If there’s any truth to the notion that all publicity is good publicity, the Palmer United Party must be rated as masters of the modern political game.

Clive Palmer’s sallies against China, and Senator Jacqui Lambie’s rough-and-ready observations on sex and sharia law have resonated as conversation topics far beyond the Canberra beltway, and the campaign waged against the party by elements of the press has succeeded, if nothing else, in keeping its profile up.

However, the limitations of the theory may have been exposed by recent polling, which suggests the public might be starting to tire of Palmer and his attendant political circus.

Tellingly, the turning point can be clearly identified as the start of July — exactly when the three Palmer United senators took their seats, exposing the party to the hard edge of the parliamentary process for the first time.

The shift is recorded in graphic detail in the chart below, which shows the party’s support since the September federal election, as recorded by the BludgerTrack poll aggregate. The federal trend appears as a thick black line, with thinner lines registering the trend of state breakdowns from ReachTEL, Morgan and Essential Research.

The national result suggests support for Palmer United faded a little after its post-election publicity died off around November, then began an upward swing in April that slightly predated the May 13 budget. It then sat prettily above 6% until the end of June, before beginning a descent from which it is yet to pull out.

The state numbers suggest the party’s success in the special Senate election in Western Australia on April 5 was a catalyst for the initial upward trend, the state in question producing a pronounced short-term surge for Palmer United at around that time. The results otherwise confirm what was evident from the September election result, namely that Palmer’s home base of Queensland and the mining state of Western Australia are states apart — both literally and so far as Palmer’s electoral appeal is concerned.

Importantly for a party that gets out of bed in the morning to exact revenge on Queensland Premier Campbell Newman, the fluctuations noted in the federal polling have been at least as pronounced at state level.

ReachTEL’s state polling had Palmer United at 8.4% at the start of April, then well into in double figures in four consecutive polls from May 14 to August 8, before coming back down to 9.5% in its most recent poll on September 4. Newspoll does not record separate results for Palmer United, but the “others” vote in its quarterly state polling has tellingly fluctuated from 15% in January-March to 24% in April-June to 18% in July-September.

The Palmer United decline has had a fair bit to do with the recovery in the Coalition’s polling fortunes, both federally and in Queensland. When Palmer United reached its peak of 6.4% on the BludgerTrack aggregate in early July, the Coalition and Labor were tied on the primary vote at 37.8%. The Coalition have since improved by 3.6%, whereas the drop for Labor has been a relatively mild 1.7%.

In Queensland state polling, this week’s Newspoll recorded a 7% surge to the Liberal National Party that left the combined vote for Labor and the Greens undisturbed.

But in any discussion of Palmer United’s poll ratings, an important qualification must be added: the party’s effective level of support in Queensland will not be known until we see the effect of its carpet-bombing of the television airwaves during the election campaign. Relations between Palmer and Newman being what they are, this promises to put even the epic spend from the WA Senate campaign into the shade.

The trend in Queensland might be all wrong for the party at the moment, but it will more than likely be headed the other way when it matters most.

Peter Fray

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