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Support for the Indigenous Voice has tumbled from 58 to 53 per cent over the past month in the crucial “yes or no” question that will decide a referendum on the issue later this year, deepening the risk of defeat after furious disputes on the change.
The sharp fall in support includes pivotal shifts against the Voice in big states such as Queensland and volatile swings in smaller states that challenge assumptions that Australians will cast a majority vote for the contentious change to the Constitution.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has rebuffed calls from conservatives to scale back the power of the Voice, while Opposition Leader Peter Dutton has stepped up his warnings against the change to the Constitution.Credit:
An exclusive new survey shows that 44 per cent of voters support the Voice and 39 per cent oppose it when asked about the government proposal for change, with another 18 per cent undecided.
When asked a “yes or no” question akin to the referendum on the exact wording planned by the government, 53 per cent support the change but 47 per cent are opposed.
The survey, conducted for this masthead by Resolve Strategic, confirms a slide in support for the Voice that has continued for more than six months and puts the No campaign on track for a majority by August if there is no change to the trend across the published polls.
The competing campaigns are running out of time to win the debate and the growing opposition to the change raises questions for Indigenous advocates about whether they would be willing to modify the proposal, such as by taking out references to executive government, to improve their chance of success.
The Resolve Political Monitor surveyed 1610 eligible voters from Wednesday to Saturday about the wording proposed by the government to change the Constitution to recognise First Australians by establishing the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice.
Resolve director Jim Reed said the results raised the prospect that the referendum would be rejected because it would not meet the “double majority” requirement for a majority of votes in a majority of states.
“We’ve definitely got states moving over to the No column now,” he said.
“This is a reminder that you don’t need to go below 50 per cent at a national level to lose this referendum. You can lose it at 54 or 53 per cent. And the Yes campaign is getting down to that level.”
Support for the reform fell from 64 per cent last September to 58 per cent earlier this year before sliding again to 53 per cent over the past month.
The latest findings come after Opposition Leader Peter Dutton stepped up his warnings against the change to the Constitution on the grounds there was no clarity about who would be elected to the Voice group and how it would influence government decisions.
“I find it a very dangerous process because you’re talking about every element of government decision-making where the Voice will have to be consulted,” he said on Monday.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has rebuffed calls from conservatives to scale back the power of the Voice to gain input into decisions by executive government, limiting its role to consulting with parliament.
“We’ve definitely got states moving over to the No column now.”
“We should just listen to people, ask them if we’re going to have an impact on them, that’s just really common courtesy,” he said in a radio interview on Tuesday.
“And importantly, you get better results when you involve people in things that impact them.”
While the government has expressed confidence in gaining a Yes vote at the referendum – likely to be held in October or November – the results in the Resolve Political Monitor confirm the trend against the proposal over months of results from 28 polls by JWS, Essential, YouGov and other firms in addition to Resolve.
Reed said a key problem was that voters were not convinced by the model being put forward even if they supported the aspiration. He pointed to the recent decision by the Yes campaign to emphasise the recognition of First Australians in its advertising rather than go into the details of the Voice.
“No amount of advertising is going to sell a product that people aren’t sure about,” Reed said.
“Not being able to talk about the product or the problem it solves in your advertising only amplifies the perceived risk.”
The Resolve Political Monitor tells respondents the proposed change to the Constitution in the exacting wording set out by the government in the Constitution Alteration (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice) Bill before asking them their views in two main questions. The first gives voters the option to be undecided while the second allows only a “yes or no” response akin to the referendum. The results have a margin of error of 2.4 percentage points.
In the “yes or no” question, the Resolve Political Monitor gives respondents the proposed referendum question in full: “A proposed law: to alter the Constitution to recognise the First Peoples of Australia by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice. Do you approve this proposal alteration?”
The latest survey found that 69 per cent of Labor voters and 83 per cent of Greens voters backed the Voice in the “yes or no” question but only 27 per cent of Coalition voters did the same, highlighting the partisan divide on the issue.
While the Resolve Political Monitor found there was majority support in a majority of states for the Voice at the beginning of this year, Reed said support had fallen below a majority in Queensland and results from South Australia and Tasmania were volatile from month to month.
More surveys would be needed over the coming months to offer a better guide to results in each state, he said.
JWS Research founder John Scales said his firm had found an increase in the No vote in its February survey and would be conducting another in the weeks ahead.
Scales said the polling helped explain why the advocates for the Voice were highlighting the recognition of First Australians rather than the details of the constitutional change in their advertising.
“Recognition of Indigenous Australians is actually a driving reason for a lot of people, so I can see why the Yes campaign is changing its approach,” he said.
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