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Seeking the Post-COVID-19 Sunshine: Should Opinion Polling lead our Political Participation?

By Denis Bright  

In the absence of a high-profile opinion polling in the forthcoming Queensland election, I took the initiative of contacting YouGov in Sydney about the expected date of their next comprehensive opinion poll. It is a long time since the last opinion poll from Newspoll through YouGov in late July 2020.

This poll indicated a close result after preferences. The anticipated outcomes were closer than the margin of error in state-wide polling in a state with a very diverse demography. This adds to the potential margin of error in the polling results.

That Pox on Both Your Houses?

Research from the Electoral Commission Queensland (ECQ) in 2017, showed up other variables.

There was a high level of informal voting particularly in disadvantaged electorates on the outskirts of urban areas in South East Queensland. Informal voting was in excess of 6 per cent in eight electorates. Long before the COVID-19 problems in 2017, the apparent failure to vote was running in excess of 15 per cent in sixteen electorates. Still an unknown percentage of potential voters had not bothered with electoral enrolment obligations.

Electoral rolls are managed by the federal government through the AEC which is also responsible for publicity campaigns to encourage enrolments.

Many potential voters are turned off by formal politics and the shrill nature of political debate which is conducted through the media.

Then,  there is the obscure role played by political public opinion polling. This is accepted as a social reality. Scoop public opinion polls assist with promotional efforts by print, online and electronic media outlets.

Australia suffers from a lack of diversity in its opinion polling networks compared with Britain and European countries. The Politico web site offers a consensus of polling results. Readers who are interested in public opinion in Britain and Europe will enjoy looking at the results on the Politico site which cover thirty countries plus elections of the EU itself.

Australia is increasingly locked into Newspolls administered by YouGov.

Newspoll was once an arm of News Corp Australia. However, News Corp allowed its political polling to be administered by Galaxy Research. This was taken over by YouGov:

YouGov set up its own Australian business two years ago, using data collected from its proprietary panel of members to provide syndicated data products and services. Financial details of the deal were not disclosed.

David Briggs, the founder and managing director of Galaxy, will lead the combined business and team of 11 employees in Australia, which will initially operate under the brand YouGov Galaxy.

Stephan Shakespeare, CEO of YouGov, said: “With its reputation for accuracy and an excellent roster of corporate market research clients, Galaxy was an obvious fit for the YouGov Group. This acquisition increases our presence in Australia which is a significant market and one which is strategically important to our international clients.”

Briggs, added: “Becoming part of YouGov gives Galaxy access to an enviable global profile, a high-quality proprietary panel and operating platform.”

By global corporate standards, YouGov is quite a small company but with massive strategic influence over world politics from its network of nine million panellists worldwide in UK, USA, Europe, the Nordics, the Middle East and Asia Pacific. Limited details are available of this network from the YouGov site. It has a network of one million panellists in the UK alone. This vast network of panellists can be randomly sampled on both political and marketing questions in a manner which could not be done by Newspoll itself within the global News Corp stable.

Welcome to the YouGov Network

 

YouGov incorporates political opinion polling into its wider marketing outreach:

YouGov is an international research data and analytics group headquartered in London.

Our data-led offering supports and improves a wide spectrum of marketing activities of a customer-base including media owners, brands and media agencies. We work with some of the world’s most recognised brands.

Our suite of data solutions includes YouGov BrandIndex, YouGov Profiles, YouGov Omnibus and YouGov Custom Research.

With a proprietary panel of over 9+ million people globally and operations in the UK, North America, Mainland Europe, the Nordics, the Middle East and Asia Pacific, YouGov has one of the world’s largest research networks.

YouGov data is regularly referenced by the press worldwide and we are the most quoted market research source in the UK.

In Australia, YouGov has an association with the Murdoch Press and with other News Corporation television and print outlets worldwide. The precise nature of this association was the subject of my request for YouGov to assist in the preparation of this story line.  Our readers might be able to better define this association. I offered YouGov a chance to offer block quotes for inclusion in my story line to ensure that the complex associations were precisely covered.

There can be no doubt of the power of marketing network in both politics and corporate life. Such links are not widely discussed in mainstream media networks. YouGov reveals something of its marketing approach to politics and even their assessment of elites in Britain.

Self-promotion works wonders as shown by the latest scoop from YouGov’s B&T Magazine. Images of Sydney’s 2GB King of Radio Breakfasts Ben Fordham are so larger than life that they are confusing the autopilots on Telsa cars:

 

 

“Sydney’s new king of breakfast radio Ben Fordham is stopping Sydney traffic and it has nothing to do with his ratings-hit 2GB show.

With his face plastered on the back of Sydney buses, Tesla cars have been thrown into disarray with its autopilot system confusing the radio host’s mug for a real person and automatically hitting the breaks.

Fordham talked about the strange incident earlier this week on his show.

He said: “What’s happening is that there’s a function in Tesla vehicles called autopilot. But the computer looks at what’s going on around and if it identifies what it believes to be a pedestrian, it will hit on the brakes,” Fordham said.

“[It] thinks that I’m a pedestrian as opposed to a poster!”

The Tesla autopilot issue was posted as a video to YouTube on September 27 by David Jones” (bandt.com.au).

Major shareholders in YouGov are BlackRock Inc, a major US global investment manager with assets of $US 7.4 trillion under management and the world’s largest shadow bank as well as Standard Life Aberdeen which is the largest asset manager in the UK.

In this Brand-New World, the strategic timing of irregularly placed political opinion polling can influence outcomes in close elections. Even quite ethically based polling works wonders for print and electronic network ratings. Voters like to be on a winner like the horse race punters of old who relished in accessing tips from racing insiders. The world has changed but our information bases for decision-making have become somewhat more sophisticated and more existential. The UAP is a specialist in political populism from the 2019 federal elections.

A strategically placed poll just when the Queensland Government is entering its caretaking period can have a big impact on the viability of a government with the slenderest majority of just one seat away from minority government from the 2017 state elections.

If the next opinion poll strongly supports the Palaszczuk Government, it will have little impact on election outcomes. However, it will be a different matter if the voting patterns from the July polling are repeated to slow a line-ball outcome after preferences from minor parties.

Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party (UAP) is on the scene again to stir up politics particularly in disadvantaged electorates.

The UAP’s flamboyant style of politics invites a protest-vote from the legions of Queenslanders who have little interest in formal politics (Ben Snee of The Guardian 3 October 2020). UAP preferences are directed against Labor with a vengeance.

“No analyst or pollster believes Palmer’s United Australia party – which is yet to announce candidates in 50 electorates – can win more than a minor share of the vote in any Queensland seat. So what does the state’s richest man hope to achieve by pouring more personal millions into his own political outfit?

“Up here there’s a saying: don’t listen to what a man says, watch what he does,” says Jen Sackley, a former official and candidate for Palmer’s United Australia Party.

“This is a Liberal man. He was a National and Liberal man most of his life. As far as I’m concerned, we were a lobby group for the Liberal party in yellow shirts.”

Sackley was the party’s north Queensland director and its regional campaign manager at the 2019 election. Palmer spent $83.6m on his garish “Make Australia Great” election advertising. In the final weeks, the businessman changed strategy and launched a series of attacks ads designed to damage and discredit Labor, rather than attempting to win seats for the United Australia party.”

Politics in the COVID-19 Era

This time there will be a significantly larger percentage of postal and pre-polling votes if the precedents of the local government elections in Brisbane on 28 March 2020 are repeated (Anthony Green 19 April 2020):

During March the Electoral Commission reacted to the emerging health emergency by encouraging voters to make use of postal and pre-poll voting. It also broadened access to telephone voting, an option previously only available for blind and low vision voters. The new public health rules prevented the Electoral Commission from visiting retirement homes and hospitals, and also prevented the use of Electoral Visitor voting.

The effect of Coronavirus on turnout was less dramatic then the impact it had on how people voted. In the Brisbane City Council Lord Mayoral election, turnout fell from 84% in 2016 to 79.9%, a drop of only 4.1%. That is a remarkable turnout given the health concerns.

But using Brisbane ward election results, on the day voting fell from 66.0% in 2016 to only 26.5% in 2020. Pre-poll voting rose from 13.2% to 28.7%, postal voting from 12.2% to 23.9%, end telephone voting recorded 8,428 votes (1.4%) compared to only 151 votes in 2016.

Absent voting also leapt from 7.4% in 2016 to 18.3% in 2020. This figure hides some of the increase in pre-poll votes. In 2016 pre-poll votes recorded outside of a voter’s home ward were recorded as pre-poll votes. In 2020 outside of ward pre-polls were counted as absent votes.

In a community under stress from both public health and financial hardships, there is certain to be a big existential factor in this year’s Queensland elections.

Many will look to guidance from strategically timed opinion polling with claims from YouGov about is incredible track record. Delaying the major polling will enable the UAP to be registered in the two forthcoming major pre-election polls.

Stresses abound in 2020 during the worst recession since the 1930s and are certain to intensify if the LNP has chance to regain control of the policy levers at state and federal levels to impose that social and workplace discipline that the corporate sector craves in difficult times.

Denis Bright is a member of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). Denis is committed to citizen’s journalism from a critical structuralist perspective. Comments from insiders with a specialist knowledge of the topics covered are particularly welcome.

 

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16 comments

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  1. Terence Mills

    If you read the Newscorp publications – and in Queensland that’s all you have to read – you will be told that the ALP government has maintained the worst COVID lockdown strategy in the nation and that they must be voted out without delay.

    If you live in the North of Queensland you will know that, despite the inconveniences of the COVID lockdown, we have so far been able to effectively manage the spread of this disease and, in particular, keep it out of the many aboriginal communities of the state’s north and the Torres Strait Islands and that is a commendable achievement.

    What happens in the election will largely depend on the ferocious spin generated by Newscorp and Sky after Dark (now beaming free to air into regional Queensland through WIN) coupled with the egregious Palmer wild-card (or should that be loose cannon). Palmer can get his way with the LNP to a far greater degree than he ever could with Labor.

  2. Paul

    Politics should be extended community service to the Us in our communities.

  3. Tessa

    Good electoral rolls and electoral laws are vital for Australian democracy

  4. James Robo

    Does the UAP really exist in our communities? Where does it meet in my electorate?

  5. Cora

    Hopefully most of us aren’t so influenced by polls such as YouGov that we can’t make up our own minds as to who is in the best place to govern for the good of all people.

  6. Leila

    Premier Palaszczuk should easily win on integrity but politics the US Presidential style has infiltrated our politics.

  7. Denis Bright in Brisbane

    Thanks for your comments, Terence Mills. My articles are written to provide opportunities for this type of feedback.

    I try to do a resasonable job without the resources available to major media networks. These networks can still overlook key sources of inrformation and structural trend-lines and just compulsicvely keep publishing polls from Newspolls and YouGov without any critical input of their timing and quality.

    All this reminded me on how ol;der generations of close relatives reached out for information on racing tips to make wagers at SP book-makers before the formation of the TABs. One such outlet even operated in St. Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney where religious sisters would seek some relief from the heavy burdens of ward duties to take an interest in horse racing and football scores.

    I gave YouGov a chance to offer a block quote on the reasons for the absence of a major opinion poll in Queensland since late-July to early August.

    I was also curious about the contractual links between the Murdoch press and YouGov which is a major multinational source of information about trends in public opinion. The Murdoch press once had a financial interest in Newspoll but now. It is deemed to be more effective to work through YouGov which gives News Corp access to importance business marketing data that helps its print and electronic networks.

    My story-line was actually better without input from YouGov as I searched through sources of information about its international activities and the Annual Report of YouGov to 2019 which is the latest one available. The 2020 report is due in November and will be issued from London as usual.

    The issues raised by Terence Mills are the $64,000 question in relation to the Queensland state election or should I say the $60 billion questions as there is always a possibility that a minority LNP Government can be formed in Queensland that supports the re-election of Scott Morrison in late 2021.

    Premier Campbell Newman refused to sign Kevin Rudd’s offer on financial assistance to Queensland in 2013 to cover most of the cost of the rail link in Brisbane. Queensland Government is paying for the full cost of an economized version of this great project at a cost of $6 billion or 10 per cent of the projected state budget spending-hence my reference to the $60 billion question.

    Alarm bells should be ringing at 1 William Street about your concerns Terence.

    I travel regularly in North and Western Queensland and I understand your concerns. Feelings can be so strong that it is better not to express an alternative opinion in conversations as far-right opinion can be so overwhelming. Interactive silence on some matters is the more strategic option.

    You are the messenger Terence. Keep up your good work.

    The election is still a month away but half of the electorate may be taking advantage of postal and pre-poll voting, Pre-poll centres open on 19 October 2020 over eleven days.

    Many regional voters would like to vote Labor as they want responsible government intervention like tropical food bowl projects as recommended by the CSIRO:

    https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-08-30/giant-dams-report-northern-australia/10181682 (ABC News 30 August 2018)

    Labor gave Queenslanders this type of water conservation in the early 1950s with the Mareeba-Dimbulah Irrigation Scheme from the Tinaroo Falls Dam.

    The New Bradfield Scheme proposed by the LNP, One Nation and others is sheer nonsense as is the double-lane motorway from Tweed Heads to Cairns as the southern sections are already up and running to Curra near Gympie.

    The election in the regions could go either way between the extremes of results attained in 2001 and 2012. Labor won the seat of Charters Towers in 2001.

    Everything depends on the style of rhetoric used by Labor’s communication advisers.

    There is still a liking for pre-1957 Labor politics across the disadvantaged regions. Using the right communication style can inspire voters in electorates like Hill (NQ Wetlands), Hinchinbrook, Whitsunday, Mirani, Burdekin and Hervery Bay. All these seats are currently held by the LNP or far-right parties.

    Thanks for your valuable input Terence. Your thoughts were not new to me but are they reaching 1 William Street, Brisbane?

    .

  8. rubio@the coasr

    Pre-1955-7 Labor Politics at state and federal levels had a strong commitment to the True Believers who were born again to succeed in the 1993 federal elections. Paul Keating gained an increased majority. Not a bad idea for Queensland in 2020 I say. The Liberals, Nationals and an assortment of others are only offering Hard Times Again to Labor’s heartland in those country towns of Regional Queensland.

  9. Cora

    Great comment Rubio.
    Enjoy the rest of Labout Day and the lovely weather on the Central Coast.

  10. Stella

    Denis, thanks for a great article about opinion polling and the Qld upcoming election. It was well researched and informative.

  11. Denis Bright in Brisbane

    Thanks for the follow-up discussion to my article. The article raised the very important issue about the high profile of opinion polling in the Murdoch press through Newspoll and more recently through YouGov.

    Australians should be concerned about the close links between YouGov and the Murdoch Press. These seems to be quite legal commercial associations. However, mainstream journalists should be wanting to find out more about these links. I have tried to get comments from YouGov and will add them as soon as they are received.

    Founder of the American institute of Public Opinion, George Gallup (1901-84), refused to conduct surveys at the request of the Democratic or Republican Parties. He strove for a high degree of independence for his network.

    The Murdoch Press seems to be using its preferred opinion polling to set a political agenda that supports a dry style of conservatism at the expense of leaders who hold liberal or social democratic viewpoints. The LNP’s liberal wing is usually targeted by the Murdoch press. All leaders are expected to be All the Way with the USA do there is no Angela Merkel at the healm of the conservative party in Australia.

    All this discussion is hogwash to many voters who dislike too much political debate as a distraction of their right to privacy and freedom. Donald Trumpism is quite alive and well in Australia and this is being promoted especially by the UAP at a time when One Nation is in decline as a grass-roots movement.

    It is a challenge to bring the far-right back to the mainstream across Australia. Music might help in some reagional areas as political debate can be too wordy.

    I searched for some old lyrics on You Tube which might interest voters in regional areas under seige from the UAP and other far-right parties. The list will not paste into the comments section so progressive supporters in the regions will need to take their own initiatives.

    The decision of the state LNP to put Labor last in every seat certainly plays into the dry conservative agenda of the Murdoch Press.

    With Clive Palmer’s UAP standing in fifty seats at least, well funded campaigns can be expected which will put Labor last in every marginal regional seat by both the UAP and the LNP.

    Labor can only respond with a We The People Approach based on commitment to the protection of living stabndards, communities and their infrastructure needs as well as our precious ecosystems.

    There is a dislike of the Wordy Nature of formal politics with 4-6 per cent voting informal in many marginal seats, 10-15 per cent not voting and many more not even enrolled to vote as they have moved from interstate or not really enrolled to vote at 18 years of age in Queensland. Count up the per centages and quite a sizeable percentage of Australians have chosen to cut themselves off from any form of reconnizable political participation.

  12. wam

    Where cheating is possible it occurs freely and without redress.
    The process has become so usual that in daily life as to go unnoticed.
    When the media cheats effectively it has influence mostly with the already cheated but their excitement can rally those who should vote labor but become frightened enough to vote against their own interests..
    The timing of the cheats(ings) is vital, the cake, the WoMD, children overboard, caravans, short sharp and effevtive for 48 hours. The long term bludgeoning effect of the rabbott’s debt attack were al linked to the polls but I do not think the polls were influential in the results..
    With your treatise the power of money at such a level show that to cheat must be very lucrative and when greed cuts in wow the cheating will become the rule and means to win barring miracles like boobby??

  13. Denis Bright

    Well said Wam. I will be watching tonight’s budget papers for the new session in this ongoing saga? Where will the LNP’s social investment policies be taking the Lucky Country with advice from Detour Deb in Queensland on that Intrastate Motorway?

  14. wam

    Selamat pagi, Mr Bright,
    Just got up and saw the sunrise not real but the silly sam version and bugger me
    polls show a labor win 3 seconds segment immediately followed by a spiel from the qld opposition leader, Making it abundantly clear the preferred option.
    Will brave karl baby at 0800.

  15. Chris

    It will interesting to see the election results!

  16. w ch

    Ban opinion polls during election campaigns Interesting discussion from when polls were a very new thing. I think its a good argument made to ban them during election campaigns, but maybe impractical now

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UY7g5ZFrRJY

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