Jun 6, 2011

Pollsters lower their colours: carbon taxing credulity

Two pollsters have lowered their colours in recent days with poorly framed questions on the carbon tax.

William Bowe — Editor of The Poll Bludger

William Bowe

Editor of The Poll Bludger

Two pollsters have lowered their colours in recent days with poorly framed questions on the carbon tax. Last week, Roy Morgan conducted a phone poll that, among other many things, asked of respondents: "Australia is only responsible for about 1% of the world’s total carbon dioxide emissions. Are you aware of this or not?" This is essentially a political talking point framed as a question: understandable from a political party engaged in the desperate tactic of push-polling, but quite incomprehensible from a market research firm. Beyond that though, I don’t think the Morgan poll did much harm. As Peter Brent of Mumble rightly points out, results for the aforementioned question and those asked thereafter must be regarded as unreliable, but the nature of these questions was such that this is no great loss. The question on voting intention was presumably asked before the ones on climate change, and the first three climate change questions were usefully framed and produced results consistent with other polling. If the voting intention results from the poll do not seem plausible -- and they don’t -- this must be put down to sampling error and perhaps some systemic bias suffered by Morgan phone polls, although this hasn’t been evident in the past. More troubling is today’s Galaxy poll, which targeted a small sample of 500 respondents on behalf of the Daily Telegraph. For the most part, its results are of genuine concern for the government. Only 28% answered in favour of a carbon tax against 58% opposed, corroborating the 30% and 60% from Newspoll when it last asked the question on April 29-May 1. Even worse for the government, fully 73% said the tax would leave them worse off against only 7% who opted for better off. Less remarkably, the poll found 20% believe the tax would have a major impact on the environment, 46% a minor impact and 29% no impact. The problem lies with the following: "Does the PM have a mandate to introduce the tax or should she call an early election?" This gives respondents no outlet for the obvious third alternative: that while the Prime Minister does not have a mandate for a carbon tax (and given her position during the election campaign, it could hardly be argued otherwise), the government should nonetheless govern as it sees fit and face the music at the end of its term. This happens to have been the default position for poll respondents since 1975, when 70% opposed the blocking of supply despite the enormous unpopularity of the Whitlam government. There can be little doubt that many who wished to express a view that no mandate existed opted for the only available alternative. That a substantial proportion would have preferred the option Galaxy did not provide is illustrated by last week’s Essential Research poll, which asked the question the way it should be asked: "Do you think the government should call an early election over the carbon tax?" Whereas Galaxy had 24% choosing the "has mandate" option and 64% "should call early election", Essential had it at 42% each way.

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