Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Newspoll: ALP 52 – LNP 48 (or, that was a tad unexpected)

Well Kaboom! This morning's Newspoll shows the ALP’s lead go from 59-41 to 52-48. A massive shift, that comes on the back of a solid 2-3 weeks of asylum seeker debate. It certainly had more of an impact than I predicted.

Lenore Taylor in The Australian makes the very good point that this result shows the value to the opposition of making the Government the issue. And she it right, but even still I would not put too much store in this one poll, given that it really doesn’t fit with any other polls done over the same period. The Australian itself didn’t even to really seem to believe the figure – giving it only minor prominence on the front page – and with the rather underwhelming headline of “Coaltion pulls back Labor”.

Newspoll chief executive officer Martin O'Shannessy didn’t seem to particularly believe the figures either:

Newspoll chief executive officer Martin O'Shannessy warned last night that the wild swing in the polling result could be an aberration, insisting the result would need to be confirmed in the next fortnightly poll. Noting that the decline in Labor support was not uniform, Mr O'Shannessy said "The majority of the change in the Labor primary vote is attributable to a fall in Labor’s primary among those aged under 50".

This is rather odd given (as Possum on Crikey notes):

The only issue over the last fortnight in media has been asylum seekers, and all the polling we’ve ever had on that issue suggests that it is the over 50’s that are the strongest supporters of tough border protection – and as yesterday’s Essential Report suggested, the over 50’s are also more likely to believe that the Coalition would do a better job at managing this issue..

If this wasn’t an outlier – we would expect the over 50’s to move strongest, so the composition of the poll is inconsistent with what we would expect to occur if the poll was, in fact, an accurate representation of the true state of public opinion.

The Poll is not all good news for the Liberals. For Malcolm Turnbull it is actually pretty bad news. On the Preferred PM standing, Rudd leads 63%-19%, a fall of just 2% for Rudd (statistically insignificant), and Turnbull remains steady. That the Liberal Party could improve by 7% and yet no one is expressing any greater desire to see Turnbull as PM is not something a leader wants. In fact this poll will put more internal pressure on Turnbull – as some in the Liberal Party may see it as a sign that they can keep a hard right line, and thus defy Turnbull on issues such as the ETS.

On the satisfaction ratings we again see evidence that the poll is more about the ALP than the Libs doing well. Rudd’s net satisfaction rating goes down from 35 to 27 – essentially 4% moving from satisfied to dissatisfied. For Turnbull on the other hand his net satisfaction rating goes from minus 22 to minus 19, but his increase occurred purely because 3% moved from being dissatisfied to being “uncommitted”. Hardly a winning endorsement.

My reading is that the electorate has given Rudd slap to the back of the head over his handling of the asylum seekers. I also think there are dangers for both sides with this poll.

The danger for the Government is to overreact. I think the Government's line at the end of last week was its best so far. Rudd was getting into a tone of “let’s be measured and patient about this complicated issue”. It was the right tone, and he should have taken it from the outset. If the Government panics at this poll and brings in the troops or something dopey to get the asylum seekers off the Oceanic Viking, then I think their numbers will stay around the 52-53 mark. Given that I believe this is an outlier, and a poll of 54-46 is more realistic, the Government should keep the Stephen Smith approach going, and get on with the other more important matters – the economy and the ETS, because they are the fundamentals that the next election will be fought on.

[UPDATE: Though my only caveat to this is that the votes went to the Libs and not the Greens, so perhaps people do want a "tough" asylum seeker policy. Which I have to say is a sad indictment on this nation if we get so in a twist over so few people. I still think Rudd needs to hold firm and start explaining the issue better.]

The danger for the opposition is that they too will overreact to this poll and see it as a vindication of their policy – and that they should move further to the right. The fact is the opposition has not articulated any policy on asylum seekers – and certainly not on the Oceanic Viking.

The other danger is that the opposition will see this poll as being approval of their economic and ETS strategy (if what they are doing can be called a strategy). Last week the opposition went numerous days not asking a single question on the economy, so this poll certainly is not a sign that voters are buying the Libs’ “debt and deficit” argument. Nor is it an indicator that the voters want the Libs to reject the ETS – as that too barely rated a mention in the past fortnight.

If some Lib Senators see this poll as proof that they should block the ETS then I would expect another wild swing back to the Government, if for no other reason than it will give the Government a massive opening to change the topic.

So all in all it’s an interesting poll; one that won’t really mean anything until we see the next Newspoll in two week’s time. If the ALP vote is still below 53% then you can start arguing that a shift has occurred (the argument will be about whether it is a soft or hard shift). If it is back to 54+ then this will have just been (what I think it is) a one issue poll that shows the voters don’t think particularly much of how either Turnbull or Rudd are handling the asylum seeker issue.

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