Thursday, 5 August 2010

Interpreting the polls and the under dog factor


The betting might still narrowly favour Labor to win this election but the mood is clearly moving in the Coalition’s direction as the election campaign proper passes the half way stage. Nobody is scoffing when Julia Gillard declares herself to be the underdog and Tony Abbott is now acting as if he is a winner. The pollsters are pointing to a Labor defeat and many of the pundits are writing as if such a result is a real chance.
To help people make their own interpretation of what the polls are saying I have drawn up the following table showing the Newspoll result about this out from previous elections and compared it with what finally happened on polling day.
5-08-2010 pollsandelections
For the eight elections in this admittedly small sample the ALP vote was on average 1.4 percentage points less than the pollster found as the public voting intention with the Coalition vote 1.4 points higher. Looked at in terms of how the Government got on, the average difference was not great - the Government did 0.2 points better. But the difference between how the party shown as the underdog three weeks out fared in the opinion poll compared with the election was 2.2 points.
Not conclusive evidence I grant you but I know the same thing happened in 1980 when the polls were showing Bill Hayden as a likely winner with a week to go only for Malcolm Fraser to finally score a comfortable win. Let’s just call it a cautionary note.
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