Subtle shifts in concern

Our latest polling (download from here) shows left of centre voters being more committed and unified than right of centre voters. This is partly due to the continuation of resentment at the way Malcolm Turnbull won the Liberal Party leadership. It manifests in the very low opt-in rate of Liberal voters in this sample.

There also appears to have been some cannibalisation of the One Nation vote by the Australian Conservatives.

Belief that the country is heading in the right direction has increased marginally since the last poll, but is still negative, with a net -51% disagreeing that it was heading in the right direction last year, versus -47% this year. There has also been a drop in the popularity of Malcolm Turnbull, with falls across all groups, while Bill Shorten has marginally improved, mainly as a result of increased support amongst ALP voters.

The divide between voters is on the age-old issues: economy versus services, the battle between cosmopolitanism and nationalism seen in orderly immigration versus refugees. The refugee issue can also be interpreted as a battle between compassion (with a touch of idealism) and utility. Climate change, which can be characterised as optimism versus pessimism, also remains a defining issue on the left.

Interestingly the climate change issue appears to be getting more “personal” with “coal” appearing as a concept on its own. There appears to be a battle against coal, as part of the war on emissions, possibly as a result of controversy over Adani’s proposed Carmichael coal mine.

While both the government and the opposition have made budget pitches based on tax cuts, at the time when this poll was taken, the tax cuts that were on offer were seen as a reason to vote against the government. As personal tax cuts weren’t on the table at the time, this must have been based on the company tax cuts, and so possibly explains Pauline Hanson’s recent change of heart on that issue.

Another interesting phenomena is that the issue of refugees seems to be morphing into immigration in general. Infrastructure is a concept that is of concern to all voters and tends to sit in the middle of the Leximancer diagrams. There is a relationship between immigration and infrastructure, and while the left wing answer to it is to spend more money, the right-wing response seems to be, at least partly, to reduce the population pressure.

Which makes the need for more infrastructure at one level resonate with the refugee issue for some voters. This could be a problem for Labor in at least one of the 4 by-elections they are about to fight. Longman, just north of Brisbane, is on the Bruce Highway, which is desperately in need of upgrade, and is full of tradies and commuters, all of whom regularly use the highway. Longman is also full of the sort of demographic groups who worry about illegal immigrants. Out of the 4 by-elections where Labor is defending the seat, this is the one to watch.

While Turnbull’s popularity has dropped in this poll, he is still seen by a lot of voters on the right as the best reason to vote for the coalition. Closely aligned to him as a reason is Bill Shorten, which is bad news for the Labor leader.

Shorten is appealing for “fairness” in the tax system. While this is characterised by the government as class warfare, voters tend to interpret it as taking from the selfish to give to the needy (or perhaps the over-privileged to the underprivileged). As the needy, by definition, don’t have much, then the selfish are all to be found amongst those who do. Greens voters are more susceptible than most to this point of view, and it is fortified by what we have found out in other surveys – that many Greens voters, while earning above average, also say they are prepared to pay more tax than they do now.

So the “fairness” argument appears to have a lot of force. The weakness in the argument is the salesman who delivers the message, and the feeling that no matter who you vote for you get similar outcomes.

Shorten is viewed as an opportunist, who, while he has a united team, is too cunning. Turnbull’s profile is not particularly strong, and he too is seen as being an opportunist, but with the distinction from Shorten that more people see him as trying to do the right thing. In some ways Turnbull’s waffling rhetoric helps to underline this when contrasted with Shorten’s text book barrage of three-word slogans.

So while some issues have moved a little, the issue landscape is essentially the same as it has been since last year. That means that while there is a strong expectation that Labor could win the next election, it is a rebuttable presumption. While Labor’s domination of the narrative of fairness makes it difficult for the coalition to run on their perceived strength of economic management, there are cultural issues, like refugees, which have been submerged in debate but can make a difference if they come to the fore in an election campaign.