Three-cornered contestants

As candidates jockey for the early running in Eden-Monaro, the results of a reported Nationals internal poll, plus a couple of other things to be dubious about.

Bega Valley Shire mayor Kristy McBain has been anointed by Anthony Albanese as Labor’s candidate for the Eden-Monaro by-election, despite the fact that a designated nominations period had yet to expire. The Nationals have justified their optimism by providing The Australian ($) with an internal poll conducted immediately after Mike Kelly’s retirement announcement on Thursday, the paper’s report of which begins thus: “NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro would win the Eden-Monaro by-election if he chooses to stand” (UPDATE: See account of weekend developments at the bottom of the post). This fact turns out to have been established by a 52-48 lead over Kristy McBain, and primary votes that have Barilaro leading hypothetical Liberal candidate Jim Molan by 30% to 21%, with McBain on 35% and Greens candidate Patrick McGinlay on 8%.

However, a report by David Crowe of the Age/Herald ($) suggests state Transport Minister and Bega MP Andrew Constance has been responsive to colleagues’ suggestions he should seek Liberal preselection, and Barilaro has said he will not run if Constance does. Furthermore, “some state sources said there was still a chance both men would pull back from the contest”. In that case, it would seem Fiona Kotvojs, who ran at the election last year, would get another run for the Liberals, and the Nationals would presumably go back to being uncompetitive. Candidacies of either or both of Barilaro and Constance respectively raise the prospect of state by-elections for the seats of Monaro (Nationals margin 11.6%) and Bega (Liberal margin 6.9%), neither of which are unloseable by the recent historic standards of by-elections.

In other news, Roy Morgan has conducted its occasional exercise of publishing the latest results of its federal voting polling, which these days it keeps to itself except when it believes it has identified a newsworthy angle to the results. Onthis occasion its a forceful swing to the Coalition that was missed by Newspoll, such that it now leads 51.5-48.5 after trailing 53-47 in polling from mid-March (compared with 51-49 from the Newspoll of the time). On the primary vote, the Coalition was up seven to 43.5%, Labor down three to 33%, the Greens up half to 11.5% and One Nation down one to 3%. Among the unanswered questions are what impact an apparent chopping and changing of survey methods may have had, with this latest result said to combine phone and online polling for a sample of 2806 over the two weekends just past. Many others besides have been canvassed by Kevin Bonham.

Then there’s the latest effort from Dynata for the Institute of Public Affairs, this time concerning coronavirus restrictions, which I’m not going to say anything about except that it’s out there. Among the questions respondents were invited to agree or disagree with was the following: “There should be an immediate easing of petty restrictions with appropriate social distancing in place”. If I were completing such a survey, my reaction to this question would be to recognise that I was being manipulated and refuse to complete it, and I suspect I’m not alone.

UPDATE (4/5/20): Conflicting signals on the John Barilaro front this morning, courtesy of apparently separate sources both said to be close to him. The Sydney Morning Herald ($) reported overnight that Barilaro would formally announce his intention not to run this morning, but The Australian ($) has been told that this is wrong and that Barilaro is still considering his position. The Herald reports claims from Liberals that Crosby Textor internal polling shows Andrew Constance would win the seat in canter, and that the state Liberals consider Constance’s seat of Bega to be easier to defend at a by-election than Barilaro’s seat of Monaro, which might fall to Shooters Fishers and Farmers or such like. Barilaro and Constance are apparently both on the record saying they will drop out if the other runs rather than expose the state government to two by-elections, which merely raises the question of which claim takes precedence.

Eden-Monaro by-election

Despite the constraints of coronavirus, the looming by-election in Eden-Monaro looks set to proceed in a more-or-less normal fashion, with the entry of state Nationals leader John Barilaro setting up a hotly contested three-cornered contest.

Mike Kelly confirmed what everyone knew already when he officially announced his resignation as member for Eden-Monaro yesterday, thereby initiating the first federal by-election of the current term, the last having been the Wentworth by-election in October 2018. Kelly cited medical issues deriving from his overseas service while in the army, which required surgery for kidney and gallbladder failure in October.

The immediate question is how a by-election might be held amidst the coronavirus crisis, but it would seem radical solutions such as all-postal elections can be ruled out. These would require a fairly radical legislative overhaul, and David Crowe in the Age/Herald reports Speaker Tony Smith has “asked the Australian Electoral Commission for its advice on how to ensure polling stations comply with social distancing and whether to encourage more postal votes”. The current schedule in New South Wales is for existing lockdown measures to remain in place until June 29, so it may well be thought prudent to hold off for the time being, particularly given that parliament will not resume in any case until August 11.

It is already clear that the by-election will be a three-cornered contest, with state Nationals leader John Barilaro confirming his long-anticipated decision to gamble on a run for the seat and making no effort to deny ambitions to depose Michael McCormack as federal party leader. According to Geoff Chambers of The Australian, the Nationals claim recently conducted internal polling has Barilaro in a “winning position”.

Suggestions that the Liberals would vacate the field have already been scotched, with The Australian reporting it plans to hold an online plebisicite of around 200 members on May 22 to 23. Senator Jim Molan has said he is keeping his options open, and The Australian reports that the candidate from last year, local farmer and businesswoman Fiona Kotvojs, might also be a starter. The only name mentioned so far for Labor preselection has been Bega Valley Shire Mayor Kristy McBain.

I have a preliminary by-election guide in action that features a 2019 election booth results map and various charts and tables laying out demographic indicators and the seat’s electoral history. I also had a piece anticipating the by-election announcement for Crikey on Wednesday that emphasised the risks entailed by Barilaro’s mooted candidacy:

Barilaro also has formidable historical hurdles to clear: the seat has never been held by the National/Country Party through a history going back to federation, and a victory would make him the first government party candidate in a century to take a seat off the opposition at a byelection.

While he might hope to be boosted by the positive response to the government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis, it should be noted that the weekend’s Newspoll result found Scott Morrison to be enjoying a largely voteless recovery, with booming approval ratings matched by only muted improvement on voting intention.

Furthermore, the summer bushfires that have been relegated to distant memory for most of the country are certainly not forgotten in Eden-Monaro, which encompasses some of the worst-affected areas — notably the town of Cobargo, where Morrison’s post-Hawaii attempt to ingratiate himself with the locals marked the lowest ebb of his prime ministership.

Newspoll state leadership polling and Essential Research coronavirus latest

State-level polling finds the coronavirus tide lifting all boats — but none so far as Mark McGowan in WA, whose numbers may be without precedent.

The Australian ($) today provides Newspoll findings on state leaders’ handling of the coronavirus, from samples of around 520 for each mainland state plus 309 for Tasmania. The poll finds all concerned riding high, including three who strongly outperformed Scott Morrison’s ballyhooed 68% approval and 28% disapproval on the weekend. These are WA Labor Premier Mark McGowan, at 89% approval and 6% disapproval; Tasmanian Liberal Premier Peter Gutwein, at 84% approval and 11% disapproval after three months in the job; and Victorian Labor Premier Daniel Andrews, at 75% approval and 17% disapproval.

Morrison was also matched on approval and bettered on net approval by NSW Liberal Premier Gladys Berejiklian (69% approval and 23% disapproval) and SA Liberal Premier Steven Marshall (68% approval and 21% disapproval). Only Queensland Labor Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, who faces an election in October, was below the prime ministerial par (55% approval and 39% disapproval). With due allowance for small samples, I believe McGowan’s ratings may be a record for Newspoll, or indeed for any other Australian pollster, and that Gutwein’s might have been too if not for McGowan’s.

The leaders record even stronger ratings on the specific question of handling the coronavirus outbreak: 77% rate Berejiklian as having done well, compared with 18% for badly; Andrews is at 85% and 11%; Palaszczuk is at 72% and 23%; McGowan is at 94% and 4%; Marshall is at 82% and 11%; and Gutwein is at 89% and 8%. Equivalent results are also provided for the Prime Minister, and here too Western Australians are most positive, at 73% approval and 23% disapproval, with 85% rating Morrison had handled coronavirus well compared with 14% for badly. In New South Wales, Morrison scored 67% approval and 30% disapproval, and 82% well and 16% badly for coronavirus; in Victoria, 72% approval and 26% disapproval, 83% well and 14% badly; in Queensland, 67% approval and 28% disapproval, 81% well and 17% badly; in South Australia, 70% approval and 27% disapproval, 83% well and 15% badly; and in Tasmania, 64% approval and 31% disapproval, 81% well and 18% badly.

As reported in The Guardian, the weekly Essential Research coronavirus poll provides us with a third set of small-sample findings on mainland state governments’ handling of the crisis, ranging from about 80 respondents in South Australia to 320 in New South Wales. The latest results produce combined very good and good ratings of 77% for the Victorian and South Australian governments, 76% for Western Australia, 67% for Queensland and 63% for New South Wales. The table below records the progress of this series over its three weeks, together with an averaged result which again shows Western Australia highest at 77%, followed by 74% for Victoria, 72% for South Australia, 61% for Queensland and 60% for New South Wales.

Essential Research also finds confidence in the federal government’s handling of the crisis continuing to rise, with 70% rating it good or very good, a measure that earlier progressed from 45% in late March to 65% last week. Seventy-three per cent now say they consider themselves unlikely to catch the virus, compared with 57% at the peak of concern at the end of March. In response to a list of options for budget repair, 64% supported preventing companies in offshore tax havens from receiving goverment support, but only 32% favoured removing franking credits and negative gearing, and 18% supported death duties.

On the COVIDSafe app, the weekend’s Newspoll found 21% saying they would definitely take it up, 33% that they would probably do so, 21% that they would probably not, and 18% that they would definitely not. Apart from the lower uncommitted rating, this is broadly in line with an Australia Institute poll of 1011 respondents on Thursday and Friday which had 45% saying they would and 28% that they wouldn’t. Essential Research also weighed in on the question, and found 53% saying it would limit the spread of the virus, and 46% that it would speed removal of distancing restrictions. A full set of results from Essential Research should be with us later today.

UPDATE: Full Essential Research report here.

Newspoll: 50-50

Scott Morrison gains further momentum in his remarkable but apparently voteless approval rating turnaround.

Courtesy of The Australian, the first Newspoll in three weeks is consistent with the last in suggesting the coronavirus surge in approval for Scott Morrison in translating into only a modest dividend on voting intention, on which the two parties are now tied after the Coalition opened up a 51-49 lead last time. On the primary vote, the Coalition is down a point to 41%, Labor up two to 36%, the Greens down one to 12% and One Nation down one to 4%. Despite that, Scott Morrison has gained further on his huge approval rating boost in the last poll, up seven to 68% — a level not seen since Kevin Rudd reached 70% in late 2008 — while his disapproval rating is down seven to 28%. Anthony Albanese is respectively steady at 45% and down two to 34% (I assume — the report says 36%, but this would be unchanged on last time), and Morrison’s lead as preferred prime minister is now 56-28, out from 53-29. The poll was conducted Wednesday to Saturday from a sample of 1519.

It’s as easy as APC

A new polling industry standards council takes shape; and the coronavirus polling glut keeps piling higher.

A promised initiative to restore confidence in opinion polling has came to fruition with the establishment of the Australian Polling Council, a joint endeavour of YouGov, Essential Research and uComms. Following the example of the British Polling Council and the National Council for Published Polls in the United States, the body promises to “ensure standards of disclosure”, “encourage the highest professional standards in public opinion polling” and “inform media and the public about best practice in the conduct and reporting of polls”.

The most important of these points relates to disclosure, particularly of how demographic weightings were used to turn raw figures into a published result. The British Polling Council requires that its members publish “computer tables showing the exact questions asked in the order they were asked, all response codes and the weighted and unweighted bases for all demographics and other data that has been published”. We’ll see if its Australian counterpart to sees things the same way when it releases its requirements for disclosures, which is promised “before July 2020”.

Elsewhere:

• The West Australian has had two further local polls on coronavirus from Painted Dog Research, one from last week and one from this week ($). The McGowan government announced its decision to reopen schools next week in between the two polls, which had the support of 22.7% in the earlier poll and 49% this week, with opposition down from 43.3% to 27%, and the undecided down from 34% to 24%. The earlier poll found remarkably strong results for the McGowan government’s handling of the crisis, with 90.0% agreeing it had been doing a good job (including 54.2% strongly agreeing) and only 2.9% disagreeing (1.2% strongly), with 7.1% neither agreeing or disagreeing. No field work dates provided, but the latest poll has a sample of 831.

• The University of Melbourne’s Melbourne Institute conducted a 1200-sample survey on coronavirus from April 6 to 11, and while the published release isn’t giving too much away, we told that “about 60% of Australians report being moderately to very satisfied with government economic policies to support jobs and keep people at work”, and that “more than 80% expect the impact of the coronavirus pandemic to last for more than 6 months“.

• The Washington Post’s Monkey Cage political science blog examines local government elections held in France on March 15, two days before the country went into lockdown: turnout fell from 63% to 45%, but the result was not radically different from the last such elections in 2016. Traditional conservative and socialist parties holding up well and the greens making gains, Emmanuel Macron’s presidential vehicle La République En Marche failing to achieve much cross-over success, and Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National losing ground compared with a strong result in 2014.

Essential Research coronavirus latest

Confidence in the federal government and other institutions on the rise, but state governments in New South Wales and Queensland appear to lag behind Victoria, Western Australia and South Australia.

The Guardian reports Essential Research’s latest weekly reading of concern about coronavirus finds satisfaction with the government’s handling of the crisis up two points to 65%, its best result yet out of the five such polls that have been published (no sign yet of the poor rating, which hit a new low of 17% – the full report later today should reveal all).

Last week’s question on state governments’ responses was repeated this week, and with due regard to sample sizes that run no higher than around 320 (and not even in triple figures in the case of South Australia), the good ratings have been 56% last week and 61% for New South Wales; 76% and 70% for Victoria; 52% and 63% for Queensland; 79% and 77% for Western Australia; and 72% and 66% for South Australia. Combining the results gives New South Wales 58.5% and Victoria 73% with error margins of about 3.7%; Queensland 57.5% from 4.6%; Western Australia 78% from 5.5%; and South Australia 69% from 6.9%.

Also included are Essential’s occasion question on trust in various institutions, which suggests that all of the above might be benefiting from a secular effect that has federal parliament up from 35% to 53% and the ABC up from 51% to 58%. The effect is more modest for the Australian Federal Police, up two points to 68%. In other coronavirus-related findings, the poll finds “half of all voters think it’s too soon to even consider easing restrictions“, with a further 14% saying they are prepared to wait until the end of May; that 38% said they would download the virus-tracing app, with 63% saying they had security concerns and 35% being confident the data would not be misused.

UPDATE: Full report here.