Conflicting WorkChoices polls?

Commenter Leopold notes about today’s industrial relations Newspoll, reported in The Australian, that there is

A curious difference between Newspoll and ACNielsen …- 33% of Newspoll respondents reckon they are worse off under WorkChoices. And ‘a lot worse off’ is rising in Newspoll, while in ACN the overall figure ‘worse off’ is falling.

There are two differences between the ACNielsen and Newspoll surveys that may help explain the different results. The first is that ACNielsen asks its question of all respondents, while Newspoll only asks people with jobs. This is a smaller sample that is more likely to be affected by the changes than those without jobs (though those without jobs could still be affected, via other members of their household who do have jobs). Newspoll records more people affected both positively and negatively.

That probably explains most of the difference, but the second possible reason is that Newspoll gives options of varying strength. Its question reads:

How do you think the changes to industrial relations affect you personally? Do you think you are better, or worse, off? If better, do you think you are a lot better off, or a little better off? If worse, do you think that you are a lot worse off or a little worse off?

Whereas ACNielsen asks (if they are consistent, they did not publish the questions last time):

Do you think you will be better or worse off under the planned changes?

Offering milder options can sometimes encourage people without strong views to reveal which perspective they are leaning towards.

What’s moving most in the Newspoll is not the overall result, but the sub-categories – indeed, some of these shifts are too large to be taken at face value. Compared to December last year, how likely is it that the proportion of 18-34 year olds who are worse off has increased by 12 percentage points while the proportion of 35-49 year olds who are worse off has gone down 9 percentage points? I’d agree that on average 35-49 year olds have strong market protections than younger people, but I doubt there has been this big a change in just 3 months.

What’s also showing, as with the last Newspoll, is the highly partisan nature of opinion on this subject. I very much doubt that Labor supporters are five times as likely as Coalition supporters to be worse off as the result of WorkChoices, but that’s what they are telling Newspoll.

The partisan nature of answers to WorkChoices questions is probably also showing in the more general questions, concerning the economy overall and job creation in particular. 73% of Labor supporters think that WorkChoices is bad for the economy and 70% think it is bad for job creation.

Though pro-union academic David Peetz argues at great length that the good economic news since WorkChoices is not due to WorkChoices (which I would largely agree with; WorkChoices is not that radical and won’t affect most people, and therefore cannot have a huge economic impact) it’s hard to see how it would make the economy or job creation worse, and Peetz does not try to argue that it has. The argument against WorkChoices is essentially distributional rather than macroeconomic: people who already have jobs should keep any existing entitlements and the IR system should favour the expansion of those entitlements.

But the polls suggest people are basing their answers not on economic reasoning, but on partisan loyalties.

One thought on “Conflicting WorkChoices polls?

  1. Thank you again Andrew for keeping us well posted up on poll developments and doing it so analytically and fairly.

    You are right that the argument against WorkChoices is “essentially distributional rather than macroeconomic”. WorkChoices will have some positive macroeconomic and employment effects but none that cannot be achieved by other more distribution-neutral policy means (where taxpayers pay the cost of rehiring the jobless rather than the most vulnerable employed workers).

    I believe some of the public hostility to WorkChoices stems from the fact that it was not foreshadowed in the 2004 election. It was sprung on voters. There is an issue of ‘legitimacy’ here (changing the rules in mid-stream without warning) that may be troubling people.

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