Friday, June 10, 2022

EMRS: Another New Premier Gets No Polling Bounce

EMRS (Tasmania): Liberal 39 (-2) Labor 30 (-1) Greens 13 (+1) Others 18 (+2) including IND 15

Independent vote is likely to be inflated at this stage
Poll suggests Liberals largest party with Greens and/or Independents holding balance of power if election "held now"

A new EMRS poll has been released, the first since Jeremy Rockliff replaced Peter Gutwein as Premier after Gutwein resigned in April.

I want to go straight to the interpretation in EMRS's media release, which states that this is a strong response to the change of Premier.  That is not an interpretation I entirely agree with.  Yes, former Premier Gutwein enjoyed stratospheric popularity and his government generally polled very well during his tenure, but that was not the case in the March poll that forms the baseline for this assessment.  The March poll was the government's weakest in raw primary vote terms since EMRS changed its polling methods in late 2019.  While it did not directly poll Gutwein's approval, the shrinking of his Better Premier lead also suggested the pandemic gloss had come off after the reopening of the state over summer.  

That is not to say that the new poll is dreadful for the government - it still shows the Liberals as the only party in a position that is reasonably close to majority-winning numbers.  We have seen governments that polled modest leads mid-cycle often go on to win majorities (2006, 2018, 2021); the government would have much more cause for concern if the primary votes were level.  

Also, the relative drop in Rockliff's Better Premier standing compared to Gutwein's (down from 52-33 to 47-34 on an indicator that advantages incumbents) is nothing much to see since new leaders often take a while to establish themselves on such comparisons, so Rockliff has potential to improve.   It is much better than Gutwein's own debut, where he trailed (an admittedly probably then more popular than now) Rebecca White 39-41.   Gutwein also did not record any immediate bounce on voting intention - that came in his second poll as the toughness of his character soon made him the ideal leader for the early stage of the pandemic crisis.  

In fact, new Premiers getting a voting intention bounce out of EMRS seems not much of a thing anymore.  Rockliff hasn't, Gutwein didn't, Will Hodgman didn't (though in his case it was barely possible) and nor did Lara Giddings.  The last new Premier to see his party's numbers improve much in EMRS was David Bartlett in 2009, and he was coming off a poll that was so bad that Paul Lennon resigned.  

Independent surge

The total vote for "others" in this EMRS poll is the highest I can find in the poll's history, exceeding by one point a 17% reading in March 2017 (under old methods that appeared at times to inflate the "others" reading).  We have the specific information that 15% of the sample preferred independents.  I don't believe that anywhere near all of this is real. We saw especially with the Resolve poll at the federal election that the polled Independent vote crashed once the pollster only had those Independents in the poll who were actually running.  The Morgan poll, which apparently did not make this change, greatly overestimated Independent support.   I suspect the current reading is fuelled by contamination from the federal election, where not just Andrew Wilkie but also independents generally, did very well.  But it may also reflect a continued strong response for Kristie Johnston as the first independent to make it into the House since the 1998 reduction in member numbers.  

The independent vote at the 2021 election was 6.2%, and trying to project an independent vote of 15% without knowing where there would actually be viable independents running (aside from Clark) and with the feeling that much of that would probably prove not to be genuine is difficult.  There have been similar problems with projecting EMRS polls with high others votes mid-term in the past.  For all I know the 2025 election might see a tide of teal wash over other seats as well but none of the other Tasmanian seats really seem to have the demographics for it, and the federal teal phenomenon is largely about voters looking for someone to vote for in seats where Labor and the Greens can't win.  

Another slight complexity is that the Government has said it will introduce legislation this year to return the House to 35 seats.  One would expect this to pass with unanimous support, but we'll see.  For the time being I should offer projections based on both systems and on the assumption that the polled "others" vote is somewhat over the top.

On this basis I get that:

25 seats:

* The government would lose a seat in Clark, potentially to a second independent, but perhaps more likely to Labor.

* The government would be at risk of losing a seat in Lyons to the Greens (2.49 quotas vs 0.57 quotas).  In 2021 the government gained about 0.03 quotas on the Greens through the count, which isn't enough, but they might be able to beat the Greens by better splitting their vote between their leading candidates.  

Totals: Liberal 11-12 Labor 9-10 Greens 2-3 IND 1-2

35 seats:

The high and likely to be overstated IND total makes this really messy, but something like this (maybe)

Bass 4 Liberal 2 Labor 1 Green

Braddon 4 Liberal 2 Labor 1 IND or minor non-Green party

Clark 2 Liberal 2 Labor 1-2 Green 1-2 IND (2 IND if sufficiently prominent second independent or especially successful Johnston ticket)

Franklin 3 Liberal 3 Labor 1 Green

Lyons 3 Liberal 3 Labor 1 Green

Totals: Liberal 16 Labor 12 Greens 4-5 IND/other 2-3

In either case a Liberal minority government with Greens, independents and others sharing the balance of power is possible, though in the 25-seat system an all-Green balance of power could also occur.  And the number of independents could be higher if prominent independents are emboldened by the success of independents at the federal election, and by a perception that the Government may have votes to shed that Labor is not as yet picking up.  

Past Tasmanian elections suggest that numbers at this stage are merely a snapshot and that voting intention can move a lot in election leadups.  What I will most have my eye on is whether we start to see polling where neither side appears able to reach a majority or where Labor ever reaches the lead.

The poll follows mixed signals from other elections recently (and Tasmanians separate elections of different kinds pretty well anyway).  The Liberals performed very well in Tasmania at the federal election, with the assistance of candidate issues falling on their side rather than Labor's as in 2019.  There is some speculation that the Liberals travelling better at state level had something to do with it - but I'm not sure about that.  The recent Legislative Council elections saw neither major party covered in glory in Huon, where the Liberals came fourth after preferences while Labor dropped the seat to independent Dean Harriss in the first case of an independent gain from a major party since 2011.  Labor did retain Elwick easily against minor opposition, and that they didn't attract anyone scarier would itself be a sort of a victory.  The Greens did very well in the LegCo, and also in the federal election, so given that the current poll is mostly pre-Depp it's very mildly interesting that they've only gained one point in this one.

It's notable that EMRS is now a part of the C|T Group (formerly Crosby Textor, well-known internal pollsters for the right) and also that it has recently expanded operations to the eastern seaboard.  Internal polls by EMRS were frequently mentioned on the campaign trail (not always kindly) but no results surfaced publicly that I am aware of.  

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