The Australian newspaper appears to have withheld the results of a Newspoll on voting intention to avoid embarrassment in the wake of last week’s bombshell that had Malcolm Turnbull gaining ground on Kevin Rudd and the ALP and Liberals toe to toe.

On Saturday and Sunday, Newspoll, which is half-owned by News Limited, rang 1200 households across the country in response to a request from The Australian to take the nation’s temperature on asylum seekers. It appeared to be a single issue poll. However, the results were broken down by voting intention — enough to deduce whether last week’s shock two-party preferred result of 52/48, and a tied primary vote of 41 a piece, was a dreaded outlier or something more telling for the government.

Since that poll was published last week, three separate pieces of polling data have contradicted the rogue result, instead confirming a massive lead for Rudd and Labor.

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However, the more recent Newspoll data is yet to see the light of day.

The Australian has a deal with Newspoll to publish voting intention results every two weeks. This week The Oz went back into the field a week earlier than usual — with specific question on the asylum issue. Crikey understands that on Sunday morning, Newspoll chief Martin O’Shannessy contacted his Nielsen counterpart John Stirton and agreed not to release the two-party preferred vote to The Australian. Fairfax and News have a history of avoiding polling on the same day so as not to cannibalise each other’s results.

The single issue poll was the only time in the last three years, according to a Crikey analysis of Newspoll releases, that a single issue poll hasn’t been coupled with a parallel release on voting intention.

The Australian‘s editor in chief, Chris Mitchell told Crikey that he had decided not to publish on the question of voting intention because he guessed that Nielsen would be polling for the SMH and the Age at the same time.

“John Stirton from Nielsen will confirm Martin [O’Shannessy] never intended to run a full poll last weekend. Even Crikey should be able to understand the concept of ”fortnightly’,” Mitchell said.

He said the full Newspoll has been published fortnightly for 25 years but that he had the “flexibility” to throw in extra questions, presumably related to voting intention, on the back of other Newspoll polling on the alternate weekends.

Last week, The Australian ran hard on that Tuesday’s voting intention poll, under the front page headline “Newspoll: boat crisis hits ALP”.

“Primary vote support for the Rudd government has collapsed by seven percentage points in the past fortnight amid increasing political tension surrounding asylum seeker arrivals,” the paper said.

The revelations prompted a media blitz from the Prime Minister, who conducted interview after interview to hose down any suggestion he had lost control of the asylum seeker debate. The results were taken very seriously, not least of all in the PM’s office.

According to one leading poll watcher: “Newspoll is the most authoritative poll” we are regularly told — and while some, particularly other pollsters, may disagree, it’s certainly the poll that carries the largest media weight in Australia. It receives the largest exposure into the largest number of Australian eyeballs as a result of it being an exclusive political poll for the largest media network in the country — News Ltd.”

However, it appears The Australian has, for reasons unknown, made the decision to not correct the public record of the most “authoritative poll” in the country — allowing the outlier result of 52/48 to linger in the political air, even though Newspoll and The Australian are sitting on more recent data which should show the true underlying state of public opinion.

According to a respected poll watcher: “The Australian may not realise it, but by delaying or not publishing the latest Newspoll results on voting intention, they are damaging — in an undeserving and totally unnecessary fashion — the reputation of, and public opinion toward, the Newspoll organisation”.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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