OPINION: The only real vote that counts is on polling day
President Donald Trump did not lead in a single solitary national poll, out of the 80 conducted in the two months prior to the US election. Yet the election was such a cliffhanger that three days on, the result is only now drawing to a conclusion.
In 2020, as in 2016, there are millions of "shy" Trump voters, who didn't want to reveal - even to an anonymous pollster - their real voting intention.
It's a phenomenon replicated by "shy" Brexit voters and hundreds of thousands of "shy" Tories and "shy" Coalition voters at recent national elections in Britain and Australia.
Indeed, polls now seem better for driving electoral outcomes than for picking them. Despite pollsters' vociferous claims to "objectivity", their use has been to shift political outcomes as much as to measure or predict them.
At least to the Trump camp, supposedly professional pollsters have become "push polling" activists aiming to discourage his voters and deter his donors. And they're right to the extent that big donations, and total campaign spending, massively favoured the side that still claims to be the party of the workers but is now really the home of the hard-left activist.
In Australia, published polls have become an obsession that are used by aspirants to unseat leaders.
Never mind that Tony Abbott was the most successful Opposition leader in history, winning 25 seats off Labor at successive federal elections, Malcolm Turnbull used "30 losing Newspolls" as a justification for turfing him. Never mind that Turnbull's popularity in polls never materialised on election day and that he later failed his own Newspoll test; weak MPs inside the Liberal Party room preferred the 'fool's gold' of polling popularity to a track record of actual votes. And the rest is history.
In Victoria, polls showing his continued popularity perhaps help to explain the reluctance of some in the media to hold Premier Daniel Andrews to account for the hotel quarantine calamity, and its 800 deaths and economic carnage.
"What's the point of demanding that he take responsibility for the biggest governmental failure in our recent history, if he's still likely to win the next election?" the argument runs.
In most political commentary, everything is coloured by polls. If your polls are bad, the fact that your policy might be good is irrelevant; if your polls are good, the fact that your policy might be disastrous or non-existent is equally irrelevant.
Depending on whether you were a Biden or a Trump supporter in the US, the polls were either telling the truth or the ultimate in fake news. And as we now know, yet again, they've turned out to be a very poor gauge of what's actually going on, on the ground, across the country.
Maybe the lesson here is that we should pay much less attention to polls and much more to what candidates stand for and what political rivals will actually do?
Certainly in the US, voters spent far more time than pundits comparing what Trump had done with his four years in office, with Biden's record over 40 years, as the ultimate Washington insider; and Trump's pre-COVID economic boom, compared with what Biden might do to close down the oil and gas industry, and to de-fund the police.
In Victoria, despite the hotel quarantine disaster, the Andrews Government is still riding high in the polls. And don't doubt for a minute how cleverly polls will be used in coming months to absolve the Premier and his hapless ministers from blame and to create a "narrative" that he somehow "saved" Victorians from a crisis of his own making.
Right now, over 40 per cent of the nation's unemployed are in Victoria. It's a direct result of the Andrews Government's decision to go it alone on hotel security and their incompetence.
Yet next year, when the economic hurt really hits home, Andrews will say this is all Scott Morrison's fault for withdrawing JobKeeper and JobSeeker payments even though taxpayers right around the country have been propping up Victoria for months.
What matters more: polls or facts; perceptions or reality?
On Friday, the Coate Inquiry interim report outlined ways to start bringing international travellers back into Melbourne. It's hard to trust any report from an Inquiry that still hasn't talked to people, like Andrew McClean who ran the security operation at the Rydges Hotel or the owner of Unified Security, David Millward, who negotiated a $30 million contract with a few phone calls and emails in six hours flat. You can't find the real answers if you don't ask the right questions, can you? Most telling, Health Minister Jenny Mikakos, once the Premier's close ally, who resigned from the parliament in disgust over his sworn testimony to the Coate Inquiry, has all-but-accused Andrews of lying.
She has fingered the Premier himself for the decision to use private security rather than the police and army, saying that "the weight of evidence points clearly to an actual decision, not an assumed one, having been made during the course of, or soon after, the meeting of National Cabinet"; and that it would have to be "a considered choice at an elevated level of government".
Beware of how the hard-left will now try to use polls to declare that the public have "cleared" Daniel Andrews. No one should fall for it; least of all any commentator who bothers to have even a passing look at recent polling history. This is a Premier who is banking on the end of the year, and an easing of restrictions, to wash away his responsibility for the awarding of contracts with serious probity issues, and the culpable negligence of his government's decisions on over 800 Victorian families.
It can't be allowed to happen if integrity in government is to mean anything.
Forget the Coate Inquiry; it was set up to fail from the beginning and its decision not to recall witnesses even in the face of damning inconsistencies in evidence says everything about the way that Andrews is dishonouring the dead.
The only way forward now is a Federal Royal Commission to give people hope that in the end, the truth will out and that those we elect take responsibility for their decisions.
A Liberal Minister said to me last week that if COVID had killed 800 in Sydney, we would already have a federal Royal Commission. I hope he's wrong, but this is where the Prime Minister must show he governs for all, and step up where Premier Andrews has let Victorians down.
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Originally published as The only real vote that counts is on polling day