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The Wentworth Project: polling shows voters prefer Albanese for PM, and put climate issue first in ‘teal’ battle

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Image: Candidates Dave Sharma and Allegra Spender.

In the very marginal Sydney eastern suburbs seat of Wentworth, where the Liberals are being challenged by a high profile “teal” candidate, Scott Morrison is unpopular, Anthony Albanese is preferred PM, and climate change tops issues people say will influence their vote.

Facing an election within two months, Liberal incumbent Dave Sharma at this point is only a nose ahead – 51-49% – of independent Allegra Spender on a two-candidate vote, according to polling done for the University of Canberra’s Centre for Change Governance and The Conversation’s Wentworth Project.

Notably, Wentworth electors are evenly split on which side Spender, if she won, should support to form government if the May election resulted in a hung parliament.

The Wentworth Project will chart the campaign for this seat in coming weeks. Automated polling of 1036 voters done by KJC Research from Saturday to Monday is reported here. Focus groups will be run during the formal election campaign. The research is not predictive, but will give an insight into one of the election’s closely-watched contests.

Encompassing some of the country’s most exclusive real estate, Wentworth covers many of Sydney’s most affluent suburbs. The second smallest electorate (38 square kilometres), it includes well known areas such as Darling Point, Double Bay, Vaucluse, Paddington, and Bondi Beach.

Wentworth.

Based on 2016 census data (the latest available), Wentworth has a gender split of 48% male and 52% female, and a medium age of 37 years old. Of its families, 42% are couple families with children, 45% couple families without children, and 11% one parent families – 19% of single parents are male. This is a well-educated electorate: 47% of the population hold a bachelor’s degree level or above, and 9% an advanced diploma or equivalent.

The most common occupations, on the census data, include professionals (41%), managers (21%), clerical and administrative workers (11%,), community and personal service workers (8%), and sales workers (8%).

The most frequent response on religion is “no religion” at 33% and Catholic at 20%. The seat includes a large Jewish community with 12.5% nominating Judaism. The most common ancestries are English (23%), Australian (16%), Irish (10%), Scottish (6%), and Italian (3%); 32% of people had both parents born in Australia and 43.5% of people had both parents born overseas.

The seat includes a large LGBTQ+ community.

A historically conservative seat that dates back to federation, Wentworth has been political home to four ministers and a prime minister since World War 2. Malcolm Turnbull held it from 2004 and 2018. After Turnbull lost the prime ministership in 2018, a by-election saw independent Kerryn Phelps wrest the seat briefly from the Liberals.

Sharma won it at the 2019 election with 48.5% of the primary vote; Phelps secured 32.4%. While Phelps recorded 51.3% of the two-candidate preferred vote on election day, a strong Liberal performance with pre-poll and postal votes ultimately handed Sharma victory. The 2019 election saw a Liberal majority recorded in only 11 of the 40 polling places.

Phelps’ strong 2019 performance meant the Liberals were extremely relieved when she did not run this election .

Sharma is one of the Liberal moderates; he was among those who crossed the floor during the all-night debate on the religious discrimination bill. Challenged over his “teal”- coloured campaign material (that didn’t mention Liberal) he retorted, “No one owns a colour”.

Allegra Spender is often dubbed as being of Liberal “royalty”: her father and grandfather served in federal parliament. Her mother, the late Carla Zampatti, was an icon of Australia’s fashion industry. Spender, who has an economics degree from Cambridge University, is a businesswoman. She is among a slew of independents, mostly women, challenging Liberals in “leafy” seats, including Mackellar and North Sydney, and Goldstein in Victoria.

Our polling asked Wentworth electors about their attitudes to Sharma and Spender, their voting intentions, issues they say will most influence their votes, and their views of Scott Morrison and Anthony Albanese and of the government’s performance.

The Liberals’ primary vote in the polling is on 42%, with Spender – who needs to come in second to have a chance of winning the seat – on 27%. Labor is polling 14%, the Greens 9%, with the rest going to small parties and others.

the wentworth project: polling shows voters prefer albanese for pm, and put climate issue first in ‘teal’ battle
[CLICK to enlarge]

When voters were asked to choose between Sharma and Spender, Sharma polled 49% and Spender 46%, with 5% “don’t knows”. Eliminating the “don’t knows’ gives a two candidate vote of 51-49% in Sharma’s favour. Three quarters of voters (74%) said they were already certain how they’d vote.

Sharma is more popular than Spender, but also more unpopular, with the polling showing she has yet to become as known and defined in the voters’ minds as he is.

 

the wentworth project: polling shows voters prefer albanese for pm, and put climate issue first in ‘teal’ battle
[CLICK to enlarge]

 

the wentworth project: polling shows voters prefer albanese for pm, and put climate issue first in ‘teal’ battle
[CLICK to enlarge]

Some 44% had a “favourable” view of Sharma, compared to 34% for Spender. More than a quarter (27%) had an unfavourable opinion of Sharma, while Spender’s unfavourable rating was 17%. So the net favourability for each is the same – plus 17. But Sharma is much better known, with just 5% who were unaware of him, compared to a hefty 18% who were unaware of Spender.

One quarter of voters (24%) were neutral towards Sharma, compared to 31% who were neutral towards Spender.

Climate change is a major campaigning issue for most of the teal independents in Liberal seats, many of whom (including Spender) are receiving financial backing from Climate 200, founded by Simon Holmes à Court.

Asked which, out of a list of six issues, would have most influence on their vote, climate change was well ahead.

The results were: climate change and the environment (28%), jobs and economic management (20%), integrity in politics (14%), national security and defence (14%), cost of living pressures (12%), health and COVID management (4%).

The ranking reflects the inner-city nature of the electorate – for instance, cost of living would likely rate higher in outer suburbia.

Wentworth voters are clearer in their views about Scott Morrison than about Albanese. Asked whether their opinion of each leader was favourable, neutral or unfavourable, 55% were negative towards Morrison. Three in ten (30%) had a favourable view and 13% were neutral.

Albanese had an unfavourable rating of 37%, while 30% were favourably disposed towards him and 30% neutral.

On the question of preferred prime minister, Albanese led Morrison 43-39%.

The Morrison government gets a bad rap from the Wentworth voters. Only 33% rate its performance as good or very good (14% very good, 19% good), compared to 46% who said it was poor (15% poor, 31% very poor). Nearly one in five (19%) rated its performance as average.

If Spender won, 39% say she should support the Coalition to form government (if the parliament were hung), the same proportion say Labor, and 12% say she should support neither.

With the budget looming and the election date to be announced soon after, the polling highlights the challenges for the two main contenders in a close and potentially fluid contest.

Dave Sharma is handicapped by an unpopular prime minister and a government of which many voters are critical. Allegra Spender has the strong concern over climate change running in her favour but the task ahead of becoming better known.


This article was co-written by:

Disclosure statement

The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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