Of boats and votes

Nielsen struck a blow for transparency yesterday by releasing comprehensive data for their polling on asylum seekers, featuring detail on the questions and how they were asked, breakdowns by state, location, gender, age and voting intention, and no fewer than eight tables cross-tabulating various results for the eight questions asked. They even went so far as to include the raw numbers they reached after weighting the responses for age, gender and location, not that this particularly tells us much.

The poll also deserves credit for posing thoughtfully crafted questions on a complex and contentious subject. No doubt taking inspiration from Murray Goot and Ian Watson’s recent paper on public opinion and asylum seekers, which noted that results had been heavily influenced by “the way questions are framed, the kinds of questions that precede these questions (and) the range of possible responses the questions allow”, the Nielsen report offered the following:

It is important to note that the results of opinion polls on this issue are more sensitive to the wording of the questions asked than for many other topics. This is because the issues are often emotional for some and complicated for all. Respondent knowledge on this subject is never complete. The task of adequately condensing complex options into fair but meaningful questions is also a difficult one.

The questions in this poll were stripped of their political context as much as possible. For example the ‘sent to another country to be assessed’ option was not offered in the context of deterrence, nor was any human or financial cost alluded to. It was not offered as Labor or Coalition policy (e.g. by calling it the ‘Malaysian solution’ or the ‘Pacific solution’).

The Fairfax papers asserted that the poll showed voters “at odds with both Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott and the perception that attitudes have hardened against asylum seekers”, and certainly the figures point to a more liberal attitude than the tenor of political debate would suggest. However, The Age gilded the lily a little with a graphic showing 60 per cent believed those assessed as genuine refugees should be allowed to stay in Australia permanently. It takes a bit of digging to appreciate that this excludes the 15 per cent who didn’t believe the asylum seekers should be assessed at all, having preferred that they be “sent out to sea”. The number supporting settlement in Australia was nonetheless a very solid 49 per cent, although there remained a combined 44 per cent in favour of the less liberal options of temporary protection visas (29 per cent support) and sending boats back out to sea (15 per cent). The same issue occurs with The Age’s figures for whether boat arrivals should be held in detention (64 per cent) or allowed into the community (32 per cent): putting the aforementioned 15 per cent back in (together with the 4 per cent “other/don’t know“), the results come down to 52 per cent and 26 per cent.

Regarding the treatment of asylum seekers on arrival, the results can be broken down thus:

22% – Allowed to live in the Australian community
12% – Detained in Australia, excluding children
17% – Detained in Australia, including children
4% – Sent to another country, allowed to live in community there
23% – Sent to another country and detained there
4% – Assessed for refugee status, no opinion on detention
15% – No assessment for refugee status: sent back out to sea
4% – Other/don’t know

And on their treatment after being assessed for refugee status:

49% – Settled in Australia
29% – Granted temporary protection visas
2% – Returned to country of origin
15% – No assessment for refugee status: sent back out to sea
5% – Other/don’t know

To those who are ready to junk the orthodox view on this subject, I would offer a few notes of caution. Certainly there was no majority in favour of assessing refugee status in Australia at the time of the Tampa episode, when Nielsen and Morgan polls had between 68 per cent and 77 per cent in favour of turning boats away. It is hardly plausible that so many of these respondents have had changes of heart that only 15 per cent now remain. What it likely shows is how the finer point of public opinion on this issue are shaped by the terms of the debate at the time. The symbolism in August/September 2001 involved boats being either allowed to land or held at bay by the military – only as the Howard government scrambled to effect its “Pacific solution” was the public alerted to the fact that the latter course only constituted half a policy. This may have led to a change in questions posed and answers given in opinion polls, but it doesn’t follow that there was a shift in underlying attitudes.

This leads to a point that occurs to me about the wording of Nielsen’s “sent to another country to be assessed” option: for many respondents, Nauru might not register as “another country” in the sense that Malaysia does, as it is perceived either as a dependency of Australia or too insigificant to qualify as a “country”. This option may accordingly have been interpreted by some as an invitation to sign on for the Malaysia solution. If Nielsen had at least added enough political context to allow for the restoration of the Pacific solution as a response option, the poll may have told a somewhat different story.

UPDATE (22/8): Crikey reports the latest Essential Research has Labor up a point on two-party preferred (to 56-44 from 57-43) and also on the primary vote, to 32 per cent, with the Coalition and the Greens steady on 50 per cent and 10 per cent. In other findings, 24 per cent support the health package finalised by government last month against 9 per cent opposed, with the great majority either indifferent (31 per cent said it would have little or no impact) or ignorant (28 per cent said they had heard nothing, 36 per cent little). Forty-seven per cent supported David Cameron’s suggestion that access to Twitter and Facebook be blocked during periods of civil unrest, with support varying as you would expect according to age and social media usage.

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.

6,550 comments on “Of boats and votes”

Comments Page 1 of 131
1 2 131
  1. It’s all very well to de-politicise an issue by asking bland, non politically contaminated questions about opinion, but unfortunately – as we have seen with the ETS and Carbion Tax issues – when the fecal matter hits the fan it can go either left or right, but not straight through. The Australian knee jerk reflex is very well developed.

    So there may appear to be a softer heart out there towards asylum seekers, but when the punters get whipped up during, say, an election campaign, hardening of the arteries always sets in.

    To me, this poll is the equivalent of that SBS TV show, where anti-refugee types were introduced to refugees and their situations personally – no Abbott or Morrison barking in the background. They knew they were on TV and that people, their friends and rellies, might be watching. So their better angels came forth. For a few of them, the epiphany stuck. For others, it didn’t.

    The only solution to this problem is for both political parties to agree on a bi-partisan approach and stick to it. But with Abbott around, that ain’t gonna happen.

    If Labor takes a lesson from this poll and goes all gooey and introspective, the Coalition is sure to see an opportunity. Voters will turn up to their local school hall on voting day with an Abbott three-worder in their ears, telling them it’s OK to be anti-boats, not the nice Mr. Stanton from Nielsen asking questions in the strictest confidence.

    If anything, this poll shows that there is possibly a chance that a bi-partisan approach will work. The public is a potentially fallow field for decency, but if the Coalition sows weeds instead of corn, public opinion will remain a wasteland on the subject, just as it is today.

    It has always been true of Australia that politicians get between a dinkum wowser and some poor bastard they see as worse off than themselves at their definite peril.

  2. So were ‘Mordor’ and ‘Young Jimbo’ telling ‘porkies’ to the House of Commons? A 4 year old letter that has just come to light suggests just exactly that. Explosive stuff;

    [Rupert Murdoch, James Murdoch and their former editor Andy Coulson all face embarrassing new allegations of dishonesty and cover-up after the publication of an explosive letter written by the News of the World’s disgraced royal correspondent, Clive Goodman.

    In the letter, which was written four years ago but published only on Tuesday, Goodman claims that phone hacking was “widely discussed” at editorial meetings at the paper until Coulson himself banned further references to it; that Coulson offered to let him keep his job if he agreed not to implicate the paper in hacking when he came to court; and that his own hacking was carried out with “the full knowledge and support” of other senior journalists, whom he named.

    The claims are acutely troubling for the prime minister, David Cameron, who hired Coulson as his media adviser on the basis that he knew nothing about phone hacking. And they confront Rupert and James Murdoch with the humiliating prospect of being recalled to parliament to justify the evidence which they gave last month on the aftermath of Goodman’s allegations. In a separate letter, one of the Murdochs’ own law firms claim that parts of that evidence were variously “hard to credit”, “self-serving” and “inaccurate and misleading”.]

  3. I don’t think people can read too much into polls like this.

    When you are asked face to face in relation to an issue like this, you are more likely to give the politically correct answer

  4. Good comment Bill, and good post William. I hope its read by others outside regukar PB readers. I would not expect the heat to go out of this issue at any time with any policy change. I still think the AS issue has mainly been a vote influencer for those against accepting “boat people”, rather than those in favour.

  5. The daily Beast on the NOTW letter…


    [Murdoch’s Damning Letter

    Clive Goodman was called a ‘rogue’ hacker at News of the World, but in a newly revealed letter he says the paper’s top editors condoned it. William Underhill on the possible smoking gun.

    Aug 16, 2011 1:07 PM EDT

    When Clive Goodman was jailed for phone hacking back in 2007, his employers were quick to disown him. To his bosses at News International, the royal editor of the News of the World was a “rogue reporter” who had authorized a private investigator to intercept voice messages without their knowledge. Goodman, dismissed for “gross misconduct,” had acted alone.

    Try telling that to investigators now. Documents published today by M.P.s looking into the hacking scandal appear to blow an irreparable hole in the company’s already threadbare defense. A letter written by Goodman four years ago suggests that not only was phone hacking widespread at the Murdoch-owned tabloid, but also that it was well known to senior staff, and that the newspaper attempted to buy his silence in court.]

  6. For once I agree with Dovif!

    [When you are asked face to face in relation to an issue like this, you are more likely to give the politically correct answer]

    All this poll shows – eschewing politically-loaded questions as it does – is what might be possible, not practical reality.

    Practical reality does include politicians calling on the faithful to suspend their virtue for the cause. The ETS showed how a seemingly impregnable 85% across-the-board support for Carbon Pricing can evaporate when partisanship’s siren sound was heard.

  7. As for Qantas, they operate in a global economy, if their cost structure is much higher then their competitors in China/Singapore/Dubai/US etc, they will eventually be driven out of business. It was only 20 years ago that every 2nd international flight out of Australia was Qantas, now it is 1 in 5.

    As for Qantas setting up an airline overseas. It was only 2 years ago, that Kevin Rudd allowed direct flight to the US for Singapore Airline through Australia, which allow them to set up in Australia with Cheaper labour. so I see no issues for Qantas setting up airlines overseas to compete with Singapore. You could even suggest that Qantas was forced to set up overseas because of the ALP’s policies

  8. Morning all. Interesting to see the NOTW letter. If current Australian (and UK) politicians don’t use this once-in-a-career opportunity to muzzle Murdoch’s power with a judicial inquiry followed by any appropriate criminal charges, then they will be damned. Labor here has nothing to lose by it; lets hope the reported recent meeting between Julia Gillard and Newscorp does not represent any delusional attempt to negotiate some short term advantage instead. Any such Newscorp promise is worth about as much as the one they made John Goodman.

  9. Yet another example of the appallingly bad standards of financial administration at our nation’s universities, this time at Sydney. The average public servant would be sacked for this sort of conflict of interest, but Mr Demirilay said he would “see it out”.
    [A UNIVERSITY of Sydney manager who allegedly influenced the awarding of hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of IT contracts to a recruitment company he owned is being investigated by the corruption watchdog ICAC, past and present university staff have told Fairfax Media.

    Atilla Demiralay, a former desktop services manager who worked in a section of the IT department at the university for about five years, resigned from his job in June as an ICAC investigation got under way.]

    The ongoing failure of Liberal and Labor governments to reform archaic university management strictures does neither any credit.

  10. The Barry O’Farrell version:

    [The ongoing failure of Liberal and Labor governments to reform archaic university management strictures does neither any credit.]

    This is easy.

  11. Good morning, fellow Bludgers.

    It was fun watching the Elderly Bogans, the 4WD-Crashing Bogan and the Slogan Bogan all going hell for leather on the TV news last night.

    I hope they keep it up, because sensible people everywhere – particularly the small ‘l’ Liberals – would have been horrified. Every time they have a rowdy protest, ably assisted by our opportunistic, policy-free Opposition, it reminds the electorate that we are only one Twitter feed/Facebook account away from what happened in London.

    Meanwhile, the Government are just getting on with the job of governing …

  12. [Any such Newscorp promise is worth about as much as the one they made John Goodman.]

    Yes, that is true.

    While they negotiated the Super League (precursor to NRL) deal in one room, in the next room they had teams of lawyers going through the fine print they had written themselves.

    Loopholes were rather easy to find as a result.

  13. morning bludgers

    For those of you who missed Lateline last night. Here is interview with Tony Windsor regarding Coal seam gas mining. He will be introducing a Bill on this matter. This issue is fast becoming a defining one in this Parliament

  14. [Just when i thought Palin was bad enough, there is Michelle Bachmann. What the heck is going on??]
    I presume they are running Bachmann to make Palin look sane and balanced by comparison.

    Seriously though, have you seen figures for the % of people who believe in literal biblical creationism in the states Bachmann is popular in? The majority of mid-western America has no more sane a world view than the average Islamic militant in Iran. The real challenge for Bachmann will be if her popularity holds in states that still have a functional education system. Hopefully for the world, it won’t.

  15. No doubt many here are aware of John Quiggan’s blog, which I highly recommend. he has had several recent run-ins with the Murdoch press, which is an endorsement in itself. He has an excellent discussion here of the social disadvantages caused by rising inequality in the USA. Obviously, the same lessons apply here. Again, lets hope not too many of our politicians are in the income top 1%, though we can all think of a few on both sides.

  16. [I hope they keep it up, because sensible people everywhere – particularly the small ‘l’ Liberals – would have been horrified.]

    Don’t know about horrified, but certainly left with a sense of unease.

    The SMH wrote this demo up as being mostly peaceful and respectful. I didn’t see it that way. There was real hatred out there. When one of the anti-CT demonstrators remonstrated with a pro-CT person he said,

    “You’re one of the idiots who voted for this bitch,”

    as he wrenched her sign away and pushed her off.

    It was all on ABC TV.

    The two anti-CT people fighting over a “Ditch The Witch” sign wasn’t all that savoury, either, as were Abbott’s mealy-mouthed weasel words saying he didn’tnecessarily agree with “some” of the placards.

    But, to me, August is a long way from March. The widespread vituperation and the whole sense of yesterday being a replay of the first – The Angry Mob II: This Time It’s REALLY Personal – was somehow anachronistic. I remember thinking “We’re past this aren’t we? Are we still denying the science?”

    All they seem to have left is “Ju-LIAR”. A pollie told a lie (in reality not a lie, but a failure to forsee a hung parliament) and the protestors reckon they can keep up their angst at this for two more years? With Abbott – the self-confessed exaggerator and misleader, the king of thought bubbles who’s told us we only believe him if it’s written down – as the paragon of virtue on the other side? I don’t think so.

    And while the CT rage is “maintained”, other issues vital to their age group – health, pensions, disability policy – go unattended in some kind of “Don’t worry, Tony’ll fix everything,” dreamworld?

    Nah… doesn’t compute to me.

    As even the dimmest and the angriest come to realise they are not paying the tax themselves, and have been reasonably compensated (some over-compensated), that other issues need attention to be paid to them, and (hopefully) that they have been manipulated rather cynically by the shadowy organizers of rallies such as yesterdays, the heat will go out of much of this No Tax movement.

    It’s already getting a little furry around the edges. All that organization over the last couple of months, those phone ins, the buses that had to be organized, the air time given over by Chris Smith and Rad Hadley, the time wasted… was done for about 60 seconds on one single day’s news reports. And what the viewers saw was a lot of angry people, spitting and brawling (even with each other), behaving as if tomorrow they were going to start smashing shopfront windows.

  17. The best question being asked of Hockey at the moment is: “If you want an election tomorrow, are your economic policies ready for a campaign?”

    Hockey’s non-answers are a sight to behold.

    Even Uhlmann asked it.

    Pillow talk, I guess.

  18. Socrates
    My head hurts whenever I contemplate what is happening in the US with the Republicans, the South, the Midwest and the evangelical.

  19. [That was made on the basis of threatened species. So what this would do is broaden that in relation to water.] quote from tony windsor re victorias link

    victoria it seem so, i agree with you, i think i understand but,
    do you know I was not aware that this would never be taken in to consideration in the first place, it was really you and BB that drew my attention to it in the first place.

    so does this mean the mining of coal and other minerals may not in the future take precedent over farming it seems BB and TW have been chatting and even the PM<
    they have wedged abbott, as first he screamed out something similar with out thinking it through then when the law and the mining issues where pointed out changed his mind.
    ( re the dumb interview in WA on a street corner} so the Farmers in mr windsor area would be more happy with this that giving their land up for mining, and also its preserving good farming land we could use in the future.
    so i would say that the gov, with discussions with the ind. will put this bill through.

    abbott which way now will he jump as he said NO then NO to both lots,

    thats what you get for trying to be all things to all people, even the people call to rally yesterday could be farmers but i do really doubt that actually.

    so do i have this right or am i reading this incorrectly.

  20. BB

    Yes, the cost and effort for the anti mob to get 60 seconds of a news grab was hardly a win, this mob look bitter and twisted. That is about the size of it.

    The real sleeper is csg mining. It is a minefield (pardon the pun) for both Labor and Liberals.

  21. my say

    I am not clear on all aspects of coal mining issue. Windsor is not against it. He wants to ensure that any mining that is conducted especially on prime land, is not going to damage the water table under the ground and thereby destroying the rich soil. He wants legislation that ensures that the land is protected from damage that can be caused by this type of mining.

  22. [Pillow talk, I guess.]

    Or reading PB. Was it you or Boerwar who wondered at the time of his budget reply fiasco why no journalist had bothered to ask either him or Abbott that question. It also applies to their policies they were supposed to release on 1 July this year. What happened to them?

  23. my say

    Politically will there be bi partisan support on this issue. The Greens, Nats, Indies all want some serious protections in place. Question is what will Labor and Libs do?

  24. [GrogsGamut I do RT @abcthedrum: @GrogsGamut shares his experiences at yesterday’s No Carbon Tax Rally bit.ly/pUZuGm
    about 1 hour ago]

  25. [The real sleeper is csg mining. It is a minefield (pardon the pun) for both Labor and Liberals.]

    My preferred option would be for Labor to step in and consolidate the various positions – miners v. farmers, Greens v. Coalition, Lib Premiers v. Labor Federals – if they could, say at COAG.

    I’d like to see Abbott or O’Farrell say “NO!” to that. They’d either have to agree with Labor or agree with the Greens. Either way would be a bad look for them.

    But if the Libs’ natural reluctance to do anything but whine and carp (offering no alternatives) prevails, then I guess a group hug won’t be happening anytime soon.

  26. On the issue of AS polling, perhaps this Neilsen will be the catalyst for other pollsters to introduce more accurately-framed questions on the issue in their future polls? In much the same way that Essential showed how accurately-framed questions on the CT, including the compensation gave more reliable indicator of public support for carbon pricing.

  27. The gag might not get up, but what’s happened in the past is that it uses up all of the time allowed for speaking to the motion, so it works as a gag anyway.

  28. [36 victoria
    Posted Wednesday, August 17, 2011 at 8:52 am | Permalink
    Here is Grog in The Drum


    the people grog writes about are truly a sad delusional lot,

    so sad isnt it, love to ask them if they spent their given cheque re the gfc or did they hand it back, do they know there was no pension increase over and above the inflation indexation of the pension for 11 long years

    bet they dont, and when abbott closes and sells medicare what then, ect

    what a lot of sad individuals
    let hope they dont represent to many normal australians, and that seeing this behaviour on the media makes a lot of people think where the country may be headed.

Comments are closed.

Comments Page 1 of 131
1 2 131