Essential Research: leadership ratings, foreign and industrial relations

Some gloss comes off Scott Morrison’s still impressive personal ratings, and respondents prove broadly favourable to the government’s handling of disputes with China.

The latest fortnightly Essential Research poll, which is presumably the last of the year, features the pollster’s monthly-or-so leadership ratings: Scott Morrison is down four on approval to 62%, his weakest result since April, and up three on disapproval to 28%; Anthony Albanese is up three on approval to 43% and down four on disapproval to 29%; and Morrison’s lead as preferred prime minister is at 50-24, narrowing from 53-24.

As it does at the end of every year, the pollster asked respondents if they felt it had been a good or a bad year for various actors, which produces appropriately extraordinary results, particularly so for the Australian economy (a net rating of minus 47%), small business (minus 43%) and “the average Australian” (minus 32%). However, the minus 7% result for “Australian politics in general” was quite a lot better than any recorded over the previous seven years.

Respondents were also asked if Australia’s relationships with various foreign players should become more or less closer, or remain the same. This produces a notably negative result for China, with 49% wanting a less close relationship, 15% more close and 20% the same. Closer relationships are generally desired with, in descending order, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the European Union. Sixty-two per cent considered Australia “the innocent victim of Chinese assertion in restricting trade on certain products, but a non-trivial 38% felt Australia had “made itself a target by publicly criticising the Chinese government”. Fifty-six per cent felt Scott Morrison was right to demand an apology from the Chinese government over the recent Twitter spat, leaving 44% of respondents (the smart ones) favouring the alternative that he “should have let the issue be handled
through diplomatic channels”.

A question on the federal government’s proposed workplace relations reforms finds 52% expecting they will favour employers and businesses, 17% that they will favour employees, and 31% that they will strike a balance between the two. The poll was conducted Wednesday to Monday from a sample of 1071.

Winding down

With the end of the year in view, I offer a Tasmanian state poll and not much else.

First up, there are two lengthy and highly substantive new post beneath this one which I like to think warrant your attention: my own review of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters’ newly published report of its inquiry into the 2019 election, and Adrian Beaumont’s concluding review of Joe Biden’s victory over Donald Trump.

So that the comments sections for those posts might remain on topic, I offer this post as the latest open thread. I’m not exactly sure what the imminent festive season means for the schedule of the pollsters – Newspoll might or might not have one last poll under its sleeve just before Christmas, and I’m pretty sure there will be an Essential Research next week, which should feature leadership ratings though not voting intention. We will also presumably get one of Newspoll’s quarterly geographic and demographic aggregations at some point during the silly season.

There is one poll that slipped through my net: the latest effort on Tasmanian state voting intention from EMRS, which continues to find Premier Peter Gutwein in almost as commanding a position as Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan, the other leader for whom COVID-19 has been nothing but good news. The Liberals are credited with 52% of the vote, down two from August, with Labor up one to 25% and the Greens up one to 13%. However, Gutwein’s lead over Labor’s Rebecca White as preferred premier has narrowed from 70-23 to 61-26. The poll was conducted by telephone from November 17 to 23 from a sample of 1000.

JSCEM post-election inquiry

Combing through the commissions and omissions of the federal parliamentary inquiry into the 2019 election.

The federal parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters yesterday published the final report of its inquiry into the 2019 election, being the work of five Coalition members (including the committee’s chair, Queensland Senator James McGrath), four from Labor and one from the Greens (Larissa Waters). It features separate dissenting reports taking issue with various majority recommendations from both Labor and the Greens. The first thing that must be said about the report is that it could be a lot worse, a fact that strikes you very forcefully if you’ve spent the last few weeks reading Trump campaign legal challenges. Nonetheless, the extensive range of recommendations on offer demands careful scrutiny, which I endeavour to offer below.

Continue reading “JSCEM post-election inquiry”

Conservation measures

The federal government takes remarkably principled action to preserve the Northern Territory’s second Labor-held seat without sacrificing the Australian Capital Territory’s third.

My previous post dealt with the report of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters’ inquiry into representation of the territories, which recommended the Northern Territory be crudely guaranteed a second House of Representatives seat while removing the more sophisticated statistical fiddle that helped preserve it when the issue last arose in 2003. As Antony Green noted, this proposal raised the strong possibility that the Australian Capital Territory might lose its recently acquired third seat the next time the determinations are made during the next parliamentary term. However, the federal government has sprung into action with new legislation that promises to preserve both territories’ seats by following Antony’s advice rather than the committee’s.

This is to be done by having the territories’ seat entitlements calculated through the harmonic rather than arithmetic mean, at least so far as their first three seats are concerned (beyond which the issue is likely to remain academic). The principle behind the harmonic mean can best be explained by using a simplified version of the Northern Territory case as an example. The basic problem is that the territory has around 150,000 voters, whereas the average House of Representatives seat has around 100,000 (population rather than voter enrolment is actually used, but the near accuracy of these nicely round figures means I will continue with them for purposes of illustration). Using the conventional arithmetic mean, this places the territory right at the cut-off point between a one-seat and two-seat entitlement. Two seats prevailed when the local economy had the wind in its sails during the late mining and resources boom, but in the more straitened circumstances of the present it only makes it to one.

Using the harmonic mean, the point at which rounding occurs is based not on the mid-point between the two quotas, but the point at which electorates’ populations differ least from the national average. Were the Northern Territory to lose its second seat, the remaining seat with its enrolment of around 150,000 would have 50,000 voters more than the national average. But if its second seat is retained, the two would have around 75,000 each, differing from the national average by only 25,000. The harmonic mean is all about minimising this difference, which in the present example would mean only one-and-a-third quotas would be needed for a second seat, or around 133,333 voters. For the Australian Capital Territory, which similarly stands on the precipice of two quotas and three, the third seat would be retained with 2.4 quotas (240,000 voters in the present example) rather than 2.5. The differences between the arithmetic and harmonic mean tipping points continue to reduce with each additional seat. By Antony Green’s reckoning, the ACT would have fallen below the arithmetic mean benchmark at 2.4796 quotas without the aforesaid statistical fiddle, which the committee had proposed to abolish without the remedial action of using the harmonic mean.

It is perhaps not surprising that the federal government has determined to save the second Northern Territory seat, notwithstanding that both seats are held by Labor: both are winnable for the Country Liberal Party, particularly the Darwin-based seat of Solomon, and an overstuffed single electorate for the Northern Territory would essentially amount to an act of malapportionment to the disadvantage of the territory’s substantial indigenous population. However, there is no such impetus in the Australian Capital Territory, where the Liberals only win House of Representatives seats under extraordinary circumstances (the most recent being the Canberra by-election of 1995), and the removal of a seat could be rationalised, if not justified, with recourse to public service bashing. At a time when mainstream conservatism in the United States is taking to the foundations of democracy with an axe, our own government’s defiance of self-interest to preserve Labor-held seats is worth acknowledging and celebrating.

Elsewhere: in the only bit of polling news to relate right now, JWS Research has released its latest True Issues survey of issue salience, as it does around three times a year. When respondents were asked to nominate the country’s three most important issues without prompting, 42% offered a response within the “hospitals, health care and ageing” category, which is down five from July but well up on the 24% recorded in the pre-COVID days of February. Results are otherwise very similar to the July survey, with economy and finances steady in second place at 32% after shooting up from 18% in February. A plunge in concern for the economy and climate change, down from 26% to 16% last time, has only slightly corrected to 19%, remaining well behind third-placed employment and wages on 32%, up two from July and eleven from February. The poll was conducted online between November 20 and 22 from a sample of 1035.

Essential Research, territory seat entitlements, Groom wash-up

The federal government continues to be rated highly for its COVID-19 response, as a plan to save the Northern Territory’s second seat proves to have a sting in the tail for the ACT.

The latest fortnightly Essential Research poll finds 67% rating the federal government’s COVID-19 response as good, unchanged on a fortnight ago, with the poor rating down two to 13% – its strongest net result in this regular series since June. The small sample state breakdowns find the South Australian government’s positive rating down six to 70%, which I believe is the lowest it has yet recorded, although it might not pay to read too much into that given the near double-digit margin of error. The results for the other four mainland state are all up by one point: to 76% for New South Wales, 60% for Victoria, 72% for Queensland and 83% for Western Australia.

Respondents were also asked about their level of interest in various news stories: 69% said they were closely following the COVID-19 outbreak in South Australia, against 31% for not closely; 66% likewise for COVID-19 vaccine trials, and 34% for not closely; 56% closely for Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn his election defeat, with 44% for not closely; and 53% closely for war crimes allegations against Australian soliders, against 47% for not closely. The poll also found 37% felt the government spent too much on foreign aid, down four points since 2017, with spends too little steady on 16% and the right amount up four to 23%. Also featured was a series of detailed questions on climate change and coal-fired power plants, which you can read all about in the full report. The poll was conducted Wednesday to Monday from a sample of 1034.

In other news, Antony Green peruses the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters’ report recommending action to preserve the Northern Territory’s second House of Representatives seat, which otherwise stands to be lost based on the territory’s share of the national population. Significantly, he notes that the proposed removal of an existing tweak to the calculation that was added to help the Northern Territory get over the line back in 2004 now stands to cost the Australian Capital Territory the third seat it gained at the last election – perhaps explaining why the government has been so sanguine about preserving Labor-held seats in the Northern Territory.

The change in 2004 made use of the margin of error the Australian Bureau of Statistics provides for its population estimates for the territories, requiring that the figure at the top end of the range be used in making the determination. Whereas the most recent determination credited the ACT with 2.55 quotas, rounding up to three seats, it would have only have been 2.48 if the ABS’s straightforward estimate had been used. There is no suggestion of changing the existing determination to cost the ACT its third seat at the next election, but a significant growth in population would be needed if the third seat was to be preserved at the next election after.

Antony Green’s submission to the inquiry suggested that, in addition to giving the territories a minimum of two seats, the calculation be made not on the basis of the garden variety arithmetic mean, but on the harmonic mean, which would be less prone to rounding down for the territories and smaller states. This method has the virtue of producing “an allocation of seats with a population per member closer to the national quota than the arithmetic mean”. The committee – apparently including the four Labor and one Greens members as well as the five from the government, since there was no dissenting report – acknowledged the logic of this but cited “problems with the potential for public acceptance”

Mention should also be made of Saturday’s by-election in the regional Queensland seat of Groom, which did nothing to alter its complexion as a safe seat for the Coalition. The LNP candidate, Garth Hamilton, currently has 66.9% of the two-party preferred vote with only a handful of votes outstanding, representing a 3.6% swing to Labor Œ more or less the same size of the swing in the Longman by-election that did for Malcolm Turnbull in 2018, though on that occasion his critics could point to a 9.4% drop in the LNP vote as One Nation surged to 15.9%. The One Nation factor went untested on this occasion, since the party did not field a candidate, although the party’s performance in the recent state election suggested they would only have done a limited amount of damage.

Of perhaps more note than the result is the pattern of turnout in the second by-election held during COVID-19 (the first being in Eden-Monaro only July 4): election day turnout was down 21.3%, from 53,943 to 42,490; pre-poll voting centres were up 0.8% from 25,169 to 25,380; and there have so far been 11,966 postal votes counted, compared with 14,108 at the 2019 election. Voter fraud fans may care to note that the LNP did better on election day votes (a 2.7% swing to Labor) than pre-poll votes (a 4.0% swing) and, especially, postal votes (a 7.3% swing).

Newspoll: 51-49 to Coalition

Further improvement in Scott Morrison’s personal ratings, but otherwise little change in the latest Newspoll.

Courtesy of The Australian, Newspoll has the Coalition leading 51-49 on two-party preferred, unchanged on three weeks ago, from primary votes of Coalition 43% (steady), Labor 36% (up one), Greens 11% (steady) and One Nation 2% (down one, and their weakest result since at least the 2019 election). Scott Morrison is up two on approval to 66% and down two on disapproval to 30%, while Anthony Albanese is up one to 44% and up two to 41%, with Morrison’s lead as preferred prime minister out from 58-29 to 60-28. The poll was conducted Wednesday to Saturday from a sample of 1511.