Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

Deconstructing Newspoll

By Bob Ellis - posted Friday, 27 March 2009

"I now predict Bligh will lose eight seats", I texted Graeme Wedderburn, Chief of Staff of Nathan Rees, over breakfast on Queensland's election day, getting it right as I sometimes do, channelling the voters' telepathy or whatever the process is.

My basic figuring actually came, in fact, from all the confident Newspoll and Galaxy headlines asserting Springborg would win or come close with, respectively, 51, 51, 51, 51 and 50.1 per cent of the vote and "a 2.7 per cent margin of error".

This, despite the conservative coalition never getting more than 50 per cent of the vote (the vote, that is, two-party preferred) since December 1974 and Springborg being derided, or sometimes derided, as a yokel in Brisbane and the Gold Coast.


Another Murdoch hope of conservative resurrection dashed, it seems, despite all those chest-thumping headlines. It's hard to imagine Newspoll didn't strive to give him those rainbow bursts of hope (he does like conservative victories and he is very old) with predictions that got no less than 53,000 voters' intentions wrong.

How did all that occur, I wonder?

Well, I have my theories; the Murdoch pollsters have to earn a living, I guess, like everybody else. I wrote the following on Thursday, 12th March, 2009:

We're told by Newspoll that 53 per cent of all Australians want Peter Costello to lead the Liberal Party and only 40 per cent of all Australians want Malcolm Turnbull in that position. This means, I guess, that Costello would get more votes if he was Leader in a general election.

Well, no it doesn't mean that, actually. Because 56 per cent of the voters polled said they wanted Labor to win. This then means, or it might well mean, you could say it means, that half of those who were polled want Costello as Liberal Leader because he's more likely to lose. And it might well mean five million Labor-voting Australians fear Turnbull's amiable brilliance more than Costello's acerbic nastiness, and so want Turnbull out of the picture, quick smart.

So Newspoll, not for the first time, seems (or seems to me) to be implying the opposite of what it should know to be true. Had it asked only Liberal voters, or only Coalition voters, or only Undecided voters what Liberal leader they wanted it would have got a true, uncynical result, probably favouring Turnbull, or Joe Hockey. As it is, it's revealed, yes, that Labor voters would like not Turnbull but Costello to oppose them. And so would I. Put me down for Costello. Every time.


There are many ways a poll, if manipulated, can get you a false, convenient result. You can take the poll on a holiday weekend when many younger, and therefore Labor-leaning voters, or Green-leaning voters, aren't at home. You can take the poll in early January when (as always) the Labor vote and the Green vote will go dramatically down for this reason, when many, many voters are in a caravan park or a holiday motel, or overseas. You can ring up on Friday night when only the old, the ill, the poor, the loveless and the mad are at home, these being more likely Liberal voters or National voters or One Nation voters or Independents. You can ring on Saturday morning when the prosperous are out shopping. You get more Liberal voters at home that way, saying Lawrence Springborg for me.

This is the way, I suggest, that Newspoll gives its principal client Rupert Murdoch what he wants and why Newspoll is widely known as "the Bill O'Reilly of statistics".

Newspoll is very careful to go where the ambiguity is, and show no one its raw figures. Why otherwise its raw figures should be secret is hard to say. These figures are "adjusted", we are told, "to reflect population distribution". I'll bet they are.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. 2
  4. All

First published in ABC's Unleashed on March 23, 2009.

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

5 posts so far.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Bob Ellis has had a long and close involvement with politics, covering as a journalist twenty-four campaigns in Australia, the UK and the USA, and writing speeches or slogans for Kim Beazley, Bob Carr, Mike Rann and others. Ellis's work for film and stage has won numerous nominations and awards for writing and direction. His most recent book is Night Thoughts in Time of War.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Article Tools
Comment 5 comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy