Current aggregate: 54.2 to Labor (+0.3 since last week, +2.9 in five weeks)
Tracking graph (smoothed)
After holding a slim and by no means election-winning polling lead for five months from November 2013 to April 2014, the Labor Opposition moved into a clear and widening polling lead in the weeks surrounding the 2014 Budget, and would easily win a hypothetical election "held now". The polling position of the Coalition is roughly comparable to the two worst slumps of John Howard's first term, but many federal governments have recovered from similar, and in at least four cases worse, polling situations.
The federal budget is among the worst received in the last 27 years, second only to the 1993 "horror budget" in terms of its perceived impact on poll respondents and providing the worst ratings since the early 1990s in terms of perceptions of its impact on the economy. Tony Abbott's personal ratings are among the worst recorded in one pollster's history (Nielsen), while in another's (Newspoll) they do not stand out so much, but are nonetheless the worst results he has recorded since late 2012.
The budget polling results also indicate that Labor is more competitive on economic questions than might have been expected after its bad loss in last year's election.
While it is true that governments tend to recover from bad polling if they take tough measures that prove to be justified, it does not follow from this that a government that polls badly while taking tough measures is doing the right thing. In stark contrast to the 1996 Howard budget, the current budget is being seen less as necessarily tough and more as needlessly unfair.
With five different polls reporting in in this weekly cycle - the most in any week since the election - it's a good time to start another federal polling roundup. This one is intended to run with updates added until the end of May, thus covering the polling picture over the next few weeks as the Budget is anticipated, delivered and sinks in.
|Aggregate - Spiky|
|Aggregate - Smoothed|
The average government 2PP by month in Newspoll history (since 1986) has varied by not much more than a point between the worst month (September) and the best (December). Budgets in this time were issued in August eight times, September once and all the rest in May.
Lest anyone think that this gives much credibility to the idea of a holiday "silly season" at the end of the year, it actually doesn't. The December sample is quite small with only 29 readings included, and these happen to include three from 1992, when the Keating Government had just enjoyed a massive polling resurgence on the back of problems with the Liberals' Fightback! policies and alarm at the behaviour of the then newly elected Kennett Government in Victoria.
9 May 2014: Twin Layers of Lightning: A new ReachTEL has been released in the Fairfax press, which just like the other one comes in at 54:46 to Labor, though on the available primaries it is looking like this one is worse for the Coalition than the one from five days before, unless the rounding is very friendly to Labor. Anyway the easiest way for my aggregate to cope with the double ReachTEL queue was for me to declare that it was Saturday a few hours early, so I've done that and the weekly reset is applied. While I wait for further details of exact primary votes (we so far know only the whole numbers: ALP 40 L-NP 38 Green 11) I've added the poll to my aggregate based on an estimated 2PP of 54.4. Labor gains 0.3 of a point from this at present, but depending on the rounding the gain might be as low as 0.1 (ie 52.5 to Labor). The poll unsurprisingly finds that Coalition voters are fairly evenly split on the proposal to increase the pension age to 70, while non-Coalition voters are strongly opposed.
10 May: More on the ReachTEL: The decimalised primaries are out and my 2PP estimate from them is 54.2% to ALP, adjusting the aggregate to 52.6. The poll also includes findings that 53.7% of respondents support imposing a deficit levy of 1 to 2 percent on "high income earners", compared to 32.4% opposed; echoing last week's finding that a 2% levy on incomes above $180K had broad support. Bearing in mind that what is being proposed now is not even a levy on a person's full income, it is possible real support for the cut-down levy, if described precisely, would be higher. Oddly, a rather high 42% say that the levy would make them less likely to vote for the Coalition; without the benefit of the party breakdown yet, I suspect the lion's share of this number are locked-in ALP or Greens supporters who are fibbing.
There is a clear difference in polling between versions of the deficit levy that could have targeted "upper middle" income earners and those that only target very high income earners. Given that the deficit levy will be of the latter form, it now seems the blowout in Coalition polling is either not still largely related to it, or else is related to misperceptions of it.
13 May: Essential: After the deluge of last week some expected a Nielsen this week but not to be, so we have only Essential to add to this stage. Essential came in with an unchanged 52:48 to Labor, leaving my aggregate also at 52.6 (which will be a new week-ending high if nothing else comes out by Friday). Essential leadership ratings also showed Abbott on his worst result in that series since the election (-20, down 14 since last month); it is also his worst rating since January 2013. With Shorten on a mundane -2, the most noticeable (if not necessarily notable) result is that Essential is the first poll to show Shorten as preferred as Prime Minister over Abbott (37-36).
Next week we should get some signs of how the budget contents are settling in the electorate.
15 May: The current BludgerTrack reading is also 52.6, with BludgerTrack also now implementing a response to the recent ReachTEL lean to Labor. The difference is that BludgerTrack's weekly headline rate has been this high before; mine hasn't.
18 May: Galaxy: Hopeful expectations on the left of a savage post-budget plunge in the Coalition's numbers were not supported by the first post-budget poll out, Galaxy. Galaxy found Labor ahead 53-47 (up 1), which takes my aggregate to a new but hardly massive high of 52.8 to Labor. The poll finds a massive 75% believing they will be worse off, compared to 11% better off, but also finds that 41% think the budget will be good for the economy, compared to 46% bad. That's a very high disconnect between the two net ratings there.
Looking at similar questions in Newspoll historically, as Peter Brent has done, we see that usually voters think the Budget will make them worse off (even if they like its economic impacts), but rarely to this degree. However the only previous Budget provoking a more extreme net "worse off" result in Newspoll (1993) was also considered an economic disaster. This one, at least according to Galaxy respondents, is not. Nonetheless, no Howard government budget received a net negative Newspoll economy rating, so it will be interesting to see where this one stacks up in the Newspoll survey. Brent has also pointed out that the order of the questions may be different in the two surveys.
In 2013 there was relatively little difference between how Galaxy (14-48, net -34%) and Newspoll (11-44, net -33%) respondents rated the impact of the budget on themselves. In 2012 Galaxy had a 23-46 (-23%) personal rating compared to 18-41 (-23%) for Newspoll. So from a very limited set of data points it looks like Galaxy has similar net ratings on this issue but a lower undecided rate.
Some more on Newspoll budget data historically: on average the net (better off - worse off) rating trails the net (good for economy - bad for economy) by 33 points, and the highest previous disconnect in Newspoll between the two was 58 points, in 1996 (-21 personal, +37 good for economy). So if Newspoll replicates Galaxy then the number of people thinking the budget is bad for them but good for the economy will be very similar to the first Howard budget in 1996 (at least c. 30% in each case), but the number thinking it is bad for both will be much higher now.
(I've moved the graph showing where the Galaxy result fits in to the Newspoll pattern to the bottom and replaced it with the Newspoll result as they were nearly identical.)
One poll down and probably three or four this week to come.
18 May Nielsen: Nielsen has come out with a relatively shocking poll for the government, though one that still didn't match some of the wilder expectations out there. It's 56:44 to Labor with Abbott on a -28 netsat, with a 62% disapproval. Given that Nielsen netsats are a little bit mild compared to Newspoll's that's a rather extreme figure. William Bowe notes:
" The net approval rating of minus 28% was exceeded by Julia Gillard in Nielsen on only two occasions, in September and October of 2011, and equalled in July 2011. The figures resemble Gillard’s final rating from June 2013 of 36% approval and 61% disapproval."
I can add to that that this is Abbott's second-worst net rating from Nielsen ever; he managed -29 as Opposition Leader in December 2012, a time at which his leadership was looking rather shaky. And that Howard's worst Nielsen net rating ever (in a sign of how benign Nielsen normally is) was just -21.
Noting that Nielsen has been erratic to say the least since the election, let's wait for more polls this week before anyone gets too carried away by this result.
10:35 pm: The wait will be short; Newspoll is apparently also a shocker for the Coalition!
11pm Newspoll: Yes Newspoll has joined Nielsen in returning something pretty ugly: 55:45 with Abbott on a -30 netsat, Shorten with a 10-point PPM lead, and only 5% deluded enough to believe they will be better off under this Budget. (The Coalition's previous worst there was 7% in 2002, while in 1993 the figure under Labor was 4%).
This has sent my aggregate to 53.8 to Labor but for the time being it has only the three new polls and a lot of ballast from the week before last. So I would not be surprised to see it go up when Morgan reports tomorrow.
Abbott's rating is obviously his worst as PM; his worst as Opposition Leader was -36 and he was -30 or worse five times in late 2012. As for Shorten's 10-point lead as better PM (for the first time in Newspoll) this is matched or exceeded only by the following Opposition Leaders since 1986:
* Hewson over Hawke and Keating at the time Hawke was removed, four times with a high of 15 points.
* Hewson over Keating following the 1993 horror budget, four times with a high of 16 points.
* Howard over Keating twice in March 1995 with a high of 12 points.
* Rudd over Howard eight times scattered through 2007 with a high of 13 points.
* Abbott over Gillard in June 2013 just before Gillard was removed, with a lead of 12 points.
But the all-time champion for PPM lead over the incumbent is of course Alexander Downer (you can win bets on this one surely) who led Keating by 20 points at the height of his short-lived career in 1994. (Newspoll stopped polling the question briefly around this point. It is not recorded whether they decided it was broken.)
Some may be wondering how this all compares to the low points of the first Howard government's polling. It's already about the same. The first Howard government had a Nielsen low of 44% 2PP and a Newspoll low of the same. On my Newspoll rolling averages the Beazley-led opposition was a touch below 54 twice: in Nov-Dec 1997 and July 1998. The latter had the very bad Nielsen results so it's likely the 2PP for Labor was really a shade over 54 around then. The Whitlam government in its first term also seems to have been down around the 46s at some times.
More on Newspoll and Nielsen later.
19 May: Nielsen gives Shorten an 11-point lead as PPM (51-40) and a quite respectable +8 net approval (47-39). The Nielsen poll still has the Greens primary vote suspiciously high on 14%, a result other polls have not generally been getting, following on from the record 17% last time. The budget is rated fair by 33% and unfair by 63%.
Newspoll's figures for Abbott are satisfied 30, dissatisfied 60. The 60 is his biggest dissatisfaction rating since November 2012 (his worst ever was 63). The better PM figures are 44-34; one comparison is 45-33 to Abbott over Gillard just before Gillard was rolled.
The budget net "good for the economy" score in Newspoll is very similar to Galaxy's at -9 (39-48) and the net personal impact score is exactly the same at -64 (5-69). (Newspoll offers a "neither" option, unlike Galaxy, resulting in lower positive and negative scores.) Here is the graph (previously included in the Galaxy section) that shows the Newspoll budget ratings compared to those of previous governments:
Blue for Coalition, red for Labor, data since 1988, selected years labelled. We can see that while this budget is not in quite the horror class of 1993, it is still the Coalition's worst-rated budget on both scores by quite a distance.
When asked if the Opposition would have done any better, voters apparently don't really think so (39-46). But that 7-point gap is actually the sixth lowest since 1987, and the lowest in that time for a Coalition government. Also, in all five cases where the gap was lower or reversed, the incumbent government lost the next election (I am not saying this is causal!). This seems to be one of those indicators, like Preferred Prime Minister, on which the incumbent government has quite a house advantage, with No on average beating Yes by 17 points. Moreover, the Coalition under Howard had a better average margin (23 points) than Labor under Hawke, Keating, Rudd or Gillard (13 points). So this result is actually also fairly bad, albeit highlighting that the Coalition's perception edge on economic management remains even when people think the budget is quite unfair. There has only been one budget (1993) for which more voters have answered Yes than No to this question, with a tie in 2013.
There is naturally a strong link between what voters think of a budget's impact on the economy and whether they think the Opposition could have done better. This budget falls almost exactly on the line of best fit for those things:
The current budget is the only blue one left of the vertical axis. The budgets well above the line are those where voters were unusually prone to doubt the Opposition could have done better, given their impression of the budget's economic calibre. These include 1988 and 1989 (because the Liberal Opposition at that time was a rabble) and 1996 and 1997 (because the Labor Opposition at the time had been economically discredited.)
Well below the line there's that little cluster of red dots near the zero. These are 1995 and the last three Swan budgets - all cases where the government was seen as struggling for economic credibility. That blue one way below the line on the right is Howard's last budget, which was very well received but by that stage voters were positively enthused about the Rudd opposition.
I think the closeness of the question on whether the Opposition would have done better is actually a positive for Labor. The gap is lower (by two points) than it has ever been in a case where the Government delivering the budget was re-elected. That said, the Menzies government handed down a notoriously nasty budget in 1951 before we had these sort of polls and went on to win.
19 May - More Poll Data Snippets:
Some data out now allow for my familiar hobby of finding the unstated breakdown on an issues question for minor party voters.
In Newspoll, the breakdown for the 39-48 result on the budget being good for the economy is 81-10 good-bad for Coalition supporters and 15-77 for Labor supporters. For minor party supporters (Green/PUP/others/ind) I get 16-58. The disenchanted Coalition supporters who strongly disliked the budget have already shifted their voting intention (temporarily or permanently) in protest; the 81-10 is the reception from the diehards.
Newspoll: better or worse off personally: Coalition 11-57, Labor 0-83, others 3-65
Newspoll: would Opposition have done better?: Coalition 8-87, Labor 70-13, others 37-38.
Galaxy: good or bad for economy: Coalition 81-11, Labor 19-68, others 13-67 (!)
Galaxy: better or worse off personally: Coalition 22-60, Labor 4-87, others 5-80.
There is a small ray of light for the Coalition from a Nielsen question that found a 49-48 split on whether the budget was economically responsible, but given that the 49% would include those who thought it was economically responsible but bad in other ways, that's not really too much to shout about.
Some more charts and analysis drawing generally similar conclusions to the above at Poll Bludger.
19 May: Morgan: This week's Morgan (and it is just this week's; post-budget only) comes in with a whopping 57.5:42.5 headline result for Labor, but once this is converted to last-election preferences (I get c. 55.5) and then adjusted for Morgan lean, it's been defanged to something in the area of Newspoll and hence has relatively little impact on my aggregate - another 0.1 of a point goes to Labor. It is quite possible that PUP fans (a record 6.5% of them) are presently slightly Labor-leaning on preferences and hence that last-election preferences underestimate the damage of the Budget on the Coalition's numbers; on the other hand I have the average lean of Morgan's last-election preferences now running at 1.3 points (compared to the 1 point I correct them by).
We have Essential, probably tomorrow, to probably complete the full set. If we considered just this week's polls my aggregate would be running at 54.6 so it is possible the Coalition will fall further behind in coming weeks. That said, there won't be much polling next week.
Morgan Update: The published last-election 2PP from Morgan is a surprisingly high 56.5 to Labor. Assuming that's correct, the explanation would be the state distribution of the minor party votes (and not just rounding). Pollsters can look at the preference split from the last election by party in each state rather than just nationally. With that included my aggregate has hit the magic 54 for the first time, with potential to move into the high 54s should results like this week's persist.
May 20: Essential: Essential has done what Essential does; it has showed no 2PP change and only very slight primary vote changes while three of the other four polls went gaga. It remains at 52:48 to Labor for the fourth week in a row. My aggregate stays at 54% and will stay there at the end-of-week reset if there isn't anything new by then. However Essential's use of fortnightly rolling most likely means that about half of its sample was taken post-Budget. Essential respondents disapprove of the Budget (30-52) and think it is good for the well-off (51-15) but bad by similar or greater margins for the average worker, low income earners, the elderly and the young. Voters apparently agree there is a "budget emergency" (56-32) but are not that convinced this Budget will fix it. Increasing the pension age is the most disapproved of various budget measures tested (17-61). There were ticks for some measures: making graduates pay HELP debts faster, cutting the ABC's budget and cutting foreign aid.
May 22: BludgerTrack: The new BludgerTrack estimate is 54.2 to Labor. Note that the BludgerTrack sidebar now carries retrospective aggregation graphs for 2004-2010. This is as a result of me managing to extract a full set of Nielsen polling from 1996 to 2011, that used to be on the Nielsen website, from the Wayback Machine. If anyone would like the Nielsen PDFs I can email them.
May 23: Where Does The Abbott Slide Rate?
I thought I'd have a look at how Abbott's loss of 23 Newspoll netsat points in the last two Newspolls compares with other PMs of the Newspoll era who have suffered such sharp losses in their personal rating. A loss of this magnitude or greater over a period of at most seven weeks is a fairly rare event, happening about once every two years. The table gives the size of previous netsat losses, the number of weeks the loss covered, and the eventual fate of that PM in that term.
Every Australian Prime Minister in the Newspoll era has had a similar rapid loss of net popularity to Abbott, although in most cases it came from a much higher base. I can also say based on incompletely scribbled data from old Morgans that similarly quick and severe losses probably happened at least for the following: McMahon in 1971, Whitlam in 1974 and 1975 and Fraser in 1978. However as the table shows, a hefty proportion of such losses represent the fading of a honeymoon effect after a PM won an election or returned to the job. Also, the fates of PMs who suffer such losses are all over the place.
It's also not unusual for PMs to experience ratings as bad as -30 at some stage in their career; indeed, since leadership ratings were first measured regularly in 1969, only Gorton has not polled comparable ratings at some time. In terms of Abbott's ability to retain office, the question is not how unpopular he may become (unless he starts polling -50s and worse, maybe), but what is his ability to rebuild his personal standing as PM. That's something that polling doesn't yet tell us, although Abbott did achieve the second-best personal ratings rebuild for an Opposition Leader.
Thus far Abbott seems to be at least as much a slave as almost any other PM to the trend of leadership ratings being highly and apparently causally correlated with the party's poll performance, and this makes sense because what's going on is all about the Government. Bill Shorten's netsat is up 14 points in six weeks, but it's not because he's doing anything differently or right or because people like Labor suddenly; he's just getting free hits from the Government.
Some might suggest that if Keating won an election with a net personal rating of -25, Abbott could just as easily do so too. Not too likely. Keating's first term as PM from 1992-3 is the one period in Australian polling history in which the relationship between the PM's rating and the party's 2PP score didn't exist (indeed the relationship was between voting intention and the Opposition Leader's ratings), whereas with Abbott so far it exists and explains 87% of variation. Figures, because politics at the time was about whether the Opposition were fit to take over from a government that was ready to be turfed.
May 27 Essential: Essential remained at 52-48 for the fifth successive week. This had a very small impact on my aggregate, but if it turns out that Essential is wrong then other pollsters will pick up on this next week and the aggregate will move into the 54s.
Essential included Abbott-vs-Shorten attribute polling and it was a bit of a no-contest with Shorten winning every head to head comparison except "visionary" ("won" by Abbott 31-30). On average Shorten's rating on the fifteen attributes was 14.4 points better than Abbott's. Since April Abbott's scores have worsened on every attribute (by an average 7.5 points) while Shorten records an average rise of 4.3 points with improvement on all attributes except "aggressive" (+3).
A very stark comparison appears in the article by Essential's Peter Lewis and Jackie Woods - Abbott is also outperformed by Gillard on these measures, based on results immediately before Gillard was removed. Gillard's ratings were better on 13 of the 15 attributes, with one tie and Abbott shading her by three points on "more honest than most politicians". On average Abbott scores 7.6 points worse than terminal-era Gillard.
May 29: Bludgertrack: After a few weeks of being more or less identical there is suddenly a 1.1 point divergence between my aggregate and BludgerTrack, which has gone to 55% to Labor.
The full size of this divergence won't last long, because in the absence of further polling mine will go to 54.3 this weekend as old polls drop out of the system. Beyond that about half the remaining difference is caused by differing treatments of Essential.
June 2: With only one poll last week we really need this week's data to round off where the Coalition's budget blues are settling. First cab off the rank is Morgan with 55:45 by last-election preferences, down 1.5 points on last week's reading. As Morgan leans to Labor this result actually knocked 0.1 of a point off this week's starting value. Newspoll and Essential to come and another ReachTEL is probably not far away.
Newspoll: Another poll suggesting things at least aren't getting worse for the government, with Newspoll returning 54:46 to Labor. Abbott's netsat has recovered four points to -26, while Shorten's has dropped eight to -5 for no evident reason. Shorten maintains his lead as better PM from last time, 45:35, and the 45% is in fact the equal highest score for an Opposition Leader since Kevin Rudd faced off against John Howard in 2007. Tony Abbott as Opposition Leader held the same PPM rating exactly twice: in his last poll against Gillard and his last poll against Rudd.
I think now that we have a fair fix on the net damage this Budget has caused to the government's polling position: about three points. For all the more excitable commentaries in the last few weeks I don't think we are seeing anything catastrophic in this polling yet. Some might even think that the Coalition has got off light. Tomorrow Essential will bring us Abbott-Turnbull matchup polling, and while the result is likely to be very bad for the PM, I think the results will be for entertainment purposes only.
Ipsos I-view: As noted by Pollbludger today (I actually hadn't noticed it yet) there may be a new bird on the polling lagoon with the arrival of Ipsos I-view. From their website I've determined they run a fortnightly online panel survey with each survey taken over five days and a sample size of about 1000, and have recently asked voting intention questions. I've found three recent 2PP results from them, 50-50 released April 14, 51.5 to Labor April 28, 53 to Labor May 13, and with the third they qualify for inclusion in my aggregate, albeit with a low weighting until they have completed eight polls (assuming this happens). The three results available so far are similar enough to what other pollsters have been recording. However, there are no voting intention results available in the May 28 release. (There are, however, leadership and budget results, including a 66% dissatisfaction for Tony Abbott in the latter, and a range of other figures similar to what other pollsters have been getting.)
As one pollster possibly enters, another will depart with the end of Nielsen polling in Australia. The decision was apparently not related to current Fairfax budget cutbacks. Fairfax, which has been publishing Nielsen for a long time now, will be running a different poll, the form and source of which remains to be seen.
3 June Essential: Essential has finally gone to 53:47. Most voters think Labor should vote against parts of the budget (53%) rather than pass it all (18) or block it (18). Even 41% of Coalition supporters think Labor should oppose some parts. Findings on voting for or against specific questions are posted and are similar to what we've seen all along, with co-payments, university cuts and fees, and increasing the pension age the most opposed. "Party trust to handle issues" scores show Labor improving relative to the Coalition on most issues since four months ago, the main exceptions being national security and asylum seekers. And finally, the Turnbull-vs-Abbott showdown is a bit of a fizzer this time around with Turnbull leading only 31-18, and a high proportion of "don't know"s and mostly token "someone else"s (they should have been then asked "who?"). Among Coalition supporters, Abbott leads 43-27. The gap has actually closed since the question was last asked during last year's campaign.
This article has now tracked the government's polling through the pre-budget phase and the weeks after the budget. I intend winding this one up at the end of this week and starting a new roundup when something else interesting happens.