Three new poll results from Roy Morgan, if you please. Despite its modest sample of 543 and high margin of error of over 4 per cent, the phone poll conducted over the past two nights is the most interesting, both for its currency and for the fact that phone polling has a clearly superior track record to Morgan’s Labor-biased face-to-face polls. Averaging Morgan’s phone poll results back to May gives almost the exact same result as for Newspoll, although the smaller samples mean Morgan has been more erratic from poll to poll.

The latest result is within the margins of recent results from other pollsters, although slightly at the Coalition end of the scale: their two-party lead is 55-45 compared with most others’ 54-46, with primary votes of 31 per cent for Labor, 46.5 per cent for the Coalition and 12 per cent for the Greens. The phone poll does not replicate the issue I keep going on about of Morgan’s face-to-face polling producing wildly different results according to whether preferences are distributed as per the result of the last election or according to respondents’ stated intentions. It instead gives us 55-45 on respondent-allocated and 55.5-44.5 on previous-election, and thus chimes with this week’s Nielsen which in fact had Labor’s share of preferences slightly higher than at the election.

Speaking of which, Morgan has published not one but two sets of face-to-face figures. Normally Morgan either publishes results from its regular weekend polling the following Friday (or occasionally Thursday), but sometimes it holds off for a week and publishes a result a combined result from two weekends. This time they have held off for a week and published separate results for each weekend. The earlier poll, conducted on January 28/29 (Australia Day having been the preceding Thursday), was remarkably positive for Labor: not only did they maintain their lead on the previous-election (51-49) method from the result published a fortnight ago, they also opened a lead on the respondent-allocated measure (50.5-49.5), which for once looked similar to the previous election result. The primary votes were 39.5 per cent for Labor, 41.5 per cent for the Coalition and 10 per cent for the Greens.

However, the polling on February 4/5 told a somewhat different story, with the Coalition up four points to 45.5 per cent, Labor down one to 38.5 per cent and the Greens down half to 9.5 per cent. This panned out to a 53.5-46.5 lead to the Coalition on respondent-allocated preferences and 51.5-48.5 on previous election. The polls individually had a sample of 1000 and theoretically a margin of error of around 3 per cent. However, the more telling point is how much Morgan face-to-face results continue to differ from other series which have consistently proved nearer the mark. In 2011, the average primary vote for Labor in Morgan was 35.9 per cent, compared with 34.1 per cent for Essential Research, 30.7 per cent for Newspoll and 29.5 per cent for Nielsen. The gap between Essential and the latter two is partly accounted for by Essential having a consistently lower result for the Greens: on two-party preferred, Essential and Newspoll were fairly similar.

For a look at the bigger polling picture, Possum surveys a landscape of flat calm 54-46 polling going back to November.

UPDATE (13/2): Another week, another 54-46 Essential Research result. After losing a point on the primary vote over each of the two previous weeks, Labor is back up one to 34 per cent, with the Greens down one to 10 per cent and the Coalition steady on 47 per cent. Essential’s monthly measure of leadership approval finds both leaders’ personal ratings essentially unchanged – Julia Gillard down one on approval to 36 per cent and up one on disapproval to 53 per cent, Tony Abbott steady on 35 per cent and up two to 53 per cent – but Gillard has nonetheless made a solid gain as preferred prime minister, her lead up from 39-36 to 41-34. However, only 31 per cent expect her to lead Labor to the next election against 47 per cent who said they didn’t (hats off to the 22 per cent who admitted they didn’t know); while for Tony Abbott the numbers were 47 per cent and 25 per cent. A question on government control of media ownership has support for more control and less control tied on 24 per cent, with 34 per cent thinking it about right. There’s also a question on the impact of Gina Rinehart on the independence of Fairfax newspapers, which I personally find a little odd – the issue would mean little outside of New South Wales and Victoria. I also had my doubts about the question on whether Australia is “fair and just”, but the question asking for comparison with other countries is interesting: Canada and New Zealand are seen as Australia’s main partners in freedom, the UK does less well, Japan and France less well again, and the United States worse still. China however sits well below the rest of the field.

We also had a teaser last night from Newspoll, which had Abbott favoured over Gillard for economic management 43 per cent to 34 per cent, and Wayne Swan and Joe Hockey in a statistical dead heat for preferred Treasurer (38 per cent to 37 per cent).

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