The top line numbers would indicate very little moment this month, in line with other polls, but there was actually an extraordinary amount of movement going on. In this post we’ll go through the numbers, the movement and some of the causes, and the questions on the recent natural disasters. We’ll cover the electoral system, crime, and Australian Conservatives results in separate posts.
Top Line numbers
1445 voters participated in the surveys this month, including 1096 members of the Voter Choice Project Panel. The combination of the electoral system, crime and Australian Conservatives topics resulted in a bit of explosion in older men participating with us for the first time – welcome! And unsurprisingly, fewer than normal younger women. We got close to the brink, but stayed just within what we can manage with weighting. Fingers crossed this trend is sharply reversed next month (with the topics of education and childcare and Independents being more appealing to our younger women voters), and we go into the final weeks of the campaign nicely balanced. Remember! There will be no open-to-everyone short surveys once the election date is set – you must sign up to the panel to participate in the final surveys.
At first glance it looks like there’s been no movement at all since January, just the slightest shaving off Labor in both the first preference and 2PPH6. Yes, our 2PP numbers are very different, remember they aren’t calculated by an algorithm of how people voted last time, nor by asking people to choose who they would preference out of Liberal and Labor. If we have learned nothing else out of this study it’s that people do not understand preferencing. Far too many voters do not understand the question ‘who will you direct your preferences to’ – some think you mean the party you’ll put second, some think the party you’ll put last, others get cranky because they don’t want either of those parties and just chuck out any old answer, or drop out… extremely few understand it as a strategic assessment of ‘where will your vote end up after preferences are distributed’. The Hypothetical 6 question asks them to rank 6 hypothetical candidates like they would on a ballot paper, from which we do a preference count, and we believe it is far more effective… although we won’t know if it is or not until after the election.
Also remember that the panel over samples cranky voters who may change their vote. The study is about choice, how people decide who to vote for, so the entire study is designed to attract those voters, and is not as appealing to stable, loyal voters. While we do adjust for this, it is a design feature, not a flaw; it allows the panel to act as a kind of political early warning system, signalling when the more flighty voters are on the move – and why – before a normal poll or focus group.
Independents continue to surge, Centre Alliance have stabilised after a wobble last month and the Pauline Hanson’s One Nation vote continues it’s consistent slide… but no, it doesn’t have anything to do with Scott Morrison, boats or the usual suspects. Let’s have a closer look at where and why these votes are moving around.
There’s a lot going on this month – remember – read across to see where votes have come from, down to see where votes have gone to.
The Liberal party vote is very stable, with a high retention from last month. Amongst the minor right parties however there is a great deal of churn, including a lot of bleeding back to the Coalition, although not quite as much as last month. But don’t congratulate the Liberals – it has nothing to do with them – it has to do with the internal chaos of the collection of minor right parties.
I was going to vote for Pauline Hanson but with Emma Eros in her team umm that is a game changer.
63 year old male voter
Emma Eros is a muslim woman endorsed as a candidate for One Nation in the seat of Hornsby for the NSW election. And for a group of people whose world view is that Islam is evil and Sharia Law must be stopped, a world view that has been largely formed by taking their cue from Pauline Hanson, it’s completely understandable that they’re in a bit of shock. The more moderate Hanson voters are actually soft Hanson/Bernardi voters, so a number of them have decamped there, and many have gone back to their ‘home’ major party – either Labor or Liberal, while others have jumped on the Independent trend… remarkably few are moving to Clive Palmer or Fraser Anning. (If you’re wondering, both the United Australia Party and Anning’s Conservative Nationals are on less than half a percent.) This fall in the PHON vote is not all Emma Eros – it has been falling consistently since a minor blip up when Mark Latham joined the party in November (when we had them at 3.6%). Yes, we are aware that other polls don’t have Australian Conservatives anywhere and a much stronger Hanson vote – the only explanation we have is that we have Australian Conservatives in the pick list, and if they aren’t in the pick list, many of these voters will happily say they’ll vote One Nation…
Meanwhile, many Australian Conservatives voters are doubting the party will stand lower house candidates, after they failed to contest the Victorian election, and they are sliding back to the Coalition. This is the cycle I was talking about last month when 28% of AC and 13% of PHON voters moved to the Coalition for no apparent reason – we’ve figured out what’s going on. Hanson supporters are cranky so they’re going to Bernardi, Bernardi supporters don’t think he’s serious so they’re headed back to the Liberals… it’s a two step move (occasionally with some other stops along the way while they check out some of the other minor right options) that’s resulting in in a delayed trickle back to the Coalition and a steady decline in the One Nation, Australian Conservatives, and other minor right party vote, which has taken some in depth analysis to trace back to cause.
You’ll note that a sizeable chunk of PHON voters also went ‘home’ to Labor. An even bigger chunk of Greens voters moved to Labor this month, for pretty much the same reason – they’re over the internal drama.
I’ve changed from Greens to ALP because I’m disturbed by Greens infighting and behaviour, and am pleasantly surprised by ALP.
68 year old female voter
But wait, the Greens vote has gone up? Yes it has, largely due to protest voting, and a bit of climate change chatter related to the natural disasters (see below). Many of those votes are soft, with comments like ‘if a strong independent stands I might vote for them…’
I’m voting for the Greens to send the two major parties a message. I’m not really that impressed with the Greens either.
74 year old female voter
Minor party voters moving back to the majors is very normal behaviour as an election nears, and that is consistently happening at a slightly more favourable rate to Labor than the Coalition. However, the Liberals gain this month was countered by losing a sizable chunk to the undecided column, largely due to their reaction to the Medivac (Medevac?) Bill. The issue had a mixed impact for Labor.
I was feeling more positive about Labor when they backed the medivac bill. However their latest response to the news that unwell asylum seekers will be sent to Christmas Island and that the Naruan government might block transfers was VERY tepid and highly disappointing.
55 year old female voter
…But the Coalition reaction to funding medical emergencies for refugees on Manus Island made me feel I can’t vote for them either. Looking for an independent, maybe!
59 year old female voter
My intention [to vote Labor] has strengthened due to the hysterical response by Morrison and Dutton to the medivac bill.
79 year old male voter
Refugees is an issue with a fairly consistent gender split. The votes of women are far more like to *change* based on what’s happening around refugee issues. Male voters will regularly express strong views (both in support of refugees or in support of strong border policies) but their votes aren’t shifting as often in line with these events. Unlike climate change, where most people with strong opinions have made up their mind who to vote for, women concerned about refugees are highly volatile and reactive voters, keenly looking for someone to vote for.
Despite appearances, Labor actually got beaten up this month. The only reason it looks like Labor is holding steady is because of minor party, not sure and informal voters going ‘home’ as they normally would, and fleeing the minor party drama as noted above. Their primary vote should be steadily gaining at this point in the calendar, not falling or holding steady. As the vote retention graph shows, Labor has a scary retention figure for a major party below 90%, losing 12% of their vote (minor parties are usually in that territory, this is only the third time a major party has been below 90% vote retention in the life of the Project – the first was the Liberals in August around the beginning of the Turnbull dumping, and the second was Labor in September, a correction of sorts).
The growth in Independents is particularly hurting Labor. This is despite the fact that many of the prominent Independent campaigns are targeting Liberals with moderately conservative Liberal candidates.
I normally vote Labor but now we have a good candidate running in Cowper – Rob Oakeshott – I’ll vote for him.
63 year old male voter
There has recently been an independent candidate, Mark Tyndall, that I am considering as a first preference but the final vote will be to preference the Greens above Labor, and Labor above the LNP.
25 year old male voter
It also shows up the classic flaw of national polling and the 2PP that everyone demands… elections are not won in this country at a national level.
It’s not just a pull factor of Independent candidates announcing that’s causing the drift away from Labor: there’s protest voting going on across the board, and they have a problem with one of their signature policies. Most of the recent switches from Labor to Greens or other minor parties are older voters.
Changed my mind about labor because they want to take our pension/top up money to live on.
65 year old female voter
Don’t trust labor with their recent attacks on pensioners.
67 year old male voter
Perhaps a protest vote? Labor has showed they do not care about single women 65+ who are retired without a home, with low super account, a pension below the poverty line after having to endure the misappropriation of their pre super retirement savings made that were in government custody. This is unacceptable!
69 year old female voter
From many of the comments (and there’s a lot of them) it’s clear the pensioner exemption part of Labor’s proposed cut to franked dividend cash refunds is not cutting through.
Recent Natural Disasters
Major natural disasters, particularly those that cause loss of life, are what’s called a ‘cycle breaking event’. They’re game changers. You can’t campaign during them, and as a result of the significant social impact, many voters take stock of their lot and re-evaluate their political choices. Sometimes they settle back down to whatever they were thinking before, sometimes they don’t. Three types of cycle breaking event were planned for in the Voter Choice Project – change of major party leader, major natural disaster, and significant terrorist attack. (There are others that were not specifically planned for, such as a declaration of war.) Sorry for our academic followers I don’t have a reference for you, this is tradecraft.
The tragic loss of two lives in the Townsville Flood triggered the inclusion of the natural disasters block as per the plan, but it was tricky, because there was so much going on in the country at the time. We tried hard to adapt to a more encompassing question format, and apologise to those who were upset their issue wasn’t specifically addressed – for example, a number of people thought we should have included specific questions on the Menindee Lakes fish kills. We have picked up on those concerns, and will try and squeeze in a question specifically addressing that in a future survey.
A stunning 40% of respondents had some kind of personal connection to someone affected by the Queensland floods (although this may be affected by the fact that we’re here in Townsville…). Most voters had seen or heard something about all three highlighted events, with online and social media having considerable penetration, but TV was the winner at communicating the extent of the flooding in Queensland. A number felt the Tasmanian bushfires were being ignored, and many noted there was more talk about the Black Saturday Bushfire Anniversary than the actual bushfires affecting the country on the very same day.
As for the political messages of sympathy? Pass.
The LNP’s attitude to Climate change is not helpful. They also talk a lot and hug people and look sad, and tell the insurance companies to be kind, but they don’t actually DO anything.
68 year old female voter
Politicians get themselves in front of cameras and promise the world but people on the ground – the victims – aren’t getting support in the way that they need.
63 year old female voter
The big factor in the assessment of politicians response to these disasters was climate change. If the respondent saw the natural disasters through the prism of climate change, then they were angry, thought all the responses were bad, and often said it would affect their vote (although many have already locked in their vote on climate change lines). If they saw the natural disasters through a human (or livestock) suffering frame, their response was more moderate – shocked, saddened, but they either had no strong opinion or thought the politicians were responding quite well, and it would have little impact on their voting decisions. There were a small number of minor right wing voters taking their cue from their leaders and commenting about the need to stop foreign aid to assist those affected.
As you can see the proportion of people who have locked in their vote decision is now getting quite high, but there are still a lot of votes up for grabs. Personal contact with candidates keeps showing up as a significant factor in locking in vote decisions, consistent with what we saw in the by-elections.
I met the local Labor candidate handing out flyers at the train station the other morning and had a chat. She seems very personable and competent and it will likely take a lot to move my position now.
41 year old male voter
Thanks as always to all our participants. A particular thanks to those affected by the various bushfires, floods and other issues who still took time out to do their surveys, and to those who sent us messages to see if we were ok in the flood.