Idle speculation: March edition

Conversation starters:

Newspoll. What to make of the widening of the two-party gap from 54-46 to 57-43, in a poll conducted between Friday and Sunday? Lag effects (note the 6 per cent slump in Kevin Rudd’s approval rating and the narrowing preferred PM gap)? A pox on both their houses (note the 3 per cent lift in the "others" vote)? Cynicism about Ian Campbell’s dismissal? Statistical noise? To elucidate the second point, I offer two graphs showing recent leaders’ approval rating performance in their first seven Newspolls (except Rudd, who is only up to number five). The second excludes Crean and the two Beazley leaderships, which began in the aftermath of election defeats when opinion polls follow different rhythms.

• Kevin Rudd’s silly call for an early election. This will dispose me towards negative interpretations of Labor’s next few sets of poll figures, if only because it has exposed his apparent lack of sure-footedness when forced on the defensive. To clarify this point: as Rudd well knows, restrictions on the timing of half-Senate elections mean that a normal House-and-half-Senate poll cannot be called until June 1, for a date no sooner than August 4. With no double dissolution trigger currently available, any election before that would have to be a House-only election to be followed by a separate half-Senate election over the course of the following year. To my knowledge, nobody has yet put it to Rudd that this is what he’s advocating. Glenn Milne went part of the way in his column in yesterday’s Australian, although he was incorrect to state that "if Howard acceded to Rudd’s election demand, we would be going to a double-dissolution election" – no trigger for such an election currently exists.

• The West Australian’s 1975-style call for a state government "rendered dysfunctional by an unprecedented series of ministerial scandals" to do the honourable thing and face the people. One problem though: the supposed alternative government is not even pretending to be ready to step into the breach. With simmering sectarian violence threatening to boil over into full-scale civil war, Liberal leader Paul Omodei has declared the state to be "almost ungovernable" – but not to the extent that his Coalition might be expected to win an election. The West’s Graham Mason reported on Friday that Omodei’s lack of aggression on this front was fomenting discontent with his leadership, which sounds about right: since there is not going to be an election in any case (despite surprising talk from Greens leader Giz Watson about the prospect of blocking supply), the opposition should be taking the opportunity to at least appear as if they’re on the front foot. The aforementioned West editorial called for Colin Barnett to return to the Liberal leadership, which also sounds about right.

In typical style, the paper seized on the government’s troubles by commissioning Patterson Market Research to conduct a poll of 400 voters over the weekend, just as it did when revelations regarding Norm Marlborough’s activities were exposed last November. Polls conducted in such unusual circumstances are of little help in gauging a government’s long-term political fortunes, but they can be of very great value in providing a good headline – providing those surveyed follow the script. On this indication however, the impact of the last fortnight’s events seems to have been fairly modest: Labor down from 44 per cent to 39 per cent on the primary vote and the Coalition up from 37 per cent to 39 per cent, with Labor still ahead 51.2-48.8 on two-party preferred.

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.

98 comments on “Idle speculation: March edition”

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  1. David Charles, I bet Costello’s shrill performances on Lateline and 3AW made Rudd’s “stumble” look like a classical dance step executed to perfection.

  2. * I still want to know if David Charles is the former member for Isaacs of that name.
    * Brian, we are still waiting for your revelations.
    * After reading today’s papers I think Bowman and Moreton by-elections are increasingly likely. Apparently Laming was close to resignation yesterday. The printing rort might possibly be blamed on staffers and explained as mere incompetence. Creating a phantom staff member is clear fraud, and if charges are laid this will be fatal for Laming and Hardgrave. Vasta appears to be less implicated. One would have to expect Labor to win both seats if it comes to by-elections – a devastating blow to Howard one would think.

  3. Adam, no I am not the former member for Isaacs. As I recall, my namesake was a director in television before he became an esteemed MP so (at the very least) his creative and political talents well exceed mine.

  4. Well Bowman has a Liberal margin of nearly 9%, the contest in an by-election would be close. Moreton would be a easy win for Labor in a by-election.

  5. A Bowman by election for the libs would be a very bloody thing indeed! Not only can voters vent their spleen on the libs (without the danger of changing government), there is also the circumstances in which the by election was caused – any hint of sleaze will cause even more damage, just as gratuitous resignations did in Canberra, Ryan and much earlier Bass. Voters are not so hard on deaths – a by election cannot be avoided! Aston springs to mind.

    A 15-16% swing would not be out of the question – and would give Ruddy unbelievable oxygen on his first electoral outing (again Canberra and Bass come to mind) – though it is quite likely that the libs would get it back in the general.

  6. Oh gee why are the “wrong” candidates winning pre selection for the ALP in many seats. When Malcolm Fraser sounds like a left winger then we know that we have gone too far right. I Fear for working families who ever wins office

  7. To blackburnpseph:

    Good point on a Bowman by-election, The Liberal party does not want to go through two very bloody by-elections in Bowman and Moreton. Even if Labor loses in the federal election, they would still likely retain/win Moreton. Queenslander born and bred Rudd being Labor leader probably put an extra 4% on Labor support.

  8. Adam,

    You’ll have to sit up very late. There are no results on their website yet. With no ALP standing, I suppose I’d vote for the DLP, the one with the S in front.

  9. I agree with you on that, Chris Curtis – but of course that’s from the vistage of Australia, so who knows how I’d actually vote if I had the chance!

  10. No way, Adam. I have always regarded the IRA as a despicable terrorist organization and I would never cast a vote for Sinn Fein. I was appalled that Sinn Fein outpolled the SDLP last time.

  11. Anyone notice the website that is effectively giving the coalition a 38 p/c chance to the coalition of winning this year’s election, and the ALP a 55 p/c chance?

    Andrew Leigh and co might like the predictive power of the betting markets – is a “financial” market like intrad any different? And does it mean anything?

  12. It looks like the Liberals are on track to win the upcoming election – the one in Quebec, of course.

    Boisclair of PQ has tanked and Dumont of ADQ is riding high in the polls so the real contest is who comes in the 2nd, Parti Quebecois or Action Democratique du Quebec. It will be a sweet victroy for Charest of the Liberals given he’s probably been Quebec’s most disliked premier but there simply has not been a viable alternative.

    Sorry, not that interested in NI, but if anyone has a comment about the election in Quebec…

  13. Adam,

    I see the full results show a landslide to the extremist parties, which brings us to the Iraq question (can of worms opening): Do the Northern Irish deserve democracy? Some on this site can note with pleasure that the Greens gained their first seat, though I can take no pleasure in the overall results, which suggest the two “communities” – and what a misused word that is! – are far apart. Why can’t they have class-based politics like us? But, despite William’s indulgence, we had best not divert to world elections. There is a site,, that deals with them.

    As for Australia, when will the Libs be doing a bit more foot-shooting?

  14. Where’s Costello? I was hoping he would be out there giving Thompson a serve. Costello is gold plated votes for Labor at the moment.

  15. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: trust ye not in Morgan polls.

    Chris, I think you a bit pessimistic. As Adams and Paisley have taken over the leadership of their respective tribes (a better word that communities?), they are becoming less extreme as leadership forces them into more compromises. This is especially true of Adams, since NI Catholics no longer believe in the nationalist cause and he has to lead them into acceptance of permanent NI separateness, under a Protestant majority. Paisley has less compromising to do, since the Protestants are getting essentially what they want (as they should, being the majority). But both of them are being forced into statesmanship despite themselves.

  16. Thompson is the Labor equivalent of Ian Campbell. What he did was not particularly blameworthy, and a month ago he could have bluffed it out. (If all the references and letters given by federal MPs to dodgy characters over the years were dug out, they would all have to resign, and they all know that.) Thompson’s reference was actually carefully phrased to convey to any intelligent reader that it was “pro forma.” However, in the current climate he saw straight away that he had to quit to give Rudd a clear line of fire at Laming and co when Parliament resumes on 20 March, just as Campbell had to go to give Howard a clear line of fire at Rudd over Burke.

  17. Adam – on NI.
    I don’t think its true that Adams has led SF away from the Nationalist cause but he has led them away the non-recognition/ non-participation approach and in doing so has cut the ground from under SDLP. He stated that this was his aim 25 years ago when the ‘Armalite and Ballot Box’ policy was first introduced and he has been very skillful in achieving this.

    I also doubt if the unionists can count on a permanent majority. In 1969 the unionists were approximately 66% of the population, this is now 60%. In this election the unionists in total are down 3 seats and the nationalists are up 2. In the last Westminster election the nationalists gained 1.

    I hope that the St Andrews agreement will be implemented but I don’t think the tribal tensions in NI are gone, nor do I think they will go while school and housing segregation continues. Hopefully these tensions can be settled before the nationalists become a majority. Any attempt to join the republic is likely to start the whole process over again.

  18. Morgan published 2 polls testerday, half the usual size, a week apart, one before and one after Burkegate. Both show very high TPPs for the ALP.

    The recent 3-poll 3-period average is up to 60% ALP TPP. This is a 15-year record (by some 2%)- probably much longer than 15 years.

  19. After the debacle of 2004, I never trust any Morgan polls.
    Even the most recent Newspoll seemed very unlikely to me, but I am a rather pessimistic Labor supporter.

  20. Quite right Evan: “He who expects nothing is never disappointed.”

    I distrusted Morgan polls from the first time I saw Gary Morgan interviewed, but I suppose I had better not elaborate on this point.

    We need constantly to remind ourselves that these polls are measuring only the transient sentiment of the present, not making a prediction about the future. The Ozpolitics site ( has a table showing that Labor is polling only slightly better now than Beazley was at the same point in 2001 and than Latham was in 2004. Both crashed and burned later in the year, for very different reasons. As far as this election goes, the fat lady hasn’t even put on her helmet, let alone sung.

  21. Evan Said: After the debacle of 2004, I never trust any Morgan polls.

    Morgan, Newspoll and Nielsen all show consistent deviations from their combined mean. For the ALP TPP, these are

    Morgan 1.2%
    Newspoll -0.7%
    Nielsen -1.1%

    This is very consistent over at least 15 years for which I have been calculating it (the error margin in the “biases” calculated above is about 0.1%). These are called “House Effects”- there are papers discussing it in Oz J Political Science. Reason unclear, but phone versus face-to-face is reckoned to be one.

    Morgan-Gallop once was face-to-face….. they polled me in late 1972 and, after a series of questions about this, that and the other, the pollster then said “Well, I suppose you’ll be voting for Gough, then?”

    Now THAT’S the way to produce bias.

    Anyway, one can get away from House Effects and sampling bias by averaging and making a “trend line” just as appeared in the Bludger’s NSW page a fortnight ago. At about 6 months from the election, this trend line begins to swerve towards its ultimate target. By 3 months out, one can see where it will end up on election day.

    This is all phenomenological psephology, but it usually works (2004 was a 1.5% exceptional error. ) At the moment the trend points towards the stratosphere for the ALP- around about 65% TPP. It’s sure to flatten out or turn tail some time soon. By Jul/Aug we will know.

  22. Since this is an idle speculation thread perhaps William will tolerate at little wider ranging discussion than in other places.

    While I agree with Chris that it is disappointing to see the DUP and Sinn Fein rise at the expense of the moderate unionist and republican parties, I think there is some good news here as well. With the falling total unionist vote we are getting near to a situation where parties that have moved beyond sectarian positions hold the balance of power.

    Some people regard the Alliance as moderate unionists, but my understanding is they are trying to break the whole paradigm, and certainly that applies to the Greens. By they next election these two parties could hold the balance of power between them creating a dynamic conducive to leading NI further away from conflict.

  23. Thanks. The state branches of all the parties are being very slack putting up their candidates on their websites, particularly in NSW. The Qld ALP website still has a picture of Beazley on its front page.

  24. There is a mention of Perrett on the ALP site. See here. But I had to google to find it. How appropriate that the accompanying map should be of the 2004 boundaries.

    I have no idea who the notional member for Parramatta is. If indeed there is one. I think the Libs, like the ALP, have delayed NSW preselections til after the state election.


    It’s too close to call for any side at the moment. Labor’s had minor slip-ups this week, but so have the government.

    In the next Newspoll, expect the government to get a minor (1%-1.5%0 at least) mainly being due to a quiet political fortnight, but answer me on question: do the government seem to be acting a bit quiet and odd this week due to circumstances like the Indonesian plane crash, among other things.

  26. Pre-selection nominations for the unwinnable seats in NSW are not open yet and will not be until after the state election. So a complete list of candidates is still some time off.

    I always thought NI’s Alliance was the Unionist party for Doctor’s wives.

  27. Trying to predict the result, to a percentage point, of a poll with a 2-3% sampling error is a rather dubious exercise.

    I would also expect the govt’s tpp figure to improve in the next Newspoll. But only because the previous one overstated Labor’s lead.

    All of this year’s Newspolls have shown the Labor tpp stable at around about 55%. The rest is just noise.

  28. I must say compared to other polls in which Labor was in front early in the year, the percentage of margin is higher than other years? Any explainations?


    By mid-June, we’ll semi-know how the election will pan out.
    One of my thoughts is that the mortagees are going to punish Howard. If this happens, he’s going to find it very hard to be re-elected.

    What I meant earlier was that in 1998 it was close all the way, 2001 6-7 for Beazley until Tampa and 9/11, and in 2004 Howard’s approval rating was 40+ all year but surprisingly never held a double digit margin all the way through (did anyone pick the landslide before the election that year)

    My early prediction is Rudd in a close one, 4-5 seats.
    Anyone else (weighing up the issues) prepared to make an early prediction?

  30. Adam,

    I hope you are right about Northern Ireland. It is a sad fact that on some occasion to bring peace you need to disregard justice.

  31. Newspoll is said to be overstating Labor’s 2PP lead at 57-43. Morgan is scoffed at when it says 61.8-38.2. Now ACNielsen comes out with 61-39. Either they’re all wrong or something’s going on.

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