To poll or not poll – that is the question

Katina Curtis, AAP Senior Political Writer
(Australian Associated Press)

 

The next federal election is due in two years, 11 months and 16 days and Australians are about to be asked who they will vote for.

The result at May’s election was a surprise to many after all opinion polls – including an exit poll taken as voters left the booths – predicted a Labor victory.

Red-faced pollsters took a hiatus for several months, but are starting to re-emerge.

Essential has published results of questions on a range of issues over the past fortnight, including a preferred leader rating comparing Scott Morrison with Labor’s Anthony Albanese, but not voter intentions.

Newspoll, published in the Australian, has indicated it will have a poll in the field shortly.

Ipsos is still reviewing its methods and awaiting a new commission, after the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age decided to take a polling break.

YouGov-Galaxy hasn’t published any political polls since the election, either.

Professional poll watcher Kevin Bonham says it’s unusual to have such a long post-election hiatus from every pollster, but the caution is understandable.

When things get moving again, he wants to see more transparency in the data shared publicly.

“There’s a lack of information on what things they’re using in weighting their samples is a problem,” Dr Bonham told AAP.

“We can’t look at this (previously published information) and say they’ve got such and such wrong because they haven’t told us.”

He thinks whether public trust is restored will depend on how well pollsters convince people they’ve looked at what issues cropped up ahead of the election and responded appropriately.

Ipsos Australia director Jessica Elgood says while she is proud of the work her team did, she understands why people were disappointed.

She agrees more transparency around how the data is weighted would be good, pointing out Ipsos publishes this information in other markets where polling councils set industry standards, such as Britain and New Zealand.

“It just means we know whether we’re comparing apples with apples or apples with pears and it’s clear what’s going on,” she told AAP.

But while she says the post-election review is crucially important, her more than 20 years in the industry has taught her there are often temporary effects on voter moods.

“You see elections come and go and the lessons that you learn from one election don’t necessarily help you with the next election,” she said.

She defends Ipsos’ pre-election result showing a Labor win as being within the margin of error of the final outcome, insisting international reviewers of their data said it was “pretty bloody good”.

Newspoll boss David Briggs has also defended the industry, saying perceptions of the May 18 election as a polling disaster were too harsh.

“As a consumer of polls, you have to look at all evidence,” he told The Australian, pointing to seat-by-seat polls showing a better assessment of party performance than the national results.

“We shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Newspoll has been remarkably accurate for decades.”

Ms Elgood believes there has been too strong an emphasis on the two-party preferred (2PP) results in the reporting and discussion around polls.

“The way in which we all watched and eagerly counted the number of polls a given leader was behind, in hindsight that clearly wasn’t particularly helpful or meaningful – there was more at stake,” she told AAP.

“There’s lessons around the reporting and I think there’s also lessons in terms of – and this is where I think pollsters were also at fault – how much we can draw from the data we have.

“If the sample is only a certain size, there’s only so many conclusions that we should draw.

“I think come the next election we’ll all be more circumspect but I think we’ll also all be making greater use of supporting evidence and not just relying on one key piece of data, which is 2PP.”

The Australian’s editor-in-chief Chris Dore says his newspaper will look at changing the timing and frequency of polling it commissions from Newspoll in an effort to make sure the cycle is not “gamed” by politicians.

Liberal MPs told Niki Savva in her book about the deposing of Malcolm Turnbull, Plots and Prayers, that Tony Abbott used the fortnightly Newspoll cycle to undermine his successor.

“You could see it whenever a poll was due. The week before, he would come out with something that impugned Turnbull, that he was incompetent, or weak, or lacked conviction,” West Australian MP Ken Wyatt told Savva.

Dr Bonham suspects over the next few years Australia will see pollsters trying different approaches to find out what voters think.

“We may see people trying richer kinds of polling, more drill-down on why people are voting a particular way or what issues are driving their vote, which is stuff that’s been very primitive in the past,” he said.

Get ready for more phone calls and online surveys.

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