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If you’re been following me over the past few years, you probably know my views on opinion polls. It’s quite simple. They’re accurate to within three percent and consequently almost useless in terms of making any definitive judgements about what will happen in any upcoming election for a number of reasons:

  1. The first reason is that nearly every federal election in my lifetime could have had a different result depending on which way the margin of error goes. If you have the Coalition on 51% and Labor on 49% two party preferred, that’s an almost certain Coalition win, but Labor on 52% two party preferred is highly likely to yield a different result.
  2. In spite of the margin of error – which everyone knows about – there is a tendency for the political pundits to treat every poll as though it’s a completely accurate snapshot of voter intentions and no acknowledgement that it might be an outlier. “The Labor Party have dropped in support by one percent in this last poll and three more people prefer Scott Morrison as Prime Minister since the poll taken two weeks ago. This is undoubtedly because of the masterful way Mr Morrison handled his explanation of his complete incompetence on the issue that’s dominated our columns for the past month.”
  3. Most polls don’t know what to do with undecided voters so they generally ignore them and just presume that they’ll break the same way as the people who expressed an opinion. Generally, however, there’s a slight trend to stick with the incumbent. This means that a high number of undecided voters close to an election is likely to favour the government.
  4. There’s a ridiculous amount of discussion about things that don’t mean much. For example, the preferred leader and their “popularity”. For a start it’s an approval rating not a popularity contest. You may approve of the person who does your taxes but it doesn’t mean that you want to go out to dinner with them and discuss the advantages of double entry bookkeeping. Similarly, Gazza who – after a few drinks -keeps everyone entertained with his energetic rendition of “Stand By Your Man” may not be your first choice to cut that melanoma from your face. In the end, popular PMs are sometimes thrown out and boring ones are sometimes re-elected.
  5. Finally, most of the news we get are national polls, and elections are decided on a seat-by-seat basis. It’s possible that a party could lose thousands of voters in opposition held and blue ribbon seats, but still hang on because there’s not much shift in the marginals. In this vein, the Murdoch paper I picked up while waiting for coffee had an “exclusive” poll taken in several marginal seats where they suggested that many were too close to call. However, it also stated with some certainty that the Liberals would hold Gladys Lui’s seat of Chisholm which suggests to me that the poll was exclusive because it excluded as many people likely to vote Labor as possible.

I understand why Labor voters are edgy. After 2019, there’s a tendency to take nothing for granted which I understand. Everyone was expecting a Labor win, with one betting company paying out the day before. But the whole thing about unpredictable events is that they are just that. In hindsight, though, many of the unpredictable events are simply overlooked possibilities. Ok we were warned about unprecedented weather events but we didn’t think that they’d be worse than we expected!

Lately, Scott Morrison and his cronies have been trying two main ways to get re-elected. The first is to try to argue that Labor are hypocrites and that they’re just as bad as they are. Look, we were told, they’re offering bribes to marginal electorates too. Look, we were told, they also bully women, why they even have women bullying women which is even more unacceptable. We don’t hide from things, we ask Phill to do an inquiry which we never make public. What about Christian Porter? That was different his accuser was dead so there’s no way we could have an inquiry there… because… anyway, Labor.

This strategy may have some effect, but the danger is that it also brings up all the things that you’re hoping that the electorate has forgotten. I mean, it’s probably not a good idea for me to point out to my wife that the dog has made nearly as much mess vomiting on the carpet as I did after the Christmas party in 2011. Probably better to hope that she’s forgotten and when she does notice what the dog’s done, well, hopefully it doesn’t trigger the memory of things long gone. Of course, this strategy of focusing on Labor does have one other drawback: several Liberals are under challenge from independent candidates and putting people off Labor in some of those electorates may actually help the independent.

The second strategy is to repeat 2019 by telling everyone how well the economy is going to be next year, attacking the Labor leader, offering bribes to the electorate and, most importantly, lots and lots of photos showing what a swell fellow Scomo is. The trouble with this is that a) people are starting to be cynical about things always improving after the election; b) unlike Bill Shorten, Albanese is equal as preferred PM in the polls; c) once people expect bribes, it’s harder to make them think that you’re doing it because they deserve it and not because you think they’re easily bought; and d) while Scotty was a bit on an unknown at the last election, we know all know that Scott Morrison is the sort of man that never lies… we also know that he hasn’t been at Hillsong for fifteen years, he never said anything bad about electric cars, he hammers screws instead of nails when making a cubby, he’s always supported climate change policies, he never told Christine Holgate to resign, he makes curries from different ingredients to the ones in the photo of the ingredients and he makes decisions based on Jen reminding him that he has two daughters, something he apparently forgets. Apart from all this, people are starting to wonder why there are more photos of Scotty pretending to do other people’s jobs and why there are almost none of him actually doing the Prime Minister thing.

Yes, we all know that there’s only one poll that counts, and that’s the one taken next week when the Liberals all get together to work out if it’s too late to change leader.


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  1. John Jenkins

    Keep in mind that the most”marginals” are Labor seats. Though it’s expected improvement will happen with them some of the seats Labor must take, especially in Qld have a buffer from 5%or more to fall

  2. Keitha Granville

    Labor has to stop shooting itself in the foot. Sort out the differences NOT IN FRONT OF THE MEDIA. Otherwise we will be wondering on election night how Scummo could have won the unwinnable AGAIN

  3. leefe


    It’s not like they actually wanted Kimberley Kitching to die …

    Also, regardless of what the ALP do or do not do, much of the issue is about what people know about the parties and candidates, which gets us to the problem of MSM bias …

  4. New England Cocky

    @John Jenkins; IN 1999 NSW elections Richard Torbay (Independent) won the election with a 29% swing AGAINST the sitting Nazional$ Minister Ray ”Mirror Man” Chappell [Mirror Man because he was always ”going to look into it”] after Nazional$ polling showed that Torbay woud win at a trot SIX (6) WEEKS BEFORE THE ELECTION DATE.

    He retired holding about 87% of the first preference votes after dragging Northern Tablelands screaming in protest into the 21st century with multiple MILLIONS of NSW funding for infrastructure projects that the Nazional$ would not do.

    Meanwhile both the NSW and feral electorates are recognised as rural slums caused by lack of job opportunities. The NSW COALition misgovernment has directed that all solar electricity generated in Northern Tablelands be sent down to the Hunter for re-distribution to the national grid. There has been absolutely no allowance for local consumption, even though line loss will be up to about 40% of generated electricity.

  5. New England Cocky

    Thank you Rossleigh for your lucid account of how polls can be biased to suit the requirements of the purchaser.

    Perhaps the mainstream media-ocrity could learn some junior high school Mathematics about poll interpretation statistics when they reproduce the 49-51 results having a 3% margin of error. When you poll the same persons every time at the same time every polling event, it is not unusual to get the same results in consecutive polls.

  6. Andrew J. Smith

    Polls are tricky when used tactically and for nudging opinion (not just measuring) e.g. right parties voted for by mostly older voters, can use polls to encourage complacency in younger generations by claiming the right is well behind….. apparently one of many factors round Brexit with motivated older voters vs. less motivated younger.

  7. B Sullivan

    And the fact that twice as many Australians vote for the Greens than vote for the Nationals, yet the Nationals win ten times as many seats as the Greens is still of no concern?

    One seat to represent ten percent of the Federal electorate. Ten seats to represent five percent.

    Yeah, that sounds fair, all animals being equal.

    Let us all keep ignoring this travesty of democracy. Sure, its going to have an effect on the outcome of the election, making it so much easier for Morrison to pull off another miracle, but which is worse, another Morrison Government or fair parliamentary representation for Australians who vote for the Greens?

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