At a time when the Abbott government may have been taking heart from a modest rise in its stocks since the MH17 disaster, a little-noticed poll this week delivered what may have been its most sobering result to date.
Galaxy Research has been conducting federal and state polling for The Courier-Mail on a fairly consistent basis since the early Rudd years, a period spanning the entirety of Labor’s recent electoral dark age. Such a poll was published last weekend, and it showed federal Labor leading the Coalition for the first time since November 2009. Nor was this a rogue result — Labor’s 51-49 lead aligned with the existing reading of the BludgerTrack poll aggregate, which encompasses recent state-level data from three different pollsters.
If the government had to pick one state in which to be carrying extra lead in its saddlebags, Queensland would be its last choice. The state has fully as many competitive seats as New South Wales despite having only two-thirds of its population, and there is good reason to believe Queensland’s marginals will present the easier pickings for Labor.
The Coalition gained eight seats from Labor in New South Wales last September, which sets the Coalition up for extensive benefits from “sophomore surge” — the advantage that accrues to new members when they run as incumbents for the first time. Australian experience suggests this to be worth around 1.5%, which will make life that much harder for Labor in traditional bellwethers such as Lindsay and Eden-Monaro.
But in Queensland, the damage for Labor had already been done at the previous election, so that the Coalition only gained Petrie and Capricornia to add to its haul of seven Labor seats from 2010. Both are held by the slenderest of margins and would not survive a solid statewide swing. Swings in loseable seats held by more established members are likely to be more-or-less uniform — which, if current polling was to be borne out, would deliver Labor every seat the party lost in 2010 and 2013, and Dickson and Herbert besides. Peter Dutton, Warren Entsch, Teresa Gambaro, George Christensen and Wyatt Roy would be on the Coalition casualty list, and Bill Shorten would be on his way to The Lodge.
The federal Coalition’s deterioration in Queensland is demonstrated by the chart on the left below, which displays a polling trend measure of the Coalition’s over-performance (or, just briefly around budget time, under-performance) in Queensland relative to the nation as a whole. The inflation in the Coalition’s already strong position in early 2012 coincides with the election of the Newman government, a phenomenon that was also evident in federal polling at the time of state election landslides in New South Wales and Tasmania. Since then though, it’s all been downhill.
If the federal Coalition were looking for a scapegoat for this state of affairs, Queensland Premier Campbell Newman would seem a logical place to start. The trouble with this is that Newman’s government is travelling better than Abbott’s, both in this week’s Galaxy and in the overall trend. The same Galaxy sample that had the Coalition trailing Labor federally was three points more favourable to the state Liberal National Party, putting the LNP ahead 52-48 on two-party preferred, while the BludgerTrack aggregated result has the LNP lead at 51-49.
Nonetheless, Newman himself clearly remains unpopular. Galaxy had Labor’s Annastacia Palaszczuk effectively drawing level with Newman as preferred premier for the first time, and his minus 20% net approval rating was about five points worse than what Abbott has been able to manage lately. Worst of all, the LNP primary vote is still trending downwards, an unhappy state of affairs for a government little more than six months out from an election.
Ultimately, a drop in the Coalition vote of 12% at state level since the March 2012 election and 7% at federal level since the September 2013 election makes for plenty of blame to go around. The safest conclusion is that both governments have been doing few favours, either for each other or themselves.