53% of Australians approve of constitutional amendment to separate government and religion

This article has been paid for by the Rationalists Association of NSW

The NSW Rationalists commissioned YouGov Galaxy, which also does Newspoll, for a poll question about separation of government and religion.  The survey was conducted from August 30 to September 3 from a national sample of 1,027.

The question asked was, “Australia has no formal recognition of separation of government and religion. Would you approve or disapprove of a constitutional amendment to formally separate government and religion?”  Full results are available for download in the attached spreadsheet.


Overall, 53% approved of such an amendment, just 14% disapproved and 32% were unsure; these numbers do not sum to 100% due to rounding.  60% of men and 48% of women approved.  Younger age groups were most likely to approve, but 48% of those aged over 65 also approved.  Majorities approved in NSW (55%), Victoria (52%) and Queensland (59%), but not in SA or WA (both 45% approve).  There was little difference in approval between the five capital cities (54%) and the rest of Australia (53%).

In the eastern seaboard states, 218 to 285 people were polled.  These are small samples, so the estimates of approval in these states are error-prone.  It is unlikely that Victoria really has a lower approval of this amendment than Queensland.  The samples for WA and SA are just over 100, and the estimates for these states are more error-prone than for the eastern seaboard states.

PM Scott Morrison advocates new laws to protect religious freedom, but this poll question does not suggest there is any yearning within Australia for more religion.  The same-sex marriage plebiscite, in which Yes to SSM won by 61.6% to 38.4%, was a huge defeat for social conservatism.

It is not surprising that 32% were undecided on this question, as it is not an issue that has had any media attention.  In Australia, amending the Constitution requires a referendum that must be carried by both a national majority and majorities in at least four of the six states.  Only eight of the 44 constitutional referendums have been carried.

If a major political party could be convinced to support a referendum on the separation of government and religion, it would be best to hold such a referendum concurrently with a general election.  Analyst Peter Brent has argued that midterm referendums are much less likely to succeed as voters dislike being dragged to the polls, and such referendums become a chance to kick the government without putting the opposition in.

In an Ipsos poll for the National Secular Lobby, conducted in January 2016 from a sample of 1,032, 57.5% said it was very important to separate personal religious belief from the business of government, 21% somewhat important and 13% said it was either not very important or not at all important.  43% said it was very important to formally separate religion and government, 29% somewhat important and 18% said it was either not very important or not at all important.

In April, Newspoll conducted a survey for The Australian on whether Australia should become a republic.  50% were in favour of a republic, and 41% were against.  The same demographic patterns were replicated in the republic question as in the separation of government and religion question: higher support among men and the young.


Over 2/3 of One Nation preferences went to LNP at Longman byelection

A political eternity ago, five byelections were held on July 28.  On August 30, the electoral commission provided detailed preference flow data.

Labor won Longman by 54.5-45.5 against the LNP, a 3.7% swing to Labor.  Primary votes were 39.8% Labor, 29.6% LNP, 15.9% One Nation, 4.8% Greens and 9.8% for all Others.  67.7% of One Nation voters preferenced the LNP ahead of Labor, a massive increase from 43.5% at the 2016 election.

Labor also had weaker flows from the Greens, winning 76.5% of their preferences, down from 80.7%.  However, Labor won 59.0% of preferences from Other candidates, including 81% from the DLP.

At the 2016 election, One Nation recommended preferences to Labor ahead of the LNP in Longman; at the byelection, they reversed their recommendations.  However, I believe the largest factor in the One Nation shift is that they were perceived as an anti-establishment party in 2016, but are now clearly a right-wing party.

One Nation’s preference flows in Longman vindicate Newspoll’s decision to assign about 60% of One Nation’s preferences to the Coalition, rather than the 50-50 split that occurred at the 2016 election.

Labor won Braddon by 52.3-47.7 against the Liberals, a 0.1% swing to Labor.  Primary votes were 39.3% Liberal, 37.0% Labor, 10.6% for independent Craig Garland, 4.8% Shooters and 4.0% Greens.  74.3% of Garland preferences favoured Labor, just above 73.7% from the Greens, while Shooters preferences split evenly between the two parties.

The Greens to Labor preference flow was low in Braddon as the Greens were at the top of the ballot paper, thus receiving the “donkey vote”.  As the Liberals were listed before Labor, they benefited from donkey votes who voted Greens.

The Centre Alliance’s Rebekha Sharkie defeated the Liberals by 57.5-42.5 in Mayo, a 2.6% swing to Sharkie.  Primary votes were 44.4% Sharkie, 37.4% Liberal, 8.9% Greens and 6.1% Labor.  Over 78% of Labor and Greens preferences flowed to Sharkie.

The Liberals won the two party preferred vote in Mayo against Labor by 55.7-44.3, a 0.3% swing to the Liberals since the 2016 election.  This result implies that over two-thirds of non-Labor/Liberal voters (most of them Sharkie’s voters) preferenced Labor ahead of the Liberals.

The WA seats of Perth and Fremantle were not contested by the Liberals.  In Perth, primary votes were 39.3% Labor (up 2.0% since 2016), 18.8% Greens (up 1.7%), 9.5% for independent Paul Collins and 6.7% Liberal Democrats.  In the distribution of preferences, Collins came within 0.4% of pushing the Greens into third, despite starting 9.3% behind.  Labor defeated the Greens by 63.1-36.9 after preferences.

In Fremantle, primary votes were 52.6% Labor (up 11.6%), 16.5% Greens (down 1.2%) and 14.1% Liberal Democrats.   The Lib Dems overtook the Greens by 0.5% in  the distribution of preferences, with Labor winning by 73.3-26.7 against the Lib Dems.

Overall, Labor had strong performances in Longman and Fremantle, but did not do very well in the other seats.  The Greens failed to benefit from the Liberals’ absence in Perth and Fremantle.

Turnout was just 64-66% in the WA seats, with no Liberal candidate.  In Mayo and Longman, turnout was 84-86%, and in Braddon it was 90.4%.

Analyst Kevin Bonham has a detailed review of the polling at these byelections.