What to make of this week's Newspoll, which showed a seven percent turnaround, in a fortnight, to put the federal government on 53 to Labor's 47 percent two party preferred? On the Mackerras Pendulum,
would be a 30 odd seat majority for John Howard.
Look at it this way: if your doctor took your blood pressure and found it out of whack, she would measure it again - probably twice - to make sure.
Opinion polls are like that. They aren't very accurate. Newspoll might have just phoned too many Coalition voters last weekend. In a perfect world, a pollster who got a weird result would do it all again, but Newspoll crunches its numbers on a Monday, the booking is in the
morning's Australian, and the show must go on.
The pollsters, and many journalists, know they shouldn't take the product literally, but circumstances dictate otherwise. You can't plaster the stuff all over page one and then heavily qualify it. So everybody plays the charade, which this week led to the consensus that the government had received something called a "delayed budget bounce".
The bigger a survey sample, the more accurate, so we can average consecutive polls. Each new one adds a little more information to our bundle of knowledge, and because it's the latest, it deserves more weight than any previous single one, but it's also less useful than the sum of all the before it. And as a poll gets old, its relevance declines.
In other words, look at the trend.
So what does the trend say today? Averaging the Newspoll archives, we'll compare Mark Latham's first six months with, first, all of Simon Crean's two years from November 2001 to November 2003, and second, the
corresponding six month period of Beazley's last term, December 2000 to
On two party preferred voting intention, we get Latham on 52, Crean on 48 and Beazley on 54 percent. For preferred Prime Minister Latham averages 34, Crean 20 and Beazley 37. And "satisfaction with leader of the opposition" sees Latham on 53, Crean 31 and Beazley 40 percent.
So Latham easily beats Crean on all three, while Beazley wins on voting intentions and preferred PM but not satisfaction rating.
Latham actually has the highest satisfaction ratings of any federal opposition leader since Newspoll started measuring them two decades ago. People like him. But that is the least important measure of the three; voting intention is the most.
Latham's votes, while not at Beazley's highs, still point to a Labor landslide, provided he can keep them throughout the campaign.
But, perversely, there may be a problem with that high approval, predicated as it is on his "avoid the wedge" strategy of
agreeing with Howard on everything but the war. If
that drops, will his vote go too?
The government now faces a highly popular opposition leader. Their one
bright spot is that he's largely flogging their product.