Now there’s a headline that could come back to bite me on the bum – election polling being the unreliable artifice it always has been.
Polling is a mainstay of Australian electioneering. Various polls take the social temperature of a broad cross-section of the community. From this, they distil the information into numbers which they hope will predict who will win the election.
Before we get into that, I consulted my preferred pollster, on-line bookmaker Sportsbet. Labor was and still is a clear favourite at $1.55, but this has eased somewhat from $1.35 a month ago. The LNP has tightened from $3.00 to $2.55 with ‘all others’ at 67-1.
Pollsters meanwhile have the Labor Party holding onto a 53/47 lead (it was 57/46 a few weeks ago) over the Liberal National Party (LNP). But polls are notoriously unreliable. In 2019, most polls were predicting a win by then-Labor leader Bill Shorten, even though Scott Morrison was the preferred leader.
As we now know, Shorten lost to Scott Morrison, with analysts falling over each other in hindsight to explain that ‘the people’ didn’t like Bill’s long and complicated list of fiscal policies.
The first week of the election campaign reminded me of those Three Stooges movies where the so-called comics trip each other up and mash cream pies in each other’s faces. First there was the ‘gotcha’ moment when a journalist asked Labor leader Anthony Albanese if he knew the official interest rate. Albanese said he didn’t, then later gave an incorrect answer to a question about the unemployment rate. The Honest John approach then morphed into a press statement that if he (Anthony) made a mistake, he would fess up to it (not berate his minders for not predicting the obvious).
Albo’s not quick on his feet. He could have dismissed the question as trivial and suggest that the reporter do what we’d all do (look it up on our phones). I never thought I’d agree with John Howard about anything but I admire his coming to Albanese’s defence.
Howard was asked by reporters in Perth if he thought Albanese’s incorrect answer to unemployment rates was unsatisfactory.
“Is that a serious question? Okay, well Anthony Albanese didn’t know the unemployment rate. So what?” Howard said.
Howard himself had a similar pre-election bungle over interest rates in 2007, in an on-air interview with A Current Affair.
It’s time we moved on from the “gotcha’ question, where journalists try to put campaigning politicians on the spot by asking them if they know the price of milk or what the inflation rate is. Who could forget John Hewson’s failure in 1993 to work out the GST on a birthday cake (he was at the time promoting GST as a saviour for the economy). The ‘gotcha’ questions, I suspect, are set by editors of my vintage, who revelled in the black humour of Monty Python.
Why else would they want to promote these pointless public gaffes as front-page news. It’s like the scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail where the bridge keeper casts people into the abyss if they cannot answer questions.
As he asks Arthur (King of the Britons):
“What is the air speed velocity of an unladen swallow?” (It’s 20.1 miles an hour, apparently).
Arthur thinks about this for a moment and asks: “African or European swallow?”
Bridge keeper: “What? I don’t know that!” (then he is cast into the abyss and Arthur’s convoy proceeds).
Gotcha questions aside, much is made of ‘preferred PM’ polls, the numbers from which will vary depending on whether you read The Guardian and listen to the ABC or read The Australian and watch Sky News.
What is clear about personal polling is that Scott Morrison has blown the 68/32 advantage he had in April 2020 (when he was creating the JobKeeper and JobSeeker schemes and doling out relief payments to all and sundry).
Morrison’s personal popularity has now slipped to 44% or so, but still ahead of Albo at 39%.
The latest two-party preferred polling has Labor slipping from 57% to 53% with the LNP at 47% (up from 43%). Despite Labor slipping in the polls, the party is in front in all six States. Albanese might still be Labor’s best chance of winning government since Kevin Rudd in 2007.
The major problem for both parties is that neither the PM nor the Opposition leader can muster personal support of 50% or more.
This simply means that the voting public are not inspired by either party leader, at least not in the way they responded to Rudd, Hawke, Howard or Whitlam at the peak of their powers.
Bob Hawke’s popularity peaked at 75% in November 1984, Kevin Rudd commanded 74% in March 2009 and John Howard 67% in January 2005. Gough Whitlam, the great reformer, was polling 67% in 1973.
If you don’t trust polling, don’t understand the UAP’s billboards and still have no idea who to vote for, there are several things you can do. The first is to make sure you are on the electoral roll. You need to do it by 8pm on Easter Monday (April 18). To enrol, complete the online form.
If you are confused about who to vote for, the ABC’s Vote Compass will give you a fair idea. I completed mine this morning and was chastened to find that 6/10 was the best I could do for a preferred leader.
My Vote Compass result was identical to 2019 when polling showed Scott Morrison (46%). ahead of Bill Shorten (34%) as preferred Prime Minister. Even though that poll was on the money, polls like these can be decidedly inaccurate.
Paul Keating went into 1992 with a personal approval rating of just 25%, ebbing to 17% just before he won the 1993 election. Other PMs who failed to garner support as preferred leaders (at their lowest point) include Julia Gillard (23%), Tony Abbott (24%) and Malcolm Turnbull (34%). Yet they all prevailed at various points in the political cycle.
I cited the online magazine www.startsat60.com earlier and now remind you of a survey from a 2019 FOMM. The survey asked readers to rank Australian PMs between 1968 and 2018.
John Winston Howard won in a hand-canter with 58.3%; despite saying he’d never say sorry, despite the children overboard mistruths, despite following George Bush Jnr and Tony Blair into an unwinnable and unjustifiable war. Bob Hawke ranked second in the over-60 survey with 17%, just behind Gough Whitlam (15.2%).
The other nine leaders all scored less than 5%. Tony Abbott and Kevin Rudd polled equally poorly with 0.6% while with Malcom Fraser and Scott Morrison attracted no votes at all..
This survey is what we would call a ‘straw poll,’ meaning it has no real authority or influence. But it is illuminating to find that this one small segment of the over-60s cohort rated our former leaders so poorly.
We were driving from Melbourne to Warwick this week so will bring you our impressions of Tasmania next week. The election circus can keep rolling on without us, what do you say?
Last week: Wayne Goss lost the Queensland election in 1996, not 1989 (when he broke the Gerrymander and beat Joh Bjelke-Petersen). Thanks to Ted for the alert.
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