Essential Research: bushfires, climate change and asylum seekers

A new poll finds respondents clearly of the view that not enough is being done to tackle climate change, but with opinion divided as to whether it appropriate to debate the matter in the context of the bushfire emergency.

The Essential Research poll series continues to chug along on its fortnightly schedule without offering anything on voting intention, with this week’s survey mainly relating to bushfires and climate change. Support for the proposition that Australia is not doing enough to address climate change have reached a new high of 60%, up nine since March, with “doing enough” down five to 22% and “doing too much” down three to 8%.

However, perceptions of climate change itself are little changed, with 61% attributing it to human activity (down one) and 28% opting for “a normal fluctuation in the earth’s climate”. On the debate as to whether it was appropriate to raise links between climate change and bushfires, opinion was evenly divided – out of those who considered such a link likely, 43% felt raising the matter appropriate compared with 17% for inappropriate, while another 30% rated the link as unlikely.

A further question related to the issue of medical evacuations for asylum seekers, and here the situation is murkier due to the need to provide respondents with some sort of explanation of what the issue is about. As the Essential survey put it, the relevant legislation allows “doctors, not politicians, more say in determining the appropriate medical
treatment offered to people in offshore detention”. Put like that, 62% were opposed to the government’s move to repeal it, including 25% who believed the legislation didn’t go far enough. That left only 22% in favour of the pro-government proposition that “legislation will weaken our borders and result in boats arriving”.

The poll was conducted Thursday to Sunday from a sample of 1083.

UK election minus 16 days

The Conservatives maintain a large lead owing to opposition vote-splitting. Was there any politically good move for Labour on Brexit? Also featured: updates from Israel, the US and Hong Kong. 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.

There were seven UK national polls released last weekend. In six of these, the Conservatives held leads of ten to 13 points, while Opinium gave them a 19-point lead. The Conservative plus Brexit party vote has dropped to the mid 40’s from the high 40’s to low 50’s in most of these polls. Opinium is the outlier with a Conservative/Brexit vote of 50%. The Conservatives remain likely to win the December 12 election with a majority.

The Conservatives are being assisted by two factors. First, Brexit Party support is at just 3% in five of the seven polls. Second, the Liberal Democrats have about 15% and the Greens 3%, with Labour on 30%. In Britain’s first-past-the-post system, those who want Labour to adopt a pure Remain position are likely to deliver a Commons majority for a hard Brexit. Some Conservatives who would never vote Labour will vote for the Liberal Democrats, but most Lib Dem votes are at Labour’s expense given Labour won 40% in 2017 and the Lib Dems 7%.

The Conservative vote in six of the seven polls was 41-43%, with 47% in Opinium. With the split in the opposition, a Conservative vote below 40% is probably needed to avert a Conservative majority. The drop in the Conservative/Brexit vote has been taken partly by the Brexit party, but any further drops will impact the Conservatives directly.

On November 19, Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn had their first head-to-head debate. Perhaps Labour’s campaign on the National Health Service is biting, but Corbyn reopened Remain divisions in that debate. On November 21, Labour’s manifesto was released; Labour will hope its left-wing agenda will win back some Lib Dems and Greens.

On November 22, the leaders of the Conservatives, Labour, the Lib Dems and the Scottish National Party participated in BBC Question Time, with each leader getting 30 minutes to answer questions from the public. Jo Swinson of the Lib Dems was strongly criticised for her performance, and this failure could benefit Labour. There will be a three-way debate between Johnson, Corbyn and Swinson Thursday UK time, and a seven-way debate Friday.

Why are Remainers such a problem for Labour and Corbyn?

A YouGov poll gave Johnson a net -4 rating, up two points since August. Corbyn’s net rating was -42, up 17 points. Swinson’s net rating was -18. With Leave voters, Johnson had a +50 rating, while Corbyn was at -21 with Remain voters and Swinson +9. These ratings explain why the Leave vote has consolidated behind the Conservatives, while Remainers are split.

Labour’s current Brexit policy should appeal to Remainers. Labour will negotiate a soft Brexit, then put that to a referendum against Remain. It is likely Remain would win such a referendum. Labour’s problem is much more about the process of getting to the current policy. Corbyn is a known Eurosceptic who was reluctant to move from Labour’s successful pro-Brexit 2017 policy.

Ironically, the Conservatives are likely to win the election because the socialist Corbyn was centrist on a deeply polarising issue. But as I said before, an explicitly pro-Remain Labour would have been accused of disrespecting the 2016 Brexit referendum result and being an elitist party.

Was there any way for Labour to escape its Brexit predicament? I have a very cynical suggestion. Labour needed the economic crisis of a no-deal Brexit before the election, not after. If the Conservative hard right wanted a no-deal, Labour should not have got in the way. It is likely a no-deal will effectively occur after the transition period ends in December 2020.

Election updates: Israel, the US and Hong Kong 

  • In Israel, left-leaning Blue & White leader Benny Gantz failed to form a government by the November 20 deadline. There will be a third election in a year if nobody forms a government by December 11. On November 21, right-wing PM Benjamin Netanyahu was indicted for bribery and fraud.
  • I wrote for The Conversation on November 20 that Pete Buttigieg had surged to a clear lead for the February 3 Iowa Democratic caucus.
  • At Hong Kong local elections held Sunday, pro-Democracy councillors gained control of 17 of the 18 councils, to just one council held by pro-Beijing councillors.

Newspoll: 51-49 to Coalition

A slight lead for the Coalition in the first results to emerge from a new-look Newspoll, which has dropped automated phone calls in favour of an exclusively online polling method.

Big news on the polling front as Newspoll unveils its first set of results based on what The Australian describes as “an improved methodology following an investigation into the failure of the major published polls”. The old series had been limping on post-election with results appearing every three weeks, but this latest result emerges only a fortnight after the last, presumably portending a return to the traditional fortnightly schedule.

The poll credits the Coalition with a two-party lead of 51-49, compared with 50-50 in the result a fortnight ago, from primary votes of Coalition 41% (up one), Labor 33% (down two), Greens 12% (steady) and One Nation 5% (down two). Interestingly, both leaders’ personal ratings are a lot worse than they were in the old series: Scott Morrison’s approval rating is at 43% (down three) with disapproval at 52% (up nine), while Anthony Albanese is at 38% approval (down four, though he was up five last time) and 42% disapproval (up five, though he was down seven last time). No news yet on preferred prime minister, which is presumably still a thing (UPDATE: Morrison’s lead narrows from 46-32 to 46-35).

On the methodological front, the poll has dropped robopolling and is now conducted entirely online. The sample size of 1519 is similar to before (slightly lower in fact), but the field work dates are now Thursday to Saturday rather than Thursday to Sunday. In a column for the newspaper, Campbell White of YouGov Asia-Pacific, which conducts the poll, offers the following on why robopolling has been abandoned:

A decade or so ago, most ­people had landlines and they tended to answer them. There was very little call screening. This meant getting a representative sample was easier and pollsters did not need to be so skilled in modelling and scaling their data. The truth is, the old days are never coming back. In order to do better, we need to consider what we can do differently. We’ve seen a consistent pattern overseas where telephone polling has become less accurate and online polling more so as fewer people answer phone calls and more and more people are online.

White further notes that “annoying and invasive” robopolling is “answered largely by older people or those who are very interested in politics”, while “busy people who are less interested in politics either don’t answer or hang up”. He also reveals that the new series will “weight the data by age interlocked with education and have precise quotas for different types of electorate throughout Australia”, consistent with YouGov’s methodology internationally.

Hopefully the restated commitment to “greater transparency” means we will shortly see comprehensive details of demographic breakdowns and weightings, a commonplace feature of British and American polling that Australian poll watchers could only envy. Stay tuned.

Call of the board: South Australia

Yet more intricate detail on the May federal election result – this time from South Australia, where normality was restored after the Nick Xenophon interruption of 2016.

Welcome to another instalment of the now nearly complete Call of the Board series, a seat-by-seat review of the result of the May federal election. Now is the turn of South Australia, previous instalments having dealt with Sydney (here and here), regional New South Wales, Melbourne, regional Victoria, south-east Queensland, regional Queensland and Western Australia.

So far as the two-party swing was concerned, South Australia was largely a microcosm of the national result, with the Coalition picking up a swing of 1.6% (compared with 1.2% nationally) and no seats changing hands. Similarly, Labor did particularly badly in the regions, suffering big swings in Barker and Grey, compared with a highly consistent pattern of small swings in the metropolitan area. Labor won the statewide two-party preferred vote, as they have done at four out of the past five elections, albeit by a modest margin of 50.7-49.3.

As in previous recent instalments, I offer the following image with colour coding of swings at booth level. Compared with other metropolitan capitals, the divide between Labor swings in inner urban areas and Liberal swings further afield is somewhat less clear here, although the Labor swings are a fairly good proxy for general affluence. This would be even more apparent if the map extended further afield to encompass the Adelaide Hills areas covered by Mayo, where, as noted below, the tide seems to be running against the Liberals, and not just in comparison with Rebekha Sharkie.

On the primary vote, comparisons with 2016 are complicated by the Nick Xenophon factor. The Nick Xenophon Team scored 21.3% statewide in 2016, but its Centre Alliance successor fielded candidates only in the non-metropolitan seats of Mayo, Barker and Grey. Rebekha Sharkie was comfortably re-elected in Mayo, but the party’s vote was slashed in Barker and Grey. Primary votes elsewhere followed similar patterns – to save myself repetition in the seat-by-seat account below, the Xenophon absence left between 16.7% and 20.0% up for grabs in Kingston, Makin, Spence and Sturt, which resulted in primary vote gains of 5.1% to 6.2% for the Liberals, 5.2% to 6.6% for Labor and 2.6% to 3.9% for the Greens.

The other factor worth noting in preliminaries is a redistribution that resulted in the abolition of a seat, part of a trend that has reduced the state’s representation from 13 to 10 since 1990. This caused Port Adelaide to be rolled into Hindmarsh, creating one safe Labor seat out of what were formerly one safe Labor and one marginal seat. The eastern parts of Port Adelaide and Hindmarsh were transferred to Adelaide, setting the seal on a seat that has grown increasingly strong for Labor since the Howard years, while the Glenelg end of Hindmarsh went to Boothby, without changing its complexion as a marginal Liberal seat.

The table below compares two-party results with corresponding totals I have derived from Senate ballot papers, the idea being that this gives some sort of idea as to how results may have been affected by candidate and incumbency factors (two-party results for Labor are shown). This shows a clear pattern of Labor doing better in the House than the Senate in the seats than they hold, whereas there is little distinction in Liberal-held seats. My guess would be that there is a general tendency for Labor to score better in the House and the Senate overall, which is boosted further by sitting member effects in Labor-held seats, while being cancelled out by those in Liberal-held seats. Taking that into account, it would seem Labor’s sitting member advantages were relatively weak in Adelaide and Hindmarsh, which stands to reason given the disturbance of the redistribution.

On with the show:

Continue reading “Call of the board: South Australia”

The heat is on

An issues poll finds concern about climate change up since the May federal election, and national security down.

One sort-of-poll, and three items of Liberal preselection news:

• The latest results of the JWS Research True Issues survey records growing concern about the environment and climate change, which is now rated among the top five most important issues by 38% of respondents, compared with 33% in June and 31% a year ago. There is diminishing concern about immigration and border security (26%, down from 30% in June and 34% last November and defence, security and terrorism (18%, down from 20% in June and 29% a year ago). A range of measures of general optimism and perceptions of government performance produced weaker results than the June survey, which appeared to record a post-election spike in positive sentiment.

• Jim Molan will shortly return to the Senate after winning a party vote last weekend to fill the New South Wales Senate vacancy caused by Arthur Sinodinos’s resignation. Molan scored 321 votes to 260 for former state party director Richard Shields, adding a second silver medal to his collection after being shaded by Dave Sharma in Wentworth last year. This was despite Molan’s attempt to retain his seat from number four on the ticket at the May election by beseeching supporters to vote for him below the line, to the displeasure of some in the party (and still more of the Nationals, who would have been the losers if Molan had succeeded). Molan was reportedly able to secure moderate faction support due to the apprehension that he will not seek another term beyond the next election.

• The Victorian Liberal Party is embroiled in a dispute over a plan for preselection proceedings for the next federal election to start as soon as January, which has been endorsed by the party’s administrative committee but is bitterly opposed by affected federal MPs. The committee is determined not to see a repeat of the previous term, when preselections were taken out of the hands of branch members to head off a number of challenges to sitting members. Those challenges might now come to fruition, most notably a threat to Howard government veteran Kevin Andrews, whose seat of Menzies is of interest to Keith Wolahan, a barrister and former army officer. Tim Wilson in Goldstein and Russell Broadbent in Monash (formerly McMillan) have also been mentioned as potential targets. According to Rob Harris of The Age, votes in Liberal-held seats could happen as soon as late February, with marginal seats to unfold from April to August and Labor-held seats to be taken care of in October.

Matthew Denholm of The Australian ($) reports Eric Abetz and his conservative supporters believe they have seen off a threat to his position at the top of the Liberals’ Tasmanian Senate ticket, following elections for the state party’s preselection committee. Abetz’s opponents believed he should make way for rising star Jonathan Duniam to head the ticket, and for the secure second seat to go to Wendy Askew, one of the Tasmanian Liberals’ limited retinue of women MPs.

UK election minus three weeks

The Conservatives extend their large poll lead — and do the Liberal Democrats want to stop Brexit, or stop Corbyn? Also featured: Spain, Israel, Louisiana and Sri Lanka. 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.

There were six UK national polls released last weekend. Four gave the Conservatives 13 to 17 point leads over Labour, with a Conservative vote in the mid 40s and a Conservative-plus-Brexit Party vote at 48-51%. The remaining two polls were better for Labour, but still had the Conservatives eight points ahead. It’s looking like a Conservative landslide on December 12.

My opinion of what has gone wrong for Labour is that the average voter doesn’t like politics, but there has been far too much front-page politics in the last year, which has been blamed on the 2017 election’s hung parliament – see this Guardian article by a BritainThinks founding partner.

Kevin Bonham has discussed the Tasmanian “bandwagon” effect, in which undecided voters go to the major party most likely to win a majority to keep the Greens from holding the balance of power. So UK voters may be moving to the Conservatives to prevent another hung parliament. Also, Labour’s left-wing proposals are exciting when most voters want politics to return to being boring.

On November 14, Labour announced a policy to make broadband free, paid for by a greater tax on tech giants. It would involve part-nationalisation. I think this is an attempt by Labour to increase youth turnout and win back voters who have turned to the Lib Dems over dislike for Labour’s Brexit policies.

There will be several TV debates, with the first one on Tuesday at 8pm UK time (Wednesday 7am AEDT). This debate will feature Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn head to head. The main risk for Johnson is that Corbyn can use this debate to consolidate the votes of those opposed to Johnson’s deal behind Labour.

Lib Dems: do they want to stop Brexit or stop Corbyn?

On November 12, Liberal Democrat candidate Tim Walker withdrew from Canterbury. In 2017, pro-Remain Labour candidate Rosie Duffield won Canterbury by just a 45.0% to 44.7% margin over the Conservatives, with 8.0% for the Lib Dems. However, the Liberal Democrats nominated a replacement candidate by the November 14 close of nominations. On November 5, party leader Jo Swinson said she was “absolutely categorically ruling out” Corbyn becoming PM via Lib Dem votes.

Commentator Stephen Bush says the Lib Dems are attempting to appeal to affluent voters in the south, who dislike both Brexit and Labour. I have two issues with this strategy. First, better-educated voters globally are more likely to swing to the left, so Labour may not be such a negative with these voters. If the Lib Dems won’t assist Corbyn, what is their plan to stop Brexit given they will win far fewer seats than Labour?

My second issue is that there are still some natural Labour voters in the southern seats the Lib Dems are targeting. The Lib Dems need these Labour supporters to tactically vote Lib Dem. But if Labour voters see it as a contest between “Blue Tories” and “Yellow Tories”, will they move to the Lib Dems?

Election updates: Spain, Israel, Louisiana and Sri Lanka

On November 12 – two days after the second 2019 Spanish election – the leaders of the centre-left Socialists and far-left Podemos reached a tentative deal to form a government. The two parties have 155 of the 350 lower house seats. A small leftist party would bring the left total to 158, but the stability of the government will depend on mostly leftist regional parties, which won 42 seats. Right-wing parties combined won 150 seats.

In Isreal, left-leaning Blue & White leader Benny Gantz has until Wednesday to form a government. If he fails, Israel likely faces its third election in a year.

At Saturday’s US Louisiana state election, the Democrats held the governorship by a 51.3-48.7 margin. Louisiana is normally a strong Republican state. Democrats won the highest office in four of five state elections this November.

At Saturday’s Sri Lankan presidential election, the right-wing Gotabaya Rajapaksa defeated his liberal opponent by a 52.3-42.0 margin. Rajapaksa is the brother of a former authoritarian president.