Australia’s election campaign has passed the halfway mark, as two national opinion polls are predicting defeat for the center-right government. There is, though, lingering skepticism about the reliability of the surveys after they were wrong in the last election. Experts say it is an international problem.
Opinion polls have for years played a key part in Australian elections, highlighting issues that matter most to voters.
In this campaign, the surveys have identified concerns about the economy, reducing the cost of health care and combating global climate change as key issues for voters.
Australians are also worried about regional instability.
National security has also featured prominently in the election campaign after the Solomon Islands, a regional partner of Australia, signed a contentious security accord with China. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison was accused by his critics of diplomatic incompetence for allowing Beijing to foster such close relations with the Solomon Islands.
But opinion polls have not always been reliable.
In 2019, all five of Australia’s major polling organizations predicted an election win for the opposition Labor Party. They were, though, badly wrong because their samples were skewed. Experts called it the "big fail.” It led to sweeping reviews about how the intentions of voters should be examined. Efforts have been made to ensure all groups are now represented and much of the survey work is carried out online.
Unreliable polls have not just been a problem in Australia.
Stephen Mills, a University of Sydney political scientist, said there are similar issues elsewhere, including in Britain and the United States.
“I would say internationally all polling organizations are experiencing the real difficulty of technological change. In other words, how do you get a good representative sample of the population when all you’ve got to go on is mobile numbers, which are often confidential anyway, and online panels. How do you get a good representative sample? And also the cost. I mean, you know, you really need 1,500 respondents to have any claim to legitimacy and money is not cheap. So, it is an international problem as well.”
There are signs the pollsters are getting back on track. They have picked the winner in three recent state elections in Australia.
A survey released Friday by the Australian National University is also predicting the opposition Labor Party “is in an election-winning position.”
The survey indicates that the high cost of living is a priority for most voters. More than 64% of respondents said high living costs needed to be “urgently addressed.” Inflation in Australia is at more than 5%, its highest level in 20 years.
As in 2019, Labor is being tipped by the major polling companies to win the federal election on May 21, which is, of course, the only poll that counts.