news More Coalition voters support the Labor Federal Government’s flagship National Broadband Network project than are against it, according to new research released today, as support for the initiative continues to grow to record levels.
The poll was taken by Australian social and market research company Your Source as part of the pair’s regular polling and research efforts, and analysed by research house Essential Media. Your Source usually sends out between 7,000 and 8,000 invitations to respond to each poll it conducts, from which it received 1,024 responses for this specific poll. This week’s poll questioned respondents on their voting intentions in the next Federal Election, as well as their approval ratings on the various leaders and the NBN.
According to the polling data (PDF), in total 42 percent of respondents who identified themselves as Liberal or National voters stated that they were in favour of the NBN, while 40 percent in total opposed the project and the remaining 18 percent didn’t know.
Of that 42 percent, eight percent were strongly in favour of the Labor plan, with 34 percent being in favour, and of the 40 percent against, 14 percent strongly opposed the NBN, with 26 percent opposing it. Amongst Labor and Greens voters, the numbers are much more strongly in favour of the NBN, with 80 percent of Labor voters and 68 percent of Greens voters for the plan, and with a much higher proportion of those polled being strongly in favour.
In its analysis, Essential Media said opposition to the NBN had declined a little since the question was last asked in February. At that stage, in total, 56 percent of Australians supported the NBN (57 percent now) and 25 percent were against it (22 percent now). By age group, those under 35 were more likely to support the NBN (63 percent favour it, 13 percent oppose), compared with those over 55, of which 55 percent favour it and 35 percent oppose.
However, in some senses, it does appear that opposition to the NBN in general is gradually growing. In late September 2010, just two weeks after the appointment of Malcolm Turnbull as Shadow Communications Minister, Essential Media conducted a similar poll of voters’ NBN views. At that stage, it found that only 18 percent of those polled opposed the NBN, compared with 22 percent at the moment, and that figure has been as high as 31 percent, in February 2011. The total voters in favour of the project has remained relatively stable, around 56 to 57 percent.
Essential Media also asked Australians whether the area that they lived in would be connected to the NBN over the next three years, following NBN Co’s revelation of its three-year rollout plans several weeks ago. 29 percent of respondents said yes, 19 percent no, but about half (52 percent) didn’t know, with older respondents tending to be better informed about the rollout than younger respondents.
The research house also asked respondents whether they would sign up for Internet access under the NBN, when it became available. “46 percent say they will definitely or probably sign up for Internet access when the NBN becomes available in their area,” the group wrote in its report. “22 percent will probably or definitely not and 33 percent don’t know.” Younger respondents and Labor/Greens voters were more likely to be planning to sign up, compared with older respondents or those voting for the Coalition.
What this new research tells us in general is that most Australians support the NBN, but that support is less strong amongst Coalition voters than it is amongst Labor/Greens voters. This is hardly a surprise, considering the Coalition’s constant war on the project over the past several years.
However, I don’t think we should lose track of the point that even amongst Coalition voters, most of those polled said they either supported the NBN or didn’t know whether they were for it or against it. Only 40 percent were broadly against the plan, despite the incessantly negative campaign the Coalition has run on the issue. From my point of view, what this means is that the Coalition is going to have a hard time campaigning against the NBN during the next Federal Election campaign. A very large proportion of its base supports the project, after all. This means that it will have to convince those voters, as well as the strongly entrenched NBN supporting Labor and Greens voters, of the merits of any opposition proposal.
With this in mind, if I was a Coalition strategist, I would try to avoid substantially campaigning on the NBN during the next election at all. The other sections of the Essential Media poll show strong support for the Coalition in general, with 56 percent of those polled supporting the Coalition on a two party preferred basis, and only 44 percent supporting Labor. This has changed radically from polling taking during the 2010 Federal Election campaign — where it was basically neck and neck.
If the Coalition campaigns too hard on the NBN during the next election campaign, in other words, it may reduce its own general lead. It would be better advised to ‘nullify’ the NBN as an issue by presenting a moderately credible alternative that won’t scare the electorate away (evening the race), and then focusing on other issues which may have more of an effect upon voters. To my mind, Turnbull’s statements on Coalition NBN policy are leading in this direction — the Coalition agrees with the need for fast broadband but not with the Labor Government’s methods. However, there are still many hurdles a Coalition NBN policy needs to jump to become credible, including the future of the current proposal and dealing with Telstra.