Newspoll Tuesday rolls around for another week and Coalition people across the country must be breathing a big sigh of relief today, for if they got the rough end of the Newspoll pineapple again like they did last poll, this week’s campaigning could have been kissed goodbye.

Us more sophisticated Crikey readers know full well that these small movements in the polls are to be expected, are usually meaningless and it’s the longer view that matters with polling data – but the power of a poll to generate a political headline has no peer.

There’s something just a little disturbing about that. Here we are, in the midst of the campaign that guides the Australian public to make its most important collective decision, and the media narrative that in large part defines that choice for many voters is dominated by the random noise movements in opinion polls.

It makes you wonder if sometimes we should just toss a coin to determine the headlines and who has momentum – random is random after all, be it coin tosses or sampling error.

But I digress, if we go to the TPP and primary vote figures for the Coalition and the ALP since the 2004 election, using all Newspolls, we get:

If you thought not much has changed, you’d be bang on the money. To make the “it’s business as usual” line even starker, we can go to the monthly average series of the Newspoll results and remove some of that sampling noise.

That ALP primary has been rock solid above 46 for 8 months. On a primary of 46 the ALP won’t lose, the big question with the major party votes is just how solid above 46 the ALP primary actually is.

What is interesting to note here, once again, is the continuing decline of the minor party vote.

Today’s Newspoll gave the minors and “others” the lowest primary they’ve had since December 1999. Unless something quite amazing is happening, that number is probably unrealistically low. A 3 point drop from a 13 point base in a fortnight is pushing the bounds of possibility. But that’s polling for you; small party votes are more volatile simply as a consequence of their smallness.

These minor party vote fluctuations play funny little games with the TPP estimates.

If we take the difference between the TPP vote and the primary vote of each party to give us a measure of the ‘vote gap’ for each party that is filled by minor party preference flows, we can chart that over time:

Both have been in an obvious decline for years, reflecting the declining minor vote. But if we now take the difference between the ALP vote gap and the Coalition vote gap and chart that measure over time:

You can see how volatile the minor party votes are to the TPP estimates, making them jump by a point here and a point there, sometimes 3 points at a trot. It gives us a rough indication of how the volatility in the relatively small vote of the minors and ‘others’ knocks around the TPP estimates.

That’s why it’s the longer term trends in primary voting intention that is the key measure that we should all be watching and not the TPP estimates. But for those of us that simply can’t help ourselves, Mr Mumbles poll-mix is probably the best bet.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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