For richer, for poorer

After taking a pounding in the polls at the end of the first week, Labor can expect the ball to bounce back their way starting tomorrow with Roy Morgan (I’m assuming their polls will now be weekly). While the family benefits issue remains a source of confusion, Mark Latham has unquestionably "cut through" with his message that workers on less than $52,000 will get hamburgers and milkshakes that will not be available to them under the Coalition. No doubt the policy is well targeted socially, but that might not make it well targeted electorally. If Labor is the party of the low income earner, won’t the dividend be wasted in safe seats?

This Australian Parliamentary Library spreadsheet, ranking electorates in order of taxable income per taxable individual, suggests otherwise. It is true that the average figure is less than $52,000 in all but the top eight seats, all of which are held securely for the Liberal Party unless you don’t count Wentworth. But the Coalition also monopolises the bottom seven, four of which are National Party seats. In reality the urban/rural divide is a more significant cleavage than income ranking, with the Coalition tending to dominate in regional areas where both incomes and the cost of living are lower.

The figures for the 24 most marginal Coalition-held seats are listed in the following table, with their ranking out of the 150 seats in brackets:

Solomon (0.1%) 38113 (43) Hinkler (2.3%) 32599 (127)
Dobell (0.4%) 35772 (71) Moreton (2.5%) 36581 (59)
Canning (0.4%) 34218 (99) Longman (2.5%) 30859 (145)
Adelaide (0.6%) 43120 (21) Gippsland (2.6%) 33577 (111)
Hindmarsh (1.1%) 36481 (61) Page (2.8%) 30402 (147)
Parramatta (1.2%) 38886 (38) McMillan (2.9%) 32734 (124)
Paterson (1.5%) 34827 (89) Bowman (3.1%) 35502 (76)
Herbert (1.5%) 35498 (77) Petrie (3.5%) 34667 (93)
Deakin (1.6%) 38319 (42) La Trobe (3.7%) 36792 (54)
Eden-Monaro (1.7%) 34981 (86) Makin (3.8%) 33014 (120)
Richmond (1.7%) 30772 (146) Kalgoorlie (4.4%) 41741 (25)
McEwen (2.2%) 36192 (66) Cowper (4.8%) 29895 (149)

Broadly speaking the very most marginal seats, most of them in cities or suburbs, are disappointingly well off from Labor’s perspective. But it’s a different story in the 2 to 3 per cent range, where there is a clump of low-income non-metropolitan electorates including three held by the National Party. They include Richmond and Page on the New South Wales north coast; Gippsland and its neighbour McMillan (held by Labor but notionally Coalition after the redistribution) in eastern Victoria; and in all important Queensland, Longman on the Sunshine Coast and the Gladstone/Bundaberg seat of Hinkler. It’s also in the former category of electorate where the Coalition’s campaigning on interest rates is likely to have its greatest impact. Unless the Coalition can find another way to sway wage earners in regional electorates, it could be here that they face the greater challenge.

On the beach

The Poll Bludger, along with a number of others (Peter Coleman and Alan Jones spring to mind), could yet be made to eat his words on the folly of Peter King’s plan to run as an independent in Wentworth if Labor polling leaked to The Australian yesterday is accurate. The results were Malcolm Turnbull 30 per cent, Labor’s David Patch 27 per cent, Peter King 25 per cent and the Greens 10 per cent, a substantially better result for King than in May’s Sun-Herald Taverner poll. However King’s challenge is still to get his nose in front of Labor so he can ride over Turnbull on their preferences, which is why he is so furiously courting the Greens. However, all the evidence suggests that most Greens voters make up their own mind where to deliver their preferences and at least 70 per cent of them favour Labor over the Coalition. Where they will rank an independent Peter King in this scheme of things is an open question, but it is likely the majority will consider him a Liberal. So even on the figures quoted, King will need to have generated a substantial boost from Friday’s announcement and will have to maintain that through four weeks of fierce Liberal campaigning. Expect scare campaigning over a hung parliament to feature prominently.

Another point of interest here is the temptation for Labor to run dead and encourage "tactical voting" by their supporters, a concept familiar to voters in Britain but one rendered largely irrelevant in Australia by preferential voting. Where British Labour and Liberal Democrats supporters would often back each others candidates on the basis of who had a realistic chance of defeating the Conservatives, Labor supporters in Wentworth could face a choice between Peter King overcoming the Labor candidate and riding home on his preferences, or Labor holding firm in second place and Peter King’s preferences sealing victory for Turnbull. But to do that they would have to let go of the idea that David Patch might actually win, and with all the rancour consuming the conservative camp, he too might have enjoyed a boost of sorts from Peter King’s decision to run.

UPDATE: Malcolm Farr reported in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph (apparently not available online) that "party figures determined to see Mr Turnbull lose have urged Labor supporters to vote for Peter King, the Liberal turned independent … Mr Patch is determined to fight the poll rather than take a dive but the electorate might cotton on to the plan".

UPDATE (9/9/04): It did occur to the Poll Bludger that Labor might have suspect motives in conducting and releasing polling from a seat that would not normally be on its hit list of marginals. Prominent blog-botherer Homer Paxton has dropped a line to add support to this idea: "why on earth would the ALP waste money on polling in Wentworth? I have a fair idea of how much it would cost and they wouldn’t waste the money. I suspect this is a plant for the Libs to pour more money and more importantly people into Wentworth and less into some close-by marginals … the ALP very rarely polls only one electorate".

And another one still

For crying out loud, enough freaking opinion polls already. An ACNielsen poll appears in today’s Fairfax papers (with a sample of 1415, larger than Newspoll’s) and it’s gratifying to note that its results are all but identical to those of Newspoll and Galaxy – Coalition 46 per cent, Labor 40 per cent and an even split on two-party preferred. There is also a state-by-state breakdown which I will think about a bit harder later on.

And another one

The polls conducted for the Daily Telegraph by Galaxy Research over the past two months have consistently painted an unusually sunny picture for the Coalition, and today’s is no exception. However it’s interesting how it mirrors Newspoll, putting the Coalition one point higher on 46 per cent and Labor one point lower on 39. Somehow this two-point primary vote difference transfers to four on two-party preferred, which is to say that Galaxy has the Coalition ahead 52-48.

Newspoll and Westpoll

Newspoll appears to have moved to regular weekly polling for the campaign period, this week recording the Coalition picking up another 2 per cent to even the ledger on two-party preferred. This was revealed on tonight’s edition of The Gallery, Sky News’ weekly election gabfest featuring various News Limited hacks. Full results will appear in tomorrow’s Australian, so more details in the not very distant future. The West Australian today released polls for two Perth marginal seats, Canning (Liberal 0.4%) and Swan (Labor 2.1%). They have not distributed the undecided vote, so the Poll Bludger has done it for them: in Canning, where former state minister Kay Hallahan has been drafted as a last-minute replacement for a floundering Labor candidate, the Liberals were on 54 per cent, Labor 30 per cent and the Greens 10 per cent; in Swan, where Liberal candidate Andrew Murfin has endured an avalanche of horrendous publicity, the Liberals were on 48 per cent, Labor 36 per cent and the Greens 10 per cent. While such an outcome would be catastrophic for Labor, they do have the consolation that polls with samples of 200 are not worth much, especially with around 18 per cent of those voters undecided. But it’s another increment of evidence suggesting that Labor is drifting dangerously and needs to do well out of the release of its tax policy, whenever that may be.

UPDATE (7/9/04): The Australian’s Newspoll coverage is now up – Coalition up two points to 45 per cent, Labor steady on 40 per cent, Greens up two to 8 per cent (interestingly, after a week of bad press). Those who have gained have done so at the expense of "others", down from 10 to 6 per cent.

Tables turned

The table below features results from the TNS poll of three Queensland marginal seats published in yesterday’s Courier Mail, not to be confused with Newspoll’s effort in The Australian, along with those of a similar poll TNS conducted in June. Results in bold are two-party preferred figures, the rest are primary vote figures I have arrived at by crudely distributing the undecided vote.

Dickson Hinkler Longman
Labor 44 54 43 49 46 46
Coalition 56 46 57 51 54 54
Labor 37 47 36 39 37 39
Coalition 50 42 51 40 45 47
Greens 7 4 3 6 7 6
Democrats 1 3 1 * 1 1
One Nation 2 1 4 6 4 3
Others 3 3 5 9 6 4

At the risk of appearing fickle, the bad news for Labor here and in Newspoll has demanded a dramatic revision of predicted outcomes for that state in the federal election guide, with Labor stripped of five out of seven projected gains. That limits Labor’s haul to the Townsville seat of Herbert and the inner southern Brisbane seat of Moreton. This is a very conservative reading of the results and the Herbert and Moreton judgements are stated without confidence. I have also changed my mind again about the outer eastern Melbourne seat of La Trobe, partly swayed by Mark Latham’s loss-cutting decision to pull the plug on federal funding for the Scoresby Freeway, and it is now back in the Coalition column. The combined effect is to turn the tables on the Election Projection scoreboard, which now shows a narrow majority for the Coalition.