A dramatic comeback in Coalition support following Tony Abbott’s demise has been spearheaded by older, environmentally concerned voters, analysis of opinion polling shows.

Based on an aggregation of eight polls conducted since the September 14 leadership coup, including unpublished breakdowns provided by Essential Research and ReachTEL, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has boosted the 46.1% share of the two-party vote bequeathed to him by Tony Abbott to around 52.5% — sufficient to retain all but a handful of the 90 seats won by the Coalition in the 2013 landslide, and limit the swing to Labor to around 1%.

The change has been evenly spread geographically, as illustrated by charts below showing results from the 2013 election along with poll aggregates from immediately before and after the leadership change. The shift across the five mainland states ranges from 5.8% in New South Wales to 6.9% in Queensland, placing the distinctions well inside the margin of error.

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Most encouraging for Turnbull is the strength of the improvement in New South Wales, where the Coalition had already been outperforming the national result by around 2% under Abbott.

The end of Abbott’s reign also seems to have had little impact on the relative strength of Labor support among women — rather surprisingly, given that Abbott’s personal ratings were at least 5% worse among women than men, which surely isn’t the case with Turnbull.

The real story behind the new electoral landscape is instead to be found in the primary vote and breakdowns by age group.

On the former count, Malcolm Turnbull’s rise to the top looks to have been particularly bad news for the Greens.

By the end of the Abbott era, polling showed Greens support to be at an historic high of around 14% — well above the party’s existing record of 11.8% at the 2010 election, when it was able to win Senate seats in all six states.

Clearly the Greens were benefiting as much as anyone from the Abbott government’s woes, as illustrated by the party’s grand designs on the blue-ribbon Melbourne seat of Higgins. But with the considerably more palatable Malcolm Turnbull at the helm, it seems that this base of “blue-green” voters has reverted to type.

The polls suggest a 7% increase in the Coalition primary vote has taken an even bigger bite out of the Greens than Labor — 4% compared with 3%, with combined support for other minor parties and independents little changed.

A related phenomenon is that a larger share of non-major party voters are now telling pollsters they will preference the Coalition ahead of Labor.

Labor’s overall share of preferences was 65% at the 2010 election and 62% in 2013, but had blown out to over 70% in polling conducted near the end of the Abbott era (allowing due caution for the fact that this particular aspect of polling doesn’t have a great record of accuracy).

With the overall non-major party vote weighing in at around 25%, such a shift in preference behaviour would have had a devastating impact at an election, as it did in January when Campbell Newman’s LNP government was unexpectedly tipped out of office in Queensland.

That threat seems to have been neutralised, with Roy Morgan’s Turnbull-era polling finding the Coalition’s preference share back where it was in 2013, a change that can only partly be accounted for by the Greens’ lower share of the overall non-major party vote.

The adverse impact of the Turnbull ascendancy on the Greens vote has been clear enough, but it has played out in a surprising way across the age groups.

Given support for the Greens is heavily concentrated among the young, it might have been anticipated that the Turnbull bounce would be particularly high among the 18-34 cohort.

Yet remarkably, the polls record little to no change among this group, whereas the Coalition two-party vote among middle-aged and older voters has been restored to 2013 levels.

This is borne out by primary vote breakdowns from the two most recent large-sample polls conducted by ReachTEL — the first conducted before the leadership change, the second after — which showed Greens support little changed at around 17% among the 18-34s, but down from around 15.5% to 9.5% among the 35-to-50s.

Whatever the cause, this realignment suggests the Greens will have a much tougher time now defending the six Senate seats they won in 2010 at the next election, particularly in the absence of substantial electoral reform.

And it certainly seems the Greens can forget about pulling a rabbit out of the hat in a seat like Higgins — at least until the next Tony Abbott comes along.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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