In the early 1990s, Harvard University political scientist Robert Putnam embarked on a series of studies that were to make his name synonymous with the concept of what is now widely referred to as social capital.
The idea, basically, is that societies with lots of networks – sports clubs, churches, community organisations – have higher social capital than do societies in which people are not joined in these ways. Putnam assembled a large body of evidence to support his case.
High social capital brought with it norms of reciprocity: people looked out for each other and acted in ways that enhanced the common good. It was especially valuable in times of trouble.
On television on the evening of July 5 2020 we saw social capital being accumulated: ordinary Melburnians bringing carloads of food and other essentials for the 3,000 people locked down in the residential tower blocks of Flemington and Kensington.
On television that same morning, we had seen social capital being destroyed: Senator Pauline Hanson delivering a divisive and ignorant rant, with racist overtones, excoriating those same 3,000 people.
They couldn’t speak English, said Hanson. They were drug addicts who were now having their habits fed at public expense.
Channel Nine’s Today show, on which this atrocity was broadcast, thought it was great sport. It put out a tweet promoting the rant and inviting people to say what they thought. Life, you understand, is measured in analytics – ratings, engagement and eyeballs.
This unleashed a social media backlash, so after studied reflection Channel Nine announced Hanson would no longer be a regular guest on the show. It also deleted the tweet mentioned above. Perhaps Hanson will just be an irregular one when an opportunity arises to ventilate hate speech.
Nine’s director of news and current affairs, Darren Wick, said in a statement:
We don’t shy away from diverse opinions and robust debate, but this morning’s accusations from Pauline Hanson were ill-informed and divisive. At a time of uncertainty in this national and global health crisis, Australians have to be united and supportive of one another.
By then, naturally, the analytics had been harvested.
No. She had exercised her right to free speech, and now she had to wear the consequences. That is the way it works in a democracy: speech that does unjustifiable harm brings consequences.
In this case there was an interesting sidelight to the free speech argument.
At 4.10pm on the afternoon of July 6 – roughly five hours after the story broke – a Google search yielded no link to any story on the issue in Nine’s two major metropolitan daily newspapers, The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.
Two searches of their websites at that time yielded nothing either.
It was in The Australian – with reaction from Hanson; it was in the Guardian Australia; it was even in the Wauchope Gazette, perhaps the first time it has ever scooped the SMH on a national story.
Long before Hanson got into the act, the large number of Sudanese refugees who live in those towers had for years been stopped, searched and questioned repeatedly by Victoria Police.
Eventually, in 2010, the police were sued under the Racial Discrimination Act by a group of young Sudanese men, who alleged the police engaged in racial profiling. That is, the police took action against them based on their race rather than on anything they were reasonably suspected of having done.
On the basis of statistical evidence from the police force’s own data base, Professor Chris Cunneen, a criminologist from James Cook University who specialises in the policing of Aboriginal people, concluded that racial profiling was happening in Flemington.
In 2013, the case, Haile-Michael v Konstantinidis, was settled at the door of the court, with the police promising to introduce training programs designed to improve relations between the police and ethnic minorities, particularly African communities. However, the police always denied the charge of racial profiling.
It was a long and complex saga, an excellent summary of which can be found here.
Against this troubled background, the potential exists for tension in the towers to reach dangerous levels no matter how well the police on duty there perform now.
By giving rein to her ignorance and prejudice, Hanson has made their job, and the lives of the locked-down residents, even more difficult. She has diminished Australia’s social capital.
And Channel Nine gave her a megaphone to do it with.
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.
Queensland YouGov poll: 52-48 to LNP
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).
Biden increases lead over Trump
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.
US May jobs report much better than expected
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.
New Zealand Labour surges into high 50s in polls
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.
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.
Trump’s ratings slide and Biden leads in key states
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.
Pauline Hanson has saved Energy Minister Angus Taylor from an inquiry into his intervention over endangered grasslands, with a Labor motion defeated 33-32 in the Senate.
Earlier Taylor defended his intervention in a statement to the House of Representatives, insisting he had obtained a meeting with officials on the grasslands in response to representations from local farmers, and there was no canvassing of the compliance issues that were on foot relating to land in which he had an interest.
The opposition continued to pursue Taylor in question time, but it was already clear it would not have the numbers in the Senate for the inquiry. Hanson said One Nation, which has two votes, would not back a “witch hunt”. Labor’s motion had the support of the Greens, Centre Alliance and Jacqui Lambie. The other crossbencher, Cory Bernardi, voted with the government.
In 2017 Taylor sought a briefing on the classification as endangered of the natural temperate grassland. The environment minister at the time was Josh Frydenberg who was not, however, at the meeting that occurred in response to Taylor’s representation.
At the time there was an investigation into the clearing of a section of the grassland on the property of the company Jam Land Pty Ltd, of which Taylor’s brother Richard is a director. Angus Taylor has an interest in Jam Land through his family company.
Taylor told parliament that when he took up the matter there “had been strong antagonism expressed by the farming community about federal and state native vegetation regulation.”
In late 2016 and early 2017 he had spoken with farmers in his Hume electorate and nearby about their worries with the listing of the grassland.
“On 21 February 2017, I spoke with a farmer near Yass who expressed strong and detailed concerns about the revised listing, pointing out that it had occurred despite the concerns of the National Farmers’ Federation and NSW Farmers, and with little consultation with farmers themselves,” he said.
“All of these farmers were completely disconnected from our family farming operations.”
Taylor said the revised listing of the grassland – which is in both the Hume and Eden-Monaro electorates – “would ultimately halt pasture improvement and efficient weed control across the Southern Tablelands and Monaro” and “has the potential to do untold damage to agricultural productivity throughout the region”.
“I sought a briefing on the revised listing from the then minister’s office, which I made clear was not to include any discussion of compliance matters.”
Taylor said FOI documents already released showed that an official had written that the meeting was “to answer questions on the technical aspects of the listing outcome”, and would “stay out of completely” any compliance action underway.
This was how the meeting had gone, Taylor said. “At no time during this meeting, was any compliance matter, or any personal interest of mine, discussed. At that meeting we discussed precisely what the department had said we would discuss.”
The opposition pressed Taylor to produce any correspondence from complaining farmers. Nothing was forthcoming.
Labor’s Senate leader Penny Wong accused Taylor of using his ministerial position to “shore his investments up”.
She told the Senate: “Mr Morrison says Mr Taylor has one KPI, to be the minister for lower prices. But he is the minister to increase the value of his own investments.
“Angus Taylor failed to declare a direct financial interest in a company [in the declaration of interests register]. But worse, he then used his position, as a minister, to defend that company’s interests after it was accused of breaking the law.”
The government has lobbied crossbenchers with fresh material in a last minute effort to head off a Senate inquiry into Angus Taylor’s intervention on endangered grassland.
It is expected to produce the material publicly on Monday before the Senate is due to decide whether to establish the inquiry.
Pauline Hanson’s One Nation has become the decisive player in whether Energy Minister Angus Taylor’s actions over NSW endangered grassland are probed by a Senate inquiry.
Taylor, seen by the opposition as a weak parliamentary performer, came under sustained attack in question time last week and faces continued heat.
Labor is putting him under pressure on two fronts – his interest through a family company in a farm that is under investigation for land clearing, and his portfolio issues of high energy prices and rising emissions.
In 2017 – when Josh Frydenberg was environment minister – Taylor sought a government briefing on the classification as endangered of the natural temperate grassland. He says he was acting on representations from constituents in his NSW seat of Hume.
There was an investigation at the time into the poisoning of a section of the grassland on the property of the company Jam Land Pty Ltd, of which Taylor’s brother Richard is a director. Angus Taylor has an interest in Jam Land through his family company. Although Taylor’s declaration of interests lists his family company, it does not include that company’s interest in Jam Land. Taylor says this omission is within the rules.
A compliance officer was at the briefing.
Under the Labor motion to be moved on Monday a Senate inquiry would examine
whether a compliance investigation by the environment department in relation to the natural temperate grassland of the south eastern highlands ecological community had been adversely affected by the actions of Taylor, Frydenberg, or anyone else.
whether the conduct of Taylor and Frydenberg, in relation to the compliance investigation, represented “a proper and disinterested exercise of their responsibilities”.
The opposition last week failed in its move for an inquiry. But since then, Centre Alliance senator Rex Patrick has signalled a change of mind.
Patrick had been dissuaded from backing an inquiry by material the government showed him. He has subsequently decided the material is irrelevant, saying that after studying the reporting on the issue and federal and NSW FOIs “I am now prepared to support an inquiry”.
This change leaves One Nation as crucial – the motion won’t pass if it opposes. Pauline Hanson did not support Labor’s push last week, but on Sunday was being coy.
One Nation senator Malcolm Roberts said on Sunday night the party was still weighing its position and would decide on Monday morning.
“We’re not going to allow ministers to get away with an abuse of power. But we’re not going to allow witch hunts,” he said.
He said the issue had been hurting farmers since the Howard government caused the problem by driving, through the states, native vegetation legislation “that stole farmers’ property rights”.
“Angus has been caught up in this – now that he’s involved, the government is interested, ” Roberts said.
Taylor accused Labor of a “grubby smear campaign”
“My indirect interest in Jam Land Pty Ltd has been widely reported in the media, and was declared in accordance with the rules,” he said. “I have had no association with the compliance action, and I have never made representation in relation to it.” He said he had been “sticking up for the farmers in my electorate”.
Labor’s climate spokesman Mark Butler said Taylor was “embroiled in a growing scandal over whether or not he sought to interfere in a compliance action, by his own department, over illegal land clearing on a property in which he had a financial interest which he had not disclosed.
“He had not disclosed that financial interest to the parliament, to the Australian people and it would appear not even to the Prime Minister.”
As hissy fits go, it was a beauty. Pauline Hanson was very cross indeed. Senate leader Mathias Cormann hadn’t called her, even though he was reportedly negotiating on the government’s $158 billion package of income tax cuts.
Venting on Sky on Wednesday night, Hanson said: “I don’t think he’s got the guts to pick up the phone and actually talk to me. And to turn around and say that he’s negotiating with crossbenchers is not the truth, because he’s not negotiating with me”.
She went on to rail about the Liberals preferencing One Nation below Labor, doing “grubby deals” with Clive Palmer and trying to destroy her.
The three-stage 10-year package, which promises an extra tax offset for low and middle income earners, is the big game in town for the first days of the new parliament, which opens the week after next, and it’s causing some grief.
Despite the government’s confident words during the election campaign, the Tax Office has declined to pay the offset of up to $540 until the legislation is passed. This means the July 1 deadline from when the offset was supposed to be available will be missed. (Although people will get from July 1 the tax cut in the pipeline from last year’s budget.)
If the tax legislation is passed quickly, a few weeks’ delay for the offset is no big deal, especially as many people won’t be putting in their tax returns for a while. But the pressure on the government to deliver the first stage of its plan ASAP – not least because the economy needs the stimulus – reduces its ability to hold out indefinitely on its insistence it won’t split the package to accommodate objections to the later cuts.
Labor is in even more of a bind. It is happy to tick off the first stage – worth $15 billion – but has yet to decide its position on stages two (costing $48 billion and starting 2022-23) and three (costing $95 billion and commencing 2024-25).
Its objections are particularly to the last stage, which delivers cuts for higher income earners. Both the later stages come after the next election, due early 2022.
Those urging Labor should try to block at least stage three argue, apart from the equity issue, that mounting economic uncertainty makes it irresponsible to lock in such big tax cuts out in the “never never”.
On the other hand, a strong case can be made on grounds of principle and practicality for Labor to wave the whole package through.
The question of when a party or politician has a “mandate” is vexed.
On one view an opposition can claim it possesses a mandate to stay faithful to positions it advanced before an election even after it has lost that election.
But when the Morrison government went to the polls with the tax package as its prime policy, it does seem to have a strong case to say the parliament should pass it.
The same point would have applied if Bill Shorten had won. He would have had a mandate for his proposed changes to franking credits and negative gearing – both opposed by the Coalition.
It doesn’t help maintain faith in the political system, or in election promises, for parties to try to govern from opposition, despite the Senate’s voting system sometimes facilitating this. Voters should be able to expect that major election policies of the winning side are implemented (perhaps with some alterations at the edges by parliament).
It is another matter when, as happened with the Abbott government’s 2014 budget, big new controversial initiatives are brought in soon after the election campaign, during which they were not flagged.
The practical reason against Labor going to the barricades on the tax package is that as it regroups, there is little to be gained by taking on this particular battle, especially when it is trying to reposition itself as appealing better to “aspirational” voters and leaving behind language attacking the “top end of town”.
Labor might be right that the proposed long term tax cuts could look irresponsible later, but if so, that is a fight to be had at the next election, when the ALP could highlight doubts it had previously registered.
There are divisions in Labor about what to do. Victorian MP Peter Khalil this week said if the government won’t split the package, Labor should vote for it all. Anne Aly, a backbencher from Western Australia, expressed concern about the package’s implications against a darkening economic outlook. The ALP has asked the government for more information. Anthony Albanese is consulting within the party before shadow cabinet decides the position it takes to caucus.
While the government is focusing the rhetorical pressure on Labor, it has an eye to the alternative route – to get the package through via the crossbench.
For Cormann, the new Senate is easier than the last, partly because the non-Green crossbench has been slashed at the election.
To pass legislation opposed by Labor and the Greens the government needs four of the six non-Green crossbenchers. These include two from Pauline Hanson’s One Nation, two from Centre Alliance, South Australia’s Cory Bernardi, and Tasmania’s Jacqui Lambie.
Bernardi will vote with the Coalition. He has said he wants to help the Morrison government as much as possible, and on Thursday he announced he is winding up his Australian Conservatives party. It’s not clear whether he’ll seek to rejoin the Liberals, from whom he defected in 2017, or even stay in the parliament.
Cormann has been in discussion with Centre Alliance about their push for lower gas prices, and an agreement on some action appears likely. While this deal is formally separate from the tax package, he and they both have that front of mind.
This would leave one vote to be collected.
Lambie refuses to comment on her position. Hanson said earlier this month she was “not sold” on the current package and “therefore not likely to support the measures” – and proposed some of the funds be used for a coal-fired power station and a water security scheme.
After Wednesday’s outburst, Cormann was (of course) on the phone to her at crack of dawn Thursday. On her account, he said: “I’m not negotiating with crossbenchers with this at all. We have our three stages. We’re going to pass that no matter what”.
The government aims to keep the heat on Albanese. By the same token, if the crossbench has to come into play, Cormann won’t want a repeat of last term, when he couldn’t muster the numbers to deliver tax relief to big companies.
At the May 18 election, the size of the lower house was expanded from 150 to 151 seats. The Coalition parties won 77 seats (up one since the 2016 election), Labor 68 (down one) and the crossbench six (up one). The Coalition government holds a three-seat majority.
Owing to redistributions and the loss of Wentworth to independent Kerryn Phelps at an October 2018 byelection, the Coalition notionally had 73 seats before the election, a one-seat advantage over Labor. Using this measure, the Coalition gained a net four seats in the election.
The Coalition gained the Queensland seats of Herbert and Longman, the Tasmanian seats of Braddon and Bass, and the New South Wales seat of Lindsay. Labor’s only offsetting gain was the NSW seat of Gilmore. Corangamite and Dunkley are not counted as Labor gains as they were redistributed into notional Labor seats.
Four of the six pre-election crossbenchers easily held their seats – Adam Bandt (Melbourne), Andrew Wilkie (Clark), Rebekha Sharkie (Mayo) and Bob Katter (Kennedy). The Liberals narrowly regained Wentworth from Phelps, but independent Zali Steggall thrashed Tony Abbott 57%-43% in Warringah. In Indi, independent Helen Haines succeeded retiring independent Cathy McGowan, defeating the Liberals by 51.4%-48.6%.
The Coalition easily defeated independent challengers in Cowper and Farrer.
While Bandt was re-elected, the Greens went backwards in their other inner-Melbourne target seats of Wills and Cooper. Only in Kooyong did the Greens manage to beat Labor into second.
The final primary votes were 41.4% Coalition (down 0.6%), 33.3% Labor (down 1.4%), 10.4% Greens (up 0.2%), 3.4% United Australia Party (UAP) and 3.1% One Nation (up 1.8%).
The final two-party vote was 51.5% for the Coalition to 48.5% for Labor, a 1.2% swing in the Coalition’s favour from the 2016 election. It is the first pro-government swing since the 2004 election.
It was expected the Coalition would do better once the 15 “non-classic” seats were included; these are seats where the final two candidates were not Coalition and Labor. However, 11 of these seats swung to Labor, including a 9.0% swing in Warringah and a 7.9% swing in Wentworth. Eight non-classics were inner-city electorates that tended to swing to Labor.
The table below shows the number of seats in each state and territory, the Coalition’s number of seats, the Coalition’s percentage of seats, the gains for the Coalition compared to the redistribution, the Coalition’s two-party vote, the swing to the Coalition in two-party terms, and the number of Labor seats.
Four of the six states recorded swings to the Coalition in the range from 0.9% to 1.6%. Victoria was the only state that swung to Labor, by 1.3%. Queensland had a 4.3% swing to the Coalition, far larger than any other state. Labor did well to win a majority of NSW seats despite losing the two-party vote convincingly.
Official turnout in the election was 91.9%, up 0.9% from 2016. Analyst Ben Raue says 96.8% of eligible voters were enrolled, the highest ever. That means effective turnout was 89.0% of the population, up 2.6%.
Education divide explains Coalition’s win
Not only did Steggall thump Abbott in Warringah, the electorate’s 9.0% swing to Labor on a two-party basis was the largest swing to Labor in the country. Abbott’s two-party vote percentage of 52.1% was by far the lowest for a conservative candidate against Labor since Warringah’s creation in 1922; the next lowest was 59.5% in 2007.
While Abbott did badly, other divisive Coalition MPs performed well. Barnaby Joyce won 54.8% of the primary vote in New England and gained a 1.2% two-party swing against Labor. Peter Dutton had a 3.0% two-party swing to him in Dickson, and George Christensen had a massive 11.2% two-party swing to him in Dawson, the second-largest for the Coalition nationally.
According to the 2016 census, 42% of those aged 16 and over in Warringah had at least a bachelor’s degree, compared with 22% in Australia overall. Just 13.5% had at least a bachelor’s degree in New England, 19% in Dickson and 12% in Dawson.
In Victoria, which swung to Labor, 24.3% of the population had at least a bachelor’s degree in 2016, the highest of any state in the nation.
The Grattan Institute has charted swings to Labor and the Coalition, taking into account wealth and tertiary education. Only polling booths in the top-income quintile swung to Labor; the other four income quintiles swung to the Coalition.
Areas with low levels of tertiary education swung strongly to the Coalition in NSW and Queensland, but less so in Victoria. There were solid swings to Labor in areas with high levels of tertiary education.
Some of the swings are explained by contrary swings in 2016, when the Coalition under Malcolm Turnbull performed relatively worse in lower-educated areas and better in higher-educated areas. However, Queensland’s 58.4% two-party vote for the Coalition was 1.4% better than at the 2013 election, even though the national result is 2.0% worse. The large swings to the Coalition in regional Queensland are probably partly due to the Adani coal mine issue.
Morrison’s appeal to lower-educated voters
Since becoming prime minister, Scott Morrison’s Newspoll ratings have been roughly neutral, with about as many people saying they are satisfied with him as those dissatisfied. After Morrison became leader, I suggested on my personal website that the Coalition would struggle with educated voters, and this occurred in the election. However, Morrison’s appeal to those with a lower level of education more than compensated.
In my opinion, the most important reason for the Coalition’s upset victory was that Morrison was both liked and trusted by lower-educated voters, while they neither liked nor trusted Labor leader Bill Shorten.
Earlier this month, The Guardian published a long report on the social media “death tax” scare campaign. While this and other Coalition scare campaigns may have had an impact on the result, they did so by playing into lower-educated voters’ distrust of Shorten. Had these voters trusted Shorten, such scare campaigns would have had less influence.
Labor also ran scare campaign ads attacking Morrison for deals with Clive Palmer and Pauline Hanson. But I believe these ads failed to resonate because lower-educated voters liked Morrison better.
I think Morrison won support from the lower-educated because they are sceptical of “inner-city elites”. The Coalition leader emphasised his non-elite attributes during the campaign, such as by playing sport and going to church. Turnbull was perceived as a member of the elite, which could explain swings to Labor in lower-educated areas in 2016.
Parallels can be drawn to the 2017 election in the UK. Labour performed far better than expected in the election, reducing the Conservatives to a minority government when they were expected to win easily. Labour had adopted a pro-Brexit position, which may have sent a message to lower-educated voters that they could support the party.
This offers an option for Australian Labor to try to win back support from lower-educated voters: adopt a hardline immigration policy. Votes that Labor would lose to the Greens by doing this would likely be returned as preferences.
See also my similar article on how Donald Trump won the US 2016 presidential election.
The problem with the polls
The table below shows all national polls released in the final week compared to the election result. A poll estimate within 1% of the actual result is in bold.
The polls did well on the One Nation and UAP votes, and were a little low on the Greens. The major source of error was that Labor’s vote was overstated and the Coalition’s was understated. Only Ipsos had Labor’s vote right, but it overstated the Greens vote by about three points – a common occurrence for Ipsos.
No poll since July 2018 had given the Coalition a primary vote of at least 40%. In the election, the Coalition parties received 41.4% of the vote.
Seat polls during the campaign were almost all from YouGov Galaxy, which conducts Newspoll. The Poll Bludger says these polls were, like the national polls, biased against the Coalition.
Analyst Peter Brent has calculated the two-party vote for all election-day and early votes. The gap between election day and early votes increased to 5.0% in 2019 from 4.6% in 2016. This does not imply that polls missed because of a dramatic late swing to the Coalition in the final days; it is much more likely the polls have been wrong for a long time.
Boris Johnson very likely to be Britain’s next PM, and left wins Danish election
I wrote for The Poll Bludger on June 14 that, after winning the support of 114 of the 313 Conservative MPs in the first round of voting, Boris Johnson is virtually assured of becoming the next British PM. Polls suggest he will boost the Conservative vote.
I also wrote on my personal website on June 6 about the left’s win in the Danish election. Also covered: a new Israeli election, the German Greens’ surge, and the left gaining a seat in the May 4 Tasmanian upper house periodical elections.
For some time now, Australian voters have rattled the cage of the political establishment. Frustrated with prime ministerial “coups”, political scandals and policy inertia, growing numbers have turned away from the major parties.
Does this mean minor parties and independent candidates will have a significant impact on the coming federal election?
Anti-major party sentiment doesn’t usually disrupt the numbers in parliament by much. Only five of 150 seats weren’t won by the major parties at the 2016 federal election, despite a national minor party/independent vote of over 23%. But a nationwide minor party Senate vote of over 35% in 2016 resulted in a record 20 crossbenchers – helped by a lower quota bar at a double dissolution election.
Familiar groups and faces are well placed to capitalise on this sentiment during the current election campaign.
Despite internal instability rocking its New South Wales branch, the Greens will hope to capitalise on growing progressive support (in Victoria especially) and an expected anti-Coalition swing to secure Senate influence.
Yet with recent Senate voting rule changes being tested for the first time at a normal half-Senate election, the Greens may in fact struggle to retain, let alone build on, their current nine Senate spots. Final Senate seats in most states will be fought over by a slew of (mainly right-wing) minor parties.
Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party (UAP), Pauline Hanson’s One Nation (PHON), and – unlikely as it seems – Fraser Anning’s new Conservative National Party will chase the “protest vote” in all states and (apart from PHON) territories.
But intense competition for the conservative vote means they and other minor parties stand only an outside chance of winning lower house seats. One exception is Bob Katter likely holding Kennedy in north Queensland for his eponymous Australian Party.
Still, an expected high minor party vote will keep the major parties – and the media – focused on preferencing arrangements throughout the campaign. These preferences will likely play a key role in electing minor party candidates to the Senate, potentially returning familiar faces like One Nation’s Malcolm Roberts from Queensland.
Deference to preferences
Recent opinion poll results have unexpectedly placed Palmer’s party ahead of the field of minor parties on the right. Months of saturation advertising, it seems, have imprinted the billionaire’s messaging on voters’ minds. Yet this sudden poll prominence, like Palmer’s billboard pledge to “make Australia great”, is largely illusory.
Nevertheless, both major parties have responded to this seeming upsurge in UAP support. The Coalition has hurriedly concluded a preferencing arrangement that sees Palmer and Prime Minister Scott Morrison somewhat “reconciled”. The deal might deliver much-needed preferences to Coalition MPs in marginal seats, particularly in Queensland. It also increases the chances of Palmer candidates – and the man himself – winning a Senate seat.
But these are big “maybes”. Minor party voters are renowned for following their own preference choices. In 2013, voters’ preferences from Palmer’s United Party candidates split only 54% the Coalition’s way.
Clearly stung by the attention being shown to Palmer, Hanson has announced PHON will preference Labor last in some key marginal seats held by Liberal incumbents. That includes Peter Dutton, whose seat of Dickson is under siege. In 2016, PHON took a different approach when it preferenced against sitting MPs, costing the Coalition its hold on Queensland seats like Herbert and Longman.
As part of the same deal, PHON will exchange preferences with the Nationals – whose leader Michael McCormack claimed “it just made sense” – lifting the Nationals’ hopes in marginal and at-risk regional seats.
Labor has also sealed a deal to boost its chances in marginal Victorian seats, concluding an arrangement with Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party. This will see Labor how-to-vote cards in tightly contested seats like Dunkley and Corangamite suggest second preferences go to Hinch’s Senate candidates ahead of the Greens (repeating Labor’s approach at the 2016 election).
But doing preference deals with minor parties carries reputational risks, as former Western Australia Premier Colin Barnett has warned. As has often been the case with personality-driven outfits, choosing suitable or qualified candidates easily brings minor parties undone.
Anning’s party has already stumbled badly. A pair of candidates in Victoria and the ACT has been called into question, and a party supporter allegedly assaulted journalists in Sydney.
Hanson’s party, no stranger to this pitfall, is still hosing down the controversy of the Al Jazeera taped conversations with party insiders, which has likely cost the party some support. Freshly released video footage has now forced Queensland Senate candidate, Steve Dickson, to resign in disgrace, in another blow to the often shambolic party’s standing.
Palmer’s candidates are similarly coming under scrutiny with doubts raised over citizenship qualifications, putting legitimate doubts into voters’ minds just as pre-polling has commenced.
Familiarity is key for independents
The best chances for independents are in lower house seats, yet there’s been only a dozen elected to parliament in the last several decades. Those who’ve broken through in election campaigns, like Kerryn Phelps at last year’s Wentworth byelection, typically benefit when there’s some controversy or ill-feeling towards an incumbent or their party.
But in the absence of full-on media glare of a high-profile by-election contest, Phelps might struggle to hold her seat – assuming the angst of local voters over Malcolm Turnbull’s deposing has dissipated.
Personal profile and high media interest puts Zali Steggall in with a chance to unseat Tony Abbott in Warringah. Likewise, a well-organised local campaign structure such as “Voices for Indi” behind Cathy McGowan’s hopeful successor, Helen Haines, can make the difference – though transition of support from one independent to another isn’t assured.
Newcomers on the ballot paper generally find the odds against them. Candidates with an established record and voter recognition, such as Andrew Wilkie in Tasmania’s Clark (like the Greens’ Adam Bandt in Melbourne and Centre Alliance’s Rebekha Sharkie in South Australia’s Mayo), enjoy an easier path to reelection.
Similarly, Rob Oakeshott is given a good chance of winning the New South Wales seat of Cowper from retiring Nationals MP, Luke Hartsuyker. He carries strong name recognition from his time as Independent MP for the neighbouring seat of Lyne.
But recognition alone mightn’t be enough for Julia Banks, the former Liberal MP for Chisholm in Victoria who is now challenging in Greg Hunt’s seat of Flinders. Her decision to preference Labor’s candidate above Hunt might turn away potential support from Liberal-leaning voters, yet could put the seat within Labor’s grasp.
The chances of an “independent tide” sweeping several seats this election is unlikely, in part due to the ability of major parties to drown out the competition. And counter to long speculation about the “march of the minors”, there could in fact be a reduced crossbench in both the lower house and Senate.
But voter dissatisfaction with the major parties persists, and minor party preferences are likely to play a critical role in many seats.
The prominence of minor parties will maintain an air of unpredictability for the remainder of the campaign, clouding an election outcome many saw not long ago as a foregone conclusion.
This year’s election will be the first in Australia where the parties will be advertising more on social and digital platforms than traditional media (TV, radio, newspapers and magazines).
There are a few key reasons for this. First, cost-wise, social media is far cheaper, sometimes as low as a few cents per click. Unlike heritage media, digital and social is extremely targeted, and can be done in the “dark,” so your opponents may not even be aware of the message you are pushing out.
Digital and social advertising can also be shared or even created by users themselves, further increasing the reach of a party’s messaging. This gets around the Australian Electoral Commission rules on advertising – technically they are not ads since no party is paying for them to be shared on people’s feeds.
Throw into the mix laws on political advertising – which allow parties to advertise up to and on election day on social media, but not traditional media – and we are likely seeing the first largely digitally driven election campaign in Australian political history.
From a campaign perspective, Palmer is ticking many of the right boxes: a mix of different platforms on digital and social; heritage media ads for mass market awareness featuring candidates selected from the middle; the use of memes and user-generated content; and even text messaging.
Despite the ubiquity of his ads, though, Palmer is still struggling to connect with most voters. This demonstrates a very important aspect to any advertising campaign: the actual brand still needs to be seen as offering real value to voters.
The UAP has used text messaging like this one below, for example, to try to change its negative perception with voters by delivering positive campaign promises.
The ‘Grim Reaper’ strategy and micro-targeting
One of the most effective ads ever done in Australia was the “Grim Reaper” AIDS awareness campaign in 1987, which showed how well “scare campaigns” and negative messaging can work, given the right context and framing. The ad’s micro-messaging was another aspect that worked so well: it personalised the issue and made it tangible to anyone sexually active.
Basically, negative messaging works on the theory that what you fear, you will avoid – or the “fight or flight response”. Negative political ads highlight the level of risk and consequence of a certain party’s policies – and then emphasise how to avoid this by not voting for them.
Trouble is, most ads on TV are losing their potency. As attitudes towards political messaging and brands become increasingly negative, voters are less likely to watch ads in their entirety. Many people also don’t see them as being personally relevant.
Social media, though, provides an excellent delivery mechanism for these types of messages. Digital ads can be personalised and focused on issues that voters have already expressed an interest in and therefore find relevant to their lives.
Social media ads can also be altered to be even more targeted as the campaign goes on, based on voter responses. And their speed of production – only taking a matter of hours to produce and place online – allows digital advertising to do what heritage no longer can and provide a more fluid, grassroots dynamic to campaigning.
That said, even on social media, negative advertising is not as effective if it just comes from the party itself. But when combined with information from third-party sources, such as from the media, this can increase the effectiveness. For example, the Liberal Party used the 10 Network image in this ad to support its claims on Labor’s tax policies.
The major parties are aware of this and are creating ads specifically targeting this demographic on Snapchat, WhatsApp and Instagram. Some of these are “dark social” ads (meaning they can only be seen by the target market) or are user-made so not to be subject to disclosure rules.
For more general audiences, Labor has created ads like this one on Facebook that highlight issues young voters are concerned about, such as wage increases and penalty rates. Ads like this also attempt to engage with these voters by asking them to sign petitions – a form of experiential marketing that’s proved highly effective with young audiences, as seen through platforms such as Change.org.
Groups like the Australian Youth Climate Coalition are tapping into experiential marketing by combining online advertising with a call for offline action on issues that appeal to young voters, such as climate change. Part-rock concert, part-protest, these events might remind some of the rallies that proved so popular during the Gough Whitlam era.
The increasing influence of lobbying groups
One of the more interesting developments of this election so far is the increasing sophistication, knowledge and strategies of political lobbying groups, or Australia’s equivalent to America’s PACs.
GetUp! is one such group, collecting A$12.8 million in donations in the last 12 months alone. Among the group’s tactics are direct phone calls to voters, partly achieved through “phone parties” where volunteers freely offer their time, phones and other resources to call people in targeted electorates. GetUp! has a goal of making 1 million phone calls in the lead-up to the election.
Other well-funded groups, such as the right-aligned Advance Australia, are also seeking to influence the narrative in the election, particularly in electorates like Warringah, where it has released ads against Tony Abbott’s challenger, Zali Steggall.
In part to counter the influence of lobbying groups, the Australian Council of Trade Unions has launched its own advertising campaign featuring working Australians describing how hard it is to make ends meet.
The rise of these groups in Australian politics opens a Pandora’s Box on just who can influence elections without even standing a single candidate – an issue that’s becoming part of politics now in many Western democracies. As many in politics would know, where there is money, there is power, and where there is power, there are those who are seeking to influence it.
With 19 days to go until election day, this week’s Newspoll, conducted April 26-28 from a sample of 2,140, gave Labor just a 51-49 lead, a one-point gain for the Coalition since last fortnight. Primary votes were 38% Coalition (down one), 37% Labor (down two), 9% Greens (steady), 5% for Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party (UAP) and 4% One Nation (steady).
Three weeks before the election, the UAP has been included in the party readout for the first time. Prior to this change, the tables show that the UAP had 2% support in the post-budget Newspoll and 3% last fortnight – they were previously published as Others. According to pollster David Briggs (paywalled), both UAP and One Nation preferences are assumed to flow at 60% to the Coalition.
Given results at the WA and Queensland 2017 elections and at the Longman 2018 federal byelection, where One Nation preferences flowed at over 60% to the Coalition, this assumption is justified for One Nation, and was the standard assumption from early 2018.
However, the UAP has no electoral record. At the 2013 election that Palmer contested under the Palmer United Party, PUP preferences split 53.7-46.3 to the Coalition. At that election, PUP recommended preferences to the Coalition in all House seats, the same situation as now, and the Labor government was on the nose.
45% were satisfied with Scott Morrison’s performance (steady) and 46% were dissatisfied (up two), for a net approval of -1. Bill Shorten’s net approval was up two points to -12, his best net approval since May 2016. Morrison led Shorten by 45-37 as better PM (46-35 last fortnight).
Morrison was trusted to keep campaign promises over Shorten by 41-38. In some evidence for UAP preferences splitting to the Coalition, UAP voters favoured Morrison on this question by 53-13, though this is from a subsample of about 100 UAP voters.
The change in party readout and the preference assumptions for UAP explain the narrowing in this poll from 52-48 to 51-49. But there has been a clear overall narrowing trend this year from the last three Newspolls of 2018, which were all 55-45 to Labor. Morrison’s relatively good ratings and greater distance from the events of last August are assisting the Coalition.
The Poll Bludger’s BludgerTrack currently has Labor winning 87 of the 151 seats on a 52.4-47.6 two party vote. The Coalition’s primary vote in Newspoll is 4% down from 2016, but preference changes since 2016 could assist the Coalition, and that is reflected in Newspoll. However, Ipsos polls have shown no difference between last election and respondent allocated preferences since Morrison became PM.
In economic news, the ABS reported on April 24 that there was zero inflation in the March quarter. While this was bad for the overall economy, it is good for consumers worried about the cost of living. Lower oil prices in late 2018 meant petrol prices fell in January, but have since increased.
YouGov Galaxy poll: 52-48 to Labor
A YouGov Galaxy poll for the Sunday News Ltd tabloids, conducted April 23-25 from a sample of 1,012, gave Labor a 52-48 lead, a one-point gain for the Coalition since late March. Primary votes were 37% Coalition (up two), 37% Labor (steady), 9% Greens (down one), 4% One Nation (down four), 4% UAP (steady) and 9% for all Others (up three). YouGov Galaxy also conducts Newspoll.
Voters were asked if they were impressed or unimpressed with the campaign performances of six party leaders, and all performed poorly. Morrison was the best with a 54-38 unimpressed score, Shorten had a 60-31 rating, Nationals leader Michael McCormack a 38-8 rating, Greens leader Richard Di Natale had a 44-13 unimpressed score, Pauline Hanson a 67-20 rating and Clive Palmer a horrible 69-17 unimpressed rating.
The many don’t knows for Di Natale and McCormack reflect that most people don’t know very much about them. While ratings for Morrison and Shorten would be based to some extent on their campaign performance, those for Hanson and Palmer are much more likely based on voters’ opinions of them before the campaign.
Palmer’s preference deal with the Coalition
Under a preference deal between Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party (UAP) and the Coalition, Palmer would direct preferences to the Coalition in House seats in return for Coalition preferences in the Senate. It is important to note that voters make the choices in both houses now, and can ignore preference recommendations.
In 2013, Palmer recommended preferences to the Coalition in all seats, and they flowed to the Coalition by a 53.7-46.3 margin; his party won 5.5% of the national vote in the House. While this split was not more pro-Coalition, analyst Peter Brent suggests that Palmer voters were more inclined to preference Labor, and the preference recommendations had some impact.
If the UAP won 4% of the national vote and their preference recommendations convinced 10% of their voters who would otherwise preference Labor to preference the Coalition, the Coalition’s national two party vote would by 0.4% higher than otherwise.
However, this analysis ignores the risk of doing a deal with someone as disliked by the general public as Palmer. In a January Herbert seat Newspoll, 65% had a negative view of Palmer, and just 24% a positive view.
So while a preference deal with Palmer could earn the Coalition some more preferences, it could also damage their overall primary vote, hurting them more than helping. Labor will attack Palmer over the sacked Queensland Nickel workers, and that could impact the Coalition’s support among people with a lower level of educational attainment.
Does early voting make a difference to the results?
Pre-poll voting booths for the election are open from today. Under Australia’s compulsory voting, people are required to vote, and those who vote early are unlikely to have voted differently if they voted on election day unless there was a dramatic late-campaign development. So there is likely to be little overall impact of early voting on the results. In voluntary voting systems like the US, early voting gives people who need to work on election day a greater opportunity to vote.
If one party was trending up in the polls as election day approached, early voters will decide their vote earlier, and so the trend will also be reflected in early votes.
While early voting overall has little impact, the types of people who vote early can differ markedly from the election day vote. Big pre-poll booths will not report until very late on election night, and the results could change significantly depending on those booths – as happened in the October Wentworth byelection.