How the numbers stack up for political polls and what voters’ opinions mean for politicians was the focus of an expert forum at the ANU yesterday.
A panel of political authorities, including Newspoll CEO Martin O’Shannessy, ABC News 24 political editor Lyndal Curtis and ANU distinguished professor of political science Ian McAllister told ABC journalist Paul Barclay how polls impact voting and politics.
Professor McAllister, who is from the ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences and has led the Australian Electoral Study since 1987, said that polls had a clear influence on voters’ behaviour come election day.
“Our research shows that voters tend to follow a ‘bandwagon’ effect. That is, they gravitate towards the party they see as leading in the polls, rather than the ‘underdog’ effect where they may back the losing party. So the Coalition’s strong showing in the polls since 2010 undoubtedly generates more support than they would normally expect.
“On top of this, we have seen an increased level of volatility and vote switching among the public in recent years. However, these levels remain lower than in other countries thanks to our system of compulsory voting.
“Our long term study has also revealed some interesting traits characterising the Australian voter. Firstly, like other voters in established democracies, Australians have a low trust in politicians but a high sense of efficacy; unlike voters in other countries Australians believe they will be treated well by government.
“On the flip side, our recent surveys show that in general voters have low levels of political knowledge and understanding. And these haven’t changed since we started asking questions in the 1990s. However, while knowledge is low, voters are very sophisticated in picking up cues from politicians and on specific issues, making an informed judgement from that.”
The forum formed part of the public policy futures and innovation event hosted by the ANU Crawford School of Public Policy.