Newspoll, Morgan and Westpoll

Tomorrow’s Newspoll has Labor maintaining most of its surprise lead from last week, now leading 52-48. Roy Morgan’s face-to-face poll released today had the parties evenly split on two-party preferred. Morgan has suffered enough from the Poll Bludger in one week so he will make no comment on their headline "Hung Parliament Looks Likely". The poll is a big improvement for the Coalition on last week’s comparable face-to-face poll, where they trailed 53-47, but in the ballpark of Friday’s phone poll where they led 51.5-48.5.

Better news for Labor today with The West Australian’s Westpoll running 200-sample surveys of Stirling (Labor 40 per cent; Liberal 37 per cent), Hasluck (Liberal 40 per cent; Labor 37 per cent; Greens 10 per cent) and Kalgoorlie (Liberal 42 per cent; Labor 32 per cent; independent Graeme Campbell 10 per cent). No further breakdown was given; the undecided are presumably not distributed. On these figures Labor would hold on to Stirling and Hasluck, currently assessed by the Poll Bludger and many others as seats they will lose, while they could be philosophical about the tall order confronting them after the death of candidate Kevin Richards in Kalgoorlie, held by Liberal Barry Haase with a margin of 4.3 per cent.

Around the grounds

Week five, and what better way to kick it off than with a batch of new campaign updates for the House of Representatives guide.

Melbourne (Vic, Labor 19.9%): The electorate of senior Labor front-bencher Lindsay Tanner was the subject of an ACNielsen poll in yesterday’s Sunday Age, and it indicated a growing threat to him from the Greens. From a significant sample of 1,006, the results had Tanner on 49 per cent (47.6 per cent in 2001), the Greens’ Gemma Pinnell on 27 (15.8 in 2001) and Liberal Jerry Dimitroulis on 22 per cent (24.9 in 2001). This would mean that for the first time the Liberals would be eliminated before the Greens, who would then receive the overwhelming majority of Liberal preferences. Had Liberal rather than Greens preferences been distributed in the final round in 2001, Lindsay Tanner would have prevailed by roughly 5 per cent. ACNielsen’s two-candidate preferred result favouring Labor over the Greens by 63-37 can be dismissed, as the overwhelming majority of Liberal voters will follow a how-to-vote card that wasn’t available to them during the survey. Tanner could hardly lose with 49 per cent of the primary vote, but he would emerge with an uncomfortable margin and the Greens could feel justified in describing the seat as "marginal Labor/Green".

Eden-Monaro (NSW, Liberal 1.7%): The Eden woodchip mill has emerged as a bargaining chip in preference negotations between Labor and the Greens, who are keeping their options open on preference recommendations in 26 marginal seats pending the full release of environmental policies. Labor will need to factor in a possible lengthening of the odds against them in Eden-Monaro in weighing up the merits of such a deal. The Coalition was earlier seen to have put its pro-logging vote in jeopardy when it proposed to phase out old-growth logging in Tasmania, calculating that anti-logging sentiment in the cities was of greater concern.

Fairfax (Qld, Liberal 9.5%): Labor candidate Dr Ivan Molloy showed admirable loyalty in declining to distance himself from the politically (and indeed intellectually) stupid statement of his wife, state member for Noosa Cate Molloy, that she held Liberal sitting members "accountable" for the Bali and Jakarta bombings. Dr Molloy reacted with a column in The Australian that found less objectionable language to express broadly similar sentiments, but his wife’s statements seem more likely to linger in the public mind.

Solomon (NT, Liberal 0.1%): David Tollner was in the news yet again when it emerged that a neighbour had been attacked by his bull mastiff, curiously named Brussels Sprout, which reportedly resulted in the 27-year-old mother of three being hospitalised for two weeks. The Age reported on September 23 that Tollner’s lawyers wrote to the paper warning that they would be sued for damages if any "false allegations" concerning the incident led to the loss of his seat.

Gippsland (Vic, Nationals 2.6%): Peter McGauran was embarrassed last week when it emerged the Department of Environment had made a submission calling on the Victorian Government to deny access to the Alpine National Park high country by mountain cattlemen, who had been assured by McGauran as their local member that they had the Government’s support.

Trouble and strife

Judith Brett, professor of politics at La Trobe University and author of Australian Liberals and the Moral Middle Class, let fly with her handbag yesterday at those of us who have employed the term "doctors’ wives" to characterise voters who are deserting the Liberal Party in their safest urban electorates (the Poll Bludger’s defence is that he has always employed quotation marks). Among Brett’s numerous well-made points:

Women have always been more sensitive than men to the moral dimensions of politics. They first left their homes to enter public politics in large numbers in the 19th century to support moral causes such as temperance and the abolition of slavery … It was the fear of the moral power of women voters, in particular their opposition to the male pleasures of drinking and gambling, that motivated much of the opposition to the female franchise … Until feminism and the 1970s, the Liberal Party was the natural home of the morally concerned woman looking to cast her vote in the national interest … That Liberals would even use a term such as "doctors’ wives" to describe morally motivated, well-educated middle class women shows the depth of their conviction that self-interest is the main political motivator, that no matter what they say about values, politics is really about class and these women are too woolly-minded to realise it.

That said, it must be granted that class obviously has a fair bit to do with it since these are specifically "middle class" women under discussion; women lower down the social spectrum are as likely to be shifting their votes the other way. Certainly Newspoll’s demographic analysis graphs in Thursday’s Australian, which span results from the past three years, do not suggest any seismic shift on either side of the gender divide since 2001. If Liberal voters in safe urban seats are abandoning their party, there doesn’t seem any particular reason to think that women are driving the phenomenon.

Whatever the reason, it is indeed being seriously suggested that the Liberals harbour fears for members up to and including John Howard in Bennelong, Peter Costello in Higgins and Tony Abbott in Warringah. It was reported last weekend that in Joe Hockey’s seat of North Sydney, a traditionally safe Liberal electorate that was nevertheless won by independent Ted Mack in 1990 and 1993, Liberal internal polling had the combined Labor and Greens vote at 52 per cent. The Poll Bludger suspects that the Liberals are playing games here in a move to scare supporters out of registering a protest vote, just in case. George Megalogenis and Elizabeth Colman of the Australian are on the money when they say the members for these seats are merely "comparing notes on the rumblings from formerly rusted-on supporters" and that a post-materialist anti-Howard backlash can only prove decisive in the more marginal city seats of Adelaide and Deakin in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs, as well as the wild card of Wentworth.

An innings and 300 runs

For the second week in a row ACNielsen has produced an eyebrow-raising primary vote for the Coalition. Speaking on Sky News this evening, Margo Kingston revealed that the poll to appear in tomorrow’s Fairfax broadsheets will have the Coalition on 50 per cent, solidly higher than for any of Howard’s three previous victories and indeed for any major party since 1975. Also today, Roy Morgan produced its first poll in living memory (phone rather than face-to-face) showing the Coalition with a two-party preferred lead, of 51.5-48.5. This nugget of information was buried inside Morgan’s report on the findings for its very interesting poll rating the various opposite numbers in major portfolios. The polls might reflect what were seen to be intemperate displays by Mark Latham in his dealings with reporters on Sunday.

Another one bites the dust

Very bad news for Labor today with The Advertiser running a poll from a remarkable sample of 1,114 showing Liberal incumbent Trish Draper – she of the European travel rorts – leading her quality Labor challenger Tony Zappia 52-48 in the Adelaide electorate of Makin. Primary vote after distribution of 12 per cent undecided: Liberal 46.5 per cent, Labor 41 per cent, Family First 4.5 per cent, Greens and Democrats 2 per cent each). Makin is one of three Adelaide marginals that Labor desperately needs to win if as expected they fail to make substantial inroads in New South Wales and Queensland. The Poll Bludger’s assessment had been the Labor would indeed win all three – one who thinks otherwise is Michelle Wiese Bockmann of The Australian who yesterday criticised "a rudderless, under-funded state campaign marred by factionalism and underwhelming candidates", the latter assessment directed mostly at Adelaide candidate Kate Ellis who "has let state Labor MP Tom Koutsantonis, a key adviser, launch personal attacks on sitting member Trish Worth". That said, the accompanying Newspoll geographic and demographic analysis survey (based on the last two weekend polls that produced national results of 50-50 and 52.5-47.5 in Labor’s favour) indicated a 6 per cent swing to Labor in South Australia. However, this would have been based on a smaller sample for the entire state than the Advertiser poll has for just one electorate, which is sufficient evidence for the Poll Bludger to withdraw Makin as a projected Labor gain. Runs on the Board accordingly shifts another notch in the Coalition’s favour.

Morgan and the Senate

Praise be to the Roy Morgan organisation, which has apparently been asking respondents a bonus question on Senate voting intention since mid-August and has only now chosen to unload the results. The cumulative outcome favours Labor even more heavily than their House of Representatives surveys, with the Coalition down 5 per cent from 2001 to 37 per cent and Labor up 2.4 per cent to 36.5 per cent, while the Greens are up 4.9 to 12 per cent. The big surprise is that the Australian Democrats are on 6 per cent, three times what they have managed in Morgan’s normal polling this year. What follows are Morgan’s takes on these figures, followed by the Poll Bludger’s explanations of why they’re wrong.

New South Wales: The Senate seats would most likely remain unchanged, with the L-NP winning three of the six seats up for election and the ALP winning two seats. The Greens would retain their seat.

Firstly, there is no seat for the Greens to retain. It is Aden Ridgeway of the Democrats who is up for re-election. Secondly, Morgan’s figures have the Coalition on 37 per cent, well short of what they would need to secure the third seat which Morgan predicts here (compare and contrast with their finding for Western Australia). The Coalition’s surplus over their second quota would be 9 per cent, with which they would have to fend off the combination of Family First, One Nation, the Democrats and Liberals for Forests, who have all put each other ahead of the Coalition. That would add up to at least 12 per cent on these figures. Fred Nile also favours Family First ahead of the Coalition. The real outcome would be two Coalition, two Labor and one Greens, plus one from the others – probably Family First.

Queensland: The ALP and L-NP would each have won two seats with Pauline Hanson also winning a seat, resulting in the loss of an L-NP Senator. The remaining seat going to either the Greens or the Democrats – preferences following a vote for Pauline Hanson will be important.

Again Morgan appears not to realise that it’s the Senators elected from 1998 rather than 2001 who are up for re-election. The Coalition in fact only won two seats in 1998 and thus would not "lose" a Senator on the basis of this result. If Hanson indeed wins a seat, her preferences will not be "important" as she will be elected by a narrow margin and will have only a small surplus to pass on. If she fails narrowly, making it through to the the final round as she did in 2001, her preferences will not be distributed at all. But Morgan’s figures in fact give good reason to think she won’t be elected, their assessment to the contrary being based on an apparent spike in the "independent/other" vote from 7 to 13.5 per cent in the most recent weekend’s opinion polling. Firstly, the 13.5 per cent figure would be based on a sample of about 100; secondly, it would still include support for Hetty Johnston and Family First, among others. With just about everyone putting Hanson and One Nation last on preferences, there’s not enough there for her to match the combined vote of the Democrats (7 per cent), Johnston and Family First, who are all preferencing each other. This is a hard one to pick, but the Poll Bludger’s reading of Morgan’s figures is three Labor, two Liberal and one Democrat (namely John Cherry).

Western Australia: The ALP and Liberal Party would each win two seats with the Greens also winning a seat, resulting in the loss of a Liberal Senator. The remaining seat would fall to either the ALP or the Australian Democrats.

Morgan’s Coalition vote from the past two weekends is 43.5 per cent, which is three quotas with 0.5 per cent to spare. How on earth were they able to conclude that the Liberals would not win a third seat, and that Labor, with 30 per cent of the primary vote, might? The outcome based on Morgan’s figures (and indeed on most other reasonable assessments) is as plain as plain can be – Liberal three, Labor two, Greens one.

South Australia: The Liberal Party would win two of its three seats up for re-election, the ALP would win two seats. The remaining two seats would be a contest between the ALP, Australian Democrats, Greens and an Independent – not the Liberal Party.

What independent? Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and say they mean Family First. We then move on to the problem of their figures, the most recent of which show Labor with an unlikely lead over the Liberals of 45 to 31 per cent. In failing to predict Labor will win three seats, Morgan are either confessing that they have no confidence in their figures (and here the Poll Bludger sympathises with Morgan, as he does not begrudge them providing such figures despite the small samples), or demonstrating a failure to understand the Senate election system. If the results are accurate, Labor would win three seats and the Liberals two, with the other going to the Democrats or Greens – the "independent/other" vote of 6 per cent being too low to sustain Family First, despite this being their home state.

Tasmania: The Liberal Party would retain two seats and lose one seat, with the ALP winning two seats (unchanged) and the Greens retaining their one seat. The remaining seat would be contested between the ALP and the Greens.

One more time: this election will replace Senators elected in 1998, not 2001. The result in 1998 was Labor three and Liberal two, plus Brian Harradine. Two seats for Labor would not be "unchanged"; there is no seat for the Greens to retain; and if the Liberals "retain two seats" they will not also "lose one". The Greens’ "one seat" – that of Bob Brown – will remain no matter what happens on October 9. As for the figures, once again the Poll Bludger sympathises with the small samples and will not mock the enormous discrepancy between the results from August and those from during the campaign. But assuming the current results are correct, Morgan appears to be over-rating Labor as well as the Greens, who have been known to fantasise about winning two Tasmanian Senate seats at one election, and missing the combined effect of the mutually preferencing Democrats (4 per cent) and Family First (surely a large part of the 7.5 per cent "independent/others" and the natural inheritors of a part of Brian Harradine’s base). Bearing in mind that a preference deal between Family First and Labor has confused the situation horrendously, these figures if accurate would produce a result of two each for Labor and Liberal plus one for the Greens, with Labor, Liberal, Family First and the Democrats all in contention for the final place.

Victoria: The ALP and L-NP would have each won two seats with the Greens also winning a seat, resulting in the loss of an L-NP Senator. The remaining seat would either go to the ALP or the Australian Democrats.

Correct. Well done.

UPDATE: It appears I did not make it sufficiently clear that the above assessments are an interpretation of Roy Morgan’s figures, rather than what I believe to be the actual state of play. An insight into where the poll might have gone wrong is provided by the "analysis by House of Representatives voting intention" table at the bottom of the page, which indicates implausibly large numbers of people voting for different parties in the House and Senate. Respondents would have been asked about Senate voting intention after they had already given an answer for the House, and many would have felt compelled to nominate a different party because they did not wish to appear unsophisticated. In many cases the Democrats would have been the first name that entered their heads. Having been conducted early in the campaign, these results would also under-estimate Family First, who have been building what Lisa Simpson might reluctantly describe as "the momentum of a runaway train".