Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Dennis Shanahan: Trawling through Newspoll

by Brian Arnell

Dennis Shanahan of The Australian, trawls through the latest Newspoll and finds something (anything will do) in support of the Coalition.

His headline is, Costello leaves Swan in his wake, and the lead is, “Kevin Rudd's nominated treasurer in a Labor government, Wayne Swan, is trailing Peter Costello as an economic manager by more than two-to-one.”

Shanahan bolsters his Newspoll non-story by splicing in tidbits from last weeks ‘news’ about Rudd’s support or otherwise, for Swan as Treasurer in a future Labor government. Our hack admits near the end of his 492-word opus that Rudd has “reinforce(d) his support for Swan”. But how do we make sense of Shanahan’s maelstrom of figures?

Shanahan quotes Newspoll figures from August and September on perceptions of economic management for Rudd, Howard, the ALP, the Coalition, Swan and Costello.

He makes no attempt to place the figures for Swan and Costello in relation to the others.

Shanahan writes, “According to a Newspoll survey taken exclusively for The Australian last weekend, voters favour Mr Costello as federal treasurer over Mr Swan by 53 per cent to 21 per cent. Almost one-third of Labor supporters - 32 per cent - believe Mr Costello would make a better treasurer, compared with 40 per cent who support Mr Swan.”

Next, Shanahan uncritically quotes internal Liberal Party polling from Victoria. Unsurprisingly, this polling shows Costello ahead of Swan. This time the margin is 56 per cent to 28 per cent.

Intriguingly this is followed by, “The Howard Government has also kept a clear 18 percentage point margin over the ALP on the issue of economic management. “ Surely this is a factor in the margin between Swan and Costello unless we ascribe the ALP’s entire 18 percentage point deficit to Swan himself. Apparently this has not occurred to Shanahan.

Another thing that has not occurred to Shanahan is context. Swan is an Opposition Shadow Minister going into an election.

According to a Newspoll survey taken on February 9-11, 1996, just prior to the Federal election that year, voters favoured Mr Costello as federal treasurer over Mr Willis by 34 per cent to 27 percent. Fifty per cent of Coalition supporters either believed Mr Willis would make a better treasurer -16 per cent- or were uncommitted to Mr Costello – 34 per cent, compared with 50 per cent who supported Mr Costello.

According to the same Newspoll survey from 1996, voters favoured Senator Evans as foreign minister over Mr Downer by 54 per cent to 25 per cent. Over one-third of Coalition supporters – 37 per cent – believed Senator Evans would make a better foreign minister, compared with 44 percent who supported Mr Downer.

One poll signifies very little and the Swan v Costello poll even less. However, Shanahan’s desperate attempt to find good news for the Coalition signifies much.

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