Foreign affairs and Senate preferences

A comprehensive new survey on attitudes to foreign affairs, and deeper-than-ever dive into Senate voting and the preference question.

We’re still yet to have a new poll of federal voting intention after the election, for whatever that may still be worth, but I would imagine Newspoll will be breaking its drought to mark next week’s resumption of parliament. We do, however, have one of the Lowy Institute’s occasional surveys on attitudes to foreign affairs, the results of which are attractively presented on the organisation’s website.

The headline topic of the poll is Sino-American relations, and the results point to a sharp decline in trust towards China, which a clear majority of respondents rated the “world’s leading economic power”. Even clearer majorities, of around three-quarters, believed China was pursuing regional domination, and that Australia should do more to resist its military activities even if it affected our too-close economic relationship.

However, the poll also finds a further decline in trust in the United States, to add to the body-blow it took when Donald Trump was elected. Of particular interest here are the age breakdowns. Whereas there was little to distinguish the age cohorts in their positive view of the US on Obama’s watch, respondents in their youth and early middle-age now take a substantially more negative view than older ones.

Relatedly, the highly negative and worsening view of Trump personally, while evident across all age cohorts, is most pronounced among the young. This carries through to a head-to-head question on whether respondents should prioritise strong relations with the United States or China, with a majority of those aged 18-30 favouring China, and a large majority of the 60-plus cohort favouring the United States.

Beyond that, the survey offers no end of interesting material:

• Respondents were asked about their satisfaction with democracy – which, one often reads, is in freefall throughout the western world, particularly among the young. However, the Lowy Institute’s yearly tracking of this question going back to 2012 doesn’t show any such thing. If anything, there seems to be a slight trend in favour of the response that “democracy is preferable to any other kind of government”, which is up three on last year at 65%. While the young are less sold on this notion than the old, there has been a solid improving trend among the 18-to-30 cohort, with this year’s result up six on last year’s to 55%, a new high over the course of the series.

• Evaluations were sought on a limited sample of foreign leaders, specifically concerning whether they could be trusted in world affairs. Donald Trump ranked down alongside Vladimir Putin, while Jacinda Ardern recorded near-unanimous acclaim, with 88% expressing either a lot of or some confidence. New Zealand was rated “Australia’s best friend” out of six available options by 59%, up from six since 2017.

• Brexit was rated a bad thing for the United Kingdom by 62%, a bad thing for the European Union by 70%, and a bad thing for the West in general by 58%. The UK’s rating on a “feelings thermometer” fell six points, to 76.

• Concern about climate change maintained an upward trajectory, with 61% favouring action “even if this involves significant costs”. The long-range trend on this question going back to 2006 suggests climate change is less of a problem when Labor are in office.

• Views on immigration were less negative than last year, after a significant hardening of opinion between 2014 and 2018. However, the immigration rate was still held to be too high by 48% of all respondents, and a very large majority of older ones.

The survey was conducted online and by telephone from March 12 to 25 from a sample of 2130.

The second part of today’s lesson relates to Senate preference flows, from which we can obtain no end of information thanks to the Australian Electoral Commission’s publication of the data files containing the preference order for every single ballot paper. By contrast, we’re still waiting on the two-party preference splits the AEC eventually publishes for each party in the House of Representatives. There will be a lot of analysis of this information here over the coming weeks, but for starters I offer the following:

This shows, from left to right, the rate of voters’ adherence to their favoured party’s how-to-vote-card; the rate at which minor party voters’ preference orders favoured Labor over the Coalition or vice-versa, or neither in the event that they did not number either party (“two-party”); and a similar three-way measure that throws the Greens into the mix (“three-party”).

This shows that United Australia Party voters heavily favoured the Coalition over Labor, but not because they were following the party’s how-to-vote cards, a course followed by around 0.1% of the total electorate. One Nation preferences were only slightly less favourable to the Coalition, and even fewer of the party’s voters followed the card. Since One Nation’s preferences in the lower house split almost evenly in 2016, out of the 15 seats where they ran, it seems safe to assume a shift in One Nation preferences accounted for a substantial chunk of the two-party swing to the Coalition. I will calculate Senate preference flows from 2016 for comparison over the next few days.

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.

1,777 comments on “Foreign affairs and Senate preferences”

  1. Rex Douglas says: Sunday, June 30, 2019 at 3:50 pm

    Labor really need to fire up the bot machine with simple negative messaging on our shonky salesman PM.


    a bit dated but the brilliant UK journalist Carol Cadwallader lifted the lid on how Robert Mercer/Cambridge Analytica hacked Brexit and Trump into winning positions.

    The great British Brexit robbery: how our democracy was hijacked

    A shadowy global operation involving big data, billionaire friends of Trump and the disparate forces of the Leave campaign influenced the result of the EU referendum. As Britain heads to the polls again, is our electoral process still fit for purpose?

    The shadowy firm behind the Trump campaign coming to an election near you

    It is the digital information company that masterminded Donald Trump’s surprise electoral success and has been accused of playing a key role behind the scenes of the unlikely Brexit referendum in 2016.

  2. briefly @ #1273 Sunday, June 30th, 2019 – 2:20 pm

    As Vladimir Putin was declaring that western liberal democracy was obsolete, a major military exercise was taking place in the Baltic with the aim of ensuring that the Russian president’s vision of a new order was not imposed through force.

    I feel like missile and high-velocity kinetic-energy weapons technology has advanced far more rapidly than the ability to defend against such weapons, and that the conventional navies of the world are in for an extremely unpleasant shock if another major worldwide conflict actually breaks out. Exercises or no exercises.

  3. C@tmomma @ #1295 Sunday, June 30th, 2019 – 3:18 pm

    BK @ #1293 Sunday, June 30th, 2019 – 3:13 pm

    So much for dispatchable baseload power!

    File that one away for when Bucephalus next returns. 🙂

    This has been discussed here before. The problem is not technical, it is environmental. The plants shut down as otherwise they risk raising the temperature of nearby rivers (which they use for cooling water) to unacceptable levels, which they are forbidden to do by regulation.

    A good reason to not build nuclear reactors near environmentally sensitive areas, but not necessarily a reason not to build nuclear reactors.

  4. Boerwar @ #1301 Sunday, June 30th, 2019 – 3:30 pm

    Today 12 species of plant and 5 species of animals provide the bulk of the world’s food.

    Bacteria + water + air + electricity is only one of the ways in which this century’s agricultural revolution will turn food production on its head. One of the good outcomes is that hunger and famine will be memories of a distant past:

    There is so much wrong with this it is difficult to know where to begin dismantling it … 🙁

  5. ar

    The russian description of the pom’s HMS Queen Elizabeth would reflect that feeling 🙂 —-

    ….the British aircraft carrier is merely a large convenient naval target

  6. The JEF deployment is not supposed in and of itself to win a war with Russia, I assume.
    Its purpose is to tell Vlad that a unilateral takeover of the Baltic states will trigger a serious war.
    The Crimea = Czechoslavia
    The Baltic states = Poland.

  7. I’d estimate Albo is about a 60-65% chance of winning the next election.

    Of course many variables to play out (especially the economy) but correctly as some on here (hat tip to Rex) have identified keeping the wrong Labor people away from economic policy is key and making sure there is some authentic changing of the guard is key. The distancing from rogue unions is also well timed.


  8. Fess
    going on past behaviour you would expect a Newspoll for the return of parliament, but it would not surprise me if we didn’t get one for a few months. I think poll scepticism is outweighing poll curiosity right now.

  9. Roger M:

    True, but I am extremely curious to see how the first poll will be received/promoted. I hope there’s a Newspoll tonight.

  10. What’s your feelings about Newspoll if there is one tonight confessions? Do you feel there will be buyers remorse and Labor will lead on 2PP?

  11. @Lars Von Trier

    I am feeling Newspoll might follow Essential, so they might not report on primary and two party preferred votes in their polling for a while.

  12. poroti @ #1322 Sunday, June 30th, 2019 – 5:44 pm

    Oh how brave of Labor 🙁

    “Labor will wait and see whether the Morrison government is able to pass its income tax cut package with the crossbench before making a final decision on whether to support or reject cuts for the highest income earners, according to the shadow finance minister.”

    It’s actually quite smart. If the Coalition can’t pass it as one then they have to come to Labor and deal with them on their terms. Other than that, the Crossbench can own it. All of it.

  13. I’d say some re-tooling of the methodology and larger sample sizes are likely first steps in getting back on the polling bike.

    Whatever they say its likely to be Albo and Scomo to election day – or at the very least the polls won’t be used to justify knifing one or the other – because no one will be certain as to their accuracy.

  14. C@tmomma

    Being smarty pants politically doesn’t seem to be much of a winner among the plebs. How about they stand for something and fight for it rather than waving through ? A shocking idea I know.

  15. “Labor will wait and see whether the Morrison government is able to pass its income tax cut package with the crossbench before making a final decision on whether to support or reject cuts for the highest income earners, according to the shadow finance minister.”

    Good. Scotty got his mob into this mess by making tax cuts their sol re-election platform. It’s up to them to move forward from here.

  16. Lars Von Trier says:
    Sunday, June 30, 2019 at 5:11 pm

    I’d estimate Albo is about a 60-65% chance of winning the next election.

    As things stand, Labor are 20:1 against. The anti-Labor forces have overwhelming numbers and financial capacity, as well as the advantages of incumbency. The combination of Left-of-Centre dysfunction – the Greens campaign against Labor all the time – and Right-of-Centre tribal loyalties and their allies in the media confer a very great starting advantage on the Liberals.

    It is very foolish to underestimate them.

    To add to this bouts of disunity inside Labor and the at-best fractional attachment of working people to organised labour are also retarding factors.

    The willingness of left-of-centre voices to align themselves against Labor is a chronically disabling feature of Australian politics these days. This is getting worse, not better. It practically ensures Liberal ascendancy.

    This will not change unless and until radical/progressive opinion coalesces around Labor and tries to bring about the election of Labor at a federal level. There is just no reason to think this will happen anytime soon.

  17. poroti says:
    Sunday, June 30, 2019 at 5:54 pm

    Being smarty pants politically doesn’t seem to be much of a winner among the plebs. How about they stand for something and fight for it rather than waving through ? A shocking idea I know.
    I concur poroti, it is disturbingly reminiscent of the multi position/ multi geographic Adani positioning which turned out so well…..

  18. Confessions

    If Labor thinks it is crap then just vote against it. If they think they are doing the right thing by voting against it then ‘own it’ don’t faff about waiting for crossbenchers to make up their mind.

  19. I’d say some re-tooling of the methodology and larger sample sizes are likely first steps in getting back on the polling bike.

    The last Newspoll before the election had a big-ass sample — 3038, almost double the Newspoll norm. Fat lot of good that did.

  20. briefly says:
    Sunday, June 30, 2019 at 5:56 pm
    Your a defeatist:

    The positives for Labor:

    It’s time – 9 years – time to give the other mob a go
    The economy – Sawford formula playing in Labor’s favour next time
    The leader – Albo is authentic and relatable to Australians

    The negatives for Labor:

    Unions – Albo has already acted on this front
    Deadwood – Remains to be seen
    Policy – Franking credits et al – always a possibility they come up with another dumb policy next time.

  21. Labor is in a position of not knowing what deals the Coalition might make with the xbenchers on the tax cuts.
    It makes perfect sense to wait and see what the total package looks like before committing one way or another.

  22. Almost unnoticed, there is a holocaust of wildlife happening ATM.
    The million dead fish were a sort of distraction in a their own way.
    Tens of millions, possibly even hundreds of millions, of birds have died during the Drought With No Name and so far Without End.

  23. poroti @ #1325 Sunday, June 30th, 2019 – 5:54 pm


    Being smarty pants politically doesn’t seem to be much of a winner among the plebs. How about they stand for something and fight for it rather than waving through ? A shocking idea I know.

    People will be well aware of what Labor’s position is. Anyway, if you don’t think that, in a similar position the Coalition wouldn’t be ‘smarty pants politically’ then I have a bridge to sell you.

    It’s way past time for Labor to bring out the tactical moves. Isn’t that what everyone was saying after the election defeat? Don’t just be patsies for the Coalition, pull the same sort of moves the Coalition would have done in their position. Don’t give the suckers an even break.

  24. You can ask everyone in Australia who is willing to answer their phone and be polled but that still won’t get you any insight into the politically disengaged and those who don’t want to answer their phones to an unknown number.

  25. poroti:

    Nah they should leave the govt to deal with this and see how they can broker changes if it all falls over with the cross benchers. It’s Scotty’s mess after all.

  26. This bit in a review of a book about the political situation in China sounds awfully like the situation in the West.
    We Have Been Harmonised: Life in China’s Surveillance State by Kai Strittmatter – review
    A remarkable analysis identifies ‘Mao 2.0’ as the west’s new cold war adversary

    But, as Strittmatter tells it, under Xi’s leadership the Communist party of China (CCP) has been closely following the totalitarian playbook as described by Hannah Arendt and other observers of the phenomenon……………………..“If everybody always lies to you,” Arendt once said, “the consequence is not that you believe the lies, but rather that nobody believes anything any longer.” With such a people, she added, “you can then do what you please”.

  27. The Guardian Analysis of the Social media effectiveness in the EU election was as shallow as a puddle. The Brexit Party got traction because it is popular Change’s messages weren’t shared because they are so unpopular that they have virtually disappeared.

  28. Confessions

    The government has to ‘deal with it’ any way so why would Labor think sounding and looking wishy washy is a winner ?

  29. poroti @ #1343 Sunday, June 30th, 2019 – 4:17 pm


    The government has to ‘deal with it’ any way so why would Labor think sounding and looking wishy washy is a winner ?

    Not sounding and looking wishy washy, more that the Caucus don’t know what terms / conditions have been offered to the cross bench. So why buy into the matter before all the cards are on the table? Scotty created this mess. His mob need to sort it out.

  30. Catmomma, exactly what disparagement do you require? Would you care to compare the overall availability to wind or solar or output compared to nameplate capacity?

  31. Brexit?
    The last quiver in the death throes of English Imperium.
    Johnson is absolutely perfect for this task, a latter day English Ozymandius: bombastic, caustic, racist, and arrogant.
    But Johnson is going to do one better than Ozymandius: Johnson will create his own desert.

  32. The bromance thrives.

    Will RipleyVerified account@willripleyCNN
    1h1 hour ago
    #breaking President Trump invited North Korea’s Kim Jong Un to the White House: “I’ll invite him right now to the White House,” Trump said after stepping into North Korea. The North Korean leader said he and the US President have an “excellent relationship.”

  33. The real problem with the magnificent french reactor fleet (and their significant savings on CO2) is not whether a tiny proportion of them has to close down for a tiny proportion of the year for sound environmental reasons like not cooking carp in the Rhine.
    The real problem is the massive decommissioning costs. They are old.
    That, and replacing them with what.

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