Labor has presumably taken this into account with their surprise candidate selection of former Premier Kristina Keneally.  It is not that Keneally is necessarily a good candidate - she may well turn out to be a bad one given her time at the helm of an extremely rotten state government - but if voters no longer care about that then her high profile could in theory be worth the few extra points the party may need to get over the line.

Voting intention polls

The Yes vote in the same-sex marriage survey may (or may not) bring some respite in future weeks but this week's polls are shockers for the government.  First there was Newspoll with its 55-45 lead to Labor, the second time Newspoll has produced that result in this term.  This included a 38-34 lead on primary votes, Labor's largest lead in any poll this term.  That it was the 23rd straight Newspoll 2PP loss on PM Turnbull's watch was barely even noticed given how dire the result was.

Essential backed it in by drifting a point to 54-46, and YouGov came out with primaries that would have also given 55-45 by last-election preferences (it was 52-48 to Labor using YouGov's respondent preferences).  After results in the 52% to 54% range (based on last-election preferences) for Labor in other polls in the previous weeks since my last update, this was a big jolt to my aggregate which has jumped a whole point to 54.2 to Labor, its highest reading of this term.  If there are no more polls this week, it will also be one of the largest one-week moves since the last election.  Here's the smoothed tracking graph (which will almost certainly tick over 54 next week):

To be trailing worse than 54-46 at any stage of a term is, historically, bad news for an incumbent government.  The break-even point in terms of term-worst deficits is about seven points, so this alone gives the current government a slightly less than 50% chance of re-election.  In this case, however, one might permit an asterisk about whether the 2PP is really that bad, given the uncertainties around One Nation preferences.

Over the 23 Newspolls since the Coalition fell behind, the average 2PP is now 46.87.  That's almost as bad as the 46.80 average for Tony Abbott's 30 consecutive losses, but Abbott had more really dire results (four 45s and a 43) probably as a result of the more volatile nature of the old Newspoll.


This week's Newspoll had Malcolm Turnbull's lead as Better Prime Minister cut to just two points (36-34). The 34% was Bill Shorten's highest Better PM score against Malcolm Turnbull, whose own score was his worst of the term by four points.  Previously, Turnbull had always led by at least seven.  It is still notable that he leads at all, given that Tony Abbott trailed Shorten about half the time.

Turnbull's net satisfaction rating (-29 (29-58)) was one point off his worst of the term, while Shorten's -19 (34-53) was his least worst since early August and second least worst for the year.  Other polls have, as per normal, been more lenient, with Essential giving Turnbull a -12 net rating (though this is down 11 on the previous month), Shorten a -13 (down 6) and Turnbull still keeping a strong lead (40-28).

One poll Turnbull isn't leading is the Newspoll of preferred Liberal leader.  In that one he was thumped 40-27 by Julie Bishop (who is hardly even being talked about as a leadership contender) with Peter Dutton on 11.  Among Coalition supporters, Turnbull had a feeble 42-39 lead over Bishop.  When Newspoll even does these polls at all, it often spells trouble brewing.

Other polls

Some Australia Institute ReachTELs attracted notice because they had implausibly high One Nation figures in rich inner-city electorates.  After redistributing leaning voters, One Nation were on 8.8% in Wentworth, despite polling less than 1% there in the Senate (compared to a statewide 4.1%).  A reading of 7.0% in Warringah, also hardly One Nation heaven and the last place to expect a conservative revolt from Liberal voters for one obvious reason, was almost equally suss.  Results like these raise further concerns about the reliability of seat polling, which did not perform well at the 2016 federal election.  The (respondent-allocated) 2PP results of these polls had scarcely any swing in Warringah but 10.8% in Wentworth and 6.3% in Kooyong.  Prime Minister Turnbull's Wentworth was a popular target for polls predicting large swings in 2016, all of which proved to be nonsense.

Another TAI ReachTEL of Hughes found only a small 2PP swing, while New England results were reported on the by-election thread.

As usual there are many more issue polls out there than I have time to do justice to.  Concerning the dual citizenship issue, Essential found 40% believing Malcolm Turnbull's plan to resolve the issue goes far enough and 44% believing otherwise, but the preamble is misleading as the Turnbull plan (including requiring MPs to provide documentary evidence) goes much further than described.

Newspoll meanwhile found a very narrow (45-42) lead for changing the Constitution to allow dual citizens to be MPs, suggesting that constitutional reform of Section 44 would be a long and rocky road.

Essential found that voters think politicians, CEOs/senior executives and lawyers are paid too much, but that nobody else much is. Essential also found that in party attribute comparisons, all the ones with large differences are in Labor's favour, with the Coalition's score for "divided" up 17 points since November 2015.


  1. Speaking purely out of self interest (I had a $20 bet on it), is it now correct to say that the result of the last election was a hung parliament?

    1. I don't think you'd have much luck getting the bookie to pay out on that one. The bookie pays out on results as declared, and if a declared result is later overturned in court then the member is still said to have served until their disqualification. (A good example is Queensland 1995 in which Labor under Goss initially "won" the election and formed a majority government, but later had one of its seat wins overturned then lost the by-election, resulting in a mid-term transition of power.)

    2. In that case my understanding of the Holly Hughes thing was bunk. I had in it my head she was only disqualified because she was technically the validly elected candidate? Because I just read that she didn't hold an office of profit until /after/ the election?

    3. Hughes never actually served in Parliament so isn't in the same situation as those who served (while mistakenly assumed to be eligible) but were later disqualified. And yes, she didn't commence holding an office of profit until after the return of writs for the original election. However the Court seems to have found that when the original writ elected an ineligible candidate, the election remains open until that is repaired. (I await their precise reasons with interest.)

  2. If there is a byelection in Braddon, and Lambie decided to run for the seat - how would you rate Lambie's chances against the incumbent (Keay)?

    1. Not highly, unless the Liberal Party decided not to run in an attempt to throw the seat to Lambie (which seems unlikely). Based on the Senate results Lambie was way behind Labor and Liberal (JLN polled about 14% in Braddon) and would have difficulty bridging the gap to get into the top two. It's not impossible though. She seems to be capturing sympathy in a way in which Keay might not be.

    2. Thanks for your response. The sympathy for Lambie may dissipate by the time of the byelection (should it happen).
      I've been told that the ALP is more concerned by the prospect of a byelection in Longman, given the 'loose cannon' effect of PHON.


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