Signs of desperation: broken hearts and improbable poll,
Written by Professor David Flint AM   
Saturday, 07 November 2009

To commemorate their landslide loss in 1999, the republican movement demonstrated just how desperate they are. Support for some vague politicians' republic has long been fluctuating  around 45%, and lower among the nation's youth. On Affirmation Day, 6 November, the republicans claimed they  had access to some poll which showed this had suddenly jumped by fourteeen points to a highly improbable 59%.

And then they wheeled out the tired and claim that Australia’s heart was broken when their proposal was rejected overwhelmingly by the Australian people.

This is no more than a futile attempt to force the Leader of the Opposition and one time republican leader Malcolm Turnbull into reviving their republican push. He won’t. He regrets the way he conceded defeat in 1999. He said then that if the Prime Minister John Howard was remembered for anything, it would be as the man who broke the heart of the nation.

Looking across Bondi Beach on the following day, a  Sunday, all I could see was a nation at play, happy in itself and comfortable in our Commonwealth. The only tears shed the night before came from a handful of celebrities, and perhaps from Mr. Turnbull who was subsequently revealed as overwhelmingly the principal benefactor of the republican movement.

Image
[ Hearts unbroken ]


Mr. Turnbull is realistic about a republic. Not in this reign, he says, and not until there is a consensus about the model among republicans, and not unless opposition is minimal. I have assured him on behalf of ACM that the opposition will be at least as big as in 1999.

In any event he told Sky News (6/11) that he now agrees with Mr. Howard - in many ways Australia is already a republic.

But instead of doing what they ought to do – telling the people precisely what change to the constitution and the flag they are proposing, the republicans went on 6 November, 2009 to Parliament House, leaving baskets of wattle on the veranda and delivering pleading letters to the Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition and the Leader of the Australian Greens.

Then they referred to an as yet unseen poll which claims that support for an Australian republic now stands at 59%, up from the polling company’s on line poll in May which registered 51%.



...freak poll....



But the poll is not on their site, nor on the polling company’s site.

This poll goes completely against all of the trends, which across the board show substantially declining support for a politicians’ republic.  It is clearly an aberration.

 All polls should of course be treated with caution.

After all on the same day in October The Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian released polls showing who was most popular to lead the Federal Liberal Party, Malcolm Turnbull or Joe Hockey. One said Hockey, one said Turnbull. Only one could have been right.

For the first time since the 2007 election, The Australian’s November Newspoll showed Labor and the Coalition attracting equal support. Then The Sydney Morning Herald’s Herald/Neilson poll on 9 November showed Labor leading by 7 points. On the same day, on the  government’s handling of border protection, Herald/Nielson found voters equally divided, Newspoll found they disapproved 53% to 31%.  

Polls can be useful to indicate trends. Seizing on a single poll which is significantly different from a trend is a sign of desperation.  And it is misleading.



...reservations on earlier polling.... 




 My reservations about this year’s May poll by UMR were threefold.

First the survey was conducted on line. They clearly try to find a fair sample, but I suspect that online and telephone polling is not as good as face to face polling. Most pollsters do telephone polling, Morgan uses face to face.  The use of online polling produces a higher republican vote than other polls such as Morgan and Newspoll. The difference seems to be about 5 or 6 %. (The November poll shows a difference of about 13 or14%.) 

My second reservation is that the question is far too vague and has little utility in indicating how people would vote in a  referendum. For the record the question was: “Do you support or oppose Australia becoming a republic? “        

Even the word republic is ambiguous.  Leaders as diverse as Justice Michael Kirby and John Howard say we are already a republic. They say we are a crowned republic.  Most serious observers expect the electorate to be strongly divided over the model. If the chosen model is the supposedly most popular one, the elected presidency, most politicians and many in the media will prefer our crowned republic.  A referendum must be about a model, which is something some republicans don’t understand. Our Founding Fathers wanted to make sure the people knew what they were voting for.  

Third, as with other polls, the results contain a large number of the undecided. Many do not want to disclose their intentions, or they are barely interested. Experience suggests most will vote against any politicians’ republic.   





...weakness of polls taken before a campaign....



In addition the poll has been taken well before the public knows what is being proposed. The problem is the republicans continue to keep their plans secret both about changes to the constitution and to the Flag. Or they don't have any.  

On the evidence, polling well before any referendum campaign must show very high levels of support for the referendum to have any chance. Once people see the details and hear each side, they will often change their initial approval to some vague proposition. Even on the higher UMR figures a referendum is already doomed.  This is even more apparent with the lower level of support indicated by the long term trend demonstrated under the last Newspoll. It is especially evident under Morgan, because this poll was based on the most popular model.   

The republican politicians know from their own polling that a referendum is doomed. So do the republican movement.

That is why they are pushing the taxpayer funded blank cheque plebiscite,  while keeping the details of change to the constitution and flag secret.