Polling: where are services in the race?

Like watching the Melbourne Cup, party political opinion polling has become a national sport.  How goes the favourite?  Are you backing a winner?  If you look beyond the recent polls there are bets worth making that can pay off be better services.

The recent Newspoll for WA points to a substantial 57% to 43% two-party preferred lead by the Barnett Government over the Opposition.  Not so well reported is the result from the same poll that found 7% of West Australians were uncommitted and another 2% refused to respond. 

Importantly, in July-September 2011 Newspoll found the Barnett Government enjoyed a two-party preferred lead of 59% to 41%, which in January-March went to 53-47.  In short there’s a lot of volatility and undecided opinion.

Which leads us to a more important question, how might opinion be influenced? 

The recent Essential Research poll on attitudes toward institutions has found, yet again, that the most respected of our national institutions are public institutions – the High Court, the ABC and the Reserve Bank. 

Earlier this year Essential Research asked Australians whom they thought benefited from the major economic reforms of the 1980’s, including privatisation.  The vast majority, 54%, nominated corporations as beneficiaries, compared with 5% who thought ordinary Australians benefited.

The public have very little trust in political parties, Parliaments, commercial media, business and unions.  But it is revealing to consider trust in various occupations. 

Roy Morgan Research has been tracking public opinion on the public trust in selected professions for almost 40 years. 

Service professionals such as nurses, teachers and university lecturers enjoy high and rising levels of public trust. 

Over time professions such as lawyers and bank managers have suffered dramatic falls in the trust they enjoy.  Significantly, these are professions that have gone from being service-oriented to being commercially focussed.

How often do we here that public policy and politics is being driven by opinion polls?  In a democracy, public opinion matters. 

As we turn into the final bend for the WA election, we shouldn’t focus too much on who leads in any one moment.  Public institutions and many service professionals have a reserve of public trust that is important and that can be deployed to build support for better public services.