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Undecided voters given a voice in politics

The great Australian undecideds are no longer voiceless.

More than a year after the federal election, where a coalition win upset pollster predictions, Essential Research has started asking people again how they would vote.

But there’s a key difference.

A poll released by Essential on Tuesday showed Labor on 47 per cent and the coalition on 45 per cent after preferences.

The remaining eight per cent of voters were unable to choose.

Previously, pollsters pulled those undecided voters out of their two-party preferred counts, meaning the major parties’ votes added up to 100 per cent.

Essential director Peter Lewis said after reflecting on how polls were done in Australia, the company decided that wasn’t a great practice.

In his final poll before the 2019 election, seven per cent of voters hadn’t made up their minds.

“The problem with polling that takes them out is that we disenfranchise the disengaged from out political analysis,” he told AAP.

“By giving them a voice it actually puts a focus on the groups that largely determines elections, the ones that swing late.”

The other big change Essential is making will be only publishing voting intention polls every three months, rather than fortnightly.

Mr Lewis hopes that will cut down on horse race-style reporting of tiny movements in poll numbers.

He’d rather see it used as a rear-view mirror.

“The whole idea that someone’s ahead is actually a false narrative – if Labor’s lead has increased by two per cent, ooh whoopie-doo, it’s actually its margin of error,” he said.

“It’s created this whole world where polling is used to dispose of leaders and polling is used to imbue policy with some virtue or otherwise.”

He points to Essential’s polling of people’s satisfaction with how governments have handled the coronavirus crisis over the past few months, which has consistently shown more than two-thirds think they’re doing a good job.

“The actual story from these numbers is that while people are cheering for the government, it actually hasn’t really changed voting intention at this stage,” Mr Lewis said.

“That tells you a lot more about the mind of the population.”

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