FOLLOWING CRITICISM last fortnight that this column’s judgement of published polling was biased, Newspoll has released its latest findings for today’s issue of The Australian; these show national intention swinging back in behind the Coalition, and vindicate the call we made that the previous survey represented a rogue result. For the ALP, last fortnight’s rogue poll is likely to prove as good as the going will get for quite some time.
Whilst it is certainly pleasing to be proven right, I’m not at all inclined to wag my finger and say “I told you so;” polling is fluid, will move ceaselessly, and will from time to time throw up some sudden and violent surges that often aren’t accepted as genuine until well after the horse has bolted. I simply didn’t believe last fortnight’s Newspoll — showing a ridiculous swing of over 7% to the ALP five months after an electoral hiding — was one of them.
Instead, the results Newspoll has just released are more credible, given the circumstances: a new government well-known to be confronted with an unpleasant and unappetising set of choices ahead of what is tipped to be a “horror” budget, with an irresponsible and petulantly childish opposition making a lot of noise just because it can; the backdrop is the obvious goodwill invested in such a recently elected government, and tempered by a run of bad economic news — almost all of it originating from Labor’s time in government — and landing in the new government’s lap.
Taking all of that into account, Newspoll’s finding that Labor (51%, -3%) continues to lead the Coalition (49%, +3%) after preferences barely exercises the imagination. I would just point out, though, that if the Coalition vote is being held back by anything it’s likely to be apprehension over the looming budget, and if that passes by with people feeling relatively unscathed about themselves — as they did in 1996 — then the Coalition vote will rocket, and Labor will be left to rue its tacky tricks and “fact abatement” approach to retail politics.
But I digress. Back to the Newspoll results.
This survey finds the Coalition vote recovering two points in the past fortnight to now sit at 41%; it finds the ALP on 35% (-4%), the Communist Party Greens on 11% (+1%) and “Others” on 13% (+1%).
Again, these are numbers that are consistent with that point in the cycle the Coalition finds itself in, with overt support for it pushed down a bit by what is probably reticence over the budget.
They are consistent — broadly — with the most recent surveys from Nielsen and Essential Research, the latter showing a movement back toward the Coalition to lead Labor 51-49; the trend back toward the Coalition is indeed picked up in this particular Newspoll, moving it from the outer to the margin of error in its discrepancy with the other major polls.
They are also consistent with the poll a fortnight being completely rogue.
The interesting thing here though is that the combined vote for the Greens and “Others” is now running at nearly a quarter of the vote, as measured by Newspoll: possibly a symptom of the same reticence over the government’s pending budget, or possibly a symptom of an ongoing fracturing of the long-term bedrock support base of the Coalition. We’ll keep an eye on any further movement in this kind of measurement over the next few months.
But Bill Shorten — obviously given a chance by voters, probably at the expense of the Prime Minister, and increasingly found wanting — sees his personal job approval rating in this Newspoll fall by two points, to 33%; 43% of Newspoll’s respondents (+4%) now say they disapprove of the job Shorten is doing “leading” Labor.
Tony Abbott, by contrast (and remembering his ratings have never been flash) sees his approval number rise two points to 38%, his disapproval number fall by the same amount to 50%, and those undecided about him remaining unchanged.
In the contest between the two leaders, it’s the “preferred Prime Minister” measure that tells the real story, with Abbott (42%, +4%) regaining some of the significant lead he initially held over Shorten, who now rates 36% (-1%) on this question. Tellingly, most of Abbott’s gain on this indicator has come from people previously identifying as “undecided,” which could be a pointer to a sharp polarisation on this question beginning to occur.
There are a couple of points I would make on these findings.
The first (because I know someone will ask me if I don’t say it) is that I don’t think these numbers are at all influenced by the goings-on in Ukraine; that is, there isn’t any rush to support the incumbent government in a time of potential global instability, as there was in September 2001. That might change if hostilities between the Americans and the Russians look more likely to break out than they do now, but until or unless that happens, I don’t think the situation in eastern Europe has anything to do with these findings.
The second, however, goes to the heart of what I had to say in this column yesterday: to put it simply, the ALP is now its own biggest problem, and people are starting to realise it.
All of the issues we went through in my piece yesterday — which complemented, and was complemented by, several excellent articles from the weekend’s press — illustrate the point that by operating on the basis of saying the first thing that enters its collective head, Labor is fooling nobody.
More to the point (and I have said this many times) the electorate is no fool: growing more and more politically literate with every year that passes, it has I suspect evaluated the flurry of activity and rhetoric that has emanated from Labor since last year’s election, and the movement back toward the government being picked up across all of the reputable polls is a sign of its judgement becoming manifest.
The issues Labor is trying to run on — protecting jobs (union ones), stoking fears over budget cuts (which its own incompetence necessitated), the mining tax and the carbon tax (for which it had a mandate to introduce neither) and refusing to co-operate with government moves to clean up union corruption (because protecting “maaates” is more important to Labor than transparent, accountable government is) — are all issues that, to varying degrees, contributed to its electoral defeat last year.
It is a mystery why Labor would seek to repackage what is essentially the same agenda that has already been rejected, and it is fast becoming obvious that in doing so Labor is beginning to alienate new support it might otherwise hope to secure.
And finally, it seems people have had a good, hard look at Bill Shorten, and increasingly dislike what they see; some may argue that Abbott has never been popular, and that the same standing should present no bar to Shorten’s aspirations.
Such an argument can only carry weight if it also looks at the reasons behind the unpopularity as measured in the polls. Abbott — in short — has been ground down over years on account of values and principles he holds, as well as facing a disgusting personal attack during the Gillard period, consisting of defamatory accusations of misogyny and the like to avert attention from her (many) shortcomings as Prime Minister.
Shorten, by contrast, started “popular” and is now descending into the depths, so to speak. It’s not hard to see why: voters don’t believe he stands for anything much at all, and to the extent he actually does, it is for things most voters find to be anathema (like trying to shield union mates and his antics over industry policy, for instance).
Abbott won an election with a low rating. Shorten, whose low rating is being actively earned by his words and actions, will find emulating that achievement virtually impossible.
With seven weeks to go until the federal budget, it’s clear Labor’s scares and games are simply failing to bite. My guess — if pressed — is that we’ll see support for the government rise further before a pre-budget dip, but if Abbott and his Treasurer Joe Hockey get the politics of their budget right, Labor’s support levels will collapse.
Shades of 1996 about it; we’ll see over the next couple of months how close to the bone that analogy reaches. But if I were Shorten, I’d be having my reality check right now, rather than waiting until the bird has flown.