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 preference flows

New figures from the AEC confirm the Coalition’s share of Hanson and Palmer preferences was approaching two-thirds, a dramatic increase on past form.

We now have as much in the way of results out of the federal election as we’re ever going to, with the Australian Electoral Commission finally publishing preference flow by party data. The table below offers a summary and how it compares with the last two election. They confirm that YouGov Galaxy/Newspoll was actually too conservative in giving the Coalition 60% of preferences from One Nation and the United Australia Party, with the actual flow for both parties being nearly identical at just over 65%.

The United Australia Party preference flow to the Coalition was very substantially stronger than the 53.7% recorded by the Palmer United Party in 2013, despite its how-to-vote cards directing preferences to the Coalition on both occasions. A result is also listed for Palmer United in 2016, but it is important to read these numbers in conjunction with the column recording the relevant party’s vote share at the election, which in this case was next to zero (it only contested one lower house seat, and barely registered there). Greens preferences did nothing out of the ordinary, being slightly stronger to Labor than in 2016 and slightly weaker than in 2013.

The combined “others” flow to the Coalition rose from 50.8% to 53.6%, largely reflecting the much smaller footprint of the Nick Xenophon Team/Centre Alliance, whose preferences in 2016 split 60-40 to Labor. This also contributes to the smaller share for “others”, with both figures being closer to where they were in 2013. “Inter-Coalition” refers to where there were both Liberal and Nationals candidates in a seat, some of whose preferences will have flowed to Labor rather than each other. The “share” result in this case records the combined Coalition vote in such seats as a share of the national formal vote.

While we’re here, note the blog’s other two recent posts: Adrian Beaumont’s account of Brecon & Radnorshire by-election, and my own in-depth review of the legal challenges against the election of Josh Frydenberg in Kooyong and Gladys Liu in Chisholm.

UK Brecon & Radnorshire by-election: Liberal Democrat gain from Conservative

Polls show gains for the Conservatives at the expense of the Brexit party, and why Parliament is running out of options to prevent no-deal. Guest post by Adrian Beaumont.

Guest post by Adrian Beaumont, who joins us from time to time to provide commentary on elections internationally. Adrian’s work on electoral matters for The Conversation can be found here, and his own website is here.

The by-election for the Conservative-held seat of Brecon & Radnorshire occurred on August 1. The Liberal Democrats won with 43.5% (up 14.3% since the 2017 election), the Conservatives had 39.0% (down 9.6%), the Brexit party had 10.5% and Labour just 5.3% (down 12.5%). In a poll taken before Boris Johnson became PM, vote shares were 43% Lib Dem, 28% Conservative, 20% Brexit and 8% Labour. The results suggest the Conservatives gained about 10% from the Brexit Party after the change in PM.

There have been six polls taken since Boris Johnson became PM on July 24 and appointed a hard Leave Cabinet. The Conservatives have gained at the expense of the Brexit party, and now have 1-5 point leads over Labour in three polls, but ten point leads in two YouGov polls and an Ipsos poll. With the Conservatives consolidating the hard Brexit vote, Labour needs to consolidate voters opposed to no-deal. There are no preferences in first past the post, so if the Conservatives monopolise the hard Brexit vote, they can win if the no-hard Brexit vote is split between Labour, the Lib Dems and Greens.

Labour’s wishy-washiness on Brexit has driven many Remain supporters to the Lib Dems and Greens. But most seats in England and Wales will be Labour vs Conservative contests. If there is a general election soon, Remain supporters could elect a Conservative government by voting for the Lib Dems or Greens. At the 2017 election, Labour had a pro-Brexit position, and they have been reluctant to change lest they lose their Leave voters.

Commons running out of options to avert no-deal

The Commons is not scheduled to return from Summer recess until September 3. If Johnson lost a confidence vote then, the Commons sits for two weeks in an attempt to form a government. If no government can be formed, a new election is required. Under this scenario, the earliest possible election date is October 24 (a Thursday, which UK elections are held on), but Johnson could advise it be held on October 31 or later. If held on October 31 (Brexit day), there would be no time to form a government before the UK crashed out.

Parliament could pass legislation requiring a Brexit extension be requested for an election, but I think Johnson is unlikely to obey any such legislation. It is the government, not parliament, that needs to make this request. I do not think there is anything parliament could do to immediately force a disobedient government to comply, especially given the Commons would be dissolved for the election. If Labour won the election, Johnson could be held in contempt of parliament, but that would be after a no-deal Brexit had occurred.

There are two ways for the Commons to ensure a no-deal Brexit does not happen. One way is to revoke the Brexit legislation altogether, without a referendum. The second way is not just to vote no-confidence in Johnson, but vote for confidence in a new government during the next two weeks. In the second scenario, Labour would be very unlikely to support any non-Labour PM. Perhaps Jeremy Corbyn could be persuaded to step aside, and allow a Labour MP with more cross-party support to become PM, but this scenario is still unlikely.

In summary, unless the Commons enacts one of the above two scenarios, Johnson may be able to force a no-deal Brexit.

Spain’s Socialists fail to form government

The Spanish Socialists won the April 28 election, but as I wrote on my personal website, a lack of cooperation between the Socialists and Podemos could mean another election. Also covered: a landslide for former comedian Zelensky’s party in the Ukraine, and the conservatives easily retain their hold over Japan’s upper house.

Donation drive

At the end of every second month, this site rattles the tin to gently remind its valued readers of its reliance on their patronage. If it tugs at your heart or (better yet) purse strings to know, ad revenue has fallen nearly 90% since the election – although the starting point was low enough that that’s probably not as big a deal as it sounds. In any case, donations are gratefully received via the PressPatron button at the top of the page, or the “become a supporter” buttons that appear at the foot of each post. If you are having technical problems with the donation facilities, please drop me a line at pollbludger-AT-bigpond-DOT-com.

Legal matters

Three Court of Disputed returns challenges target two Liberal election winners in Melbourne: Josh Frydenberg in the safe seat of Kooyong, and Gladys Liu in highly marginal Chisholm.

Hard up upon the deadline for legal challenges to results from the May 18 federal election, three petitions were lodged in the Court of Disputed Returns on Wednesday: two against Josh Frydenberg in Kooyong, and one against Liberal colleague Gladys Liu in the neighbouring seat of Chisholm. Both Frydenberg and Liu face claims arising from section 329 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act, concerning the misleading of electors in relation to the casting of their votes. On top of that, Frydenberg faces a claim he is ineligible to sit in parliament under the citizenship requirements of Section 44.

The Section 44 action is based on the now familiar claim that Frydenberg is entitled to Hungarian citizenship. Since such a claim would be derived through a mother who fled that country in 1943 to escape the Holocaust, most have reckoned Frydenberg to be well at the undeserving end of those entangled in actual or potential complications under the section. The matter was widely canvassed amid the broader Section 44 furore last year, so voters in Kooyong were fully appraised of it when they re-elected him. Nonetheless, this is the only one of the two complaints that could plausibly lead to the seat being vacated, since the fact that Frydenberg won by a comfortable margin is not relevant to his qualification to be a member of parliament.

Continue reading “Legal matters”

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.