When might big-spending campaigns work?

The commenters on yesterday’s campaign finance post think that big ad campaigns don’t always work. That’s certainly the finding of the US literature on this subject – not that money never makes a difference, but that it interacts with so many other factors that there is no stable or predictable relationship between political spending and political outcomes.

Generally speaking, I believe the chances of any campaign over-turning stable elements of public opinion in the short to medium term are very low. The Howard government’s propaganda campaign on WorkChoices was doomed because the unions could tap into deep elements of public opinion. The importance of the union campaign against WorkChoices wasn’t that it changed minds, but that it kept the issue in people’s minds until polling day.

The more interesting campaigns are on unfamiliar issues, where public opinion is to a certain extent up for grabs. The mining tax was an example of this. Given existing tax and spend polling the issue could have headed in several directions if it had continued – we are generally in a pro-tax part of the political cycle if consequent spending the public approves of is emphasised, but opinion is also highly sensitive to situations in which workers may lose their jobs. Another factor in the mining tax case was that the government advertising in response to the miners was terrible, an off-putting lecture that did not hit existing pro-tax intuitions. Continue reading “When might big-spending campaigns work?”

The start of a tax and spend turnaround?

The 2010 Australian Election Study is now available at the Australian Social Science Data Archive, so we can see the latest results in a long series of similarly-worded questions on tax and spend.


Question: If the government had a choice between reducing taxes or spending more on social services, which do you think it should do?

For the first time since 2001, more people say they want reduced taxes than more spending on social services. However the proportion of respondents wanting less tax is up only 3 percentage points. The main thing that has happened is a move from clear support for more spending on social services to a ‘depends’ option.

There are problems with this question. It omits the status quo, which is always popular if presented. It doesn’t make completely clear the options it is presenting, reducing taxes AND reducing social services (at least compared to what they might otherwise be) or spending more on social services AND paying higher taxes (at least compared to what they might otherwise be). But I think the consistent question lets us track broad sentiment over time. Maybe here there are some small signs of some changing views on this issue.

False tax and spend choices

Essential Research today kicked off the annual round of pre-budget tax and spend polls, but with some pretty bad questions. Take the question below on the goal of returning to surplus by 2012-13, which according to this poll most people think should be abandoned:

But how about if the question had been phrased:

Q. Do you think it is more important for the Government to return the budget to surplus by 2012/13 as planned ā€“ which may mean cutting services and raising taxes ā€“ OR should they delay the return to surplus and go deeper and deeper into debt, with more government spending each year diverted to paying interest?

Tax and spend questions need to spell out the full implications of choices for the results to be meaningful. The failure to explain the real alternatives also renders pointless a question on increased spending.

A blip in the same-sex marriage opinion trend?

Today’s Essential Research survey reports a drop in support for gay marriage since November 2010, from 53% to 49%. Those against are up from 36% to 40%.

The margin of error for a poll like this is about 3% in either direction, so it is possible that there is no real change. But this does seem to be the first poll for several years that has found minority support for same-sex marriage. While the demographics of opinion on this subject leave little doubt that there is an emerging clear majority view in support of same-sex marriage, the campaign for it may experience a few short term ups and downs.

Why no Coalition leader can back a carbon price

Essential Research has more polling today on the complex politics of climate change. There is still a small plurality – 47% versus 43% – in favour of taking action on climate change soon, and only 19% who say that we don’t need to take any action at all. That latter figure is consistent with the 18% Newspoll found late last year who said they don’t believe in climate change at all. So the hardcore sceptics are still significantly outnumbered.

But some of those who say we should act now lose their nerve when it comes to any actual plan to do something now.

Continue reading “Why no Coalition leader can back a carbon price”

Buddhists second most popular religious group

Yesterday’s Essential Research poll asked about the fastest growing religion between 1996 and 2006. I would have guessed Buddhism, most people thought Islam, but Essential says the correct answer is Hinduism. Actually I think I am right – Hinduism grew more quickly than Buddhism in percentage terms, but Buddhism grew more in absolute terms.

Questions in the Australian Survey of Social Attitudes 2009 show that Buddhists are the second most popular religious group in the country, after Christians. Consistent with comments on today’s thread, not many people have negative views of Hindu people, with the largest number having neither positive nor negative views. Predictably, Muslims are the least popular group.

Continue reading “Buddhists second most popular religious group”

Muslim migration

An Essential Research poll asked about attitudes to Muslim migration, and found 25% support for excluding Muslims from the migrant intake:

That’s 11% lower than a Morgan Poll this time last year, with the proportion supporting Muslim migration the same on 55%.

As is often the case with soft opinion, polling methods rather than opinion shifts probably explain the difference. Essential does its surveys online, so people can see the ‘Don’t know’ option and easily choose it, while with telephone polls there is a stronger pressure to give an answer. When pressed, it seems people tend to go to negative on this issue.

A more abstract Essential question on whether migrants should be rejected on the basis of religion found only 19% in favour of doing so.

Selling a carbon tax to an unconvinced public

Today Julia Gillard took important further steps on the way to a carbon price.

The IPA also put out another Galaxy Poll on climate science. It’s almost exactly the same as their poll from last year, suggesting that the substantial inroads the sceptics had made have stabilised.

However a comparison with an Essential Research poll from last December suggests that attitudes are still fluid. An option in Galaxy reading ‘There is conflicting evidence and Iā€™m not sure what the truth is’ takes numbers from both both camps.

So it looks like about a third of the population are manmade climate change true believers, with another 10% leaning that way. We’ve debated this recently, but I think things are looking bad for Julia Gillard on this one.

Flood levy, pollster 3

A third pollster, Nielsen, has now joined Newspoll and Essential Research in asking voters about the flood levy. Annoyingly – but in line with typical poor Fairfax broadsheet practice on these things – we are not told the actual question.

However the result is that 52% of voters support the levy, and 44% oppose it.

Corrected Nielsen flood levy pie chart


That’s quite similar to Newspoll’s 55%/41%.

Of more concern to the government will be the 46% in favour/ 44% against result on a carbon price. This is the issue that is most likely to be fatal for the Gillard government.