What happened on May 18? Our polling

We conducted two polls during the election. The first poll was late in April, which you can access here, and the second on the day of the election up until midnight on the Monday after, which you can access here.

This was an election that Labor lost. It had too many policies that hurt too many people through higher taxes. This was meant to redistribute to poorer Australians and make the country fairer. But those who would lose were angry, and those who might win, unappreciative.

On top of that it actively alienated working Australians in the mining regions of Queensland and New South Wales by its lack of action on Adani specifically, and coal mining generally, and antagonised religious Australians by trying to wedge Scott Morrison on his Christianity and threatening to take rights away from Christian organisations in their staff hiring policies.

Morrison waged a chanceless campaign. He didn’t show a lot of flair, but he didn’t make any mistakes and cured the perception that the Coalition was weak and divided. He reconnected the party with its conservative rural and regional base, and appears to have won the majority of undecided voters as they entered the polling booth.

The win looks larger than it is because the expectation of a Labor win was so high, but the government only has a bare majority, and a large proportion of voters either voted for third parties, or when they voted for the majors, did so unenthusiastically.

Climate change was the largest issue on the Labor/Greens side, but it didn’t translate into changes of voting intention. When it was mentioned by voters on the right it was generally in negative terms. Stability, taxes and the economy were the major issues on the right, with a smattering of cultural issues.

With such a close result we can expect the dysfunction of the last parliament to continue, unless one side or the other can develop a compelling narrative which converts voters to their cause. The best chance for this is for the Morrison government, if it can eat into the nationalist voter base and snare first preferences.

Labor will also be eyeing this group off, but it will be difficult for them as they stand to lose Green votes and preferences on the left if they try too hard to meet the demands of rural and regional voters.

Specific findings

  1. Campaign seemed to intensify pre-existing opinions. While the overall response to the question of whether the country was heading in the right direction was statistically insignificant, there were some statistically significant moves in subgroups with Nationalists being inclined to see the country in a much more positive light at the end of the campaign. Labor, Greens and Others voters were more pessimistic by a few percentage points while Liberal voters were more optimistic by a similar margin.
  2. The group is more left-leaning than the population at large. Despite using the actual voting figures to weight our sample, when we distributed preferences in line with intentions we got a 53% win to Labor. This is not dissimilar to the published polls, suggesting that it was the voters pollsters couldn’t measure who made the difference when it came to voting. They don’t fill in our surveys generally either.
  3. Consistent with the left lean our sample disapproved of Scott Morrison, but that disapproval shrank over the course of the campaign. This was a result of an increase in enthusiasm by Liberals and Others. The Nationalists actually moved a little against him, while Greens moved a little towards him.
  4. There was also an improvement in Bill Shorten’s approval ratings, with favourable movements amongst Labor, Coalition, Nationalists and Others. His approval fell with Greens voters.
  5. Morrison improved his preferred PM rating, but again reflecting the skew in the sample, he was only level-pegging with Shorten on 48% with the 4% balance to undecideds. Others appear to have warmed towards Shorten while Nationalists became slightly less sure about Morrison, and parked a large number of their votes under “unsure”.
  6. Morrison was loathed by opponents, who thought he was dishonest and hypocritical, while supporters saw him as a straightforward family man with good principles. Shorten was seen as a solid pair of hands by supporters, and a hypocrite by detractors, although supporters were relatively unenthusiastic in their support. Compared to Morrison Shorten had fewer “Strongly approve” ratings, as well as fewer “Strongly disapprove” ratings.
  7. The issues appear to have stayed remarkably stable over the course of the campaign. In the end it was a contest between Labor’s fairness narrative, which necessitated a reasonably large tax redistribution, and the Liberal’s concern with limiting tax and strengthening the economy.
  8. The one exception to the issues staying constant was the increase in reference to religion in the exit poll versus the first poll we did. Controlling for the different sample size there was an approximate 66% increase in the use of words starting with “relig” and 44% in those starting with “christ”. This tends to confirm the possibility that Rugby Australia may have helped the coalition campaign by deciding to discipline Israel Folau so close to the election. It was also affected by the image of Scott Morrison inside his church which galvanised voters on all sides.
  9. Retirees were an issue, as was tax, but “death tax” barely featured, and retiree tax was not present in the first survey, and barely present in the second survey. “Franking” was more prominent as a concept. However around one-third of respondents mentioned “tax”, suggesting that rather than any specific tax it was the whole suite of proposed taxes that concerned voters.
  10. While “Chaos and Cuts” seemed to work for the ALP earlier on in the year, they do not appear to have been very top-of-mind by the time of the election campaign. “Stability” was an issue but cut both ways with Labor respondent concerns for the stability of the coalition government being countered by coalition respondent concerns for the stability of the economy.
  11. Malcolm Turnbull also started the election campaign as a large issue, but frequency of mentions halved by the second sample. The sentiment was fairly evenly spread with some thinking he should still be Liberal leader, and blaming Morrison or the Liberals for removing him, and others thinking he was a poor leader.

The whole of the final report with tables and diagrams can be downloaded by clicking here.

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