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Shayne Sutton, Associate Director

When Scott Morrison won the 2019 election his win was dubbed “Morrison’s Miracle”.  Most people, regardless of political affiliation, had expected Bill Shorten to be sworn in as Australia’s 31st Prime Minister soon after polling day.  Few anticipated the result delivered by the people.

The public polling leading up to Election Day was clearly wrong. In their last polls before the election, Australia’s top four polling companies, Newspoll, YouGov/Galaxy, Essential and Ipsos had all predicted a Labor win with 51%, 51.5% or 52% of the two-party preferred vote (2PP).  Instead, Morrison’s Government was re-elected with Labor’s expected margin - 51.5% of the 2PP.  

Speculation about how and why the pollsters got it so wrong started even before Morrison had his first chance to ask, “How good is Queensland?” on election night.   It has been the subject of countless commentary, news and journal articles, blogs and reviews ever since.    

Mind you, it’s not like polls have never been wrong before.  Brexit, Trump’s defeat of Clinton and Keating’s win over Hewson are just a few notable high-profile poll “miscalculations”. 

A 140-page report commissioned by the Association of Market and Social Research Organisations (now called the Australian Data and Insights Association) shed a little more light on why pollsters got it wrong in 2019.  It surmised highly engaged Labor voters were overrepresented in polling surveys, while conservative voters, who are apparently more reluctant to participate in polling surveys, were underrepresented.  It identified that the death of home landlines had impacted polling companies’ ability to access a balanced set of voters for their polls.

But given the polls got it so wrong last time - and covid WFH arrangements haven’t led to a rush of home landline reconnections – will this mean, as ABC election analyst Antony Green speculated on Election Night 2019, less importance will be placed on polls leading up to the 2022 election? Don’t bet on it.

Polls don’t just indicate who is most likely to win the election.  They help us interpret how the parties are travelling and influence national political commentary.  But the published polls are only half of the story.  Political parties do their own polling.  This “internal polling” or “research” is often more frequent, more nuanced, and more targeted than the published polls. Party polling is designed to test campaign strategy, pick up issues and trends before they make news and inform campaign funding decisions.  (It also makes great news headlines when “leaked”!)  

“But can we trust the polls?” you ask.  Well, you can be assured that going into the 2022 election the key pollsters will be eager to demonstrate they’ve learned from their 2019 mistakes.  But it is not an exact science, so don’t bet your house, or your business, on what the polls are saying.   

Those using the polls to determine their level of concern about an election outcome on their business would be wiser to talk to us at SAS Group. For one, we are always talking to our party-political colleagues about what their more detailed polling research is telling them. We use this insight to provide guidance to our clients on how to navigate the ever-changing political dynamic of an election year. Second, if you are really concerned, SAS Group can help you proactively engage both sides of politics to help mitigate the risk of election policies impacting your business.

With the starter’s gun still to be fired for Election 2022, it is far too early to be predicting results via the polls.  They say a week is a long time in politics. In a campaign it is an eternity. Ultimately though, the well-worn saying is right:  the only poll that counts is the poll on election day. Having said that, if you are conservative voter, do us all a favour and take the polling survey!


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