Phoney war dispatches: Newspoll somersault special

In the past week two articles in The Australian – one on Saturday and one on Tuesday – have demolished all of the conventional wisdom regarding the federal election that existed this time last Tuesday. So forget everything you thought you knew about where our nation is headed and adjust to the new reality, which – for the next seven days or so – runs as follows …

• The Coalition has experienced a massive boost in support in a short time-frame for no readily apparent reason, according to Newspoll. Taken over the weekend, at the very height of the Trish Draper affair, the poll had the Liberals up five points to 42 per cent with the Nationals up one to 5 per cent, the highest level of support for the Coalition since 16-18 May 2003 when momentum was building towards Kim Beazley’s June 16 challenge to Simon Crean’s leadership. Labor fell seven points to 37 per cent, their lowest rating since 28-30 November 2003, immediately after Simon Crean’s decision to stand aside. In other good news for the Government, the two-party preferred position switched from 46-54 to 53-47; three points shifted to satisfied with Howard from dissatisfied (57 and 35 per cent respectively); and Howard’s share of the preferred prime minister rating went from 50 to 54 per cent. The safest reading of this dramatic readjustment is that Labor faces too many people toying with the idea of voting for them and too few actually committed to doing so. Latham’s succinctly expessed views on the Bush Administration might be enough to blow out the opinion polls in his favour while Abu Ghraib is all over the news, but when the cycle moves on the hip-pocket nerve kicks in again – and the response to the federal budget was better than has been acknowledged. Most news reports on the post-budget polls focused on the Iraq-related slump in voting intention for the Government while ignoring the apparently contradictory figures on support for the budget, which were better than average in each of the five polls of which the Poll Bludger is aware.

• The Australian’s other surprise this week came when political editor Dennis Shanahan – by all accounts considered a good egg by the Government, as journalists go – emerged from a discussion with the Prime Minister reporting that "John Howard has recast the Coalition election strategy, pouring hundreds of millions of dollars more into a series of 10-year development plans that rule out an early election". This after all and sundry (present company not excepted) had been telling everyone the election would be held as early as possible, namely on August 7. It could be that the Government has been laying red herrings in order to upset Labor’s timetable, or perhaps that the Prime Minister has held off going early because he is (or has been) spooked by the polls.

• A Sun-Herald/Taverner Research poll showed that 18 per cent of voters in Wentworth would back Peter King if he ran as an independent against the man who defeated him in the February Liberal Party preselection, Malcolm Turnbull. Turnbull himself was on 35 per cent, still clear of Labor’s David Patch on 29 per cent. Despite the hysterical tone of the Sun-Herald report the figures show Turnbull in no danger, as King is well behind the Labor candidate he would need to overhaul to get up on preferences and most of his own preferences would go to Turnbull ahead of Patch.

• The Advertiser chose a splendidly opportune time to survey voting intentions in the South Australian electorate of Makin, held by beleagured Liberal Trish Draper. The poll had Draper on 33 per cent, with Labor’s Tony Zappia on 44 per cent. An Advertiser poll from February had Labor ahead 41 per cent to 39.

• On Saturday the National Party chose chartered accountant Barnaby Joyce to head its Senate ticket in Queensland. The preselection had originally been scheduled for late March but was postponed in a decision blamed by some in the party on president Terry Bolger’s desire to buy time for nominee Pam Stallman, who had unsuccessfully challenged Senator Ron Boswell for his preselection heading into the 2001 election. Joyce is the last piece in the puzzle of the contest for the fifth and sixth places in Queensland, the others being Russell Trood (Liberal), Frank Gilbert (Labor), Drew Hutton (Greens), John Cherry (Democrats), Hetty Johnston (independent) and Len Harris (One Nation, if it still exists).

• The corridors of power were abuzz following a number of sensational new additions to the Poll Bludger website. Full details in yesterday’s posting …

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.