Phoney war dispatches: budget polling bonanza

Budget week has let loose a torrent of opinion poll results from which you can argue whatever you like, depending on which ones you choose. Roy Morgan and Newspoll both reported a positive response to the budget but bounced in opposite directions on the question of voting intention, while the Sunday Age reported its exclusive results under the headline "poll shock for PM as budget misfires". Bearing in mind the wise note of warning sounded in today’s editorial in The Australian – that "it is when people actually see the money in their paypackets and family payments, after July 1, that the budget’s real political impact will be registered" – let us now examine the entrails.

• Today’s Newspoll offered a very strange mix of findings, including solid support for the budget, pronounced scepticism about Labor’s ability to do better, rising popularity for John Howard and a widening of his lead over Mark Latham as preferred prime minister – but with Labor opening up a three point gap on voting intention after being tied with the Coalition last fortnight, and their two-party preferred lead widening from 52-48 to 54-46. The Australian all but apologised for the latter finding, arguing that "historically there seems to be a firewall between what voters initially make of a budget and their voting intention".

• As if to demonstrate the time-honoured adage that you can prove anything with statistics, a Sunday Age-Taverner poll was reported under very different headlines from the others despite results that were not inconsistent with them. Reporter Phillip Hudson spoke of grim tidings for the government with results showing "two-thirds of people believe there was no benefit in the budget for them and 62 per cent of those who will receive tax cuts would be prepared to give the money up for more spending on services". Experienced political operators on both sides of the fence no doubt had a good laugh over the latter finding. The former suggests that 33 per cent of respondents did think there was benefit for them in the budget, compared with 29 per cent from Newspoll and 19 per cent in The Advertiser (see below). On voting intention Labor was put at 44 per cent against 40 per cent for the Coalition, but the 911 respondents were all in New South Wales and Victoria which would tend to distort things in Labor’s favour. The poll was taken on Thursday and Friday evening, before Newspoll (Saturday and Sunday) and after those below (Wednesday evening).

• On Friday the Adelaide Advertiser published results of a poll conducted on budget night from an unreliably small sample of 500 voters. It showed moderate support for the budget (19 per cent said they would be better off, 11 per cent worse) and a big swing to the Coalition since their previous poll on April 14. The ALP was down four points to 37 per cent with the Coalition up three to 41 per cent – presumably these are South Australian voters only.

• On Thursday Roy Morgan issued results from a phone poll gauging immediate reactions to the Treasurer’s budget speech of the previous evening. Twenty-seven per cent of voters thought it good while 12 per cent thought it poor, the accompanying blurb noting that "six in 10 budgets receive more negative than positive responses". The question of voting intention was also raised and produced a remarkably pro-Government result compared with the company’s findings from its fortnightly face-to-face polls, with the Coalition on 52 per cent of the two-party preferred vote. No primary voting intention breakdown was provided.

Author: William Bowe

William Bowe is a Perth-based election analyst and occasional teacher of political science. His blog, The Poll Bludger, has existed in one form or another since 2004, and is one of the most heavily trafficked websites on Australian politics.