Eden-Monaro voters are calling for a compassionate and empathetic recovery process as Australia emerges from the pandemic.
In focus group research conducted this week, ahead of Saturday’s byelection, the vast majority of participants favoured increasing the JobSeeker payment above the pre-COVID level, extending the JobKeeper wage subsidy scheme, and providing targeted help for areas hit hard by the summer fires and the impact of the coronavirus.
More surprising, almost all participants were willing to pay more tax to assist the economic and social recovery effort. Many were concerned about leaving debt for future generations.
This was the second round of online research by the University of Canberra’s Mark Evans and Max Halupka. Two groups, with 10 and nine participants respectively, were held on Monday and Tuesday. All but three participants had taken part in the research’s first round. Drawn widely from the diverse electorate, participants included aligned and swinging voters.
Focus group research taps into voters’ attitudes rather than being predictive of the outcome.
Both Scott Morrison and Anthony Albanese have been very active in the seat as voting day nears, although over the campaign as a whole Albanese has been on the ground much more than the PM. But the Liberals have invested heavily in an effort to wrest the seat – which is on a margin of under 1% – from Labor and increase the government’s parliamentary majority.
There was only marginal change in participants’ views on the key issues.
Top issues are: action on climate change, the federal government’s response to the bushfire crisis, job creation, better access to public health care, and addressing the high cost of living.
Climate change action continued to receive the greatest support when people were asked to nominate the one most important issue to them. Most participants saw a link between the bushfire crisis and the need for climate action.
People continued to be aggrieved at the Morrison government’s handling of the fire crisis, which they thought suffered from poor federal leadership, inadequate preparation and insufficient collaboration between federal and state government.
In the second round discussion, there was greater concern over economic recovery issues. “The economy looks weak so we will need good economic management and that tends to come from the Coalition,” a retired Coalition voter noted.
But there was some cynicism over the extra support the government has promised.
People saw Morrison’s announcement in Bega of a $86 million package for the forestry industry, wine producers and apple growers hit by the bushfires as “guilt money”. “It’s an obvious bribe – which might well work,” said a middle-aged hard Coalition supporter, while a female Greens voter described it as “a shameful example of logrolling”.
Most participants thought there would still be a bushfire backlash against the Coalition, despite Morrison’s announcement.
The government is hoping Morrison’s performance on the pandemic negates criticism of his handling of the fires.
Since their first discussion, people have cooled in their views of leaders’ management of the virus crisis. Morrison is now seen as the best performer, followed by NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian, a reversal from the first round.
Berejiklian’s poorer performance is attributed to general annoyance with the states and the perception they are acting “selfishly”. The vast majority of participants think Morrison “is handling the coronavirus outbreak competently and efficiently.” But people are worried by a second wave and cautious about re-opening too quickly.
Albanese is a distant third (the question about him was whether he was doing a good job holding the PM to account); his performance was rated more poorly in the second discussion compared with the first. He wasn’t impacting on the core political agenda: “he hasn’t got a plan,” said one participant.
The vast majority of participants, however, did not believe any party was offering a clear COVID-19 recovery plan and were surprised there hadn’t been a national conversation on the issue.
COVID-19 has constrained the usual forms of campaigning, and has led to a very high demand for postal votes. Participants perceived the Coalition had run a very traditional campaign using “old media”, while they thought Labor had run a “new media” campaign with more emphasis on social media platforms.
Both the major candidates are seen positively. Fiona Kotvojs (Liberal) was considered an “excellent” candidate even by Labor supporters. But several people suggested the intervention of senior Coalition figures in the campaign (Morrison and Payne) may have “reduced her community standing”. Labor’s Kristy McBain was considered a “really hard working” and a “very well liked” candidate by Coalition supporters.
But McBain was regarded as having run the better campaign.
When people were asked who they would vote for, the responses suggested a Labor victory and strong support for McBain. However there had been some attitudinal changes over the campaign.
There appeared to be a marginal increase in support for Cathy Griff (Greens) as the campaign neared its end and two independent candidates emerged from the woodwork – Narelle Storey (Christian Democratic Party) and Matthew Stadtmiller (Shooters, Fishers and Farmers) – during the discussion. That suggested the possibility certain soft Coalition voters might be exercising a protest vote against the government.
Some soft Coalition and Green voters might have moved to Labor and some soft Coalition voters to the Greens, but hard Coalition, Green and Labor voters looked to be remaining loyal.
Kotvojs’s well-resourced campaign appeared to be losing some momentum. But the participants continued to think the election – a straight Labor-Liberal battle despite a field of 14 candidates – would be very close.
This is a byelection where even seasoned watchers are wary of chancing their arm in advance of Saturday night.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s approval ratings continue to soar thanks to his handling of the coronavirus crisis, reaching the highest level for any prime minister since the early years of the Rudd government in this week’s Newspoll.
Morrison’s approval rating was at 68%, up two points from the last Newspoll, while 27% of respondents were dissatisfied. His net approval rating was +41.
This is Morrison’s highest net approval, topping the +40 he achieved in a late April Newspoll. It is also the best net approval for any PM since Kevin Rudd had +43 in October 2009.
This week’s Newspoll, conducted June 24-27 from a sample of 1,520 people, gave the Coalition a 51-49% lead, unchanged on three weeks ago.
Primary votes were 42% Coalition (steady), 35% Labor (up one), 11% Greens (down one) and 3% One Nation (down one).
Opposition leader Anthony Albanese had a net approval of +2, down one point. Morrison led Albanese as better PM by 58-26%.
Given Morrison’s stratospheric ratings, it is surprising the Coalition is not further ahead on voting intentions. This could be due to the fact the national cabinet has been in charge of coronavirus policy-making, and these decisions are seen as more bipartisan and do not boost the Coalition.
The Poll Bludger reported on two Eden-Monaro polls last week by the robo-pollster uComms, one for The Australia Institute and the other for the Australian Forest Products Association.
The Australian Institute poll gave Labor a 53-47% lead by 2019 election preference flows, and a 54-46% lead by respondent allocated preferences. The AFPA poll gave Labor a 52-48% lead.
These two polls are much better for Labor than an internal party poll, reported on June 13, which showed the Liberals clearly positioned on primary votes to gain the seat.
US President Donald Trump’s approval ratings are at their worst since the US government shutdown in January 2019.
In the latest FiveThirtyEight poll aggregate, Trump’s ratings with all polls are 40.6% approve, 56.1% disapprove (net -15.5%). With polls of registered or likely voters, his ratings are 40.9% approve, 55.5% disapprove (net -14.6%).
With the presidential election now just over four months away, FiveThirtyEight has started tracking the presidential general election polls.
As there are far more national polls than state polls, the website adjusts state polls for the national trend. So, as former Vice President Joe Biden widens his national lead, FiveThirtyEight will adjust states in Biden’s favour where there hasn’t been recent polling.
The latest national poll aggregate gives Biden a 50.7% to 41.4% lead over Trump. US polls usually include an undecided option, so the remaining voters are mostly undecided, not third party. Three weeks ago, Biden’s lead was 6.6 percentage points.
In 2016, four states – Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Florida – voted for Trump over Hillary Clinton by 1.2% or less. In the latest FiveThirtyEight aggregate, Biden leads in Florida by 7.2%, Pennsylvania by 8.0%, Wisconsin by 8.1% and Michigan by 10.6%.
Biden also leads in several states Trump won comfortably in 2016, such as Arizona (a 4.7% lead over Trump), Georgia (1.4% lead), North Carolina (2.9% lead) and Ohio (2.6% lead). Trump maintains an extremely narrow lead in Iowa (0.1%) and Texas (0.3%).
If the election were being held next week, there is little doubt Biden would win both the national popular vote and the Electoral College easily.
Can Trump recover before November 3? If Biden’s national lead is reduced to fewer than five points, the Electoral College could save Trump, as the Democrat’s lead is narrower in the pivotal battleground states.
Trump’s approval ratings have taken a hit due to his responses to the pandemic and the protests after the police killing of George Floyd.
Earlier this month, US coronavirus cases and deaths had fallen from their peaks in April, but there has been a surge in the last week. Over 45,000 new cases were recorded Friday, the highest single-day total since the pandemic began.
Political analyst Nate Silver says this increase is not caused by greater testing (as Trump claims), noting the positive test rate rose to 7.7% on June 24, from 4.9% a week earlier.
A genuine economic recovery is unlikely while coronavirus cases are still surging. Trump’s best chance of re-election is for the pandemic to have faded by November and the US to have made a strong economic recovery.
The US jobs report for May was much better than in April, but April was so terrible that a recovery still has a long way to go.
As well as the presidency, all 435 House of Representatives seats and one-third of the 100 senators are up for election in November.
Democrats gained control of the House in November 2018 and are very likely to retain control. They have a 7.9% lead in the FiveThirtyEight generic ballot tracker.
The Republicans currently have a 53-47 seat majority in the Senate, making it difficult for the Democrats to take control. The RealClearPolitics Senate map gives Democrats some chance of winning the Senate, projecting 48 Republican seats, 48 Democrats and four toss-ups.
In deeply conservative Alabama, Democrat Doug Jones unexpectedly won a December 2017 special election, but is unlikely to repeat his success.
House seats are allocated to each state on a population basis, but in the Senate, each state is guaranteed two seats regardless of population. As low-population states in the Midwest and West tend to be conservative, this makes it harder for Democrats to win the Senate.
The ALP national executive has decided on sweeping federal intervention into the crisis-ridden Victorian ALP, in the wake of revelations of the alleged “industrial scale” branch stacking and threats by now former state minister and power broker Adem Somyurek.
Former state premier Steve Bracks and former federal cabinet minister Jenny Macklin will run the state branch and prepare reforms, while the ALP national executive will handle federal and state preselections.
The intervention follows Nine’s 60 Minutes and The Age revealing recorded conversations in which Somyurek boasted of his power over state and federal MPs, and of running massive branch stacking. He also used highly offensive language about a female colleague.
Victorian premier Daniel Andrews sacked Somyurek from his cabinet on Monday, and two other ministers, Robin Scott and Marlene Kairouz, whose staff were allegedly associated with the stacking have resigned, while denying any wrongdoing. Somyurek quit the Labor party on Monday before he was due to be expelled.
The scandal comes at the worst time for federal leader Anthony Albanese who is fighting the byelection in the Labor held seat of Eden-Monaro, which is on a margin of under 1%.
Another complication for the federal party is that some of the secret recording was apparently in the electorate office of Victorian federal Labor MP Anthony Bryne, who is deputy chair of the powerful parliamentary committee on intelligence and security.
ALP national president Wayne Swan said in a statement after a national executive hook up on Tuesday night that Bracks and Macklin “will provide the national executive with recommendations on how the Victorian branch should be restructured and reconstituted so that the branch membership comprises genuine, consenting, self-funding party members”.
He said in developing their recommendations, the administrators would consult party members and affiliated unions.
“The conduct exposed in recent days is reprehensible and at odds with everything the ALP stands for,” Swan said. “The national executive takes these matters incredibly seriously.”
Andrews wrote to ALP national secretary Paul Erickson calling for profound reform of the branch, and asking for its members’ voting rights to be suspended.
“I have no confidence in the integrity of any voting rolls that are produced for any internal elections in the Victorian branch,” he said.
“Accordingly we must suspend those elections and begin a long and critical process of validating each and every member of the Labor party in Victoria as genuine, consenting and self-funded”.
All state officials and staff will have to report to Bracks and Macklin, who are appointed until January 31 next year. All committees are suspended.
All voting rights are suspended until 2023.
Bracks and Macklin will do a scoping report by the end of next month, including recommendations on integrity measures that are needed for the branch. By Novemeber 1 they are to produce a final report on the restructuring and reconstitution of the branch.
Victorian Labor, the jewel in the party’s crown, has been thrown into crisis by the allegations of massive branch stacking.
But with federal leader Anthony Albanese also facing questions about party culture, the scandal will not be contained to Victoria.
On Monday, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews sacked Labor powerbroker Adem Somyurek from his cabinet. This came after allegations Somyurek was involved in “industrial scale” branch stacking and used offensive language about a ministerial colleague.
As federal Labor MP and former academic Andrew Leigh has shown, the propensity of Australians to join formal organisations has been in steady decline for 50 years, and parties are a key example. Weeds have sprouted in these ruins.
The infrastructure of party and union branches that once underpinned politics in Labor heartlands has collapsed. The factories are gone and Labor branches have in most cases shrunken to a few ageing true believers.
Branch stacking is possible because Labor’s active membership is now so low they can be easily swamped by those “stacked” into the party.
Preselections for safe seats in state parliament are often determined by fewer than 50 votes at the local level.
Branch stacking is, however, not new.
During the Cold War, membership soared as left and right battled for control. But back then, it reflected real ideological disagreements that mobilised thousands. This popularisation sparked a catastrophic split in the ALP.
Today, Labor is not divided by deep ideological battles and as a consequence, its membership is much lower. As a further result, it is much easier to stack the branches.
With Labor as the dominant political force in Victoria, it is now mostly jobs – from lowly electorate officers to ministerial roles – that people fight about. The power of factional bosses rests on their ability to control access to these positions.
The decline in the levels of Labor membership and the commitment of Labor voters have concerned supporters for decades.
Today, new political forces such as the Greens and independents are now going after Labor in their heartland. Even at the 2018 landslide victory of the Andrews government, the Greens retained three seats and independents mounted serious challenges in safe Labor seats.
One popular proposal has been to increase the rights of members, so they can have a greater say in how the party is run.
At the federal level and for some states, this has taken the form of direct ballots for parliamentary leaders.
This method was described by former ALP national secretary George Wright as “an outrageous success” in 2013, leading to an extra 4,500 members at the time. But some states – including Victoria – have not gone down this path.
Some have argued it would be better to give up the dream of building a mass membership Labor Party and instead allow all Labor voters, not just party members, to select candidates by an American-style system of primaries.
However, here, the likely outcome would be an even more media-centric politics, where political celebrities – such as Canadian leader Justin Trudeau – would communicate directly with voters. It is a weak shield against a populist right on the march.
On Tuesday night, ALP president Wayne Swan announced former Victorian premier Steve Bracks and former federal frontbencher Jenny Macklin had been appointed administrators of the Victorian branch until the end of January 2021.
They will report on how the branch “should be restructured and reconstituted so that the branch membership comprises genuine, consenting, self-funding party members”.
But in the absence of a larger and engaged membership, organisational reforms will always be subject to evasion. The highly-centralised pre-selection system in Victorian Labor provides an incentive to stack, but reform of this would disrupt the delicate factional balance within the ALP.
The branch stacking scandal also presents political opportunities for Labor’s opponents.
For the Greens, this latest scandal offers the opportunity to challenge Victorian Labor’s progressive image. In the short run, the Andrews brand is strong enough to ride out the loss of less talented ministers, but one day, the political tide will turn. The collapse of the once all-conquering NSW Labor Party is a cautionary lesson.
At a federal level, it drags Albanese back into mire of Labor politics and undercuts his attempt to present him as an inner-suburban everyman – unlike former leader Bill Shorten, who could never escape his identity as a political hack.
If Labor loses the forthcoming Eden-Monaro byelection, this is something all Labor MPs, not just the Victorians, will have more to worry about.
Albanese most of all.
Eden-Monaro byelection to be on July 4
This week’s Newspoll, conducted June 3-6 from a sample of 1,510, gave the Coalition a 51-49 lead, unchanged from three weeks ago. Primary votes were 42% Coalition (down one), 34% Labor (down one), 12% Greens (up two) and 4% One Nation (up one).
Scott Morrison maintained his high coronavirus crisis ratings. 66% were satisfied with his performance (steady) and 29% dissatisfied (down one), for a net approval of +37. Anthony Albanese’s net approval dropped four points to +3; his ratings peaked at +11 in late April. Morrison led as better PM by 56-26 (56-29 three weeks ago).
This Newspoll maintains the situation where Morrison is very popular, but the Coalition is not benefiting from his popularity to the extent that would normally be expected. Six weeks ago, when Morrison’s net approval was +40, analyst Kevin Bonham said the Coalition’s expected two party vote was between 54% and 60%.
Respondents were asked whether various organisations had a positive, negative or neutral impact on the coronavirus pandemic around the world. The World Health Organisation was at 34% positive, 32% negative and the United Nations was at 23% positive, 21% negative. Coalition voters were most likely to give the WHO and UN poor marks.
Xi Jinping and the Chinese government was at just 6% positive, 72% negative. Donald Trump and the US government was at 9% positive, 79% negative.
Seventy-nine percent thought the Morrison government was doing the right thing by pushing for an independent inquiry into the origins and handling of coronavirus against Chinese objections. By 59-29, voters thought Australia should prioritise the US relationship over China. There was more support for China from Labor and Greens voters.
The Queensland election will be held on October 31. A YouGov poll for The Sunday Mail, conducted last week from a sample of over 1,000, gave the LNP a 52-48 lead, a two-point gain for the LNP since the January YouGov. Primary votes were 38% LNP (up three), 32% Labor (down two), 12% One Nation (down three) and 12% Greens (up two). Figures from The Poll Bludger.
Despite Labor’s weak voting intentions, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk’s ratings surged. Her approval was up 20 points to 49% and her disapproval down 11 to 33%, for a net approval of +16, up 31 points. On net approval, Palaszczuk’s ratings are the same as in a late April premiers’ Newspoll. However, that Newspoll gave Palaszczuk a net approval far lower than for any of the other five premiers.
Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington’s ratings were 26% approve (up three) and 29% disapprove (down four), for a net approval of -3, up seven points. Palaszczuk led as better premier by 44-23 (34-22 in January).
This section is an updated version of an article I wrote for The Poll Bludger, published on Friday. The Poll Bludger article includes a section on the UK polls following the Dominic Cummings breach of quarantine scandal.
In the FiveThirtyEight poll aggregate, Donald Trump’s ratings with all polls are 41.7% approve, 53.9% disapprove (net -12.2%). With polls of registered or likely voters, Trump’s ratings are 42.3% approve, 54.1% disapprove (net -11.8%).
Since my article three weeks ago, Trump has lost about four points on net approval. His disapproval rating is at its highest since the early stages of the Ukraine scandal last November.
In the RealClearPolitics average of national polls, Joe Biden’s lead over Trump has widened to 7.2%, up from 4.5% three weeks ago. That is Biden’s biggest lead since December 2019. Biden has 49.6% now, close to a majority. If he holds that level of support, it will be very difficult for Trump to win.
Trump has over 90% of the vote among Republicans, but just 3% among Democrats. CNN analyst Harry Enten says Trump’s strategy of appealing only to his base is poor, as he has already maximised support from that section. Enten implies Trump would do better if he appealed more to moderate voters.
In the key states that will decide the Electoral College and hence the presidency, it is less clear. National and state polls by Change Research gave Biden a seven-point lead nationally, but just a three-point lead in Florida, a two-point lead in Michigan and a one-point lead in North Carolina. In Wisconsin, Trump and Biden were tied, while Trump led by one in Arizona and four in Pennsylvania.
This relatively rosy state polling picture for Trump is contradicted by three Fox News polls. In these polls, Biden leads by nine points in Wisconsin, four points in Arizona and two points in Ohio. Trump won Ohio by eight points in 2016, and it was not thought to be in play.
Ironically, Change Research is a Democrat-associated pollster, while Fox News is very pro-Trump. Fieldwork for all these state polls was collected since May 29, when the George Floyd protests began.
Other state polls have also been worse for Trump than the Change Research polls. A Texas poll from Quinnipiac University had Trump leading by just one point. Trump won Texas by nine points in 2016. In Michigan, an EPIC-MRA poll has Biden leading by 12. In North Carolina, a PPP poll has Biden ahead by four.
Concerning the protests over the murder of George Floyd, in an Ipsos poll for Reuters conducted June 1-2, 64% said they sympathised with the protesters, while 27% did not. In another Ipsos poll, this time for the US ABC News, 66% disapproved of Trump’s reaction to the protests and just 32% approved.
The May US jobs report was released last Friday. 2.5 million jobs were added, and the unemployment rate fell 1.4% to 13.3%. Economists on average expected 8.3 million job losses and an unemployment rate of 19.5%. An unemployment rate of 13.3% is terrible by historical standards, but it is clear evidence the US economy is already recovering from the coronavirus hit.
The employment population ratio – the percentage of eligible Americans currently employed – rose 1.5% to 52.8%, but it is still far below the 58.2% lowest point during the global financial crisis.
US daily coronavirus cases and deaths are down from their peak, and stockmarkets anticipate a strong economic recovery. But it is likely that a greater amount of economic activity will allow the virus to resurge. A strong recovery from coronavirus would assist Trump, but unemployment is a lagging indicator that is likely to recover more slowly than the overall economy.
I wrote for The Poll Bludger on May 22 that two New Zealand polls had the governing Labour party taking a massive lead over the opposition National, ahead of the September 19 election. New Zealand now has zero active (currently infected) coronavirus cases, and has had no new cases since May 22. It appears they have eliminated the virus.
Anthony Albanese says Australia must use the pandemic experience to move to a more resilient society, creating more permanent jobs and revitalising high value manufacturing.
In his fifth “vision statement”, delivered against the background of the government foreshadowing an extensive post-crisis reform agenda, Albanese is giving a broad outline of Labor’s priorities for change.
The Monday speech, issued ahead of delivery, comes a day before parliament resumes for a three-day sitting expected to be more combative than the previous two one-day sittings. It also precedes Josh Frydenberg’s economic update on Tuesday – the day the treasurer was, pre-pandemic, due to deliver the budget, now delayed until October.
Referring to the government’s “SnapBack” terminology, Albanese says: “Let’s not SnapBack to insecure work, to jobseekers stuck in poverty, to scientists being ignored.”
“It’s no time for a ‘SnapBack’ to the Liberal agenda of cutting services, suppressing wages and undermining job security.
“This pandemic has shown that Labor’s values of fairness and security and our belief in the power of government to shape change to the advantage of working people are the right ones.
“A constrained fiscal position does mean difficult choices. But a reform agenda that doesn’t work for all Australians isn’t one we should pursue”.
Albanese says Labor has been constructive during the crisis, not allowing “the perfect to be the enemy of the good”; he contrasts its approach with the Coalition’s negativity against the Labor government during the global financial crisis.
While Australians have been getting through the crisis together, it has been tougher for some than others, including those who have lost jobs and businesses, he says.
“Sharing the sacrifice to get through the crisis together has to mean working to secure a recovery in which no one is left behind.
“We have to be clear in recognising that those with the least, have suffered the most through this crisis – something that must change.
“It’s critical that we are still saying , ‘we’re all in this together’, after the lockdown has come to an end,” Albanese says.
“We must move forward to having not just survived the pandemic, but having learned from it.
“To secure a more resilient society, given just how quickly things can change, through no fault of anyone.
“To better recognise the contributions of unsung heroes, like our cleaners, supermarket workers and delivery workers. To honour our health and aged care workers.
“To recognise that young people have done more than their share.
“Young people deserve better than an economy and society that consigns them to a lifetime of low wages, job insecurity, and unaffordable housing.
“We must ensure that what emerges is a society that no longer seems stacked against them, or denies them the opportunity and economic security of older generations”.
Albanese says this is a once-in-a-political lifetime event that “creates once-in-a-century opportunity to renew and revitalise the federation” and “a once-in-a-generation chance to shape our economy so it works for people and deepens the meaning of a fair go”.
“We must build more permanent jobs, an industrial relations system that promotes co-operation, productivity improvements and shared benefits,” he says.
“We must revitalise high value Australian manufacturing using our clean energy resources.”
He also urges nation building infrastructure including high speed rail and the local construction of trains; a decentralisation strategy including restoring public service jobs in agencies such as Centrelink that deliver services to regional areas; a conservation program to boost regional employment; and governments working with the private sector and superannuation funds to deliver investment in social and affordable housing.
“A housing construction package should include funding to make it easier for essential workers to find affordable rental accommodation closer to work.”
Albanese says that “too much of the risk in our economy has been shifted onto those with the least capacity to manage in tougher times.
“The broadest burden has been put on the narrowest shoulders.
“Our economy has become riskier, and we need to think through what that means for us all.
“We need to realise that a good society can’t thrive when the balance between risk and security falls out of step.”
Albanese says there needs to be an emphasis on growth, “because only inclusive economic growth can raise our living standards.
“We need to put more emphasis on secure employment – especially for the next generation of younger workers who nowadays have little idea of the meaning of reliable income or holiday pay”.
Anthony Albanese, who will campaign in Eden-Monaro on Thursday, has lost any possible claim to “underdog” status in the coming byelection.
The idea of Labor as underdog was always dubious in light of history, despite former member Mike Kelly’s personal vote. But the prospect of one or other of two NSW government high flyers having a tilt at the seat gave it some credibility.
Now, thanks to a rolling implosion within the Coalition parties, Labor starts as favourite to retain the seat, which it holds on a margin of less than 1%.
There’s a sting, however. If the favourite lost, defeat would carry even more serious implications for Albanese than a loss to a star candidate.
NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance’s Wednesday withdrawal as a contender for Liberal preselection, a day after throwing his hat in the ring, took the Coalition parties’ shenanigans to an even higher level of farce.
The last several days have seen a political shootout between NSW Deputy Premier and Nationals leader John Barilaro and Constance. Both are damaged as well as a big blow having been dealt to the Morrison government’s aspiration to defy history (no federal government has taken a seat from an opposition at a byelection for a century).
It started with Barilaro’s plan to run for the seat, which includes his state electorate where he had a very strong vote last year.
Barilaro wanted the Liberal party to step aside for him, but that was not a goer. Then Constance, whom he hoped would support him, stayed in the frame as a potential Liberal candidate, even though it was clear the two NSW ministers couldn’t both run, especially given the state government’s narrow majority.
The Nationals put out research favouring Barilaro; the Liberals had competing research.
By Monday Barilaro had hoisted the white flag – of course citing the family.
He was furious – at federal Nationals leader Michael McCormack, for not helping him, and at Constance for impeding him.
A blistering text went to McCormack, leaked to Sky on Tuesday. On Wednesday the Daily Telegraph reported “Barilaro told a parliamentary colleague Mr Constance was a ‘c…’”.
Constance cited the story in his withdrawal.
He told a news conference: “Stuff that — I hadn’t signed up to contest federally to be called that type of smear.”
“Why would I sit here for the next five weeks defending that type of front page? You can’t.”
But he also said: “I don’t believe John means it. I had that discussion with him. We’ve cleared it up. I forgive him”.
In short, Constance was all over the place, and likely a mix of reasons caused his meltdown.
Despite a touch of wild speculation that Barilaro might rethink, he quickly dispelled any such suggestion, saying: “My decision not to seek preselection for the Eden-Monaro byelection has not changed”.
The other name on the government side who’d been mentioned, Liberal senator Jim Molan, also ruled himself out on Wednesday.
Molan never seemed likely to contest. But he issued a statement saying “no one has tried to force me to not nominate, nor was I ever intimidated by the prospect of competing in a preselection or in a campaign”.
The Liberals will be well behind Labor – which is running Bega mayor Kristy McBain – in beginning their campaigning.
Nominations for Liberal preselection close Friday and then they have to organise a rank and file ballot.
Fiona Kotvojs, who pushed Kelly close at last year’s election, is seeking endorsement.
Pru Gordon, from the National Farmers Federation, a former adviser to two trade ministers and a former official with the department of foreign affairs and trade, is also in the field. A third contender is Jerry Nockles, now at World Vision, who formerly worked for federal Liberals.
The Liberal candidate, whoever they may be, will inherit the legacy of a Coalition display of bad behaviour and self-absorption, which is not a good start when you are asking for votes in an electorate that’s faced drought and fire and now struggles to recover amid economic devastation.
This week’s Newspoll, conducted April 22-25 from a sample of 1,519, had a 50-50 tie between the major parties, a one-point gain for Labor since the last Newspoll, three weeks ago. Primary votes were 41% Coalition (down one), 36% Labor (up two), 12% Greens (down one) and 4% One Nation (down one). Figures are from The Poll Bludger.
Despite Labor’s voting intentions gain, Scott Morrison’s ratings jumped again, following a record 38-point gain in net approval last time. 68% (up seven) were satisfied with his performance and 28% (down seven) were dissatisfied. That’s a net approval of +40, up 14 points. Morrison’s net approval is the best for a PM since Kevin Rudd in October 2009.
Anthony Albanese also improved his ratings, with his net approval up two points to +11 after a nine-point gain last time. Morrison led as better PM by 56-28 (53-29 three weeks ago).
Ratings for the PM are correlated strongly with voting intentions, so having the PM’s net approval at +40 while voting intentions are tied is abnormal. Analyst Kevin Bonham tweeted this chart showing that this Newspoll is a major outlier.
The most likely explanation for the discrepancy between voting intentions and the PM’s ratings is that Labor and Greens voters approve of Morrison’s performance on the coronavirus crisis, but they distrust the Coalition in general.
Australia’s performance on coronavirus has been strong by international standards. I expect Morrison’s ratings to stay high if Australia continues to perform well, as long as the public thinks there is a crisis. Once the crisis is perceived to be over, Morrison’s ratings are likely to drop over normal partisan conflict.
South Korea is another country that has performed well on coronavirus. The left-wing Democratic party of the incumbent president was rewarded for this performance at April 15 parliamentary elections. They won 180 of the 300 seats (up 57 since 2016), to 103 for conservative parties (down 19).
In an additional Newspoll question, 54% said they would be prepared to install the government’s voluntary coronavirus tracking app, while 39% said they would not install it.
This section is an updated version of an article I wrote for The Poll Bludger, published on Friday.
In the FiveThirtyEight poll aggregate, Donald Trump’s ratings with all polls are 43.4% approve, 52.4% disapprove (net -9.0%). With polls of registered or likely voters, Trump’s ratings are 43.8% approve, 52.5% disapprove (net -8.7%). Since my article three weeks ago, Trump has lost five points on net approval, returning his ratings to about their early March levels, before the coronavirus crisis began.
As the US coronavirus death toll increases to over 50,000, there has been far more criticism of Trump’s early response, and this appears to have punctured the “rally round the flag” effect.
Furthermore, there has been a massive economic impact from the virus and related shutdowns: in the past five weeks, over 26 million filed for unemployment benefits. In the latest week, over 4.4 million filed. While this is a slowdown, it is far ahead of the previous record of 695,000 weekly jobless claims. The April jobs report, to be released in early May, will be grim.
The RealClearPolitics average of national polls gives Joe Biden a 5.9% lead over Trump, little changed from 6.1% three weeks ago. However, most of the polls in the average were taken in early April, when Trump’s ratings were better.
As we know from 2016, the US does not use the popular vote to elect presidents; instead, each state is allocated Electoral Votes (EVs). A state’s EVs are the sum of its House seats (population dependent) and senators (always two). There are 538 total EVs, so it takes 270 to win. With two minor exceptions, states award their EVs winner-takes-all.
In 2016, Trump won 306 EVs to Hillary Clinton’s 232, ignoring “faithless” electors, despite losing the popular vote by 2.1%. Trump won Florida, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan by 1.2% or less.
The three most recent Florida polls give Biden an average two-point lead. In Michigan, he has an eight-point lead in the only April poll. In Pennsylvania, Biden averages a seven-point lead in two April polls. In Arizona, which has trended Democratic at recent elections, Biden leads Trump by 9% in an April poll.
Despite noisy protests in Michigan and other states advocating an end to social distancing, polls show the vast majority of Americans want social distancing to continue. In an AP-NORC poll, just 12% thought distancing measures went too far, 26% said they didn’t go far enough and 61% said they are about right.
To have a realistic chance of winning the next election, Trump needs the US economy to be perceived as improving by November. While his base is loyal, lower-educated voters in general want a good economy, and Trump needs their support to offset losses among higher educated voters owing to his behaviour.
Despite the continued economic and coronavirus woe, the Dow Jones has rebounded from a low below 18,600 on March 23 to be currently above 23,700. Stock traders anticipate a V-shaped recovery, which would assist Trump. But since March 31, there have been 25,000 to 39,000 new US coronavirus cases every day. I am sceptical that the US can reduce the caseload to a point where economic activity can safely resume anytime soon.
This week’s Newspoll, conducted April 1-3 from a sample of 1,508 people, showed a huge boost in Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s approval rating based on his leadership thus far in the coronavirus crisis.
Nearly two-thirds of people (61%) were satisfied with Morrison’s performance (up a massive 20 points) and 35% were dissatisfied (down 18), for a net approval of +26, up 38 points.
Anthony Albanese also improved his net approval by nine points to +9. Morrison led Albanese as better PM by 53-29%, another large improvement from the last Newspoll, which was a closer 42-38%.
Analyst Kevin Bonham says these are the biggest poll-to-poll jumps for a PM in Newspoll history on both net approval and better PM. His tweet shows the largest net approval rises for PMs, and when they occurred.
The Newspoll also gave the Coalition a 51-49% lead over Labor in the two-party preferred question, a two-point gain for the Coalition since the last Newspoll three weeks ago.
Primary votes were 42% Coalition (up two points), 34% Labor (down two), 13% Greens (up one) and 5% One Nation (up one).
Major crises tend to produce a “rally round the flag” effect for incumbents, though it doesn’t always last.
An example of a major crisis that produced an initial rally-round-the-flag effect, but nothing else, is the Queensland floods in December 2010 to January 2011, which affected over three-quarters of the state.
From October to December 2010, the Labor state government was trailing the opposition LNP by a landslide 59-41% margin. Based on Premier Anna Bligh’s handling of the floods, Labor surged ahead by 52-48% in the January to March 2011 polling, but then fell back immediately to a 60-40% deficit in April to June 2011.
Labor never recovered and was reduced to just seven of 89 seats at the March 2012 state election.
There are currently far fewer coronavirus cases and deaths in Australia than in European countries and the US. If the crisis is resolved relatively painlessly in Australia, I believe Morrison’s ratings will stay high during the crisis, but then drop back after it ends.
In other Newspoll questions, 84% of respondents were worried and 14% confident about the economic impact of coronavirus (76-20% previously). On the preparedness of the health system, 57% were worried, compared to 41% confident.
An overwhelming majority (86%) supported the JobKeeper scheme. While 64% thought the $1,500-per-fortnight payment for qualifying workers was about right, 16% thought it was too much and 14% not enough.
Some 67% were worried about catching the virus, 38% about higher government debt, 36% about losing their jobs and 35% about their superannuation balance.
In the FiveThirtyEight polling aggregate, US President Donald Trump’s current ratings across all polls are 45.8% approve, 50.0% disapprove (net -4.2%).
In polls of registered or likely voters, Trump’s ratings are 45.6% approve, 50.9% disapprove (net -5.3%). Trump’s net approval has improved five to six points in the last three weeks and is at its highest since early in his term.
Despite the rise in Trump’s approval, the RealClearPolitics average of national polls gave virtually certain Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden a 5.9% lead over Trump in the November 2020 election, down modestly from 8.5% three weeks ago.
A recent Fox News national poll gave Trump a 51-48% disapproval rating. However, 53% thought a quicker response from the federal government could have slowed the spread of coronavirus, while 34% said it was so contagious nothing could stop it spreading.
Despite the higher rating for Trump, the same poll gave Biden a 49-40% lead in the presidential election.
Trump’s gains so far are dwarfed by then US President George W. Bush’s gains in approval of over 30 points after the terrorist attacks of September 11 2001.
Other current leaders and governing parties have had far bigger bounces in their ratings than Trump, including Morrison.
In Britain, two recent polls gave the Conservatives 54%, up from the mid-to-high 40s. In Germany, the conservative Union parties are in the mid-30s, up from the mid-20s before the crisis. A recent French poll gave President Emmanuel Macron a -8 net approval, up 26 points.
Even in the US, Trump’s bounce is far less than the bounce for New York’s Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo. Cuomo’s net favourable rating improved from -6 to +48 in a New York Siena College poll. New York has the most coronavirus cases in the US so far.
If the coronavirus crisis is resolved relatively quickly, people will likely be more focused on other factors by the November presidential election. In that case, how much damage the economy takes and whether it is clearly recovering are likely to be the most important factors.
The more likely scenario is that coronavirus will damage the US both economically and in health terms for a long time. The US already has far more cases than any other country. I do not believe Trump’s ratings gains will be sustained if the US falls into a massive health and economic crisis.
The crisis has already had an economic impact: in the week ending March 21, almost 3.3 million new jobless claims were submitted, far exceeding the previous record of 695,000. In the week ending March 28, jobless claims jumped massively again to over 6.6 million. Weekly jobless claims are published every Thursday.
In March, the US unemployment rate rose 0.9% to 4.4%. The survey period was in mid-March, before the massive late-March losses.
In the household survey, employment was down almost 3 million people, compared to a mere 701,000 in the headline establishment survey. While average hourly wages rose 11 cents, this probably reflects the shedding of lower-paying jobs.
As average weekly working hours fell, average weekly wages dropped almost US$2 from February.