No accounting for taste

Matthew Franklin of The Australian reports a Newspoll survey commissioned by conservative think tank the Institute of Public Administration finds Australians’ views on electoral reform are the opposite of my own: 70 per cent back compulsory voting, while “more than half would prefer first-past-the-post voting to the preferential system”.

Now for some other matters I’ve been keeping on the back-burner due to post-election ennui:

Tim Colebatch of The Age offered a litany of evidence last month on the extent of public disaffection expressed at the August 21 election, which seemed especially concentrated in areas traditionally strong for Labor. The turnout of 93.2 per cent, meaning votes cast as a percentage of enrolled voters, was the lowest since the introduction of compulsory voting in 1925. Furthermore, the informal vote rose from 4.0 per cent in 2007 to 5.6 per cent in 2010. Anecdotal evidence of large numbers of blank ballot papers have led to talk of a “Mark Latham effect”, although Peter Brent at Mumble observes it was actually 2007 that was the aberration. However, one of the reasons proffered for the lower informal vote on that occasion was a lower number of candidates (no doubt a consequence of an increased deposit, one of the few agreeable features of the Howard government’s 2006 electoral law changes). That the number was lower still this time brings the disaffection hypothesis back into play. Speaking of Latham, his column in the Australian Financial Review on September 23 argued the election amounted to a rejection of two-party politics with reference to a combined major party vote of 71.8 per cent, when measured as a percentage of enrolled voters rather than votes cast. The Australian’s Cut and Paste section then proceeded to completely miss the point in response. Brian Costar and Peter Browne at Inside Story calculate that the non-voting rate as a proportion of the adult population was 21 per cent, the main culprit being an enrolment regime that uses the power of data-matching to strike those with incorrect enrolments from the roll rather than update their details. The solution to this problem, automatic enrolment, has now been adopted at state level in New South Wales and Victoria, but is opposed at federal level by the Coalition for completely spurious reasons which are examined in another article by Peter Browne and Brian Costar.

• A fortnight ago, the Australian Electoral Commission released a report into the pre-polling irregularities that led to the exclusion from the count of 2977 votes in Bootbhy and 1306 in Flynn. The difficulties in each case related to the reform that allowed pre-poll votes to be treated as ordinary rather than declaration votes, and thus to be admitted to the count on election night. This required protocols concerning the security of ballot boxes which had not applied when each vote was contained in a declaration envelope and later subjected to individual scrutiny – in particular, a requirement that boxes not be opened during the three week pre-polling period. At the Oaklands Park pre-polling booth in Boothby, the polling official emptied the ballot boxes at the end of each day and transferred their contents to larger boxes, so as to keep “an ongoing detailed record of the number of ordinary ballot papers and the various categories of declaration votes issued”. On polling day the boxes were taken to the Boothby scrutiny centre for counting, at which point the Labor scrutineer noted the ballots inside were “stacked and flat” rather than “disordered and jumbled” in the usual fashion. There were two separate incidents in Flynn. In Blackwater, an official opened the boxes and counted the votes upon the final closure of pre-poll voting the day before the election, based on a set of instructions from the district returning officer intended to detail procedures for ordinary booths on polling day. At Emerald, the officer had opened the box on a number of occasions “to rearrange the papers and create more space”, and then applied new security seals (the officer had been provided with extra seals on request to the divisional office, which should have rung alarm bells at the time). This came to light due to procedures used to identify and record the seals. The net effect of the votes’ exclusion in Boothby was to cut Liberal member Andrew Southcott’s winning margin by 339 votes; I am not aware of the impact in Flynn, but the eventual Liberal National Party margin was 5720 votes.

• Ruminating on Labor’s malaise is very much in vogue this season, as demonstrated by the post-election review process being undertaken by party elders Steve Bracks, Bob Carr and John Faulkner, and the publication this week of Power Crisis: The Self-Destruction of a State Labor Party, by former NSW state MP Rodney Cavalier. Writing in The Australian, Cavalier calls for a secret ballots in preselection votes and a prohibition on candidates who in the past five years have been members of the “political class” (“those on the staff of ministers, ALP office and union officials who do not come from the industries the unions represent”). Lenore Taylor of the Sydney Morning Herald reports NSW Labor is planning to choose candidates in selected electorates by conducting open primaries, either through a straight vote or “a hybrid of an open-to-all-comers vote and the usual branch member system”. This follows the lead of the Nationals in the independent-held seat of Tamworth and Victorian Labor in Liberal-held Kilsyth. Disappointingly for Cavalier, the latter process turned up Vicki Setches, electorate officer to upper house MP Shaun Leane.

Newspoll: 50-50

The Australian reports the latest Newspoll shows the parties still araldited together on 50-50, with Labor’s primary vote on 35 per cent (38.0 per cent at the election, 34 per cent in the Newspoll of September 10-12), the Coalition on 42 per cent (43.6 per cent and 41 per cent) and the Greens on 14 per cent (11.8 per cent and 14 per cent). This is despite a sharp deterioration in Tony Abbott’s personal ratings, which have seen a 9 per cent drop in approval (to 39 per cent) and rise in disapproval (47 per cent). By contrast, Julia Gillard is up four points on approval to 48 per cent and down three on disapproval to 33 per cent, and her lead as preferred prime minister has widened from 50-34 to 52-31. Full tables courtesy of GhostWhoVotes.

Westpoll: 52-48 to federal Coalition in WA

Today’s West Australian carries a Westpoll survey of federal voting intention, with the usual small sample (404 respondents) and large margin of error (approaching 5 per cent). The poll has the Coalition with a two-party lead of 52-48, which if accurate would amount to a 4.5 per cent swing to Labor – a swing which would snare Labor the front-line seats of Hasluck, Canning and Swan if uniform. The poll shows Labor’s primary vote at an unlikely sounding 39 per cent compared with just 31.3 per cent at the election, with the Coalition on 47 per cent (50.6 per cent at the election) and the Greens on 10 per cent (13.3 per cent). Julia Gillard’s lead as preferred prime minister has nonetheless narrowed slightly since the pre-election Westpoll, from 47-36 to 47-38. A well-framed set of options on “satisfaction with election outcome” shows 20 per cent professing themselves “quite happy with the compromises needed to form government”, 42 per cent opted for “not really happy but better than another election” while 35 per cent are “unhappy, want another poll”. Breakdowns by voting intention tell a predictable story.

UPDATE: Essential Research has Labor’s lead at 51-49 for the third week running, with Labor’s primary vote down a point to 41 per cent, the Coalition steady on 44 per cent and the Greens steady on 8 per cent. A question on most important issues in choosing how to vote turns up the economy, education and health as the front-runners, with asylum seekers, national security and population growth joining water security at the rear of the pack. The Liberals have substantial leads as the best party to handle various economic questions, with Labor leading most of the rest. On the question of Afghanistan, 49 per cent want the troops brought home, 13 per cent want the number increased and 24 per cent believe the current number is right.

Morgan: 55.5-44.5 to Labor

The latest weekly Morgan face-to-face poll has Labor’s two-party lead widening from 53.5-46.5 to 55.5-44.5, from primary votes of 44 per cent (up 3.5 per cent) for Labor, 38.5 per cent (down 2.5 per cent) for the Coalition and 12 per cent (down 1 per cent) for the Greens. Morgan has wisely resumed using preference flows from the previous election rather than respondent-allocated preferences for its headline figure, and is now using the results from the 2010 rather than the 2007 election, not that it makes any measurable difference.

Essential Research: 51-49 to Labor

The latest weekly Essential Research survey has Labor maintaining its 51-49 lead from last week, but with the Coalition gaining a point on the primary vote to 44 per cent, Labor stable on 42 per cent and the Greens down a point further to an undernourished 8 per cent. When asked whether Tony Abbott was “unfairly putting roadblocks in the way of Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s programs”, 46 per cent rated him too obstructive while 54 per cent believed his actions “appropriate” for an Opposition Leader (not sure where the don’t knows went). A surprisingly large majority agreed there should be a new election, perhaps owing to the question’s rather odd qualification that such an election would allow us “a Government with a working majority”: 55 per cent agreed with only 23 per cent disagreeing. Findings on “attributes to describe the Prime Minister” have Julia Gillard deteriorating on all measures since the questions were last posed on July 5. Her worst reversal is a 15 per drop on “good in a crisis”, which forcefully makes the point that there’s no accounting for taste. The figures for Tony Abbott are little changed, with a general pattern of very slight improvements. Gillard remains better placed than Abbott on each measure, being well ahead on “down to earth” and well behind on “narrow-minded” and “arrogant”.

Essential Research: 51-49 to Labor

Crikey reports the latest Essential Research survey has Labor moving to a 51-49 lead after three weeks at level pegging. Labor’s primary vote is up two points to 42 per cent while the Coalition’s is down two to 43 per cent – suggesting the two-party shift to Labor has been dampened by rounding – and the Greens are steady are on 9 per cent, weakness for the Greens being an unusual feature of recent Essential polling. We are also informed the national broadband network was supposed by 56 per cent of respondents and opposed by only 18 per cent; 63 per cent think it important the government move “quickly” on an ETS or carbon tax; and 69 per cent support legalising euthanasia for those with incurable disease and severe pain. Tony Abbott is found to be favoured over Malcolm Turnbull as Liberal leader by 26 per cent to 20 per cent, with support for Turnbull evidently being concentrated among non-Coalition voters.

Morgan face-to-face: 53.5-46.5 to Labor

The latest Morgan face-to-face poll, conducted last weekend from a sample of 1143, has Labor’s two-party lead at 53.5-46.5, using the more reliable method of allocating minor party and independent preferences according to the last election (Morgan is still using the preference distributions from 2007, but those from 2010 were not significantly different). This is down from 54.5-45.5 a week ago. Labor’s primary vote is steady on 40.5 per cent, the Coalition is up 1.5 per cent to 41 per cent and the Greens are down two to 13 per cent.

Essential Research: 50-50

The latest weekly Essential Research survey finds the two parties still gridlocked at 50-50. Both parties are up a point on the primary vote – the Coalition to 45 per cent and Labor to 40 per cent – with the Greens down to 9 per cent. Both leaders’ personal ratings have improved slightly since before the election: Julia Gillard’s approval is down a point to 45 per cent and her disapproval down three to 37 per cent, while Tony Abbott is up two to 43 per cent and down seven to 37 per cent. However, Gillard’s lead as preferred prime minister is almost unchanged, up from 46-35 to 47-35. Fewer respondents now rate an election within 12 months as desirable – it’s now 43 per cent all, compared with 52 per cent supporting and 33 per cent opposed a fortnight ago – and there also fewer who deem it likely, although it’s still a clear majority at 59 per cent (down from 70 per cent a fortnight ago). More voters thought the media did a good (32 per cent) than a poor (23 per cent) job reporting the election and its aftermath, while Coalition supporters were found to be more likely to believe the media wasn’t fair to their side.

UPDATE: Some fine print reading from Bernard Keane in Crikey:

But in the wake of Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor deciding to back Labor, there’s now a much stronger party split on that issue, with 75% of Liberal voters calling for another election, compared to 65% a fortnight ago, whereas support for another election among Labor and Green voters has fallen dramatically, with more than 70% of Labor and Green voters not wanting another election.