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Liberals employ 'mild' light rail push polling ahead of federal election: expert

The Liberals have been accused of push polling days out from the election, conflating the local issue of light rail with a federal campaign against Labor and the Greens. 

The Liberal Party ran a telephone poll on Monday night, which targeted 2517 homes and asked a series of questions about voting intentions and the cost of light rail - a project of the local ACT Labor government. 

It asked firstly how the respondent intended to vote, before putting forward a disputed figure on the construction cost of light rail.

"Prior to this call were you aware that in Canberra, Labor and Greens Parties have signed a deal to build light rail from Gungahlin to the City at a cost of $1 billion?"

The poll then asked:

"Does this change the way you will vote?"

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"If yes, will you vote Liberal this weekend to let the Labor and the Greens know you don't support the tram?"

Canberra Liberals president Arthur Potter has conceded the poll was not scientific, but flatly denied it was push polling – a form of polling that attempts to manipulate the views or beliefs of voters.

That has been called into question by experts, who have said the poll is "clearly" a mild form of push polling. 

Australian National University politics and public law researcher Dr Ron Levy recently published a study on the regulation of polling, along with co-author Graeme Orr, of the University of Queensland.

Dr Levy said the form of the questions, the concession the poll is not scientific and the unnecessarily large sample size are clear indicators the Liberals are push polling.

"It is a push poll because the aim seems to be not to gauge public views, but to push a point of view on respondents," Dr Levy said.

He said the Liberals' concession the poll was not scientific meant they acknowledged it held no real "informational value".

"In the world of polling and statistics, that means it doesn't actually have any informational value – that is, it doesn't really tell those who commissioned the polls what voters think," he said.

"The poll is not reliable in that sense in part because of the question: 'If yes, will you vote Liberal this weekend to let the Labor and the Greens know you don't support the tram?' It's a leading question; no scientific poll would put the question that way."

One Canberran contacted Fairfax Media after receiving a call on Monday night, complaining about the nature of the questioning and expressing concern that they had been push polled. 

Mr Potter said questions on light rail, which have been posed to voters throughout the campaign, were being used to better understand what voters were thinking.

He said Monday night's poll was another way to "drill down on a policy position which is concerning many Canberra residents".

"The results we received show clearly that this is an issue that is concerning Canberrans and confirms that Labor are simply out of touch and not listening," he said.

Light rail continues to play a role in the federal election, despite it being a local issue and a policy of the ACT Labor government, which will not be impacted by a change in federal government.

But Liberal Senator Zed Seselja has sought to capitalise on perceived voter discontent ahead of this weekend's election. The Liberals have used light rail in recent days to attack Labor Senator Katy Gallagher and the Greens, whose candidate Christina Hobbs is looking to take the Liberals' senate spot. 

From Monday night, the party was using the tram in signs, direct mailouts and online advertisements.

It conducted a similar poll that asked about light rail earlier in the month and released the results this week.

ACT Capital Metro Minister Simon Corbell slammed Senator Seselja's use of light rail, saying it appeared to contradict the position of his federal counterparts.

"I think it's ironic that Zed Seselja is campaigning against a project that the federal Turnbull government is funding," Mr Corbell said.

"Maybe Zed needs to speak to his federal counterparts who have agreed to giving millions and millions of dollars that will go towards light rail here in Canberra."

Earlier on Tuesday, Shadow Transport Minister Alistair Coe came under attack for comments made on ABC Radio about the light rail project.

Mr Coe was discussing what the Canberra Liberals would do with the planning work that had been done for light rail after they had walked away from the project.

He said: "We would still own the plans for the rail, the design work. So we would have a shovel-ready project if and when light rail does happen in 20, 30, 40 years down the track."

Mr Corbell and Greens MLA Shane Rattenbury attacked Mr Coe for the comments, saying they showed the Liberals recognised light rail would be necessary in the future.