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Crikey election book chapter

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Federal pendulum (old)

margins since 1983

Historical results

Margins 1949  2001

See the lemmings!

two decades of Newspolls

state votes at federal elections

Votes and seat
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Newspoll &
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preferential voting

Newspoll Opposition leader approval ratings

Newspoll Opposition voting intentions



Nicholson (clipped) in The Oz   2007 results->  AEC    ABC  

 Qld election: ABC Antony Green Crikey 

June 2 Newspoll says 55 to 45

Tables here, primary support also similar to Galaxy's.

June 1 Galaxy says 55 to 45

In Tele here. Tables here; those personality questions are good value.

May 29 Closure of AEC's Melbourne education centre

Mentioned the other day; see Brian Costar in the Age. Meanwhile, the Commission is advertising this job.

May 28 India's election

Nice piece by Malcolm Mackerras in the Oz, although he gets a bit controversial near the end, recommending John Della Bosca as NSW premier and Nick Minchin as deputy opposition leader.

May 27 The power of the media?

There is no doubt the press gallery and media in general have a significant influence on how people see governments and oppositions and hence how they vote. It's a complicated story with lots of chicken and eggs.

But there's a specific subset: the idea that if the media reports that a party is "doing well", this will translate into it being so. The prevalence of this explains why in parliament the parties play to the press gallery (so they will report "the government/opposition had a good day today"), why the Australian during 2007 kept finding silver linings for John Howard in its Newspolls and (partially) the high levels of self-perceived importance among many in the press gallery,

It also explains why today some are over-egging the Rudd government's troubles from last week: if they describe how the political ground has shifted forcefully enough, it will help it become true. But there is no evidence yet that the public has turned off this extremely dull government.

Related was the leaked Crosby-Textor analysis a couple of years ago which indicated that that outfit believes that who people expect to win an election is a strong determinant of the result.

This is just silly, simple-minded and contrary to human nature - the Australian variety anyway. The idea presumably comes from America, where there is great belief in the "bandwagon effect". I don't know enough about that country to judge, but it sure doesn't apply in Australia, where if anything does it's the opposite, the "underdog effect". The expectation of a John Hewson win helped explain Paul Keating's 1993 victory, and the opposite - that Keating would wiggle off the hook again - probably increased John Howard's 1996 majority.

Malcolm Turnbull has an excuse, as his remaining leader depends in part on good media reviews. But the same doesn't apply to the government. And journos produce better work when they operate on the assumption that they are not going to change one person's vote.

And another thing: history rewritten

The other week I heard the Oz's Christian Kerr on radio describe our former prime minister, John Howard, as "avuncular". I nearly fell off my chair. I've heard of revisionism and the past through rose-coloured glasses, but that's taking it to extremes!

May 22 Fremantle by-election

See Paul Rodan in Inside Story. See result at WAEC here. The question is whether Greens or Labor will win the next election.

It is very hard to see Adele Carles winning at the next general election. To do so she would have to build up one hell of a presence - not just in the electorate but in Western Australia generally. She would have to become 'famous' like, say, Graeme Campbell from Kalgoorlie and be seen as an 'independent', someone synonymous with the area.

Campbell earned capital by regularly bagging his party, something a Green is not likely to do.

Despite changing demographics, Fremantle hasn't become a 'Green' seat.

May 19 Newspoll says 56 to 44

Which is little changed from last fortnight's 55 to 45 (but if Newspoll were taken only as often as Nielsen it would be down from 58 to 42).

Like Nielsen, Newspoll has decent drops in Rudd's ratings etc and improvements in Turnbull's.

Voting etc here, budget questions here.

Closure of Vic electoral education centre

Brian Costar of Swinburne Uni blasts the federal government for the closure of Melbourne's electoral education centre, presumably an outcome of last year's 'efficiency dividends' (surely a lazy way for governments to make savings).

More here.

May 18 Nielsen says 53 to 47

In Fairfax papers, down from 58 to 42 seven [?] weeks ago. (Table here. Note the similarity with the last election result, and that preferences distributed according to flows then gives 52 to 48.) Recall Newspoll's most recent had 55 to 45, down from 58 to 42 in a fortnight.

Tomorrow's Newspoll will be worth the wait.

Weighting by 'past vote'

Read Possum from recent Morgan press release. I hadn't heard of this weighting by how people say they voted at the last election; Morgan denies doing it, and so apparently do all the pollsters Possum quizzed.

But it doesn't seem like such a 'stupid' idea to me. Almost invariably after an election, both the respondents' claimed vote for the loser, and their intended vote 'if an election were held this Saturday' drop to below the election result; Gary Morgan reckons it's as much as ten points in the current situation. It might be that (in the case of the last federal election) diehard Coalition supporters are too depressed to talk to pollsters, or they lie, or folks have repressed the memory of voting for such a hopeless rabble or they love backing a winner or whatever.

But asking both questions and using one to adjust for the other isn't necessarily to be sneezed at. Well, it would be interesting to at least track the two over time, see if respondents' 'past vote' converges with the actual one, and what happens to voting intentions.

May 15 Budget: opinion polls this weekend

In a sense Malcolm Turnbull is unlucky that the last Newspoll had a narrowing of the vote gap, because it increases the chances of the government appearing to get a post-budget 'boost', at least according to that pollster. These perceptions matter barely a jot except regarding Malcolm's leadership.

Thankfully the budget hoo-hah will subside in a week or so; I don't think any other country makes such a fuss about their aspirations and estimates for the coming financial year. (As opposed to what actually happened in the previous one.)

Economics 101 observations

  • A goodly proportion of political journalists seem not to know the difference between government debt and foreign (national) debt (cue references to 1993 and 1996 debt trucks).

  • A similar number believe this financial year's cash splashes come off next year's bottom line. (Joe Hockey's '$25bn' suggests he does as well.)

  • A few reported budget revenue collapsing by $210bn in one year!

  • Lindsay Tanner is the only government member who credits people with some intelligence and attempts to explain what's going on. All the others, including to a degree the PM, favour the Swan/Wong "stay on message, stick with the platitudes, just survive the interview" approach.

May 11 Malcolm and the 'S' word: jumping the shark?

After the 1993 election, when for some reason John Hewson wished to remain Liberal leader, one of the slew of criticisms he faced was that he was 'not enough of a politician'. He had been comprehensively out-politicked by Paul Keating.

So he called the Keating government a 'socialist government.' There.

This description was rubbished as silly and out of date by many, including commentator Gerard Henderson and leadership aspirant John Howard.

Last week Malcolm Turnbull called the Rudd government 'socialist', presumably for similar reasons: to show the backbench he's capable of rising to the political task. In Hewson's case the real problem was that he'd just lost the 'unlosable election', in Malcolm's his opinion poll numbers are terrible, but in both it comes down to having a weak position in the partyroom.

Budget week

In the meantime, Turnbull's Thursday budget reply speech will presumably get the thumbs up - don't they (nearly) always? Something like 'it was very good Fran/Kerry/Barrie/Tony, but whether it was good enough to save his leadership I'm not sure ...'

[Update: oh, I played this riff last year; can't recall how accurate it was.]

May 8 Vic Labor Party misuse of electoral roll

Victorian ALP shenanigans made the news yesterday and today.

Here's [1 mb PDF] the Ombudman's report on Brimbank Council. I've extracted a few pages that deal with something so far unreported: the party using the electronic electoral roll for Council elections, which is an Electoral Act no-no.

Here [180kb].

May 7 Peter, Paul (and John)

Hartcher, Kelly and Howard, that is.

You will have noted Peter Hartcher's new book To the Bitter End, on the Howard years.

It was launched by Peter Costello last week (which is consistent with the confidant-to-Costello tone of Hartcher's writing and talking over recent months and years; presumably the book is Costello-friendly - and therefore not particularly Howard-friendly). So far the most interesting new tidbit is Howard's opinion poll induced mood-swings.

Rumour has it that Paul Kelly's absence from our screens and pages this year is due to his finishing a book, and you can bet it features lots of Howard and Costello as well. (The End of Certainty came out in the early nineties, so maybe it's time for a sequel.)

Peter is like a young Paul in some ways. Both are Storytellers: fine writers and talkers, fond of their own voices, taking themselves seriously, always building the narrative, prone to overstating things. But Kelly's work is more substantial, more meaty, and Hartcher is more prone to gimmicks (such as Kevin Rudd's babushka doll). Paul does have a couple of decades more experience.

Anyway, if Paul is sending tome to publishers this month, I suppose that means a launch late in the year. Something to look forward to.

May 5 Newspoll says 55 to 45

In the Oz; tables here.

May 1 Newspoll: what to do with 14 percent of others?

See yesterday's NSW Newspoll, published in the Oz, which has 53 to 47. At first glance these two party preferred numbers look too close from the primary ones, but calculating along similar lines to this you do get about that, because of the large 13 percent Green vote.

You could say from those numbers that the total left vote is greater than the right one, and if NSW used proportional representation (as it did for a few years last century) this poll points to a Labor-Green government.

In fact, that's been the situation in most NSW polls since the last election.

The important question is: who are those 14 percent 'others'? Estimating two party preferred assuming they flow the same way as the last election is problematic when the number is so large. If they're predominately Family First, Christian Democrats (and other right wing parties) then the Coalition would be further ahead after preferences (and you'd favour a Liberal led coalition government under PR). But without further information estimating as Newspoll has is all you can do.

We don't know how far Newspoll drills down to the actual vote 'others' respondents intend to cast (and they are the least helpful of the major pollsters in revealing things like that; it's not even worth asking). But if they do get some of that info, they could use it for their notional two party preferreds.

Bye bye Barry?

It is just about impossible to imagine Labor winning the next NSW election, but I think with these and previous polling numbers Mr O'Barrel's future looks shaky. Parties like to see more impressive approval, primary support etc than this before they stop being nervous.

April 30 Me in Inside Story on Senator Michael Ronaldson

The other day in Crikey, Bernard Keane had a go at the shadow minister responsible for electoral affairs for a bizarre complaint he made about the state of the electoral roll. My piece in Inside Story is same-same only different.


Ok, it is probably starry-eyed to expect important electoral matters - the rules under which elections, and hence governments, are decided - to be above the silly political fray.

April 28 Enrolling the people: go AEC!

The Australian Electoral Commission has indicated it's going to try to do something about the seven or so percent of eligible Australians who aren't on the electoral roll. At this stage, they're sending half a million letters with forms to people who they know/think live at a particular address but are not enrolled anywhere.

The press release implies the forms are standard/blank; presumably there's a reason they couldn't include ones preprinted with names.

One day Australia will become a modern country and do this stuff electronically.

  • AEC press release here.

April 22 Me in Inside Story on border protection etc

Elaborating on some points made here about incumbency and other things. Other good stories too: here.

April 21 10:15am: informal voting at 2007 federal election

The AEC's analysis, hot off those presses, is here. Haven't read it yet but am very much looking forward to it.

Newspoll says 58 to 42

Little change in the better PM and satisfaction ratings, and a mixed bag on the asylum questions. Tables here.

April 20 Asylum seekers: fruits of incumbency

I bang this drum regularly, but there's a reason John Howard's 1988 utterances on Asian immigration and Andrew Peacock's 1990 campaign against the Japanese Multi-Function-Polis fizzed, while Howard's 2001 fulminating on refugees was considered successful. Howard was in office in 2001.

There are things you can do from government and those you can do from opposition. If you're PM the words you utter have greater authority, and you are able to slum things for a while: no-one will think you're not fit for office because they've seen that you are.

More than that, behaving unconventionally gives a leader that extra 'something' (not unlike charisma) (for example 'accidentally' saying 'shit-storm'.)

Lynton Crosby and Mark Textor (who get great press) took Tampa-esque tactics to Britain in 2005 and New Zealand in 2006 and failed both times. John Key passed on that stuff last year, and you can be sure David Cameron will next year. It's not a good look for oppositions.

Mr Rudd, petrified of losing those record approval ratings, is obviously spooked (as he was on alco-pops petrol excise a year ago), but provided he does nothing silly this will be fish 'n chip wrappings in a few weeks.

April 17 Asylum seekers: this weekend's Newspoll

It's London to a brick that when Newspollsters hit the phones this weekend they will have questions about boat people.

The results on Tuesday will probably show most people preferring the Howard government's policy (or something like that), but voting intentions, approval etc will be interesting. (These are always asked first.)

The Australian is today particularly restrained.

(Recall, by the way, Greg Sheridan in late 2001, for example here, here and here. Compare with Greg today.)

Pity Malcolm Turnbull, whose heart is not in this sort of stuff; Dr Nelson would be enjoying it immensely.

[Update: in 2004 this Newspoll suggested that with fewer ships arriving the issue had gone off the boil.]

April 8 Opposition leader Better PM v approval ratings

My misremembering of 1988 in yesterday's post, and many reporters' habit of confusing opposition leaders' approval and better PM ratings, led me to wonder whether any opposition leader has had higher better PM than approval.

According to the Newspoll archives the answer is yes, but in nearly all cases you need both an unpopular opposition leader and unpopular prime minister, which means Paul Keating as PM.

Table here.

April 7 Newspoll says 58 to 42

Lenore Taylor here, tables here. Harmonising with last week's Nielsen and the most recent Morgan.

Not sure about Lenore's 1988 'Mr 18 percent' comparison; I think that was John Howard's 'approval/satisfaction' rather than 'preferred/better PM'. (Had a quick look in Morgan's archives but there's nothing in that year; perhaps they weren't surveying for the Bully at that point.) [Update: it was 'better PM'; here's Morgan's press release (800kb PDF)]

But Malcolm is in Dr Nelson polling territory. And the worse his numbers get, the more he has to placate a disgruntled party, the less able he is to devise his own strategy and the sillier his behaviour becomes.

We've seen this show many times and can spot the ending a mile off.

April 6 Centrebet odds for next Victorian election

I reckon below are smashing odds for a Coalition victory in Victoria in 2010. You wouldn't necessarily favour them to win but they have a much better than one in five chance. John Brumby's current popularity is boosted by the fires, the 2006 result was about 53.5 to 46.5[?] (compared with Queensland's 55 to 45 in the same year), the opinion polls during the campaign are likely to be competitive (or, like Queensland last month, have the opposition ahead) and the odds will reflect this. Hedging will be possible.

In November 2010 Brumby's will be an older government than Queensland Labor was last month - almost as ancient, in fact, as Howard's at its demise in 2007.

But twenty months a long investment period.

The bikie 'link': Insiders goes tabloid

A security breach at the Lodge is serious, but 'links with bikie gangs'? They were big blokes with tatts apparently.

But bikies are in the news at the moment. I think that's called a beat up.

April 3 Electoral law, the AEC and JSCEM

Brian Costar in Inside Story on the new Australian Electoral Commissioner's appearance at JSCEM a couple of weeks ago. Brian sees a new broom; here's the JSCEM transcript (and Brian).

I'm currently reading this book for a review essay at the Australian Review of Public Affairs . The American electoral system is so awful that any half-decent country compares favourably with it.

But the AEC is a fine organisation by any international standards, in part because it is a single body running all elections national elections, which is a rarity. (In most places a coordination of various local bodies does the job.)

Try finding official results data on an overseas counterpart's website at anything like the level you get on the AEC's, for example. [Update: Simon Jackman adds 2¢.]

But there are two major flaws in Australian electoral practice, where we lag behind the rest of the world. One is political finance, a sexy subject that attracts lots of attention and which I tend to leave to others. The Liberals are locked into opposing reform, although two years ago Malcolm Turnbull had enlightened views.

The other is in enrolment, where we remain rather 'horse and buggy-ish'; I've written about this for example here (with Simon Jackman) and here and here and kind of here. There are vague partisan lines there too, but it is difficult to argue against the principle of getting everybody on the roll, and the topic being rather dull to most hopefully makes it less prone to raise emotions.

But perhaps these things will have to wait until after the next election, when the Senate is more Labor-friendly.

April 1 Cause and effect: Latham the narcissist

[Caveat: Assuming this article by Misha Schubert in the Age has nothing to do with today's date ...]

Mark Latham's former chief of staff Mike Richards, who 'wrote his doctorate on a narcissistic personality', puts his old boss on the couch and concludes ... he has a narcissistic personality. He would, wouldn't he; presumably if he'd specialised in psychopaths he would have found Boofhead to be one of those (my favoured diagnosis of him).

Still, Latham's view of the world and his place in it was extreme. A similar grandiosity can be seen in former NSW Treasurer Michael Costa.

But Costa is famously bipolar. If Richards had written his doctorate on bipolar personalities ...

March 31 Margin of error: a pollster named Sol

Two years ago I had a bash at explaining margin of error to a general readership in chapter in the Crikey 2007 federal election book. From the bottom of page 135 to page 137 here.

Relevant of course to recent exchange, and also to something I'm currently writing for Inside Story.

March 30 Nielsen says 58 to 42

In Fairfax broadsheets; Possum has tables here.

Fitzgibbon: a lemming problem

A bit of a rant, moved to here.

March 27 Queensland fallout 'n stuff

Graeme Orr in Australian Policy Online suggests compulsory voting may have helped Anna Bligh, while Stormin' Norman Abjorensen ponders the LNP's future in Inside Story.

Oz quarterly federal Newspoll

With State components, here. Queensland and WA are the Coalition's strongest States, as they were at the last election.

An Apple Isle suggestion

Breakdowns for Tasmania are never included in these quarterlies because the sample from three months of surveys is too small. But maybe it wouldn't hurt to include that State's data over the last six or nine months (with an appropriate description/warning). Similarly, voting intentions for State elections could be published once a year - again with a warning. (As you know Newspoll gathers federal and State data at the same time.)

Having a little information is better than having none.

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