Election day three: polls galore

In Crikey today, Richard Farmer asked us to imagine how we would score this election if polls didn’t exist. It’s an interesting thought experiment, though it’s also salient to mention that a lot of what’s set up the terms and framing of the contest has been poll driven. Perhaps that’s why, in Peter Hartcher’s words:

…there is no transformative reform, and no ambitious national agenda. A modest set of offerings for a time of modest ambition.

Of that, more later perhaps.

But, in the meantime, on top of the weekend’s Galaxy Poll we have one that came out last night, the first taken during the campaign proper. The sample is the same – and it shows the parties tied at 50-50, down from 52-48 to Labor. Newspoll is also out today, showing a substantial Labor lead, with a 2PP of 55-45, produced primarily by an uptick in The Greens’ vote and a fall in the Coalition primary, with Labor steady at 42.

Numbers on both at The Poll Bludger.

Graham Young thinks this poll, like the earlier Nielsen poll purporting to show Gillard Labor with a primary of 47%, is quite possibly an outlier. He reminds us that the margin of error could mean (at the other end of the spectrum) that the result is 52-48 (same as the last Newspoll). I’d add that a drop in the Coalition’s vote and a rise in The Greens’ vote might not necessarily translate into a higher preference flow to the ALP (as Newspoll’s methodology indicates), and also suggests sampling error to me.

Newspoll wasn’t taken entirely after the campaign announcement.

And then we’ve got Essential Research, with a rolling sample, showing 55-45 in Labor’s favour, and pretty much the same results as the last one.

People will, of course, take their pick. My inclination would be to regard a slight Labor advantage as the campaign baseline. I suspect in a campaign like this one, where both parties are running against Kevin Rudd to some degree, there’s likely to be a fair bit of volatility, and that the campaign itself probably matters much more than it sometimes does.

Another fact to throw into the mix is that the average decline in the vote of a first-term government since WW2 is 1.7%. And all have gone backwards on the first outing. It’s worth remembering that 2007 was close, and that there’s not a huge amount of excess in Labor’s parliamentary majority. At one point, assumptions were being made that a second election win would result in a pattern similar to that of many state Labor governments back in the day – a landslide after an initial narrow win. The 55-45 figures would still produce that landslide, but I don’t think anyone really believes that’s a likely outcome.

Given the distribution of seats, and the likely distribution of votes, a swing of 1.7% against Labor, the historical average for governments in their first term, would produce a House composed of 75 Labor MPs, 72 Coalition MPs and 3 Independents. That’s on a uniform swing, and not taking into account seats that might fall to The Greens.

So, when interpreting the polls, it’s worth remembering that Labor could get 51% of the two party vote and lose its parliamentary majority.

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34 comments on “Election day three: polls galore
  1. gregh says:

    “A modest set of offerings for a time of modest ambition.”

    The revolution of lowered expectations

  2. Labor Outsider says:

    It doesn’t have to reflect sampling error.

    The following could explain it:

    – Gillard’s asylum rhetoric encourages some coalition voters to switch to labor but some labor voters to switch to the greens

    – it does not have to mean that coalition voters switched from the coalition to the greens

    – still early days but the galaxy poll could easily have been an outlier and it should be said that it has a much larger margin of error than the newspoll

    – the campaign is almost certainly starting with Labor in front and with gillard campaigning better than Abbott

    – the first set of campaign marginal polling will be very interesting indeed…

    – I’m going to call the following – Labor wins the election with a slightly increased majority and 53.5 2pp

  3. mbahnisch says:

    What needs to be explained, though, LO, is the variance between the polls. I agree it doesn’t have to be sampling error, but a range between 50-50 and 55-45 in the same time period rings alarm bells.

    My punt at this stage would be a narrow win to the Coalition.

    Kim makes a good point that a 51% 2PP to the ALP (assuming a uniform swing) would lead to Labor losing its majority.

  4. mbahnisch says:

    Just on Galaxy being an outlier, they seem to reflect much less volatility generally than Newspoll and Nielsen.

  5. christine longman says:

    Other than your perspective on the polls, what makes you call it narrowly for the Coalition? They are getting a very bad press, women seem to be very keen on Gillard, Labor is keeping up the WorkChoices pressure on Abbott, the electorate seems to find it hard to warm to Abbott and Gillard leads heavily as preferred PM. All those factors (plus the debatable factor of incumbency) seem to me to stack up to create little likelihood of a win for the Coalition

  6. Fran Barlow says:

    I don’t agree Mark. I’m inclined to the view that the ALP will increase its 2PP over the last election, (though it might well trade some seats here and there) and finish with a somewhat enhanced majority.

    The preference deal with The Greens is significant and with just two of the 35 days gone, Abbott has already made the first significant gaffe.

    The fact is that no party has swept to power without a leader leading on preferred PM at the start of the campaign. Rudd, for example, was 10 points up on Howard for most of 2007. Gillard leads Abbott by 30 points. Also, they trail on primary votes, which again means they have a lot of ground to make up in a short time.

    Finally, the ALP’s appeal amongst the young should mean that the registrants since 2007 who missed out will give them something Rudd couldn’t get.

    First woman PM alone is probably worth 1% (though much of this will come from under 30’s anyway).

  7. Graeme says:

    Newspoll hasn’t been volatile; just trending upwards for Labor.     In the US, thicker with polls, noone would call two polls agreeing within their MoEs as ‘ringing alarm bells’.   Not sure they should here unless you assume compulsory voting makes polling more accurate.

    And no reason to think Labor needs 51 to win any more than Coalition; Labor has a swag of sophomores enjoying 3 yrs of communication allowances. 

    Labor to score 51.5 or a bit over: that was my bet last year, Gillard affirms it, and it would take the sudden undoing of the Suffragist movement by Dr Who, or an unforeseeable surge in the Coalition primary support to undo that.

  8. Labor Outsider says:


    I wonder whether your interpretation of the evidence reflects your underlying dissatisfaction with Labor.

    Galaxy have a sample of just 800! The standard deviation of its poll is greater than that of Newpoll and they have a much shorter track record on which to judge them. With regard to the earlier stability in their vote shares, whether that makes sense depends on whether you think that the underlying views of the electorate were volatile or stable during that same period. Given the leadership transition and post-transition announcements, I’m not sure why one should believe that over those few weeks there should have been little movement in voting intentions. Also, their second poll showed a 2pp move in a couple of days, hardly a sign of stability. With Essential also showing 55-45 and betting markets strongly favouring an ALP victory, I’d say the evidence available now is that the ALP is somewhat in front at the beginning of the campaign.

    I will note two other things.

    First, the ALP will have much more resources to spend on its marginal seats campaigning than the coalition will.

    Second, as some suspected, Abbott is showing early signs of having difficulty managing the constant attention without making verbal slip-ups.

    There is a lot of campaigning to do, but I’d much rather be in the ALP’s position now than the Coalition’s.

  9. gregh says:

    I don’t put a lot of faith in ‘the polls’ – ultimately the margins will be way narrower than the polls indicate. My view – unbelievable gaffes aside – is a slight increase to Labor. My dream is a major increase for the greens. As long as there is no major ‘polariser’ I think the Greens will get a substantial increase.

  10. Labor Outsider says:

    Also, look at the pollytrend over on Possum’s page at Crikey. There is an unmistakable upwward trend. And Julia is pantsing Abbott in the net satisfaction stakes.

    So, given that you thought that Rudd was going to win, and the best evidence to date is that on average the electorate has a better view of her leadership than Rudd’s, what makes you think she is going to lose?

    I’m as much lacking in excitement at Labor’s policy ambitions as anyone, but looking at the evidence I find it hard to see how Abbott is going to win that election. He has even resorted to saying that Gillard is copying him on asylum seekers, a sure sign that he feels he is now getting less traction on the issue.

    Before the campaign started I thought that Abbott might surprise a few people, but he seems to have been more or less unprepared for how the questioning would change once the election was called.

  11. adamite says:

    ‘a 51% 2PP to the ALP (assuming a uniform swing) would lead to Labor losing its majority.’

    Sounds like a very ambitious assumption you’ve bracketed there. There’s also the issue of voters’ preferences on the question of trust given two new candidates for PM where Abbot is apparently significantly lagging. Comparative performances to date dont suggest he is capable of bridging this ‘trust gap’.

  12. Trenton says:

    If Labor were as far in front as Newspoll suggests you would have seen that being reflected in the betting markets. Sportingbet has not moved and last night just before the 50/50 Galaxy was released the Coalition tightened from 3.90 to 3.50 on Centrebet. That tells me none of the insiders on either side believe the Newspoll figure.

  13. Labor Outsider says:


    The 50-50 itself is not consistent with the betting markets, which are factoring in a comfortable ALP victory, with the probability around 10pp higher than before Rudd was ousted. I’m not suggesting that 55-45 is the likely final result, Newspoll itself has sampling error and this one probably overcooks things a bit. But you could say the same thing holds for Galaxy. If insiders believed the Galaxy number the ALP would not have an implied 75% probability of victory.

    The pollytrend is around the 52-48 mark at the moment. Newspoll and Essential are above, and Galaxy is below. We are waiting for the next ACN.

    So, it seems likely that the ALP are somewhat ahead, with all pollsters finding a significant credibility gap for Abbott to make up.

    It is still possible for the coalition to win, but it seems unlikely to me.

  14. jane says:

    …..he seems to have been more or less unprepared for how the questioning would change once the election was called.

    Leopards and spots, perhaps LO. I’d also suggest that letting him slip the Rodent’s leash can only be to the government’s advantage.

    Recently, I’d swear the Rodent was moving his jaw. Easy in a controlled situation, but on the loose, having to think on his feet and no script to read from (so we’ll know he’s not lying), we’ll see more thought bubbles than a comic strip.

    And it’s too late for them to knife him now. If they lose the election, he’ll be in intensive care for months. He may never be able to get off iron tablets! lol.

  15. Trenton says:

    LO, yes the 55/45 is overcooked which was the point I was making.

    I was not arguing that the Galaxy 50\50 was accurate. I was only pointing out that money came for the Coalition at Centrebet in the hour before that poll was released. It was fact not an attempt to validate the Galaxy poll.

  16. Patrickb says:

    I think you’re underestimating how appallingly bad the LNP are ATM. They actually have “Stopping the Boats” as the 4th ranked plank in their 4 plank platform. Polling has shown that this issue is a vote changer for about 4% of the population. If Abbott thinks he can win with a One Nation policy agenda I think he’s so far from the mainstream that the LNP are likely to lose seats. I would say that a fair number of people, while not bleeding heart lefties, are a bit put off seeing this kind of rhetoric leering down at them from a billboard. The only one who makes any sense is A. Robb and he sounds like he’s being pushed to the edge by all surreal goings on on the other side of the Abbott looking glass.

  17. Lefty E says:

    I don’t think the coalition will win – but IMO they were never going to.

    Today’s polls merely highlight the fact that calling the election was always going to end a particular media focus which allowed Abbott a lot of room: carp and assault, and then plead “I’m not in govt” on the rare occasion he was asked for details.

    Well: that was always coming to a screeching halt once the PM met the GG. Even the anti-Rudd journosphere would be asking a few hard questions of the Monk this week.

    As with the health debate – he showed he literally got nothing constructive to offer in the way of policy – just slogans and one-liners.

    I take Mark’s point on the bigger picture – but the other examples of 2nd term elections were all against far superior opponents. (well, Snedden possibly excepted). But certainly Peacock and Beazer.

  18. mbahnisch says:

    @LO – yes, it’s just as possible that Galaxy is wrong, given the MoE.

  19. Don Wigan says:

    Bob Ellis gives an interesting slant on why he’s wary of the Galaxy Poll

    If the polling was in fact done on a Saturday Night, those that answer may well be in the demographic group more favourable to Liberals-NP. Though I’d assume experienced pollsters would normally have a technique to counter that.

    There are now three alternatives to Galaxy: Newspoll 55-45; Essential 55-45; and Morgan 54.5-45.5. Weight of numbers is not conclusive in itself, but there is one other factor.

    That Galaxy poll showed a Lib primary of 44%. This seems much higher than other recent samples and it is hard to imagine such a jump just from the announcement of an election. If I remember rightly the Lib Election 07 primary was only about that level and that had the advantages of incumbency and the electioneering cunning of Howard. I suspect that Galaxy Lib primary figure is highly suspect.

    Still a way to go, but I’d agree with LO that it’s shaping up well for Labor.

  20. kimberella says:

    I take Mark’s point on the bigger picture – but the other examples of 2nd term elections were all against far superior opponents. (well, Snedden possibly excepted). But certainly Peacock and Beazer.

    The other one is Chifley v. Menzies in 52, LE.

    Also not so sure how ‘superior’ Peacock was, although I was a bit too young in 84, and he certainly looked pretty shopworn by 90.

  21. kimberella says:

    @adamite –

    Sounds like a very ambitious assumption you’ve bracketed there

    No, because all I did to get it was to feed 1.7% into Antony Green’s election swing calculator. Hence the link. I agree that a uniform swing is unlikely for lots of reasons. But I also think The Greens will probably take Melbourne.

    I’d be interested in what the psephs who’ve looked at the state by state and seat by seat pictures think, but just on the uniform swing, the ALP could lose its majority on 51-49.

    That’s again consistent with the fact that the last election wasn’t a huge seat haul for Labor on 53-47.

  22. Don Wigan says:

    “Also not so sure how ‘superior’ Peacock was, although I was a bit too young in 84, and he certainly looked pretty shopworn by 90.”

    By the standards of the day he was not bad, Kim. Not quite charismatic but quite a bit of charm. When I was at UNE around 1979 another graduate student, a career diplomat turned merchant banker, happened to know him in his capacity as External Territories Minister (specifically PNG). He found him highly civilised and greatly respected by PNG leaders, probably more so than various Labor Ministers before him.

    Despite his charm and talent, he may not have had the bottle for the hard grind of party political leader. The Howard-Peacock Wars took a greater toll on him than they did on Howard, to our cost. That might explain why he looked a bit shopworn by 1990.

    He did run a fairly good campaign against the tide in 1984, and Hawke ran a very bad one, making for a close result. If he’d had the real drive, then 1990 should have been his.

  23. Jacques de Molay says:

    As ordinary as this Labor govt are I think they’ll win comfortably. Abbott’s almost blown a hole in his campaign already by Day 3. Supposedly the Libs HQ aren’t even going to be ready to kick in to gear until Thursday.

    And while I suspect the main drop in Rudd Labor’s polling at the time was due to the ETS shelving I suspect the 25% price hike on packs of smokes might’ve come into play around the same time too.

    It’s now being reported nationally that Coles are importing cheap smokes from Germany to get around the price hike for low income earners that work out to be around $4 cheaper per packs of 25. Supposedly employees are being told to direct people to these cheaper cigarettes if they start/keep complaining about the tax hike. That now can only be a good thing for Labor.

    I was never going to vote for Labor this time (mandatory internet filter, welfare quarantining/beating up on the poor, suspension of boat people arrivals from Afghanistan & SL, backing out on climate change etc) anyway but I have ever since visualised a smiling Kevin Rudd at the counter every time I’ve been told how much my smokes now cost (extra $4.50 per packet).

  24. paul walter says:

    A typical silver tails Victorian liberal and contemporary of Don Chipp.
    He was the subject of a famous quote of the time when compared after a defeat to the culinary article at the centre of the quote, in which it was observed that a “Souffle does not rise twice”.. eg he lacked substance. The politician most resembling him in our era is Malcolm Turnbull, although others could differ.

  25. kimberella says:

    @Jacques –

    Abbott’s almost blown a hole in his campaign already by Day 3

    I was out earlier tonight and haven’t caught up with the news.

    Can you, or any other kind commenter reading, fill me in on the nature of the said hole?

  26. Jacques de Molay says:


    I meant more from a credibility angle. The 3AW interview (was all over the 6pm news) where Mitchell grilled the hell out of him about the spectre of bringing back WorkChoices. Abbott couldn’t stand any more and went for the “signed contract” promising to never bring back WC in the next term and then later in the same interview admitted they might consider tweaking a few things or words to that effect.

    It’s absolutely dominated the news cycle tonight with Gillard proclaiming Abbott’s promise never to bring back WC couldn’t last two days. Plenty of theatre but the Libs are seriously toast.

  27. Terry says:

    Gillard is clearly winning the campaign, the benefits of incumbency are starting to kick in, Abbott is being exposed as an equivocator, and The Greens have stepped back into the big tent, however much grumbling Bob Brown may do in public.

    Labor 52-48 2pp, with a better Senate to deal with this time.

    Libs went with the wrong leader, ALP went with the right one. Turnbull will go berserk on the Sunday TV shows the day after the election.

  28. kimberella says:

    Thanks, Jacques. Yeah, the cracks in the no WorkChoices pledges were showing on Saturday and Mark Latham gestures are… was the contract he signed a huge one?

  29. Graeme says:

    Thank you to whoever posted the Ellis link: keep it coming. It’s as if an ageing Kerouac turned his back on life and aimed his sclerotic pancreas and keyboard gifts to … Oz politics.

    Such fun to peer into such a febrile mind.

    In a few short lines of electoral prophesy we veer from:
    “this tends to be the case always in democratic elections and 52-48 (or 0.8 away from a Liberal victory) is where it may end in Australia; where, and as, it began”, via corrupt pollsters, imaginary tabloid revenge by Gillard’s partner’s ex-partner, and Howard’s alleged malice to Mandela to “anything can happen, and it will”.

    And always bubbling to the surface, a weird genderfest. Repeatedly, Abbott, a ‘hairy fit fellow’ is captured in terms of his ‘handsome, close-cropped head’ and his ‘muscular good works’. Gillard however is mad, clicking a trigger to her head whilst simultaneously beguiling us with ‘false … cosy beaming tranquility’, a Thatcher reborn in the guise of a ‘bossy self-righteous negative smiling avoider of choice’.

    Yet despite appearances, none of this is homo-erotic. For Ellis lets slip that Abbott is (or he wills him to be) a ‘hairy loser’. A feeble taunt that throws us back to the schoolyard which Bob never outgrew, in which the bright but shy boy watches resentfully the alpha and pushy kids of both genders who he fears will always monopolise attention.

  30. […] by kimberella on July 20, 2010 If you’re still wondering what all the plethora of polls released in the last few days mean, you need to read Possum’s latest update on his Pollytrend: What we’ve seen over the […]

  31. There will be cycles in this campaign less among voters than bored journos. Labor was underperforming until recently will they surge but then be pulled down by the issues that have cost them support? Probably best for the Libs to get the Workchoices debate out of the way now. Perhaps in the end it will all settle down to 52-53% 2PP for Labor.

  32. keiThy says:

    Yep, and Turnbull should go ballistic!

    Looking forward to a solar powered future from the Libs if they desire to lead ever again!

  33. MG says:

    Julia Gillard appears too timid and scared to express any new policies. The whole election appears to be mediocre and very ordinary.

    Three days, three very dull days.

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