Are Australians About To Vote Out Their Conservative Government?

Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly polling roundup.

The past year has been full of elections for major democracies and allies of the United States, including elections in Canada, Germany and Japan during September and October of 2021 and in France last month. And on May 21, it will be Australia’s turn to decide its political future — change could be in the air Down Under, too.

That’s because Saturday’s election for Australia’s House of Representatives could spell an end to almost nine years of rule by the Coalition, a political alliance of conservative-leaning political parties led by the Liberal Party and its leader, Prime Minister Scott Morrison. The Coalition has won a majority of seats in three consecutive elections — 2013, 2016 and 2019 — but polls now suggest the center-left Australian Labor Party is favored to retake power in Canberra, the Australian capital.

Led by Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese, the ALP currently leads the Coalition 53.5 percent to 46.5 percent in two-party preference polling, according to The Poll Bludger’s average of recent surveys (more on two-party preference in a moment) run by elections analyst William Bowe. That 7 percentage-point advantage is significant because if the election results hew closely to the polls, such a result would amount to a 5-point swing in Labor’s vote share from the 2019 election, which is likely large enough to help the ALP overtake the Coalition’s narrow majority — 76 seats to the ALP’s 69 in the 151-seat chamber. Based on an election swing calculator developed by Antony Green, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s chief elections analyst, a roughly 3-point swing in the ALP’s direction might be enough to give it a majority.

But vote swings in Australia don’t always neatly translate into automatic gains and losses because members are elected from individual districts (“electorates” in local parlance). In elections to the House of Representatives, Australia uses ranked-choice voting to determine winners in each district. This system opens the door to a handful of independent and third-party winners, but most races still end up being narrowed to contests between candidates from the Coalition and the ALP, which is why observers focus heavily on two-party preference polls.

And in a story that will sound familiar to the Democrats, the U.S.’s left-leaning party, the ALP is at a slight disadvantage in how its votes translate to seats: Labor may need to win about 52 percent of the two-party preference vote to earn a majority, whereas the Coalition could retain a majority with around 51 percent; meanwhile, a result that falls somewhere between those outcomes could result in a hung parliament where no party has an outright majority. (Australians will also vote for around half of the 76 seats in the Senate, the parliament’s upper house, using a form of proportional representation that gives seats to a wider range of parties. But while the Senate has a fair bit of power in Australia, it’s the House election that will decide which party is in control of the government, including Australia’s prime minister.)

But before we go anointing Labor as the winner, the polls have narrowed in the last few days, creating some doubt about the outcome. For instance, a survey from Australian pollster Resolve Strategic released on Tuesday gave the ALP a 51 percent to 49 percent advantage, down from 54 percent to 46 percent two weeks earlier. Over a similar period, another Australian pollster Essential Report found Labor’s edge had narrowed from 4 points to 2 points. And this surely is giving the ALP — and pollsters — a sense of déjà vu: Back in 2019, the ALP went into Election Day with around a 3-point lead in the two-party preference polls, only to see the Coalition retain its majority with a 3-point victory in the two-party vote that Morrison called a “miracle” win.

Morrison is not an especially popular leader, but he and the Coalition may still benefit from the lukewarm feelings the electorate has toward the opposition leader, Albanese. Polls have consistently found more voters pick Morrison over Albanese when they’re asked who they prefer as the next prime minister. That said, Morrison’s brash reputation has attracted a fair amount of criticism, even prompting Morrison himself to promise to be more empathetic in the future, so it’s possible there’s still some upside for Labor here. 

As for the issues, Morrison has received somewhat solid marks for his handling of COVID-19, but that goodwill has receded from many voters’ minds with more expressing concern over things like the cost of living, elderly care and climate change. The Coalition has campaigned on a promise to pare back the budget in the aftermath of heavy spending amid the COVID-19 pandemic and has criticized the ALP for its larger spending plans. But the ALP has argued that the country needs investments in childcare, education and cleaner energy, while also shoring up Australia’s universal health care system. Given its proximity and clout, China has also been top of mind for voters. The Coalition has tried to cast the ALP as soft on China, while the ALP has argued the government’s approach hasn’t worked given China recently signed a security pact with the Solomon Islands, a nearby small island nation.

Climate change could have electoral repercussions, too. Despite a spate of natural disasters in Australia ranging from massive bushfires to heavy flooding, critics say climate change has not received its due in the campaign. A movement of climate-focused “teal” independent candidates — referencing the color of their campaign materials — are targeting seats controlled by the Coalition. And if these independents are successful at picking off a handful of Coalition-held seats, they could end up controlling the balance of power if the election produces a hung parliament, giving them a chance to push for more climate-friendly policies in exchange for helping one of the major parties govern the country.

Learning how this will all play out, though, could take a bit of time because, much like in the U.S., more Aussie voters than ever are voting by mail — “postal voting” in local parlance. Already, around 5.4 million voters out of about 17.2 million have voted early in-person or by mail, and another 1.2 million mail ballots are still outstanding. Because Australia has compulsory voting — those who fail to vote face a fine if they don’t have a good excuse — we can expect roughly 90 percent of the electorate to cast a ballot, which means that around a third of voters are already using some form of early voting.

So with all this in mind, make sure to check the Australian election results when you wake up on Saturday — Sydney is 14 hours ahead of eastern time in the U.S. — it’s one of the rare instances where you can watch election night coverage while you enjoy your morning coffee.

Other polling bites

  • Our first FiveThirtyEight/Ipsos poll on the top issues facing Americans came out earlier this week. We found that Americans are worried about inflation more than any other issue, and April survey data from Morning Consult shows how this is affecting Americans’ choices at the grocery store. In the poll, 43 percent said they bought generic to save on groceries, up from 36 percent six months prior. In a separate survey, Morning Consult also found Americans are growing more concerned about their financial well-being. In April, only 24 percent of Americans said they could handle an unexpected expense completely or very well, down from 29 percent last June, and 26 percent said they felt the same about securing their future financial security, down from 31 percent.
  • Feeling tired of politics? You’re not alone. A new CNN/SSRS survey found just 23 percent of Americans were “fired up” about politics, while 53 percent said they were “burned out.” Moreover, no one really feels like their political party of choice is doing well, as just 9 percent said they felt like they were mostly on the winning side, while 32 percent said their side was losing more than winning. (That said, 58 percent said neither state described how they felt.)
  • In the wake of the leak of a draft opinion that could signal the Supreme Court’s intentions to overturn Roe v. Wade, 60 percent of Americans told NBC News earlier this month that abortion should be legal in all or most cases, the highest percentage the poll had found dating back to 2003. By comparison, 32 percent said abortion should be illegal with some exceptions and just 5 percent said it should be illegal in all cases.
  • Quinnipiac University’s latest poll found 69 percent of Americans support limiting the number of years a justice should serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, where currently justices have lifetime appointments. Remarkably, there is broad bipartisan agreement on this, too, as 77 percent of Democrats and 61 percent of Republicans back some sort of term limit, as did 69 percent of independents.
  • Mask-wearing to combat COVID-19 is no longer required on flights, but Gallup found Americans continue to be split on whether the federal government should mandate face coverings in the air. In late April and early May, 49 percent said the government should enforce mask-wearing on flights, while 51 percent disagreed. Unsurprisingly, there were strong partisan divides on this question, as 81 percent of Democrats thought masks should be required, compared with only 13 percent of Republicans. Forty percent of independents also supported a mask mandate on planes.
  • Monmouth University found continued support for U.S. actions against Russia given its invasion of Ukraine. In May, 77 percent of Americans said they supported the economic sanctions that the U.S. has imposed on Russia, which is roughly the same as what Monmouth found in March. And despite concerns about high gas prices, almost 4 in 5 still support the U.S. ban on Russian gas and oil imports, also unchanged from two months earlier. Additionally, 77 percent said they supported sending weapons to Ukraine. However, these views haven’t boosted President Biden’s standing, as only 43 percent approve of Biden’s handling of the Ukraine situation and 50 percent disapprove, down from his 46 percent approve/48 percent disapprove mark in March.

Biden approval

According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker, 41.1 percent of Americans approve of the job Biden is doing as president, while 53.4 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of -12.3 points). At this time last week, 41.4 percent approved and 52.6 percent disapproved (a net approval rating of -11.2 points). One month ago, Biden had an approval rating of 42.0 percent and a disapproval rating of 52.0 percent, for a net approval rating of -10.1 points.

Generic ballot

In our average of polls of the generic congressional ballot, Republicans currently lead by 2.3 percentage points (45.0 percent to 42.7 percent). A week ago, Republicans led Democrats by 2.6 points (45.5 percent to 42.9 percent). At this time last month, voters preferred Republicans by 2.3 points (44.7 percent to 42.4 percent).