Energy is a highly politicised topic at the moment, and the Liberals have ratcheted up the rhetoric on electricity prices since Super Saturday (apparently as a result of focus groups by Crosby Textor). Our Short Survey on energy was intended to find out two things: are we all having the same conversation, and what is the basis for this hyper-focus on electricity prices? Short answers are no, and because there’s votes up for grabs on this issue.
255 men and 239 women participated in the Energy short survey, either embedded in their monthly panel survey or anonymously via the website, between the 12th and 19th of August, 2018. The sample was fairly well balanced for age, with the usual slight under-sampling in 25-44 year olds, particularly women, that we seem to have for all our surveys (despite all recruitment efforts – still working on it). All data below is weighted by age, gender and who respondents currently intend to vote for.
All of the short surveys begin with asking respondents to define what the term being surveyed means to them. This tests both saliency (recall) of the debate around the issue, as well as helping us understand what the participant is thinking about when answering other questions. The array of different responses in this first survey demonstrates the clear need for this question.
Coding this was very difficult, as many people gave nuanced and intelligent answers that are difficult to boil down to a couple of words to show in a graph like this. Some of the codes are self explanatory, some aren’t – so here’s a few examples to explain the more vague ones:
POLITICISED DEBATE: ‘political grandstanding by LNP’, ‘Ideology over sense’, ‘political gaming to win votes’
POLITICIANS LYING: ‘Tony Abbott promised bills would be $550 cheaper, Turnbull did the same. They’re just liars.’, ‘Right wing lying about what is best for the planet’, ‘It’s all lies to fund the Green agenda’
RIPPED OFF/SCAM: ‘Corporations/Government are ripping us off’, ‘It’s just another way we’re being scammed’
LITERAL: ‘The electricity system’, ‘Power generation, how it gets to our house and how much we pay for it’
So we are clearly not having the same conversation. Is the difference in topic interpretation along party lines, thus arguably driven by partisan cues? No.
This somewhat more complicated graph shows the same interpretation of Energy figures, broken down by who respondents want to win government, and the colours indicate first preference vote intention. The interpretations that got less than 5% in the chart above have been combined to make it easier to look at. Climate change and renewables goes strongly left wing, Coal is the best way to go is clearly a conservative position, but there’s no clear partisan patterns otherwise. (The fairly high number of people that want something other than minority government of either Labor or Liberal parties is consistent with our other surveys.)
Here’s the good news for the environmental campaigners: there was substantial agreement to the questions of whether people are responsible for Climate Change and whether government should invest in renewables.
When we asked about power prices, while the answer was a definitive yes, we again yielded many nuanced answers. 1.8% used the ‘other’ field to state that they were not personally concerned about their household electricity bills because they have solar power at their house, but many of those expressed concern for those who cannot afford it, or rent.
On the question of whether the federal government can do anything about electricity prices, many suggested possible remedies, ranging from subsidising rooftop solar to re-nationalising the system. And many said that while they could do something, they won’t. There was a clear undertone from a significant proportion of respondents that they know politicians like the issue too much to actually do anything about it – similar to the politicised debate comments from the first question. The voters see right through it.
Ok, so we learned from the responses to the first question that we’re not all having the same conversation. Some are having black and white, either or, conversations; others see the issue as a proxy for climate change. Others see all the facets of the energy issue as separate issues. Some just don’t wanna hear about it anymore.
But does ‘energy’ affect votes? Yes.
The second graph that breaks down how much energy affects vote by what energy means and desired government demonstrates again that while there is reasonable consistency in whether Energy, however they perceive it, will affect their vote, there is little in the way of partisan consistency.
So why are the Coalition going after power prices so hard? Well aside from the clear number of people concerned and the clear directive that Government can do something, this may provide some insight. Combining the ‘Coal vs Renewables vs Cost’ category with power prices, you’ll see that the largest group of voters who think about energy with cost in mind, for whom this issue will greatly affect their vote, either haven’t decided or don’t want a majority government of either party.
That’s a lot of effort for 4-5% of the vote, sure. But that’s also an election. Whether the Liberals’ research was significantly nuanced to enable them to know the message is not clear on this issue, in any quarter of the community, and thus actual conversion on this issue will be small… I don’t know.