Essential Research: Newstart, robodebt, social media

More evidence that voters favour social democratic policy options, right up until polling day.

The fortnightly Essential Research poll, which is still yet to resume results for voting intention, focuses largely on questions around social security. Among its findings are that the Newstart rate is deemed too low by 58%, about right by 30% and too high by 5%. Forty-four per cent expressed strong support for an increase from $280 per week to $355, a further 31% said they somewhat supported it, and only 18% said they were opposed, 7% strongly.

I don’t normally make anything out of breakdowns published in average sample polls, but it’s interesting to note that the “too low” response increases progressively across the three age cohorts to peak at 66% among the 55-and-over. There was also a relationship between age and correct answers to a question in which respondents were asked to identify the weekly Newstart payment, the overall result for which was 40%, up from 27% when it was previously asked last June. Only 29% of Coalition voters expressed strong support for an increase compared with 55% for Labor supporters, but the difference was narrower when combined with the “somewhat” response, at 84% to 68%.

On the Centrelink “robodebt” debt recovery program, 58% supported calls for it to be shut down compared with 32% opposed. Twenty-two per cent said they had heard a lot about the program and 30% a little, while 18% said they had not heard any details and 30% that they were not aware of it at all.

The one question not relating to social security covers social media companies’ collection of personal information, with 80% expressing concern about the matter and the same number wanting tighter regulation. The affirmative response for both questions progressively increased across the three age cohorts.

Also noteworthy from the poll is that Essential Research has taken to publishing “base” figures for each cohort in the breakdown, which evidently reflect their proportion of the total after weightings are applied. This is at least a step in the direction of the transparency that is the norm in British and American polling, in that it tell us how Essential is modelling the overall population, even if it doesn’t divulge how much each cohort’s responses are being weighted to produce those totals.

The poll was conducted Thursday to Sunday from an online sample of 1102 respondents.

Federal election plus two months

Western Australia and the Northern Territory set to lose seats in the House of Reps; Liberals jockey for Senate preselection; foul cried in Kooyong; and latest despatches from the great pollster crisis.

Quite a bit to report of late, starting out with federal redistribution prospects for the coming term:

• The Australian Parliamentary Library has published a research paper on the likely outcome of the state and territory seat entitlement determinations when they are calculated in the middle of the next year. The conclusion reached is as it was when I did something similar in January: that Western Australia is sure to lose the sixteenth seat it gained in 2016; that Victoria will sneak over the line to gain a thirty-ninth (and its second in consecutive electoral cycles, a prodigiousness once associated with Queensland); and the Northern Territory will fall below it and lose one of its two seats.

The West Australian reports Liberal and Labor will respectively be lobbying for Burt and Hasluck to be abolished, though given the two are neighbours, this is perhaps a fine distinction – the effect of either might be to put Matt Keogh and Ken Wyatt in competition for an effectively merged seat. The view seems to be that an eastern suburbs seat would be easiest to cut, as the core electorates of the metropolitan area are strongly defined by rivers and the sea, and three seats are needed to account for the state’s periphery. (There was also a new set of state boundaries for Western Australia published on Friday, which you can read all about here).

• The predicted outcome in the Northern Territory, whose population has taken a battering since the end of the resources construction boom, would leave its single electorate with an enrolment nearly 30% above the national norm – an awkward look for what would also be the country’s most heavily indigenous electorate. The Northern Territory has had two electorates since 1996, but came close to losing one in 2003 when its population fell just 295 below the entitlement threshold. This was averted through a light legislative tweak, but this time the population shortfall is projected to approach 5000.

Poll news:

• The word from Essential Research that its voting intention numbers will resume in “a month or two”. Curiously, its public line is that its reform efforts are focused on its “two-party preferred modelling”, when the pollsters’ critical failures came on the primary vote.

Kevin Bonham laments the crisis-what-crisis stance adopted by The Australian and YouGov Galaxy upon the return of Newspoll. My own coverage of the matter was featured in a paywalled Crikey article on Monday, which concluded thus:

In the past, YouGov Galaxy has felt able to justify the opaqueness of its methods on the grounds that its “track record speaks for itself”. That justification will be finding far fewer takers today than it did before the great shock of May 18.

• Liberal insiders have been spruiking their success in winning back the support of working mothers as the key to their election win, as related through an account of internal party research in the Age/Herald. However, Jill Sheppard at the Australian National University retorts that the numbers cited are quantitative data drawn from qualitative research (specifically focus groups), which is assuredly not the right idea.

Preselection news:

• There are six preselection nominees for Mitch Fifield’s Liberal Senate vacancy in Victoria: Sarah Henderson, until recently the member for the Corangamite, and generally reckoned the favourite; Greg Mirabella, former state party vice-president and the husband of Sophie Mirabella, whose prospects were talked up in The Australian last week; Chris Crewther, recently defeated member for Dunkley; state politics veteran and 2018 election casualty Inga Peulich; and, less familiarly, Kyle Hoppitt, John MacIsaac and Mimmie Watts.

• The Australian last week reported a timeline had yet to be set for the preselection to replace Arthur Sinodinos in New South Wales. The Sydney Morning Herald reports Liberal moderates might be planning on backing a candidate of the hard Right, rather than one of their own in James Brown, state RSL president and son-in-law of Malcolm Turnbull. The idea is apparently that the nominee will then go on to muscle aside factional colleague Connie Fierravanti-Wells at preselection for the next election. However, all that’s known of that potential candidate is that it won’t be Jim Molan, who is opposed by feared moderate operator Michael Photios.

• The Sydney Morning Herald report also relates that former Premier Mike Baird’s withdrawal from the race to become chief executive of the National Australia Bank has prompted suggestions he might have his eye on a federal berth in Warringah at the next election. Also said to be interested is state upper house MP Natalie Ward.

Electoral law news:

The Guardian reports that Oliver Yates, independent candidate for Kooyong, is challenging Josh Frydenberg’s win on the grounds that Chinese language signs demonstrating how to vote Liberal looked rather a lot like instructions from the Australian Electoral Commission. The complainant must establish that the communication was “likely to mislead or deceive an elector in relation to the casting of a vote”, which has provided a rich seem of unsuccessful litigation over the decades. It seems it is acknowledged that this is only the test case, in that it is not anticipated the court will overturn the result. Such might have been the case in Chisholm, which was the focal point of complaints about the signs, and where the result was much closer. However, Labor has opted not to press the issue, no doubt because it has little cause to think a by-election would go well for them. Yates’s challenge has been launched days prior to today’s expiry of the 40-day deadline for challenges before the Court of Disputed Returns.

• The difficulty of getting such actions to stick, together with the general tenor of election campaigning in recent years, have encouraged suggestions that a truth-in-advertising regime may be in order, such as operates at state level in South Australia. More from Mike Steketee in Inside Story.

Newspoll: 53-47 to Coalition

The Coalition finally records an opinion poll lead, as Newspoll breaks the post-election ice.

The ten-week silence of Newspoll – and indeed Australian polling in general, so far as voting intention is concerned – has ended with a result of 53-47 to the Coalition, as reported by The Australian. To this, naturally, must be added the qualification that the pollster never once recorded the newly re-elected government with a lead in the entire three years of the previous parliamentary term. The poll has the Coalition at 44% of the primary vote (41.4% at the election), Labor at 33% (33.3%) and the Greens at 11% (10.4%). The report seems to be saying One Nation is at 3%, which compares with the 3.1% they scored at the election when contesting 59 out of 151 seats.

The leadership ratings have Scott Morrison’s approval at a new high of 51%, up five on the pre-election poll, and down nine on disapproval to 36%. Anthony Albanese’s Newspoll ratings are 39% approval and 36% disapproval, which is a) “the first net positive approval rating for an Opposition leader since 2015”, as noted in the report since Simon Benson, b) the worst Newspoll debut for an Opposition Leader since Andrew Peacock in 1989, as illustrated in this earlier post, and c) the equal lowest uncommitted rating for an Opposition Leader on debut, perhaps mitigating b) a little. Morrison leads 48-31 on preferred prime minister, compared with 47-38 in the pre-election poll, which we can now presume was flattering to Bill Shorten.

No indication at this point as to whether and how Newspoll is doing anything differently. Certainly it looks like business as usual to the extent that the poll was conducted Thursday to Sunday from a sample of 1601, with The Australian’s report trumpeting a 2.4% margin of error that is less than the size of its error at the election.

Essential Research leadership polling

The second set of leadership ratings since the election is featured in the latest release from Essential Research, which may also offer a hint of how it plans to respond to the great pollster failure.

The fortnightly Essential Research release is the second since the election to encompass the monthly leadership ratings. These offer positive signs for Anthony Albanese, who is up four from his debut on approval to 39% and down one on disapproval to 24%, while Scott Morrison is slightly improved in net terms, with approval steady on 48% and disapproval down two to 34%. Morrison’s lead as preferred prime minister is effectively unchanged, shifting from 43-25 to 44-26. The poll also features a series of questions on the ban on tourists climbing Uluru, which 44% support and 30% oppose, and 69% professing awareness of the issue.

Of particular interest in this release is the revelation that Essential is inquiring about respondents’ income, which appears to be a new development. The only detail provided in the polling results is that Morrison has 59% approval among higher income earners, but the appendices go to the trouble of telling us that Essential has set three income cohorts for its surveys: low (below $52,000), high (above $104,000) and medium (in between).

I suspect this means Essential’s response to the pollster failure will be to start using income to weight its results. This is a departure from the Australian industry norm of weighting only by geography, gender and age, and would also seem to be a bit unusual internationally. An American pollster noted last year the practice had fallen out of favour there due to the high non-response rate to questions on personal income. The preference is to instead weight to other factors which themselves correlate with income, notably education and, particularly in Britain, social class.

The poll was conducted Wednesday to Sunday from a sample of 1091. In the Guardian report accompanying the poll, the elephant in the room was addressed thus:

There has been controversy post-election about the reliability of opinion polling because none of the major surveys – Newspoll, Ipsos, Galaxy or Essential – correctly predicted a Coalition win on 18 May, projecting Labor in front on a two-party preferred vote of 51-49 and 52-48. The lack of precision in the polling has prompted public reflection at Essential, as has been flagged by its executive director, Peter Lewis. Guardian Australia is not currently publishing measurements of primary votes or a two-party preferred calculation, but is continuing to publish survey results of responses to questions about the leaders and policy issues.

Also in The Guardian today are results from a separate Essential Research poll, this one for Digital Rights Watch concerning recent police raids on journalists. In response to a question noting raids on “the offices and homes of News Corp and ABC journalists who reported on national security issues”, 40% said they were very concerned, 34% slightly concerned and 26% not concerned. Similar results were produced on questions relating to metadata and police powers to break into online communications systems. The poll was conducted Wednesday to Sunday from a sample of 1089.

The tribes of Israel

The latest Essential Research poll turns up a mixed bag of views on the Israel Folau controversy. Also featured: prospects for an indigenous recognition referendum and yet more Section 44 eruptions.

The latest of Essential Research’s fortnightly polls, which continue to limit themselves to issue questions in the wake of the great pollster failure, focuses mostly on the Israel Folau controversy. Respondents registered high levels of recognition of the matter, with 22% saying they had been following it closely, 46% that they had “read or seen some news”, and another 17% saying they were at least “aware”.

Probing further, the poll records very strong support for what seem at first blush to be some rather illiberal propositions, including 64% agreement with the notion that people “should not be allowed to argue religious freedom to abuse others”. However, question wording would seem to be very important here, as other questions find an even split on whether Folau “has the right to voice his religious views, regardless of the hurt it could cause others” (34% agree, 36% disagree), and whether there should be “stronger laws to protect people who express their religious views in public” (38% agree, 38% disagree). Furthermore, 58% agreed that “employers should not have the right to dictate what their employees say outside work”, which would seem to encompass the Folau situation.

Respondents were also asked who would benefit and suffer from the federal government’s policies over the next three years, which, typically for a Coalition government, found large companies and corporations expected to do best (54% good, 11% bad). Other results were fairly evenly balanced, the most negative findings relating to the environment (26% good, 33% bad) and, funnily enough, “older Australians” (26% good, 38% bad). The economy came in at 33% good and 29% bad, and “Australia in general” at 36% good and 27% bad. The poll was conducted last Tuesday to Saturday from a sample of 1099.

Also of note:

• A referendum on indigenous recognition may be held before the next election, after Aboriginal Affairs Minister Ken Wyatt’s announcement on Wednesday that he would pursue a consensus option for a proposal to go before voters “during the current parliamentary term”. It is clear the government would not be willing to countenance anything that went further than recognition, contrary to the Uluru Statement from the Heart’s call for a “First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution” – a notion derided as a “third chamber of parliament” by critics, including Scott Morrison.

• A paper in the University of Western Australia Law Review keeps the Section 44 pot astir by suggesting 26 current members of federal parliament may fall foul by maintaining a “right of abode” in the United Kingdom – a status allowing “practically the same rights” as citizenship even where citizenship has been formally renounced. The status has only been available to British citizens since 1983, but is maintained by citizens of Commonwealth countries who held it before that time, which they could do through marriage or descent. This could potentially be interpreted as among “the rights or privileges of a subject or citizen of a foreign power”, as per the disqualifying clause in Section 44. Anyone concerned by this has until the end of the month to challenge an election result within the 40 day period that began with the return of the writs on June 21. Action beyond that point would require referral by the House of Representatives or the Senate, as appropriate.

Another two bite the dust

Party deregistrations, issues polling, and locally relevant discussion of the performance of online pollsters in the US.

Some unrelated electoral news nuggets to keep things ticking over:

• The Australian Electoral Commission has announced the deregistration of two right-wing minor parties, the more newsworthy of which was Cory Bernardi’s decision to decommission Australian Conservatives. This party owed its party registration to Bernardi’s position in the Senate, rather than its having 500 members, so the matter was entirely in his hands. In a sense, this also means an end to Family First, which won Senate seats at the 2004, 2013 and 2016 elections and had a presence in the South Australian upper house from 2002 to 2017, when it merged with Bernardi’s newly formed outfit. However, Family First appeared to lose energy as evangelical Christians increasingly preferred to direct their organisational efforts towards the Liberal Party, and was dominated in its later years by deep-pocketed former Senator Bob Day. Even further afield, the Rise Up Australia party, associated with controversial pastor Danny Nalliah of Catch the Fire Ministries, has voluntarily deregistered.

• JWS Research has released the latest results in its occasional series on issue salience, recording only one particularly noteworthy movement over the past three surveys: defence, security and terrorism, which only 20% now rate in the top five issues most warranting the attention of the federal government, down from 23% in February and 29% in November. “Performance index” measures for the government across the various issue areas have recorded little change post-election, except that “vision, leadership and quality of government” is up from 35% to 42% (which is still the fifth lowest out of 20 designated issue areas). The survey was conducted from June 26-30 from a sample of 1000.

• In the New York Times’ Upshot blog, Nate Cohn casts a skeptical eye over the record of online polling in the United States. It notes a Pew Research finding that YouGov’s “synthetic sampling” method achieves the best results out of the online pollsters, by which it “selects individuals from its panel of respondents, one by one, to match the demographic profile of individual Americans”. Another survey that performed relatively well, VoteCast, did so by concurrently conducting a huge sample phone poll, results of which were used to calibrate the online component.