Monday, May 15, 2017

Today by Sean Kelly

Decoding the polls
The many, many, many polls


“Polls are no substitute for news, there’s lots of polls,” the prime minister said [$] this morning.

He’s right that there are lots of polls. Unfortunately, they all show a government still lingering a fair way behind the Opposition. Newspoll is 47-53; Fairfax Ipsos is also 47-53; Friday saw a Sky ReachTEL poll also with 47-53, and a Channel 7 ReachTEL poll showing 46-54.

To be fair, what Turnbull probably meant is that the polls showed different directions. This morning’s Newspoll had the government’s primary vote stagnant, fixed where it’s been since 3 April. The Fairfax Ipsos poll had a significant gain in the primary of four points – meaning that while the government is indeed behind 47-53 in two-party-preferred terms, it’s improved from 45-55 since 26 March.

Perhaps ironically, then, given that Peter Dutton just last week advised Australians not to read Fairfax papers, saying it was a “better way to lead your life”, it’s fair to say that without Fairfax the government would be in very deep trouble today. Relying on Newspoll alone would suggest that everything Turnbull has done in the past month – 457 changes, citizenship laws, gas intervention, the second Sydney airport, Gonski, plus the full budget with its health, NDIS and infrastructure spends – had yielded zero politically.

As it is, the two results have understandably led to very different political reads across the papers. Fairfax outlets have suggested the government may be on the way back; the Australian’s emphasis has been on the budget’s political failure (though I hasten to add these are not monolithic opinions).

Having dismissed the news value of the polls, Turnbull went on to give us his analysis anyway; “What you’ve seen in those polls – that you’re more interested in than me – is strong support for the budget measures.” He’s right on this too. In various polls there seems to be significant support for several of the budget’s central planks: the Medicare levy hike to fund the NDIS, the banks tax, and the increase in schools funding. I should add that I tend to be suspicious of the value of such polls, as they rarely indicate how strongly voters hold those views – still, in the battle just warming up you’d rather be the Liberals than Labor on those figures.

But there’s a more obvious question to ask about these polls on specific policies, which is: given that public support for the government’s budget measures is so strong, why hasn’t there been a more emphatic increase in the government’s vote? Have voters stopped listening to this prime minister? Or, just as likely, to a party they see as hopelessly divided? Are they waiting to see if anything will get past a difficult Senate? Had they simply not heard of the measures until they picked up the phone to the pollster?

This last one is possible. There was a lot packed into that budget. It’s conceivable it will take weeks or months for all of the news to filter out.

It’s also possible that while Turnbull has had a good month, with almost constant announcements of new policy, the voters – burned by his first 18 months – are in wait-and-see mode.

The PM’s aim with the budget was to kill off Labor attacks, to smash his do-nothing reputation, to re-establish a sense of competence, and to re-present himself as a moderate politician. The first has been achieved, to a fair extent. The final three might not be accepted by a sceptical electorate unless the coming two months look much like the past one.

Therefore, what happens next depends on the supply of that much-undervalued political quality: patience. The patience of the media, in not ratcheting up reporting to crisis levels, but much more so on the patience of Liberal MPs, in not giving the media ample excuse to engage in said ratcheting. My sense right now is this discipline just might be there.

Any patience, however, extends only so far. Turnbull has bought himself time with a competent month and a budget well received by the media; he’s also been gifted a little more time by mixed poll results. The Newspoll will worry his colleagues, though, and they will be looking for at least a little movement within, at the absolute maximum, a couple of months.

In other news


Rape among the lamingtons

Tragic evidence of child sexual abuse in the Newcastle Anglican Church

Anne Manne

“Alfred Holland’s assistant bishop, Richard Appleby, also maintained he had no recollection of any child sexual abuse in the Newcastle diocese during his time there. At this point in the hearing, I concluded that a capacity for selective amnesia was a prerequisite for high office in the Anglican Church in Newcastle.”    READ ON


Take it to the banks

The government was brave to stand up to the banks but the battle has just begun

Mungo MacCallum

“It is still not entirely clear what brought the notoriously timid government to the point where an ambush on the profits of the big banks appeared a worthwhile foray ... Perhaps it was something they were smoking – though not in front of Centrelink, obviously.”  READ ON


Sean Kelly

Sean Kelly is a columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, and was an adviser to Labor prime ministers Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd.



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