Public opinion on WorkChoices is remarkably stable. Another Newspoll reported in The Australian this morning shows that despite a multi-million dollar propaganda campaign by the government, a huge scare campaign by the unions and Labor, and some objective labour market data, overall responses to Newspoll’s questions have changed only modestly since they were first asked in October 2005. The same situation is evident in the work of other polling organisations.
The biggest changes are to questions about the overall economy and about job creation. Since the first Newspoll, the proportion of people saying that the changes are bad for the economy has increased from 40% to 47%. This change was evident by the April 2006 survey and is essentially unaffected by anything that has happened since. Those saying WorkChoices is good for the economy are also up, but by a lesser margin – 31% to 34%. This peaked at 38% in December 2005. Some previously uncommitted people are now offering opinions.
On job creation, the proportion saying WorkChoices is bad has gone from 39% to 45%, and good from 30% to 33%. The answer that is most likely to be correct, ‘somewhat good’, is given by 21% of respondents.
The most stable response is on personal impact. While people tend to be over-pessimistic about their employment prospects, they are more realistic about their own situation than that of others. Since the first Newspoll, those saying they will be better off has increased from 11% to 14%, and those saying they will be worse off has increased from 32% to 33%. Those saying it won’t affect them has increased from 44% to 48%.
It’s only by digging deeper into the results that we can see a possible larger effect of the propaganda efforts on each side. For example, in Newspoll’s first survey 19% of Labor supporters thought that WorkChoices would be good for the economy. By the latest survey, that was down to 13%. Among Coalition supporters, the proportion thinking it would be good for the economy increased from 49% to 62%. At the aggregate level, partisan belief in WorkChoices being bad for the economy is up 3% on the Coalition side to 22%, and up 7% among Labor supporters to 69%. But among Labor supporters there is a change in opinion intensity, with those rating it as ‘very bad’ up from 38% to 50%. To a lesser extent, the same effect can be seen in the job creation question on the Labor side: a change in aggregate results (up 7%) and a larger change in strength of opinion, with ‘very bad’ up from 29% to 39%.
On the personal impact question, the story is more complex. On the Coalition side, those believing they will be better off is up 6% but worse off is up 2%. Labor supporters have improved their view of WorkChoices, with better off up 3% (to 7%) and worse off down 3%, all of this coming off ‘lot worse off’, down from 29% to 26%. Labor supporters’ negativity about personal effects peaked in December 2005.
The two major parties seem to have influenced their own supporters’ general views of WorkChoices. But that’s not who they need to influence for this to affect the next election’s outcome. From Labor’s perspective, they ought to be worried that over the last 14 months they haven’t in net terms convinced anyone – not even their own supporters – that WorkChoices will make them personally worse off. From the Coalition’s perspective, they ought to be concerned that even on job creation, where their argument is most compelling from a theoretical point of view, and supported by the strong employment growth since WorkChoices started, more people think the reforms will be bad now than they did in October 2005.