The one conclusion from Newspoll: Turnbull is cactus
I’ve never been one for obsessing about The Australian. They have an editorial slant to the right, but they also have some very high quality journos who I like to read. As a result I buy and read their paper every day and filter out their leanings. I’m sure plenty of others do the same.
Yesterday, their front page (“Rudd loses ground in his homeland state and the bush”) blew up the filter. It’s one thing to take a news angle on one part of a poll at the expense of a more complex message. It’s another to ignore what should be, for one side of politics, an enormous, wailing emergency siren with big flashing red lights on top in order to substantiate a headline like that.
In their article, Matthew Franklin and Samantha Maiden claim “public support for Labor has plunged in regional Australia and fallen in Kevin Rudd’s home state of Queensland” as well as “a big jump in support for the Coalition among voters living outside the capital cities.” While no questions on the ETS were in the poll, the ETS was inserted as a possible cause.
Their evidence for this is various movements in Labor, Liberal and National support. They rely on previous Newspoll surveys conducted during this term, rather than the more reliable marker - the 2007 election result. Within that context some movements are sizeable - the Nats increase of two points nationally and three points in Queensland is a good example. Even a cursory glance at the tables show the headline misses the big story of the consistently bad result for the Coalition compared with the last election.
In all their slicing and dicing of subgroups, the Australian overlooks the most important figure: a nationwide 3.3% two-party swing to Labor since the last election. This number has floated within the margin of error for the last year.
The factors The Australian write up are just small movements since the 2007 election. There is a small swing to Labor in Queensland - within the margin of error, but still enough to net them extra seats in the Sunshine State if it’s correct. Even the much-hyped swing against Labor in the bush is just 0.4% since the election. Again, it’s within the margin of error of even this large sample size.
In addition, we don’t know exactly where the regional swing referred to on the front page is coming from. There are a lot of safe Coalition seats in the bush - if the movement away from Labor is concentrated there, it does the Coalition far less good than if it’s happening in the ‘sea change’ marginals on the east coast.
The overall numbers remain daunting for the Coalition. If the draft redistribution boundaries in NSW and Queensland are confirmed, Labor will start on 88 seats, five more than they currently have. The Coalition needs a swing to them just to stand still.
It’s hard to map the swings exactly - layering a nationwide city/country swing on top of a state-level swing will exaggerate swings in some places and understate them in others - but any way you run Newspoll’s numbers, they suggest Labor will be returned with a substantially increased majority. On this swing, no incumbent Labor MP would lose.
In the capital cities, there’s a big lift for Labor of 5.2%. Most marginal seats are located in the state capitals, especially in their outer suburbs. This strong performance in the capital cities makes it virtually impossible for the Coalition to gain the number of seats from Labor it would need to form government.
We saw something like this in Tony Blair’s first re-election in 2001 - a large number of outer suburban seats swung further to New Labour at that election because many mortgage belt voters hadn’t quite trusted the party with the economy the first time round.
While there is muted movement in NSW and Queensland, there are big swings to Labor in the other states: 4.2% in Victoria, 7.3% in Western Australia, and a near unbelievable 8.6% in South Australia. This should put a stop to talk of WA as a major weakness for the ALP - that swing is enough to easily gain four Perth seats (Swan, Stirling, Cowan and Canning).
Labor might not gain the exact seats you would expect from a straightforward uniform swing - regional NSW might not provide as many gains as you would expect from the pendulum, and seats like Cowper and Calare will be hard going - but the ALP is still on track to gain as many as a dozen new seats, as well as its redistribution gains, and end up at close to 100 seats.
In addition, the state swings are enough to clearly take out five Coalition frontbenchers: Louise Markus (assuming she gains the preselection for Macquarie that she’s nominated for), Christopher Pyne, Michael Keenan, Andrew Southcott and Bruce Billson. Three more shadow ministers from regional NSW, Bob Baldwin, John Cobb and Luke Hartsuyker would all be struggling to hang on. If you believe Newspoll there are only small swings in regional NSW, but all three are on margins of 1.2% or less and have very little room for error.
Overall, Labor would not lose a single seat and would gain a healthy swag. Clearly, no “plunge” in support for Labor and no “big jump in support” for their opponents.
It’s a disastrous poll for the Coalition, it shows fundamental weaknesses for them in key states and should have been called that way by The Australian.
- Tim Gartrell is the CEO of Auspoll and a former National Secretary of the ALP.
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