Wednesday, March 9, 2022

EMRS: Government Down After Reopening

EMRS: Liberal 41 (-8) Labor 31 (+5) Greens 12 (-1) others 16 (+4)

Live expected seat result in election "held now" if poll is accurate: Government would lose one seat in Clark (12-9-2-2 or 12-10-2-1)

Polls at this stage of cycle are not predictive

The first EMRS poll since Tasmania's December re-opening is out and sees a large slump for the Gutwein Liberal government, although such mid-term slumps are common in Tasmania and the government spent much of the previous two terms in a similar position to the latest polling.  After a December poll that showed no real difference from the 2021 election, the poll taken in late February - early March finds quite a different result.  


This is not surprising, as the government copped heavy criticism after the state reopened only for the Omicron strain of COVID-19 to soon commence spreading rapidly, with letters pages filling with claims the state had been abandoned to the virus over Christmas.  However, things are still not nearly so bad for Premier Peter Gutwein as for his Liberal counterparts in South Australia and New South Wales, both of whom have been recently trailing not just on voting intention but also on preferred leader scores (which is more unusual as those tend to skew to incumbents.)  They are also not so bad for him as for Liberal Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who is currently being belted on voting intention and clinging to an anaemic and meaningless single-digit "better PM" lead.

The poll finds the Liberals' primary vote lead slashed by thirteen points from 23 to 10, a level at which majority government or not becomes a matter of seat by seat breakdowns.  Applying the swings in this poll uniformly (I may or may not post a table later), the government still has three quotas in Bass, more or less three in Braddon and two in Franklin.  In Lyons it drops to 2.59 quotas, but still has the largest remainder, and would further be helped to hold off the Greens (0.47) by minor party preferences.  The issue is in Clark where on a uniform swing the outcome would be:

Liberal 1.43 quotas

Labor 1.62 quotas

Greens 1.14 quotas

others 1.80 quotas 

At the 2021 election, the others vote was concentrated in two prominent independents, Kristie Johnston and Sue Hickey.  If the 4% gained by others went 2% to each of these (giving them 1.48 quotas combined), then both would start ahead of a second Labor candidate, and notionally both would win at the expense of the second Liberal seat currently held by Madeleine Ogilvie.  However, I am sceptical that that would be the outcome.  It is more likely that the others vote would become more concentrated in Johnston, who has now replaced Hickey as an incumbent.  This would probably result in Labor winning the seat.

However it's risky to assume that the 4% increase in "others" vote is necessarily support for the same "others" who recorded votes in the 2021 election - it may also to some degree represent Liberal voters casting around for alternatives more on their side of politics.  Whatever, the Liberals' position in Clark on this poll would be precarious at best.  An opposite possibility is these numbers could reflect a big surge in support for Johnston, but even if there was enough there for two seats, there is some history of high-profile independents in Tasmanian state elections failing to drag in lower profile running mates.  

This may be of entirely academic interest.  The benefit of calling and winning the early election in May 2021 is that the next election is not due until 2025, still over three years away.  Polls at this stage have very little predictive value, especially in Tasmania.  But it is notable that the government's days of commanding leads (which extended through the pandemic for over a year and a half) are now over, for this poll at least.  

There is also some sign of life here for the Labor opposition, which has recorded its best result since the pandemic got going, but the fact that nearly half the government's losses have gone to others does put a dampener on that.  Indeed the combined major party vote (72%) in this poll is the lowest since EMRS implemented methods changes that appeared to address its former tendency to overestimate the Greens and at times others.  The final poll before those changes (July 2019) had the combined major party vote at 68%; the lowest since has been 75.  At the state election it was 77.9, and the lowest actual election result was 75.9 in 2010 (when nearly all the remaining votes were Green.)

The poll also sees Peter Gutwein's lead over Rebecca White as preferred Premier down from 31 points to 19.  This is still a healthy lead by any means, but we are no longer seeing the massive leads of the pandemic phase.  Unfortunately we do not get regular approval ratings for our leaders, but I suspect if they did Premier Gutwein's personal approval would be down substantially.  (Even Mark McGowan, who used to trade 90% approval ratings with Gutwein, recently slipped to a "mere" 64% personal approval in a Painted Dog poll).

The poll comes ahead of Legislative Council elections for Elwick, McIntyre and Huon.  In those, the heat will be more on Labor, which is defending Elwick and defending a vacancy in Huon, but the government is at least contesting the latter.  

It is also interesting to note the Greens' lack of traction in this poll.  The Greens have appeared to differentiate themselves from the government on COVID by continuing to promote a stricter approach to managing it.  However they're not picking up any of the government's lost support.  That might imply some degree of caution about whether the fall is really mostly Omicron or whether there are other factors like federal contamination at play.  

I may add further comments on this poll later.


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