The Australian reports the latest Newspoll records both parties down on the primary vote, the Coalition by one to 38% and Labor by two to 37%, making room for the debut appearance of Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party on 5%. The Greens and One Nation are both unchanged, at 9% and 4% respectively. The two-party preferred headline moves a point in favour of the Coalition, from 52-48 to 51-49 – a lot more on that shortly.
Movements on personal ratings are slightly to Bill Shorten’s favour – he is up two on approval to 39% and steady on disapproval at 51%, and his 45-37 deficit on preferred prime minister is an improvement on his 46-35 in the last poll. Scott Morrison is steady on approval at 45% and up two on disapproval to 46%. Respondents were also asked which leader they most trusted to keep their campaign promises, with Morrison very slightly favoured over Shorten by 41% to 38%. The poll was conducted from Friday to Sunday, with Thursday dropped from the usual field work period because of the public holiday, from a larger than usual sample of 2136, the norm being around 1700.
Beyond that, there is a good deal to unpack. This is the first time a result for the United Australia Party has been published, but the tables in The Australian today reveal the party was on 3% in the poll a fortnight ago, and 2% in the poll the week before that. As Peter Brent discusses in Inside Story, pollsters have an important decision to make in deciding whether to include a minor party in the primary question, or saving it for those who choose “other” out of an initial list – a decision that will have a bearing on their result. I assume the publication of the UAP result in the latest poll marks its elevation from the second tier to the first, but the publication of the earlier results may suggest otherwise.
Then there’s the two-party preferred, which raised eyebrows as the primary votes are of a kind that would normally be associated with 52-48. The answer, it turns out, is that a preference split of 60-40 in favour of the Coalition is being applied to the UAP vote. The rationale is explained in an accompanying piece by David Briggs, managing director of YouGov Galaxy, which conducts Newspoll. First, Briggs confirms this is also what it has been doing with One Nation preferences since the start of last year, earlier statements having been less exact. Of the decision to extend this to Palmer:
With the UAP there is no historical trend data we can refer to in order to estimate the likely preference flow to the major parties. We do know, however, that in the 2013 election 53.67 per cent of the Palmer United Party vote was directed to Coalition candidates. That was without a preference deal, but in the forthcoming federal election the Liberal Party will swap preferences with the UAP and this can only result in an even higher proportion of UAP votes being directed to the Coalition.
In point of fact though, the Palmer United Party’s approach to preferences in 2013 was to put Labor last in every seat (as best as I can tell — its how-to-vote cards are preserved here). I don’t believe this arose from a deal as such, and it didn’t seem to attract any publicity at that time. However, the fact remains that every Palmer United voter who followed the card ended up in the Coalition’s two-party preferred tally, which is no different from the situation at the election to come.
Briggs also points to the party breakdowns from the aforementioned question on leader most trusted to deliver on campaign promises, which found Morrison to be favoured 53-13 among UAP voters – a significant lead, even accounting for the fact that there would only have been around 100 UAP voters out of the poll sample.
The Newspoll preference split may well be vindicated in time, but for now it’s merely a hypothesis. The dynamics of Palmer’s preferences could actually prove rather complex, if the Western Australian election of 2017 is any guide. The Liberals cut a deal with One Nation in that campaign, and they indeed got a bigger cut of their preferences, from the roughly 50-50 split of the 2016 election (out of the 15 lower house seats the party contested) to 60.6%.
However, this may have had less to do with how-to-vote cards than the backlash One Nation suffered as a result of the deal, which the polls of the time indicated had cost them as much as a third of their existing support – presumably among the kind of voter most likely to preference Labor. Since the Liberals were tainted by the deal as well, nobody doubts that it backfired on them, despite its “success” in delivering a higher share of preferences from a diminished One Nation.
As Labor prepares a rhetorical onslaught against Scott Morrison over the Clive Palmer deal, we may well be about to see a similar dynamic play out federally. However, this too is merely a hypothesis. The bottom line is that extrapolating two-party preferred from primary votes right now unavoidably involves an uncomfortable amount of guess work. For better or worse though, the BludgerTrack poll aggregate will continue to be guided by previous election results in allocating preferences – and, notably, the addition of the Newspoll numbers has made almost no difference to it.
The table below compares the results from Newspoll model with two alternative approaches that might have been taken. The results are imprecise in that they rely on the rounded primary votes published by Newspoll, but it’s nonetheless worth noting that the Newspoll method gives Labor 51.4%, suggesting the headline figure was likely rounded in their favour. The next two columns along, under “Past election: A”, apply UAP preferences using Palmer United’s 53.7-46.3 split from 2013, and One Nation’s using the almost 50-50 split from 2016. The last two columns, “Past election: B”, are how it would go if the UAP was treated as just another component of “others”, and thus given the almost 50-50 split such votes followed in 2016.
|Newspoll method||Past election: A||Past election: B|