The Nielsen poll, taken last week, was the strongest for the Coalition on the two-party vote at 52-48. On a weighted average, Labor was on a primary vote of 37.5 per cent in the four polls. In normal circumstances, it needs a higher primary vote than this to win. The Coalition vote was 43.8 per cent, while the Greens were on 12 per cent.
Since Julia Gillard announced her proposal for a citizens’ assembly on climate change on July 23, Labor’s two-party vote has dropped 5 points in Newspoll (55 per cent to 50 per cent over two polls) and 6 points in Nielsen (54 per cent to 48 per cent in one poll). Galaxy went up 2 points, and then down 2 points, to end at 50-50. Morgan dropped 2.5 points to 53 per cent two-party for Labor.
The polls tell us Labor is in trouble, as does Ms Gillard’s reaction. They don’t tell us Labor will lose. They must be read with two big qualifications. First, they give us a snapshot of people’s opinions when the pollsters ask the question. Up to 20 per cent of voters aren’t strongly committed to their current voting intention – some will shift before they actually get to vote.
Second, and very important, the swing in these polls is a national average. It conceals big differences between different parts of the country, and even between different seats within the same area. These varied swings determine where seats fall or hold. It is possible (as in 1998) for a government to survive on a minority popular vote.