Colleagues and scholars from coast to coast, across Bass Strait and all the ships at sea.
Dateline: Australia, Federal Politics 2011.
As we draw to the end of this frenetic and eventful political year, I thought would it be illuminating to pause and reflect on a snapshot of these highly intriguing polls.
But first, I thought it would be equally illuminating to pause and reflect on a snapshot of these highly intriguing Poles.
|Pope John Paul 2|
Polling: Where have we been?
Aggregating and weighting the monthly polling data from September 2010 through to November - December 2011 from the five major pollsters: Newspoll, Nielsen, Essential, Morgan (phone polls) and Galaxy, which combined each month provide total sample sizes averaging 8,700 respondents with a margin of error of 1 per cent, shows the following:
At the end of last year, November - December 2010, the ALP's primary vote measured at 36.2 per cent (1.8 per cent lower than at the 2010 election) the Coalition's primary vote measured at 43.7 per cent (0.1 per cent higher than at the 2010 election) the Greens' primary vote measured at 11.5 per cent (0.3 per cent lower than the 2010 election) and the Others' group primary vote measured at 8.6 per cent (2 per cent higher than at the 2010 election).
In effect, this meant that the Coalition and Greens were attracting about the same support as they had in the 2010 election but the ALP had lost a chunk of voters who had transferred to the Others group (independents and other minor parties).
In two party preferred terms this translated to the Coalition leading the ALP 51.1 per cent to 48.9 per cent.
No honeymoon for the new Gillard Government but no massive rejection either.
In 2011 this changed quite markedly.
On the 24th of February 2011, the Gillard Government announced the formation of the Multi Party Climate Change Committee and it was from this date that the ALP's primary vote started to decrease significantly and the Coalition's primary vote correspondingly increase.
From March through to June the ALP's primary vote declined dramatically, the Coalition's primary vote improved steadily, the Greens effectively held a consistent level of support, while the Others group continued to increase its support.
On the 11th of July 2011 the Gillard Government released its Clean Energy Future policy.
July polling shows that the ALP was at its lowest ebb, with its primary vote at 29 per cent (9 per cent lower than at the 2010 election), the Coalition's primary vote was at 49.3 per cent (5.7 per cent higher than at the 2010 election), the Greens' primary vote had remained steady at 11.4 per cent (0.4 per cent lower than at the 2010 election) and the Others group had increased further to 10.3 per cent (3.7 per cent higher than at the 2010 election).
In two party preferred terms this translated to the Coalition leading the ALP 57.7 per cent to 42.3 per cent (a 7.8 per cent swing against the government) which, if replicated in the election, would see the ALP lose about 35 seats (assuming a uniform swing) and give the Coalition a hold on the House of Representatives of Fraserian 1975 proportions.
However, since July there has been a slow recovery in the ALP's primary vote to currently measure 32.7 per cent (an increase of 3.7 per cent since July) with a corresponding decline in the Coalition's primary vote to 46.1 per cent (a decease of 3.2 per cent since July) with the Greens dipping to 11 per cent and the Others group holding steady at 10.2 per cent.
In two party preferred terms this translates to the Coalition leading the ALP 54.3 to 45.7 per cent (a 4.4 per cent swing against the government) which, if replicated in the election, would see the ALP lose 18 seats (half the July estimated loss) and give the Coalition a hold on the House of Representatives of Hawkian 1983 proportions.
It's clear since the announcement that the Gillard Government was introducing a price on carbon in February it has struggled in the polls, reaching its nadir (and the Coalition's zenith) in July. However, after the policy was released in July the intensity of the debate dissipated and the public, while still opposed to the policy (primarily because it is viewed as a broken promise) appears to becoming slowly used to the concept of a price on carbon and gradually, if grudgingly, accepting of it. As the carbon tax issue has eased, other issues have come to the fore that are more favourable to the Government, most importantly the economy.
The tables below illustrate what has occurred in the polling since the August 2010 Federal Election, how the ALP and Coalition parted company from February and how since July the trend has been towards the ALP:
The ALP finished 2010 in reasonable shape but had a very tough year in 2011:
Two Party Preferred
Election 21 August 2010
ALP 50.1 L-NP 49.9
November - December 2010
ALP 48.9 L-NP 51.1
Change from election to Nov - Dec 2010
November - December 2011
ALP 45.7 L-NP 54.3
Change from election to Nov - Dec 2011
At the end of 2010 the ALP had lost a block of voters to the Others group (independents and minor parties), while the Coalition and Greens were steady:
At the end of 2011 the ALP had lost further support to the Others group and to the Coalition; the Greens had decreased as well:
However, since July 2011 the trend has all been towards the ALP, attracting back votes from the Coalition and the Greens, while the Others were steady:
As for the leaders, the following graph tells a sorry tale.
Julia Gillard's appeal with the electorate commenced a clear decline from her satisfaction rate peak of 48 per cent in February 2011, bottoming out at 25 per cent in September but now improving to a rating of 36 per cent in December.
Tony Abbott's peak satisfaction rating was also 48 per cent (back in September 2010) and ever since then his numbers have slowly declined, with a brief mid-winter peak of 41 in July, to the latest rating of 33 per cent in December.
When we compare the two leaders, we can see that up until February 2011 Gillard held about a 20 point lead over Abbott as the Better Prime Minister, but from March Gillard's lead over Abbott decreased continually until mid-year when they appeared to wrestle one another for dominance, with Gillard finally breaking clear from November.
Polling: What does it mean?
It means that the ALP can win the next election - and, yes, with Julia Gillard as leader.
It doesn't mean that the ALP will certainly win, or that it is currently more likely to win than the Coalition but it does mean that it can win; a view, as discussed in previous posts, that the betting markets have always had (which again have edged up the estimated probability of the ALP winning the election to now be 32 per cent).
An outcome, too, that the public are increasingly starting to think more likely to occur with Roy Morgan Research's question of respondents: "Regardless of who you would like to win the next Federal Election, who do you think will win?" most recently finding 38 per cent of respondents nominating the ALP, up from an average of 25 per cent for much of the year.
Consider the following: the Government is being led by an unpopular prime minister with questionable political judgement (including neglecting/declining/refusing - in her speech at the ALP National Conference - to acknowledge the past efforts of the previous leader and/or to make a magnanimous public gesture of reconciliation with said brooding leader); it has committed a series of own goals and missteps (not to mention having to deal with the mischievous activities of the aforementioned unsporting ex-leader whose harbouring of leadership ambitions is only surpassed by his harbouring of a grudge); has faced a tenacious opposition led by a relentless opposition leader; has endured a regular round of anti-government propaganda from the usual media suspects (so regular you could set your watch by them) and the routine verbatim reporting of such propaganda as if it were fact by the more indolent members of the media; and has pursued policies that are unpopular from a minority government position - yet, it is still in a position to win the next election. It's quite extraordinary.
The ALP has ended this year with all the trend lines in its favour - voting intentions, the leader's satisfaction rate and better prime minister - yes, off low bases, but trending nonetheless.
Most importantly, for the ALP, the trend regarding voting intentions is as a result of a direct transfer of votes from the Coalition back to the ALP. This is key.
While there is a view that the ALP's electoral success will depend on winning votes back from the Greens - this is not correct.
Every primary vote the ALP wins back from the Greens is worth only 0.2 of a two party preferred vote because Greens' voters preference the ALP at 80 per cent. Whereas every primary vote the ALP wins back from the Coalition is one full two party preferred vote. Even votes back from the Others group would be more fruitful for the ALP than returning Greens voters, as every Others group primary vote is worth about 0.6 per cent of a two party preferred vote.
The ALP's priorities to regain primary votes would be: 1. Coalition 2. The Others group 3. The Greens.
It might well be that effective leadership and good governing is what will attract back voters from everywhere - just a thought.
Beyond the polls: A final perspective
It is worth remembering that we are still nearly two years out from the next federal election and that on three recent occasions - prior to the 1993, 1998 and 2001 elections - the respective governments and prime ministers had similar difficulties to this current government and prime minister, and much closer to the election, yet were returned.
Nine months prior to the 1993 election, Paul Keating had a satisfaction rating of 24 and the ALP had been trailing the Coalition for most of the year by as much as 57 to 43 two party preferred - yet still won.
Four months prior to the 1998 election, John Howard had a satisfaction rating of 28 and the Coalition was trailing the ALP 56 to 44 two party preferred - yet still won.
Eight months prior to the 2001 election, John Howard again had a satisfaction rating of 28 and the Coalition was trailing the ALP 58 to 42 two party preferred - yet still won.
The greatest burden to win an election is always on the opposition, not the government.
The Australian electorate is cautious and conservative (with respect to changing governments) and so it is the opposition that needs to make a compelling enough case to enough voters to switch their votes and deliver power to the opposition and, very importantly, the opposition leader.
It is not an easy task. Elections are hard to win from opposition. As the oppositions in 1993, 1998 and 2001 discovered despite having "fantastic polls".
Similarly, as twelve oppositions discovered (including in 1998 and 2001) that in every 'tight' federal election (that is, when the two parties' two party preferred votes are each between 49 and 51 per cent) the government of the day was returned (as noted in my last post).
Elections are won by the party that wins the 'middle ground' voter, and the 'middle ground' voter views every election as an employer considers potential job applicants.
While the employer might open the position to anyone, if the incumbent also re-applies for the position then the employer, even though seriously considering the other applicants, having seen and lived with the performance of the incumbent would be unlikely to employ someone else unless there is a compelling reason.
So too the 'middle ground' voter. While different issues will be of import at different elections, the one constant that matters to 'middle ground' voter is which leader and party will do a better overall job over the next three years.
On this criteria governments have a track record to point to, oppositions have to be taken on trust. Therefore, oppositions have to make the case for change, governments don't.
This is why Australian voters don't change governments lightly, they take their voting responsibility seriously and in every election make the correct choice (re party and leader) and will again in 2013 - remembering, of course, that the voters' choice is a relative one not an absolute one, and that sometimes they have to make a choice even if their view about both options is unfavourable, which is so succinctly and eloquently expressed in the Home of Democracy like this:
Z poważaniem, θα σας δούμε and reflective regards.