Omnibus January 2020

Our January poll came at the end of an horrendous bushfire season where many commentators were sheeting the blame home to Scott Morrison for the Coalition not doing enough to combat climate change.

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The quants are revealing on how people’s political preferences change in the face of a disaster. 31% of people thought the country was heading in the right direction in January 2020, a low figure, but what do you expect when the country appears to be burning up? But this is actually an improvement on last year when it was only 28%. This can be largely explained by a 15 percentage point improvement in sentiment amongst coalition voters, while minor party voters went in the other direction. ALP and Greens didn’t change their view substantially.

First preference voting intentions didn’t change by much, apart from a drop in the ALP vote of 4 percentage points and an increase in the Greens by the same amount. There was also a bit of shuffling amongst minor parties, and a one percentage point drop in the coalition vote. After preferences this actually translated to an increase in the ALP vote from 53% to 55%.

Of course the result at the last election was 51.53% to the LNP, which means our sample is skewed to a similar amount as most of the mainstream polls. However, the relative changes in the vote should mirror the absolute one, suggesting that the ALP would be marginally ahead of the coalition on a two-party preferred basis but 50.5% to 49.5%.

Interestingly, Morrison’s positive approval rating improved from 31% to 36% as a number of undecided voters came off the fence in his favour. However, his net result was still -21%, meaning 57% of our sample disapproved of his performance as PM. Albanese’s net result was 0%, but with a favourability rating of 33%. Albanese’s figure was an improvement on Shorten’s who had total approval of 40% and disapproval of 46%, a net -6%. Albanese’s disapproval figure was 13% lower than Shorten’s.

Qualitative research shows the usual split between economic issues, on the part of the coalition voters and climate change on the part of Labor and Greens. The Nationalist voters, as well as others were most closely connect to climate change as well, although this is often as a reaction to ALP and Greens’ concerns.

The level of hatred from left wing voters towards the government seems to be higher than I remember it previously. Left wing respondents are scathing of Scott Morrison and see him as shallow and hypocritical. His religion is an issue in a way that Kevin Rudd’s never was. There is also a tendency to see the right as being corrupt and criminal, which is hard to understand in the absence of many concrete examples (although many respondents referred to the Sports Rorts affair in this context).

Some of the hyper-partisanship may be driven by the physical climate. Climate change becomes more urgent as an issue when there is a very obvious, and existential, environmental issue. We first identified it as a vote solidifier in 2007, toward the end of the worst drought in 100 years. Dam levels were low and populations panicky. The failure of John Howard to ratify the Kyoto protocol gave voters a mechanism to sheet blame for natural events home to him, which they did. In times of severe environmental crisis voters also become emotionally less settled.

In 2020 the severity of the bushfire season, occurring at a time when many were on holidays, with time on their hands, and more likely to be irritated by bad news at a time of year when they are trying to relax, gave voters a reason to look for someone to blame for the natural disaster, and they found that through the government’s perceived failure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

While climate change was the most solid issue predicting opposition to the government, the Nationalists also were concerned about climate change. Their concern was expressed through a desire to see policies that boosted water security and managed the landscape via prescribed burning. While they thought not enough had been done by all governments, it was an issue where they were culturally closer to the coalition, and played into their generally position which is to be more opposed to the politically correct views held by Labor and the Greens than they are to the connections to wealth that the coalition has.

So much of the discussion was polarised between climate change and the economy, that issues which used to feature heavily on the Labor/Greens side, like health, education and refugees have receded as a top of mind concern.

The qualitative research also showed-up how much perceptions of Bill Shorten played in Labor’s loss at the last election, and while Anthony Albanese is net more popular than Shorten there is a broad feeling that he is not strong enough, and may have missed his opportunity and become leader too late.

Morrison is in a different position on the leadership issue. Labor voters see him as both a bad leader, and someone who is a marketer, and therefore showy, and not substantial, and not a real leader. However his supporters are often quite enthusiastic, with him sometimes being compared favourably to John Howard.

The difference in the positions can be seen in the quantitative figures with Morrison more likely to have respondents strongly approving or disapproving than Albanese. So his leadership has made a much stronger impression than Albanese’s. While it may seem Albanese is in a better position leadership-wise, experience suggests that indifference is a bigger problem for a leader than motivated loathing.

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