Given today’s opinion polls will be used to recast a negative light on the PM and the Treasurer, it would be fair to conclude their power base remains fractured and in danger of being shattered.
Two opinion polls have emerged this morning, with results that suggest Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his Government have improved somewhat in the opinion of voters but not enough to take an election-winning lead from Labor.
While Newspoll found an increase in support for the Government, the Ipsos poll claims a decrease. Nevertheless, both polls have arrived at about the same overall result – albeit from different directions– measuring the Coalition’s primary vote at 39-41 per cent with 38-36 per cent for Labor. On these numbers, after preferences are allocated, Labor remains in the lead.
Both polls also found the gap closing between Abbott and the Opposition Leader Bill Shorten on approval ratings. However, Newspoll suggests Abbott has closed in on Shorten as preferred PM (at 40 per cent compared to Shorten’s 41 per cent) but Ipsos found the opposite with Shorten at 46 per cent and Abbott at 38.
Even with the Government’s preferred opinion poll, Newspoll, showing a more favourable result for the Coalition, Government MPs would understandably be frustrated with the incremental nature of the improvement. PM Abbott has thrown everything but the kitchen sink at voters, ditching a wagonload of unpopular policies while hitching himself to populist causes such as food labelling and curbs against foreign ownership.
Unfortunately for the Government, the wholesale abandonment of tough budget measures may have been counterproductive. According to the Ipsos poll, 58 per cent of respondents said they want the budget deficit addressed as a high priority, but only 41 per cent saw the Coalition as better economic managers. That’s not to say Labor was considered any better: only 32 per cent of respondents saw the party of the former Rudd and Gillard governments as superior in managing the economy.
Agitators within the Government could seize on the Ipsos results to rekindle leadership speculation. According to the poll, Treasurer Joe Hockey’s approval rating has dropped to 33 per cent, with 58 per cent disapproving of his performance. This is an almost complete reversal of the Treasurer’s standing in March last year, just weeks before he delivered one of the most unpopular budgets ever.
Now the advocates for change might promote a 2-for-1 offer, suggesting the only way to offload the deadweight Treasurer is to dispense with the Prime Minister. A similar line has been used in the past about the PM’s chief of staff Peta Credlin.
It’s likely too that the antipathy Government MPs hold for Credlin will resurface in light of news on the weekend that NSW Liberal state director Tony Nutt will not be joining the Prime Minister’s Office as first suggested.
Nutt’s addition to the PMO would have been good for Abbott. If the experienced fix-it man had replicated the role he played in former PM John Howard’s office, Nutt could have taken on the enforcer part of Credlin’s all-encompassing responsibilities and provided another way for backbenchers to communicate with the PM. This would have freed up Credlin to concentrate on political strategy and policy.
However, according to well-connected conservative columnist Niki Savva, Nutt was unable to obtain assurances of access – presumably to the PM – and responsibilities, which is code for Credlin being unwilling to accede to a power-sharing arrangement.
Nutt joins a growing line of experienced and respected political or policy talent that has either been rebuffed or shown the door by Credlin and Abbott since the Coalition regained Government. Well-credentialed departmental secretaries such as Andrew Metcalfe, Blair Comley and Martin Parkinson were given the axe early on. Hockey reportedly wanted to keep Dr Parkinson as head of Treasury but was over-ruled by the PM and his CoS. Next month’s budget will therefore be in part a measure of the new Treasury head, John Fraser, who is said to have been Abbott’s preferred candidate for the role, as well as a test for Treasurer Hockey.
In total, eight departmental heads have been sacked or resigned since the change of government.
Such personnel changes, and arguable losses of vital experience and knowledge, have not been restricted to the public service. A recent media profile on Credlin claimed she had directed that Tony O’Leary, Abbott’s director of communication while in opposition, be escorted from a private election night victory party as his services were no longer required. Like Nutt, O’Leary is another former long-time Howard staffer, and both men are highly respected by the vast majority of Government MPs.
Those MPs will no doubt be wondering to what extent the Government’s electoral standing could have been improved if those two “old hands” had been in the Prime Minister’s Office over the past year or so, directing political and media strategy. This is particularly the case given Credlin’s charm offensive following the failed leadership coup in February has had only limited success.
Since the Coalition’s election 18 months ago, valuable corporate memory has been either eschewed or discarded by Abbott and his most senior adviser to shore up their power base. Given that today’s opinion polls will be used to recast a negative light on the PM and the Treasurer, it would be fair to conclude that power base remains fractured and in danger of being shattered.
Next month’s federal budget is the next leadership test for PM Abbott, but there is no guarantee it will be his last. Particularly if he continues to be saddled with a Treasurer who’s seen to be incompetent and an adviser who’s seen to have too much power.
Another day, another opinion poll, another round of speculation as to what the tea leaves really mean.
Today’s Newspoll will be studied closely, as usual, by political observers hoping to get a handle on what voters think of the shenanigans in Canberra. And what that might mean for the future of Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
I thought it would be interesting to examine recent political events to see whether there’s evidence that Camp Rudd has been attempting to influence Newspoll results.
I’ve chronologically listed key events and the Newspoll results in the table below. The events include articles and opinion pieces that appear to be prompted/informed by Rudd supporters.
It appears that in many cases, Rudd supporters stir the pot either in the week leading up to Newspoll running their fortnightly survey, or when the researchers are in the field.
If this is a deliberate ploy, it’s debatable whether the tactic is delivering the desired outcome.
I’m not a psephologist, so I’m quite prepared for this to be blown apart by Mumble or Poll Bludger.
But I’m being driven crazy by the political ignorance displayed by those gnashing their teeth over the recent ratcheting-up of the ALP’s stance against the Greens. In short, the ingénues are saying “why fight with each other when the Libs are the enemy?”.
Such naïveté ignores the reality that each political party considers all others the enemy – even the Libs and Nats vigorously compete against each other for a seat previously held by a retiring Coalition MP (sometimes to their detriment, and sometimes not).
The mistake being made by political newbies and idealists on Twitter is that Labor and the Greens are natural allies against the Coalition. They forget that in the real world, it is each party for themselves with all others being considered the enemy.
Since the last federal election, primary votes for the two major parties and the Greens have taken this path (according to Essential Research, whose polls trend similarly to those of Newspoll and Nielsen):
- Liberal/National 43.6% → 49%
- ALP 38.0% → 33.0%
- Greens 11.8% → 10%
- Other/independent 6.6% → 8.0%
Note that the only significant changes in support are from the ALP to the Libs/Nats and other/independents.
According to what Australian voters are telling pollsters at the moment, some who voted for the ALP at the last election have now parked themselves with the Coalition or the other/independent category. No Labor voters have shifted to the Greens since the last federal election.
Those aghast by the ALP’s demonisation of the Greens seem to think the ALP needs to win progressive voters back off the Greens to win. But they don’t – they need to win back disaffected Labor voters who are parked with the Libs or others/independents.
Yes, the ALP will still need Green preferences in some seats, but most likely they’re taking those preferences for granted. Green voters are likely to give their preferences to the ALP anyway.
As Andrew Catsaras pointed out on Twitter in response to this post: Every vote the ALP gets from Greens is worth 0.2 of a TPP vote, whereas every vote the ALP pulls off the L-NP is a full TPP vote. This is because Greens voters preference the ALP at about 80%.
The ALP isn’t trying to win progressive votes from the Greens, they’re trying to win the middle class, middle income voters who are parked with the Libs but are uneasy about Abbott. They’re also trying to win progressive voters parked with the other/independent category who find the Greens too extreme.
If you look at Labor’s approach through that prism, what they are doing makes perfect sense. They’re saying both Abbott and the Greens are too extreme, and that the safe harbour is with the ALP.
The by-election for the state seat of Melbourne is the trial run for the ALP’s campaign. Without a Liberal candidate, they can gauge the extent to which non-Green voters are willing to come back to the fold, using an anti-Greens campaign.
They lose nothing from running hard against the Greens, because the Greens’ votes are not the votes they want – they want votes parked with the Libs.
Make no mistake, the next election will have nothing to do with the Greens. It will be about voters returning to the major parties. The only question that remains is which party will they return to?
Mark Latham ran an unconventionally hokey campaign in 2004 that almost got him elected. He focussed on populist issues such as MPs’ superannuation and reading to children, when the rulebook says that oppositions should stick to the big policy issues like the economy and health.
That same election, John Howard unashamedly and un-ironically used “trust” to beat Latham. The rulebook says he should have avoided this political battleground when the community clearly had their own trust issues with the then-PM.
New rules were written in 2007 when Kevin Rudd barnstormed the election with his “me too” campaign, promising to be Howard-lite with added features like the ratification of Kyoto and the scrapping of WorkChoices. Never before had a politician offered to be “the same, but better” than his opponent. It was however the perfect pitch for Howard-weary voters looking for another safe pair of hands to run the economy.
And now, Tony Abbott is defying all known rules on negative campaigning by running the longest anti-campaign any of us have ever witnessed. The success of that strategy is yet to be borne out.
Perhaps the most “bent but not broken” rule in the political playbook to date, is that which says history is written by the victor. I mention this because of the concerted effort being made by the Rudd camp to re-play the Howard trust card, and claim that Julia Gillard lost the trust of the Australian community by wresting the Prime Ministership from Kevin Rudd in 2010.
This narrative might suit the combatants’ purposes, but it’s not backed by the facts.
Support for the Labor Government increased after Julia Gillard became leader, from 52% before the change in Prime Ministership, to 53% after the change and 55% two weeks after that. Similarly, support for PM Rudd as preferred Prime Minister was 46% prior to the change, and then for PM Gillard was 53%, increasing to 57% two weeks later.
So, up to three weeks after the “coup”, the Australian people were swinging back to the Labor Government and Julia Gillard as PM. Surely if there was outrage or resentment about the way in which Kevin Rudd was dispatched, it would have emerged in the opinion polls. But no, it did not.
The polls did dive three weeks after the change in leadership, but not because of any perceived poor treatment of Rudd. The polls dived because the Australian community realised they’d be sold a pup. Not once, but twice.
I’ve written before that people lost faith in Rudd because his promise to be Howard-lite proved to be empty. Rudd created the expectation but did not deliver. While he promised to be a man of action, he proved to be a man of indecision, committees and reviews. Rudd proved to be nothing like Howard, showing none of the former PM’s ability to provide a narrative to give meaning to the government’s efforts. Nor could he speak like Howard to the community, in a language they understood.
So, in June 2010 the Australian community were well on the way to understanding that they’d been conned by Kevin Rudd. That’s why there was no uproar when he was deposed. Instead there was a cautious optimism that maybe the Labor Party had made a necessary course correction.
The shattering of that optimism is the reason why Julia Gillard no longer has the faith of the Australian people.
Julia Gillard became Prime Minister promising to resolve three issues: Australia’s response to climate change; the battle with the mining industry over the Resource Super Profit Tax; and a more humane approach to sea-borne asylum seekers.
On 2 July PM Gillard announced a resolution to the mining resource tax that was reported by the media as being a backdown. Then on 6 July 2010 the PM made a strong speech to the Lowy Institute committing to solve the issues relating to boat-borne asylum seekers. Even though her asylum-seeker solution was scuttled shortly after, the public remained optimistic and the PM registered her highest approval rating (57% on 16-18 July 2010).
But on 23 July 2010 PM Gillard announced that her government would create a citizens’ assembly of ”real Australians” to investigate the science of climate change and consequences of emissions trading, under a plan to build a national consensus for a carbon price. This proposal was widely derided as setting climate policy by public opinion instead of science, and a further repudiation of the emissions trading scheme shelved by Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister.
This was the point at which the penny dropped. Voters realised that they’d not only been gypped by Rudd, but also by Gillard, and so the opinion polls began to fall.
At the time of the citizens’ assembly announcement, PM Gillard’s rating as preferred Prime Minister fell from 57% to 50% (23-25 July) and the Government’s standing from 55% to 52%. A week later, the parties stood at 50% each.
The rest, as they say, is history. On this occasion, the facts are borne out by the numbers and can’t be bent to show anything other than the truth. Attempts to recast them for political purposes should be exposed for what they are – blatantly misleading and condescending to all of us.
(All opinion poll data is sourced from Newspoll).
This piece also appeared at ABC’s The Drum