You gotta know when to poll ’em

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.

Besides which:

• 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.

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.

2,600 comments on “You gotta know when to poll ’em”

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  1. Finns

    [Of course, no one in Beijing took the U.S. assurance to the bank. Instead, China has been actively investing declining dollars into hard assets, such as oil fields and mineral deposits in Africa, Australia and Latin America.]

    Apart from a good place to hold hard assets, how do you view the overall Chinese attitude to Australia, both from the Chines govt & business?

  2. [2016: Clinton v Huntsman – Huntsman wins.]
    Clinton won’t be running then. She has repeatedly said this is her last term in public office.

    Clinton’s last chance was 2008.

  3. [Older people forced to sell homes to pay for retirement, says survey
    Falling pension incomes and the rising cost of living have led to a rise in the number of older people selling their homes and moving into rental properties in order to fund their retirement, according to latest research.]

    as super returns fall in this neck of the woods this will start to play out in aust as baby boomers sell up to fund their lifestyle

  4. For anyone wanting a detailed academic history of asylum law in Australia tap in REFUGEES IN AUSTRALIA: OF LORE, LEGENDS AND THE JUDICIAL PROCESS by Mary Crock

    The paper was reviewed by two current NSW Court of Appeal judges and Professor Ron McCallum, current Senior Australian of the Year.

    The following extract appears about a judgment from the current Chief Justice of Australia, French CJ when a Federal Court judge:

    “…the greatest evidence in the Tampa litigation of the political pressures at play, however, are the …. comments of French J on the question of whether the government’s actions were rendered unlawful by the fact that there was no legislative basis for what occurred. His Honour suggested that the nature of the executive power conferred on the government under the Australian Constitution may be such that legislation was not needed to render lawful any actions taken to protect Australia’s borders. Amidst the flurry of legislative change on 26 September 2001, French J’s comments did not go unnoticed by government drafters. The amendments to the Migration Act 1958 included a new s 7A which confirms the power of the Executive to act outside of any legislative authority. The new section reads:

    “The existence of a statutory power under this Act does not prevent the exercise of any executive power of the Commonwealth to protect Australia’s borders, including, where necessary, by ejecting persons who have crossed those borders.”

    In referring to ‘persons’, s 7A makes no distinction between citizens and foreigners.”

  5. Leroy,

    China and Chinese always have positive and friendly view towards Australia because Australia (via Gough) was one of the first country to recognise Beijing when it first started to open up after the cultural revolution. Especially, the support of Australia for its One China Policy.

    China also respects the strong Australia’s labour and union tradition. I remember in late 70s when one of the Chinese Minister came here and made a comment that: “Australia is the kind of egalitarian society that we were trying to build”.

    Ahhh, of course Australia has moved on then, it is no longer the egalitarian society once it was.

    Just dont go on lecturing Beijing, especially on its unity and stability.

  6. [“The existence of a statutory power under this Act does not prevent the exercise of any executive power of the Commonwealth to protect Australia’s borders, including, where necessary, by ejecting persons who have crossed those borders.”]


  7. [How old would Clinton be in 2016? Would she be considered too old?]
    69. That’s too old.

    I don’t mean too old for her to do the job, I mean too old to win a general election.

    I don’t think the Reagan precedent applies, because he was a man, I suspect voters will be much harsher on a n old woman than an old man.

    I wonder if any betting agencies would take a bet on her becoming the first female President? I think she has a better chance than her mum.

  8. shows


    actually there is a bit of a push for her at the grassroots level

    mumma has been slowly introducing her to the circuit

    plus she is gen y to a tee

  9. Carey

    [2012: Obama v Romney – Obama wins

    2016: Clinton v Huntsman – Huntsman wins.]

    I agree with the first but not the second.

    Hillary looks dog tired and I think she’s given her all already. Five years is a long way off.

  10. Here is how Phillip Ruddock liked the separation of powers to operate (again with thanks to Mary Crock).

    “Refugee claimants in Australia have had the right to appeal negative status determinations to an ‘independent’ administrative tribunal since 1993. However, the change seems to have done little to diminish the government’s micro-management approach to refugee protection. The present Minister (Ruddock) has been very vocal in his criticisms of both the Refugee Review Tribunal and the Courts when rulings by either body conflict with his understanding of the law. As Shadow Immigration Minister in 1992, Mr Ruddock supported the first attempt to constrain the judicial review of migration decisions by referring specifically to the High Court’s ruling in Chan Yee Kin. He said:

    “When we look at the creative way in which the High Court of Australia got into the business of determining refugee claims, when it was always intended that these should be administrative matters dealt with by the government of the day, we can appreciate that the government by allowing the ADJR Act to continue in this area was creating a rod for its own back. It has always seemed to me and I have argued this strongly, that the role of the courts collectively in this area has brought about a significant problem for the government of the day.”

    In 1997, [Ruddock] warned Refugee Review Tribunal members publicly that they should not expect their contracts to be renewed if they purported to ‘re-invent’ the definition of refugee (by recognising that a woman victim of domestic violence could be a refugee). (Unelected) judges interpreting the law in a manner contrary to the (elected) Minister’s understanding have been charged with subverting the ‘will of the people’.”

  11. [How old would Clinton be in 2016? Would she be considered too old?]

    69 is electable and a lot of Democrats love her.

    Nobody ever completely rules out running for President.

  12. [actually there is a bit of a push for her at the grassroots level

    mumma has been slowly introducing her to the circuit

    plus she is gen y to a tee]
    Yeah, and she’s really hot.

  13. BK:

    Connie FW can be as nasty as Mirabella. In FW’s favour however is that she is marginally more coherent than Sophie.

  14. [69 is electable and a lot of Democrats love her.

    Nobody ever completely rules out running for President.]
    I don’t think 69 is electable for a woman. I think there is a double standard that old men are considered wise, while old women are considered worn out.

    I don’t think that relates at all to Clinton’s abilities, I think it is just a perception many people have.

    There will probably be many more Democratic up and comers between now and 2016 anyway.

  15. [tho realistically she would be better placed for 2020]
    I think that would be too early, she’ll only be 40 then. That would make her younger than JFK and Teddy R.

    2024 is probably the first possible election for her.

    But who knows? U.S. Demographics would’ve changed a lot by then, a young Democratic candidate may have a huge advantage over other contenders.

  16. shows

    i think it was some future site, where i read a quite reasonable article that said the next prez will be largely a facebook construct

    the next prez bit was post 2016

    when a pug was elected (male)

  17. Interesting line from a tweeter…”Lucky for the boat people there was a Labor govt in power. High Court judges rarely do anything to upset their Tory mates.”
    Oh the quality of the comment, then its off to the gentlemens club chaps for a few quaffs.Tip top don’t you know.

  18. Thefinnigans TheFinnigans
    Kelly, you idiot – looks at the beautiful set of numbers… #qanda
    1 minute ago

  19. [The last time I saw a mouth like O’Dwyer’s it had a hook in it!]

    BK, i could go on but i will hold my tongue

  20. If O’Dwyer says she believes in smaller government, why does she support the Coalition’s policy of adding an extra 2.5% tax on big companies to pay for a socialist paid maternity leave scheme?

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