Essential Research: leadership ratings and climate change

The first public poll of the year finds little change on leaders’ ratings, but more sanguine attitudes on climate change policy than prevailed a year ago.

Essential Research has opened its account for the year with a poll that include its monthly-or-so leadership ratings, which record only slight changes on the end of last year: Scott Morrison is down a point on approval to 61% and up two on disapproval to 30%, Anthony Albanese is down one to 42% and up four to 33%, and Morrison’s lead as preferred prime minister goes from 50-24 to 51-25.

The survey also posed some semi-regular questions on climate change, finding a striking increase in the view that Australia is doing enough to address it (from 19% a year ago to 35%) and a corresponding decline in the view that not enough is being done (from 62% to 42%), with the “doing too much ” response up two to 10%. Despite this, 58% of respondents believed climate change related to human activity (up two on a year ago) against 32% who considered it part of normal climactic fluctuation (steady).

The other questions in the survey for the most part aren’t particularly political, relating to COVID-19 vaccine uptake and Australia Day. The change to the words of the national anthem finds 54% support and 16% opposition, with 30% on the fence.

In other poll news, The Australian yesterday related that polling conducted by Community Engagement for the CFMEU suggested Labor was in big trouble in the Hunter region seats of Paterson (Liberal up from 32.5% to 42.9%, Labor down from 41.1% to 30%, Greens down from 6.9% to 6.8%, and One Nation down from 14.2% to 6.9%, Nationals on 1.8%) and Shortland (Liberal up from 37.4% to 44.9%, Labor down from 41.1% to 28.3%, Greens down from 8.3% to 6.2%, One Nation on 8% and Nationals on 1.3%). The polls were conducted in November from samples of 955 per electorate. Given the evident interest of the client of putting pressure on the opposition leadership over coal mining, and all the other qualifications that apply to reports of private polling, a degree of caution is advised.

Kelly’s zeroes

Mutterings about the security of Craig Kelly’s tenure, a federal LNP vacancy in regional Queensland, and some minor state poll findings from Western Australia.

News remains thin on the ground over the summer holiday period, although we may possibly hopefully see the polling cycle crank up again as of next week. Two pieces of federal preselection news to relate:

• A report in The Australian today raises further doubts about the security of Craig Kelly’s preselection in Hughes – not for the reasons you would hope, but because he has failed to raise any campaign funding for head office since July 2019, according to leaked party documents. He is not alone in this distinction, however, with Farrer MP Sussan Ley, Robertson MP Lucy Wicks and Lindsay MP Melissa McIntosh likewise having come up empty. Kelly was saved from preselection challenges by prime ministerial intervention before both the 2016 and 2019 elections, and a Liberal source cited in The Australian says “there’s no appetite in the party to save him a third time”.

• Ken O’Dowd, who has held the central Queensland seat of Flynn for the Nationals since 2010, announced on January 5 that he will retire at the next election. Queensland Country Life reports that Colin Boyce, who holds the partly corresponding seat of Callide in the state parliament, will contest the preselection. The report quotes Boyce complaining about the failure of David Crisafulli, who replaced Deb Frecklington as Liberal National Party leader after the October state election, to have promoted him to the front bench. It also suggests he may face competition in Flynn from Gladstone councillor Glenn Churchill, who was the party’s unsuccessful candidate for the seat in 2007 and challenged O’Dowd for preselection ahead of the 2019 election.

With the Western Australian election now two months away, two bits of data have emerged from a Painted Dog Research poll conducted for The West Australian in mid-December, which as always do not encompass voting intention:

• Three weeks after Zak Kirkup replaced Liza Harvey as Liberal leader in late November, the poll found him with a 19% approval and 14% disapproval rating. While this compares favourably with Harvey’s 10% and 37% from September, but is obviously remarkably mostly for the 67% uncommitted rating. The poll also found 36% saying Kirkup would be a better leader than Harvey and 11% saying otherwise, with 53% uncommitted.

• With Ben Wyatt to bow out at the election, the poll found 21% favouring Health Minister Roger Cook to succeed him as Treasurer, with Rita Saffioti on 9%, Bill Johnston on 8%, “someone else” on 13% and 49% uncommitted.

The year ahead

Informed speculation suggests a federal election will be held in the second half of this year, though views differ as to whether it will be sooner or later.

Dennis Shanahan of The Australian, who is always well plugged into government’s line of tactical thinking, wrote on Monday on the likelihood of a federal election in the second half of this year ($) rather than the first half of the next, that being the full extent of the window for a normal election of the House of Representatives and half the Senate. This basically boils down to a view that the government’s perceived current dominance means the sooner it goes the better, tempered by a desire to avoid an election in winter.

An unidentified Liberal MP quoted in The Australian ($) said they were “almost certain” they were “almost certain” the election would be in August or September, although another felt November more likely since an earlier election would be seen as too opportunistic. Why November would be a whole lot better on that count is unclear, since there seems to be no particular obstacle to Morrison holding out until May next year, by which time it will have been a full three years since the last election. For what it’s worth, the latter MP was also quoted saying it “also depends on if Labor ditch Anthony Albanese and get someone more electable”.

In more definite news for the year ahead, the Western Australian state election is set for March 13 — I am presently furiously hard at work on my election guide, which I can assure those of you who like that kind of thing will be a classic of its genre. As for opinion polling, the silly season proved no obstacle to Newspoll last year, which opened its account with a poll conducted from Wednesday, January 8 and Saturday, January 11, so there may be action on that front this or (probably more likely) next weekend.

BludgerTrack 2: electric boogaloo

A newly launched aggregate of federal polling suggests an election that may be coming this year will be closer than commonly presumed — if indeed the polls are to be believed.

As we move into what may very well be an election year, the BludgerTrack voting intention poll aggregate is finally cranked back into action. The model, which naturally picked a fairly comfortable Labor win on the eve of the 2019 election, is not quite what it used to be: there are dramatically fewer data points and less depth available in terms of breakdowns (pollsters have promised more rather than less transparency on this score, but thus far largely failed to deliver), which means there’s no point attempting state-level trends and seat projections as was done before.

Nonetheless, and for what it’s worth, you can now see voting intention trends on the sidebar, and in greater detail here. The lodestar for the model is Newspoll/YouGov: the results of the other pollsters, which really just means Essential Research and the occasional Morgan, are adjusted for bias as measured by the extent of their deviation from a Newspoll trend measure. As it happens though, these adjustments don’t amount to much: over time, none of the three pollsters has shown any particular tendency to favour any one party more than the others.

The trend shows a consistently close race through the current term, somewhat in defiance of media narratives, with Labor poking in front on two-party preferred in the wake of last summer’s bushfires but the Coalition maintaining a lead of around 51-49 for most of this year. This pattern is equally evident in the cruder but probably no less effective aggregate that Kevin Bonham knocked together for his comprehensive view of the year in polling. Part of this may be related to the fact that the new YouGov-administered Newspoll has maintained the pollster’s curious habit of being more consistent than the vagaries of random sampling should theoretically lead us to expect.

I’ve also gone the extra mile on the poll data archive, which now includes all of the expanded breakdown data that Newspoll is now providing in its quarterly aggregates (education, income, language and religion, on top of the traditional state, age and gender) and such two-party state breakdowns as Morgan has provided us, right down to two tiny-sample readings for Tasmania. The leadership ratings trends are still in business, though I’ve bumped them in favour of the voting intention trends on the sidebar.

Newspoll quarterly breakdowns: August to November

The latest deep dive from Newspoll suggests no particular change in the spread of party support by state since the last election.

The Australian has published the concluding quarterly set of aggregated Newspoll breakdowns for the year, showing results by state, gender, age, education, income, language and religion.

The results have the Coalition leading 51-49 in New South Wales, a two point shift to the Coalition since last quarter; Labor leading 55-45 in Victoria, a one point shift to the Coalition; the Coalition leading 57-43 in Queensland, a two point shift to Labor; the Coalition leading 53-47 in Western Australia, a one point shift to Labor; and the Coalition leading 51-49 in South Australia, a one point shift to the Coalition.

The Australian’s report leads with Labor’s weak position among men, but the gender breakdowns are in fact unchanged on last time with the Coalition leading 53-47 among men and Labor leading 51-49 among women. Labor’s lead among the 18-to-34 cohort widens from 58-42 to 61-39, but there is now a tie among the 35-to-49 cohort after Labor lead 53-47 last time. The Coalition’s leads among the older cohorts are little changed, at 55-45 among 50-to-64 and 62-38 among 65-plus.

The recorded gap between English speakers and those who speak a different language at home has narrowed slightly, with the Coalition’s lead among the former going from 52-48 to 51-49 and Labor’s lead among the latter narrowing from 56-44 to 54-46. The other breakdowns record no notable pattern of change: two-party splits vary little by education (although education associates positively with Greens support and negatively with One Nation support); there is no great variation by income until the $150,000-plus cohort, which broke 55-45 for the Coalition; and Christians breaking 59-41 for the Coalition, while those of no religion going 57-43 to Labor.

The results are compiled from YouGov’s Newspoll surveys from August to November, from a combined sample of 8123.

Slowing the flow

A detailed look at what optional preferential voting might mean at a federal election.

This post delves into wonkish matters arising from last week’s report by the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters into last year’s federal election, and can thus be seen as a sequel to my earlier post on that subject. That post has a stimulating comments thread that I would like to see continue if anyone has anything to contribute specifically concerning the matters covered in this post. However, the comments thread below this post will serve as the usual open thread for general political discussion, it being past time for a new one.

On with the show. Among the more surprising recommendations of last week’s JSCEM report was the introduction of optional preferential voting. Whereas committee recommendations very often die on the vine, the chances of something becoming of this one shortened last week when both One Nation and the Centre Alliance indicated it would have their support, potentially giving it the numbers in the Senate over the opposition of Labor and the Greens. This prompted me to dig into data from last year’s state election in New South Wales, which offers the most proximate and generally useful pointer to how such a reform would play out at a federal election.

The New South Wales Electoral Commission is the only electoral authority that conducts full data entry of lower house ballot papers and publishes all the data, something the AEC only does for the Senate. The broader utility of this has been limited by the fact of New South Wales’ peculiarity of optional preferential voting, but as noted, there is a chance that may shortly change. I have aggregated this data to determine how each party and candidate’s preferences flowed between the Coalition and Labor, which no one else had done so far as I could see.

For those with a professional interest, this spreadsheet lays it all out seat by seat and party by party — for the lay person, the following table should suffice. It shows the aggregated statewide results from the state election, inclusive of the rate of exhaustion (i.e. voters who availed themselves of optional preferential’s opportunity to number neither Coalition nor Labor boxes), and the equivalent results from New South Wales from the federal election.

The reform’s attraction to the Coalition lies in the 40.0% exhaustion rate for the Greens vote, which split 82.2-17.8 in Labor’s favour federally. That alone would have sliced nearly 1% from Labor’s two-party preferred vote. However, the high exhaustion rate among all other minor parties, whose preferences in aggregate tend to favour the Coalition over Labor (think Hanson, Palmer and the religious parties) would have pared that back by around 0.3%. Such a change would probably have made a decisive difference in Macquarie (which Labor held by 0.2%) and Lilley (0.6%, and with an above-par Greens primary vote of 14.0%), and made life still more uncomfortable in Cowan (0.8%) and Eden-Monaro (0.8%, followed by 0.4% at the by-election).