New electoral laws passed under the Gillard Government may well have a not insignificant impact on election results according to an examination of Newspoll surveys. Under the legislation, people who are not currently enrolled, but are, or become eligible to vote will automatically be placed on the electoral roll.
The new laws which would see approximately 1.5 million people, mostly new voters, added to the Australian Electoral Commission roll could change election results by up to 1.5%.
While 1.5% may not actually seem like a particularly large percentage, in politics it can mean the difference between a term or two, perhaps three in power. In close contests such a margin could easily mean the difference between seizing government and languishing on the opposition benches for three years.
Under these laws, those with the most to lose are the Liberal and National Party’s. It is a long-observed trend that young people generally vote for Labor, even the Greens. So of course, Liberal Party MP’s were yesterday quite concerned about the possible effects to their vote from automatic and compulsory electoral enrolment.
But is that discontent and anger justified in terms of the way the franchise is conducted in Australia?
In Australia, whether you believe in it or not, we have compulsory voting.
Every three years those of voting age are required to vote in the national poll. Most do vote, with a percentage casting informal votes. But all in all, most people vote and do so correctly. There is also a relatively small number of people who fail to turn up to their local polling place at all and a fine is imposed on them.
So, with this compulsory voting system there should be an understanding that you are automatically enrolled to vote.
Although in conflict with my generally liberal beliefs, I believe that everyone of adult age should be required to head to polling booths on election day to vote. I believe this because I see it as the best chance of electing a government that is generally representative of the people.
But of course I am firmly in favour of a secret ballot and if you are silly enough to use your opportunity to vote just to doodle all over the ballot paper or write silly names or words next to candidates, well, then, feel free to go ahead and act like child. In fact, bugger off.
Anyway, back to the crux of the issue at hand.
While the new AEC laws are not that dramatic in terms of enfranchising all that should be voting, there is an argument that could be sensibly made about the timing of the amendment.
The new clause comes in at a time when the ALP is struggling electorally. The Labor Party have been behind in the polls for a prolonged period of time and still, despite some narrowing in the margin, look set to lose.
So of course, there is scope, in that sense, for some cynicism.
The law should have been the same way from the beginning of the commonwealth, or at the very least, if Labor were so worried about people missing out on the vote, from the start of their administration which began in late 2007. But no, full voter enrolment is apparently a newfound thing for the ALP.
Anger about the laws themselves is misguided unless the Liberal Party supports changing the electoral rules to allow for voluntary voting. It’s not “rorting” the system when the system is compulsory voting, it’s ensuring that all people of voting age will have the opportunity to vote.
Feel free, however, to be cynical about the timing. Ask yourself the following questions: Why now? Why not from the beginning of the federation? Why not from the beginning of this Labor Government?
The Prime Minister and her government have been enjoying some improvements to their poll fortunes in recent times. The Labor Party have been clawing back ground, at least as far as the Morgan, Nielsen and Newspoll results have shown. The Essential Poll on the other hand hovers at around the levels we have seen from that survey for some time now.
While it appears that the Newspoll is mischievous, bouncing like a kid on a pogo stick and now showing the ALP and the Coalition level-pegging, it appears that the electoral reality lies somewhere between Essential, Morgan and Nielsen where the real electoral prospects for the Labor Party seem to lie.
However, the improvement, while much less dramatic than Newspoll would have you believe, should be pause for some thought. In the Labor Party caucus room they would be pondering mostly positive thoughts. The belief that they are done for, while not dissipating at a rate of knots within the party room, would be receding slowly in the mind’s of some MP’s.
For the Liberal and National Party coalition thoughts would or at least should be turning to what they can do now, to how they can shift strategy to arrest the decline in their vote instead of having to play a game of catch-up.
But let’s for a moment, in the spirit of mischief, contemplate the options that might lie ahead for both the Labor Government and the Opposition. What would they be thinking? What scheming would be happening?
If the result really was level on a two-party preferred basis the ALP would be incredibly buoyant. They would feel that a win at the 2013 election was within reach. Labor Ministers and MP’s think that now in the wake of improving poll numbers, though that belief is still somewhat delusional. The election is far from being lost by the Liberal and National Party coalition.
The Liberal Party would be, if they had not already as a result of the declining numbers, be seriously questioning what might be going wrong. They would be looking at changing tack, changing strategy where their efforts on specific issues are losing traction.
The Coalition would also need to look at beginning to both refine and announce more aspects of their policy agenda. At the same time, they would need to continue to explain that the budget situation is tight. To not continue to further prosecute this case would result in one of the remaining areas of some strength for the Opposition falling away. To not continue talking about it would look like backing away from the validity of their arguments about the budget position.
In terms of leadership, there would be even further clear air for Julia Gillard. The Prime Minister would almost certainly be safe in the run-up to the 2013 election. To come back from the depths of despair, from record low votes, would cement Ms Gillard’s leadership position.
Kevin Rudd, already out of the leadership equation for the most part, would see his prospects for a return to Prime Minister, even in terms of the way his ego allows him to see things, almost completely vanish.
The third candidate idea too would practically cease being necessary.
Leadership of the Liberal Party would also be affected in some way by even poll results. Malcolm Turnbull would at least have distant sight of the leadership, especially if it was the case that the arguments against the carbon price continued to fall away.
Were poll results to actually reach the stage of being level it would be important that the Liberal Party had learned the lesson of Labor. That very public education in the perils of leadership transitions should have taught all political parties that a knee-jerk reaction to poor polling could have long-term negative consequences. There is a possibility though that this argument need only apply to a popular leader and Tony Abbott certainly cannot be characterised in that way.
In terms of going to an early election, ordinarily that would be on the table. However, with a minority government situation, supported by MP’s that want the parliament to go full-term, the chances of that outcome are almost non-existent.
Even if an early poll was a possibility, the decision to go to one would be fraught with danger. Electors could view a snap poll as a move of pure political expediency and therefore not take too kindly to the idea at all.
The polls are undoubtedly getting closer, but how close and how real the narrowing of margins is remains unclear. It is still on the naughty side to be talking of leadership change in the Opposition despite results being less assured. What is almost without doubt is the need for a shift in the focus of Coalition strategy.
Politics at the federal level in this country is at a low ebb, no doubt about that. That’s not to say that Australian politics has been or ever will be as popular as MasterChef. But politics under this 43rd parliament and the first minority government since wartime. These woes for politics certainly have a lot to do with broken promises and relentless aggression.
The lack of desire for the leaders of both sides of politics, despite the clear election winning position of the Abbott-led Coalition means, in terms of the Prime Ministership means it will not be the usual “who do you trust”, with trust so clearly lacking in politicians, but “who do you trust the most”.
More interestingly, in terms of party leadership it looks more and more certain every day that the equation will be “who are you dissatisfied with the least?”
Now of course in Australia we don’t elect our Prime Minister directly, the political party that takes government does that for us and as such, it doesn’t particularly matter what the electorate think so much of a leader, they’re almost always from a very safe seat for their own party. But when it’s close in the vote that’s a clearly different story with the leadership position all the more important. Ordinarily it can be expected that the choice of and performance of leader does have an impact of some repute on which party voters choose at the ballot box.
At the next election, it’s basically certain, pretty much lock it in Eddie, that the Coalition will win with Tony Abbott becoming the next Prime Minister of Australia and the Liberal and National Party coalition seizing the government benches.
In terms of voter dissatisfaction with the leaders, Newspoll has seen the Prime Minister languishing at levels of unhappiness with her performance in the Labor leadership at around 60% or thereabouts for many months.
The news regarding this same measure for Tony Abbott, despite being very competitive, even ahead at times in the preferred Prime Minister stakes is not a whole lot better with dissatisfaction in his performance as leader of the Coalition at levels consistently in the mid to high 50s on percentage terms.
Consistent Nielsen poll results show very high levels (over 50%) of voter dissatisfaction with the performance of both leaders. The last four Nielsen poll results show Prime Minister Gillard not having moved from a level of dissatisfaction in her performance of 59-60%. Again, that’s more than half saying they are not happy with the way things have gone.
Again in the Nielsen poll results over the same period Tony Abbott enjoys (though that’s quite the oxymoron because the results are still extremely poor) a lower level of unhappiness with his performance than that which the Prime Minister has experienced. For those same four Nielsen polls, Mr Abbott has seen a dissatisfaction level which has moved between the low 50s to the mid-to-high 50s, that’s again over 50% who aren’t too pleased with his performance as leader of the Opposition.
We are likely to see these trends continue until the next election with voters not particularly liking either leader in terms of their performance. But after all, in our two party system we ultimately pick between two political parties and at the next election, the voter disdain at the performance of the Opposition Leader will not count for much when such a large swing is on the cards. All in all it will surely be a case of who do you despise the least.
The latest Newspoll continues to outline the grim and growing reality facing the Australian Labor Party, that barring a major fiasco tainting the Opposition, their hopes for winning the next election, due in 2013 are sinking further and further past the already toxic level it appears they have reached. The commentariat, including those that often are sympathetic toward an ALP Government seem to have roundly deserted praising and supporting the party in the press. This has been particularly the case since the events of the weekend when Craig Thomson and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Peter Slipper, both facing allegations of wrongdoing, were encouraged to appear to ostracise themselves.
The primary vote for the Coalition in the latest Newspoll has hit over 50% of the votes on offer if the polls are to be believed to indicate and mirror electoral reality exactly, now sitting at 51%. The Labor primary vote in the Newspoll released overnight now sits on 27%, close to half that of the Abbott-led Coalition and well into the electoral “death zone”.
In two-party-preferred terms the results could barely get any worse for the Gillard Government, with the 2PP vote now being 59% for the Liberal and National Party Opposition compared to 41% for the government, a result in itself which barely sees the government outside the zone for electoral disaster on two-party terms.
Even in the measure where the Prime Minister could draw at least some form of optimism if not for the hopes of the party, but for her leadership as compared with that of Tony Abott for the Liberal Party provides less cause for optimism. In the preferred Prime Minister stakes, Prime Minister Gillard has dropped 3% to sit on 36% as opposed to Opposition Leader Tony Abbott who now sits on 41%, a 5 percentage point lead.
Surely the ALP will be saying internally to the polls to “bounce, bounce, come on bounce”, particularly after the budget is delivered on May 8th and after the announcement yesterday that the NDIS, which is projected to help over 400,000 families will commence a year earlier at 4 “launch sites” across Autralia, initially helping 10,000 Australians, but with a “tough budget” supposed to occur, that will likely not turn into a political reality.
Last night the Twittersphere #auspol hashtag was thrown into chaos with the results of the latest Nielsen poll purporting to show a sizeable comeback for the Australian Labor Party and for its leader, Prime Minister Julia Gillard. But is the 2-Party-Preferred result consistent with other more regular polls or is it out of place?
On the Primary vote the Coalition leads the Gillard Government 45% to 33% but does appear to be edging closer, but still some way from the magical 40% Primary Vote required to be electorally strong. No doubt a 4 point jump from the last Nielsen poll is an improvement.
The 2PP vote also favoured Labor with a 4% increase and the corresponding 4% drop in the Coalition vote translating to a 2-party-preferred vote with the Coalition on 53% and the ALP Government 47%.
The question is though, can this poll result really be trusted as an indication of a huge jump inn support for Prime Minister Gillard and the Labor Party? I would say no, not really, but there is a small up-tick in support at best.
I say that this poll cannot be trusted for one major reason and that is because the same poll has had the ALP far behind those results of the other more regularly conducted Essential and Newspoll surveys have shown for a time. Now, the same survey has the Gillard Government ahead of the position in the two other polls mentioned in one fell swoop. Yes it is only a tick ahead, but still ahead.
Overall, a 6% gap in 2PP is still a big gap to overcome and the other more consistent polls have failed to show bigger improvements for the Government as yet and probably won’t show much change from the current position for some time at least. Makes for an interesting year in Australian politics.