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Seismic shift in voters' views on best party to handle key issues

By Tim Grau - posted Tuesday, 12 April 2005

An analysis of Newspoll results over the past 15 years shows that there has been a seismic shift in voters’ views on which political party is best to handle the issues they consider the most important.

The recent Newspoll published in The Australian, identifying which issues are important when Australians vote in Federal elections, again demonstrates the strength of the position of the Liberal-National Coalition Government. Predictably, health and Medicare, education, the economy, welfare and social issues as well as national security rate highly.

The strength of the Howard Government's position is not simply revealed in the latest results, but a detailed examination of the relative positions of the Liberal-National Party Coalition and the Australian Labor Party on these issues over time.


Springboard Australia has tracked and analysed Newspoll results in these surveys dating back to when they were first collected in the late 1980s and 1990s at the height of the Hawke and Keating Government success. That analysis reveals the massive ground shift that has occurred in the minds of voters and the commanding position the Liberal-National parties have on key issues. It also highlights the difficult task ahead for Labor.

On health and Medicare, the latest Newspoll indicates the Liberal-National parties are considered the best to handle the issue by 37 per cent of Australians with the Labor Opposition rating 40 per cent. But in 2003 the Liberal-National parties rated only 30 per cent to Labor's 38 per cent. So over the past 2 years there has been a 7 per cent improvement for the Coalition parties while only a 2 per cent lift for the ALP.

More striking is the results for the same poll taken during the Keating era. In April 1991, the Liberal-National parties were considered the best to handle the issue by 29 per cent of voters compared to 39 per cent for the ALP. Immediately prior to the 1993 Keating victory, the ALP rated 40 per cent to the Liberal-National Opposition 29 per cent in July 1992. By September 1994, after the ALP won its fifth election with Paul Keating as leader, the Government had a commanding lead over the Liberal-National Coalition of 45 per cent to 26 per cent.

So since 1994 to February 2005 the ALP has lost 5 percentage points, and the Liberal-National parties have increased 12 per cent, when voters are asked who is best to handle health and Medicare.

On education, long considered a strength for Labor, the picture is not much better. In fact it may be even worse. While results in this policy area have only been measured since May 1999, the shift is just as dramatic.

At that time (May 1999) the Liberal-National parties was considered the best party to handle education by just 30 per cent of voters compared to 39 per cent of voters for the ALP. In June 2001, the ALP led the Coalition Government on this measure by 15 per cent with 42 per cent of voters saying the Labor Opposition was best to handle education compared to 27 per cent for the Liberal-National parties. By February 2003, the Coalition Government had lifted its rating to 33 per cent and by February 2005 it had risen again to 39 per cent, just 1 percent behind Labor on 40 per cent.


Which ever way one looks at it the Liberal-National parties have made considerable improvement in its rating by voters when it comes to education. Between June 2001 to February 2005 they have lifted their rating from 27 per cent to 39 per cent, a 12 percent increase, while the Labor Party has dropped 2 percent from 42 per cent to 40 per cent over the same period.

Again, on welfare and social issues, the Liberal-National parties have significantly improved their performance.

In February 2003, 28 percent of voters said the Liberal-National parties were best to handle these issues. By 2005 it had risen to 35 per cent, a 7 percent increase. Labor over the same period rose just 2 percent to 42 per cent.

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About the Author

Tim Grau is a one-time adviser to former Queensland Labor premier Wayne Goss and ex-federal attorney-general Michael Lavarch. He is the founding director of the public affairs firm, Springboard Australia.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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