The Australian brings results of a Newspoll survey conducted from Tuesday to Saturday in Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott’s regional NSW seats of New England and Lyne. The polls targeted about 500 voters each, producing margins of error of a little under 4.5 per cent. As expected, the results indicate a plunge in support for the incumbents since the election and their subsequent decision to back a Labor minority government. In New England, the poll has Tony Windsor at 33 per cent compared with 61.9 per cent at the election, with the Nationals at 41 per cent compared with 25.2 per cent. In Lyne, Rob Oakeshott’s primary vote is at 26 per cent compared with 47.1 per cent at the 2010 election, and the Nationals are at 47 per cent compared with 34.4 per cent.

Determining two-candidate preferred results for individual electorates in circumstances so radically different from the previous election is problematic, and Newspoll has done the best that could be done under the circumstances by publishing both previous-election and respondent-allocated measures. In New England, the previous election measure has Windsor and the Nationals tied at 50-50. Unfortunately we do not have a full set of primary vote figures at this stage, but it would seem to me from the two-candidate result that the “others” vote (excluding Windsor, Nationals, Labor and Greens) must be in the mid-teens. UPDATE: Full tables here courtesy of GhostWhoVotes – “others” is at 14 per cent in Lyne and 13 per cent in New England. At the 2010 election it was only 1.2 per cent, that being the combined total for One Nation and the Citizens Electoral Council. To apply these parties’ preference distribution to such a large chunk of the vote is obviously imprecise at best. The respondent-allocated preference measure has Windsor trailing 53-47, but this has problems of its own – in particular it requires respondents to make up their own mind, when many will in fact follow how-to-vote cards.

In Lyne, Rob Oakeshott trails 62-38 on respondent-allocated preferences and 55-45 on the previous election results. Similarly to the New England poll, the latter figure appears to have been obtained by amplifying a mid-teens “others” vote through the 2010 preference distribution of one independent who polled 0.7 per cent. While this is by any measure a depressing set of figures for Oakeshott, it is a good deal better for him than a ReachTel automated phone poll conducted in August, which had the Nationals leading 55 per cent to 15 per cent on the primary vote. That poll was rightly criticised at the time for asking about the carbon tax and pokies reform before getting to voting intention. It may also raise doubts about the precision of automated phone polling, which in this country at least has a patchy record (though it seems to be a different story in the United States).

Another difficulty with polls for these two seats is that it is not yet clear which candidates the Nationals will be running, which can have a very significant bearing on regional seats especially. After initially stating he wasn’t interested, the party’s state leader Andrew Stoner has recently said he would “never say never” to the prospect of running in Lyne, with earlier reports suggesting he was being “courted” to make such a move with a view to replacing Warren Truss as federal leader. This was said to be partly motivated by a desire to block a similar move by Barnaby Joyce, who has declared his interest in New England. However, Tony Abbott has said the candidate in Lyne from 2010, Port Macquarie medical specialist David Gillespie, would get “wholehearted support” if he wanted to run again. According to a flattering profile of Abbott by Tom Dusevic in The Weekend Australian, Gillespie is a “boyhood friend” of Abbott’s.

Newspoll also sought approval ratings for the two independents and gauged opinion on their decisions to support the Labor minority government and the carbon tax legislation. This provided one heartening result for Tony Windsor, who retains the approval of 50 per cent of his constituents with 44 per cent disapproving (UPDATE: Sorry, got that the wrong way around). Rob Oakeshott’s respective ratings are 38 per cent and 54 per cent. Voters in Lyne were the more hostile to their member’s support for the Labor government: 32 per cent were supportive and 61 opposed, against 36 per cent and 54 per cent in New England. The results on the carbon tax seem to have been effectively identical, with respective opposition of 72 per cent and 71 per cent. Only 22 per cent of respondents in Lyne were supportive; The Australian’s article neglects to provide a figure for New England, but it can be presumed to have been very similar.

UPDATE: The weekly Essential Research has the two-party preferred steady at 55-45, although Labor is off a point on the primary to 32 per cent with the Coalition and the Greens steady on 48 per cent and 11 per cent respectively. My favourite of the supplementary questions, as it was at my suggestion, gauges current opinion of major reforms of the past few decades, which gives a resounding thumbs-up to compulsory superannuation and Medicare, strong support to floating the dollar and free trade agreements, a fairly modest majority in favour of the GST. Privatisations, however, are opposed in retrospect as well as prospect, although reversing those already conducted has only bare majority support. For some reason though, more support regulating the dollar than thought it was a bad idea in the first place, and a big majority favour increasing trade protection. Other questions relate to a republic (41 per cent for, 33 per cent against), the Commonwealth (47 per cent believe membership of benefit) and succession to the throne (61 per cent believe it should be gender-neutral) and who is to blame for the Qantas dispute (management by and large).

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