Whether you’re a politics enthusiast or not, Saturday’s 2016 Australian federal election is looming as a tight race, with another hung parliament seemingly a very real prospect.
While Malcolm Turnbull is undoubtedly a far more palatable Prime Minister than Tony Abbott, in the opinion of most voters, it remains to be seen whether the Coalition can shake itself free of Abbott’s gaff-prone stint in the top job.
On the other hand, given little hope of election victory in 2016 following Turnbull’s leadership coup in September last year, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has found surprising support amongst the Labor faithful and the electorate at large in recent months.
While the Coalition has enjoyed superior primary support, with its first preference percentage outweighing Labor’s throughout the horrifyingly long election campaign, first preference voting intentions are now tightening up heading towards the finishing line.
Federal Voting Intention during 2016 Election Campaign
- When Turnbull said he would call for a Double Dissolution election (April 19th, 2016), the Coalition had strong primary support – 42% compared to Labor’s 36%
- Polls tightened the following week as an early election became a real prospect
- Coalition announce 2016 Federal Budget (May 3rd, 2016) and regain ascendancy in the polls
- After the federal election was officially called (May 8th, 2016), the margin in first preference voting intention was maintained, despite Turnbull being named in the Panama Papers scandal (May 11th, 2016)
- Labor lost significant ground to minor parties and independents at the midpoint of the campaign around the beginning of June, but bounced back from a six-point gap (41% vs 35%) to tighten things up during the week (39% vs 37%)
- Two party preferred polling had Labor and the Coalition level pegging (50% vs 50%) as the prospect of a Double Dissolution election was tabled (April 19th, 2016)
- After preferences, Labor opened up a strong two party preferred lead in the following week (52% vs 48%), reflecting a tightening of first preference voting intentions during the same week
- The delivery of the 2016 Federal Budget (May 3rd, 2016) saw the Coalition close in on Labor in the week following the announcement (49% vs 51%)
- After the federal election was officially called (May 8th, 2016), the two party preferred polling remained steady, like first preference voting intentions, despite Turnbull being named in the Panama Papers scandal (May 11th, 2016)
- Labor’s election campaign appeared to falter heading into June, with the Coalition taking the lead in two-party preferred polling for the first time (51% vs 49%)
- The final month of Labor’s election campaign seems to have resonated with the electorate, tying two party preferred voting up at 50/50, with Labor then reclaiming the lead for the final three weeks of polling (51% vs 49%)
Budgets, Panama Papers and scare campaigns
At first, polling data from Essential Research seemed to suggest that Turnbull had made an error in judgement when he issued an ultimatum to call a Double Dissolution election (April 19th) over the reinstatement of the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC). First preference polling tightened and Labor opened up a four-point lead on a two party preferred basis.
However, the electorate responded favorably to the delivery of the 2016 Federal Budget (May 3rd), with the Coalition growing their lead in first preference polling and narrowing the gap in two party preferred voting intentions.
Somewhat surprisingly, but probably sensibly, Australians seemed unmoved by Turnbull’s loose connection to the Panama Papers scandal (May 11th).
Moving into June and the midpoint of the election campaign, Labor’s message appeared to be getting lost, with first preferences floundering (35% vs 41%), as the Coalition took the lead in two party preferred polling for the first time (51% vs 49%).
With the campaign on the line, and knowing that negative messaging (unfortunately) trumps positive political promotion, Shorten stepped up Labor’s scare campaign on a potential GST hike and cuts to Medicare under a Turnbull-led government. Right or wrong, the electorate responded, with the ALP closing the first preference gap (37% vs 39%) and opening up a two-point lead in two party preferred polling (51% vs 49%).
But, while much of the media have been painting Bill Shorten’s strong campaign as a potential come-from-behind victory, it’s worth remembering that the Abbott-led Coalition was heading for a near certain one-term-wonder government before Turnbull deposed Abbott (September 15th, 2015) and set-up a substantial Coalition lead.
Federal Voting Intention since Turnbull ousted Abbott (September 2015)
- The Turnbull-led Coalition enjoyed a significant honeymoon period between September 2015 and February 2016, maintaining a primary vote of 44% – 45% after Abbott was removed as Prime Minister (September 15th, 2015)
- During the same period, Labor couldn’t move above 35% of first preference support
- In August 2015, before Turnbull toppled Abbott, the ALP had emerged from the political wilderness of the 2013 federal election to lead the two party preferred polls (51% vs 49%)
- The electorate responded positively to Abbot’s ousting with immediate effect, with the Coalition regaining and maintaining ascendancy in the two party preferred polls from September 2015 through to February 2016 (52% vs 48%)
Nothing lasts forever, J. Cole
Despite the Bronwyn Bishop Choppergate saga of August 2015, which emboldened Turnbull’s takeover bid (September 15th, 2015) and catapulted the Coalition back into favor with the Australian people, the government has been pulled back to the reality of a skeptical electorate and uncertain economic times.
So, with polls near deadlocked, and Turnbull’s honeymoon period seemingly over, can the Coalition escape the shadow of Tony Abbott’s unpopular Prime Ministership?
Federal Voting Intention since last Federal Election (September 7th, 2013)
- For almost the entirety of Abbott’s time as PM, from December 2013 to September 2015, Labor led the Coalition government in two party preferred polling
- The Coalition quickly began to fall out of favor with voters towards the end of 2015, with leaks revealing attempts to spy on the Indonesian President (November 18th, 2013), as Holden also announced the end of Australian manufacturing (December 11th, 2013)
- Abbott’s awkward antics, combined with Arthur Sinodinos stepping down from the frontbench amidst controversial circumstances (March 19th, 2014) and an unpopular 2014 Federal Budget (May 13th, 2014), saw the Coalition slip to a calamitous position on a two party preferred basis in June 2014 (39.5% vs 60.5%)
- Despite improvements in polling from June – October 2014, and strong displays of leadership when Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down (July 18th, 2014), October 2014 to February 2015 saw another slide as voters responded to several incidents:
- Abbott threatened to ’shirtfront’ Vladimir Putin (October 13th, 2014)
- Liberals lost Victorian election (November 29th, 2014)
- Abbot backed down on university overhaul (December 1st, 2014)
- Proposed cuts to Medicare rebates abandoned (January 15th, 2015)
- Abbott made Prince Philip a knight (January 26th, 2015)
- LNP lost Queensland election (January 31st, 2015)
- Abbott survived motion for leadership spill (February 9th, 2015)
- Pressure built over politicians’ use of tax payer funds, centering around the Bronwyn Bishop Choppergate saga, which culminated in her resignation (August 2nd, 2015)
Can the Coalition convince the electorate to move on from Abbott’s torrid times as PM?
Polling data from Roy Morgan illustrates the ongoing battles the Abbott government faced throughout its lifespan, resulting in voter backlash over a plethora of unpopular incidents, misjudgments and “broken promises”. The key question is, has Turnbull done enough in the past 10 months to regain trust and convince Australians that the Coalition has changed its brand of politics?
Which Party do Voters Trust to Handle the Big Issues?
- Voters trust the Coalition more than the Labor Party on 6/15 big election issues
- Voters trust the Labor Party more than the Coalition on 9/15 big election issues
- Interestingly, a higher proportion of voters didn’t know if they could trust one or both parties on 15/15 issues compared to those who did
Reducing the budget deficit
- Significantly more voters believe that the Coalition is better at managing Australia’s economy
- Over 37% of voters believe the Coalition would be most likely to reduce Australia’s deficit if they won the 2016 election
- Just 14% of voters believe the Labor party would be most likely to reduce Australia’s deficit if they won the 2016 election
- Interestingly, almost one third of voters did not believe it would make any difference which major party won
- As a voting group, Coalition supporters overwhelming backed their party to reduce the budget deficit (79%)
- More Labor supporters (39%) believe neither a Coalition or Labor government would impact the ability to reduce the budget deficit, compared to Labor supporters who think Labor would do a better job of reducing the deficit than the Coalition (35%)
- More Green supporters (49%), and more supporters who back ‘Other’ parties (45%), believe that neither a Coalition or Labor government would impact the ability to reduce the budget deficit
Statements about immigration
- A majority of Australians (59%) believe that the level of immigration into Australia over the last ten years has been too high
- More Australians agree (46%) than disagree (40%) with the statement that multiculturalism has failed and caused social division and religious extremism in Australia
- A majority of Australians (57%) disagree that Australia should increase its intake of refugees
- More Australians would trust the Coalition (41%) than Labor (28%) to have the ‘right’ policies on immigration
Analysis: Australians back Labor on more big issues, but support the Coalition on the biggest issues
The same Essential Research polling data suggests that more Australians trust Labor on more of the big issues that have defined the 2016 federal election campaign. Voters only trust the Coalition more than the Labor Party on 6/15 big election issues, whereas voters trust the Labor party more than the Coalition on 9/15 big election issues.
However, many political pundits have stated that the biggest tension points of the campaign have been economic management and immigration. And, voters seem to think that the Coalition is more capable of handling both issues. Over 37% of voters believe the Coalition would be most likely to reduce Australia’s deficit if they won the 2016 election. Just 14% of voters believe the Labor party would be most likely to reduce Australia’s deficit if they won. Similarly, more Australians would trust the Coalition (41%) than Labor (28%) to have the ‘right’ policies on immigration.
Which Major Party Leader do Voters Like Most?
Despite what polling suggests about the two major parties this election, it’s also true that the Australian political system is becoming increasingly individualized, with more and more emphasis being placed on the person leading political parties.
So which party leader, Bill or Malcolm, do voters find most appealing?
- Turnbull was a breath of fresh air when he took over as Prime Minister in September 2015, with a Total Approval rating of 47%, and a Total Disapproval rating of just 17%
- Turnbull’s Total Approval peaked at 56% in November / December 2015
- Turnbull’s honeymoon period was officially over at the end of March 2016 when his Total Approval and Total Disapproval ratings intersected at 39%
- In the last three months Turnbull’s Total Approval and Total Disapproval ratings have fluctuated, passing and then repassing each other in quick succession
- The only point at which Shorten’s Total Approval rating has been higher than his Total Disapproval rating was at the beginning of his time as Opposition Leader in November 2013 – May 2014
- From the beginning of April to the end of June 2016, confirming popular belief that he has run an unexpectedly strong election campaign, Shorten has driven-up his Total Approval rating from 27% to 37%.
- Simultaneously, Shorten has driven down his Total Disapproval rating from 44% to 39%
- When Turnbull started his stint as Prime Minister in September 2015, more than three times the number of people thought he would make a better Prime Minister than Bill Shorten (53% vs 17%)
- By December 2015, only five percent of voters thought Shorten would make a better Prime Minister than Turnbull
- Since February 2016, the percentage of people who think Turnbull would be a better Prime Minister than Shorten has steadily decreased, while the percentage of people who think Shorten would make a better Prime Minister than Turnbull has steadily increased
- In the week leading up to this Saturday’s election, although Shorten has narrowed the gap, 40% of voters still think Turnbull would be a better Prime Minister than Shorten, with 29% believing Shorten would be a better Prime Minister than Turnbull
Despite Shorten’s strong showing, Turnbull’s still winning the popularity contest
Much like the Party polling indicates, Bill Shorten has narrowed the gap on Malcolm Turnbull in the individual stakes. But, probably not enough.
Aside from early on in his role as Opposition Leader for Labor (November 2013 – May 2014), Shorten’s Total Disapproval rating has always been higher than his Total Approval rating. And, while Turnbull’s Total Approval rating as Prime Minister actually dipped below his Total Disapproval rating for the first time in recent months, he enters polling day with equal Total Approval and Total Disapproval ratings. Not a comfortable position, but better than Shorten’s.
And, crucially, when voters were asked this week which leader would make a better Prime Minister, 40% of voters said Turnbull, while just 29% said Shorten.
Hedging Your Bets: Who Do We Think Will Win?
Some of the critical factors point towards a Coalition win. But, who do the people and the punters think will claim victory on Saturday?
- According to polling, people believe that a Coalition victory is the most likely outcome (39%)
- Coalition voters are more confident of a Coalition victory than Labor voters are of a Labor victory
- 75% of Coalition voters expect to be celebrating on Saturday
- Only 58% of Labor voters expect to be celebrating on Saturday
- A higher proportion of Labor voters expect Saturday’s election to result in a hung parliament, compared to Coalition voters
- 12% of Labor voters expect a hung parliament
- 9% of Coalition voters expect a hung parliament
Conclusion: A Coalition Victory
Despite coming closer than many expected several months ago, Shorten will fall short at the ballot box on polling day, this Saturday 2nd of July. And, if that wasn’t enough, according to the bookies, the Coalition ($1.10) is almost seven times more likely to retain government than Labor ($7.00) is to clinch victory.
But hey, apparently only 14% of Australian’s really care about the outcome.
So, you know, meh…