Highlights of day three

Peter van Onselen offers the following on internal polling in The Australian:

The Australian understands that Labor’s track polling shows its support is lifting in all states except Queensland, where the combinations of the toppling of Kevin Rudd (a local boy) and the deep unpopularity of the state government and Premier Anna Bligh are stifling support. The numbers suggest Labor could lose a host of seats in the Sunshine State. Attempts to arrest the decline include efforts by candidates to localise campaigns, along with sending Julia Gillard to Queensland for the early part of the campaign to break down the growing angst against her for tearing down an elected prime minister. Labor sources point out the irony is that during Rudd’s leadership, Queensland had been a problematic state where dissatisfaction with the job he was doing was high.

Perhaps surprisingly, the dip in support for Labor in Western Australia has been contained and a small upsurge has occurred. The same results have been seen in NSW on the strength of Labor’s changed border protection policy under Ms Gillard. The Coalition is facing financial constraints and is not doing anywhere near the amount of expensive track polling it did at the last election, or as much as Labor is doing now, according to one senior Liberal source. But the quantitative research the Coalition has done is said to have buoyed Tony Abbott and Brian Loughnane about their chances of a competitive result or even an upset victory. The Coalition is apparently tracking better in key marginal seats than published polls with wider samples such as Newspoll might suggest.

Around the grounds:

• Labor and the Greens have confirmed a preference deal in which the latter will receive Senate preferences across the country, and the former will get lower house preferences in 44 of 50 marginal seats. The Sydney Morning Herald reports local Greens in six seats have refused to abide by the deal: Lindsay and Gilmore in NSW, Herbert, Blair and Dawson in Queensland, and Sturt in South Australia.

• While Tony Abbott was having a rough ride in Melbourne, Julia Gillard spent the first weekday of the campaign targeting the Townsville seat of Herbert, where Liberal member Peter Lindsay is retiring and redistribution has nudged the seat from super-marginal Liberal to super-marginal Labor. Gillard spent the visit spruiking the Better Regional Cities policy which was unveiled the on Sunday, which will commit $200 million to affordable housing in regional cities.

• The Australian’s Samantha Maiden and Dennis Shanahan have both written today of a slick and efficient early campaign performance from Labor’s media unit that is leaving the opposition in its wake. According to Maiden, “media organisations are being carpet-bombed by an ALP campaign unit on steroids that is racing out media alerts, audio files of Coalition gaffes and interview transcripts via the social networking site Twitter”. The Sydney Morning Herald reports the Liberal campaign headquarters will not be operational until today.

• The ABC reports police have ruled out a firearm being responsible for damage to the home and campaign office of Brent Thomas, Labor’s candidate for Hughes, with a slingshot deemed more likely.

Newspoll: 55-45 to Labor; Galaxy: 50-50

Whom to believe? The first two polls conducted during the election campaign proper have turned in wildly different results. Newspoll has Labor with a lead so overwhelming that The Australian describes it as “solid”. On the primary vote Labor holds the lead for the first time since mid-April, with their own vote steady on 42 per cent and the Coalition down two points to 38 per cent. That translates into a landslide-winning two-party preferred split of 55-45, compared with 53-47 at the previous poll three weeks ago. We are told that Julia Gillard now holds a 30 point lead as preferred prime minister, up from 24 per cent last time. Galaxy on the other hand has turned in its second poll in as many days, this one conducted on Saturday night from a sample of 800 (yesterday’s poll, which had Labor ahead 52-48, was conducted in the last days before the election was called), and it has the two parties tied on two-party preferred, with Labor’s primary vote down a point to 38 per cent and the Coalition up two to 44 per cent. However, Julia Gillard maintains huge leads on attitudinal questions, in particular “more in touch with voters” (56-28). Both polls have the Greens on 12 per cent. The margins of error are about 3 per cent for Newspoll and 3.5 per cent for Galaxy.

UPDATE: Full results from Newspoll here and Galaxy here. Newspoll has sought personal ratings on Julia Gillard for the first time, which have her at 48 per cent approval and 29 per cent disapproval. Tony Abbott’s ratings have sagged heavily: approval is down six to 36 per cent, disapproval up 10 to 51 per cent. Gillard’s lead as preferred prime minister has widened from 53-29 to 57-27. Both polls also ask voters to identify the best party to handle the economy, climate change and asylum seekers/border security. Oddly, Labor gets better results on items two and three (and the same on item one) from Galaxy.

Other news:

• According to Sid Maher in The Weekend Australian, Coalition polling in the Brisbane area has it “12 points clear of Labor in one marginal seat, and Labor sources concede that the party’s primary vote remains below 40 per cent in some key areas”. Discussing internal polling in Queensland on Insiders yesterday, Dennis Atkins of the Courier-Mail spoke of “seats that are next to each other, one which has got a 5, 6 per cent swing against Labor, the other one hasn’t budged, no swing whatsoever”. He also related that “even the Liberals are saying they can’t make it in Herbert”.

Phillip Hudson of the Herald-Sun reports leaked party research indicates Labor has been focus group testing television advertisements featuring Julia Gillard attacking Tony Abbott on health, education, broadband and WorkChoices, unified by the theme: “Don’t let Tony Abbott take us backwards”.

• The Daily Telegraph reports police are investigating what appear to have been gun shots fired into the home and campaign office of Brent Thomas, Labor’s candidate for the marginal Liberal seat of Hughes.

• Two men have been reported for allegedly assaulting a Liberal volunteer who was on the campaign trail with Jassmine Wood, candidate for the marginal Labor Adelaide seat of Hindmarsh. The incident reportedly followed a dispute over the Liberals’ policies on asylum seekers.

• Drew Warne-Smith of The Australian reports GetUp! will take the Australian Electoral Commission to court over its determination that it would not accept enrolments placed through its OzEnrol.com.au website, which sought to facilitiate online enrolment by having the required signature filled out through a mouse of trackpad.

• Malcolm Mackerras has tipped a slightly increased majority for Labor, of 85 seats to the Coalition’s 65.

UPDATE 2: Essential Research, conducted from Tuesday to Sunday, concurs with Newspoll at 55-45. This is the same result as the previous week, with the Coalition up a point on the primary vote to 39 per cent, Labor steady on 41 per cent and the Greens steady on 13 per cent. Julia Gillard is up on both approval (four points to 52 per cent) and disapproval (three points to 30 per cent), while Abbott’s three point gain on approval (40 per cent) comes out of a lower disapproval. Gillard’s lead as preferred prime minister has widened from her debut from 49-29 to 53-26. Also featured are most important election issues, best party to handle them and some hard-to-read stuff on “Australian values”.

Galaxy: 52-48 to Labor

Nothing to link to yet, but the Channel Nine news has told of Galaxy polling to appear in News Limited’s Sunday tabloids showing Labor with a 52-48 lead on two-party preferred, with Julia Gillard leading Tony Abbott as preferred prime minister 55-32. On the former count Galaxy has shown impressive consistency: it’s the same result as the poll conducted on the first two evenings of Gillard’s prime ministership (which came with breakdowns for each of the two evenings, both of which had it at 52-48), as well as its poll of last week. More to follow.

UPDATE: Full results here. Stability too on the primary vote: Labor and the Coalition steady on 39 per cent and 42 per cent respectively, the Greens down one to 13 per cent and others up one to 6 per cent. A very healthy 67 per cent support an early election (which Patricia Karvelas of The Australian absurdly described as “exceptionally early” – as Possum points out, this was in fact the longest serving first term government since World War II). Labor is rated as less underserving to win than the Coalition, 40 per cent to 30 per cent, but 57 per cent think Labor’s treatment of Kevin Rudd will harm its chances against 37 per cent who disagree.

It’s on: August 21

The Prime Minister has surprised nobody by confirming this morning that Australia has entered its first winter election campaign since 1987. The final remaining question – whether the date would be August 21 or 28 – has been resolved in favour of the former, meaning the issue of the writs and consequent closure of enrolments will occur on Monday, to Labor’s disadvantage (John Howard strikes from the grave). Psephos in comments identifies an auspicious historical precedent on this date for Labor. Appropriately, Antony Green’s election guide has opened for business this morning, and an impressive effort from Ben Raue at The Tally Room has been going for a while. My own effort will follow over the coming week.

Some recent happenings on the candidate selection front:

Fairfax reports there have been talks between Tony Abbott and Mal Brough about the latter returning to politics, with Brough indicating he would be interested in his home electorate of Fisher on the Sunshine Coast. The seat is held by underachieving long-term member Peter Slipper, who denies having been tapped on the shoulder.

• Another Liberal National Party candidate has bitten the dust, this time in Kevin Rudd’s seat of Griffith. Emma Chalmers of The Courier-Mail reports a belief in the LNP camp that Rudd might quit after all led it to dump John Humphreys, an economist and one-time principal of the libertarian Liberal Democratic Party, so it could lock in a higher profile candidate with the potential to win the seat. The report goes so far as to nominate potential successors to Rudd: “Brisbane City Council Labor leader Shayne Sutton, lawyer Russell Thirgood and former state party treasurer Damian Power, who are all from Mr Rudd’s faction”.

AAP reports Belinda Neal is refusing to say whether she will contest her seat of Robertson as an independent. Speculation has been boosted by the fact that she made the effort to advertise for a vacant media officer position on the weekend.

• The Liberals finally got around to choosing a candidate for the famously crucial western Sydney seat of Lindsay on Monday, with 33-year-old marketing manager Fiona Scott winning the preselection vote over 55-year-old school teacher Margaret Grand by 31 votes to seven. The Daily Telegraph reports Scott recommended herself to the party as she was “a safe candidate“ who “wouldn’t get in the way” of a backlash against the government on asylum seekers.

• The Liberals will today preselect candidates for other Sydney seats including winnable Greenway, which according to the Blacktown Sun looms as a contest between “Jayme Diaz, 34, and small business operator Venus Priest, 40”.

• Labor’s member for the highly endangered Queensland seat of Flynn, Chris Trevor, has confirmed he will contest the election after suggestions he was sufficiently alienated by Kevin Rudd’s demise to call it a day. Trevor took the opportunity of his announcement to condemn the “disgraceful” manner of Rudd’s treatment by “various factional bosses”.

Dennis Shanahan of The Australian says Julia Gillard was prompted to challenge for the leadership by “polling in marginal seats in western Sydney and Queensland that showed she and the Liberal leader were ahead of the then prime minister in the key Labor-held seat of Lindsay in Sydney’s west and she was only six percentage points behind in Rudd’s home state of Queensland as preferred Labor leader”.

Morgan: 53.5-46.5 to Labor

What everyone expects to be the last Morgan face-to-face poll before tomorrow’s election announcement finds Labor’s two-party lead slipping from 56.5-43.5 to 53.5-46.5, if using the preference figure derived from the 2007 election results. However, Labor is evidently doing better now with respondent-allocated preferences, which Morgan is now using as the basis for its headline calculation, as their lead on that measure has only slipped from 55-45 to 54.5-45.5. The primary vote figures give Labor cause for concern: their primary vote is down five to 40.5 per cent, with the Coalition up three to 41 per cent and the Greens up 1.5 per cent to 12 per cent. This is very similar to the last poll under Kevin Rudd, except that Labor and the Greens are each 0.5 per cent lower with “others” 1 per cent higher.

Galaxy and Nielsen: 52-48 to Labor

The Courier-Mail has published a Galaxy poll of 1009 respondents “conducted over the weekend” which shows Labor with a 52-48 lead on two-party preferred, the same as recorded in the snap poll of 800 respondents conducted on the day Julia Gillard assumed the leadership. However, Labor has lost ground on the primary vote to the Greens, down two points to 39 per cent with the Greens up three to 14 per cent. The Coalition is steady on 42 per cent. In spite of everything, two-thirds of respondents are said to support the plan on asylum seekers announced last week by Gillard, although “about six in 10” believe the measures “were not well thought out and were rushed”. The Fairfax broadsheets should come good with a Nielsen poll later this evening.

UPDATE: The Nielsen poll, conducted Thursday to Saturday from a sample of 1400, concurs on every particular except the Greens vote, which is at 13 per cent rather than 14 per cent. The sting in the tail for the government here is that it comes off the back of a quirkily favourable 55-45 result from Nielsen immediately after the leadership change. The poll has Julia Gillard leading Tony Abbott as preferred prime minister 56-35, little different from her 55-34 lead previously. Approval ratings for Gillard have been gauged for the first time, and they have her at 54 per cent approve and 32 per cent disapprove. Reversing the last result, Tony Abbott is up on both approval (three points to 43 per cent) and disapproval (five points to 51 per cent), the latter shift probably reflecting an unfriendly sample last time.

A series of “best party to handle” questions turns up a surprise in giving the Coalition only a very slight 44-42 lead on asylum seekers, and when the Greens are included in the mix Labor’s score shows a six point improvement since the question was last asked in March. However, Labor would be alarmed to have slipped a further three points on the economy, with the Coalition opening up a dangerous 53-39 lead. Labor has taken four points off the Coalition as best party to handle health since March, now holding a commanding 57-33 lead that goes a fair way to explaining their latest television ad. Labor retains commanding leads on education (53-36), the environment (51-35) and industrial relations (58-34).

UPDATE 3: Essential Research has Labor up slightly from 54-46 to 55-45, although the primary votes suggest rounding has a fair bit to do with the improvement: both parties are down one on the primary vote, Labor to 41 per cent and Coalition to 38 per cent, with the Greens up two to 13 per cent. The supplementary questions are interesting: Julia Gillard’s mining tax changes have gone down well, supported by 50 per cent and opposed by 28 per cent, with 58 per cent rating Gillard’s handling of the issue “good” against 25 per cent “poor”. However, 41 per cent believed mining companies wielded “too much influence” in the process. The asylum seeker announcement slightly improved Labor’s position on the issue, which 56 per cent continue to think “too soft” (down 11 points) against 21 per cent for “taking the right approach” (up three), and the Coalition lead as best-party-to-handle has narrowed from 34-23 to 31-24. In spite of everything Gillard’s handling of the issue has 42 per cent approval and 33 per cent disapproval. Questions on the likelihood of WorkChoices being reintroduced under a Coalition government are little changed since the question was asked six weeks ago, with most believing they would and few happy about the prospect.