Poll wrap: Newspoll not all bad news for Turnbull as Coalition’s position improves



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A big difference between the losing streaks of Malcolm Turnbull and former PM Tony Abbott is that Abbott often trailed Shorten as better PM, while Turnbull has always led Shorten.
AAP/Brendan Esposito

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

This week’s Newspoll, conducted April 5-8 from a sample of 1,600, gave Labor a 52-48 lead, a one-point gain for the Coalition since last fortnight. Primary votes were 38% Coalition (up one), 37% Labor (down two), 10% Greens (up one) and 7% One Nation (steady).

This was Malcolm Turnbull’s 30th successive Newspoll loss, matching Tony Abbott’s streak before Turnbull ousted him as Liberal leader and PM in September 2015. Famously, Turnbull justified moving against Abbott partly because of the Newspoll losses.

Turnbull’s ratings were 32% satisfied (down one) and 57% dissatisfied (steady), for a net approval of -25. Bill Shorten’s net approval fell five points to -25. Turnbull led Shorten by 38-36 as better PM (39-36 previously).




Read more:
Government loses 30th consecutive Newspoll, despite slight improvement


A big difference between the losing streaks of Turnbull and Abbott is that Abbott often trailed Shorten as better PM, while Turnbull has always led Shorten.

On best Liberal leader, 28% preferred Turnbull (down two since early February), 27% Julie Bishop (up one), 13% Abbott (steady) and 9% Peter Dutton (up two). Coalition voters gave Turnbull 46%, Bishop 22%, Abbott 15% and Dutton 7%. Abbott and Dutton performed best with One Nation voters.

By 55-27, voters thought the 30 Newspoll losses demonstrated a failure of Turnbull’s leadership.

On best Labor leader, 24% preferred Shorten (up two since early February), 23% Tanya Plibersek (down two) and 23% Anthony Albanese (down one). Labor voters gave Shorten 36%, Plibersek 27% and Albanese 22%. Plibersek now leads Shorten by 33-26 with Greens voters (43-18 previously).

There was little change in Turnbull’s ratings on nine leaders’ attributes since early December. Shorten’s ratings increased six points on “arrogant” and four points on “has a vision for Australia”.

By 50-41, voters supported Australia becoming a republic (51-38 in August 2017). If Prince Charles becomes King, support rises to 55-35 (55-34 previously).

Other than the 30 Newspoll losses, this was not a good poll for Labor. Labor’s primary vote was down two points, and the total Labor/Greens vote fell back one point to 47%, after breaking out of a long run of 47% support last fortnight.

The Coalition has tended to do better under Turnbull when Parliament is not sitting. The fading of the Barnaby Joyce scandal and the big company tax cuts as issues may explain the Coalition’s gains.

Former Nielsen pollster John Stirton wrote in the Fairfax papers that the new Newspoll, which is conducted by Galaxy Research and uses online and robopolling methods, is far less volatile than the old Newspoll, a landline-based live phone poll. The new Newspoll started in mid-2015, and the Coalition’s chances of getting a tie by luck have been greatly reduced.

However, it is not just Newspoll that has the Coalition continuously behind. Until a 50-50 tie in Ipsos’ respondent-allocated preferencing method (see below), the Coalition had trailed in every poll conducted since September 2016, apart from a short-lived YouGov series that published polls in the second half of 2017.

Although both left-wing and far-right partisans would like to see Turnbull dumped, Turnbull has led Abbott by an overwhelming margin in every poll in which voters are asked to compare the two. In a June 2017 ReachTEL poll, voters favoured Turnbull over Abbott as Liberal leader by a 68-32 margin.

Ipsos: 52-48 to Labor

A Fairfax Ipsos poll, conducted April 3-5 from a sample of 1,166, gave Labor a 52-48 lead, a one-point gain for the Coalition since early December 2017. Primary votes were 36% Coalition (up two), 34% Labor (up one), 12% Greens (down one) and 8% One Nation.

Ipsos is the only live phone pollster left in Australia; all other polls use robopolling or online methods. Ipsos gives the Greens higher support than other polls, at the expense of Labor.

Turnbull’s ratings were 47% approve (up five), and 43% disapprove (steady). Ipsos gives Turnbull better ratings than other pollsters, particularly Newspoll. Shorten’s net approval was -15, down one point. Turnbull led Shorten by 52-31 as better PM (48-31 previously). By 62-28, voters thought Turnbull should remain Liberal leader.

By 49-40, voters supported cutting the company tax rate from 30% to 25% over the next ten years. Two weeks ago, ReachTEL had voters opposed to tax cuts for big companies by 56-29.




Read more:
Poll wrap: Labor maintains its lead as voters reject company tax cuts; wins on redrawn boundaries


In March 2017, tax cuts were passed for companies with turnover of up to $50 million a year. The government is now trying to pass cuts for companies with more than $50 million in turnover. Since these are big companies, I think ReachTEL’s question is better than Ipsos’.

Essential: 53-47 to Labor

This week’s Essential poll, conducted April 5-8 from a sample of 1,033, gave Labor a 53-47 lead, a one-point gain for Labor since last fortnight. Primary votes were 38% Coalition (steady), 37% Labor (up one), 10% Greens (up one) and 7% One Nation (down one).

Primary votes in Essential are the same as in Newspoll, but Newspoll’s two party result is better for the Coalition. Newspoll is now assuming that One Nation preferences flow to the Coalition at about a 65% rate, consistent with the November 2017 Queensland election. Essential continues to assume the Coalition will win just half of One Nation’s preferences.

Turnbul’s net approval in Essential was -3, down one point since March. Shorten’s net approval was -8, also down one point. Turnbull led Shorten by 41-26 as better PM, unchanged since March.

Shorten’s ratings on being a capable leader and good in a crisis increased five points since June 2017, and he had four-point increases on “visionary” and “more honest than most politicians”. Turnbull’s ratings dropped four points on “arrogant” and “aggressive”.

There were two double digit differences between the two leaders: Turnbull led by 15 points on “intelligent” and by 13 points on “out of touch”.

On best Liberal leader, Turnbull had 24% (up three since December), Bishop 17% (down two), Abbott 11% (up one) and Dutton just 3% (down one). Among Coalition voters, Turnbull had 45%, Abbott 17%, Bishop 13% and Dutton 4%.

37% thought the government should prioritise renewable energy over coal, 13% thought they should prioritise coal over renewable energy, and 35% thought the government should treat both industries equally.

Far-right Hungarian government re-elected in landslide

The Hungarian election was held on Sunday. There were a total of 199 seats, with 106 elected using first past the post, and the remaining 93 by proportional representation.

Hungarian PM Viktor Orbán’s far-right Fidesz won 48.5% of the vote, and 134 of the 199 seats. Another far-right party, Jobbik, was second with 19.5% and 25 seats, while the social-democratic MSZP won just 12.3% and 20 seats – their worst result since 1990.

The ConversationFidesz’s vote was up 3.2% since the 2014 election, and they won 91 of the 106 first past the post seats.

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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View from the hill: An ugly set of numbers triggers havoc in the Turnbull government


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Barnaby Joyce, a National, hasn’t a vote for the Liberal leadership. But he’s a man of opinions and now he’s on the backbench there are no restraints on his expressing them.

On Monday night, amid the feeding frenzy over Newspoll, Joyce declared that if, as Christmas approached, polling indicated Turnbull was heading to electoral defeat, he should call it quits. There was an obligation “not to drive your party or the government off a cliff,” he told Sky.

A new unhelpful spot fire erupted into flame.

With the fateful 30th Newspoll finally out there, the government on Monday descended into an orgy of destructive self-indulgence. It was a collective performance made up of individual bitterness, tactical misjudgement, and plain ill-discipline. Just the sort of thing to further disgust a public already turned off by the shambles of Canberra.

For Abbott, Monday was the occasion for the primal scream. It might be two-and-a-half years since Turnbull seized his job, but the former prime minister’s pain hasn’t abated a jot, nor his sense of what he sees as the injustice delivered to him.

As he pedalled through the Latrobe Valley, Abbott told 2GB it was for Turnbull to explain why the 30 lost Newspolls measure that he invoked in his 2015 challenge “applied to me but shouldn’t apply now.”

And then there were the other points Turnbull had raised back then – about the need to restore cabinet government, and the lack of an economic narrative.

“Well, I ran a perfectly orthodox cabinet government”, Abbott insisted; as
for having no clear economic narrative, “I completely reject that. There was a very, very clear economic narrative under my government.” For good measure, he threw in a defence of the 2014 budget – which in fact began his political demise.

On the policy front, he topped his call for the government to build a coal-fired power station by suggesting it should nationalise the Liddell power plant, owned by AGL, which is resisting selling to another company despite sustained bullying from the government.

Given everyone knew Abbott would be grabbing the spotlight after Monday’s Newspoll, the government had to make a tactical judgement about how best to counter.

It could keep a low profile, with minimal prime ministerial and ministerial appearances. While that would give maximum room to Abbott, it would also avoid further fanning the poll story. Or Turnbull and his ministers could confront the bad poll day full on. That was the course chosen – and it was hard to see the sense of it.

Ministers were out everywhere, backing Turnbull. That just gave the impression that his leadership was in need of protection, despite there being no challenge.

In a round of media appearances, Turnbull said (for the umpteenth time) that he regretted citing Newspoll, declared he had the backing of his colleagues, and submitted himself to some humiliation.

On 2GB, Ben Fordham announced he had invited listeners to say what he should ask Turnbull. “I hate to tell you PM: the overriding response was, ‘when will you resign?’” Fordham told his guest, with the cameras looking on.

“Oh really,” Turnbull said. “Well, well the answer is I’m not, I am not. I am going to go to the next election and win it”.

Then there was Wayne on the talkback line. “I’m a rusted on Liberal and you’ve taken the party – you nearly lost the unlosable election. I find you politically inept, and basically you’ve taken the party in my view too far to the left and I think you should do the honourable thing and resign, put it to a party vote because quite frankly if we go to an election with you we are doomed as a party”.

“Well thanks Wayne for the advice,” said the PM. “I don’t propose to take it, however.” Turnbull then went on to invite Wayne to tell him how he had taken the party to the left, and argue the toss with him.

Now one can say it’s admirable that a leader gets out and deals with criticisms. But Monday didn’t seem the day for maximum exposure.

Or for canvassing long-term leadership ambitions, as did Peter Dutton. “I think people are best to be honest about their ambitions”, the Home Affairs minister told 3AW. His comments were in the context of reaffirming his loyalty to Turnbull and were not new, but such candour just set off another spot fire of questioning, that soon reached Josh Frydenberg and Scott Morrison, both of whom acknowledged the batons in their knapsacks.

The ConversationThe 30th Newspoll was destined to be difficult. Abbott was determined to make it so. Joyce is a loose cannon. But the strategy adopted by Turnbull – for he and his ministers to try to control the story by swarming all over it – simply made him a bigger target. It displayed a lack of political nous but also suggested he is feeling more than a little rattled by the situation in which he finds himself.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Barnaby Joyce criticises lack of results on power prices as winter approaches


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce says he would be “100%” behind the government constructing coal-fired power stations if that would lower the price of electricity.

“My exasperation is that we have been talking about cheaper power and nothing is happening. No government has dealt with the power issue in a form that has brought down the price over the medium-to-longer term,” he told The Conversation on Tuesday. “The carbon tax’s removal brought it down only briefly.”

One of the signatories of the Coalition backbench Monash Forum’s call for the government to build “Hazelwood 2.0”, Joyce described his support for the group’s manifesto as “like signing a birthday card”, adding: “It would have been more surprising if I didn’t sign it”.

“I want cheaper power prices in country areas for the poor people who can’t afford it. Winter is coming,” he said.

He said the government building a coal-fired power station would be consistent with its planned investment in Snowy 2.0 and its regulatory support for renewable energy.

The public push on coal by the backbench group is being made in the run up to the Coalition’s expected 30th consecutive Newspoll loss.

It is being seen as another hit at Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership. Among those prominent in the group are Tony Abbott and his close allies Kevin Andrews and Eric Abetz. But Joyce stressed that “for me, it’s not about Malcolm’s leadership. It’s about power prices.”

The manifesto has been signed by several Nationals. While signatories may have different motives, some backbenchers have reportedly refused to put their names to it because of the implications and timing for Turnbull.

The name “Monash Forum” refers to first world war general John Monash, who subsequently headed the State Electricity Commission of Victoria, spearheading the development of the Latrobe Valley coal reserves and power industry. Some signatories would have preferred a plainer name.

The manifesto says: “If the government can intervene to build Snowy 2.0, why not intervene to build Hazelwood 2.0 on the site of the coal-fired power station in Victoria that is now being dismantled?

“All the transmission infrastructure already exists; all the environmental permits have already been obtained; and a new, low-emissions coal-fired power station can certainly be built for no more than A$4 billion.”

Turnbull has trumpeted the expansion of the Snowy scheme as one of his big policy initiatives.

Backing coal-fired power has been among the issues Abbott has strongly promoted from the backbench. He said last August: “If we are prepared to go ahead with pumped hydro, and we are neutral on technology, we should certainly be prepared to go ahead with a new coal-fired power station”.

Last week, launching Pauline Hanson’s book, he was highlighting that “we should build new coal-fired power stations”.

The backbench push coincides with the government working to bed down with the states and territories its National Energy Guarantee. This effort has been helped by the recent win by the Liberals in South Australia. The policy is described as “a technology-neutral approach that does not provide direct subsidies to renewables or any other particular technology, creating a level playing field for all energy sources”.

Turnbull said on Tuesday the guarantee “provides every incentive for the energy sector to invest in dispatchable power”.

“[For] those who are concerned that there should be more investment in coal -fired power stations, the [guarantee] puts a premium on dispatchability, 24/7 power. Now coal can obviously provide that, so can gas, so can hydro, so can other technologies.”

Asked whether it was a slight to his leadership that the Monash Forum was formed rather than the normal policy channels followed, Turnbull said the National Energy Guarantee had been endorsed by “the whole Coalition partyroom”.

Tony Wood, energy program director at the Grattan Institute, said it seemed like an extraordinary approach for members of a Coalition government that had championed markets and the private sector to be advocating going back to a nationalised system.

It also seemed highly unlikely that a coal-fired power station would be a commercial investment for the government. “The longer-term prospect of the investment providing a return to taxpayers would be remote. So it would be writing off a relatively new asset in a relatively short time. It would be a highly questionable use of public funds.”

Private investors were not going into new coal-fired power stations because they did not see a prospect of them making money, Wood said.

“It may very well be that keeping existing stations going longer would be justified but that would be relatively modest expenditure,” he said.

Wood said that to lower prices to consumers it would be more cost-effective to give them refunds – although he wasn’t advocating that.

The Conversation“A well-designed NEG, or an equivalent, that provides clear policy on emissions reduction and values reliability will provide the best policy framework to deliver efficient new investment in affordable energy,” Wood said.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

McCormack has tough task to match Barnaby Joyce’s 2016 electoral gold standard


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

One man’s disaster is another man’s serendipity. If Barnaby Joyce hadn’t fallen spectacularly, Michael McCormack, 53, the new deputy prime minister, would likely never have become the Nationals’ leader.

In the normal course of events, by the time Joyce had moved on the party probably would have been ready for generational change – for example, to Queenslander David Littleproud, 41, who counted the numbers at the weekend but found he did not have enough for a tilt at the leadership on Monday.

Littleproud, a former agri-banker who was elevated by Joyce in December from the backbench to cabinet, potentially had as many as eight or nine out of the 21 Nationals, according to his supporters.

McCormack, the one-time editor of a regional newspaper who holds the New South Wales seat of Riverina and was a junior minister, comes to the top job with no blood on his hands, and with the Nationals knowing it is in their interests to get solidly behind him ahead of a difficult election next year. Those are significant advantages.

On the other hand, McCormack faces an uphill and possibly hazardous path, as he tries to establish himself within the government – where he’s unlikely to be a Joyce-type squeaky wheel and so could lose battles – and in regional Australia.

Joyce set the electoral gold standard for the Nationals at the 2016 election. When Turnbull was losing multiple seats the Nationals kept all theirs (and took one from the Liberals).

To replicate this or come close, McCormack must project the Nationals as having a distinct identity and relevance, and to cut through with their messages.

As one Nationals source puts it, when the Liberals are in the ascendant, as in 2013, the Nationals can ride on their coat-tails. But when the major partner is struggling, as in 2016 (and likely in 2019), it’s vital for the Nationals to distance themselves and establish their own pitch for support.

For all that Joyce’s position was untenable and his resignation a relief for the government, most of the Nationals – apart from Joyce’s known enemies – lament what they’ve lost. They recognise that even if McCormack proves a good leader he will never resonate in the bush the way Joyce has in the past (how he will in the future, after everything that’s happened, remains to be seen).

McCormack will need to work especially hard in Queensland, a state vital to the Nationals at the election (and where the Liberals and Nationals are formally joined in the Liberal National Party). Joyce was uniquely placed – a sort of dual citizen, the cheeky might say, who holds a NSW seat but previously was a Queensland senator.

Even after he moved to NSW, the Nationals from Queensland still saw Joyce as one of them. They had him there in the Queensland election, which was on when he was fighting his New England byelection. McCormack doesn’t enjoy such a convenient dual identity.

It will be important for McCormack to establish a good relationship with Littleproud, who’s well placed to help with the formidable task of Queensland campaigning. Those who know Littleproud say he is by nature loyal and would not seek to undermine McCormack.

Another Queensland challenge is maverick Queensland backbencher George Christensen – who made a token run in Monday’s leadership vote. He was difficult enough for Joyce to handle, though the two were personally quite close. Christensen won’t be any easier for McCormack, and could be harder.

How Joyce plays things in the next few months will be relevant to McCormack’s ability to run a united team.

As well as always being a centre of interest because he’s such a colourful character, in the minds of some in the party and the media Joyce is not dead forever. Immediately after he was elected as leader, McCormack was asked whether he was “keeping the seat warm for Barnaby until he can mount a comeback”.

Such questions (though I think far-fetched) must be annoying for the new leader. But whether Joyce’s presence becomes a serious irritant depends as much on McCormack’s performance as on Joyce’s behaviour.

Most immediately, Joyce’s travails aren’t over. It was revealed in Senate estimates on Monday that last week Malcolm Turnbull asked the head of his department, Martin Parkinson, to look into whether Joyce had broken the ministerial code of conduct. This investigation has now been abandoned with Joyce’s resignation.

But the Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority is still probing whether there was any misuse of entitlements by Joyce and his former staffer – now partner – Vikki Campion.

More seriously, the Nationals’ organisation has on its plate the complaint from former Western Australian Rural Woman of the Year Catherine Marriott, accusing Joyce of sexual harassment.

Leaving aside the row over who leaked the woman’s name (the Nationals deny it was them), this matter is surely a nightmare for the party. How is it going to inquire into it? Is the matter going to be tied up in a protracted legal argument? Will Joyce and his accuser be summoned for questioning?

The ConversationTo state the obvious, the outcome of this inquiry is critical to Joyce’s personal reputation. He’s called for the allegation to be referred to the police. He has also claimed in private conversations that his rejection of the allegation would be backed by text messages.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Liberals likely to win Tasmanian election, while federal Labor’s poll lead widens


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On the stated figures, the Will Hodgman-led Tasmanian Liberals are most likely to win 13 or 14 seats out of 25.
AAP/Rob Blakers

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

The Tasmanian election will be held on Saturday. A ReachTEL poll, conducted for The Mercury on February 22 from a large sample of more than 3,100, gave the Liberals 46.4% of the vote, Labor 31.1%, the Greens 12.1%, the Jacqui Lambie Network (JLN) 5.2%, others 2.0%, and 3.3% were undecided.

When undecideds are excluded, the Liberals have 48.0%, Labor 32.2%, the Greens 12.5%, and JLN 5.4%.

Tasmania uses the Hare-Clark system, with five five-member electorates. A quota is one-sixth of the vote, or 16.7%. Sample sizes for each electorate in ReachTEL were 620-650. The Liberals had well over 50% in Bass and Braddon, and 49.6% in Lyons, implying they would win three of the five seats in each.




Read more:
Tasmanian election likely to be close, while Labor continues to lead federally


In Franklin, the Liberals had 42.6%, easily enough for two seats. In Denison, the Liberals had 33.8%, just enough for two seats.

On the stated figures, the most likely overall seat outcome is 13 or 14 Liberals out of 25, eight-to-ten Labor, and two or three Greens. So, the Liberals should win a majority.

Like other Tasmanian polls, ReachTEL has in the past skewed to the Greens and against Labor. At the last two federal elections, ReachTEL skewed to the Liberals in Tasmania, though it skewed against the Liberals at the 2014 state election.

Adjusting for ReachTEL’s skew, Tasmanian analyst Kevin Bonham thinks the most likely outcome is 13 Liberals, ten Labor, and two Greens. The next two most likely outcomes are 13 Liberals, 11 Labor, one Green; and 12 Liberals, 11 Labor, two Greens.

I do not think opposition to Labor’s anti-pokies policy caused the swing to the Liberals during the campaign. The most important factor was probably that many Tasmanians detest the Greens, and will vote for the major party most likely to win a majority. In 2006, Labor easily won an election that had appeared likely to result in a hung parliament.

The Greens’ vote of 12.5% in this poll is below the 13.7% they won at the 2014 election, and it could be lower given ReachTEL’s pro-Greens skew. It is likely the Greens are doing badly because Labor, under Rebecca White’s leadership, has become more left-wing, so the Greens are having trouble differentiating themselves from Labor.

Incumbent Will Hodgman led White by 51.8-48.2 on ReachTEL’s forced choice better premier question. Labor’s pokies policy was supported against the Liberals’ policy by a 57-43 margin.

ReachTEL 54-46 to federal Labor

A Sky News ReachTEL, conducted February 22 – the day before Barnaby Joyce resigned – had federal Labor leading by 54-46, a two-point gain for Labor since late January. Primary votes were 37% Labor (up one), 33% Coalition (down one), 11% Greens (up one), and 7% One Nation (down one). The remaining 12% probably included some undecided voters.

ReachTEL is using respondent-allocated preferences, which have been better for the Coalition than previous election preferences, as One Nation preferences are flowing to the Coalition at a greater rate than the 50-50 flow at the 2016 election. By last election preferences, Bonham calculates this poll was about 55.5-44.5 to Labor. This makes it one of the worst polls for the Coalition this term.

Despite the blowout in the Labor margin, Malcolm Turnbull continued to lead Bill Shorten by 53-47 in ReachTEL’s forced choice better prime minister question (54-46 in January). Although the Joyce affair appears to have damaged the Coalition, Turnbull is not being blamed.

Last week’s Newspoll, conducted February 15-18 from a sample of 1,630, gave Labor a 53-47 lead, a one-point gain for Labor. Primary votes were 37% Labor (steady), 36% Coalition (down two), 10% Greens (steady), and 8% One Nation (up three). This was Turnbull’s 27th successive Newspoll loss, three short of Tony Abbott.

The overall Labor/Green vote in this Newspoll was 47%; the left vote has been stuck at 47% in Newspoll since August. Despite the Joyce affair, the overall Coalition/One Nation vote was up one point to 44%.

Turnbull’s ratings were 34% satisfied, 54% dissatisfied (37-50 previously). Shorten’s ratings were the same as Turnbull’s, and Turnbull led Shorten 40-33 as better prime minister (45-31 previously).

A total of 65% thought Joyce should resign as deputy prime minister, while only 23% thought he should stay. By 64-25, voters supported a ban on politicians having sexual relations with their staff. By 57-32, voters supported Shorten’s policy to give Indigenous people a voice to federal parliament.

As long as Republicans hold Congress, no chance of real US gun control

After the recent Florida high school gun massacre, there has been a renewed push for US gun control. However, as I wrote following the Las Vegas massacre in October, meaningful gun control will not happen under Donald Trump and the current Republican-controlled Congress.




Read more:
No chance of US gun control despite Las Vegas massacre; NZ left gains two seats after special votes


The Florida state legislature, which Republicans control 76-40, defeated a motion to debate a ban on assault weapons by 71-36, even as students from the affected school looked on. Instead, it passed a motion declaring pornography a public health risk.

Trump’s ratings are currently 39.1% approve, 55.6% disapprove, in the FiveThirtyEight poll aggregate. Before the gun massacre, Trump’s approval had risen to 41.5% owing to perceptions of an improving US economy; for several weeks, Trump’s approval was at least 40%.

Democrats lead by 47.0-38.8 in the race for Congress. Before the massacre, the Democrats’ lead had fallen to 6.4 points. All 435 US House of Representatives seats will be up for election in November, and also one-third of the 100 senators. Democrats probably need a mid-to-high single-digit popular vote margin to win control of the House of Representatives.




Read more:
Strong US economy boosts Trump’s ratings, as Democrats shut down government for three days


Italian election: March 4

The Italian election will be held on March 4. 37% of both chambers of the Italian parliament will be elected by first past the post, and the remainder by proportional representation.

Italy imposes a blackout on polling during the final two weeks of election campaigns. The last polls were published on or before February 16.

In the final pre-blackout polls, the centre-right coalition was in the high 30s, with the centre-left coalition and the populist left Five Star Movement trailing with about 27% each. A left-wing breakaway from the centre-left had about 6%.

Even though the overall left vote is about 60%, the right could win a majority owing to the first-past-the-post seats.

The centre-right coalition includes former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s old party (Forza Italia). Although Berlusconi is banned from contesting elections, he could be the power behind the throne if his coalition wins a majority in both chambers.


The Conversation


Read more:
Will elections in 2018 see 2017’s left-wing revival continue?


Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Under McCormack, the Nationals need to accept they are a minority and preserve their independence


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New Nationals leader and Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack (front) talks to the media, while former leader Barnaby Joyce (left) listens in.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Gregory Melleuish, University of Wollongong

The demise of Barnaby Joyce as leader of the National Party is an event of considerable importance in the long-term trajectory of Australian politics.

While his successor, New South Wales MP Michael McCormack, appears to have good conservative credentials, he is largely unknown to the Australian public, having held relatively minor ministerial portfolios such as Veterans’ Affairs.

Joyce was the last high-profile conservative leader left in mainstream Australian political life. With his banishment to the backbenches, it would appear that the triumph of left liberalism in Australian public life has been complete.




Read more:
Barnaby Joyce: the story of an unlikely rise and a self-inflicted fall


This needs to be explained a little further. There was a time when the Australian Labor Party espoused a mixture of what it called “socialism”, or social justice, and conservative social values. In part, this reflected the strength of the Catholic Right in the party. Those days are now gone, as can be seen in the way that the party so enthusiastically embraced marriage equality.

John Howard once famously described the Liberal Party in terms of liberalism and social conservatism. However, recent events would seem to indicate the continued ascendancy of the moderate, or social liberal, faction within the party. Like Barnaby Joyce, Tony Abbott sits on the backbench, hurling the occasional hand grenade at the moderate hegemony.

Two possible conclusions could be drawn from these developments. One is that the Australian population is increasingly adopting left liberal values; the postal survey on marriage equality could be cited as evidence, as even many National Party electorates voted in favour. A counter argument could be mounted that the political class has moved in a left liberal direction, even if the people they represent have not.

Even if left liberalism has become more dominant, this does not mean it has been universally embraced. Many Australians still adhere to more traditional values and do not want their voices to be silenced by what threatens to be a left liberal hegemony.

Of course, the primary role of the National Party is to represent the interests of rural Australia, which it has been doing for some 100 years. The only problem is that, during that time, rural Australia has become an ever-decreasing part of the Australian population. In 1922, when the then Country Party first entered into a coalition with the then Nationalist Party, it won 12.56% of the vote in the House of Representatives and held 14 seats in a 75-seat Parliament.

In 2016, the Nationals hold 16 seats in a 150-seat House of Representatives. The outlook is even gloomier, as the increased immigration of recent years has largely gone to the large cities. The number of National Party members can only decline over time. The rural voice will be heard less and less.

One option for the Nationals would be to merge with the Liberal Party. This has been tried in Queensland, where it seems to have benefited the Liberals while failing at last year’s state election to deliver government to the Liberal Nationals.

The trajectory of Australian social development means that rural Australia is forever doomed to minority status. One consequence of this development is that those holding conservative values are also condemned to being in a minority. One can only say that this is a very difficult situation.

One solution would be to embrace the dominant left liberal ideology. This, however, raises significant problems, as the Nationals represent a constituency that remains quite traditional in its values. The more liberal it becomes, the more open it also becomes to having its constituency stolen by parties espousing more traditional values, such as Pauline Hanson’s One Nation.




Read more:
Welcome to the new (old) moralism: how the media’s coverage of the Joyce affair harks back to the 1950s


The reality of any democracy is that the majority should prevail, but minorities need to have protection from the “tyranny of the majority” and the tendency of majorities to impose their desires and values on everyone else. The reality in Australia is that the majority is based in urban areas and will increasingly come to hold left liberal values.

In such circumstances, the situation of those who are either conservative and/or rural becomes increasingly difficult. Their values and outlook will often be at odds with the majority, and their chances of prevailing on any major issue are not great.

The same is true for the National Party. It must recognise that it is a minority and that its constituency can only get smaller over time. This does not mean that it should embrace the left liberal hegemony. If it were to do so it would only risk being displaced by a competitor.

Rather, it needs to embrace its minority status, establish clearly what it stands for, and recognise that perhaps the best it can do is soften the harshness that the tyranny of the majority might seek to impose. It would be foolish to rush into the arms of the Liberal Party and suffer what conservatives within the Liberal Party have suffered at the hands of the moderates.

The ConversationIndependence has long been a primary virtue of rural Australians. It is a value they should continue to embrace. For all his faults, Barnaby Joyce was an embodiment of that spirit of rural independence. Judging by his background, McCormack is cut from similar cloth. It remains to be seen how he will portray himself to the Australian public.

Gregory Melleuish, Professor, School of Humanities and Social Inquiry, University of Wollongong

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

McCormack wins Nationals leadership after token challenge by Christensen



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Michael McCormack has been elected as the Nationals’ new leader.
AAP/Mick Tsikas

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Michael McCormack is the new Nationals leader and deputy prime minister, defeating Queensland maverick George Christensen, who was a late and unexpected starter in the leadership ballot.

McCormack, speaking after the party meeting, paid immediate tribute to Barnaby Joyce, saying he had been an “outstanding leader” whose “legacy will endure”.

The new Nationals leader went into immediate talks with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who’d returned from his US trip only hours before.

There will be a limited reshuffle, with the key decision being who occupies the key infrastructure and transport portfolio that Joyce had. There will also be interest in whether Victorian Darren Chester, dropped from cabinet last year by Joyce, is returned to the frontbench.

McCormack, 53, a former journalist, who is member for the New South Wales seat of Riverina, entered parliament in 2010. Most recently he has held the ministerial jobs of veterans affairs and minister for defence personnel. He is a former minister for small business.

His challenges will be to unite his party behind him, make himself widely known among rural and regional voters, forge a strong relationship with Turnbull, and establish his authority more generally within the government. He will also have to try minimise any disruption that having Joyce on the backbench may cause, as well as keep the perennially difficult Christensen under as much control as possible.

The challenge by Christensen, who at the weekend questioned the value of the Nationals being in coalition, was a token one. The numbers in the vote were not announced, and even the contenders said they didn’t know them.

A more serious potential contender, David Littleproud, from Queensland, pulled out late on Sunday night, under pressure for a consensus result.

Party whip Michelle Landry told reporters that in the partyroom Christensen had talked about the National Party’s values and what it had done for regional Australia.

In his comments after the meeting, McCormack emphasised he was a “team player”. He also said that while the National Party was a party of farmers, it was broader than that – with its MPs coming from many different backgrounds.

The ConversationMcCormack has taken Joyce’s portfolio of infrastructure and transport, and has been sworn into his new ministry and as deputy prime minister at Government House.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Shattered Nationals meet to chart their post-Barnaby course


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Demoralised Nationals meet on Monday morning to replace Barnaby Joyce, with their deputy leader Bridget McKenzie flagging a push for consensus on the leadership rather than a contest.

Late Sunday, only Veterans’ Affairs Minister Michael McCormack, from New South Wales, was a declared candidate after David Gillespie, assistant minister for children and families, pulled out of the race.

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud, from Queensland and close to Joyce, was “weighing his options”, according to his spokesman. Several people had urged him to run.

McKenzie told the ABC that in the Nationals “conventionally around leadership, there usually isn’t a vote.

“Deputy leadership positions are obviously hotly contested, but convention has been in previous times that we only ever have one candidate. But who knows? That’s up to the members and senators.”

Joyce will formally resign as leader at the meeting, after his announcement on Friday, in the wake of the scandal over his affair with his former staffer, now his pregnant partner, and a sexual harassment claim made to the Nationals by a Western Australian woman.

The claim has set off fresh trauma for the party after the name of the woman who made it, former Western Australian Rural Woman of the Year Catherine Marriott, was leaked. She had wanted her identity kept confidential.

The Nationals have been accused of the leak, with the president of the National Farmers Federation, Fiona Simson, tweeted:

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McKenzie said she had “absolutely no evidence to suggest that the National Party has been the one to actually put Ms Marriott’s name forward”.

She said she had commitments from the Nationals’ federal president and federal director that the party did not breach Marriott’s request for confidentiality.

Pressed on where else the leak could have come from, McKenzie said: “My understanding is, through a range of networks, that it wasn’t unknown who the complainant was.”

As the Nationals, reeling from recent events, try to regroup, maverick George Christensen, from Queensland, questioned the value of the Coalition for his party. He said the party must choose a leader “who will deliver for regional Australia rather than serve at the table of the elitists’ metropolitan feast in the hope of nicking a few scraps for the bush”.

“I believe the formal Coalition is too restrictive. I would rather see a Liberal prime minister, Liberal deputy prime minister, and a full cabinet of Liberal ministers than have to compromise our values and the welfare of the good people we represent,” he wrote on Facebook.

McCormack, 53, entered parliament at the 2010 election representing the seat of Riverina. He is a former journalist and was editor of The Daily Advertiser in Wagga Wagga. While editor he published in 1993 a strident anti-homosexual editorial, for which he had to apologise repeatedly over the years.

McCormack is socially conservative but has not had a sharp profile on issues generally, beyond his commitment to regional areas and small business.

Littleproud, 41, has had a meteoric rise. He only entered parliament at the 2016 election but was elevated by Joyce from the backbench to cabinet in the December reshuffle.

Update

Littleproud announced just after 11pm on Sunday night that he would not be contesting the leadership. He said in a statement: “Now is not the time for internal contests. Now is the time for all individuals to be team players. Now is the time to think about stability and the good of the party.”

The ConversationHe said it was time for The Nationals to get behind McCormack as leader.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Barnaby Joyce: the story of an unlikely rise and a self-inflicted fall



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Barnaby Joyce’s departure to the backbench obviously brings immediate relief for the government and the Nationals.
AAP/Marlon Dalton

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

In the end, the tough man crumpled. For a fortnight Barnaby Joyce had resembled someone out in the snow who’d broken through the pain threshold, as he defied massive pressure and political common sense to try to cling to his job.

But as the scandal engulfing him tore at the government, he finally gave way; on his own account, a sexual harassment allegation that was revealed publicly only on Thursday was the last straw.

Most observers thought the saga had to come to Friday’s conclusion. The media stories weren’t going to stop. They were of two kinds. There were those surrounding the employment arrangements made for his former staffer and now pregnant partner Vikki Campion. The others were the various claims of inappropriate behaviour that kept surfacing.

His Nationals colleagues, despite their admiration for Joyce’s campaigning and other abilities, looked on aghast during the last two weeks, increasingly pessimistic about the way things were going. Never mind his enemies – by Thursday, even his loyalists could not see a way through.




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Barnaby Joyce wields the tea towel in the government’s soap opera


Within the government, clearly the relationship with Malcolm Turnbull was gone after the prime minister’s extraordinary personal attack last week and Joyce’s counterpunch. The staged weekend meeting to suggest a patch-up was farcical.

The fact that Joyce informed Acting Prime Minister Mathias Cormann, rather than Turnbull himself, of his impending resignation announcement says it all. Joyce’s opinion of Turnbull now likely matches what Tony Abbott thinks of Turnbull. Abbott had a thinly veiled jibe in his tribute to Joyce, saying “part of the problem has been poor management at the most senior levels of government”.

Joyce’s departure to the backbench obviously brings immediate relief for the government and the Nationals. What it will mean beyond that is more difficult to predict.

Michael McCormack, from New South Wales, seems virtually certain to become the new Nationals leader. He’s a junior minister with a relatively low profile, and has sometimes been shielded in parliament’s Question Time by more senior ministerial colleagues. The party is moving in behind McCormack, because there is no real alternative, and in an effort to show it is regrouping.

Another NSW National, David Gillespie, has also put up his hand – despite still waiting on a High Court decision about his constitutional eligibility to sit in parliament. But he is not a chance.

McCormack might grow into the job, as leaders sometimes do. Tim Fischer (unkindly) likes to remind me that I wrote him off when he became leader, and then had to acknowledge how well he turned out.

But taking over in these circumstances will be hard going for the new chief, who must sell himself in the electorate as well as establish enough authority within the government to enable the Nationals to punch above their numerical weight.

In the parliament, the Nationals are a top-down party. They number only 21, so they need their leadership to be strong – ideally not just the leader but their other senior ministers as well.

They are eons from the glory days of John McEwen, Doug Anthony, Ian Sinclair and Peter Nixon. But Joyce, under whom the party performed well at the 2016 election, enabled it to hold its own in the Coalition.

His successor will step into a Coalition climate in which many Liberals are furious that the Joyce scandal and the Nationals’ failure to resolve it quickly wiped out the government’s good start to the year. Also, even before all this happened, the rural Liberals, looking for more bounty and kudos, were flexing their muscle against their Nationals colleagues.




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Grattan on Friday: Is Barnaby’s baby a matter of ‘public interest’ or just of interest to the public?


Joyce (like Abbott before him) says he won’t snipe from the backbench. They all say that, the cynic might observe (especially a cynic watching Abbott’s run-up to Turnbull’s expected 30 losing Newspolls).

On the other hand, Joyce’s fall is different from that of Abbott. He was not knifed in a coup by his own party. Indeed, even on Thursday, some Nationals sources believed Joyce probably still had the numbers (whether they would have held in a spill is something else).

Joyce was brought down by his own behaviour, relentless media disclosures, and the reality that the government could not stand the damage being done to it.

Whatever he might say about being busy on other fronts, with the baby and all, discipline and quietness are not in Joyce’s nature. When he first entered the parliament as a Queensland senator, he crossed the floor countless times and caused many headaches for the Nationals’ leadership.

It would be surprising if, as a backbencher in the lower house, he keeps his opinions to himself, even if he eschews floor-crossing, given the government’s tight numbers.

It’s premature to judge how damaged Joyce is as a campaigner in regional Australia. Initial opinion polls are a limited guide. If it turns out he still has cache as a retail politician, it will be interesting to see how extensively the Nationals, under their new leader, choose to use him in the next election campaign.

At a human level, Joyce is the story of an unlikely rise and a self-inflicted fall.

Joyce – who garnered international publicity when he threatened to euthanise Johnny Depp’s dogs – has always been a larger-than-life politician, a distinctive brand.

When he arrived in Canberra in 2005, no-one thought he’d ever lead the Nationals. He punched through, overcame setbacks, and remade himself while retaining the characteristics that led people to regard him as authentic.

But then his personal flaws and indulgences cost him all he’d worked and schemed for, as well as bringing grief to many close to him.

The ConversationIn other times and circumstances, Joyce might have skated through, little harmed by the scandal. But today the personal can quickly become the political – something Joyce failed to understand.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Barnaby Joyce succumbs to pressure and will go to backbench



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Barnaby Joyce announces he will stand down as deputy prime minister and leader of the National Party.
AAP/Marlon Dalton

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Barnaby Joyce has capitulated to intense pressure and announced he will stand down, declaring the government needs clear air and he could not continue on the frontbench with an allegation of sexual harassment hanging over him.

He told a news conference in Armidale he would quit as Nationals leader and deputy prime minister on Monday at an 8am party meeting, where a new leader will be chosen.

After hanging tough for more than a fortnight, Joyce said the final straw was the harassment allegation, by a Western Australian woman, that was made to the Nationals federal president Larry Anthony and revealed on Thursday.

He had asked that the allegation, which he denies, be referred to the police. “But it’s quite evident that you can’t go to the despatch box with issues like that surrounding you.”




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Grattan on Friday: The Nationals have been paralysed by the extraordinary and unpredictable Joyce situation


Malcolm Turnbull, who last week said Joyce “has to consider his own position” and will be relieved at his departure from the frontbench, quickly affirmed in a statement that the Coalition “partnership is undiminished”.

The crisis over Joyce, sparked by revelations in the Daily Telegraph of his affair of his former staffer and now pregnant partner Vikki Campion, has consumed and distracted the government, wiping out what promised to be a good start to the year.

The favourite to replace Joyce as leader is Michael McCormack, a junior minister from New South Wales. He is minister for veterans’ affairs and minister for defence personnel.

Joyce informed Acting Prime Minister Mathias Cormann and his Nationals colleagues before his announcement. He did not speak with Turnbull, who is in Washington. A week ago, Joyce denounced Turnbull’s very personal attack on him.

Today he said it was “incredibly important that there be a circuit-breaker, not just for the parliament but more importantly a circuit breaker for Vikki, for my unborn child, my daughters and for (wife) Nat”.




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VIDEO: Michelle Grattan on Barnaby Joyce’s ‘week off’


He said that over the past half a month there had been a litany of allegations. “I don’t believe any of them have been sustained.”

He condemned “the leaking, the backgrounding … it will destroy not only our government. It will destroy any government.”

Joyce confirmed he would stay in the parliament, and said he wouldn’t snipe from the backbench. “I have a lot of things I need to do,” he said. He was writing a book, and he wanted to assist his colleagues where he could to keep their seats. And his baby would be born in April. So “I’ll have other things on my mind”.

Joyce’s exit to the backbench means another reshuffle, hard on the heels of the December changes. Meanwhile John McVeigh, a Queensland Liberal who is minister for regional development, will act in Joyce’s infrastructure portfolio.

Joyce has been leader of the Nationals and deputy prime minister since February 2016.

The ConversationWhile Joyce’s stepping down will relieve pressure on the government, there will still be intense questioning next week in Senate estimates about the employment arrangements for Campion, who was transferred from Joyce’s office to that of Resources Minister Matt Canavan, and later to the office of then-Nationals whip Damian Drum.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.