Affairs of state

One finely crafted electoral news item for every state (and territory) that is or might ever conceivably have been part of our great nation.

A bone for every dog in the federation kennel:

New South Wales

Gladys Berejiklian has backed a move for the Liberal Party to desist from endorsing or financially supporting candidates in local government elections, reportedly to distance the state government from adverse findings arising from Independent Commission Against Corruption investigations into a number of councils. Many in the party are displeased with the idea, including a source cited by Linda Silmalis of the Daily Telegraph, who predicted “world war three” because many MPs relied on councillors to organise their numbers at preselections.

Victoria

The second biggest story in the politics of Victoria over the past fortnight has been the expose of the activities of Liberal Party operator Marcus Bastiaan by the Nine newspaper-and-television news complex, a neat counterpoint to its similar revelations involving Labor powerbroker Adem Somyurek in June. The revelations have been embarrassing or worse for federal MPs Michael Sukkar and Kevin Andrews, with the former appearing to have directed the latter’s electorate office staff to spend work time on party factional activities.

Together with then state party president Michael Kroger, Bastiaan was instrumental in establishing a conservative ascendancy with help from Bastiaan’s recruitment of members from Mormon churches and the Indian community. Having installed ally Nick Demiris as campaign director, Bastiaan’s fingerprints were on the party’s stridently conservative campaign at the 2018 state election, which yielded the loss of 11 lower house Coalition seats. Religious conservatives led by Karina Okotel, now a federal party vice-president, then split from the Bastiaan network, complaining their numbers had been used to buttress more secular conservatives.

The Age’s report noted that “in the days leading up to the publication of this investigation, News Corporation mastheads have run stories attacking factional opponents of Mr Bastiaan and Mr Sukkar”. Presumably related to this was a report on Okotel’s own party activities in The Australian last weekend, which was long on emotive adjectives but short on tangible allegations of wrongdoing, beyond her having formed an alliance with factional moderates after the split.

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Electoral College may save Trump

Just over two months before the November 3 election, the gap between Biden’s national lead and the likeliest tipping-point states widens to about three points.

Guest post by Adrian Beaumont, who joins us from time to time to provide commentary on elections internationally. Adrian is an honorary associate at the University of Melbourne. His work on electoral matters for The Conversation can be found here, and his own website is here.

In the FiveThirtyEight poll aggregate, Donald Trump’s ratings with all polls are 42.2% approve, 54.3% disapprove (net -12.1%). With polls of registered or likely voters, Trump’s ratings are 43.3% approve, 53.4% disapprove (net -10.1%). Since my article three weeks ago, Trump’s net approval has improved about one point, continuing a recovery from July lows.

In FiveThirtyEight’s national aggregate of Joe Biden vs Trump polls, Biden’s lead has slightly increased to a 50.6% to 42.2% margin, from a 50.0% to 42.5% margin three weeks ago. In the key states, Biden leads by 7.6% in Michigan, 5.9% in Wisconsin, 5.3% in Pennsylvania, 5.1% in Florida and 3.7% in Arizona. FiveThirtyEight adjusts state polls to the current national vote trends.

On current polling, Pennsylvania and Florida are the most likely tipping-point state. If Biden wins either of those states, and all other states more favourable for him, he wins the Electoral College. Trump wins by winning Pennsylvania, Florida and more pro-Trump states.

The problem for Biden is that the gap between the national vote and the vote in the tipping-point state has widened from 1.5% three weeks ago to 3.1%. That makes the scenario where Trump loses the popular vote by up to five points, but sneaks a win in the Electoral College more realistic. In 2016, Trump lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by 2.1%, but won the tipping-point state by 0.8% – a 2.9% difference.

FiveThirtyEight now has a model forecasting the election result, and that model currently gives Biden a 70% chance to win, down from about 72-73% a few days ago. Biden has received virtually no bounce from the Democratic national convention last week, while Trump could get some bounce from the Republican convention that concluded Friday in Australia.

Why has the national vote to tipping-point state gap widened recently? The Midwestern states have a higher percentage of non-University educated whites than nationally. Trump’s general behaviour has offended better-educated voters, and they are likely to vote for Biden.

Whites without a university education may have moved slightly back to Trump because new US coronavirus cases are slowing and the economy is improving. There are currently 30,000 to 50,000 daily new coronavirus cases, down from a peak of over 78,000 in late July. There are over 1,000 daily deaths on most days, but this is down from the April peak of well over 2,000.

On the economy, there is a clear downward trend in new jobless claims since their peak in April, and also a down trend in continuing jobless claims. As I wrote last time, the sharp increase in real disposable income in April owing to a stimulus explained Trump’s better economy ratings.

If the jobs situation continues to improve, and there is no resurgence in coronavirus, Trump could win another term in the same way he won his first term – by exploiting the greater share of whites without university education in the electoral battlegrounds than nationally. The swing to the right among such voters explained the Coalition’s win in Australia and the Conservative triumph in the UK last year. Will they be enough to re-elect Trump?

In the RealClearPolitics Senate map, Republicans currently lead Democrats by 46 seats to 44, with ten toss-ups. If toss-ups are assigned to the current leader, Democrats lead by 51 to 49, unchanged from three weeks ago.

NZ: Ardern has large leads over Collins on economy and coronavirus

Owing to the recent outbreak of coronavirus in Auckland, the New Zealand election has been moved from September 19 to October 17. Sadly, there have been no voting intention polls since late July, before this outbreak.

The only recent poll is a Horizon Research poll, conducted in late August, that did not ask voting intentions. Labour PM Jacinda Ardern led National leader Judith Collins by 54% to 26% on managing the economic recovery from coronavirus, and by 64% to 18% on managing coronavirus. Both leads were down from Ardern’s leads over Todd Muller in July.

Reid Research: NZ Labour with massive poll lead

Eight weeks before the September 19 New Zealand election, a new poll gives Labour a 61% to 25% lead over the opposition National.

Guest post by Adrian Beaumont, who joins us from time to time to provide commentary on elections internationally. Adrian is an honorary associate at the University of Melbourne. His work on electoral matters for The Conversation can be found here, and his own website is here.

There have been three leaders of the conservative National party in the last two months. On May 22, the unpopular Simon Bridges was ousted in a leadership spill, and replaced by Todd Muller. However on July 14, Muller resigned for health reasons, and was replaced by Judith Collins.

A Reid Research poll, conducted July 16-24 – after the second leadership change – gave Labour a thumping 60.9% (up 4.4% since the last Reid Research poll in early May). National was on 25.1% (down 5.5%).

New Zealand seats are allocated proportionally to parties that either win at least 5% of the national vote or a single-member seat. The Greens, with 5.7% in this poll, appear the only other party likely to clear the 5% threshold, although the right-wing ACT, with 3.3%, will also qualify if their leader holds Epsom. NZ First, which is currently a Labour coalition partner, has just 2.0%, and is unlikely to re-enter parliament.

After polls in May showed a blowout Labour lead, there was a much better poll for National in late June, when Muller was leader. That Colmar Brunton poll had Labour’s lead dropping to 50% to 38%, from 59% to 29% in May. I believe the big differences between the June Colmar Brunton poll and the July Reid Research poll are most likely caused by the coronavirus response, not by National leadership chaos.

In June, there was a mess-up in New Zealand’s quarantine system, in which two women from Britain were allowed to leave quarantine on compassionate grounds without being tested for coronavirus; they later tested positive. Alarm over this incident, which could have revived coronavirus in New Zealand, likely contributed to Labour’s poll drop.

Since this incident, quarantine has been strictly enforced. While there are 21 active coronavirus cases in New Zealand, these are returned overseas travellers, and there has been no recent news that would indicate community spread.

Globally, there have been over 16 million coronavirus cases and over 650,000 deaths. Up until a month ago, Australia looked good, but the hundreds of new cases in Victoria every day have damaged Australia. So it’s not as if New Zealanders need to look far afield to see what happens in countries that do not handle coronavirus well.

In my opinion, this election is primarily about handling of coronavirus. If there are no community transmissions in New Zealand before the September 19 election, Labour is likely to win easily. If the virus comes back, the election will likely be more competitive.

Jacinda Ardern’s performance recorded 85.3% approved of in this poll, and just 8.2% disapproved, for a net approval of +77.1. Collins was at 39.5% approve and 30.8% disapprove (net +8.7).

Miscellany: issues polling, drug law reform, Eden-Monaro wash-up, NZ poll

Concern about the state of the economy pushes climate change down the issue agenda batting order; evidence of a trend in favour of legalisation of cannabis; and New Zealand Labour still on track for a landslide in September.

Beneath this post is the latest offering from Adrian Beaumont on the polling picture in the United States ahead of the November presidential election. Closer to home, a few items of poll-related news:

• Pollster JWS Research has published results of its occasional True Issues survey, in which respondents are prompted to identify the five most important issues from a list of 20. The key changes since the last survey in February are a 17% increase for the economy and finances to 52% and an 11% drop in environment and climate change to 31%. The result for health issues has in fact changed little over recent surveys, although it has gained the top spot in the latest survey with a three point increase to 56%, overtaking cost of living which is down six to 53%. Interestingly, defence, security and terrorism is up six to 26%, which I take to reflect growing nervousness about China. Various other questions on COVID-19 are also featured, including findings that satisfaction with federal and state government performance is at record highs, with both scoring 19% for very good and 39% for good. The report notes that strongest results for state governments were recorded in Western Australia (83% combined very good and good) and the weakest were in Victoria (57%), although this is going off small sub-samples. The poll was conducted July 1 to 5 from a sample of 1000, just as the breakout in Victoria was beginning to gather pace.

• The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare has published the National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2019, in which 22,274 respondents were surveyed by Roy Morgan between April and September 2019 about their use of and attitudes towards illegal drugs. On the latter count, it found a plurality in favour of legalising cannabis for the first time, with 41% supportive and 37% opposed, with support having risen from 21% since 2007. It also found 57% support for allowing pill testing with 27% opposed.

Kevin Bonham offers an interesting look at the unweighted data on voting intention that Essential Research effectively provides in its otherwise voting intention-less poll results, by way of identifying the size of the subsamples in its survey question breakdowns (for example, in the latest polls you can see from the “base” rows in the tables breaking down responses by voting intention that the sample included 299 Labor voters, 420 for the Coalition and 108 for the Greens). Notwithstanding the lack of weighting, the results paint an intuitively plausible picture of collapsing government support at the time of the bushfires, a reset when COVID-19 first reared its head, and an ongoing surge in Coalition support on the back of its support packages and the largely successful efforts to suppress the virus. These movements are considerably more variable than anything recorded by Newspoll, which has maintained the unnatural stability that was its hallmark before the 2019 election, despite its methodological overhaul.

Some wash-up from the Eden-Monaro by-election:

• John Black, former Labor Senator and now executive director of Australian Development Strategies, offered an ecological analysis of voting patterns in the Eden-Monaro by-election in The Australian on Monday. This pointed to a strong age-related effect in which older areas swung Labor and younger areas swung Liberal. Labor-swinging areas were also low-income with large accommodation and food industry workforces, while Liberal-swinging areas were white-collar and with high levels of employment in public administration. None of this would surprise students of the electorate and the result, given the Liberal swing in Queanbeyan and the Labor swing along the coast.

• Counting in the by-election is nearly complete, with today being the last day that postal votes received will be entered in the count. The latest results are continuing to be updated as they come through on my live results page. With probably a couple of dozen postals to be entered in the count, Labor holds a lead of 764. Of remaining interest will be the distribution of preferences, presumably to be conducted early next week, which will offer some insight into exactly how many Nationals and Shooters preferences flowed to Labor – contentious subjects both on the conservative side of politics.

Meanwhile across the pond:

• Roy Morgan published a New Zealand voting intention poll this week that was shortly overtaken by events, with the conservative opposition National Party experiencing its second leadership change in two months earlier in the week. The poll had Labor down two points from the previous poll in May to 54.5%, National up half a point to 27%, the Greens up two to 9%, Act New Zealand up 1.5% to a new peak of 5%, and New Zealand First apparently headed towards extinction with a one point drop to 1.5%. The poll was conducted by phone from a sample of 879, but all we are told of the field work period is that it was conducted during June.

• Concurrent with the New Zealand election on September 19 will be a non-binding referendum on cannabis legalisation. Poll results on this question are all over the shop: one poll last month, by Colmar Brunton, had 40% for and 49% against, while another, by Horizon Research, had 56% for and 43% against.

Weekend miscellany: Morgan, Victorian Labor and latest New Zealand poll

Polls show a tight race in Australia and a rather less tight one in New Zealand; meanwhile, Victorian Labor’s factional players wonder what to do next.

Assorted developments from here and the near abroad:

• Roy Morgan has made one of its arbitrarily timed drops of its federal voting intention polling, which it conducts weekly but usually keeps to itself. This one has the Coalition with a 50.5-49.5 two-party lead, which based on the accompanying chart would appear to be its lowest point since the government’s coronavirus bounce. The primary votes are Coalition 42.5%, Labor 34.5%, Greens 10.5% and One Nation 4%. The poll was conducted online and by phone over the last two weekends from a sample of 2593.

Greg Brown of The Australian ($) reports the alliance in Victorian Labor between the Industrial Left and much of the Right is set to survive the demise of Adem Somyurek, who was generally credited with welding it together. This is due to a shared concern to prevent the Socialist Left gaining advantage from the present disarray, and the Industrial Left’s determination to secure the new federal seat shortly to be created in Victoria. However, the report quotes an unidentified Labor skeptic saying such manoeuvres are redundant since the national executive’s three-year takeover of the state branch means they are “not going to have a vote in anything”.

• In a review of Victorian Labor’s increasingly complicated factional terrain, Aaron Patrick of the Financial Review ($) notes party convention dictates that the national executive allocates seats to each faction after disruptive redistributions, to whom it then falls to fill them through internal ballots. However, a less messy option under the circumstances would simply be to guarantee the preselections of all sitting members. The most likely beneficiary would be Senator Kim Carr, who at 64 and after nearly three decades in the Senate would otherwise have to reckon with “a younger generation of left-wing faction operators who want to replace him”.

• With New Zealand’s election less than three months, I will henceforth be making note here of poll results from that country, which come by at a rate of one or two a month. The latest is from Colmar Brunton for 1 News, one of three poll series that reports with any regularity, together with Reid Research for Newshub and Roy Morgan for reasons of its own. After all three showed an astonishing blowout in favour of Jacinda Ardern’s Labour government last month, the latest result finds a substantial correction with Labour down nine to 50% and National down up by the same amount to 38%. Between the two polls, the National Party ditched its leader and Health Minister David Clark blotted the government’s coronavirus copybook by humiliating the country’s chief medical officer at a press conference. With minor parties needing to either clear a 5% national vote threshold or win a constituency seat to qualify for a share of seats proportionate to their vote, the poll finds the Greens up one to 6%, ACT New Zealand up a point to 3% and New Zealand First down one to 2%. ACT New Zealand should be safe thanks to party leader David Seymour’s hold on the seat of Epsom, but New Zealand First would rely on the long shot of one-time Labour MP Shane Jones poaching the seat of Northland, which party leader Winston Peters failed to carry in 2017.

Biden increases lead over Trump

Trump’s ratings fall back as the US is engulfed by protests over George Floyd’s murder. The UK Conservatives also slide. Guest post by Adrian Beaumont.

Guest post by Adrian Beaumont, who joins us from time to time to provide commentary on elections internationally. Adrian is an honorary associate at the University of Melbourne. His work on electoral matters for The Conversation can be found here, and his own website is here.

In the FiveThirtyEight poll aggregate, Donald Trump’s ratings with all polls are 42.7% approve, 53.6% disapprove (net -10.9%). With polls of registered or likely voters, Trump’s ratings are 42.7% approve, 53.8% disapprove (net -11.1%). Since my article three weeks ago, Trump has lost about three points on net approval. His disapproval rating is at its highest since the early stages of the Ukraine scandal last November.

In the RealClearPolitics average of national polls, Joe Biden’s lead over Trump has widened to 7.8%, up from 4.5% three weeks ago. That is Biden’s biggest lead since December 2019.

In the key states that will decide the Electoral College and hence the presidency, it is less clear. National and state polls by Change Research gave Biden a seven-point lead nationally, but just a three-point lead in Florida, a two-point lead in Michigan and a one-point lead in North Carolina. In Wisconsin, Trump and Biden were tied, while Trump led by one in Arizona and four in Pennsylvania.

This relatively rosy state polling picture for Trump is contradicted by three Fox News polls. In these polls, Biden leads by nine points in Wisconsin, four points in Arizona and two points in Ohio. Trump won Ohio by eight points in 2016, and it was not thought to be in play.

Ironically, Change Research is a Democrat-associated pollster, while Fox News is very pro-Trump. Fieldwork for all these state polls was collected since May 29, when the George Floyd protests began. A Texas poll from Quinnipiac University had Trump leading by just one point. Trump won Texas by nine points in 2016.

US daily coronavirus cases and deaths are down from their peak, and stock markets anticipate a strong economic recovery. But it is likely that a greater amount of economic activity will allow the virus to resurge. A strong recovery from coronavirus would assist Trump, but unemployment is a lagging indicator that recovers more slowly than the overall economy. The May US jobs report will be released Friday night in Australia.

Concerning the protests over the murder of George Floyd, in an Ipsos poll for Reuters conducted Monday and Tuesday, 64% said they sympathised with the protesters, while 27% did not. 55% disapproved of Trump’s handling of the protests, while just 33% approved. That’s well below Trump’s overall approval of 39% in that poll.

UK Conservatives slump after Dominic Cummings scandal

In late May, it was revealed that PM Boris Johnson’s advisor, Dominic Cummings, had breached quarantine rules during the coronavirus lockdown in March. However, Cummings did not resign and Johnson refused to sack him.

An Opinium poll for The Observer gave the Conservatives just a 43-39 lead over Labour, down from a 12-point lead the previous week. It is the lowest Conservative lead in that poll since Johnson became PM. Johnson’s net approval was down from +6 to -5. 68% thought Cummings should resign, and 66% thought Johnson should sack him if he did not resign.

However, a YouGov poll for The Times gave the Conservatives a ten-point lead, up from six points previously, implying that public anger may be short-lived. In general, the poll trend over the last two months has been towards Labour, as the UK’s coronavirus death toll has risen to be the second highest behind the US.

Another NZ poll has Labour in the high 50s

A Roy Morgan New Zealand poll gave Labour a 56.5% to 26.5% lead over National, concurring with two polls published in May. The poll was taken April 27 to May 24, so it does not account for the May 22 change in National leadership. New Zealand has just one active coronavirus case remaining, and has recorded no new cases since May 22. It increasingly appears they have succeeded in eliminating coronavirus.