Poll Bludger: a tale of two state Liberal governments

In the next seven months, first-term Coalition governments will face the voters in Australia’s two most populous states. Both governments have had leaders fall by the wayside since they came to power nearly four years go, and both face Labor oppositions that, barring any late accidents, will have broken with recent tradition in standing by their leaders over the full course of a term.

So much for the similarities. According to two polls released this week — one by Galaxy for New South Wales in The Daily Telegraph, the other by Newspoll for Victoria in The Australian — the governments stand worlds apart so far as their electoral prospects are concerned. Both polls had two-party preferred ratings well into landslide territory at 55-45, but the advantage lay with Mike Baird’s Coalition government in the former case, and Daniel Andrews’ Labor opposition in the latter.

The results are well in line with recent trends, as illustrated by the aggregations of Newspoll, Galaxy, ReachTEL, Nielsen, and Essential Research polling in the charts below. This tells a particularly straightforward story in the case of New South Wales, where Coalition support has steadily descended from unprecedented early-term heights with two interruptions: in early 2013, when the Independent Commission Against Corruption was applying its blowtorch to the activities of Eddie Obeid, and in the wake of Mike Baird’s ascent to the leadership four months ago.

The latter movement has been a fairly routine example of what might be called the give-the-new-bloke-a-fair-go effect, another of which can be seen from April to July 2013 in the Victorian chart. If the Coalition bounce that followed Denis Napthine’s rise to the leadership is any guide, we can expect the slow trend to Labor to resume in New South Wales at any tick of the clock.

Even allowing for that qualification, it’s a startling fact that a generally well-behaved first-term Liberal government in Victoria appears headed for the guillotine, while its scandal-ridden counterpart in New South Wales need only fear having its wings clipped. The disparity in perceptions of the two parties is also evident at federal level, with the BludgerTrack poll aggregate showing no change in Labor’s relative advantage of 5% in Victoria from last year’s federal election.

Whereas Queensland’s conservative inclination reflects its unusually large non-metropolitan population, and Western Australia’s bespeaks the wealth it has accumulated through the mining boom, there is no readily obvious socio-economic reason why the voters of New South Wales should be turning to the Coalition in such greater numbers than Victoria’s. On the main demographic pointers to aggregate voting behaviour, such as income and ethnic diversity, the results for the two states in the 2011 census are barely distinguishable.

One thing that can be said with certainty is that the gap, or at least the present scale of it, is a recent phenomenon. A few generations ago, it was the Liberal Party that felt cause to regard Victoria as its “jewel in the crown”, as long-serving premier Sir Henry Bolte famously described it. From the Labor split of 1955 to the second Fraser landslide of 1977, the federal two-party vote for the Coalition was between 3% and 10% higher in Victoria than New South Wales. At state level, Labor had to wait until the 1952 election before it was first able to govern with a parliamentary majority, and its defeat three years later marked the beginning of 27 years in opposition.

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Categories: NSW, POLITICS, VIC

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