ReachTEL: 50-50

Little post-budget movement one way or the other in the latest ReachTEL poll for Seven, while Roy Morgan offers yet more evidence of Malcolm Turnbull’s diminishing personal standing.

A ReachTEL poll conducted for Seven last night finds two-party preferred at 50-50, unchanged on the last such result three weeks ago. Primary votes are likewise little changed, with the Coalition up 0.9% to 41.4%, Labor down 0.7% to 35.1%, the Greens down 0.3% to 9.5% and the Nick Xenophon Team is up 0.4% to 4.2%. ReachTEL has slightly changed its methodology in that there is now an undecided option on the first question, with those selecting it then prompted as to who they are leaning towards, which more closely replicates the established practice of live interview phone pollsters. The results show 8.5% of respondents choosing the undecided, and then showing a lesser tendency of first responders to favour Labor, and a considerably stronger tendency to favour “others”.

The poll also finds an overall negative response to the budget, with 33.8% saying it has made them less likely to vote Coalition compared with 16.6% for more likely. On the question of personal impact, 7.1% said it would make them better off, 33.4% worse off and 59.4% the same. There is still a view that the government will be returned, with 49.1% saying they expect the Coalition to win, 28.1% opting for Labor and 22.8% choosing a hung parliament option that for many would have been a proxy for “don’t know”. On personal ratings, ReachTEL records the first improvement in Malcolm Turnbull’s position this year, his combined very good and good rating being up from 25.5% to 28.1%, while poor is down from 36.6% to 34.5%. Bill Shorten is respectively up from 23.3% to 24.6%, and up from 42.2% to 44.0%. Turnbull’s lead as preferred prime minister is down very slightly, from 58.4-41.6 to 57.7-42.3.

There are also personal ratings today from Roy Morgan, which has published one of its occasional phone polls on the subject, in this case a survey of 584 respondents conducted on Wednesday and Thursday. The results were published through separate releases focusing on Turnbull and Shorten and preferred Labor and Liberal leader. Along with the revelation that voting intention among the sample broke 51-49 in favour of the Coalition, the poll found the following:

• Malcolm Turnbull’s lead over Bill Shorten as preferred Prime Minister is 57-24, well down on the 76-14 lead he recorded at the last such poll in mid-October. The net change of 29% compares with a 22.8% shift in the BludgerTrack trend measure between that time and April 15, which was the last time new leadership data became available.

• Turnbull’s approval rating is down 23% to 43%, with his disapproval up 25% to 41%. The net change of 48% compares with 42.1% in the equivalent reading from BludgerTrack.

• Shorten is up nine on approval to 34% and down 13% on disapproval to 49% – a 22% net shift to compare with just 6.9% from BludgerTrack.

• Malcolm Turnbull’s rating as preferred Liberal leader has slumped from 64% to 41%, while Julie Bishop’s has doubled to 24%. Tony Abbott, Barnaby Joyce and Scott Morrison continue milling around in single digits.

• Despite his improved standing, Bill Shorten is in third place as preferred Labor, which is at least one better than he managed last time. Tanya Plibersek is down five to 22%, Anthony Albanese is down three to 20%, Bill Shorten is up five to 14%, Wayne Swan is down two to 8% and, in a rejoinder to the beard skeptics, Chris Bowen is up three to 8%.

BludgerTrack: 50.6-49.4 to Labor

The BludgerTrack poll aggregate continued to inch its way in favour of Labor in the lead-up to Tuesday night’s budget.

There was a pre-budget lull in the federal polling storm this week, but the BludgerTrack aggregate has nonetheless had the regularly scheduled Roy Morgan and Essential Research results to play with. Both recorded next to no change on last time, and the changes on all indicators of voting intention have been barely measurable. Despite that, the seat projection has Labor up one in New South Wales, Tasmania and Western Australia (the results in the latter being particularly remarkable at present), but down two on the back of a very small voting intention shift in highly sensitive Queensland. Last week I reported that I was going to start counting Fairfax as a Liberal National Party seat, so today’s announcement by Clive Palmer that he would not be recontesting the seat was very timely. The result is that the Coalition is down one seat on last week rather than two, and “others” is now recorded as four seats rather than five. Nothing new this week in the way of leadership ratings.


Preselection news:

• Liberal MP Ann Sudmalis has had her preselection confirmed for her south coast New South Wales seat of Gilmore, after suggestions she faced a moderate-backed challenge arising from her perceived public criticism of the Baird government over council amalgamations. The Prime Minister had made it known that he did not wish for any move against Sudmalis to proceed, out of concern at factional tensions being stoked ahead of the election. Two state Liberals, Kiama MP Gareth Ward and Bega MP Andrew Constance, are reportedly eyeing the succession to Sudmalis in 2019. You can read a lot more about this electorate in yesterday’s Seat du jour.

• The Liberal Party’s trial preselection plebiscite of party members in Parramatta has been won by Michael Beckwith, development operations manager for Lend Lease. The other candidates were Jean Pierre Abood, a Parramatta councillor; Charles Camenzuli, a structural engineer and building consultant who ran in 2010; Maroun Draybi, a local solicitor and hardline conservative; and Felicity Finlay, a school teacher. You can view the recent Seat du jour entry on Parramatta here.

• The Liberals have preselected Yvonne Keane, deputy mayor of The Hills Shire and former television presenter, for the western Sydney seat of Greenway. Keane was also a preselection aspirant in 2013, but the numbers were sewn up by the power bloc of Blacktown councillor Jess Diaz on behalf of his son, Jaymes Diaz. Following a disastrous campaign, Diaz suffered a 2.1% swing in favour of Labor incumbent Michelle Rowland in this highly marginal seat. Step this way for today’s Seat du jour entry on the seat.

• The Nationals preselection to replacing the retiring John Cobb in Calare has been won by Andrew Gee, the state member for Orange, ahead of Orange councillor Scott Munro, Wellington councillor Alison Conn and Bathurst businessman Sam Farraway.

• John Hassell, Pingelly grain farmer and CBH Board director, is the Nationals candidate for the regional Western Australian seat of O’Connor, which was won for the party by Tony Crook from Liberal veteran Wilson Tuckey in 2010, then lost to Rick Wilson of the Liberals when Crook bowed out after a single term in 2013. Hassell has pledged to serve as an “independent WA National” if elected.

• The Canberra Times reports that the Liberals have endorsed candidates for the two seats in the Australian Capital Territory: Livestock and Bulk Carriers Association director Robert Gunning in Fenner, and lawyer Jessica Adelan-Langford in Canberra.

Federal budget: the morning after

As the government gears up to reverse its polling fortunes on the back of last night’s budget, a look at post-budget polling effects going back to the dawn of Newspoll.

Leroy Lynch offers a reminder of a long lost Possum Comitatus post from budget time 2007, designed to address suggestions from certain elements of the media at that time that Peter Costello’s last budget (as it transpired) would finally kick off that long-awaited “narrowing” in Labor’s poll lead under Kevin Rudd. No evidence was found of consistent behaviour in polling at around budget time, but it strikes me that this matter is better considered on a case-by-case basis. So here’s a chart I’ve done showing how governments’ two-party poll ratings changed between a period from one month before each budget to one and two months after, based on trend measures of polling from the time (just Newspoll up the 2010 election, but BludgerTrack results thereafter). Many if not most of the big changes probably had little if anything to do with the budget (the Kevin Rudd leadership coup bounce in 2013, the carbon tax backlash in 2011, the unwinding of Kevin Rudd’s post-election honeymoon in 2008), but others (1993 and 2014 especially) very clearly did. Labor budgets are indicated in pink, Coalition ones in blue.


UPDATE: It occurs to me it might be a little more interesting if presented like this:


Essential Research: 52-48 to Labor

No change on voting intention in Essential Research’s budget-eve poll, which also records an increasing tendency to perceive the Prime Minister as narrow-minded, erratic and intolerant.

This week’s reading of the Essential Research rolling fortnightly aggregate finds Labor maintaining the 52-48 lead it opened up last week, from primary votes of Coalition 40% (steady), Labor 38% (down one) and Greens 10% (steady). The poll also features its occasional series of questions on the leaders’ attributes, which find Malcolm Turnbull slipping around three points on most measures since March, but suffering particular reversals on “narrow-minded” (up eight to 41%), “erratic” (up seven to 34%) and “intolerant” (up eight to 34%). Bill Shorten has generally improved a couple of points, and particularly well on “a capable leader” (up seven to 41%). However, Turnbull has significantly better results than Shorten across nine out of 15 categories, while Shorten’s only advantages are on “out of touch with ordinary people” and “arrogant”, where Turnbull’s scores are rather high.

Other findings:

• What was described to respondents as Labor’s “policy to tackle climate change which includes a target of reducing Australia’s carbon emissions by 45% by 2030 (compared to the Coalition Government’s target of 26-28%) and introducing an emissions trading scheme” recorded 57% approval and 21% disapproval.

• The decision to award a $50 billion submarines contract “to a French company with most of the construction to be done in South Australia” had 52% approval and 27% disapproval.

• As a general principle, negative gearing had 43% approval and 36% disapproval. Changes to it “so that, for future purchases, investors can only claim tax deductions for
investments in newly built homes” had 36% approval and 38% disapproval. Twenty-four per cent thought such a change would causing housing prices to fall, 31% to rise at a slower rate, and 13% felt it would result in little change.

Day in court

A bush lawyer’s guide to Family First Senator Bob Day’s High Court challenge to Senate electoral reform.

Family First Senator Bob Day’s legal challenge against reforms to the Senate electoral system reached the full bench of the High Court yesterday, which concluded by adjourning the hearing until tomorrow. Day’s case was advanced before the court by barrister, Peter King, who was the Liberal member for Wentworth before Malcolm Turnbull despatched him in a preselection challenge in 2004. King probably didn’t have the best day, having been admonished for failing to provide the court with the requisite three-page outline of his argument, and straining to have the points of his case understood by the assembled justices. You can view the transcript of yesterday’s proceedings here, both sides submissions to the court here, and my paywalled preview to the hearing in Crikey here.

The most promising lines of argument against the Senate electoral system run through the Constitution’s requirement that members of parliament be “directly chosen by the people”, which arguably mitigates having candidate ordering determined by the parties themselves, as is done for those who vote above-the-line. The obvious problem here is that this was even more true of the system that preceded the passage of the reforms in March, where that control extended beyond the party’s own candidates and ran the full gamut of the ballot paper. When this system was introduced in 1984, an independent candidate sought an injunction to prevent the election from proceeding, which was heard by the then Chief Justice, Harry Gibbs. Gibbs concurred that the Constitution required a candidate-based system, but put a spoke in Bob Day’s wheels by saying it was “not right to say that the Constitution forbids the use of a system which enables the elector to vote for the individual candidates by reference to a group or ticket”.

Of the various argument put forward by Day, only one carries the implication that the Senate system has been unconstitutional all along. This involves the use of the Droop quota, which requires that successful candidates receive a quota, either as first or subsequent preferences, equal to one divided by the number of seats up for election plus one (with a single extra vote on top to get them over the line). At a typical half-Senate election for six seats in a given state, this means the count progressively whittles the field down to a final seven candidates, each of whom essentially holds one-seventh of the overall vote. This includes six Senators who are elected, and a seventh who is left carrying a big swag of votes that were no use in getting anyone elected. It doesn’t need to be this way – the quota could simply be one divided the number of seats up for election without the plus one, which would mean one-sixth in the previous example rather than one-seventh. The count would end with six elected candidates, with no unlucky spare holding a “wastage quota”. Since the Droop quota has been in use since proportional representation was introduced in 1949, this is a pretty adventurous line of argument. It also invites the inference that a voter in the lower house is disenfranchised merely if he or she votes for the losing candidate.

The other lines of argument avoid the implication that the system has been unconstitutional for years, by identifying new changes that transgress in ways the previous system did not. First, there is the argument that the changes introduce a second method of choosing Senators, contrary to the provision of Section 9 of the Constitution that parliament is empowered to “make laws prescribing the method of choosing senators” — with emphasis on the singular. Under group ticket voting, the argument goes, above and below-the-line voting were different in form but not content, since both were treated as completed ballot papers so far as the count was confirmed. But with the savings provisions under the new system, a voter can number one box above the line, but has to number at least six below it. Unlike the old system, this means one can now vote above-the-line in a way that could not be replicated below-the-line. Among the ripostes that might be made to this is that the old system had a savings provision too, in that below-the-line votes with a small number of mistakes were still included in the count, and this too introduced a subtle discrepancy between what could be done above and below the line.

Another argument is that the newly proposed ballot paper violates the principle of a “free and informed vote”, which was invoked by the High Court in its findings that a constitutional protection existed for freedom of political communication. This is said to be violated by the incorrect instructions to be offered by the new ballot paper, which will tell voters to number at least six numbers above the line or at least twelve below it. In fact, the previously noted “savings provisions” will allow ballots with as few as one box numbered above-the-line or six below it to be admitted into the count. It is argued that this is in breach of Section 239 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act, which makes it an offence to “mislead or deceive an elector in relation to the casting of a vote”. Finally, it is argued that the optional preferential system impermissibly reduces the value of votes that drop out of the count due to incomplete numbering. This one is particularly dubious, as it would seem to invalidate any first-past-the-post or optional preferential regime, which self-evidently is not what the drafters of the Constitution had in mind.

Morgan: 51-49 to Labor

Morgan’s final pre-budget poll records next to no change, with Labor recording the barest of leads on two-party preferred.

The latest fortnightly result from Roy Morgan has Labor poking its nose in front on the headline respondent-allocated measure of two-party preferred, which now reads 51-49 in its favour after a tied result last time. However, the result based on preference flows as per the 2013 election result is slightly the other way, with a 51-49 Labor lead narrowing to 50.5-49.5. The shifts on the primary vote are no less subtle, with the Coalition down half a point to 40%, Labor up half a point to 32.5%, the Greens down half a point to 13.5%, and the Nick Xenophon down half a point to 4%. The poll was conducted by face-to-face and SMS over the last two weekends from a combined sample of 2951.

Double dissolution election (maybe) minus nine weeks

To tide us over through a quiet spot, a closer look at the Australian National University’s latest survey on issues of public concern.

We’re about half-way between the weekly BludgerTrack and when I’m anticipating the next opinion poll, this being the period of pre-budget calm before the storm, and a new thread is wanted. So I’ve decided to hang this one off the latest ANUpoll survey, an exercise conducted by the Australian National University two or three times a year to gauge the public mood on a specific area of public policy, and track the salience of various issues over time. The subject of the latest instalment, which was conducted by phone from a sample of 1200 in February and March, is tax and equity in Australia. Among various findings on tax that would be familiar from those who follow Essential Research, the report also finds support for increased spending on social services at its highest level since the series began in 1987. The report also finds that, in spite of everything, 56% consider the existing system “moderately fair”, on top of another 4% for “very fair”, while 22% rate it “not too fair” and 18% “not at all fair”.

The survey also features regular questions in which respondents are asked to name the first and second most important political problems, out of a list that presently includes 27 options. To make this easier to interpret, I’ve condensed results into various categories, which are hopefully generally self-explanatory (particularly economy/budget, environment and better government – security/external covers wars, terrorism, defence and immigration, while services covers health and education and such). The progress of these results since 2008 is shown in the chart below.


From which a number of points are clearly worth noting. Concern about service provision mounted to giddy heights after the 2014 budget, but promptly returned to normal after Malcolm Turnbull became prime minister. The combined result for the various economic issues is at a low point in the latest survey, having peaked in the years immediately following the global financial crisis. Security/external and crime/society, which are largely conservative concerns, are on an upward trend. “Better government”, I’m guessing, was a popular response among Coalition supporters while Labor was in power, but is not a correspondingly popular choice for Labor voters now it’s the Coalition’s turn.