This week’s federal Newspoll, conducted August 5-8 from a sample of 1,509, gave the Coalition a 52-48 lead, a one-point gain for Labor since the last Newspoll, three weeks ago. Primary votes were 43% Coalition (down one), 33% Labor (down one), 11% Greens (up one) and 4% One Nation (steady). Figures from The Poll Bludger.
68% (steady) were satisfied with Scott Morrison’s performance, and 29% (up two) were dissatisfied, for a net approval of +39, just off Morrison’s record +41 in the last two Newspolls.
Anthony Albanese’s net approval improved two points to +3. Despite these slight movements against Morrison and favouring Albanese, Morrison’s better PM lead widened to 60-25 from 59-26 three weeks ago.
So far the Victorian Labor government is taking the blame for the coronavirus crisis. Three weeks ago, Newspoll polled the ratings of NSW Liberal Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Victorian Labor Premier Daniel Andrews. 57% were satisfied with Andrews and 37% were dissatisfied for a net approval of +20, down 20 points since late June. Berejiklian’s net approval also slid eight points to +34, with 64% satisfied and 30% dissatisfied.
As long as the Victorian government is blamed for the new coronavirus surge, while the federal government escapes blame, it is likely the federal Coalition will maintain its poll lead.
On Sunday, SA Senator Rex Patrick announced he was leaving Centre Alliance and would continue in the Senate as an independent.
After the 2019 election, the Coalition held 35 of the 76 senators, Labor 26, the Greens nine, One Nation two, Centre Alliance two and Cory Bernardi and Jacqui Lambie one each. In January, Bernardi resigned from the Senate, and his seat reverted to the Liberals.
Before Patrick left Centre Alliance, the Coalition’s easiest path to the 39 votes required to pass legislation opposed by Labor and the Greens was to win support from One Nation and one of Centre Alliance or Lambie.
Now the Coalition has an extra option if they win One Nation’s support, needing just one out of Lambie, Patrick or Centre Alliance.
The Queensland election will be held on October 31. A Newspoll, conducted July 23-29 from a sample of 1,000, gave the LNP a 51-49 lead. Primary votes were 38% LNP, 34% Labor, 12% Greens and 11% One Nation.
This poll was branded as Newspoll, but Newspoll is conducted by YouGov. A YouGov poll in early June gave the LNP a 52-48 lead from primary votes of 38% LNP, 32% Labor, 12% Greens and 12% One Nation.
Despite the LNP lead on voting intentions, Labor Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk’s ratings improved from the late June premiers’ Newspoll. 64% (up five) were satisfied with her performance, and 29% (down six) were dissatisfied, for a net approval of +35. Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington was at 34% satisfied, 42% dissatisfied. Palaszczuk led as better premier by 57-26.
Both Palaszczuk and Morrison had great results on handling coronavirus, with Palaszczuk at 81% well, 14% badly and Morrison at 80% well, 17% badly.
This section is an updated version of an article I had published for The Poll Bludger last Friday.
In the FiveThirtyEight poll aggregate, Donald Trump’s ratings with all polls are 41.4% approve, 54.7% disapprove (net -13.3%). With polls of registered or likely voters, Trump’s ratings are 42.0% approve, 54.4% disapprove (net -12.4%). Since my article three weeks ago, Trump’s net approval has improved about two points.
Less than three months before the November 3 election, FiveThirtyEight’s national aggregate has Joe Biden’s lead narrowing to a 49.9% to 42.1% margin over Trump, from a 50.3% to 41.2% margin three weeks ago.
In the key states, Biden leads by 7.8% in Michigan, 7.3% in Wisconsin, 6.0% in Pennsylvania, 5.2% in Florida and 3.6% in Arizona.
On current polling, Pennsylvania is the tipping-point state. If Trump wins all states more favourable for him than Pennsylvania, and Biden wins Pennsylvania and other states that are better for him, Biden wins the Electoral College by 278 Electoral Votes to 260. But the issue for Biden is that Pennsylvania is currently 1.8% more pro-Trump than the national average.
Trump’s gains come despite a coronavirus death toll that has trended up to over 1,000 daily deaths on most days. There have been over 160,000 US coronavirus deaths. However, the daily new cases have dropped into the 50,000’s from a peak of over 78,000 on July 24.
I believe Trump has gained owing to memories of George Floyd’s murder fading, and thus race relations becoming less important to voters. An improving economic outlook could also explain the poll movement.
Despite the coronavirus’ effect on the US economy, Trump’s economic approval is close to a net zero rating according to the RealClearPolitics average. Analyst Nate Silver says real disposable personal income increased sharply in April, contrary to what occurs in most recessions. This increase was due to the coronavirus stimulus, and explains Trump’s better economic ratings.
In the RealClearPolitics Senate map, Republicans lead in 46 races, Democrats lead in 45 and there are nine toss-ups. If toss-up races are assigned to the current leader, Democrats lead by 51 to 49. If Trump’s numbers continue to improve, Republicans are likely to be boosted in congressional races.
Owing to coronavirus, much of the US election will be conducted by mail voting. Trump has been castigating mail voting, and this could depress Republican mail turnout. But there is a danger for Biden and Democrats in Trump’s attacks.
As Cook Political Report analyst Dave Wasserman says, mail votes can be rejected owing to voter error. Also, while there are some states that conduct elections mostly by mail, the US as a whole does not. This means there could be errors such as voters not being sent their ballot papers in time.
If Republicans mostly vote in person, while Democrats mostly vote by mail, it is likely to distort the election night results as mail votes usually take longer to count. Furthermore, mail errors, whether by election officials or voters, are likely to cost Democrats in close races.
If Trump could get within five points in national polls, his advantage in the Electoral College and the mail issue could see him sneak another win.
After the terrible US April jobs report, the last three have indicated a clear recovery trend from coronavirus. In July, 1.8 million jobs were created and the unemployment rate fell 0.9% to 10.2%. The unemployment rate is still high by historical standards, but much better than the 14.7% in April.
Job gains in July slowed from 4.8 million in June and 2.7 million in May. The employment population ratio – the percentage of eligible Americans employed – increased 0.5% in July to 55.1%, but is still over 3% below the 58.2% low reached in the aftermath of the global financial crisis.
On July 28, I wrote for The Poll Bludger that a New Zealand Reid Research poll gave Labour a thumping 61% to 25% lead over the opposition National. A Colmar Brunton poll, released after the Poll Bludger article was published, gave Labour a 53% to 32% lead.
Americans were alarmed last week when their president suggested on Twitter that the November 3 presidential election should be delayed because mail-in ballots would be fraudulent.
The president has no authority to change the date of an election. The US Constitution gives that power to Congress alone, and Republicans in Congress, including Senate leader Mitch McConnell, quickly dismissed any possibility of delay.
[…] an incendiary and absurd idea unworthy of being spoken — or even thought — by a president of the United States.
But the real danger here isn’t the possibility that Trump would delay the election, which his own allies won’t allow. It is his campaign to delegitimise the election in advance.
Trump has long made baseless complaints about voter fraud to cast doubt on election results. Throughout 2016 as he trailed Hillary Clinton in the polls, he repeatedly said the election would be “rigged”. Even after he won in the electoral college, he insisted he also would have won the popular vote but for ““millions of people who voted illegally”.
Unlike his ideas about delaying the election, Trump’s claims about widespread voter fraud have significant traction on the right. For years conservative activists have used vastly exaggerated claims about voter fraud to justify measures that suppress minority turnout.
With his standing in the polls again precarious, mail-in ballots have become the latest targets of Trump’s obsession with “fraudulent” voting, despite the fact he and 15 other members of his White House staff have recently voted by mail.
Two-thirds of voters support increased availability of mail voting to ensure safety during the pandemic. Both Republican and Democratic states have moved to expand access to mail voting. Trump has responded with completely unsupported assertions that foreign governments could forge mail ballots en masse.
A genuine problem is that a greatly increased volume of mail ballots could overwhelm the postal service. This already happened in the primaries. In some states large numbers of votes had to be discarded because they arrived after the election.
There are currently endemic delays in the United States Postal Service resulting from cost-cutting measures introduced last month by new Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a Trump fundraiser. These measures are supposed to deal with a longstanding “financial crisis” in the USPS.
This crisis is itself a political creation. It has its origin in punitive legislation from 2006 forcing the USPS to fully fund its pensions 75 years in advance. No other business in America faces this requirement.
The day after Trump’s “delay the election?” tweet he had another tweet that got less blowback but was nearly as ominous.
While some states like Colorado developed fast and efficient systems for processing mail ballots, in other states, including Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, outdated technology and legislation hamper the count.
Usually, the expansion of mail voting does not affect either party’s share of the turnout or vote. But Trump’s campaign against mail voting may create serious partisan imbalances in modes of voting as Republicans refuse mail ballots on principle. If mail voting leans Democratic while in-person voting leans Republican, election night results in some states could change significantly as mail ballots are counted for days afterwards.
But other commentators, noting his long record of unfulfilled threats, say Trump is unlikely to try to “steal” the election by refusing to leave office (as Joe Biden suggested he might). While Trump’s Republican allies have generally stuck with him throughout his numerous assaults on democratic norms, their reactions to his “delay” tweet show there are limits to what they will tolerate when it comes to attacks on the peaceful transition of power.
If Trump loses narrowly, the problem may not be removing him from office. It may be a further deepening of political polarisation in the United States. There have been partisan attacks on the legitimacy of the last four presidents. Trump could become a new “lost cause” figure whose supporters never accept his defeat and whose “betrayal” accelerates right-wing radicalism in the Republican Party.
Biden has a good chance of winning the election, but his chances of restoring “normality” are a lot worse.
Papua New Guinea
In what seems to be a common occurrence, Chinese video-sharing app TikTok is once again in the headlines.
After months of speculation about national security risks and users’ data being harvested by the Chinese Communist Party, US President Donald Trump has announced plans to ban TikTok in the United States any day now.
In response, a deal is being negotiated between TikTok’s parent company ByteDance and US software giant Microsoft. If successful, Microsoft will take over the app’s operations in the US and potentially also in Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
A US ban would not be unprecedented. India barred TikTok last month, alongside dozens of other Chinese-owned apps and websites.
According to reports, ByteDance has agreed to sell some of its TikTok operations to Microsoft. The deal, which is unlikely to progress before mid-September, would appease US regulators and could be seen as a way forward for TikTok in Australia.
Microsoft has indicated any takeover would include a complete security review and an offer of:
… continuing dialogue with the United States government, including with the president.
Moving ownership to a US company could help address concerns surrounding the perceived influence of the Chinese government over TikTok. But there will need to be strong oversight to ensure existing user data is transferred entirely to Microsoft’s control.
While Microsoft has pledged to ensure TikTok data are deleted “from servers outside the country after it is transferred” – it would be difficult to prove copies had not been made before control was handed over.
What’s more, a Microsoft-owned TikTok may not appeal to everyone. Some may think Microsoft is too closely tied to the US government, or may consider it a monopoly holder in the personal computing market.
Also, it would be naive to think foreign governments will not be able to covertly access US-stored user data, if they are so inclined.
Should the deal go ahead, it may open an opportunity for the Australian and New Zealand governments to align with a US-supported initiative.
Australia is still deciding how to proceed, with the Senate Select Committee on Foreign Interference through Social Media due to hear from TikTok representatives on August 21. The committee has been tasked to look at the influence of social media on elections and the use of such platforms to distribute misinformation.
TikTok won’t be alone though – Facebook and Twitter are both due to attend. It is, however, unlikely the Microsoft acquisition will have much influence on the proceedings as the deal is still in the early days of discussion.
Microsoft’s acquisition may introduce fresh concerns about the US government’s influence over TikTok. Although, this is perhaps more politically palatable than potential Chinese government influence over the app – given the Chinese Communist Party’s unsavoury record of privacy abuses.
Perhaps the only winner from the deal would be ByteDance itself. A product that is increasingly disliked by foreign governments will only become harder to sell with time. It would make sense for ByteDance to cash out its asset sooner rather than later.
The deal would also likely earn it a significant payout, given TikTok’s millions of users.
Despite ongoing allegations, there is no solid evidence of a threat to either national security or personal data from using TikTok. Many of the concerns hinge on data sovereignty – specifically, where data are stored and who can use and access them.
TikTok has responded to allegations by stating its user data are not stored in China and are not subject to Chinese government influence or access.
That said, while TikTok user data may well be stored outside China, it is unclear whether the Chinese government has already secured access, or will seek to do so later through legal channels.
There are, however, other potential issues that may be driving the US’s concerns.
For instance, in 2018 an unexpected consequence of sharing fitness tracker data through the Strava website inadvertently revealed the locations of secret US military bases.
Thus, services such as TikTok which are meant to be relatively benign (if used ethically) can, under certain circumstances, present unexpected threats to national security. This may explain why Australia’s defence forces have banned the app.
Threats from the US against TikTok are not new.
However, in regards to Trump’s most recent threat, one contributing factor may be the personal feelings of the president himself.
A number of TikTok users reserved tickets to the Trump rally and didn’t show up, as a protest against the president. The rally saw only a few thousand supporters attend, out of hundreds of thousands of allocated tickets.