Morgan, McNair and Westpoll

Roy Morgan appears to have marked the arrival of election season by moving its schedule from fortnightly to weekly federal polling. Unfortunately their sample sizes have suffered as a result, the polls from the last two weeks surveying fewer than 1100 respondents compared with more than 2000 for most Morgan polls from the first half of the year. For this reason the latest finding of a shift to Labor should be treated with caution. The poll shows Labor widening the two-party preferred gap in its favour from 51.5-48.5 (still a winnable position for the Coalition, as Peter Brent of Mumble explains) to 54-46, the Labor primary vote up from 43.5 to 46 per cent with the Coalition down a point to 41.5 per cent. As usual, judgement would best be left reserved until Tuesday’s Newspoll.

Of more specific interest, last weekend various News Limited papers carried a McNair Ingenuity Research poll of just over 200 respondents from each of the Coalition’s five most marginal New South Wales seats. The results would have been disappointing from Labor’s perspective, showing the Coalition well ahead in Paterson (50 per cent to 40, Greens 6 per cent) and with their nose in front in Richmond (47 per cent to 37, Greens 11 per cent), with Labor holding modest leads in Eden-Monaro (45 per cent to 44, Greens 7 per cent), Dobell (47 per cent to 43, Greens 4 per cent) and Parramatta (46 per cent to 42, Greens 6 per cent).

The West Australian’s monthly Westpoll, conducted two weekends ago and published on Monday, was still more encouraging for the Coalition. The poll of 407 respondents produced a 12 per cent "don’t know" figure that was not distributed, but had they gone to the trouble of doing so the results would have been 49 per cent for the Coalition against 40 per cent for Labor. Due to the near-disappearance of One Nation this represents a substantial improvement for both parties on the 2001 election, at which the Coalition polled 42.4 per cent in Western Australia and Labor 37.1. In two-party preferred terms however, it may be roughly calculated as a swing to the Coalition of 1.5 per cent, once again raising concerns about Labor’s hold on Stirling (Jann McFarlane, 1.6 per cent), Hasluck (Sharryn Jackson, 1.8 per cent) and Swan (Kim Wilkie, 2.1 per cent).

As usual, these low-sample polls had the newspapers that commissioned or conducted them reading ludicrous significance into their findings. Interestingly, though probably coincidentally, the tone of the misreporting was uniformly pro-Labor. Perth’s Sunday Times ran the McNair Ingenuity Research polling under the plainly incorrect headline, "Labor up in five key seats" (since their aggregate vote across the five seats was higher than the Coalition’s). Other News Limited reporting gave undue emphasis to rather pointless questions included in the survey regarding the allegations then circulating about the Opposition Leader, which predictably found most respondents affecting not to care. The West Australian’s reporting of its Westpoll findings struck a similar note, the headline reading "Emotional Latham plea wins support", the basis for which was that Labor had improved on the previous month’s poll at which they slumped eight points for no readily apparent reason. The only plausible explanation for this was a dud sample. Labor’s real hope for better things in the West came after the poll was published, with the return to the front-bench of local hero Kim Beazley on Wednesday.

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.