Sunday, March 20, 2022

Old Rope: A New Low In The Australian's Newspoll Commentary

With a quietish day in the South Australian count so far, I just thought I'd take the time to call out an article about Newspoll that was published yesterday in The Weekend Australian.  

The article was entitled "PM wins back women's support" and appeared on page 6 of the Weekend Australian.  It commenced with the following claim:

"Scott Morrison has recovered lost ground with women voters in recent months and has built up a larger lead over Anthony Albanese on the question of preferred prime minister among women than men, despite an onslaught of criticism on various gender ­issues."

Other claims included in the article were:

"Although the Prime Minister lost his lead over the Labor leader in Monday’s fortnightly Newspoll, Mr Morrison consistently outranks the Opposition Leader on satisfaction ratings among women voters, an analysis of quarterly demographic breakdowns reveals."

From this I expected that the Australian was releasing a fresh quarterly breakdown for the January-March period.  But no cigar (there might yet be another poll to come this month and be included in the breakdown anyway).  Here's some more:

"But Newspoll surveys show that, at the end of last year, Mr Morrison had a lower dissatisfaction rate among women than men and the same net satisfaction rate – the difference between voters’ satisfaction and dissatisfaction – among men and women."

"But, on the question of who would be the better prime minister, Mr Morrison has had a bigger lead among women since late 2020 and has always had a better net satisfaction rating among females."

(I take it that the word "he" has been omitted before "has always"  Otherwise it makes no sense as a better net satisfaction rating is not relevant to who is the "better prime minister".)

The core problem with this article is that no Newspoll demographic quarterly data have been released since December 2021, so there is nothing to see since the earliest days of that month.  In this time, there have been substantial changes, and large relative changes, in the overall personal approval ratings of the two leaders.  In the last quarter of 2021, Morrison had an average net satisfaction rating of -5.25 while Albanese's was -9.  In the first quarter of 2022, Morrison has had an average netsat of -15.25 while Albanese's has been -0.75.   This means that Morrison has slipped from being 3.75 points more popular than Albanese to being 14.5 points less popular than him.  

In light of this, findings from between six and a half and three and a half months ago (the most recent, fourth-quarter 2021, aggregate) are simply not from "recent months".  They are outdated and totally irrelevant to the current poll ratings situation.  Recent months are the months this year, for which the Newspoll aggregate data have not yet been released.  Nothing in the article refers to any unreleased demographic breakdowns on leadership satisfactions or Better Prime Minister from this year either.  

When they are released, it is unlikely Morrison will still have a better net satisfaction rating than Albanese among female voters.  For this to be the case based on the polls so far, Albanese's netsat would need to be about 30 points higher among men than among women, compared to two points lower in the Oct-Dec quarter. That will not happen, although that target difference could come down if there is another poll to come with a spectacular change in overall ratings for one or both leaders.

It is quite possible Morrison will still (just) have a better satisfaction rating (not net satisfaction) than Albanese among female voters, but this is based on a property of the new Newspoll since 2019 that makes raw satisfaction rating a dubious indicator.  In Newspolls after the 2019 election but before the change to the current YouGov all-online format, the don't know figure for Morrison on PM satisfaction averaged 11.3% while that for Albanese averaged 19.7%.  Albanese was a new Opposition Leader and it would be expected his don't know figure would fall faster, but since then the don't know rate for Morrison has averaged 4.2% while that for Albanese has averaged 16.9%, with a clear fall in the former at the moment of the switch.  The reason for this appears to be that YouGov's method of pushing respondents who are initially undecided on approval for an answer by asking a second time is very effective in getting a response regarding this particular Prime Minister (at least) but has had less if any impact on the undecided rate as concerns Albanese.  

As a result, if both had zero net satisfaction, Morrison's satisfaction rating (the proportion of voters saying they are satisfied) would be expected to be about 6.4% higher than Albanese's.  In the four polls so far this year, Albanese's overall leads on satisfaction have been 5, 0, 1 and 3 for an average of 2.25.  Albanese has tended to have high neutral ratings from female voters, so it's possible Morrison is still ahead on satisfaction among female voters specifically.  Another way of looking at it is that Morrison led Albanese by 10 points on satisfaction among women in Oct-Dec; since then his average satisfaction is down 5 points while Albanese's is up 5.25, so all else being equal they will now be about level among women.

It is very unlikely Morrison has improved his personal ratings with female voters in the last three months, notwithstanding previous improvement.  For this to be the case, he would need his recent personal-ratings whacking to have come exclusively from male voters such that male voters were now less satisfied with him by 11 points compared to females, and less net-satisfied by 22.5 points, in spite of the genders being roughly the same in Oct-Dec.  There is no reason to believe this would occur.

A further example of the constant poll-related innumeracy that readers of The Australian are for some reason expected to pay to read is this:

"Although the Prime Minister lost his lead over the Labor leader in Monday’s fortnightly Newspoll, Mr Morrison consistently outranks the Opposition Leader on satisfaction ratings among women voters, an analysis of quarterly demographic breakdowns reveals."

This claim does not compare like with like.  What Morrison lost his lead on on Monday was Better Prime Minister, which skews to incumbents such that when a Prime Minister is not ahead they are generally struggling badly on voting intention.  On satisfaction rating, Morrison has not led this year (behind three times and tied once).  On net satisfaction rating, Morrison fell behind in December and has been behind by double figures all this year so far.

It is difficult to see the slightest reason for publishing this confused analysis at this time when the up-to-date numbers needed to support it have not been released, are not far away, and will almost certainly contradict at least parts of the article when they are.  The article refers to Albanese doing an interview with the Women's Weekly as if it is somehow Newspoll-driven, but that's hardly unusual behaviour from a politician - indeed he is at least the fourth consecutive federal Labor leader to do one.  It also refers to the current accusations of bullying/marginalisation of the late Labor Senator Kimberley Kitching, which it describes prejudicially as "Labor's position of bullying of women" (my highlight - perhaps the first "of" was meant to be "on").  However the claims in question were only starting to break to a small degree in the final days of the most recent Newspoll's time in the field.  

Finally, the article refers at the end to:

"But in specific questions in the previous poll on who was better able to handle the issues of Chinese aggression, the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the Covid pandemic, Mr Morrison led, particularly among women."

This aside refers to the only new finding about gender and Morrison that actually vaguely supports the article's theme, but then fails to do it justice.  In the late January Newspoll Morrison was level with Albanese among male voters on "leading Australia's recovery out of the COVID-19 pandemic" (34-34) but trailed among female voters (30-32).  In the late February Newspoll he trailed among male voters (33-37) but led among female voters (32-24).  Likewise on "dealing with the threat of China in the Asia-Pacific" Morrison led among male voters in late January (35-27) but led by less among female voters (27-24).  In late February, Morrison's lead among male voters was cut to four points (35-31) but his lead among female voters rose to 30-22.  So there actually is evidence that during the month of February, Morrison's standing relative to Albanese on COVID and the claimed threat of China improved among female voters while worsening among male voters.  However, this is off a low base in terms of his standing among all voters in the January poll (indeed Morrison's netsat improved among all voters by seven ponts between these two polls).  

It is worth stressing again that the Australian's dire reporting of Newspoll does not mean there is anything wrong with the poll results, much less that there is any conspiracy by the Murdoch empire to interfere with them.  Rather it highlights a long-established pattern of behaviour by The Australian of commissioning independent polling then providing interpretations of it that are (i) innumerate (ii) often favourable to the Coalition.  The Australian is letting its subscription-paying readers down by not presenting them with an informed and balanced assessment of the polling it commissions.  

This article used data that had been cast upon the high tide line months ago, and it smells that way.  I can do no more than award The Australian with a Porcupine Fish Award For Ultra-Fishy Poll Reporting.  

UPDATE (March 24): The numbers are in as the Newspoll quarterly has now been released.

As expected, the claim that Morrison "has always had a better net satisfaction rating among females" has become false.  Morrison is net -16 among females, Albanese is net -3.

As expected, the two leaders are close on raw satisfaction - Morrison stays in front by one point, 40 to 39.  

As expected, Morrison has not gained ground among female voters in recent months - he is net -16 compared to net -5.  

Morrison is doing better on "Better Prime Minister" among women (43-37) than men (42-44), but far from building up a lead among women he has just lost half of it.


  1. Without a fresh quarterly breakdown, you have to wonder about the motivations of such a claim.

    No supporting data. It looks very much like a cheap attempt to shore up female readers of The Weekend Australian.

  2. Great analysis. Of course, the only reason they present articles like this in The Ashtray is to prop-up Morrison. When the federal poll comes it will be the 23rd election, state and federal, where the Murdoch press has backed the Coalition. It has nothing to do with data and everything to do with their editorial line. It is worth noting they went hammer and tong to smear Labor in both SA and WA on their front pages. Didn't work out too well for them in either state, did it?

    1. I'm just glad that people in WA and SA were able to make their own minds up.

      Especially in Adelaide...their only daily (apart from the new-ish InDaily - online) is The Advertiser. The main Sunday paper is also NewsCorp.