Nielsen: 54-46 to Coalition

GhostWhoVotes reports Fairfax’s monthly Nielsen poll has the Coalition leading 54-46. One way to look at this is that there has been no change since a month ago, and this is the line newspapers who commission these polls are generally required to run. However, it was clear enough at the time that the previous result was an outlier, so this poll adds to a general impression of the Coalition lead having blown out from about 51-49 to 54-46. Notably, Nielsen’s two-party result is the same as last week’s Newspoll. Other results since the carbon tax announcement have been a 56-44 Morgan phone poll result, which came from a small sample, and the progress of Essential Research’s fortnightly rolling average from 49-51 to 52-48 to 53-47, from which the hair-splitters among us ascertained weekly results of 55-45 in week one and 51-49 in week two (UPDATE: Actually, Dendrite in comments nicely demonstrates why this need not be so). The latter result always looked like an anomaly, and since it will make up half of tomorrow’s published Essential result there will be cause to regard whatever it is as slightly flattering to Labor. We also had 50-50 from Morgan’s face-to-face, but this was also in keeping with the overall trend when you factor in its consistent bias to Labor.

UPDATE: GhostWhoVotes reports in comments that Nielsen more or less replicates Newspoll in having Kevin Rudd favoured over Julia Gillard by 39 per cent to 34 per cent. One point of agreement to emerge from this morning’s critically acclaimed episode of Insiders was that head-to-head polls of this kind are not to be trusted, as they invite non-supporters of the party to make mischief – which could equally apply to Tony Abbott’s shaky ratings against Malcolm Turnbull and Joe Hockey. Even so, Morgan records Gillard’s lead over Rudd among Labor voters as shrinking from 37 per cent to 10 per cent over the past three months.

UPDATE 2: Full results courtesy of GhostWhoVotes here. The two-party vote being what it is, the primaries are a little better for Labor than anticipated: the Coalition is on 45 per cent, as in Newspoll, but Labor is on 33 per cent rather than 30 per cent. This looks as much like a 53-47 result as a 54-46. Julia Gillard’s approval ratings are substantially better than in Newspoll: approval down five to 47 per cent, disapproval up four 47 per cent. This might be seen as evidence of the bounce leaders traditionally get when before the world stage, which may also have buttressed them a little on voting intention. Whereas the previous Nielsen poll uncovered no evidence of Tony Abbott taking a hit from the Mark Riley death stare and its attendant week of party disunity, this time he is down three on approval to 43 per cent and up three on disapproval to 52 per cent. The preferred prime minister has little changed, with Gillard steady on 51 per cent and Abbott up one to 42 per cent.

UPDATE 3: The latest Essential Research survey joins the 54-46 club, up from 53-47 last week. Labor’s primary vote is down a point to 35 per cent, with the Coalition and the Greens steady on 47 per cent and 10 per cent. The monthly question on personal approval to has Julia Gillard in net negative territory for the first time, her approval down seven points to 41 per cent and disapproval up five to 46 per cent. Tony Abbott is respectively steady on 38 per cent and up a point to 47 per cent. Both have similar ratings for “strongly approve” (7 per cent each) and “strongly disapprove” (24 per cent for Gillard and 27 per cent for Abbott), with the latter notably higher than the former. Gillard’s lead as preferred prime minister has narrowed from 48-31 to 44-33.

Questions on carbon price serve to remind us that wording goes a long way: when asked whether they would support the scheme “if the money paid by big polluting industries was used to compensate low and middle income earners and small businesses for increased prices”, which is pretty much the idea (albeit that there is no shortage of devil in the detail), 54 per cent said they would against only 30 per cent who said they wouldn’t. However, to further emphasise how complicated the politics of this gets, 45 per cent agreed action should be delayed “until the US has established an equal or stronger carbon pricing system” against 33 per cent who did not agree. Respondents were again asked if they merely supported the government’s announcement, with 38 per cent saying yes (up three on last week) and 49 per cent said no (up one).

Questions on same-sex marriage and territory rights underscore the surprisingly candid misgivings The Australian expressed last week about democracy. Forty-nine per cent support same-sex marriage against 40 per cent opposed, while 74 per cent failed to recognise that federal ministers should remain capable of overriding territory legislation at their whim (which The Australian regarded as so self-evident it did not trouble itself to explain why). Only 9 per cent were dopey enough to take the contrary view.

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Newspoll: 63-37 to Coalition in NSW

UPDATE: We now also have, courtesy of the Daily Telegraph, a Galaxy survey of an undisclosed number of respondents in Marrickville which shows Deputy Premier Carmel Tebbutt set to be dumped by Greens candidate and local mayor Fiona Byrne. The poll has the Greens leading 44 per cent to 33 per cent on the primary vote and 57 per cent to 43 per cent after preferences. Of the 16 per cent who voted Liberal, 16 per cent planned to preference the Greens, 12 per cent Labor and 65 per cent would exhaust. The poll was conducted on Wednesday and Thursday.

I wouldn’t have thought opinion polling for the remainder of the NSW election campaign was likely to turn up much in the way of surprises, but the latest Newspoll offers a real curiosity: a six-point dive for the Greens, who are down from 17 per cent to 11 per cent. This has allowed both major parties to make gains, with Labor up three to 26 per cent and the Coalition up four to 50 per cent – a very rare achievement in modern politics. The two-party result is 63-37, which compares with 62-38 in the bi-monthly poll conducted over January and February. However, given the impact of optional preferential voting, the improvement in Labor’s primary vote means this is a “better” result for them than last time.

On personal ratings, there has been a substantial drop in the uncommitted response for both leaders. I am tempted to link this to the decline in support for the Greens – with a leader-centred election campaign now in full swing, the Greens are being squeezed out of the media space and wavering voters are jumping off the fence. Kristina Keneally has lifted herself off the floor with a four point increase on approval to 34 per cent, but she’s also up a point on disapproval to 58 per cent with uncommitted down five to 8 per cent. Barry O’Farrell’s approval rating is up even further than Keneally’s, by six points to 49 per cent, with disapproval up two to 37 per cent and uncommitted down eight to 14 per cent. O’Farrell’s lead as preferred premier has narrowed slightly, from 47-32 to 48-35.

A question on firmness of voting intention more or less replicates the Galaxy result of last week in finding what remains of the Labor vote softer (53 per cent say definite, 38 per cent say not definite, 8 per cent say they could go either way) than for the Coalition (70 per cent, 22 per cent and 5 per cent). A question on which party respondents expect to win shows 11 per cent getting the answer wrong and 77 per cent getting it right. Full tables courtesy of GhostWhoVotes.

I had the following to relate in a post earlier today – since this was only a few hours ago, I’ve reupholstered the existing thread with the Newspoll results rather than start again.

• The Daily Telegraph reports Labor internal polling is so bad that John Robertson appears headed for defeat in his bid to move from the upper house to the lower house seat of Blacktown, which has a margin of 22.4 per cent. To be precise, while “one union source” believes the polling shows him holding on by between 3 and 5 per cent, “other senior party sources said it was worse and he could lose the seat”. Also likely to fall are Mulgoa (margin 11.1 per cent, being vacated by the retirement of Diane Beamer), Smithfield (15.5 per cent, held by Ninos Khoshaba), Macquarie Fields (11.1 per cent, held by Andrew McDonald) and even Toongabbie (14.5 per cent, held by former Premier Nathan Rees).

• Yesterday saw the closure of nominations and the drawing of ballot paper positions. There are 498 candidates for the Legislative Assembly, down from 537 in 2007, and 311 for the Legislative Council, down from 333. The Coalition lucked out by drawing “group A” for the Legislative Council, which will put them on the far left of the ballot paper.

• Sean Nicholls of the Sydney Morning Herald reports the entry of former Leichhardt mayor Maire Sheehan into the race for Balmain has given an “unexpected boost” to Labor member Verity Firth in her bid to hold off a challenge from Jamie Parker, Greens candidate and mayor of Leichhardt. Antony Green agrees the entry of Sheehan could further split the non-Labor vote, with Sheehan declaring she will not be directing preferences. Sheehan sided with Liberal and Labor councillors in 2004 which deprived Jamie Parker of the mayoralty for four years.

• The Australian Financial Review reports the Liberals will announce today (and may have already done so) that they will not be directing preferences.

Latest additions to the election guide, focusing on Sydney’s outer west and south-west:

Wollondilly (Labor 3.3%): Labor did well to recruit local mayor Phil Costa as candidate to this newly created seat in 2007, who did much to allow them to retain the seat. He is gamely taking the field again, but faces certain defeat at the hands of local councillor Jai Rowell.

Camden (Labor 4.0%): Labor’s Geoff Corrigan has held this south-western outskirts seat since 2003, but now stands no chance of holding off local mayor and Liberal candidate Chris Patterson, who is making a second tilt after falling short in 2007.

Londonderry (Labor 6.9%): This seat has had two Labor members since it was created in 1988: Paul Gibson, who moved to Blacktown in the shake-up resulting from the reduction in the size of parliament in 1999; Jim Anderson, who died on the morning of the 2003 election; and Allan Shearan, a former Blacktown councillor who has remained on the back bench in his two terms in parliament. He stands next to no chance of winning a third, with Hawkesbury mayor Bert Bassett looking certain to win the seat for the Liberals on his second attempt after falling well short in 2007.

Penrith (Labor 9.2%/Liberal 16.5%): Until June last year, the Liberals had only hend Penrith for a single term since its creation in 1973. Then came Labor member Karyn Paluzzano’s resignation after admitting lying to the Independent Commission Against Corruption, followed by a record-shattering by-election in which Labor was dumped by an unprecedented 25.7 per cent swing. The coming election is a re-match between Liberal member Stuart Ayres and Labor candidate John Thain, who despite his profile as the local mayor has no chance of winning.

Blue Mountains (Labor 11.1%): This seat has been something of a bellwether since Labor gained it from an independent when Neville Wran’s government came to power in 1976, falling to the Liberals with the election of the Greiner government in 1988 before Labor resumed it when Bob Carr came to power in 1995. Outside of the seven-year Liberal interregnum it was held for Labor by Bob Debus from 1981 until 2007, when he moved to federal politics for a term as member for Macquarie. Former Rural Fire Services commissioner Phil Koperberg has since held it for a single troubled term, and will not seek another. Liberal candidate Roza Sage, a local dentist, is odds on to defeat Labor candidate Trish Doyle, a staffer to Koperberg.

Mulgoa (Labor 11.1%): Mulgoa existed for one term after 1988 and was re-created in 1999, having been held at all times by Labor. Diane Beamer, who crucially won Badgerys Creek for Labor in 1995 before moving to Mulgoa after it was abolished in 1999, is bowing out at the coming election, further complicating Labor’s difficult task of retaining the seat. The candidates are Prue Guillaume for Labor and Tanya Davies for Liberal, both Penrith councillors. As noted above, internal polling reportedly has Labor bracing for defeat.

Morgan: 56-44 to Coalition phone poll; 50-50 face-to-face

Morgan has published results from a phone poll conducted from Tuesday to Thursday, which shows the Coalition opening a commanding 56-44 lead on two-party preferred (using the superior measure of allocating preferences according to the results of the past election – on respondent-allocated preferences it’s 55.5-44.5), from primary votes of 31.5 per cent for Labor, 47.5 per cent for the Coalition and 10 per cent for the Greens. The poll covered a typically modest sample of 524, with a margin of error of a bit under 4.5 per cent.

Respondents were also asked about the carbon tax (33 per cent support, 57 per cent oppose); whether, in light of Julia Gillard’s pre-election statement “there will be no carbon tax under the Government I lead”, she had lied (72 per cent yes, 19 per cent no); and whether respondents supported Tony Abbott’s policy to rescind the tax in government (46 per cent yes, 42 per cent no). The results on carbon tax are solidly worse for the government than this week’s Essential Research poll, which had 35 per cent supportive and 48 per cent opposed. When compared to the results from Newspoll and Morgan, the voting intention figures in the Essential poll appear to suggest they hit upon a good sample for Labor in last week’s polling. Newspoll asked a broader question on support for paying more for energy sources if it would help stop global warming, rather than engaging with the government’s policy specifically: this had 47 per cent in favour and 49 per cent against.

The phone poll also offers personal ratings which reinforce the finding from Newspoll that Julia Gillard is now less popular than Kevin Rudd. Gillard is down four points as preferred Labor leader to 25 per cent, while Rudd is up one to 28 per cent. On the question of “preferred Labor leader other than Gillard”, Kevin Rudd has 36 per cent against 11 per cent for Stephen Smith, 9 per cent for Greg Combet and Wayne Swan and 6 per cent for Bill Shorten. After a dive for Tony Abbott in late February, the equivalent Liberal figures are back where they were in early February: Malcolm Turnbull leads Abbott 28 per cent (down six) to 24 per cent (up four), with Joe Hockey on 22 per cent (down four). Absent Abbott, Turnbull and Hockey are tied on 33 per cent, with Julie Bishop a distant third on 11 per cent.

Morgan has concurrently published results from their face-to-face polling over the past two weekends, and these are characteristically much better for Labor, showing a dead heat on two-party preferred. Presumably to emphasise the impact of the carbon tax, Morgan has also published separate figures for the two weekends of polling: two weekends ago, shortly after the carbon tax was announced, Labor led 53.5-46.5; one weekend ago, the Coalition had opened up a 52-48 lead. Respondent-allocated preferences from both weekends produced better results for the Coalition. The primary vote figures were 39 per cent for Labor (41 per cent on the first weekend, 37 per cent on the second), 44 per cent for the Coalition (41 per cent and 46.5 per cent) and 10.5 per cent for the Greens (11.5 per cent and 9.5 per cent). The sample for each week was a bit under 900; this technically gives a margin of error of a bit under 3.5 per cent, but equally significant is the consistent Labor bias in face-to-face polling.

NSW election minus 16 days

Some happenings from the slow-motion train wreck that is the New South Wales state election campaign:

• Pauline Hanson has announced she will make yet another run for election, this time as a candidate for the New South Wales Legislative Council. This is her second tilt at this particular office, her first being in 2003 when polled an insufficient 1.8 per cent. Hanson has often been accused of running for office to access generous public funding arrangements for candidates with enough profile to clear a vote threshold, but the system in New South Wales was reformed late last year to prevent that happening (and in any case, she failed to clear the threshold in 2003). Antony Green offers a lowdown on Hanson’s electoral life and times.

• Imre Salusinszky of The Australian reported on Monday that Labor’s furniture-saving strategy involved abandoning any seat with a margin in single figures and focusing its energies on seats within the range of 10 per cent to 25 per cent. With new campaign finance laws limiting expenditure in any given electorate to $150,000, Labor reportedly plans to knock on the door of such limit in its western Sydney and Illawarra heartlands, while limiting the spend in its held seats of Blue Mountains and Heathcote to $20,000.

• The Greens have announced they will direct preferences to independent Gordon Bradbery in Wollongong. This is bad news for Labor member Noreen Hay, who was found by an Illawarra Mercury local poll last week to hold a narrow 53-47 lead over Bradbery, a local Wesley Uniting Church minister.

• Damon Cronshaw of the Newcastle Herald reports Lake Macquarie councillor Barry Johnston will run as an independent in Charlestown, where Labor member Matthew Morris will battle to defend his 14.6 per cent margin.

• Nominations close at noon today.

Meanwhile, I will continue to build on my election guide region by region and provide overviews in turn. The newest additions are from the Newcastle/Hunter region and its rural surrounds, home to a brace of seats in the low-teens margin range where the results are expected to be closest. The last time the Hunter region expressed its displeasure with Labor in a big way was with the defeat of the Unsworth government in 1988, when Newcastle and Swansea were won by independents, Cessnock fell to a Liberal and Port Stephens went within an ace of going the same way. The rebellion proved short-lived: Labor comfortably recovered the three seats it lost in 1991 and boosted its margins where they had held on.

The picture since has been of Labor security in every electorate except Port Stephens, which the 1991 redistribution rendered winnable for the Liberals. However, they were not able to fulfil their promise until the retirement of sitting member John Bartlett in 2007, when Liberal candidate Craig Baumann secured a 68-vote win. The 2007 election also saw Labor again come under assault from independents, unseating them in Lake Macquarie and running them close in Newcastle. This election represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the Liberals to make more serious inroads in the Hunter region than just Port Stephens, although there is again the complication in some seats that independents might beat them to it. The seats of consequence are as follows:

Wallsend (Labor 15.6%): Wallsend covers the north-western suburbs of Newcastle, and has an unbroken record as a Labor seat going back to 1894, including when it was named Kurri Kurri from 1930 to 1968 and exclusing its abolition during the proportional representation years of 1920 and 1927. Sonia Hornery came to the seat at the 2007 election, and may have done herself some local favours by publicly opposing the privatisation of an aged care facility in her electorate, costing her her position as parliamentary secretary. The Liberals have endorsed Christopher Dolan, a paediatric nurse at John Hunter Hospital’s neo-natal intensive care unit. A Newcastle councillor, Shayne Connell, is running as an independent.

Charlestown (Labor 14.6%): Charlestown succeeded the abolished seat of Kahibah in 1971; between them they have been in Labor hands since 1927, outside the interruption of an independent Labor in the early 1950s. Part of a local Labor dynasty, Matthew Morris has held the seat since 2003. His Liberal opponent is Andrew Cornwell, a veterinarian.

Cessnock (Labor 12.4%): Outside of the interruption of proportional representation between 1920 and 1927, Labor won Cessnock at every election after its creation in 1913 with the exception of 1988, when Liberal candidate Bob Roberts defeated sitting member Stan Neilly. Neilly recovered the seat in 1991, and it has been held since by Kerry Hickey. With Hickey joining the Labor exodus at the coming election, the seat will be contested for Labor by Port Stephens council officer Clayton Barr. Barr is opposed by councillors galore: mayor Alison Davey for the Nationals, James Ryan for the Gerens and independents Allan McCudden and Dale Troy, who was elected to council as a Liberal.

Swansea (Labor 10.8%): Formerly held by the notorious Milton Orkopoulos, currently serving 13 years for offences including sexual assault of a minor, Swansea stayed in Labor hands with Robert Coombs’s comfortable win in 2007. This time Coombs faces not only Liberal candidate and Lake Macquarie deputy mayor Garry Edwards, but also independent Gillian Sneddon – a former staffer to Orkopoulos who informed police of a call she had received from a man claiming to have been abused by him at the age of 15. Sneddon has since been seeking compensation for harrassment and bullying she claims to have been subjected to in the office afterwards.

Newcastle (Labor 1.2% versus Independent): Newcastle has been held by Labor for all but one term since proportional representation was abolished in 1927. The exception once again involved the Unsworth government’s defeat in 1988, when it fell to Newcastle Chamber of Commerce and Industry president and independent candidate George Keegan. Current member Jodi McKay was only just able to hold off further independent challenges after sitting member Bryce Gaudry was dumped for preselection in 2007. Lord Mayor John Tate polled 24.1 per cent of the vote last time, while Gaudry himself managed 21.0 per cent. Tate is again taking the field, and McKay does not appear well placed to hold him off.

Newspoll: 56-44 to Liberal in SA

GhostWhoVotes reports Newspoll has published its first poll of state voting intention in South Australia since Labor’s lucky escape at last year’s election. After limping to a majority at the election despite with 48.4 per cent of the two-party vote, the poll finds Labor trailing 56-44 and joining its New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australian (and very nearly federal) counterparts in falling below 30 per cent of the primary vote. The Labor primary vote of 29 per cent compares with 37.5 per cent at the election, but the Liberals are only up from 41.7 per cent to 42 per cent. The balance has mostly been soaked up by the Greens, who have soared from 8.1 per cent to 14 per cent.

Liberal leader Isobel Redmond has also opened up a commanding 50-32 lead over Mike Rann, whose long overdue departure must be awaited in Labor circles with growing impatience. Rann’s approval rating has crashed to 30 per cent, compared with 43 per cent in the pre-election Newspoll, while his disapproval has gone from 48 per cent to 59 per cent. Redmond has also gone backwards slightly, albeit off a very good base: her approval rating of 52 per cent compares with 59 per cent pre-election, while her disapproval has gone from 23 per cent to 25 per cent.

Oddly, the poll has been conducted entirely over the past week, in contrast to Newspoll’s usual practice of saving up responses from their federal polling and publishing them as quarterly results. The sample is 1028, with Newspoll’s usual 3 per cent margin of error. The graphic from The Australian helpfully charts the long-term decline in Rann’s net approval rating since he became Premier in 2002. The only other South Australian polls published since the state election have been two small sample efforts conducted in house by The Advertiser, both of which had the Liberals ahead 54-46, with Labor on 31 per cent and 30 per cent. The more recent poll, published on February 13, gave Redmond an ever bigger lead than Rann as preferred premier: 58 per cent to 31 per cent. Both polls had samples of slightly over 500.