Instead of the AC Nielsen and Newspoll results coming out on the same
day, as used to happen, Kim Beazley has had to suffer the indignity of
having the bad news spread across two days. At least yesterday’s Nielsen result showed Labor still ahead, although you wouldn’t have realised that from the headlines. But today’s Newspoll puts the Coalition in front, 51-49, and Dennis Shanahan in The Australiangives it – surprise! – a heavily anti-Labor slant.
In fact, despite the headline results, Nielsen and Newspoll are giving
very much the same message. The difference between 51-49 and 49-51 is
negligible; both could be described as a statistical dead heat. But
both polls have the Labor vote (two-party-preferred) down 3% since the
previous poll, although Nielsen had a sharper drop in the primary vote.
Nor is there anything new about the fact that they show a similar
trend; since the last election, despite numerous divergences,
longer-term movements show broad agreement between the two (Bryan
Palmer at Ozpolitics graphs the results).
So is the swing real? We can’t be sure, but the fact that two different
polls have said the same thing suggests that there’s an underlying
movement. And a 3% swing, while not the end of the world, is big enough
to be significant. Labor is certainly still competitive; indeed, apart
from a bad patch at the end of last year, it has stayed close to the
50% mark for a long time. But when Labor was obviously hoping for
better things, this week’s results will be a disappointment.
It doesn’t follow, though, that IR won’t help Labor in next year’s
election. It’s common ground among observers that the government’s
changes are a “slow burn” issue, and it will take longer experience for
any electoral effect to show up. That’s equally obvious for Beazley’s
promise to abolish AWAs; without a sustained campaign on the issue, most
voters probably don’t know what AWAs are and have no idea why they
should care about them.
By contrast, the politics of the AWA announcement could easily have
worked against Labor in the short term: it got a largely hostile
response from commentators, and focused attention on Beazley instead of
on the government. Labor spokespeople today are putting a brave face on
the news, but they know that one day they have to turn around the perception that the leader himself is Labor’s weakest link.