July 20, 2004 | Graham

Another poll, another beat-up.

I woke this morning to the ABC Radio telling me that “Labor has hung-on to a slim election winning lead, but voter satisfaction with leader Mark Latham’s performance has slipped.” This was a pretty trashy take, even on the basis of the figures that the ABC quoted.
There are three polls covering mid-July and on two-party preferred voting intentions they are all within the margin of statistical error. Morgan has Labor on 54%, AC Nielsen 52% and Newspoll 51%. This is not “a slim election winning lead”. The combination of the three polls represents a huge sample. Averaging them out points to as solid a result by Latham as Howard achieved at the last election. Not that Howard can’t win, because of course these samples are nationwide and can’t tell us what is happening in the marginal seats.
What is most interesting is what is happening within the overall figures, and here there appears to be some divergence. AC Nielsen shows a strong deterioration in the ALP Primary vote which is matched by a surge in the primary vote for the Coalition. The publicly available AC Nielsen figures don’t show whether that is likely to be a straight swap, or whether it is a result of the ALP losing support to third parties.
Apparently some of it is due to a deterioration in Labor’s standing with older voters. I suspect that what is happening is that as voters look more closely at Latham some are moving to independents with their first preference vote, but still coming back with their second or later preference vote. Other demographics are probably just swirling around and substituting for each other – you lose older voters but pick up somewhere else.
Latham’s approval rating, according to Newspoll and Nielsen, is dropping, although still very healthy at around 50%. The move in party and personal ratings could be derived from the same thing – voters who were looking for something radically different from Latham are coming to understand that while he may use different language, he is an enthusiastic proponent of the economic and social orthodoxy espoused by both major political parties.
So there could be something ironic about The Australian’s headline “Labor gets no kick out of Kim”. If I am right about this dynamic, then elevating Beazley to the Ministry will exacerbate the first preference trend away from Labor because it is a sign that business is continuing as usual and the punters have been punted. It’s a bit early for it to show up in the polling, but the kick might have come – in the pants.
Another interesting straw from the Nielsen research is that support for the Iraq War is rising. This may be tending to soften Labor’s vote as well. At the moment Labor is making a major tactical mistake by spending so much time on the Iraq War. Whatever the rights and wrongs, it is Howard’s issue. Talking about it fixes voters’ minds on International Affairs, Defence and Security where Howard is perceived to be the best to deal with the issues. An improved impression of the War in Iraq would most likely heighten those perceptions.
Of all the polling figures, the most significant is Morgan’s showing that 54% of Australians expect Howard to win, while only 32% expect Latham to do so. Latham will maintain his winning margin if he can leverage off that perception and ensure that voters focus on Howard’s record rather than Latham’s promises. While the ABC story was not good reporting, it helps to confirm perceptions that Howard will win, and is indicative of a wider mood amongst journalists. It’s reminiscent of 1996 where, despite all the evidence to the contrary, voters thought that Paul Keating was going to hang on – it made his demise even more certain.

Posted by Graham at 11:54 am | Comments Off on Another poll, another beat-up. |
Filed under: Australian Politics

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