Liberal Party Senate candidate Zed Seselja may need to work hard to win over his constituents if he makes it to the upper house, according to independent polling conducted before last week's final preselection bout.
Sydney-based Lonergan Research polled 1130 eligible ACT voters over two days in mid-February and found that more people viewed the former territory opposition leader unfavourably than favourably.
The results, released exclusively to The Canberra Times, revealed 49 per cent had an unfavourable opinion of Mr Seselja, while 37 per cent looked on him favourably. Only 13 per cent of those polled either didn't know who Mr Seselja was or were unsure how they viewed him.
Chris Lonergan, managing director of Lonergan Research, said the polling question was independently included in automated telephone interviews his company conducted in the ACT. The survey was not undertaken for a political party or individual and it was not commissioned by The Canberra Times or Fairfax Media. Mr Lonergan, who approached The Canberra Times with the polling results, said the client was a public relations company which intended to use the results for market research purposes.
The omnibus survey included questions relating to state and federal political issues, but Mr Lonergan said it was his own company's decision to include the specific question about Mr Seselja's popularity at the end of the survey in order to raise its profile in Canberra.
''We know that Zed is an important figure in the ACT political landscape, so we wanted to get a good picture of what the people of Canberra thought of him,'' Mr Lonergan said.
''There were two surprising results from the survey. The first was that only 13 per cent of respondents were unsure whether they viewed him favourably or unfavourably, which says that Zed really does invoke a reaction from people.'' The second surprise result was how high the unfavourable response was.
Mr Lonergan - who is a 20-year market research veteran with previous senior roles at Newspoll, Roy Morgan Research and Galaxy Research - said it was clear that while the Liberal Party had anointed Mr Seselja, Canberra voters held a different view.
''Forty-nine per cent unfavourable is a surprisingly high number for someone of Zed Seselja's profile and stature,'' he said.
Older voters aged 55 and over are the most likely group to view Mr Seselja unfavourably (55 per cent),
according to the survey. But even among those who stated an intention to vote Liberal in this year's federal election, 26 per cent viewed the party's Senate candidate unfavourably.
Mr Seselja was philosophical about the survey's results.
''Is this like the Canberra Times poll which predicted four Greens in the Assembly?'' he said.
''The last time the community had its say, my party received a record vote in my electorate and record number of seats in the Assembly. That said, I don't take anything for granted and I will again work very hard to continue to earn the community's support.''
Political marketing lecturer at the Australian National University Andrew Hughes said the figures should be of concern to Mr Seselja. ''Polling results are only indicators and not predictors, but clearly Zed has a lot of work to do,'' Mr Hughes said. ''It is the way he went for preselection that has damaged not only him but also the Liberal Party brand in the ACT.
''Labor and the Greens now have a lot of ammunition to use against him in the election and it will be some scathing comments made by Liberal Party members - Zed's own people - they will be reminding voters about.
''Previously I would have said [Greens candidate] Simon Sheikh didn't have a chance of winning a Senate seat, but now he might actually have a chance.
''Zed is viewed by many as very negative and he has no great profile in the northern suburbs.''