Polling and Electricity Prices

Polling Gone Mad

Today we have been “flooded” by opinion polls which, while not showing any overall deterioration in the Turnbull Coalition’s polling, confirm its continued inability to effect any significant improvement in that polling. The state by state Newspoll for the February-March quarter also suggests there is a continued problem in Queensland, where the One Nation vote is much higher than in other states and has increased significantly since the 2016 election result (from 5.5 to 13 percent in the February- March quarter).

Because this state by state Newspoll only covers to the end of March it needs to treated with more than the usual reservation about polling. However, while it shows a slight increase on the previous quarter’s 46/54, the Coalition’s polling of 47/53 for the February-March on a TPP basis does not let the Coalition off the need to radically change its leadership and policies (the Australian’s political editor, Simon Benson, mistakenly had the Coalition at 48/52).The poll remains well below its 2016 election result of 50.4/49.6 and suggests that there will not be an early election. The slight improvement in Turnbull’s net satisfaction rate (to minus 20) may help but no change was recorded in his better PM rate of 40 (Shorten on 34).

Although the Coalition polling improved significantly in Queensland (from 45/55 to 49/51), that was way down on its election result of 54/46 and suggests an increased threat of seat loss in that state. But it has reportedly reached an agreement on preferences with One Nation, which should help but may require some agreement on energy policy and a difficulty with implementing the NEG. My recollection is that then LNP leader in Queensland did not have a preference deal with One Nation in his (lost) State election.

A separate Fairfax/Ipso poll for the first quarter of 2018 suggests that at 53/47 Labor is also ahead on the same basis as Newspoll. But by contrast with Newspoll, it shows Labor ahead in Queensland  by 52/48. This has led the AFR’s left political editor to suggest Labor could win up to 16 seats from the Coalition, including the seat of Home Affairs minister Dutton. But the AFR has become so left-wing that this opinion needs to be questioned.

Another separate poll in Victoria, where there is a State election in November, also shows Coalition problems with Labor which could carry over to the Federal election. The poll shows Labor ahead on a 51/49 TPP basis. However, low primary votes of 35.4 for Labor compared with 39.4 for the Coalition suggest  uncertainty at this stage about exactly how preferences will be allocated. In that regard, it is the first time One Nation will participate in Victoria since 1999 and it got a 3.6 per cent primary vote in the poll. Also, the Coalition is well ahead (55.8% compared with 44.2%) on which party is judged best to maintain law and order. Against that, the Victorian media is pro Labor.

Electricity Prices

There is no doubt that a major cause of the poor Coalition polling outlined above reflects the failure of Turnbull and Energy minister Frydenberg to explain the causes of the increase in electricity prices and how the new proposal to supposedly handle energy policy will work in practice to get prices down.  The address by Tony Abbott drew attention to the latter issue, which is increasingly concerning voters particularly those on lower incomes.

Turnbull is now close to a panic situation and his latest response is not only to claim that prices have already started to come down but that he has in effect commissioned the ACCC to publish on what has happened and what will happen. Today he is reported as stating that “an “illuminating” Australian Competition and Consumer Commission report on the electricity sector will be released this week and the same (but separate) report suggests that a Royal Commission might be established on whether prices are determined in a competitive framework (see Possible RC on Electricity Prices).

The attached report  has Turnbull claiming “We’ve turned the corner on electricity prices,” Mr Turnbull told reporters at Avebury Mine, in the north-west Tasmanian seat of Braddon on Monday. “You’ve seen price reductions across the east coast as a result of the policies of my government.” Mr Turnbull pointed to measures to push down gas prices by moving to restrict exports and its own National Energy Guarantee as proof of action. “The NEG will provide a level playing-field, technology agnostic, certain environment for people to invest and deliver lower cost for generation over time,” he said.

I am hoping to publish an analysis on prices but there is no doubt that it has become a major policy issue which Turnbull had tried to hide by claiming that “experts” will solve the problem by constructing a NEG. As I and others have already suggested, this is not the case (and the forced reduction in gas prices is not relevant to NEG). The fact that Turnbull felt is necessary today to say something about it, rather than his No2 Frydenberg, suggests he has at least realized that this is a problem which cannot easily be hidden away in a NEG which is likely to involve higher prices.

It seems unlikely that his colleagues have realized that it may be necessary to abandon the NEG approach in order to improve the Coalition’s polling. Turnbull himself has a reputation for wanting to split the Liberal Party and may not be too concerned if he presides over a Coalition loss. Time to go now rather than at an election.


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