The National Party survey was conducted in conjunction with the January Survey (Wave 8). 878 voters participated in the survey, with a good gender and age balance, and urban/rural balance. However, New England voters are significantly over-represented in the sample (n=140). All numbers are weighted by age, gender and reported 2016 vote, New England voters were further weighted down when it was deemed necessary.
We began as we always do by asking what participants think of the party generally. Responses were evenly mixed between opinions of the personalities of the party, assessments of the organisation itself, and gut-reaction comments like ‘ugh’ or ‘not much’. Few were positive in sentiment; those that were positive largely expressed an essential need for a party representing rural Australians, than specific support for the National Party, or just said ‘good’. Assessments of the personalities predominantly alleged some kind of wrongdoing or incompetence. The clear message about the party was that it had lost its way, disappointing and betraying the people they claim to serve. There are some significant parallels to the ‘lost their way’ message we noted in the Greens, Katter and One Nation surveys.
I used to think they were the most masterful politicians in Australia but they have lost their way.60 year old male voter in outer Melbourne
Bit old fashioned. Nice to have a party representing rural Australians but they, like both the major parties, have lost their way.45 year old male voter in regional NSW
When asked to describe in their own words what the National Party stands for, the root of the problem became quite apparent. There is a very solid understanding of what the party is supposed to stand for: rural and regional communities, rural industries and particularly farmers. City voters were unsurprisingly more hostile, with some comments sometimes having factual inaccuracies or repeated common online insults. The very noticeable divide between city and rural voter, or those with a rural background that we’ll put with the rural voters, is that city voters believe that the National Party is to the right of the Liberal Party; most country voters referred to at aligning with the moderate wing of the Liberals, with a number of specific references to agrarian socialism. However, city and country voters alike believe they have largely abandoned their principles, and are beholden to mining and big business, and their ‘big brother’ the Liberal Party.
Nothing complimentary – they have sold out on farmers and the national interest to mining entities, with no regard to environmental concerns, they have backed the destruction of the Murray Darling Basin, and they have Barnaby Joyce, who has proven to be a liar and a hypocrite. Thought I’m sure he’s not the worst politician in parliament, he is certainly the public face of the worst of it.43 year old female New England voter.
I think it is now representative of big mining and the top end of town, not farmers and regions.64 year old female voter in regional Victoria
It should stand for farming and regional communities but stands for ego and mining interests instead.40 year old male voter in outer Sydney
There were two unique factors that we have not seen in other surveys, other than the urban/rural divide. Firstly, there are a number of former supporters, but unlike other party surveys, they’re genuinely sad. Betrayed, disappointed, abandoned, horrified, appalled, let down: these people are hurt. (The only time I can ever recall seeing this kind of sadness expressed in relation to a political party is when doing research on the Australian Democrats in 2008.) Secondly, there was a very high level of mention of family members – parents and grandparents in particular.
My Dad’s a farmer, so I at least used to have some respect for them because of their Royalties for Regions. but in the last few years they have been more focused on climate change denial and social conservatism than actually helping regions.26 year old male voter in Perth
Appalling! My Grandparents from Mildura would turn over in their graves to see what this once proud Party has become!63 year old female voter from regional Victoria
My late parents supported the National Party but they would be absolutely horrified by their stance these days.65 year old female voter from Perth
My father helped set up the Nationals in this area and he would be horrified.66 year old male voter from rural NSW
My own grandparents were heavily involved in establishing the National Party in South Australia, and I personally empathise with these comments a great deal. It is difficult to explain the extent to which the National Party was very much a part of people’s lives, woven into the fabric of their communities and families. Some (not all) are now mourning the loss of respect or damage to the party like it has happened to their own family’s legacy.
Relationship between Liberal and Nationals
The bulk of the questions in the survey concerned the relationship between the Liberal and National parties. There were a lot of opinions here, ranging from they are the same thing, to they are different and taken advantage of in the Coalition.
We also asked who benefits most from the Coalition, and the results correlated well with the qualitative responses, with most believing the Liberals gained more.
We asked specifically about the LNP merger in Queensland, and whether the parties should merge nationally. Interestingly, some respondents commented they were unaware the LNP merger had happened.
Queensland voters are more polarised on the issue with more approving the merge, and a notable 23% strongly disapprove, while 48% of those who identified as National Party supporters approved of the merge. A good number of people are non-commital. The idea of a national merger was met with much stronger opposition.
They should go to elections independent of each other and they form the coalition if and as needed.69 year old male voter in rural South Australia
I think the Liberal and National parties should disband the Coalition and they should campaign and work as separate parties.55 year old female voter from Sydney
I agree with Tony Windsor’s belief that they could be much more effective in representing their constituents if they abandoned their coalition with the Liberal Party.41 year old male New England voter
I’d rather the Liberal Party stood alone. The Nationals have been no benefit to them.71 year old female New England voter
Leadership and scandals
We did begin by asking for a job approval of Michael McCormack, but so few people knew who he was the numbers are fairly meaningless. Which is a finding in itself. David Littleproud, Darren Chester, Bridget McKenzie and Barnaby Joyce were nominated as preferable leaders.
Let me say before we get into this that I did not want to ask about the scandals, and had it just been Barnaby’s extracurricular activities, we would not have. But the combination of Joyce, Broad, and at the time this survey went out an emerging story about Christensen, it really was necessary to determine what kind of brand damage had been done to the party, and if it was affecting broader voter decisions.
Not great for the National Party. However, the bad handling of Joyce’s issues did not translate into a corresponding level of opposition to his leadership of the party. Despite only 8-9% thinking his issues were handled well, 29% believe he should be able to return to the leadership of the National Party.
Barnaby Joyce should honestly be disendorsed, but he’s clearly handled it well considering he’s already jostling to take back the party. The right thing to do would be to resign but clearly not doing that hasn’t hurt him all that much.24 year old male voter from Melbourne
I could not care less who he slept with, and what relationship he was in nor the outcome of that relationship. I detest the hypocrisy; flaunting his marriage and family as an election strategy, whilst carrying on an affair, claiming that marriage equity would destroy “the traditional family”, claiming that Gardisil vaccinations would encourage girls to be promiscuous. I am deeply suspicious of the misuse of power to get jobs for his girlfriend, and possible misuse of public funds.54 year old female voter from Tasmania
What Barnaby did was a private and personal matter. He stood down for the sake of the Party because of the media feeding frenzy. He was a great leader.76 year old female voter from rural Queensland
He should have been made to leave parliament immediately and not allowed back, he is a disgrace.60 year old female New England voter
New England’s opinion is what matters most when it comes to Joyce, and New England voters were both the most passionate and polarised, but plenty are sticking with their guy.
Caution: the New England sample of 140 is large for a qualitative (long text questions where people answer in their own words, interviews, focus groups) study and small for a quantitative (check a box) survey. The Voter Choice Project is both, fused together in a single survey tool (for the nerds it’s Lazarsfeldian Methodology). Additionally, the Voter Choice Project has a self-selection bias towards unhappy voters, which is fine for our purposes. What this means is that the following cannot be claimed to be a representative of the New England electorate quantitatively, but we are confident it is a solid representation of the sentiment of the electorate based on the long text answers, comments and monitoring of various Facebook groups in the region.
Joyce’s support clearly remains strong in his seat, maybe a little battered and bruised but definitely still standing. For reference only, remembering this is a small sample to draw these kinds of quantitative numbers from, this is the vote intent figures of the 140 New England participants. While these are only indicative, with a very large margin of error of 8%, it is hard to see from both these numbers, and the many comments in his favour, how Joyce will not be re-elected in New England.
Finally, we did ask if people believe there was a cultural problem in the National Party or this was individual behaviour. The overwhelming response was a bit of both: the individuals are responsible for their actions, the party lets them get away with it by covering it up and not punishing them or disendorsing them. The lack of women in the party was highlighted as a possible cause, but also the language the party uses towards and about women and minorities as something that simply has to change.
We’ll end with my favourite comment from the survey that prompted images in my head of several amazing rural women I know who are absolutely real life superheroes.
[The National Party is] a pale imitation of its former self – needs more Country Power Women.50 year old male voter in Sydney but with rural connections
Many thanks as always to all our participants, with many very lengthy comments in this survey. We can’t include all your comments in the blog post but they were all greatly appreciated.
Disclosure: Being a proud North West/New Englander originally, and with a range of fairly well publicised opinions about Barnaby Joyce, I want to assure readers, and particularly National Party and Barnaby Joyce supporters that appropriate measures were put in place to ensure the impartiality of the results, that any ‘researcher bias’ was well controlled for. Both the questionnaire and this post were checked by independent people familiar with New England to ensure all is above board. If you have concerns or questions you are welcome to email firstname.lastname@example.org.