Thursday, December 20, 2018

EMRS: Some Respite, But Labor At Nine-Year High

NOTE: Coverage of the EMRS federal poll will be online here at 9 am Saturday.

EMRS: Liberal 39 Labor 35 Greens 14 Ind/Other 12
Interpretation: Liberal 42 Labor 37 Greens 11 Ind/Other 10
Estimated seat breakdown if election "held now" - majority status touch and go with 12-13 Lib, 10-11 ALP, 2 Green

Three months ago Tasmania's second-term Hodgman Liberal government received a rather nasty wakeup call in the form of the largest poll-to-poll crash in local pollster EMRS's history.  As commented at the time, the timing of the poll was especially unlucky for the government, which was afflicted by fallout from the federal leadership change, unpleasant headlines in the Angela Williamson saga and more criticism of health services.

But in a way that poll belonged to a simpler age for the government, as it was rocked in November by its renegade Speaker Sue Hickey crossing the floor many times over transgender rights amendments.  The government, which had brought in legislation to rectify gender-change divorce anomalies following the passing of same-sex marriage, ended up voting against its own Bill as Labor, the Greens and Hickey added amendments expanding anti-discrimination law in the already-included area of gender identity, making the recording of gender on birth certificates optional and removing surgery requirements for the recording of a gender change on a birth certificate.  Questions were asked about the government's stability but Hickey reasserted her support on supply and confidence, and at this stage remains a member of the party.

Hickey has since crossed the floor again to much less fanfare, and has continued to criticise her own party for underestimating her and not giving her a ministry.  The government is doing its best to route around the problem by blaming Labor and the Greens each time it happens, but it's an ongoing nightmare for them all the same.

So in the circumstances, had someone offered the government a three-point lift as a mark to end the year on, I think they would have taken it, meagre as it appears.  It could be taken as some suggestion of a little bit of random error in the previous result as well.  All the same, the government's lead over Labor is an anaemic four points, lower than all but two polls in the previous term.

Labor Scales The Heights! (Well, slightly ...)

The bad news for the government is that its gain comes at the expense of Greens and Others, and not at the expense of the Labor Opposition.  The ALP recorded a one-point lift that, while deeply insignificant statistically, still takes them to a nine-year high of 35%.  Labor last polled 35% in August 2009 and was last above that level in May 2009 when it polled 43% during then-Premier David Bartlett's honeymoon phase.

The other good news for Labor is that Rebecca White continues polling well personally although the party didn't get near winning this year's election.  White continues to lead Will Hodgman 46-40 as preferred Premier.  Hodgman himself wasn't found to be unpopular when his personal ratings were measured during the election campaign, and I doubt that much has changed.  It seems that White's persistent leads here are something unusual - a case where an Opposition Leader is much liked by voters without the incumbent or his party being badly on the nose.

The Clark Conundrum

EMRS's stocks as a pollster have recently been bolstered by a remarkably good reading of the Hobart City Council election, an extremely difficult race to poll correctly (see here and scroll down to "Well Done EMRS!")  So I am not inclined to cast aspersions at where it has the major parties.  But it does have a long history of having the Greens vote too high, sometimes much too high, in pre-election polling.  Also although its record with independent/other voters is more accurate, its readings for them seem to blow out between elections, possibly as voters engage in wishful thinking about who might be on their ballot paper.  Finally, at recent elections it has tended to underestimate the primary of the incumbent government, more so than any specific major party.

After adjusting for all of these things I take it that an election "held now", but unaccompanied by months of cash-splashing from third-party forces, might yield something along the lines of this:

The exact level of house effect corrections required might be contested, but on an even swing from the state election result, only one seat would be close to flipping, and that is the Liberals' second seat in Clark (formerly Denison), which is now the most marginal of the thirteen seats they hold.  As in the previous term, it is possible the Liberals could stay in office even with a primary vote lead as low as 5-6%, because of the size of their margins in all the seats they won in 2018.

On an even swing the second Liberal Clark seat would be very close to falling (depending on the vote breakdown within the party) and might fall to a third Labor candidate if Labor had someone good enough.  However the 2022 race for Clark is going to be greatly complicated by the question of what to do about Sue Hickey.

At the moment there is a perception that Sue Hickey won't be re-selected for the Government given that she not only seized the Speakership but has also crossed the floor and criticised the Government's tactics and elements within it (also unhelpfully implying it is "right-wing", which is more true of some of its members than of others).  Indeed, Hickey probably would have been kicked out of the party by now except that doing so would make the government a minority government (placing pressure on the Premier to quit) and might even result in a mid-term change of government.  The best case for the Liberals might be that Hickey retires at the next election, but even then they will lose her personal vote and her appeal to left-Liberal voters.  If Hickey runs again as an independent, then it will be much harder to hold two seats in Clark, whether she wins or not.

A lot will change between now and the very far-off 2022 election, and current polling cannot mean a lot predictively.  A change of federal government is likely next year, and a Labor federal government might be gearing up for its first defence or even into its second term by the time Tasmania goes to the polls again.   State governments seldom lose while the opposite party is in power federally.  However, possible 2022 state election scenarios might be in the background as the parliament again considers restoring the House of Assembly to 35 members.  A parliamentary committee set up to consider the matter will be deliberating in 2019 and reporting by August.  (On current polling, it wouldn't help the government - it would win 16 or 17 seats only in a 35-seat House).

Note that I am still not running a Tasmanian polling aggregate, but intend to resume one once there are data from other pollsters.

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