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ALP vote improves as issues turn for them

By Graham Young - posted Monday, 17 August 2009


According to our What the People Want polling the ALP vote is back where it was in September last year. While it is tempting to ascribe this to the collapse in Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull’s personal approval ratings and Utegate, the real reason appears to be a surge in optimism about the economy and the rise in importance of issues that favour the ALP, which reinforces for electors the validity of the decision they made last election.

The graph below shows the movements in the three largest parties’ votes since September last year (which has a base of 100) when we started our longitudinal series. It shows a slight shift to Labor and the Greens, but a dramatic decline for the Liberals from the previous sample when the Liberal vote had skyrocketed.

Graph 1

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This coincides with a more optimistic view of the direction in which the country is heading.

Table 1

What is the reason for this more optimistic view? It appears to lie in the retreat of the global financial crisis as a concern. We used Leximancer to analyse the responses to our question “What is the most important issue facing the country?” The table below shows the change in answers to this question over time. Because this is a qualitative response the issues are not neatly delineated as phrases. Leximancer identifies them using single words which are not always obvious, but the top five in these tables are fairly obvious.

Table 2

While “Economy” is still the most important concept it has dropped in importance by a third since late last year. “Change” (climate change) had been gradually reducing in importance until last month, when it was supplanted by “Jobs”, but it has now bounced back. “Jobs” has retreated dramatically and “Health” has jumped-up by 8.3 percentage points to be the third most important issue. “Debt” has increased slightly in importance and “Education” has reappeared after taking a break in May.

Of these five top issues only two - “Economy” and “Debt” - normally favour the Liberal Party, while the remainder are strong for the ALP. With the economy seen to be improving this issue ought to also be tending more in the ALP’s favour than usual. So, as the fiscal stimulus proves its worth the government vote has prospered and the opposition’s gone into decline.

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It’s true that the opposition leader’s personal standing has also gone down, but our panel had already made up its mind about Turnbull in May when the Liberal Party’s standing was the best that it has been since we started our index. At the same time Rudd’s approval rating has barely changed, although his disapproval rating is a little lower. There is therefore no correlation between the “vanity” polls and the polling of the two major political parties.

Table 3

However, leaders’ approval ratings do have a bearing on political outcomes, particularly if their party insists on running with their leadership credentials. So it is worth paying them some attention.

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About the Author

Graham Young is chief editor and the publisher of On Line Opinion. He is executive director of the Australian Institute for Progress, an Australian think tank based in Brisbane, and the publisher of On Line Opinion.

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