This week’s Newspoll will presumably be the final one for 2020. It gives the Coalition a 51-49% two-party-preferred lead, unchanged from three weeks ago. Primary votes were 43% Coalition (steady), 36% Labor (up one), 11% Greens (steady) and 2% One Nation (down one).
This is One Nation’s worst result in a federal Newspoll since before the 2019 federal election. It comes after the party slumped by 6.6 percentage points at the recent Queensland state election.
Newspoll figures are from The Poll Bludger. This poll was conducted November 25-28 from a sample of 1,511 people.
Two-thirds of respondents said they were satisfied with Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s performance (up two points) and 30% were dissatisfied (down two), for a net approval of +36. Morrison’s approval rating has consistently been over 60% since April, following the initial outbreak of COVID-19 in Australia.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese recorded a net approval of +3, down one point. Morrison led as better PM by 60-28% (58-29% previously).
Coronavirus may be the only important issue for many voters at the moment, and Morrison is perceived to have handled that well. In normal times, issues less favourable to the Coalition would likely have gained traction, undermining Morrison’s ratings, but these times are not normal.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has enjoyed a similar polling boost in her state as well, due to her handling of the pandemic.
In a NSW YouGov poll taken after revelations of her affair with former Liberal MP Daryl Maguire, she still had a 68-26% approval rating.
LNP easily retains Groom at federal byelection
There was very little media attention on Saturday’s byelection for the safe Coalition seat of Groom in Queensland.
Only four candidates ran, representing the Coalition, Labor, Sustainable Australia and the Liberal Democrats.
The LNP won by 66.6-33.4%, a 3.9% swing to Labor since the 2019 federal election.
Primary votes were 59.0% for the LNP (up 5.6%), 27.8% for Labor (up 9.1%), 8.0% for Sustainable Australia and 5.3% for the Liberal Democrats. The major parties benefited from the absence of One Nation and the Greens, which respectively won 13.1% and 8.0% in 2019.
Analyst Kevin Bonham says the average swing against a government at byelections in its own seats is 6%, so this is not a great result for Labor.
In the Cook Political Report tracker of the national popular vote in the US presidential election, President-elect Joe Biden leads incumbent Donald Trump by 51.1-47.1%.
Biden’s four-point lead is up from 3.1 percentage points on November 8 when the states of Pennsylvania and Nevada were called for him, making him the presumptive winner. Many mail votes are still be counted in New York, which will heavily favour Biden as well.
Biden’s popular vote margin now exceeds Barack Obama’s margin of 3.9 percentage points in 2012. But Obama won the “tipping-point” state that put him over the magic 270 electoral college votes by 5.4 points, while Biden won his tipping-point state (Wisconsin) by just 0.6 percentage points.
Trump performed 3.4 percentage points better in the tipping-point state in 2020 than in the national popular vote and this difference will increase further as more New York votes are counted. In the 2016 election, the difference was 2.9 points.
Republicans lead in all seven of these uncalled races. If they hold their leads, Democrats will win the House by just 222-213. That’s a net gain of 13 seats for Republicans from the 2018 midterm election.
Eden-Monaro voters are calling for a compassionate and empathetic recovery process as Australia emerges from the pandemic.
In focus group research conducted this week, ahead of Saturday’s byelection, the vast majority of participants favoured increasing the JobSeeker payment above the pre-COVID level, extending the JobKeeper wage subsidy scheme, and providing targeted help for areas hit hard by the summer fires and the impact of the coronavirus.
More surprising, almost all participants were willing to pay more tax to assist the economic and social recovery effort. Many were concerned about leaving debt for future generations.
This was the second round of online research by the University of Canberra’s Mark Evans and Max Halupka. Two groups, with 10 and nine participants respectively, were held on Monday and Tuesday. All but three participants had taken part in the research’s first round. Drawn widely from the diverse electorate, participants included aligned and swinging voters.
Focus group research taps into voters’ attitudes rather than being predictive of the outcome.
Both Scott Morrison and Anthony Albanese have been very active in the seat as voting day nears, although over the campaign as a whole Albanese has been on the ground much more than the PM. But the Liberals have invested heavily in an effort to wrest the seat – which is on a margin of under 1% – from Labor and increase the government’s parliamentary majority.
There was only marginal change in participants’ views on the key issues.
Top issues are: action on climate change, the federal government’s response to the bushfire crisis, job creation, better access to public health care, and addressing the high cost of living.
Climate change action continued to receive the greatest support when people were asked to nominate the one most important issue to them. Most participants saw a link between the bushfire crisis and the need for climate action.
People continued to be aggrieved at the Morrison government’s handling of the fire crisis, which they thought suffered from poor federal leadership, inadequate preparation and insufficient collaboration between federal and state government.
In the second round discussion, there was greater concern over economic recovery issues. “The economy looks weak so we will need good economic management and that tends to come from the Coalition,” a retired Coalition voter noted.
But there was some cynicism over the extra support the government has promised.
People saw Morrison’s announcement in Bega of a $86 million package for the forestry industry, wine producers and apple growers hit by the bushfires as “guilt money”. “It’s an obvious bribe – which might well work,” said a middle-aged hard Coalition supporter, while a female Greens voter described it as “a shameful example of logrolling”.
Most participants thought there would still be a bushfire backlash against the Coalition, despite Morrison’s announcement.
The government is hoping Morrison’s performance on the pandemic negates criticism of his handling of the fires.
Since their first discussion, people have cooled in their views of leaders’ management of the virus crisis. Morrison is now seen as the best performer, followed by NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian, a reversal from the first round.
Berejiklian’s poorer performance is attributed to general annoyance with the states and the perception they are acting “selfishly”. The vast majority of participants think Morrison “is handling the coronavirus outbreak competently and efficiently.” But people are worried by a second wave and cautious about re-opening too quickly.
Albanese is a distant third (the question about him was whether he was doing a good job holding the PM to account); his performance was rated more poorly in the second discussion compared with the first. He wasn’t impacting on the core political agenda: “he hasn’t got a plan,” said one participant.
The vast majority of participants, however, did not believe any party was offering a clear COVID-19 recovery plan and were surprised there hadn’t been a national conversation on the issue.
COVID-19 has constrained the usual forms of campaigning, and has led to a very high demand for postal votes. Participants perceived the Coalition had run a very traditional campaign using “old media”, while they thought Labor had run a “new media” campaign with more emphasis on social media platforms.
Both the major candidates are seen positively. Fiona Kotvojs (Liberal) was considered an “excellent” candidate even by Labor supporters. But several people suggested the intervention of senior Coalition figures in the campaign (Morrison and Payne) may have “reduced her community standing”. Labor’s Kristy McBain was considered a “really hard working” and a “very well liked” candidate by Coalition supporters.
But McBain was regarded as having run the better campaign.
When people were asked who they would vote for, the responses suggested a Labor victory and strong support for McBain. However there had been some attitudinal changes over the campaign.
There appeared to be a marginal increase in support for Cathy Griff (Greens) as the campaign neared its end and two independent candidates emerged from the woodwork – Narelle Storey (Christian Democratic Party) and Matthew Stadtmiller (Shooters, Fishers and Farmers) – during the discussion. That suggested the possibility certain soft Coalition voters might be exercising a protest vote against the government.
Some soft Coalition and Green voters might have moved to Labor and some soft Coalition voters to the Greens, but hard Coalition, Green and Labor voters looked to be remaining loyal.
Kotvojs’s well-resourced campaign appeared to be losing some momentum. But the participants continued to think the election – a straight Labor-Liberal battle despite a field of 14 candidates – would be very close.
This is a byelection where even seasoned watchers are wary of chancing their arm in advance of Saturday night.
Speaker Tony Smith has announced July 4 for the byelection in the Labor NSW seat of Eden-Monaro, which will be the first electoral test between Scott Morrison and Anthony Albanese.
For health reasons this will coincide with the start of schools holidays, usually not thought ideal timing for elections or byelections.
Smith said in a Monday statement: “In normal circumstances, the Australian Electoral Commission advises it is preferable not to have elections during school holidays. With the current challenges created by the coronavirus pandemic, the advice is different on this occasion.”
Smith said the AEC had consulted extensively, including with the NSW education department, because of the number of polling places which were at schools.
“As a result, the AEC has advised me it is preferable to have a polling date where students and staff do not return to school on the very next Monday. This will then enable a thorough sanitising clean after the completion of voting and counting at polling booths in NSW schools”.
Smith also said he was delaying issuing the writ until Thursday to give the AEC extra time, which will enable it to consult stakeholders about the byelection’s conduct during this time.
Both the ALP and the Liberal party are fielding women candidates with strong roots in the electorate. The Liberals have just endorsed Fiona Kotvojs, a small businesswoman and farmer, who ran Labor’s Mike Kelly very close at the last election. The seat is now on a margin of just under 1%, and has become vacant with the resignation of Kelly on health grounds.
Albanese has already been campaigning extensively with Labor’s candidate Kristy McBain, who has stepped aside as mayor of Bega to contest the seat.
Both sides are putting jobs at the centre of their campaigns.
Morrison, appearing with Kotvojs on Sunday, said “job-making is honestly what this byelection is going to be about”.
The revelation that a wrong treasury forecast means JobKeeper will cost $60 billion less than the original $130 billion estimate has given Labor greater opportunity to campaign in the seat on that program, which it says should be broadened to a range of people now excluded. The government has rejected this.
The plight of the local tourist industry will also be a squeaky wheel in the campaign, as will bushfire recovery, with complaints about aid flowing too slowly. The royal commission into the fires is currently underway.
Labor will home in on climate change, in the context of the devastating summer experience.
Kotvojs went out of her way on Sunday “to make clear my position on climate change”.
“I believe that the climate is changing. I believe that humans contribute to that changing climate and I believe that we need to have a reduction in emissions, that we need to look at approaches to be adaptive and to have our communities resilient. … We’re on target to reducing emissions”.
Last year Kotvojs, who is a development specialist with experience working across the Pacific, wrote an article disputing that climate change was a threat to these countries with rising sea levels.
“The main cause of erosion on these islands is not sea level rise. Instead it is the construction of poorly designed boat ramps and boat channels, seawalls and reclamation works,” she wrote.
“The population of Tuvalu will be destroyed by diabetes long before the island is drowned by a rising sea level”.
The latest Newspoll, conducted May 13-16 from a sample of 1,500, gave the Coalition a 51-49 lead, a one-point gain for the Coalition since the previous Newspoll, three weeks ago. Primary votes were 43% Coalition (up two), 35% Labor (down one), 10% Greens (down two) and 3% One Nation (down one). Newspoll figures are from The Australian.
Scott Morrison fell slightly from the best net approval for a PM since Kevin Rudd in 2009: 66% (down two) were satisfied with his performance, and 30% (up two) were dissatisfied, for a net approval of +36, down four points.
Anthony Albanese had a net approval of +7, down four points. Morrison led Albanese as better PM by 56-29 (56-28 previously).
In my previous Newspoll article, I wrote that it was abnormal to show a two party tie while the PM had a +40 net approval. While these measures are now in better agreement, there is still a large gap between the Coalition’s two party vote and what would be expected based on Morrison’s ratings.
A plausible explanation is that decisions on the coronavirus crisis are being made by the “national cabinet” that involves the premiers, three of which are Labor. As the section below shows, five of the six premiers beat Morrison’s +40 Newspoll net approval three weeks ago.
Involving the premiers in decision-making has made the decisions appear more bipartisan, and probably inhibited the Coalition’s voting intention gains.
In additional Newspoll questions, 72% were more concerned with moving too quickly to relax coronavirus restrictions, and just 24% were more concerned with moving too slowly.
Newspoll repeated coronavirus questions last asked six weeks ago. 78% were worried and 19% confident about the economic impact (84-14 worried previously). On preparedness of the public health system, it was 69-29 confident (57-41 worried previously). On public information, 80-18 confident (67-32 confident).
On these three issues, there was a solid rise in approval of federal and state governments’ management. On the economy, 60% were satisfied and 24% dissatisfied (47-33 satisfied previously). On the health system, 78-15 satisfied (59-28 satisfied previously). On public information, 82-13 satisfied (75-20 previously).
Premiers’ sky-high Newspoll ratings
The day after the April 27 federal Newspoll, approval ratings of the premiers were released. WA Labor Premier Mark McGowan had the highest ratings, with 89% satisfied and just 6% dissatisfied for a net approval of +83. This is likely a record high in any poll for any Australian prime minister or premier.
Tasmanian Liberal Premier Peter Gutwein was at 84% satisfied, 11% dissatisfied (net +73). Victorian Labor Premier Daniel Andrews was at 75% satisfied, 17% dissatisfied (net +58). NSW Liberal Premier Gladys Berejiklian had 69% satisfied and 23% dissatisfied (net +46). SA Liberal Premier Steven Marshall had 68% satisfied and 21% dissatisfied (net +47).
Queensland Labor Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, who faces an election in October, performed worst of the premiers with 55% satisfied and 39% dissatisfied (net +16).
Samples for these state Newspolls were about 520 for each mainland state, plus 309 in Tasmania. Figures from The Poll Bludger.
Eden-Monaro seat poll: 51-49 to Labor
After Labor member Mike Kelly’s resignation, a byelection will be required in Eden-Monaro on a date to be advised. In 2019, Kelly held Eden-Monaro by just a 50.9-49.1 margin. That narrow margin and Kelly’s absent personal vote gives the Liberals some chance of gaining Eden-Monaro at the by-election.
As reported by The Poll Bludger, a uComms robopoll of Eden-Monaro, conducted for the left-wing Australia Institute, gave Labor a 51.1-48.9 lead. Primary votes were 39.8% Labor, 34.3% Liberal, 7.3% National, 6.7% Greens and 6.5% One Nation. The poll did not give candidate names, just parties.
Seat polls are unreliable, and there is a long time to go until the byelection.
Trump’s ratings recover despite terrible jobs report
This section is an updated version of an article I wrote for The Poll Bludger, published on Friday.
In the FiveThirtyEight poll aggregate, Donald Trump’s ratings with all polls are 44.0% approve, 51.7% disapprove (net -7.7%). With polls of registered or likely voters, Trump’s ratings are 44.2% approve, 52.1% disapprove (net -7.9%). Since his lowest point of the coronavirus crisis, Trump has recovered about two points on net approval.
In the RealClearPolitics average of national polls, Joe Biden’s lead over Trump has fallen to 4.5%, down from 5.9% three weeks ago. There have been two recent polls of key swing states. Biden leads Trump by three points in a Wisconsin Marquette poll. The previous Marquette poll, in March, also had Biden leading by three. Biden leads Trump by six points in a recent Florida poll.
On May 12, byelections occurred in two federal House of Representatives seats. While the Republicans won by 57-43 in Wisconsin’s Seventh, this was positive for Democrats, as Trump won this district by over 20 points in 2016.
The Republicans’ win by a big 55-45 in California’s 25th is much worse for Democrats as the district voted for Hillary Clinton by almost seven points. This was the first gain of a Californian seat for Republicans since 1998. The 2016 presidential figures are from a Daily Kos downloadable spreadsheet.
During the 2016 campaign, whichever candidate drew the most attention would generally suffer in the polls. Clinton’s lead widened after Trump’s “grab em by the pussy”, but narrowed after her own “deplorables”, and when the FBI reopened its investigation into her emails.
Until recently, Trump was conducting daily coronavirus briefings. The media focus on these briefings may have contributed to his ratings slide. Recent media attention on Tara Reade’s sexual assault allegation against Biden from 1993 could have damaged him.
In the 2016 exit poll, those who disliked both Clinton and Trump voted for Trump by 17 points. CNN analyst Harry Enten says that in 2020, Biden is crushing with “double haters”, but Trump is crushing with those who do not dislike either candidate. In 2016, double haters were a larger portion of the electorate than now, while those who dislike neither candidate has grown.
There has been a recent decline in US coronavirus cases and deaths. If much of the economy can be reopened without a renewed surge in cases, that would be good news for Trump, enabling him to brag about a strong recovery before the November election. I cannot see Trump winning if the current terrible economic situation continues until the election.
A terrible US jobs report
The April jobs report was released on May 8. 20.5 million jobs were lost and the unemployment rate jumped 10.3% to 14.7%. That is the highest unemployment rate and the biggest one-month change in the history of this series. This data goes back to January 1948, so it does not include the Great Depression. The previous highs for unemployment were 10.8% in November 1982, and 10.0% in October 2009.
The employment population ratio – the percentage of eligible Americans that are employed – crashed 8.7% in April to just 51.3%, far lower than in the global financial crisis, during which the lowest employment ratio was 58.2% in June 2011. As the unemployment rate excludes those not participating in the workforce, I prefer the employment ratio as a summary statistic. In Australia’s April jobs report, the employment ratio was 59.6%, much higher than the US.
In January, before the current crisis, the US employment ratio was at 61.2%, the highest since November 2008.
The one positive in this jobs report was that hourly wages rose $US 1.34 to $US 30.01. But this was the result of so many low-income jobs being shed. The aggregate weekly payrolls (weekly wages times number employed) fell 10.9% in April.
Anthony Albanese, who will campaign in Eden-Monaro on Thursday, has lost any possible claim to “underdog” status in the coming byelection.
The idea of Labor as underdog was always dubious in light of history, despite former member Mike Kelly’s personal vote. But the prospect of one or other of two NSW government high flyers having a tilt at the seat gave it some credibility.
Now, thanks to a rolling implosion within the Coalition parties, Labor starts as favourite to retain the seat, which it holds on a margin of less than 1%.
There’s a sting, however. If the favourite lost, defeat would carry even more serious implications for Albanese than a loss to a star candidate.
NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance’s Wednesday withdrawal as a contender for Liberal preselection, a day after throwing his hat in the ring, took the Coalition parties’ shenanigans to an even higher level of farce.
The last several days have seen a political shootout between NSW Deputy Premier and Nationals leader John Barilaro and Constance. Both are damaged as well as a big blow having been dealt to the Morrison government’s aspiration to defy history (no federal government has taken a seat from an opposition at a byelection for a century).
It started with Barilaro’s plan to run for the seat, which includes his state electorate where he had a very strong vote last year.
Barilaro wanted the Liberal party to step aside for him, but that was not a goer. Then Constance, whom he hoped would support him, stayed in the frame as a potential Liberal candidate, even though it was clear the two NSW ministers couldn’t both run, especially given the state government’s narrow majority.
The Nationals put out research favouring Barilaro; the Liberals had competing research.
By Monday Barilaro had hoisted the white flag – of course citing the family.
He was furious – at federal Nationals leader Michael McCormack, for not helping him, and at Constance for impeding him.
A blistering text went to McCormack, leaked to Sky on Tuesday. On Wednesday the Daily Telegraph reported “Barilaro told a parliamentary colleague Mr Constance was a ‘c…’”.
Constance cited the story in his withdrawal.
He told a news conference: “Stuff that — I hadn’t signed up to contest federally to be called that type of smear.”
“Why would I sit here for the next five weeks defending that type of front page? You can’t.”
But he also said: “I don’t believe John means it. I had that discussion with him. We’ve cleared it up. I forgive him”.
In short, Constance was all over the place, and likely a mix of reasons caused his meltdown.
Despite a touch of wild speculation that Barilaro might rethink, he quickly dispelled any such suggestion, saying: “My decision not to seek preselection for the Eden-Monaro byelection has not changed”.
The other name on the government side who’d been mentioned, Liberal senator Jim Molan, also ruled himself out on Wednesday.
Molan never seemed likely to contest. But he issued a statement saying “no one has tried to force me to not nominate, nor was I ever intimidated by the prospect of competing in a preselection or in a campaign”.
The Liberals will be well behind Labor – which is running Bega mayor Kristy McBain – in beginning their campaigning.
Nominations for Liberal preselection close Friday and then they have to organise a rank and file ballot.
Fiona Kotvojs, who pushed Kelly close at last year’s election, is seeking endorsement.
Pru Gordon, from the National Farmers Federation, a former adviser to two trade ministers and a former official with the department of foreign affairs and trade, is also in the field. A third contender is Jerry Nockles, now at World Vision, who formerly worked for federal Liberals.
The Liberal candidate, whoever they may be, will inherit the legacy of a Coalition display of bad behaviour and self-absorption, which is not a good start when you are asking for votes in an electorate that’s faced drought and fire and now struggles to recover amid economic devastation.
The Eden-Monaro byelection has triggered an extraordinarily bitter attack by NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro on fellow National, deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack.
In a text message to McCormack, a furious Barilaro said, “You will never be acknowledged by me as our leader. You aren’t. You never will be”. He accused McCormack of feeling threatened by his (short-lived) bid to switch to federal politics.
After giving every indication last week he wanted to contest the byelection, Barilaro on Monday announced he would not be seeking nomination.
This followed his failure to get the Liberals to make way, allowing him to be the only Coalition candidate. But he is also blaming McCormack for undermining him.
McCormack was known to be unenthusiastic about the prospect – in the event of a win – of having the volatile Barilaro in his federal party.
This would have put more pressure on McCormack’s leadership, which pre-COVID was under strain after a failed bid to overthrow him by Barnaby Joyce.
Publicly McCormack, while careful with his words, noted that if Barilaro decided “to put his hand up, he’s got to go through the pre-selection process. That is always the case with every National Party member.”
On Tuesday NSW Liberal Transport minister, Andrew Constance, from the state seat of Bega, which takes in a substantial part of Eden-Monaro in the south, announced his bid and is certain to be the party’s candidate, although the Liberals still have a preselection open.
Constance will come to the byelection with the memory of his prominent role during the bushfires still fresh in the voters’ minds. At that time, he was sharply critical of Scott Morrison’s performance. But Morrison will be now be happy to have him as Liberal candidate, giving his local popularity.
In his vitriolic message, which was leaked to Sky, Barilaro said: “Michael. Please do not contact me. Your lack of public enthusiasm or support for my candidacy went a long way to my final decision.
“Don’t hide behind the ‘members will choose the candidate’ rubbish, as you were the only one saying such lines. Don’t you think my branches would have backed me in?
“To feel threatened by me clearly shows you have failed your team and failed as a leader.
“You will never be acknowledged by me as our leader. You aren’t. You never will be.
“The Nats had a chance to create history, to change momentum, and you had a candidate that was prepared to risk everything to make it happen.
“What did you risk? Nothing.
“Hope you are proud of yourself.”
In his Monday announcement Barilaro said: “The polling showed I could win but sometimes in this game, you let ego get in the way of good decisions and I’ve got to make the best decision for me, my family, for the people of NSW – more importantly for the people of Eden-Monaro”.
The Liberals argued Constance would have a better chance of taking the Labor seat than Balilaro, despite the fact the regional centre of Queanbeyan is in Barilaro’s state seat of Monaro, and he won every booth in his electorate at the NSW election last year.
Eden-Monaro became vacant because of the resignation of Labor’s Mike Kelly due to ill health. Labor has chosen Bega mayor Kristy McBain, who is considered a strong candidate.
The contest is seen as an important test for opposition leader Anthony Albanese.
Labor has history on its side – it is a century since a federal government took an opposition seat at a byelection.
In response to Barilaro’s attack, McCormack said he respected his “personal decision not to contest the Eden-Monaro by-election due to family reasons.
“I have always supported the democratic election processes of the National Party of Australia. I wholeheartedly endorse the right of branches to select their local candidates first and foremost.
“My support of Mr Barilaro has been long standing and I respect his position as Deputy Premier and New South Wales Nationals’ Leader.”
The Wentworth byelection will be held on October 20. A ReachTEL poll for independent Licia Heath’s campaign, conducted September 27 from a sample of 727, gave the Liberals’ Dave Sharma 40.6% of the primary vote, Labor’s Tim Murray 19.5%, independent Kerryn Phelps 16.9%, Heath 9.4%, the Greens 6.2%, all Others 1.8% and 5.6% were undecided.
According to The Poll Bludger, if undecided voters were excluded, primary votes would be 43.0% Sharma, 20.7% Murray, 17.9% Phelps, 10.0% Heath and 6.6% Greens. Compared to a September 17 ReachTEL poll for GetUp!, which you can read about on my personal website, primary vote changes were Sharma up 3.7%, Murray up 3.3%, Phelps down 4.8%, Heath up 5.6% and Greens down 6.0%. Phelps fell from second behind Sharma to third behind Murray and Sharma.
Between the two ReachTEL polls, Phelps announced on September 21 that she would recommend preferences to the Liberals ahead of Labor, backflipping on her previous position of putting the Liberals last. It is likely this caused her slump.
While more likely/less likely to vote a certain way questions always overstate the impact of an issue, it is nevertheless bad for Phelps that 50% of her own voters said they were less likely to vote for her as a result of the preference decision.
This ReachTEL poll was released by the Heath campaign as it showed her gaining ground. Heath appears to have gained from the Greens, and the endorsement of Sydney Mayor Clover Moore could further benefit her.
Despite the primary vote gain for Sharma, he led Murray by just 51-49 on a two candidate basis, a one-point gain for Murray since the September 17 ReachTEL. The Poll Bludger estimated Murray would need over three-quarters of all independent and minor party preferences to come this close to Sharma.
At the 2016 election, Malcolm Turnbull won 62.3% of the primary vote in Wentworth. While the Liberals’ primary vote in this poll is about 19% below Turnbull, it is recovering to a winning position.
Trump, Republicans gain in fight over Kavanaugh Supreme Court confirmation
On July 9, Trump nominated hard-right judge Brett Kavanaugh to replace the retiring centre-right judge Anthony Kennedy. The right currently has a 5-4 Supreme Court majority, but Kennedy and John Roberts have occasionally voted with the left. If Kavanaugh is confirmed by the Senate, it will give the right a clearer Supreme Court majority. Supreme Court judges are lifetime appointments.
Although Kavanaugh is a polarising figure, he looked very likely to be confirmed by the narrow 51-49 Republican majority Senate until recent sexual assault allegations occurred. Since September 16, three women have publicly accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault when he was a high school or university student.
On September 27, both Kavanaugh and his first accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee. On September 28, without calling additional accusers, the Committee favourably reported Kavanaugh by an 11-10 majority, with all 11 Republicans – all men – voting in favour.
However, after pressure from two Republican senators, the full Senate confirmation vote was delayed for a week to allow an FBI investigation. The Senate received the FBI’s findings on Thursday, and the investigation did not corroborate Ford. Democrats have labelled the report a “whitewash”, but it appears to have satisfied the doubting Republican senators, and Kavanaugh is very likely to be confirmed.
Since the sexual assault allegations against Kavanaugh began, Trump’s ratings in the FiveThirtyEight poll aggregate have recovered to about a 42% approval rating, from 40% in mid-September. Democrats’ position in the race for Congress has deteriorated to a 7.7 point lead, down from 9.1 points in mid-September.
Midterm elections for all of the US House and 35 of the 100 Senators will be held on November 6. Owing to natural clustering of Democratic votes and Republican gerrymandering, Democrats probably need to win the House popular vote by six to seven points to take control.
While the House map is difficult for Democrats, the Senate is far worse. Democrats are defending 26 Senate seats and Republicans just nine, Five of the states Democrats are defending voted for Trump in 2016 by at least 18 points. Two polls this week in one of those big Trump states, North Dakota, gave Republicans double digit leads over the Democratic incumbent.
The FiveThirtyEight forecast models give Democrats a 74% chance of gaining control of the House, but just a 22% chance in the Senate.
Republican gains in the polls are likely due to polarisation over Kavanaugh. In a recent Quinnipiac University national poll, voters did not think Kavanaugh should be confirmed – by a net six-point margin – but Trump’s handling of Kavanaugh was at -7 net approval. Democrats led Republicans by seven points, and Trump’s overall net approval was -12. Kavanaugh was more unpopular than in the previous Quinnipiac poll, but Trump and Republicans were more popular.
The hope for Democrats is that once the Kavanaugh issue is resolved, they can refocus attention on issues such as healthcare and the Robert Mueller investigation into Trump’s ties with Russia. However, the strong US economy assists Trump and the Republicans.
In brief: contest between left and far right in Brazil, conservative breakthrough win in Quebec, Canada
The Brazil presidential election will be held in two rounds, on October 7 and 28. If no candidate wins over 50% in the October 7 first round, the top two proceed to a runoff.
The left-wing Workers’ Party has won the last four presidential elections from 2002 to 2014, but incumbent President Dilma Rousseff was impeached in August 2016, and replaced by conservative Vice President Michel Temer.
Workers’ Party candidate Fernando Haddad and far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro are virtually certain to advance to the runoff. Bolsonaro has made sympathetic comments about Brazil’s 1964-85 military dictatorship. Runoff polling shows a close contest.
In the Canadian province of Quebec, a conservative party won an election for the first time since 1966.
In the early hours of Friday morning, the Liberal preselectors of Wentworth delivered their new prime minister a humiliating public slapdown.
In selecting Dave Sharma, 42, former Australian ambassador to Israel and now a partner in an accountancy firm, as the candidate for the October 20 byelection, the preselectors have on all accounts chosen the best candidate.
But Scott Morrison had made it known he wanted a woman, a preference that’s been embarrassingly rejected. Katherine O’Regan, who was supposed to come out the winner, ran fifth.
Moreover, on Thursday it was learned that John Howard and Malcolm Turnbull were both encouraging Sharma to stay in the contest. So the two former prime ministers managed to do over the current prime minister.
The Wentworth Liberals, whose local member and PM was cut down, have had their revenge. The question now is whether the electors will also take theirs. Sharma has the potential to be an excellent MP. But he lives way outside the electorate, so he’ll start with a disadvantage against the high profile Kerryn Phelps, who is set to run as an independent.
This week has recalled the worst of Labor’s days. Morrison’s attempt to move things on from the coup didn’t cut it, just like Julia Gillard found her wheels spinning when she tried to dig her government out of various bogs.
In a highly provocative move, Turnbull has been busy from New York lobbying to have cabinet minister Peter Dutton’s parliamentary eligibility referred the High Court, to determine whether an interest in a child care business through a trust could see him in breach of the constiution’s troublesome section 44.
Turnbull explained in a tweet:
Morrison brushed this aside, saying the public didn’t want the “lawyers’ picnic” to continue. But wishing it away won’t resolve a legitimate question that needs to be answered.
Never mind that Turnbull can be accused of malice; that he wasn’t worried about Dutton’s situation months ago, or that his government voted against referral.
Post coup, we are in a new era. A spurned Turnbull is off the leash. So is former Liberal deputy Julie Bishop who, when asked about her stance, was coy.
“If there’s a vote on that matter then I’ll make my mind up at that time, but of course we want clarity around the standing of all the members of parliament,” she said. Backbencher Bishop has been reborn as outspokenly independent.
An unhappy “ex” is dangerously liberated to cause trouble, whether they’re inside or outside parliament. Tony Abbott has been the model.
Former Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce was also freelancing, accusing Turnbull of “an active campaign to try and remove us as the government”.
Turnbull quitting parliament has already delivered a major blow to his successor by triggering the byelection that, at worst, could put Morrison into minority government.
The legal opinion that Turnbull commissioned from the Solicitor-General during the leadership crisis has left sufficient uncertainty about Dutton’s eligibility to enable Turnbull to pursue the man who moved against him.
As we saw in the citizenship cases, this High Court takes a narrow view of section 44. Dutton might be on solid ground – as he insists and the Solicitor-General’s opinion supports. But doubt remains – as that opinion also concedes.
Labor is set to have a fresh try next week to refer Dutton to the court. The Herald Sun reports that two Liberals are considering voting with the opposition, a threat they’re making to push the government to take the matter into its own hands. The internal unease will be hard for Morrison to manage.
Bloodied by his unsuccessful power grab, Dutton is also still locked in an altercation with former Border Force chief Roman Quaedvlieg about ministerial interventions on visas.
Holes have been shot in Quaedvlieg’s claims. But Dutton went over the top when he used parliamentary privilege to accuse Quaedvlieg – sacked for helping his girlfriend get a job – of “grooming” a girl 30 years his junior. Even his colleagues did a double take at the term.
Dutton’s Canberra troubles can’t be helping him in his battle to hold his very marginal Queensland seat of Dickson, where GetUp has him in its sights.
All in all, Dutton is a marked man. If he survives to serve in the next parliament, it will be remarkable. That he remains in cabinet in this one is notable.
Normally someone who’d caused so much damage to the party and himself would now be on the backbench. But Dutton had hardly warmed a seat there, after the first challenge, than he was back in Home Affairs following the second one.
Here is a paradox: he is damaged goods, but too powerful to cast aside. Or rather, his right-wing support base is too strong for him to be relegated.
If Morrison wasn’t able to keep the lid on the controversies around Dutton, he was a little more successful in containing the insurgency from some of the women over bullying and low female representation.
He headed off backbencher Lucy Gichuhi’s threat to name the bullies. “The Prime Minister has taken up the issue,” she tweeted after their meeting.
Morrison’s pitch to the women was that he’d work with them and the whips internally. It is believed some complaints about behaviour have been made to the whips. The Minister for Women, Kelly O’Dwyer, has proposed the Liberal party organisation should have an independent and confidential process to operate when concerns are raised.
The recent events have sparked a few calls in the party for quotas, but there is minimal chance of the Liberals following Labor down that path.
But the Wentworth outcome could produce another round in the war over gender representation.
All week, the Liberals struggled to answer the key question: why was Turnbull deposed? It took Nationals leader Michael McCormack to give the brutal response on Thursday. McCormack identified three factors – ambition, Newspolls, and opportunity. “People take those opportunities and we’ve got a new prime minister,” he said.
And the view from the voters? As one Liberal MP says, they’ve got the baseball bats out.
The byelection for Wentworth, Malcolm Turnbull’s former seat, will be held on October 20.
The announcement by the Speaker, Tony Smith, came ahead of the Liberals choosing their candidate on Thursday. Rolls will close on September 24 and nominations will close September 27.
The byelection is crucial for Scott Morrison who will face a very difficult test in the initial days of his prime ministership. The outcome in the byelection will set the political tone for the rest of the year.
Morrison will encounter a lot of anger in the electorate at the removal of Turnbull as prime minister. Turnbull was very popular and had grown the Liberal vote substantially, to a 17.7% margin in 2016. On what is known of his arrangements, Turnbull would be back from New York in the final days of the byelection – whether he would campaign for the Liberal candidate is not known.
Labor’s candidate, Tim Murray, has already been campaigning, and high-profile Kerryn Phelps, who has a medical practice in the electorate, is set to run. Phelps could attract a strong vote from disaffected Liberal supporters.
In the Liberal preselection all eyes will be on whether a woman is selected, after one of the frontrunners, Andrew Bragg, pulled out, saying the candidate should be female.
The two leading women in the field are Katherine O’Regan, who has been a political staffer and is chair at Sydney East Business Chamber, and Mary-Lou Jarvis, a vice-president of the NSW Liberal Party.
Earlier this week Morrison, asked on 2GB – in the context of the push for a female candidate – whether he was “a merit person or not”, said: “I’m a merit person and the party members will decide our candidate in Wentworth.
“It’s [the preselectors’] choice … Just like it has to be, in every single seat in the country.”
Wentworth is a well-educated, well-off electorate.
In the 2016 census, of those aged 15 and over, nearly half (46.8%) had attained the level of bachelor degree or above, compared with 23.4% for NSW as a whole.
Professionals made up 40.7% (NSW, 23.6%) and managers 20.8% (13.5%, for NSW).
The median weekly income was $1,242 for a person ($664, for NSW); for a family it was $3,231 ($1780 for NSW).
As expected, the Longman by-election was the contest to watch on “Super Saturday”. But, as it turned out, it was for reasons that weren’t all anticipated.
Observers had predicted a tight race in the marginally-held seat north of Brisbane, with high poll support for Pauline Hanson’s One Nation adding to the unpredictability. Yet, Labor’s Susan Lamb defied the naysayers and secured a reassuring swing, regaining the seat she’d vacated owing to her former dual citizenship status.
For opposition leader Bill Shorten, the weekend’s byelection results provide a confidence boost and should dampen the leadership speculation that has animated sections of the media.
For Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, however, the Longman result especially (and South Australia’s Mayo to a similar extent) will prompt soul-searching in Coalition ranks ahead of the next federal election.
The most notable – and underestimated – aspect of the vote count in Longman was the fall in support for the Coalition. This flew in the face of opinion polls leading up to the byelection date, which suggested there was little between the major candidates. Warnings from election analysts about the reliability of single-seat polling might be heeded more closely in future.
The Coalition’s primary vote in Longman plunged 9.4% from the 2016 federal election, resulting in a two-party-preferred swing of 3.7% against LNP candidate Trevor Ruthenberg. While senior Coalition MPs have since put this down to an “average” anti-government swing at byelections, few in the party would have expected such a kicking in a historically conservative seat.
Ruthenberg came under scrutiny during the by-election campaign for a wrongly claimed military service medal. He also carried some baggage as MP for a nearby state seat during the single-term government of Campbell Newman. Combined, this probably turned away a number of potential voters, and contributed in part to Lamb increasing her primary vote from 35.4% to almost 40%. Queensland’s LNP faces fresh questions about its organisational and campaigning stocks following a disappointing showing at last November’s state election.
The bigger concern for the federal government is the extent to which its policies are on the nose with voters. Certainly, Labor focused much of its Longman campaign on the effects that penalty rate reductions and company tax cuts for big businesses would have on local job prospects and funding for hospitals and education services. ALP insiders were quietly confident of crafting a successful “class warfare”-style campaign in an electorate with higher than average unemployment and below average incomes.
In this respect, the Longman campaign offered a preview to the likely dimensions and key party messaging of the coming federal election campaign, expected in the first half of next year. Given the number of marginal federal seats in Queensland, this positions the state as the “battleground” where that election can be won and lost.
The fight for marginal seats
Byelection results shouldn’t, of course, be extrapolated to likely voting patterns at a general election. Many in Queensland remember John Howard’s Liberals losing a 2001 byelection for the Brisbane seat of Ryan, only to regain it comfortably at the national election later that year (aided by some notable external factors).
The Longman contest was fought on local as much as broader issues – with residents’ health, education and employment concerns front of mind for most. But these “bread and butter” issues, as well as Longman’s characterisation as a true marginal, urban fringe seat, make the fall of the votes here possibly indicative of wider trends. If the government’s intended tax cut package for large as well as smaller businesses turned off many Longman voters, it may well do so in marginal seats across the board.
In Queensland, where there is nearly a dozen such marginal seats – seven held by the Coalition – any inkling as to what might motivate voters in those electorates will be keenly sought by the major parties. The Coalition, in particular, stands to lose much if lessons can’t be drawn from voters’ messages.
After the weekend, MPs in the neighbouring electorates of Petrie (margin of 1.6%) and high-profile Dickson (held by Peter Dutton on the same margin), as well as Flynn (1%), Forde (0.6%) and Capricornia (0.6%), will be sitting more nervously in the Coalition party room.
The issues animating many Longman voters also feature in seats alongside it. Anti-government sentiment could well seep across electorate boundaries and threaten incumbents there. Notably, Dutton’s late arrival on the Longman campaign trail warning of the immigration policy “perils” of Shorten’s Labor didn’t much seem to stem the flow of votes away from Ruthenberg.
With Labor also holding a handful of marginal Queensland seats, both major parties will be conscious of shoring up an unstable vote base. It is this landscape, as much as Labor’s campaign messages about “big end of town” tax cuts, that likely determines how much the government refashions its policy agenda ahead of the federal election.
One Nation vote hurts the Coalition
One Nation’s considerable vote in Longman – almost 16% compared to the 9.4% it gained in 2016 – underlines the current strength of the minor party protest vote. Indeed, the increase in One Nation’s support in Longman came mainly at the expense of the Coalition’s candidate. In a field of eleven nominations, the next best vote was the Greens’ 4.8%.
There is residual irritation in the wider electorate about voters’ circumstances and about a perceived disconnection from their elected representatives. This alienation was again apparent in the Longman result, and signals a warning to both major parties about volatile voter sentiment in Queensland and elsewhere.
The high One Nation vote came after a more concerted and less gaffe-prone campaign, despite candidate Matthew Stephen facing persistent queries over his business history. This was achieved in the conspicuous absence of Pauline Hanson’s “star power” (dozens of cardboard cut-outs of the party leader notwithstanding).
But these circumstances are possible at a byelection more so than a general election, where One Nation’s modest resources are typically stretched. It may be that the party concentrates its federal campaigning and nominations on fewer seats so as not to spread itself too thinly (as it found to its cost at the recent Queensland election).
The way the party suggests its voters direct their preferences is regularly a mystery, as is how closely its voters follow those recommendations. But if One Nation focuses on the marginal seats in Queensland, those preferences might place the party in an influential position with the government on policy negotiations ahead of the next federal election.