Two polls that emerged from Queensland this week have underscored the peculiarly fascinating contest that awaits when the state’s election to be held early next year.
The bad news for Premier Campbell Newman comes from his own electorate, courtesy of an automated phone poll of 631 Ashgrove voters conducted by ReachTEL on Sunday night. The poll was commissioned by the Seven Network immediately after Kate Jones, who lost the seat to Newman at the 2012 election, announced she would again run as Labor’s candidate.
The results were alarming for Newman on a number of levels, most obviously in that Jones led him by 52% to 41% on the primary vote. No less telling were personal ratings for the two candidates, which again showed that Ashgrove voters acted more in sorrow than in anger when they turfed out Jones in 2012. Despite having spent three years out of the limelight, Jones’ favourable rating was at 59%, compared with only 26% for unfavourable. It was a very different story for Campbell Newman, who was viewed favourably by only 34% of respondents and unfavourably by 53%.
Barring a dramatic reversal of political fortunes over the coming months, it is clear that the Liberal National Party is doomed to spend its campaign grappling with the question of what might happen should Newman lose his seat.
Such was also the case in 2012, when Newman was pursuing his audacious gambit of leading the party from outside Parliament, and needed to unseat Jones to assume the premiership. On that occasion, the difficulty was swept away, along with much else, by the anti-Labor tidal wave. However, poll results aren’t the only cause the LNP has to fear that attitudes towards Newman among his constituents may have fatally hardened.
With the possible exception of bikies, the two constituencies in Queensland who have been most aggrieved by the Newman government have been health and education workers, who were hit hard in a horror post-election budget that encompassed 14,000 public service job cuts.
Both sectors are amply represented in the middle-income suburbs covered by Ashgrove. The eastern end of the electorate lies a few kilometres from both the Royal Brisbane and Prince Charles hospitals, while the suburb of The Gap at the electorate’s western end has a particularly strong concentration of both schools and teachers. All told, Ashgrove ranks second out of the state’s 89 electorates for workers in the education sector, and ninth for health.
“It seemed voters in Ashgrove always preferred Jones over Newman, but were not, in the final analysis, ready to plunge the state into political chaos by chopping the head off an LNP that was headed for certain victory.”
However, Newman and his colleagues persist in digging themselves in behind the position that Newman has no plan B — or as one minister put it, there is “one plan — A for Ashgrove”.
A possible explanation for this outwardly relaxed attitude is that Newman has been here before. Ashgrove was intensively polled during the 2012 election, and about the only results which had Newman ahead were those conducted in the final week of the campaign.
It seemed voters in Ashgrove always preferred Jones over Newman, but were not, in the final analysis, ready to plunge the state into political chaos by chopping the head off an LNP that was headed for certain victory.
A feeling that the same dynamic will play out again this time will have been reinforced by the other poll that has emerged, that being the quarterly reading of state voting intention from Newspoll in The Australian.
The previous poll, conducted while the government was at war with doctors over individual contracts and lawyers over a controversial Chief Justice appointment, had Labor ahead 51-49 — its first poll lead since 2009, apart from one poll conducted immediately after the 2011 floods emergency. Now there are indications that the government’s efforts to calm the waters following its Stafford byelection drubbing are doing the job, with the LNP opening up a lead of 54-46.
However, the poll provides two reasons to think that the recovery in the government’s standing might prove of limited value in Ashgrove. One is Newman’s personal ratings, which have scarcely improved — approval at 35% and disapproval at 54%, almost identical to ReachTEL’s numbers from Ashgrove.
The other is the primary vote numbers, which show no change in combined support for Labor and the Greens. The yield for the LNP has instead come at the expense of “others”, which encompasses Palmer United. This figure is back down to 18% after swelling from 15% to 24%, suggesting the government has done its best work in cooling the tempers of voters who were parking their support with Palmer United.
However, as the ReachTEL poll makes clear by putting support for Palmer United at 1.7%, there were precious few of those in Ashgrove — a fact reflected at the federal election, when the four Queensland seats with the highest levels of educational attainment were also the four weakest for Palmer United.
Ordinarily, winning over the voters of outer suburbia and the regional cities would be a certain recipe for electoral success. But in the unique circumstances Newman has created for himself, it might not be enough.