With 54% of the vote counted at the New South Wales election held today, the ABC is currently projecting 45 of the 93 lower house seats for the Coalition, 35 for Labor, three Greens, three independents and two Shooters, Fishers and Farmers. Five seats remain undecided. Coogee is the only current clear Labor gain from the Coalition.
Forty-seven seats are needed for a majority, but the Coalition is in a strong position to form a minority government if it falls short. This will be the Coalition’s third term in NSW. It is the first time the Coalition has won a third term in NSW since 1971; the last time the Coalition won a third term in state government in Australia was in 1980.
All crossbenchers in the current parliament retained their seats. The Greens won Newtown, Balmain and Ballina. The Shooters retained Orange, which they had won at a byelection, and gained Murray from the Nationals. Independents retained Sydney, Lake Macquarie and Wagga Wagga (also won at a byelection).
The ABC’s projection of final primary votes are currently 41.7% Coalition (down 3.9% since the 2015 election), 33.4% Labor (down 0.7%), 9.9% Greens (down 0.4%) and 3.1% Shooters. If the projection is accurate, it is an indictment on Labor that their primary vote fell. The two party statewide result will not be available for a long time, but the Coalition probably won by about 53-47, a swing of about 1.5% to Labor.
Late campaign mishaps probably cost Labor in NSW. On March 18, Labor leader Michael Daley was revealed to have made comments in September 2018, before he became leader, that could be perceived as anti-Asian. On March 20, during a leaders’ debate, Daley could not recall details of funding for his party’s policies.
The final NSW Newspoll gave the Coalition a 51-49 lead, a one-point gain for the Coalition since eleven days ago. Primary votes were 41% Coalition (up one), 35% Labor (down one) and 10% Greens (steady). Reflecting his bad final week, Daley’s net approval plunged 14 points to -15, while Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s net approval dropped five points to +1. That Newspoll was taken March 19-21, and the momentum towards the Coalition appears to have carried over into the election results.
I believe the difference between Queensland 2015 and NSW 2019 is that voters are more inclined to forgive politicians who make a mistake that is perceived to be out of character. Daley has only been the NSW Labor leader since November, and his anti-Asian video revealed something that voters did not like. It is probably more dangerous for a left-wing leader to be perceived as racist than a right-wing leader.
I will update this article tomorrow with more complete details of the lower house and a look at the upper house.
MORE TO COME
The New South Wales election will be held on March 23. Last week, a Newspoll had a 50-50 tie, while a ReachTEL poll gave Labor a 51-49 lead. At the 2015 election, the Coalition won 54 of the 93 seats, Labor 34, the Greens three and independents two. The Coalition won the two party vote by a 54.3-45.7 margin.
Since the 2015 election, the Coalition has lost Orange, to the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers, and Wagga Wagga, to an independent at byelections. The Coalition enters this election with 52 seats, and would need to lose six seats to lose its majority. Labor needs to gain 13 seats for an outright majority. If Labor gains ten seats and the Greens hold their three seats, a Labor/Greens government could be formed.
On the pendulum, the Coalition holds six seats by 3.2% or less. The current poll swing is about 4.8% to Labor, so Labor would be expected to win these six seats, depriving the Coalition of a majority unless they gain a seat held by a crossbencher.
Labor’s difficulty is that the Coalition has no seats held between a 3.2% and a 6.2% margin. On the pendulum, Labor would need a 6.7% swing to gain the ten seats needed for a Labor/Greens majority. This suggests Labor needs to win the two party vote by a 52.4-47.6 margin.
The pendulum is a useful tool, but swings are never completely uniform. Owing to random variation in the size of swings, analyst Kevin Bonham expects a seat outcome of about 44 Coalition, 41 Labor, three Greens and five Others on the current polls. One side or the other could get lucky and win more seats than expected.
The last NSW statewide polls are a week old now. A key question is whether the final two weeks make a difference. The unpopularity of the federal government could assist state Labor.
The Poll Bludger has details of Daily Telegraph YouGov Galaxy seat polls of Goulbourn and Penrith, presumably conducted last week from samples of 530-550. In Goulbourn, there was a 50-50 tie (56.6-43.4 to Liberal in 2015). Primary votes were 38% Liberal, 37% Labor, 8% Shooters, 6% One Nation and 4% Greens. Gladys Berejiklian led Michael Daley as better Premier by 43-30.
In Penrith, the Liberals led by 51-49 (56.2-43.8 to Liberal in 2015). Primary votes were 42% Liberal, 38% Labor, 9% One Nation and 6% Greens. Berejiklian led Daley by 51-30 as better Premier. Seat polls have been very unreliable at past elections.
The NSW upper house has 42 members, with half up for election every four years. The 21 members are elected using statewide proportional representation. The quota for election is low: just 1/22 of the vote, or 4.55%.
NSW uses optional preferential voting for its upper house. A single “1” above the line will only apply to that party’s candidates. Voters may put “2”, “3”, etc above the line for preferences to other parties after their most preferred party is eliminated. To vote below the line, voters must number at least 15 boxes for a formal vote. There is no group ticket voting in NSW.
In the current upper house, the Coalition holds 20 of 42 seats, Labor 12, the Greens four, the Shooters and Christian Democrats two each, Animal Justice one and former Green Jeremy Buckingham has the last seat.
The seats to be elected in 2019 were last up at the massive Coalition landslide of 2011. Eleven Coalition, five Labor, two Greens and one each for the Christian Democrats, Shooters and Buckingham are up for re-election. As the Coalition will not do as well as in 2011, they are certain to lose seats, and Labor is certain to gain.
According to the ABC’s Antony Green, 83% of ballot papers in 2015 were single “1” votes above the line. Owing to the high rate of exhausted preferences, parties with primary votes about 2% win seats. In the four elections since the current system was introduced in 2003, the lowest primary vote to win was Animal Justice in 2015 with just 1.8%, and the highest primary vote to lose was Pauline Hanson in 2011 with 2.4%.
As a result of the low quota for election, One Nation’s lead candidate, former federal Labor leader Mark Lathem, is certain of election. The Shooters are also certain to win at least one seat; they are assisted by drawing the left-most column on the ballot paper. Various left and right-wing micro parties could be fighting it out for the last seats.
A year after the March 2018 South Australian election, we have our first SA state poll. In this YouGov Galaxy poll for The Sunday Mail, conducted March 12-14 from a sample of 844, the Liberals led by 52-48 (51.9-48.1 at the election).
On primary votes, both major parties are up at the expense of SA Best. Primary votes were 42% Liberals (38.0% at the election), 37% Labor (32.8%), 7% SA Best (14.1%) and 7% Greens (6.7%). Incumbent Steven Marshall had a 46-26 lead over Opposition Leader Peter Malinauskas as better Premier.
The full report from last week’s national Essential poll is now available. 51% (down two since December and down five since October) thought Australia is not doing enough to address climate change), 27% (up three and up four) thought we are doing enough and 11% (up two and up four) thought we are doing too much. The biggest decline in not doing enough since October was with Coalition voters (down 11 to 34%).
In a question on trust in institutions, there were 5-7 point improvements since September in trust in state parliament, federal parliament, trade unions and political parties. There were 3-4 point declines in trust in federal police, the High Court and the ABC. Police were on top with 66% trust, with the ABC trusted by 51%. Despite a seven-point improvement, political parties are still last on 22%.
In the wake of the far-right terrorist atrocity in Christchurch, there has been much condemnation of independent senator Fraser Anning’s anti-Muslim comments. Anning won just 19 personal votes below the line, so how was he fairly elected?
The whole One Nation ticket had over 250,000 votes or 1.19 quotas in Queensland at the 2016 federal election. Pauline Hanson was immediately elected, and her surplus was passed on to One Nation’s second candidate, Malcolm Roberts, who had just 77 below the line votes. Roberts was then elected on strong preference flows from other populist right parties. When Roberts was disqualified by the High Court in October 2017 over Section 44 issues, his seat went to Anning, One Nation’s third candidate.
From March 12-14, there were several key Brexit votes in the UK House of Commons. I reviewed these votes for The Poll Bludger. PM Theresa May is threatening hard Leavers with a long Brexit delay if they don’t vote for her deal.
The last paragraph of the linked article about polling is out of date. A Survation poll for The Daily Mail taken March 15 – after the Commons votes – gave Labour a 39-35 lead over the Conservatives. This poll is currently out of alignment with other polls.
State elections are always about spending promises, but this time not much is being said about how they will be funded.
Last minute costings on individual announcements tend to rely on the general presumption that the state economy will keep growing and somehow produce the needed revenue.
This is evident in the costings released by the NSW Parliamentary Budget Office, which show that new spending promises from both major parties exceed new revenue promises.
The Labor Party has managed to find some new revenue through increased taxes on luxury cars, boats and vacant properties, while the Coalition has unveiled no new revenue initiatives at all.
While the property market has been climbing this needn’t have mattered that much. But for the past 20 months Sydney prices have been falling. Projected stamp duty revenues are being repeatedly revised downwards. The latest wipes A$9.5 billion off what was expected at the time of the 2017 budget.
NSW state revenue by type, A$ billion
It’s looking as if the incoming NSW government will need to moderate spending including spending on essential services and infrastructure, but there might be a way out.
Today, we published a new report for the Sydney Policy Lab outlining two ways in which the NSW government can ready its budget for a post-housing boom economy.
Politicians of all parties tell us that fiscal rules create binding constraints for state governments and they are right.
But there are imaginative ways to strengthen state finances and to interpret those constraints.
Although land used for holiday homes and rental properties faces land tax, land used for owner-occupied housing is exempt in NSW, meaning as much as A$1 trillion of land is exempt.
It is a source of wealth – one of the few covered by state tax powers – that the budget can no longer afford to ignore.
Extending NSW land tax to owner-occupied residences with safeguards could fund much of the state’s needed service and infrastructure spending and wind back the outsized reliance on stamp duty.
With so many people locked out of home ownership altogether, it would make the tax system fairer.
Under NSW budget rules spending on services is defined as cost that needs to be matched by immediate revenue. Spending on infrastructure, often on infrastructure which will later be privatised, is defined as an investment, meaning it doens’t have to be matched by immediate revenue.
It is why there is talk about a squeeze on services in the midst of record spending on infrastructure.
There’s room to change those definitions.
While there are good macroeconomic and budgetary reasons to differentiate day to day spending from investments, much of what is defined as day to day spending is in fact an investment.
There’s no reason why the state’s power to borrow to invest in infrastructure couldn’t also be used to invest in public services like health and education. With a change of rules, governments could borrow to invest in nurses and teachers at interest rates currently reserved for toll roads.
A practical starting point would be to connect spending on public services to the savings they create in other parts of the state budget, and account for this as the return on the investment.
As an example, “justice reinvestment” could fund programs aimed at reducing Indigenous incarceration out of the savings those programs would eventually deliver in other areas.
The redefinition would remove the present bias towards programs that build only physical infrastructure that has to be paid for later with tolls or privatisations.
Both ideas could help whichever party or parties form government after Saturday’s election, and help NSW. Without them, budgeting will become more difficult.
On Saturday, March 23, the people of New South Wales will head to the ballot boxes for a state election. It is looking increasingly close, with polls showing government and opposition neck and neck on about 50% of the two-party preferred vote. This is a decline in the Coalition vote of 4% compared to the 2015 election.
The current campaign is reminiscent of a 1950s “I’ll see you and raise you” one. Government and opposition are engaged in an auction to outbid each other in the amounts committed to schools, hospitals, transport and other basic services. The campaign is one of the quietest in a long time, with little excitement about the respective leaders and no major clash of visions for the future.
Mike Baird’s victory in 2015 laid the foundation for this. The then Coalition leader won a mandate to privatise the state’s electricity network, although sacrificing seats his successor would be glad to have in reserve. The mountains of money produced by this and other privatisations have allowed Premier Gladys Berejiklian to go to the election with a massive war chest.
In addition, the NSW economy is in good shape, performing well compared to most other states. The budget is in surplus and predicted to remain there. Net debt is negative. Unemployment is at a record low.
The Coalition government has a large array of infrastructure projects in progress, including the Westconnex and Northconnex motorways, Sydney Metro – the largest public transport project in Australia – and the CBD and South East light rail. The amount committed for infrastructure over the next four years is just under A$90 billion.
Berejiklian’s pitch is: don’t jeopardise all this by electing Labor. She is keen to remind the electorate of the factional bloodletting, policy paralysis and corruption that marked the final years of the last ALP government in NSW. The release during the campaign of Ian Macdonald, another ex-ALP minister, after his conviction was quashed, assisted the government by putting their misdeeds back on the front pages.
The Coalition also has some significant problems. Overdevelopment is devastating many Sydney suburbs. Residents angry at the disruption to their lives are likely to turn against the Liberals. The premier will not be presiding at many opening ceremonies for infrastructure projects before the election. More apparent are cost over-runs, delays and short-term inconvenience.
The general unpopularity of the federal Coalition government is a handicap for its NSW counterpart. In rural NSW, a belief that the Nationals have neglected voters’ interests could cost the government seats.
Opposition Leader Michael Daley struggled at first to gain momentum and attention. His campaign ignited three weeks out from polling day when he took on influential radio commentator Alan Jones over the Sydney stadiums issue. This has been a festering sore for the government since November 2017, when Berejiklian announced that both Allianz Stadium at Moore Park and ANZ Stadium at Homebush would be simultaneously demolished and rebuilt at an estimated cost of A$2.5 billion.
The public outcry at what was seen as wasteful expense was so great that she quickly backed off. The rebuilding of Allianz would proceed, but ANZ would now be renovated, saving A$1 billion.
Labor quickly seized on the issue, opposing the demolition of Allianz and coining the effective slogan of “schools and hospitals before Sydney stadiums”.
Jones is a member of the prestigious Sydney Cricket Ground Trust, which controls Allianz and has lobbied strongly for its rebuilding. Daley attacked Jones and promised to sack him and most members of the trust.
Daley instantly became the people’s politician, unafraid to stand up to a powerful broadcaster and an elite board. He put the stadium issue back at the centre of the campaign. It crystallised the perception that the government is more concerned about developers and big business than the community.
But does Daley have anything more positive to offer? There is some policy differentiation.
Labor has promised there will be no more privatisations and will re-regulate the electricity industry. Labor also has stronger policies on the environment and climate change than the Coalition. It will be more generous to the public sector. But the main thrust of Daley’s campaign is: we will give you more of the same but do it better.
The government has 52 of the 93 seats in the Legislative Assembly. The opposition holds 34. A uniform swing of nearly 9%, just under what it achieved at the last election, would be needed for Labor to gain a majority in its own right.
A feature of this poll is the difference between Sydney and the bush. In 2015, Labor picked up most of the low-hanging fruit in Sydney and only a handful of seats are in play this time. In rural and regional NSW, the Nationals face a strong challenge from independents and minor parties.
If the government loses six seats, it will be in a minority. After appointing a speaker, its numbers would drop to 45. The crossbench would be in a crucial position.
Currently, there are seven crossbench MPs in the lower house: three Greens, a Shooter and three independents (Alex Greenwich, Joe McGirr and Greg Piper). The Greens have already indicated they would support the Coalition. Greenwich is on the left and has close links with his predecessor, Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore. The other three are more conservatively inclined. The election of additional crossbenchers would add to the unpredictability.
Daley is hoping the electorate has forgotten about Obeid and that accumulated dissatisfaction with the government will translate into a victory for him. The result hinges on whether voters have lost faith in the Coalition to the extent that they are prepared to trust Labor again.
Young Australians are more connected, educated and informed than previous generations. They are also more likely to have higher debt and less economic independence into their 30s. Many feel excluded from traditional politics and policy making and are turning to local action and global issues to express their political views.
Young people are also swing voters who have had a significant, but unrecognised, effect on the outcomes of elections since the mid 1990s. In NSW, there are 1.34 million voters aged 18-35 – 25% of all electors. This is a record high number following a 2017 surge in national enrolment when 65,000 new young voters registered in the lead up to the same-sex marriage poll. There are now 140,000 more 18-24-year-old voters than 1.5 years ago.
In general, young voters are socially progressive and action-oriented. They are not rusted on to party politics and they want to see leadership on issues. In close elections, like this year’s NSW state poll, winning the youth vote will be key to winning government – especially in marginal seats.
For example, in the 2015 election, Coogee was won by less than 2,500 votes – equivalent to half of the 20-24-year-olds in that electorate. So the issues that matter to young people should matter to NSW electoral candidates.
Safety at entertainment events and school strikes on climate change have already tested the Coalition government’s responses to young people and their concerns. Yet, the diverse experiences and needs of young people still aren’t reflected by political parties. Key issues that matter to young people in the NSW election include:
Heath and mental health
In NSW, mental health is the top priority issue for those aged 15-19. The most frightening aspect of mental health for young people is the growing rate of youth suicide, and 45% of all young people who died by suicide in 2016 were from NSW.
Around two-thirds of young Australians who need help don’t get it. In consultations with more than 4,000 children and young people, the NSW Advocate for Children and Young People identified access to health and mental health services and support as a major concern. Young people want the government to ensure there is appropriate help, when they need it – including after hours.
They also want governments to address the “causes of the causes” of poor health and mental health – such as poverty, inequality and violence.
Finding work is becoming more difficult for young Australians. With one in three young people unemployed or underemployed, young people are not benefiting from economic or job growth in the state. The youth unemployment rate is more than twice Australia’s overall unemployment rate and in NSW, 84,900 young people are not in paid work. Despite 60% of young Australians achieving post school qualifications, half of Australia’s 25-year-olds are unable to secure full-time employment.
As more young people are pushed into perpetual and unaffordable renting because they cannot afford to buy a home, and with the increasing number of youth experiencing homelessness, housing affordability is a clear election priority. The relative cost of purchasing a house in 2016 was four times what it was in 1975, with more than 50% of young people under 24 experiencing housing stress.
For young people in Western Sydney, the situation is especially acute. Rents can be 35-60% of average weekly wages for people over the age of 15. Of immediate concern is the massive increase in youth homelessness over the last decade by 92%. There were 9,048 homeless young people in NSW in 2016: more than in any other state.
Climate change remains a key concern for young people: it is one of the top three issues identified by young people for the 2016 election. In 2017, a United Nations Youth Representative Report listed it as the number one concern.
Since then, young people have been calling for politicians to take meaningful action on climate change, spurring a world-wide movement “school strike 4 climate” for which many will demonstrate at an estimated 50 sites around Australia on March 15. Young people have the most at stake when it comes to climate change and they are holding the government to account. Climate change will be a deciding issue until there is clear action made by state and federal governments.
The rising cost of VET, TAFE and university fees, compounded by insecure work and the high cost of living, are making educational access increasingly unequal for young people across NSW.
Young people want education to be free or more affordable, to ensure that everyone has access to a well-funded and relevant education system, according to a survey of 3,400 young people done by Youth Action in 2018.
Young people, especially those from rural and remote areas, those with a disability, and those from low SES backgrounds continue to face disproportionate challenges in our state education system.
Young people won’t be won over by small, short term measures. Candidates and parties must be genuine, honest, consistent and lead on the key issues that matter to young people. To gain and retain their votes, politicians need to deliver and meaningfully engage with young people in the long term. Much like a Minister for Ageing (which NSW has), a Minister for Youth would ensure this consistently across government.
In all their diversity, young people care about issues and they want to be involved. Adding their voices and votes to solving big policy problems in NSW will have a beneficial flow-on effect for the rest of society. In extensive consultations by the NSW Advocate for Children and Young People and for Youth Action’s 2019 Election Platform young people have clearly articulated what needs to happen to create a better society for their peers and deliver benefits to the wider community.
Candidates in the upcoming election would be wise to heed and act on the priorities of young people who will be voting in March – and for many decades to come. If you don’t secure their vote, someone else will.
This article was co-authored with Katie Acheson (CEO, Youth Action)
About two months from the expected May election date, this week’s Newspoll, conducted March 7-10 from a sample of 1,610, gave Labor a 54-46 lead, a one-point gain for Labor since last fortnight. Primary votes were 39% Labor (steady), 36% Coalition (down one), 9% Greens (steady) and 7% One Nation (up two).
This Newspoll is the Coalition’s 50th successive Newspoll loss. The closest they have come to breaking that losing streak was a run of four consecutive 51-49 results from July to early August 2018 before Malcolm Turnbull was dumped. This Newspoll reverses the gains the Coalition had made to close the gap to 53-47 from 55-45 in November and December.
Despite the Coalition’s woes on voting intentions, Scott Morrison remains relatively popular. 43% were satisfied with his performance (up one), and 45% were dissatisfied (down three), for a net approval of -2. Bill Shorten’s net approval was up three points to -15. Morrison led Shorten as better PM by 43-36 (44-35 last fortnight).
I believe Morrison’s relative popularity is because he has not yet proposed something that would make him unpopular, in the way Tony Abbott did with the May 2014 budget, and his January 2015 knighting of Prince Philip. Turnbull was very unpopular with the hard right, and their hatred of him damaged his overall ratings.
During the election campaign, Labor will attempt to tie Morrison to unpopular Coalition policies, and this could impact his ratings.
The last fortnight has not been good for the Coalition with the retirements of Christopher Pyne and Steve Ciobo, infighting within the Nationals, and Turnbull and Julie Bishop saying they could have beaten Shorten if they were the leader.
While these events may have had an impact, I believe the Coalition’s biggest problem is weak economic data. On March 6, the ABS reported that Australia’s GDP grew 0.2% in the December quarter after the September quarter GDP was up 0.3%. In per capita terms, GDP growth was negative in both the September and December quarters, meaning Australia has had its first per capita GDP recession since 2006.
In the December quarter, wages grew by 0.5%, matching the rate of inflation in that quarter. The Coalition already has a problem with well-educated voters owing to their perceived lack of climate change policies and the removal of Turnbull – see my personal website for where I thought Morrison could have problems. With good wages growth and a strong economy, the Coalition may have been able to compensate with less educated voters.
With neither a strong economy nor good wages growth, I believe the Coalition’s only realistic chance of re-election is a massive scare campaign against Labor’s economic policies, such as the proposal to abolish franking credit cash refunds.
This week’s Essential poll, conducted March 6-11 from a sample of 1,080, gave Labor a 53-47 lead, a one-point gain for Labor that validates Newspoll’s movement. Primary votes were 38% Labor (up one), 37% Coalition (down one), 8% Greens (down one) and 7% One Nation (up one). According to The Poll Bludger, this is the worst result for the Greens from any pollster since September 2016.
Morrison’s net approval was +2, down two points since January. Shorten’s net approval was -6, up six points. Morrison led Shorten by 44-31 as better PM (42-30 in January).
62% thought climate change is happening and is caused by human activity (down one since October). 51% thought Australia is not doing enough to address climate change (down two since December). By 52-48, voters thought the reopening of Christmas Island reflected genuine concern about boats arriving, rather than a political ploy; there was no undecided option in this question.
On issue questions, the Liberals led Labor by 19 points on border protection, 16 points on national security and 15 points on economic management. Labor was 18 points ahead on the important issue of safeguarding fair wages and conditions, and had 7-9 point leads on climate change, the environment, health, education and housing affordability.
The New South Wales election will be held on March 23. A Newspoll, conducted March 8-11 from a sample of 1,003, had a 50-50 tie, unchanged since late January. A uComms/ReachTEL poll for The Sun-Herald, conducted March 7 from a sample of 1,019, gave Labor a 51-49 lead, unchanged since the last NSW ReachTEL poll in late November.
Primary votes in ReachTEL were 28.7% Liberals (down 3.4%), 7.0% Nationals (up 2.6%), 34.1% Labor (steady), 9.6% Greens (steady), 5.6% One Nation (down 1.9%), 4.6% Shooters, Fishers and Farmers (up 1.3%), 5.8% for all Others (steady) and 4.7% undecided (up 1.6%). After excluding undecided, The Poll Bludger has primary votes of 37.5% Coalition, 35.8% Labor, 10.1% Greens, 5.9% One Nation and 4.8% Shooters.
The drop for the Liberals but gain for the Nationals suggests that the Coalition could perform relatively badly in Sydney, but better in the country. According to the ABC’s Antony Green, the Shooters will be contesting 25 of the 93 lower house seats, and One Nation just 12, so both parties’ support will be overstated in this statewide poll.
In Newspoll, primary votes were 40% Coalition (up one), 36% Labor (steady) and 10% Greens (steady). In the January NSW Newspoll, One Nation had 6%, but they have been excluded from the current poll as they are not contesting many seats. The exclusion of One Nation probably assisted the Coalition.
44% were satisfied with Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s performance in Newspoll (up three), and 38% were dissatisfied (down five), for a net approval of +6. Opposition Leader Michael Daley’s net approval improved seven points to -1. Berejiklian led Daley by 41-34 as better Premier (44-31 in January).
Daley led Berejiklian as better Premier in ReachTEL by 53.3-46.7 (54.2-45.8 in November). ReachTEL’s forced choice better PM/Premier questions are usually better for opposition leaders than other polls. Voters opposed the government’s plans for Sydney sports stadiums by 52-37. By 48-43, voters thought that Labor was not ready to govern.
There were two YouGov Galaxy seat polls for The Daily Telegraph conducted February 28. East Hills was tied at 50-50 (50.4-49.6 to Liberal in 2015). Ryde had a 53-47 Liberal lead (61.5-38.5 to Liberal in 2015). Last week, there was also a national Greenpeace ReachTEL poll that gave Labor a 53-47 lead by respondent preferences. You can read more about these polls on my personal website.
The Daily Telegraph has seat polls of Lismore and Barwon conducted last week from samples of 500-600 by YouGov Galaxy. In Barwon, the Nationals lead the Shooters by just 51-49; the Nationals won 62.9% vs Labor in 2015.
In Lismore, Labor leads the Nationals by 51-49 (50.2-49.8 to Nationals in 2015). Primary votes were 35% Nationals (42.5% in 2015), 28% Greens (26.4%) and 27% Labor (25.6%). Even though NSW uses optional preferential voting, primary votes changes suggest an easier win for one of the left parties than 51-49. Seat polls have been very unreliable at past elections.
From March 12-14, the UK House of Commons will vote on PM Theresa May’s Brexit deal, whether the UK should leave without a deal, on delaying Brexit beyond the scheduled March 29 exit date, and on an amendment that would lead to a second referednum. Votes will occur in the early morning March 13-15 Melbourne time.
You can read my preview of these votes on The Poll Bludger. On February 28, I had a more general article about Brexit published by The Poll Bludger, which explained Labour’s recent slump in the UK polls.
It may come as news to many people living in New South Wales, but there is a state election to be held on March 23. There has been little of the hullabaloo associated with elections, although I have noticed the occasional election poster in the front yards of houses as I walk along the street.
This may have something to do with the fact I live in a safe Labor electorate, or it may reflect the somewhat low key approach to politics taken by Premier Gladys Berejiklian, and the low profile of her rival, Labor leader Michael Daley.
Plus federal politics has been far more exciting, especially as high-level Liberals choose to leave in advance of the upcoming federal election.
This may give the impression the NSW state election is a somewhat mundane affair. Given the relatively robust state of the NSW economy, one might expect the Liberal-National Coalition will be re-elected.
Yes, they have been in office for eight years but, on the surface at least, they appear to have done little to arouse the ire of voters, especially voters in Sydney.
However, there is a good chance that, after the election, NSW will have some sort of minority government, with an outside chance of a Labor government.
This would have enormous ramifications for both the Liberal and the National parties. If, as seems very likely, they lose office in Canberra after the federal election, they could find themselves out of office not only federally but also in Australia’s three largest states.
In the 2016 federal election, it was the Liberal Party that was battered and lost seats while the National Party held its ground. Similarly, at the 2015 NSW state election, the Liberals lost 14 seats while the Nationals lost only one.
The current situation in the NSW Legislative Assembly (lower house) is that the Liberals hold 35 seats, the Nationals 16, the ALP 34, the Greens 3, Shooters, Fishers and Farmers 1, and Independents 3. The seat of Wollondilly is currently vacant but the Liberal Party faces a high profile independent.
In 2019, the expectation is that it will be the National Party that primarily will lose seats, thereby putting the NSW Coalition government majority at risk. Should the Coalition lose five seats, the current government will be reduced to minority status (a majority requires 47 seats). The Coalition holds seven seats with a margin of less than 3.5%, five of which are held by the Nationals, while Labor has four such seats.
ABC election analyst Antony Green has emphasised, however, it is almost impossible to predict the results of this election on the basis of a uniform swing. This is because electorates and their interests vary widely with regard to age, income, ethnic origin and interests.
The state is far from homogenous, and this is reflected in what policies find favour and where. It’s been reported that in Barwon, in the state’s far west, polls show the primary vote for the National Party has dropped from 49% in 2015 to 35%.
The Coalition government under Mike Baird attempted to implement two extremely unpopular policies in many rural areas: the amalgamation of small councils and the attempt to close down greyhound racing. Both policies may have seemed sensible to city dwellers, but they didn’t resonate with the bush.
In recent days, two issues have come to the fore. The Sydney Cricket Ground Trust and the demolition of Allianz Stadium. Fascinating as such matters may be to Sydney-siders, they are hardly issues of great import to the inhabitants of Dubbo or Grafton.
There has always been a tension between Sydney and the bush but it appears this tension has increased considerably since the 2015 election.
There are a number of reasons for this. In the case of Barwon, there is the impact of the drought and water issues, including the mass death of fish in the Darling River. The provision of health services is a perennial issue in rural NSW – what is just down the road in Sydney can often be a long drive if one lives in a small country town.
There appears to be a growing discontent in the bush, one that can be seen in by-elections over the past few years, including Orange, Murray, Cootamundra and Wagga. The Nationals lost Orange and experienced substantial swings against them in Cootamundra and Murray, while the Liberals lost Wagga to an independent. In 2019, the Nationals will be contesting Wagga on behalf of the Coalition.
It’s difficult to pin down this discontent in terms of specific policies – rather, it’s a matter of attitude. Gabrielle Chan’s book Rusted Off provides the best analysis of that attitude. At its root is a feeling of being taken for granted.
Chan, who lives near the town of Harden-Murrumburrah, believes the issue for many country people is that they know that the Nationals will always be the junior partner in a coalition with the Liberal Party.
Country voters are attached to the Nationals by a bond rooted in their identity. Where are they to go if the Nationals fail to deliver and become too subservient to their senior urban partners? By instinct they will not vote Labor.
Country people are, so to speak, caught in a bind. Chan puts it eloquently: “‘make it marginal’ should be the catch-cry of country electorates”.
If country voters are to “make it marginal”, then it will not be by supporting Labor because it goes against the grain. They also value independence. This means they look to independents and parties such as Fishers, Shooters and Farmers.
If Chan is correct, then what might very well determine the outcome of this election will not be disputes over particular policies but a desire to punish the National Party for what is perceived to be its neglect of the bush. It is simply a matter of respect.
Strangely enough, there’s a link between “Kevin07” as an electoral phenomenon and the recent successes of independents such as Kerryn Phelps (Wentworth), Cathy McGowan (Indi), and Rebekha Sharkie (Mayo). All three now hold once safe Coalition seats.
And the link is one that may prove influential in 2019, particularly for Zali Steggall, who is challenging Tony Abbott in Warringah.
As in the case of Kevin07, the formerly Coalition-friendly independents, which is also how Steggall positions herself, found a way of giving life-long centre-right voters permission to break ranks without feeling like they were being disloyal.
The aim is to present as essentially similar to the incumbent conservative, but better. Modernised. Updated.
The implicit message to voters was that it was their party that had left them, not the other way around.
Such a sentiment may be ripe for expression in Warringah which, while economically conservative, has emerged as demonstrably more progressive than its long-time MP, Abbott. The blue-ribbon jewel was among the most pro-equality electorates in the country in the 2017 postal survey.
Beaten only by Wentworth, the two inner-Sydney electorates were the leading Liberal-held “yes” seats in NSW.
And it is to these voters that new and fresh quasi-independent candidates like Steggall seek to speak – voters whose Liberal loyalties have been tested by Abbott’s blunt antipathy for social reform and particularly his denial of tough Australian action against global warming.
The trick is to be close, but not the same, and it has a record of working in conservative-minded electorates.
Underpinning Kevin Rudd’s defeat of John Howard in 2007 was a carefully calibrated reassurance that Howard’s Australia – in which political correctness had been demonised and social reform moved at a glacial pace – would continue even with a change to a Labor government.
Labor’s plan was to strip the election of the usual contrast between parties, reducing the choice before voters to John Howard or a kind of John Howard 2.0.
In a number of ways, Rudd presented as a prime ministerial simulacrum, updated but only where required to: prioritise “working families”, take faster action on climate change, and offer an exciting public investment bridge to the digital future (the NBN).
So successful was this unusual proposition, it tended to minimise other policy differences between the parties and neutralise the usual fear of change itself among cautious voters.
From a marketing perspective, it was daring given Rudd was in fact the leader of the opposing Labor Party.
Crucially, it sought simultaneously to share in the government’s credit for economic stewardship – moderate inflation, strong employment, and a healthy budget surplus again – while outflanking Howard on his right.
Of course there was more to the 2007 changeover than mere campaigning, not least being Howard’s odious industrial relations laws (WorkChoices), an inconvenient mid-campaign cash rate hike (to 6.75%), and simple fatigue after a dozen years of Coalition rule.
Even so, there’s no denying that with his lay-preacher persona, non-union background, and claim to be fiscally conservative, Rudd deftly positioned himself as the safe choice for those voters considering change but still concerned with budget discipline and creeping permissiveness.
Similar to Labor’s 2007 strategy, Phelps, McGowan and Sharkie have offered the tribally conservative voter a reduced-risk alternative to the status quo. Or, as some have coined it, “continuity through change”.
But there are also key differences. While Rudd promised measured economic modernisation in a socially-conservative manifesto – opposing same-sex marriage, for example – the new breed of once-were-Liberals flip that around.
They tend to emphasise the low tax, pro-business instincts of conservatives, but are more left-leaning on social policy and the environment. This turns out to reflect much of the electorate also – including many Liberal voters.
It’s a formula with a particular piquancy now given 2019 marks ten years since Tony Abbott rolled Malcolm Turnbull for the Liberal leadership over emissions trading.
An acrimonious decade on, and with no government climate or energy policy to speak of, voters’ patience has been strained to breaking point. The endless point-scoring and division has nudged moderately inclined Liberals within the grasp of new independents.
Fittingly, these events are coming to a head most threateningly for the government in Abbott’s own stronghold of Warringah.
Abbott’s vulnerability turns on three things: the standing of the Morrison government come polling day (which may or may not have improved), the campaign prowess of the Steggall operation (unknown), and the extent of declining loyalty by once solid supporters in his electorate. All are in flux.
Steggall’s threshold objective must be to drive Abbott’s primary vote south of 45%. That will not be easy. In 2016, his primary vote tanked by some 9% but he still managed to hold the seat without need for second preferences at 51.65%.
Still, if the zeitgeist is any guide, Steggall’s presentation as “the Liberal for the future against the Liberal for the past” will be appealing to those voters peeved at Abbott’s undermining of Turnbull and specifically the right-wing insurgency against the government’s National Energy Guarantee.
It could also resonate strongly with Liberal backers who were appalled at Abbott’s starring, if roundly ineffective, campaign against marriage equality.
Despite its unwavering support for Abbott through nine elections, Warringah voted “yes” to legalising same-sex marriage at the rate of 75% compared to the national rate of 62%. It even exceeded support in the most progressive jurisdiction – the ACT.
Steggall’s backers believe Abbott’s famous resistance to a reform his constituents found uncontroversial will prove it is his failure to move with the times that will force them to move their votes.
This week’s Newspoll, conducted January 24-27 from a sample of 1,630, gave Labor a 53-47 lead, a two-point gain for the Coalition since the last Newspoll in early December. Primary votes were 38% Labor (down three), 37% Coalition (up two), 9% Greens (steady) and 6% One Nation (down one). This is the equal closest Newspoll result since Scott Morrison replaced Malcolm Turnbull as PM.
Despite the Coalition’s improvement on voting intentions, Morrison’s ratings went backwards. 40% were satisfied with him (down two), and 47% were dissatisfied (up two), for a net rating of -7, Morrison’s second worst. Bill Shorten’s net approval was up two points to -13. While still poor, this is Shorten’s equal best Newspoll net approval since May 2016. Morrison led Shorten by 43-36 as better PM (44-36 in December).
Since replacing Turnbull in August 2018, Morrison’s ratings have been better than we would expect given voting intentions, as voters gave him a personal “honeymoon”. In this Newspoll, Morrison’s net approval of -7 is very close to the Coalition’s voting intentions deficit of six points. In the future, Morrison’s ratings are likely to be more correlated with voting intentions.
The last Newspoll was taken after the final parliamentary week of 2018, when there was much media focus on politics. The lack of media attention on politics since mid-December may have assisted the Coalition. Analyst Kevin Bonham says Newspolls taken in December and January tend to be better for governments.
As the graph above shows, the incumbent government’s polling has tanked in February, when the media refocuses on politics. With the election due in May, the Coalition will need to avoid this February slump.
Housing prices have continued to fall. The NAB business survey had business conditions falling from +13 in November to +2 in December. The Westpac consumer survey had sentiment slumping from 104.4 in December to 99.6 in January.
Somewhat countering these gloomy economic reports, the ABS reported on January 24 that almost 22,000 jobs were added in December, and the unemployment rate fell 0.1% to 5.0%. The Australian stock market has gained in January, reversing much of December’s falls.
To make up for the likely loss of voters with a high level of educational attainment (see the seat polls below), the Coalition needs a strong economy to attract working class voters. A weaker economy is likely to help Labor.
The Poll Bludger has details of recent ReachTEL polls of the Victorian federal seats of Higgins and Flinders, and a Newspoll of the Queensland seat of Herbert. All three polls were conducted January 24 from samples of 500-700. The Higgins poll was conducted for supporters of Peter Costello and the Flinders poll for the CFMMEU.
In Flinders, held by Greg Hunt, Labor led by 51-49, an eight-point swing to Labor since the 2016 election. In Higgins, held by the retiring Kelly O’Dwyer, Labor led by 52-48, a 13-point swing to Labor. In Herbert, which Labor barely won in 2016, they led by 51-49, a one-point swing to Labor.
In 2016, the Greens finished second in Higgins, ahead of Labor. In the Higgins poll, after excluding 8.4% undecided, the Liberals have 40.3% of the primary vote, Labor 27.1% and the Greens 19.3%. Full primary votes in Flinders were not reported.
In Herbert, primary votes were 32% Labor (30.5% in 2016), 32% LNP (35.5%), 9% One Nation (13.5%), 8% Katter’s Australian Party (6.9%), 8% for Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party and 7% Greens (6.3%). Palmer’s advertising campaign appears to have had an impact in Herbert. However, respondents expressed a negative, rather than a positive, view of Palmer by 65-24.
Seat polls are notoriously unreliable, but the big swings in Flinders and Higgins could reflect voters with high levels of educational attainment turning against the federal Coalition. I wrote on my personal website in August that these voters likely far preferred Turnbull to Morrison.
The New South Wales election will be held on March 23. A Newspoll, conducted January 25-29 from a sample of 1,010, had a 50-50 tie, unchanged from the last NSW Newspoll in March 2018. Primary votes were 39% Coalition (up one), 36% Labor (up two), 10% Greens (down one) and 6% One Nation (down two).
This poll suggests movement back to the Coalition after a YouGov Galaxy poll and a ReachTEL poll in late November gave Labor leads of 52-48 and 51-49 respectively. YouGov Galaxy is the pollster that conducts Newspoll.
41% were satisfied with Premier Gladys Berejiklian (down four since March 2018) and 43% were dissatisfied (up eight), for a net approval of -2, down 12 points. Michael Daley’s debut ratings as opposition leader were 41% dissatisfied, 33% satisfied. Berejiklian led Daley by 44-31 as better Premier.
On Tuesday, the UK House of Commons voted on several amendments that could have either delayed the Brexit date beyond March 29, or led to a second referendum on Brexit. All these amendments were defeated by at least 20 votes. The Commons rejected a “no deal” Brexit by eight votes, but this is only a motion that has no legislative force.
To appease her Conservative party’s right wing, PM Theresa May supported an amendment that requires alternative arrangements for the contentious Northern Ireland “backstop”. The Commons agreed to this amendment by a 16-vote margin, but it is very unlikely to be acceptable to the European Union.
Tuesday’s votes make it more likely that the UK will leave the European Union on March 29, with or without a deal. You can read about why I think a “no deal” Brexit is a plausible outcome on my personal website.