Polls and elections: a primer for the perplexed

16 Oct 2007

In this APO Election Backgrounder RODNEY TIFFEN looks at federal election results since the second world war and the potential pitfalls of interpreting opinion polls.

IN THE lead up to this election, the always intense interest in the polls is, if anything, more acute because two major factors are in collision. On the one hand there is the electoral “man of steel” John Howard, who has rewritten Australian election records - only the second man to win four successive elections, the first since Menzies to increase his government’s share of the vote at two successive elections, heading the first government to win control of the Senate since the 1977 election and now sitting on a buffer of sixteen seats. In the 2004 election, according to Sol Lebovic, the former head of Newspoll, Howard achieved the biggest increase during a campaign that any government has managed in Newspoll’s twenty years of polling, increasing its primary vote by 5.7 percentage points.


On the other hand the polls this year have shown a Labor lead of a strength and consistency that has probably never been seen before. Almost every poll has shown Labor ahead at least 55-45 on a two-party preferred basis.

One thing is certain: every poll between now and the election will be greeted with breathless proclamations of its importance. This article seeks to give some perspective by outlining the results from Australian federal elections since the second world war and examining some key characteristics of the polls ...





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