Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Poll Roundup: Small Bounce, Deeper Issues For Coalition

2PP Aggregate: 52.8 to Labor (-0.3 since last week, -0.9 in two weeks)

Available polling results for this week on average show the Coalition in its best 2PP position since before the Budget, with Tony Abbott's personal ratings substantially improved.  So it may be a surprise to readers to see me offer this right from the outset: that the last two weeks of polling should be actually the most troubling the Coalition has so far seen in its time in office.  The reason I say this is that the recent MH17 disaster was an event that allowed the Coalition to play to one of its supposed strengths - national security - but the voting intention gain has been so small, and such gains tend to be temporary anyway.  When we look past these event-driven aspects of current polling, the government still has a lot of work to do to turn around the early negative perceptions.

This week's results

The four polls out so far this week have been Galaxy (52:48 to Labor), Morgan (54:46 to Labor, equivalent to about 52.5 accounting for Morgan's house effect), Newspoll (54:46 to Labor) and Essential (51:49 to Labor).  It's a little bit against the normal run of play that normally bouncy Newspoll has been the least reactive to the MH17 disaster in 2PP terms, and normally sleepy Essential one of the most, but that's the way it is.  Mostly, the Coalition seems to be getting back some very soft primary votes that were previously parked in the PUP column (at least for those polls that canvass PUP support.) All up there is just a modest move in the aggregate figure from 53.1 to Labor down to 52.8.  This is the Coalition's least worst result since before the Budget, and there's no real doubt things have got better for them - just not very much nor very quickly.  Here's the smoothed tracking graph:

Newspoll showed an improvement in Tony Abbott's net satisfaction of 12 points, from -29 to -17. While substantial, this did not match the personal bounces recorded by John Howard for any of Port Arthur, Tampa, the Bali bombings or 9/11, as noted in last week's instalment, A Brief History Of Disaster Bounces.  Newspoll also showed Abbott improving as "better Prime Minister" to draw level with Bill Shorten (38-38) but Galaxy showed Shorten maintaining a six-point lead (41-35) on the equivalent question.

Tuesday's Australian delivered an especially comical display of spinning as writers tried to argue that the improvements in Abbott's rating were especially strong signs for the Coalition.  The paper version of Phillip Hudson's article contained an argument absent from the online version, to the implied effect that  Abbott's relatively small rise compared with those recorded by Howard was mitigated by Abbott being already unpopular.  But that doesn't make sense, since if a leader has low ratings then there are more voters whose minds they have a chance to change, while a popular leader is less likely to get a big surge since their popularity will be closer to maxing out.  A linear regression of PM netsat against change in netsat in the next Newspoll shows that any relationship between the two is extremely weak, but that there is a very mild tendency for PM netsats to move towards the average (around zero).  Disliked leaders are slightly more likely to become less disliked next fortnight, and very popular leaders don't stay that way forever.  Here's the obligatory splatter-plot:

Abbott's current bounce is the one red dot on the edge of the mass of green.  It can be seen that far from rises of this magnitude or greater being rare when leaders are already unpopular, if anything they are marginally more common for an already unpopular leader.  And pointing to Howard's 18, 18 and 24 point netsat bounces while already popular ignores his 20-point Tampa bounce from a prior netsat of -10. The Australian's Abbott-boosting also made much of the PM drawing level with Bill Shorten as better PM, as usual ignoring the vast historical evidence that a close PPM race usually (as in this case) means the government is trailing where it matters.

(Incidentally, if we add up all the cases of a 12-point or greater netsat rise by a PM from poll to poll, it turns out that Hawke racked up four in six years (albeit with more widely spaced polling - one of them was over two months), Keating four in just over four, Howard 14 in eleven years, but then this happened only once for Rudd early in his first term, and never at all for Gillard. Odd.)

Essential this week had figures that showed even stronger approval of Tony Abbott's handling of the MH-17 situation to last week's ReachTEL.  Some of the apparent difference between ReachTEL's 51-23 result and Essential's 67-13 is down to ReachTEL's use of a "satisfactory" option (which hides some mildly positive intent), and some probably down to ReachTEL's use of answer forcing (which stops the mildly negative respondent from copping out with "don't know").  Combining the two polls, net approval for Abbott's actions seems to be upwards of +40 and possibly increasing.

While that sounds good for the PM, it is the Galaxy results where the big problems lie.  Voters in the Galaxy survey not only preferred Bill Shorten to Tony Abbott, but continued to do so when the question was confined to economic management (43:36) or representing Australian interests overseas (41:39).  This is in line with disappointing results for the Government on economic questions reported last week.

As usual with Galaxy I've derived the results for voters for non-major-parties and these voters reject Abbott as preferred Prime Minister (estimate 44% to 5% with the rest neutral), on the economy (43:8), and on foreign representation (43:12).  Granted, about half of the Others voters are Greens, but these are not promising signs for the PM in terms of preference flow or the ease of recapturing lost primary votes.  Overall, the bounce caused by a single event is not translating to an improved perception of the government's general performance.

Silly Question Of The Month 

Certainly the silliest question of the month was this one asked by Galaxy, presumably at the request of the commissioning tabloids:

Who has shown the most leadership after the MH-17 disaster?

The options were Tony Abbott, Barack Obama, David Cameron and Uncommitted, and Abbott came out on top, 48% to 17% for Obama and 7% for Cameron.

The first thing wrong with this question is that domestic audiences are bombarded with news about our own Prime Minister's response and the average Australian poll subject would have no idea what David Cameron was doing about MH-17, and not all that much about even Obama.  So it's hardly a meaningful comparison.

The second thing wrong with it is the assumption, premised in Australia's historical ties to the UK and the USA, that Obama and Cameron are meant to be the other major leaders.  The crash killed 27 Australian citizens and by various tallies another 10-14 residents or others with close ties to the nation.  It killed ten citizens of the UK and just one dual citizen of the USA.  Way over half the casualties were Dutch, with the next largest grouping Malaysian, and thus it is to be expected that Mark Rutte and Najib Razak would be prominent in a similar or greater way to Abbott.  And indeed, it is apparently Malaysia that has the runs on the board in terms of actual progress through the return of flight recorders and the bodies of many of the victims.

The crowing about this utterly meaningless result in some of the tabloids that published it is at best a sad indictment of what a fishbowl Australia's political culture can be at times like this.

Note Re Upcoming Weeks

Next week could well be a "boring week" in the polling cycle with only Essential currently due for release.  Just as well if so because I'll be over in Tromso, Norway for the FIDE (world chess federation) presidential elections and administrative congress over the next two weeks, and there won't be much time for poll commentary.  However, I'll try to write something a little bit different about the chess elections, which are actually quite politically interesting in their own right.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Poll Roundup: A Brief History Of Disaster Bounces

2PP Aggregate: 53.1 to ALP (-0.6 since last week)

"I actually think Tony Abbott is doing us proud.  I didn't think he would, I didn't think he had it in him, but he's put his foot down and now other countries are supporting him".

The above was one of a number of vox-pop style voices in a Tasmanian ABC radio segment about reactions to the MH-17 air disaster.  Interviewees, all or nearly all of them female, spoke about the way the disaster is being seen in the community and the issues involved in talking about it to children.

MH-17 coverage is inescapable in media of just about any kind, and some of the more lurid excesses of disaster-porn (Daily Telegraph and Herald Sun, that would be you) have just about had me reaching for the JG Ballard collection in disgust.  But what effect does this sort of thing have on polling and perceptions of the government?

When I put to various left-leaning online political circles the idea that this might see a rather large improvement in the Abbott government's fortunes, the consensus reaction was pretty sceptical: no bounce, or if any bounce lost in the noise.  After three polls out this week, we're seeing what looks like some movement back to the Coalition, but it's modest so far and far from conclusively real.  Untangling what is going on is made more difficult by the government having succeeded in repealing the carbon tax in the same polling cycle.

This week's results

What is expected to be the last ever federal Age Nielsen came in at 54:46, and included one day of data from before the MH-17 crash, and two days immediately after.  The poll showed a substantial lift in Prime Minister Abbott's stocks (from -25 a month ago to -18 now, a much greater improvement than in Newspoll), but that improvement was already present in samples from the first day of polling.  Obviously, there was nothing to see on the 2PP front.

The first poll to show a shift was Essential, which came down from 53:47 to Labor to 52:48.  Furthermore, the 2PP for the most recent week of sampling (which was mostly post-disaster) has been reported as being 51:49 to Labor, off primaries of 40 for the Coalition to 36.

While this was reported by Crikey  as evidence of "substantial recovery",at this stage that's still tentative.  One reason for this is that while a two-point move between one full Essential poll and the next usually means something has actually happened (sometime in the last two months anyway), a two-point move between two halves of an Essential poll (as in this case) is nowhere near statistically significant.  It makes lots of sense that the change would be caused by the MH-17 bounce, but we are not yet able to test this.

The other reason is that it's Essential, a poll that often seems to march to a different beat to the rest.  That said, Essential results since the last election do correlate with those of other pollsters.  While there is scarcely any correlation between poll-to-poll moves in Essential and those of other pollsters, this is also true for other pollsters as well.

A new ReachTEL has also shown Labor's lead down to 52:48.  Based on the published primaries, this looks to have been precariously close to rounding to 51 rather than 52.  Indeed the average reading for the published primaries by my reckoning would be 51.4 to Labor; I've aggregated it as 51.5.  The first poll to canvass approval of Abbott's handling of the MH-17 issue finds strong approval (51% positive, 23% negative and 26% "satisfactory" - a term which can denote weak positive responses), equivalent to about a +41 net response as measured by other pollsters.  That's being reported as "the Prime Minister's popularity soaring" but the full poll results show Abbott still in the doghouse overall, a 2.5 point swing lifting him only to ratings that I convert as equivalent to a -16.7 netsat from other pollsters. (By the way, something that should concern Labor marketers just a tad is that while the "meh" factor for Bill Shorten means that his ratings overall are better than Abbott's, it also means that the number of voters considering him to be a very good leader is steadfastly in single figures.)

All these results have my 2PP aggregate down from 53.7 last week to 53.1 this week, but it started this week at 53.9 after the weekend reset.  We will probably have a clearer view of where this is all going next week; in the meantime here's the "spiky" aggregate graph, the smoothed one having not yet woken up:

(The axes are 2PP vs weeks since aggregate started, the aggregate having started in October 2013.)

Past Disaster Bounces

John Howard received three significant bounces in his personal ratings in vaguely similar situations in the past.  These were:

* Following the 2001 World Trade Centre attacks, Howard's netsat rose by 18 points from one Newspoll to the next.  The Coalition's 2PP rose by 6 points from poll to poll, and around 5.5 points based on rolling averages.  The bounce occurred in the lead-up to an election, which probably shortened its duration; it was gone in seven or eight weeks.

* Following the 2002 Bali bombings, Howard's netsat rose by 18 points again.  The Coalition's 2PP rose by 4 points from poll to poll, and around 2.7 points based on rolling averages.  Howard's rating stayed at elevated levels for four months while Labor did not get back to quite where it had been for a very long time, though how much of that was caused by Bali is debatable.

* Following the 1996 Port Arthur massacre, Howard's netsat rose by 24 points, the largest poll to poll increase for a PM in Newspoll history.  The Coalition's 2PP was not affected, but since it was at 59 already, one would not really have expected it to be.  Howard's bounce lasted only a month, but it was probably shortened by the fact that he was also coming off honeymoon-level low disapproval ratings at the same time.

The second-highest poll-to-poll increase for a PM, +20, was also for Howard, in the wake of the MV Tampa incident in 2001.

We don't have so much data for major-scale natural disasters. Following the 2009 bushfires, Kevin Rudd's netsat rose a modest five points for one poll only, but that wasn't even connected to the event.  During the 2011 Queensland floods, Newspoll was on holidays, so any bounce to Julia Gillard was gone when they returned to the field a few weeks later.  The event did however deliver a large but temporary bounce to the state government, which did not stop it being swept out to sea a year later.

The "that's different" line for those sceptical that MH17 will deliver much of a bounce for the Coalition comes from this being apparently not a deliberate attack on Australia or the West generally (as were 9/11 and Bali) but rather it being apparently a combination of disregard for possible consequences by both those who shot the plane down and those who allowed it to be there.  But while this doesn't seem to have been intended as an act of terrorism, there's a sense in which it feels like one.

To suggest that Abbott is handling MH-17 especially well is to suggest that any of his predecessors would have been any worse, and that I think is rather unlikely.  No-one gets to be Prime Minister without having the skills to comfort the nation in these sorts of times.  All the same, events like this often do improve the public image of incumbents under siege on the domestic front.  In this light, ALP strategists must have been cursing when they heard Russia kick a goal for Abbott by bothering to denounce his public statements on the matter, which said little more than what probably close to every Australian believes.

We now await Newspoll and Morgan next week.

In Other News

The Nielsen poll also included a head-to-head Abbott-vs-Shorten attribute survey, and these were actually rather good news for the Prime Minister.  Although voters saw him as closed-minded, untrustworthy and lacking a "firm grasp of social policy" (translation: much too socially conservative) compared to Shorten, they also scored Abbott as the stronger leader, with the clearer vision, slightly better on foreign policy and more able to make things happen.  While an advantage to an incumbent on attribute polling is to be expected, this is much better than some attribute polling that has shown Abbott losing out on pretty much everything.

A state ReachTEL showed the LNP continuing to cling to a narrow lead in Queensland (with Campbell Newman trailing in Ashgrove as per normal), while in Victoria the last state Nielsen showed a sudden resurgence by the previously well-behind Napthine government, to a very competitive 49:51 deficit.  Frankly this one needs confirmation from other pollsters before we get too excited about it, but even assuming it is completely real, the line that this is about attacks on Daniel Andrews' CFMEU links  doesn't really work given that Andrews' own ratings have barely changed.  I'd take the result as most likely a combination of the temporary absence of Geoff Shaw, perhaps some impact of MH-17 even at state level (Victoria had a high toll), and sample noise.  If the result isn't rogue then Denis Napthine's popularity (at +20) is a worry for Labor, and a portent of what is likely to be a very leadership-focused campaign by the incumbents.

ReachTEL Update

Full ReachTEL findings have been released and the most interesting addition is an economic management question that sees the Coalition with a very narrow 43-42 lead over Labor to 5.3% for the Greens and 9.8% for Palmer United.  Compared with the primary votes, this mainly shows that minor party voters (especially Greens, and this is nothing new) are less keen on their own parties in this area than those who vote for major parties, but that Labor voters unimpressed with their party's economic policies are more likely to opt for PUP instead of the Liberals.

It was not surprising that the Nielsen poll delivered an unflattering one-point lead for Joe Hockey as preferred Treasurer, given that it was a poll with a bad 2PP of only 46 to the Coalition.  Since the ReachTEL has the Coalition in a much stronger 2PP position than the Nielsen, it might be expected it would show a bigger advantage for the Coalition in a traditional area of strength.  This could be down to ReachTEL's tendency to reduce the advantage for incumbents in such questions by disallowing the "don't know" option, and could also be an indicator that voting intention in the ReachTEL poll is affected by the MH-17 bounce.  I hope to find time to look much more closely at past economic management questions in ReachTEL polls and see exactly what is going on here in the next few days.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Poll Roundup: Post-Budget Recovery Stalls

2PP Aggregate: 53.7 to ALP (+0.5 since last week, -0.3 since Budget)

Welcome to the first instalment of the newer and notionally shorter approach to federal polling roundups on this site (see admin note at bottom of article).  The previous instalment Turnbull PM: Not Likely Any Time Soon followed federal polling over the last four weeks.  In this time the Coalition showed modest signs of recovery - perhaps by a humble point - from the 46:54-ish 2PP results recorded in the aftermath of one of the worst received federal Budgets ever.

Polling this week has scotched that and left it unclear whether the Government's polling has even recovered at all, eight weeks on from the Budget.  This week's 2PP results were 54:46 to Labor from Newspoll (down one, but from an off-trend base, so effectively more bad news), 56:44 (+1.5) from Morgan by last-election preferences (the respondent-allocated figure was down one to 56.5) and 53:47 from Essential (unchanged).  These three have added half a point on to Labor's aggregated lead and even the smoothed tracking graph now hints at movement back towards the ALP:

Monday, July 14, 2014

Uneducated Preferencing: NTEU/UMR Robopoll

Wirrah Award For Fishy Polling (image source)

This article initially covered the report in the Examiner today of a poll commissioned by the National Tertiary Education Union and said to show first-term incumbent Andrew Nikolic trailing in the federal seat of Bass.  However it has since become clear that this poll is part of a national bulk robopoll of 23 marginal (and in some cases not so marginal) electorates and raises enough issues that I've deemed it necessary to rewrite the article and give it a national focus.

The NTEU is not a slavish supporter of the ALP (for instance endorsing independent Andrew Wilkie at the last election) but it is obviously an opponent of the current government's education proposals.  The poll was conducted by UMR, which is best known as the Labor Party's standard pollster for internals (yet is described by the NTEU as "independent"), as part of a large series of national seat robopolls. The NTEU has now published a full data set for all seats (download from link).  The poll claims to find an average 2PP swing of 11% to Labor in the 23 surveyed seats, from 52:48 to Coalition at the election to 41:59 now.   Simultaneously the NTEU has released a message testing poll taken nationally via online panel sampling also by UMR and taken in late May to early June.  The 2PP in that sample is given as 56% to Labor.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Queensland Polling: Careful With That Pendulum, Eugene

ReachTEL (Queensland): 51:49 to LNP (LNP 38.7 ALP 34.4 Greens 6.1 PUP 15.4 Other 5.4)
Interpretation based on this poll "if election held now": LNP would probably win; majority status touch and go.
Widespread claim that poll implies c. 40 seat losses and defeat for LNP is wrong.


I'm currently conducting a poll on the sidebar on whether readers want more shorter federal polling articles instead of longer ones with updates tacked onto the end. The results will also be used to inform how I cover state polls for states other than Tasmania.  This piece (not that it's that short) is a bit of a trial run for the more-but-shorter option and will not be endlessly updated.  One of my main concerns about the shorter option has been how to keep the titles snappy, rather than having an endless procession of pieces called "Poll Roundup Week 37" or "Essential: 51:49 For The Sixth Week In A Row While The Universe Burns". Anyway, I hope that the title for this one passes muster, with apologies to early Pink Floyd and to all readers whose name is actually Eugene.

For an extreme example of how I've approached state polls up til now, see my previous Queensland article Is Campbell Newman Actually In Trouble?, which started in April and ran through to the end of June.  The comments on the recent quarterly Newspoll aggregate (51-49 to Labor) bear repeating: while the result was more generous to Labor than everything else about in recent months, it did put a dampener on weak signs that the LNP were recovering from the low-50s 2PPs they were getting in previous months.  The poll also showed Campbell Newman at a new personal low: a -24 Newspoll netsat, giving him the worst result for any Queensland Premier bar Bjelke-Petersen and Bligh.  I noted that if Newman can win the next election he will equal Bob Carr's record for the worst netsat from which any Australian state premier in the last few decades has been re-elected.  That said, given that the poll was worse for the LNP than others around the same time, it may be exaggerating Newman's plight.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

What Kills State Governments: Age Or Canberra?

Advance Summary:

1. This article examines the influence of two factors on the fates of state governments at elections: the age of the state government and whether the same party is in office federally.

2. Results since 1969 show a moderately strong influence of which party is in office federally, but only a very weak impact of age of government.  A state government that is of the same party as the federal government is generally strongly disadvantaged.

3. In the 1970s and 1980s two very old state governments were repeatedly re-elected.

4. Since 1989, both the age of a state government and whether or not the same party is in office federally have been strongly connected to state results.  

5. It is rare, perhaps increasingly rare, for a state government that is the opposite party to the federal government at the time to lose.  When this happens there are very strong reasons for it, with leadership instability a common factor.

6. The strength of the impact of federal politics on state politics can predict otherwise surprise results like the 2014 South Australian election win by Labor.

7.  Furthermore, if the federal government is of the same party as the state government then there is a strong relationship between the popularity of the federal government and the fate of the state government.

8. Even without any knowledge of events or polling in this parliamentary term, models based on the history of these two issues still imply that a change of government in Victoria is likely.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Victorian Liberals: Going, Going ...

This is an overview of the state of play in the leadup to the Victorian election, prompted by recent polling.  I expect to make more detailed modelling attempts much closer to that poll.  In summary, this article argues that the Baillieu-turned-Napthine government's first-term status provides no argument against the reasons why it could lose.  While the defeat of this government is not yet a done deal, psephologically, it has at least one foot in the grave.  There is still time to climb out, but it won't be easy.

One of the themes I've been following on this site is the way in which federal politics contaminates state voting intention.  As noted in Is Campbell Newman Actually In Trouble? life gets much harder for state governments when they have a party of their own persuasion in power in Canberra, especially if the federal party isn't polling well.  This is also well covered in Peter Brent's current piece, Dog Days For State Conservatives.  Of the four conservative state governments elected while Labor was in office federally, all are showing signs of wear and tear.  We still have astonishingly sparse state polling from Western Australia since Colin Barnett polled a very poor personal result, but it wouldn't be at all surprising to see Labor in the lead there soon.  The NSW polling picture is still re-sorting itself after the shock loss of a Premier, and in Queensland the LNP have only a narrow lead (Queensland polling updates added) and are still struggling greatly to build their vote share to the level needed to make their unpopular Premier's own seat safe.