What’s in a poll? How the Albanese government is faring with voters

Anthony Albanese and Peter Dutton are close in the polls as an election looms.

Anthony Albanese and Peter Dutton are close in the polls as an election looms. Photo: TND

Polling is often used to tell a story about a flailing candidate, struggling prime ministers and parties on the brink of calamity.

It famously contributed to the fall of two prime ministers, after Malcolm Turnbull cited Tony Abbott’s 30 straight Newspoll losses to Labor before his words came back to bite him in 2018.

It has also fuelled leadership coups and countless online discourses.

The Albanese government has been on the receiving end of bad polling showing a decline in support, although the total gap between the opposition and the government can change between pollsters and from week to week.

Most recently, Newspoll had Labor and the Coalition neck and neck on a two-party preferred basis, while Opposition Leader Peter Dutton appeared to be narrowing the gap to Anthony Albanese as as preferred prime minister.

Then, this week, the Resolve Political Monitor, conducted for the Nine newspapers had Dutton ahead of Albanese as preferred PM – the first time the Liberal leader had his nose in front on that measure.

Polling and politics expert Dr Kevin Bonham said in terms of two-party preferences, there was presently little variation between different pollsters.

“Nearly all the polls recently are within a tight band from 49 to 52. There’s actually less variation than you expect,” he said.

“There is variation in the primary polls and some of that comes from different ways that different pollsters ask questions.”

He said Newspoll consistently had Labor’s primary vote higher than other pollsters, while others also had predictable properties.

“Roy Morgan is a particularly bouncy poll. Its number, for whatever reason, tends to jump about from week to week,” Bonham said.

“Morgan also offers an independent option everywhere, no matter who’s running in your electorate before, and that tends to inflate the independent vote.”

That bounciness was in effect when the ALP went from 52-48 to 53.5-46.5 to 50-50 in the space of three Roy Morgan polls.

How is the government faring?

According to Bonham’s analysis of polling averages, Labor is ahead of the Coalition 50.7 to 49.3 on two-party preferences.

He said polls with big swings should be treated with caution.

“When the Morgan 53.5 per cent poll came out last week, a lot of people went around posting it online to rebut any poll that didn’t have Labor ahead,” Bonham said.

“Outliers shouldn’t be weighted at zero. There’s still data, but you can’t treat it as being a complete description of the state of affairs.”

Bonham said the preferred PM metric had a “long history of being an unreliable indicator”.

“They’re (Dutton and Albanese) not terribly unpopular, but they’re both a bit unpopular on average,” he said.

“It can be influenced by so many variables that it’s not very useful. I prefer to look at the individual persona ratings for the prime minister and leader of the opposition.”

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese “doesn’t inspire a strong reaction”, according to Bonham. Photo: AAP

Personal rating

According to Resolve’s most recent polling, 36 per cent of respondents said Albanese was doing a good job, while 50 per cent said he was doing a poor one.

In comparison, 42 per cent said Dutton was doing a good job, while 40 per cent said he was doing a bad job, representing a 3 per cent improvement in the past month for the opposition leader.

Although polls can glean valuable information, Bonham said they are “all very rubbery”.

“The result will fall within 3 per cent of the actual value, but sometimes it will be outside that,” he said.

“We have so many polls at the moment, 12 voting intention polls coming out per month, so the one in 20 outliers are happening quite frequently.”

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