No Morgan poll this week, so I’ll instead relate the results of the latest semi-regular (about three times a year) Australian National University Social Research Centre phone survey of around 1200 respondents on a range of matters other than voting intention, conducted between April 27 and May 10. The special subject chosen for this survey was gambling, and it found 74 per cent support for mandatory pre-commitment measures as advocated by Andrew Wilkie, with 70 per cent expressing agreement that gambling should be more tightly controlled (so at least 4 per cent offered the counter-intuitive response that they favoured the former but not the latter). Against this, 42 per cent took the view that the government has no right to restrict a person’s gambling. There were slightly fewer supporters for mandatory pre-commitment among those who identified as regular gamblers, but they were still in a substantial majority.
As always, respondents were also asked to nominate the first and second most important problems facing Australia today, and to rate their satisfaction with how the country is heading on a five-point scale. The latter question produced almost identical results to the previous survey: 51 per cent satisfied and 12 per cent very satisfied, against only 20 per cent dissatisfied and 7 per cent very dissatisfied. The most important problems question is best examined from a long view: the following chart adds responses for most important to second most important for six of the issues canvassed, going back to the first such survey in early 2008.
By far the outstanding feature is a GFC-inspired spike in economy/jobs which washed out of the system at around the time Labor’s federal poll numbers began to tank. The scale of this obscures some of the trends in other categories: a steady descent in environment from 30 per cent to the high teens, an escalation in immigration from barely into double figures to its present place in the low thirties, and an apparently mounting concern traceable, it seems, to the first half of last year that government should be, in whatever sense, better.
Another recent poll result that has so far gone unmentioned here is from Essential Research, which occasionally holds back on questions from its regular polling for exclusive use by the Ten Network. This one is yet another humiliating leadership poll for Julia Gillard, who trails Kevin Rudd 37 per cent to 12 per cent on the question of preferred Labor leader. The commonly raised objection that such figures are skewed by mischievous Coalition supporters is dealt with by the fact that Rudd leads by 43 per cent to 31 per cent even among Labor supporters. Speaking of mischief, Malcolm Turnbull and Bob Brown were also thrown into the mix, respectively scoring 11 per cent and 3 per cent. However, it’s hard to say exactly what respondents were making of their inclusion: Turnbull was far behind Rudd among Coalition voters, and Brown was far behind both Rudd and Gillard among Greens voters. Of the Labor also-rans, Stephen Smith recorded 7 per cent, Greg Combet 2 per cent and Bill Shorten 1 per cent.
The parliamentary library has published a paper by Murray Goot and Ian Watson with the self-explanatory title, Population, immigration and asylum seekers: patterns in Australian public opinion. Exhaustively reviewing public opinion measurement dating back to the late 1970s, they find that while opposition to immigration has increased since 2005, it is still lower than it was in the 1980s and the early 1990s. The fall in the intervening period is put down to declining unemployment, while the rise since has been driven by boat arrivals. Opposition to immigration is nonetheless found to be primarily environmentally rather than economically motivated though racial motivation is, it seems, placed in pollsters’ too-hard baskets. The archetype of the immigration opponent is Australian-or-British born, of low income and education, and lives in public housing though in defiance of other stereotypes, they are more likely to be female than male, and as likely to live in inner as outer metropolitan areas.
Fairfax economics writer Peter Martin reviews the literature on that hottest of topics, the impact of media partisanship on voting behaviour. His broad conclusion is that while newspapers have very little impact, television and radio are different.
Antony Green examines data on above-the-line voting patterns for the Legislative Council at the recent-ish New South Wales state election. The system here differs from the Senate in that voters can sequentially number as many parties as they choose above-the-line, after which their vote exhausts. Voters are thus spared the farce of having their preferences allocated in full by their one nominated party. The figures show that despite the different rules, voters continue to follow habits acquired from the Senate, with 82.2 per cent voting for one party above the line: 15.6 per cent numbered multiple parties above the line, with the remaining 2.2 per cent voting below the line. Antony reckons that if this system were adopted for the Senate, the high number of exhausted votes would make the filling of the final Senate seat in each state a regular lottery rather than the occasional lottery under the current group ticket voting system. However, I can’t see this myself: looking at the last two elections, each state elected four to five Senators off quotas derived from the primary vote, and after that major party and Greens candidates had easily enough in the way of surpluses to see off any micro-party chancers who might have been in the race for the final one or two seats (I await to hear where I’ve gone wrong here). However, double dissolution elections would be a different matter.
Ben Raue at New Matilda and Peter Brent at Mumble review the Mike Rann situation. The timing may remain farcically up in the air, but the smart money says that South Australia will sooner or later be looking at simultaneous by-elections for Rann’s seat of Ramsay and his former deputy Kevin Foley’s seat of Port Adelaide. Defeat in both would cut the government’s majority from five seats to one: luckily for them, the respective margins are 18.0 per cent and 12.8 per cent. However, safe seats often prove the most vulnerable to high-profile independents, and Antony points to Max James (who polled 11.0 per cent at the election last year) and Port Adelaide-Enfield mayor Gary Johanson as possible contenders in Port Adelaide. A Liberal strategy of boosting independent challengers by declining to field a candidate is complicated by the fact that the swing they require there is not quite beyond the realms of possibility.
If having the government’s majority chipped away through by-election defeats doesn’t do it for you, Family First MLC Robert Brokenshire is introducing a bill to the South Australian parliament allowing for early recall elections in the event that a petition calling for one is signed by 150,000 people within 30 days of its initiation.
Malcolm Mackerras reviews some election timing history in Crikey. Also from Mackerras: a month or two ago I raised an eyebrow when he professed himself quite confident in predicting there will be no by-elections during the current term, since Members of Parliament do not die these days. On July 6 he offered a follow-up in the Canberra Times, which fleshed out the point that deaths of sitting parliamentarians have become a lot less common:
The essential reason is the generosity these days of parliamentary superannuation schemes and the ease with which former politicians get good jobs post-politics. In the past the typical politician expected to fail in the employment market post-politics. Since parliamentary salaries were good there was a great incentive for the politician to stay in his seat for as long as possible. Also medical advances mean that longer lives are now normal. A current Labor member in any of about 30 marginal seats killed in a car crash would, of course, wreck the Gillard Government. Surely Labor could not win a by-election in such a circumstance. However, such an occurrence is very unlikely.
UPDATE (8/7/11): Bernard Keane at Crikey reports Essential Research has the Coalition gaining a point on two-party preferred for the second week in a row, now leading 57-43. On the primary vote the Coalition has gained a point to 50 per cent and Labor is down one to 30 per cent. In the event of another global financial crisis, 43 per cent would more trust the Coalition to handle it against 27 per cent for Labor. Also:
The survey also revealed remarkable levels of ignorance about the numbers of asylum seekers coming to Australia. 36% of voters believe that the number of asylum seekers arriving by boat has “increased a lot” in the past 12 months, and 26% say it has “increased a little”, with 20% saying numbers have stayed the same. Only 7% of voters believe the number of asylum seekers has fallen. When told that the number of asylum seekers arriving by boat has fallen by more than half this year, the proportion of people “very concerned” about asylum seekers falls from 43% to 33% and those “a little” or “not at all” concerned goes from from 30% to 39%.
UPDATE 2: Full Essential Research report here.