Three political opinion polls were published during the week, and
all showed a lift to federal Labor's election chances under Mark
Well, actually, the polls themselves did no such thing. But why
should facts intrude on a political honeymoon?
"Latham gives Labor poll hopes a lift," announced The
Sydney Morning Herald's front page. "Voters embrace Latham
gamble," claimed The Australian. And "Latham
already swaying voters," we learnt from The Sun-Herald.
Let's start with the two released on Tuesday. ACNielsen was
published in The Age and Sydney Morning Herald. The
previous Nielsen, in late September, had the government in front 52
per cent to 48per cent two party preferred. And this week's? The
same: 52 to 48.
Then there was Newspoll, in The Australian. If we ignore
(as surely we must) the four days of limbo between Simon Crean's
resignation and the Labor caucus leadership vote, Newspoll's final
Crean survey registered 50:50 after distribution of preferences.
This week the pollster had the government ahead 51 to 49 per
cent. So one survey was status quo, Labor went backwards in the
other, but both were written up winningly for the new leader.
The third was a Sun-Herald Taverner poll that surveyed
"five crucial western Sydney electorates". The headline
was "Latham already swaying voters".
Taverner found primary support for the ALP at 42 per cent and 45
per cent for the Liberals. The paper concluded: "After
preference distributions, which always strongly favour Labor
federally, the result would comfortably hand the western Sydney
politician the keys to the Lodge." The most obvious point about
that is that no five electorates, even allegedly crucial western
Sydney ones, can be extrapolated to the 150 nationwide.
But the Sun-Herald's conclusion is invalid within any
parameters. At the last election, primary support for the Liberal
Party in the five seats (Greenway, Lindsay, Lowe, Macarthur and
Parramatta) was 44.2per cent, for Labor it was 40.2, and after
distribution of preferences, the Liberals led 51.3 to 48.7.
According to Taverner, Labor's vote has gone up by two points and
the Liberals' by one. In the absence of minor party data, a
reasonable two party preferred estimate rounds to 51 to 49 in the
Which shows no movement. No seats change hands. No keys to the
All right, we know that opinion polls aren't particularly
accurate. It's still early days, and Australians are yet to make up
their minds about the new alternative. Latham is outperforming his
predecessor on such esoterica as preferred prime minister and
But come election time, the Labor Party will need votes - two
party preferred ones, preferably in marginal seats.
Both Alexander Downer (1994) and John Howard (1995) achieved
immediate and huge (approaching 10per cent) vote leaps in their
first Newspolls. Latham got no bounce at all.
That's what the papers should be saying.
Peter Brent is editor of mumble.com.au, a website that looks
at electoral behaviour.