• John McDonnell

The Morrison government is in real political trouble

PM Morrison on Sunday 19 September

There is only one issue that counts with the electorate: the Covid-19 pandemic.

People in the two biggest states are grumpy and premiers and the Labor opposition have mobilised this sense of grievance into discontent with the prime minister, who is being blamed for everything.

Despite the fact that the government has racked up some successes in defence, foreign policy and the economy, these are being ignored when the electorate is asked to make an assessment of who should form a government. The Newspoll, which was conducted over the weekend, took into account the new defence arrangement between Australia, America and Britain. This seemed to have no impact on the polling results.

That poll gave Labor a 53-47 lead, a one-point gain for the Coalition since the last Newspoll, three weeks ago. Primary votes were 38 per cent Labor (down two), 37 per cent Coalition (up one), 10 per cent Greens (steady) and 3 per cent One Nation (steady).

50 per cent (up three) were dissatisfied with Scott Morrison’s performance, and 46 per cent (down three) were satisfied, for a net approval of -4. Morrison dropped into net negative ratings six weeks ago but recovered to +2 in the last Newspoll. This is his worst net approval in Newspoll since the start of the pandemic.

There’s good news for the Coalition in other polling on voting intentions and COVID handling. The Morgan poll last week had the Coalition up two for a 52.5-47.5 Labor lead. The Essential poll had the federal government’s COVID rating up to 43-35 good from 39-36 in late August.

The Guardian’s datablog has 37.2 per cent of the population (not 16+) fully vaccinated, up from 27.2 per cent three weeks ago. We rank 33rd out of 38 OECD countries in the share of the population fully vaccinated (35th three weeks ago). The Age shows 46.7 per cent of 16+ are fully vaccinated and 71.7 per cent have received at least one dose.

Employment and Gross Domestic Product reports from the Australian Bureau of Statistics suggest that the economy was in good shape before the Sydney and Melbourne lockdowns began. Once these cities reopen, the economy is likely to recover rapidly, boosting the Coalition’s chances.

On the other hand the Burnet Institute’s modelling shows that if the Doherty Institute’s national plan for the easing of restrictions is followed, there will be hundreds of people a week dying of Covid-19 around the time the election is being held. It is likely that all of these deaths will be sheeted home to the Morrison government, even though health care is the responsibility of the states.

In addition, the fact that the minor parties are receiving a higher vote in the polls will be an incentive for more independents to stand in Coalition seats. This will bleed votes from the Coalition and make it harder for it to win.

It is too soon to know whether there has been any impact from the decision to enter into the so-called AUKUS pact with the US and UK.

A snap Morgan poll found voters approved by 57-43, but Morgan’s SMS polls have not been reliable, and this poll was taken before more negative publicity about the deal.

In the mid-September Essential poll, the federal government’s rating on response to COVID rose to 43-35 good from 39-36 in late August and 41-35 in mid-August. The Victorian government’s “good” rating was up six to 50 per cent, after falling 12 in late August, and the NSW government was up six to 46 per cent after dropping two.