Idle speculation: mid-March edition

An ACNielsen poll conducted between Thursday and Saturday has Labor leading 61-39, with 83 per cent saying the Brian Burke affair had not affected their opinion of Kevin Rudd. The accompanying Sydney Morning Herald report also says "internal Labor polling had shown the Coalition’s relentless attacks on Mr Rudd’s judgement and character had hurt the Coalition more than Labor". Perhaps one might go so far as to venture that there are signs of a trend emerging.

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.

204 comments on “Idle speculation: mid-March edition”

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  1. Well, you are up early this morning William!

    See the previous Federal Election thread for two recent Morgan polls and for where the trend line is heading. This Nielsen poll will only strengthen it. We have Newspoll tomorrow (or is it next week?)…. will Newspoll jump off the bandwagon?…. THAT would give Dennis Shanahan something to crow about.

  2. C.Woo: By mid-June, we’ll semi-know how the election will pan out.
    ….. in 1998 it was close all the way, 2001 6-7 for Beazley until Tampa and 9/11, and in 2004 …..did anyone pick the landslide before the election that year?

    Believe in the trend lines. In 1998 the result was spot on a trend line that grew for Beazley steadily from 1997 to 2001. In 2001, the tip point came in May (petrol tax back-flip?, but not Tampa?). This pattern was repeated in 2004 (reason for the tip?), the lanslide occurred only on Friday night or Saturday morning over the Weetbix (my best bet for this hiccup…. it had gone away by the next weekend- was the handshake).

    Some indication of the way the trend line (3 polls averaged over 3 fortnights) can be used can be seen in my 1996 Fin Review article which Mumble so kindly reprinted a few years ago. In that case the trend pointed squarely at Howard’s 46 seat majority all the way from a year before hand.

  3. Too good to be true, but I believe there is a mood for change out there.
    Costello might try and sneak some tax cut relief into the budget, but will bribery work this time?
    It is obvious many people couldn’t care less about Brian Burke, or Kevin Rudd’s childhood!

  4. Methinks Peter Hartcher (SMH p1/4 this morning) might have been hanging around this web-site. A lot of what he writes, and how he writes it, about where the election seems to be heading has strong echoes here.

    An ABC presenter once told me that he had configured his web browser to make Bludger his Home Page and it was the first thing he looked at when he came into the studio.

    Well done William.

  5. “Perhaps one might go so far as to venture that there are signs of a trend emerging.”

    Ah William, typical understatement. I’m surprised we didn’t have a headline along the lines of Poll-axed. 🙂

  6. The real test of this trend is has anyone here who lives in a very safe Liberal seat noticed any increase effort from their MP

  7. Geoff Lambert wrote

    An ABC presenter once told me that he had configured his web browser to make Bludger his Home Page and it was the first thing he looked at when he came into the studio.

    Well done William.

    I thought i was the only one that had Poll Bludger as my home page, my wife calling me an obsessed nutter. I have always been interested in politics and elections, Studying profiles and Stats since a child but being part of it on the inside gives it an whole new dimension

  8. In Kingston (not a safe seat ) Richardson is working hard in environmental and community issues but is up against it with a strong YR@W campaign encompassing many different groups that would normally have little common interests. A unknown (in the electorate) ALP candidate is also working hard to get known around the traps holding corner street stalls. If the polls start to go back to Howard which i still predict they will there will be an interesting fight in this electorate. On the one side you have Richardson known by most and does work hard in the electorate and on the other side an relatively unknown Rishworth riding on the back of the YR@W campaign. The minor party preferences will be the decider i feel very crucial and unlike the 2006 SA State election where the arrogance of ALP candidates and MPs showed in their contempt of minor party preferences, i feel that both parties will court and woo The Greens, Democrats, FF, etc to sure up their vote.

  9. These recent poll results should serve as a reminder to those us with perhaps a slightly unhealthy over-enthusiasm for psephology – the great unwashed don’t really pay that much attention to comings and goings of political life. That said, I think the mob have taken a liking to Kevin Rudd. I think people have been looking for a reason to vote against Howard for the last couple of years, but the ALP hasn’t been giving them one (until now). Of course the government have shown their hand in recent weeks, throwing everything but the kitchen sink at Rudd, but it doesn’t seem to have made much difference. Or rather, it has, but only against the government.

    There are several factors at play here, not least an “it’s time” sentiment that seems to be building within the community, but the issues, too, have started working against the government. Iraq has gone bad (or should I say, worse), climate change has suddenly sprung into the mainstream, David Hicks’ plight is getting traction and the trend of interest rates is up. However, Labor’s poll lead really started last March, when the government introduced WorkChoices. I don’t think the Libs truly appreciate the fear that these changes have put into the community (this might be because of the Libs’ employer/ small business constituency) – not just fear for their own jobs, but for those of their kids. The issue is continually talked down by the media (had to laugh when I heard Andrew Bolt commenting that he was more than happy with HIS AWA!), but it’s an issue that really cuts through out in the community, and I think it’s no co-incidence that the ALP has been ahead in the polls since last March.

    Kevinism is certainly giving Labor a big boost, but the basis for it was there for nearly all of last year.

  10. Gee you lot are excitable. The bookies still average the Coalition at shorter odds. Every election is the same these days. Labor holding massive leads 8 months out…

  11. Can anyone out there explain the discrepancy in Green vote (about 5% in Newspoll over several surveys) and 9% (in AC Nielsen)?

    Reasoned explanations please not Green breastbeating!

  12. Hugo,

    I agree with you on the IR laws. I can’t bring myself to call them WorkChoices because the employee has no choice. As a committed unionist, I do not understand how any government could put in laws that undo a century of progress, but that is what the Howard government has done. Everyone is potentially a victim of these laws, and they are so transparently a transfer of power from the employee to the employer that no insight is required to see the damage they will cause to Australian families. You may have a well-paid managerial position at the moment, but your daughter’s part-time job suddenly involves a pay cut when she is told to sign an AWA or have no more shifts. Word-of-mouth will spread these stories, and if Labor is resolute, rather than attempting to accommodate the bleating of The Australian, it is on a winner.

    The Brian Burke dinner was never going to make a dent on Kevin Rudd, though the eviction story might. People do not expect perfection from politicians. They well know they aren’t perfect themselves.

    Labor is in front because of the IR laws. It has gained more support because Kevin Rudd promises change, but change that is safe. At the national conference, he will see off the so-called “left” unions’ economic proposals, he will see the no-new-mines policy dropped and he will add clarity to Labor’s IR, family and education policies. This will all work to his benefit: he will slay the “left” of his own party and credibly promise a better life for the rest of the country.

    It would be foolish to say that Kevinism is unstoppable, but I still think Labor will win and win clearly. I’ll leave the numbers till later. This is not 2001, or 2004, or even 1969. This is 1972, but with the advantage of no Whitlam government at the end of it.

  13. Each of the pollsters seems to have a bias.

    Nielsen tends to have a higher green vote, Newspoll tends to overstate the vote of the incumbent and Morgan tends to overstate the vote of the opposition. I have no idea why. But taken together they tend to cancel each other’s biases out.

  14. I think many of us think that the numbers can’t get better. In fact a number much wiser than me seem to think these numbers are not possible (ever?) in an election. I guess, although they don’t say, this is a form of the ‘honeymoon’ theory which states in an election a number of these voters must move.

    Who would think rusted on conservative voters would number much under 35%? That is if voters move back to Howard in the cut and thrust of an election there could not be much, if any of a countervailing flow.

    How could preference flows be much better than in Neilson?

    Now if we remember that many of these voters are voting labor for state elections what can Rudd do to keep them? What can Howard to (short of invading Iran – please no) to bring home these numbers?

  15. The state ALP Governments of Victoria, NSW, and Queensland all have scored TPR vote of mid to high 50s, I’m not sure about WA, Tassie, SA and NT, so while we can dismiss 61-39 at this point but if come June/July and the ALP are ahead 55+ I feel its a safe bet they’ll win, but if Howard can hand down a good budget or soften his IR Laws he may save his own hide.

    I know that the upcoming NSW Election is on state issues, but will we be able to obtain some sort of feel for how the voters are reacting.

  16. Oh dear. I am finding my careful “it’s too early to get excited” position under considerable strain today. Nevertheless, I will wait until the next Newspoll before starting to look for a flat in Canberra.

    Chris says “I do not understand how any government could put in laws that undo a century of progress.” Well Chris I have to tell you that CLASS is still alive and well in Australia and is at the centre of Australian politics. (You see although our current views are similarly Labor Right, my training was in the Marxist left while yours was in the NCC, so I know these things.) The petit bourgeois social base of the Liberal Party do not see protecting the rights of workers as “progress”, they see it as a damned impertinence.

    John Howard has been the faithful lackey (a word I don’t get to use often any more) of the small business class all his life, and the IR laws were their payoff for their faith in him. I agree that the IR laws and fear for the future for Australian kids is the cause of the underlying decline in the Coalition’s position. But that was true under Beazley as well – in fact Kim made a bigger noise about IR than Kevin is currently doing. What has changed is that Labor now has a leader people are listening to.

  17. Some years ago I hypothesized on Crikey that there was a long term trend (starting in the late sixties) that was making Australia more naturally Labor. This was the cause, at least in part, of the landslides at state level. On that theory 1999 and 2001 were aberrations caused by the unpopularity of the Keating government and the Tampa/911 events. 1998 was closer to where the electorate was at in terms of 2pp vote, but happened to be in the wrong places for Labor.

    Although subsequent state votes have generally supported my theory, the 2004 federal election seemed to discredit it entirely. If the natural situation was now something like 53% for Labor then it seemed hard to see how one handshake could have turned that to 47%.

    However, if these polls keep up it may be time to dust the theory off again.
    According to my guesstimates, the natural predilections of the population were shifting Labor at a rate of about 1% every six years and would now be close to 54%.

    On that basis these sorts of polling figures become understandable, as does how a government as useless as Iemma’s can appear set to cruise to victory.

  18. lackburnpseph Says: Can anyone out there explain the discrepancy in Green vote (about 5% in Newspoll over several surveys) and 9% (in AC Nielsen)?

    This was (sort of) touched on somewhere last week. I think it has to do with the options that are offered when respondents are polled. With Newspoll (it seems) they are offered only the following ALP,COAL,GRN,OTHER. With Nielsen (it seems) they’re offered a broader choice. On the surface of it, you would have though the latter would have produced the lower green %age- but there’s no accounting for the instransitivity of opinion.

  19. Some of the comments in previous posts about the IR laws are reminiscent of the sentiment that is reflected in Robert Browning’s Pippa, the orphan girl who had to work long hours in terrible conditions and who knew everything was not “right in the world”. Maybe that is the sentiment that has tapped our collective unconscious and is now resonating with voters.

  20. Do we know if Howard has ever seen a poll like this before. We know he was struggling badly in early 2001, which were dog days for his Gov’t, but was it ever 61-39?

    Whilst there is no way this will be the election result, I can’t help but think that this is too far behind to come back from within 9 months, even for Howard. My ‘it will be a close election’ mantra may be ditched very very soon indeed.

  21. IR is not going to be the silver bullet for the ALP,
    Scare campaign yes but when it comes down to nitty-gritty time people will still vote on mortgages, money in the pocket etc AND REMEMBER
    who is writing Labor’s IR policy, Jula MEDICARE GOLD Gillard.
    Remember Kerry O’Brien’s 730 report put down “come back when you have an IR policy” you have to expect the ALP will have to provide a real policy by the election not just promises

  22. Edward, no-one will be writing any of Labor’s policy on anything except The Leader and his office. I promise I won’t keep banging on about this, but I did have the opportunity of watching Rudd at fairly close quarters last year, and he is the most driven, focussed, disciplined person I have ever seen. He is a total contral freak, and no-one will put forward any policy that he has not seen and approved – and probably rewritten. If Gillard think she will get the kind of free run on IR policy that Macklin had on education in 2004 (which gave us the disaster of the “hit list”), she will soon learn otherwise. Labor’s IR policy will be what Rudd says it will be and nothing else. Don’t forget that Rudd has three of the biggest union bosses – Bill Ludwig, Bill Shorten and Joe de Bruyn – in his camp. If the Left make trouble about this they will be squashed like bugs. But I don’t think they will. The unions desperately need to be rid of Howard, and they will grit their teeth and support Rudd whatever he does.

  23. Adam,

    If Rudd is serious about IR and wants to demonstrate his leadership cred he needs to go into the election with an IR policy along these lines:

    a) Abolish all state systems (ie all the premiers have agreed to one national IR system)
    b) Adopt WorkChoices concerning abolition of awards etc ie make it easier to use for business
    c) Put back fairness into the fair pay and condition standard preferbably with some form of national maternity leave scheme

    This type of policy would outflank Howard whilst showing the ALP is contemporary and relevant. However it would require the ALP leadership to stare down some very self interested vested interests. I question whether Rudd could do it but that’s the way to win the debate and after all if he aspires to be PM it would prove his mettle.

  24. I don’t think IR is a “silver bullet”, but rather it’s the issue that was Howard’s break with swing voters and the so-called “battlers”. It’s an issue that worries people that don’t otherwise take any interest in politics. The Right don’t get this, probably because not many of them (or their kids) have had to survive on a minimum wage job. People are correct when they point out that IR alone won’t win the election for Labor, but if Howard hadn’t gone so far with this matter, I tend to think he wouldn’t e looking so bad now. IR provided Labor (both the party and the movement) with the momentum it needed to start fighting back. Once they found an issue they could genuinely believe in, other issues started (Iraq, Hicks, climate change, interest rates) started to fall into place.

  25. Adam,

    I am not now, nor have I ever been, a member of the NCC. Nor was my training in the NCC. I learnt politics in the YDLA, the DLP, the LaTrobe University Democratic Club and the VSTA. The NCC was a negative influence on the DLP, and I saw that way back in 1973 when it was pushing the “amalgamate with the Country Party” line. The NCC would have closed the Victorian DLP down much earlier than 1978 if it had had the power to do so. It now seems to be working inside the Liberal Party, but that’s another story.

    While not a Marxist – there are still some around, I believe – or even a fan of Marx, I do accept the class basis for politics. In fact at a DLP re-union I got called a communist by one attendee. My point is not that the Liberals have acted in accordance with the short-term interest of business, but that they have been so extreme in doing so.

    I agree with you that Kim Beazley is responsible for the Labor turnaround, and I agree that Kevin Rudd is building on that. I too have to remind myself to avoid over-confidence, because who knows who has had a meeting with an old farmer to write a reference for some dodgy character on stolen electoral office printing credits?

    I also agree with you on the general policy direction that will come out of Kevin Rudd’s office. I think Labor will have a vote-winning policy position in some detail well before the election.

    It took Labor several elections to get a decent education policy in Victoria, but it finally did it. I think we will see the same thing federally, and not just on education. I think we will get a “sit up and take notice” set of policies that John Howard will find very difficult to counter.

  26. Chris/Adam/Hugo,

    I propose the following litmus test for government, can Kevin Rudd get the NSW government (and every other state government) to promise that it will transfer its IR powers lock stock and barrels to the Feds in the event of Rudd winning the election.

    You forget that in NSW there are a heap of right wing unions that rely on a seperate State system for patronage, support, importance. I find it hard to believe they will willingly hand that over.

    Similarly in QLD would Bill Ludwig agree to be part of a federal system?

    The point of the litmus test is can Heavy Kevvie demonstrate that he is independent of unions and that he can impose reforms on the ALP.

    Polls are fluff at the moment you forget that the rodent will keep digging and digging until he has fatally undermined the foundations of Kev’s house of cards and the ALP needs to show it is credible and serious about winning the election.

  27. Adam said

    Edward, no-one will be writing any of Labor’s policy on anything except The Leader and his office. I promise I won’t keep banging on about this, but I did have the opportunity of watching Rudd at fairly close quarters last year, and he is the most driven, focussed, disciplined person I have ever seen. He is a total control freak, and no-one will put forward any policy that he has not seen and approved – and probably rewritten.

    Doesn’t sound very democratic at all. Is the future of politics the clash of dictator types?

  28. The total control of Australia by the Federal Government will lead to a Democratic type dictatorship. We get to choose the dictator. Why are the major parties hell bent to take this step? Why is freedom of speech slowly being eroded? The current governments policies smacks of dictatorship lets hope the opposition don’t go that same path.

    Hitler promoted racism, fixed the economy, had excuses to fight so called terrorism, took power from the states, Disabled the union movement, union leaders jailed, promoted nationalism, made the flag an icon, gave the power to the police to detain people under protection of the State, removed opposition parties etc etc

  29. Edward I’m not sure I understand your post, the High Court, flawed and ridiculous as its reasoning was, has effectively already moved the IR power from the States to the Commonwealth. Why do you suggest moving it again should be a key test of Rudd?

    Oh course the AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY cannot be independent of the unions it is an absurd proposition. The ALP is and always has been the political wing of the labor movement. But your implication that union officers direct, directly, the leader of the opposition is just as absurd – see what Mr Weller says. And on that score, yes I think politics will be dominated at a Federal and State level by the clash of the dictator types. The media doesn’t really allow anything else.

  30. Was just looking at Australian Politics site under heading of psephology and the latest acnelson thread.
    A Mary Guest has doorknocked the suburb of Hawksbury which lies in the marginal seat of Greenway (Lib 3.1%) over the last weekend, here is a copy of her poll sample of 473 homes:-
    Labour 164 34.7%
    Independant 128 27.1%
    Liberal 123 26.0%
    Undecided/Donkey Vote 48 10.2%
    Greens 9 1.9%
    Democrat 1 0.1%
    She goes into detail of what people said to her, very interesting the high ind and undecided vote, what are peoples thoughts on this.

  31. Depending on the independent leanings that seat could go to three candidates the undecided is normal this far out but the green vote is unusually low and no FF as a choice or no votes. seems a strange seat

  32. Hugo, March 12th, 2007 at 11:49 am, spot on. The issues will decide Howard’s fate and those issues are going against him. He maybe able to make some type of U-turn on global warming and Hicks (with much scepticism from joe public) but he can’t change IR and Iraq. IR is the underlying issue that has seen his popularity deminish. The trends behind the polls must be very worrying for the coalition. There comeback from here will depend on Labor doing a Hewson and presenting to the electorate a 200 page suicide note.

  33. Thanks Gary. Yes, now is my opportunity to get some good odds on the Coalition. Because it won’t last. Hey, the Newspoll tomorrow should be interesting though.

  34. Let us not forget that sometimes these changes show no change. lackburnpseph asked about how the two polls could show such a big difference in the green votes. We must remember the statistics of sampling here. If I take a poll with a large sample, I get a certain result with a certain statistical error. So I get a 50% vote for Labor with a 2.6% margin of error. Which means that the “actual” vote is 47.4% to 52.4% However statistics then tell you that this is only with a 95% level of confidence which means that once out of every twenty samples, the figure may be outside the “actual” range.
    So it is quite possible to get 2 different figures, 9% and 5% which are both statistically correct – especially since they are taken on different weekends. The populations are different.
    If you want an example of the 95% confidence – think of that morgan poll which showed a labor landslide days before howard had one. Outriders – they can always happen – you just don’t want one two days before an election.

  35. workchoices are not extreme

    employers arent evil

    we wont be returning to having primary school kids cleaning bottles and having their baby hearts brake

    employers are open about their reluctance to rely on workchoices because they havent been tested in practice

    also the high court actually adhered to precedent (the name escapes me now, but its a 1928 case overruling harvester) the only problem is its against the principle of federalism

    (just helping to balance everything out)

  36. Inclined to agree with Stephen L on the long-term shift theory. Back in the early 1980s when David Kemp was announcing that Fraser had won the culture wars Don Aitkin argued that non-Anglo migration and the leftward shift of women (as they entered the paid workforce) was favouring Labor, unlike the 1950s when social trends were against Labor. 1983-96 confirmed his argument I think and perhaps this trend has continued, you can’t defy political gravity endlessly? Howard’s culture war politics has short-term gains perhaps but in the long-run it may be costly, the current problems of the US Republicans could be a pointer.

  37. Edward,

    As I understand it, the High Court decision has allowed the corporations power to be used to destroy the federal compact, so NSW IR powers are in the main already under federal control. I don’t expect a Labor federal government to hand them back. There is a case for employees not employed by corporations to be covered to.

    One industrial relations system for the country makes sense, but the method of achieving it has been highly damaging to federalism and opens the way for the destruction of the states, a prospect which Liberals may in future be aghast at.

    I do not think it is necessary for Kevin Rudd to be independent of unions. Labor is the party of the unions – no apologies needed.

    Labor does have to develop and present reasonably detailed policies – I believe it will do so.

  38. Yasmine,Chris etc,

    The High Court confirmed corporations are covered by Federal law, however you have a number of state industrial commissions and state governments actively trying to redefine laws to maintain seperate state systems so you have a system where many many employers are unsure as to whether or not they are corporations such as local councils.

    For many employers now they may be:
    a) In the Federal system but unsure if they are still covered by some State laws; or
    b) Unsure as to whether or not they are constitutional corporations

    Unions represent less than 20% of the working age population – surely an ability to seperate himself from the unions is a precondition for Rudd demonstrating he gets it.

  39. Edward,

    Union membership may be down to 20 per cent of the work force, but that does not stop the union party getting 50 per cent plus of the two-party preferred vote in state and territory election after state and territory election. I am the only person in my family who is a union member, but none of the others are anti-union. Outside of committed Liberal supporters, there are very few people hostile to unions. The Labor Party’s union links are not in my view an election issue.

    I have already said I agree with one IR system for the country. My objections are to the Liberals’ version of it and to the use of the corporations power to destroy the plain meaning of the federal constitution’s IR power.

  40. The point Chris is,

    1. Most reasonable people support fairness and the IR system doesnt generate fairness at a reasonable price, ie why spend $100M on state tribunals to give fairness when all you need is a reasonable set of minimum conditions

    2. Most business can live with a simple set of rules, you dont need 8 seperate systems and a law degree to interpret the rules – except you do in Australia.

    That’s why to win the IR war RUDD has to propose something that addresses business concern for a simpler system whilst making some acceptable changes to give people minimum rights.

    I just dont believe Rudd could talk the union boys into handing over their state systems – but thats the way to demonstrate to business he has got the stuff of leadership.

    BTW – No less an authority then John Button called for a union/ ALP divorce – if No1 wife is getting to be a drag on your career why wouldnt u broom her?

  41. bill weller, aren’t you the greens candidate for kingston? maybe you should disclose that on your postings?? we would expect labor/liberal candidates to do it.

  42. Button has obviously forgotten that he owes his ministerial career to a Prime Minister trained up in the union movement and an ALP-unions accord that gave Labor 13 years in office. There’s plenty of juice left in this marriage, Edward. If we’re going to talk about being married to a corpse, look how the Nats are dragging Howard down – AWB, endless porkbarrelling scandals, crazy subsidies to water-guzzling rice and cotton farmers – plain grounds for divorce.

  43. Edward,

    I don’t think Kevin Rudd has to demonstrate anything to business to win the election. The Australian goes on about business and the need for Labor to meet its needs all the time, but it would, wouldn’t it? Politically speaking, I don’t think it matters what the CEOs of Australia think, any more than the Csar’s opinion counted after 1917. In fact, a few wealthy CEOs getting stuck into Labor would be helpful to it.

  44. Don’t underestimate the influence of America. We’ve just seen a wipeout over there, surely some of the sentiment there could have drifted over here? We saw it in 2000-01, and 2004, now the tide seems to be turning.

  45. Goodness me, Chris, quite the Bolshevik, aren’t we? It’s a pretty pass when old Groupers are too left wing for me. Actually Cde Ruddsky will spend quite a lot of time mending fences with business leaders. Most of them are pragmatic enough to know they need to work with Labor governments, but they were very pissed off with the way Latham treated them – cancelled appointments, no-shows at functions etc etc (they didn’t realise he treated everyone like that).

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