A SIZEABLE LIFT in support for the Abbott government in today’s Newspoll should not be mistaken as a recovery in its fortunes; there are rogue factors at work in Newspoll’s numbers, and either this survey — or the 43-57 shocker recorded by the government a fortnight ago — is erroneous. Whichever way the numbers are sliced, the Coalition remains on track for an electoral belting. It would be unwise for Liberals to find succour in this result.
It is with happy relief I find myself not proceeding — as planned — with another article about Tony Abbott’s Chief of Staff Peta Credlin; I’m sick of it being an issue and I am sick of her, and I find it unbelievable that some way has not been found to force her (and the Prime Minister with her, if that’s what it takes) out of Canberra where she can inflict, directly or indirectly, no further damage upon the Coalition’s electoral prospects.
At least, that’s the theory.
Even so, I would wager there are many in the Prime Ministerial bunker who will be celebrating today: the false dawn of the latest Newspoll, appearing in The Australian, has brought news of a “surge” in support for the government: and whilst I’ll take rising support over falling support any day, this poll is a nonsense.
Its finding that after preferences, Coalition support has risen four points to 47% is unexceptional; this merely restores the government’s position to where it was four weeks ago: and where, give or take a percentage point or so, it has remained deadlocked ever since the disastrous, election-losing hash Joe Hockey made of last year’s federal budget.
It restores the Coalition’s numbers to a level that would see it lose in a landslide rather than face obliteration, in other words.
And either the poll a fortnight ago was rogue — and the reaction it recorded against the leadership ructions within the Liberal Party was overstated — or this poll is, for nothing that has transpired in the past two weeks could be construed as remotely responsible for a swing toward the Coalition that would see it retain an additional 18 seats at an election: for that is the difference between a swing of 6.5% to Labor and one of 10.5% if the movement away from the government were uniform.
Even a swing of 6.5% — which this poll suggests — translates to the loss of 29 seats to Labor and an ALP majority of 18 seats, and this is at the gentler end of polling outcomes the Coalition has faced over the past nine months.
It seems obvious there is nothing worth celebrating here.
Yes, Tony Abbott has made some inroads on the “preferred Prime Minister” measure: yet despite closing the gap by 10 points, he still trails Bill Shorten, 35-43; such a treacherous specimen is the Labor “leader” and so dishonest his narrative with the Australian public, it is an indictment that Shorten is preferable to anyone on the question of national leadership.
Yes, Abbott’s personal approval rating has increased: by a solitary percentage point, to 25%. But his disapproval rating remains at a record 68%, and for a Prime Minister in office less than 18 months, the figure is galling.
Those personal approval numbers are a hint that the voting intention numbers in this Newspoll may be the rogue findings, not last fortnight’s, but time (and more corroborating polling) will tell as it always does.
And, yes, Shorten’s personal approval numbers have taken a hit — 35% (down 7%) of Newspoll respondents say they approve of him, and a record 49% (up 9%) say they disapprove.
Yet for a man with no policies, whose story on the debt situation and structural deficit position the country faces is more or less one of complete denial that the problems even exist, and whose only instinct is to block every Coalition bill (barring those that enable him to prance around in a masquerade of statesmanship, like yesterday’s announcement of bipartisanship on national security issues), it is a miracle Shorten can find anyone to support him at all.
Meanwhile, almost 80% of Newspoll’s respondents think Abbott is arrogant. Just half think he understands the major issues of the day. Only 40% think Abbott is even likeable, whilst just one in three believe he is in touch with voters.
And perhaps most damningly, given the position he holds, almost 60% declined to agree that the Prime Minister is trustworthy.
All of this speaks to the themes we have covered here — mostly in frustration, anger and despair at the predicament a conservative government finds itself in so soon after taking office — and underlines systemic failures in tactics, strategy, communications, media relations, and (as I have termed it before) good, old-fashioned sales and marketing.
The Prime Minister may have survived the coup attempt launched against him by rebel backbenchers, but with 40% of the Liberal Party voting to terminate his tenure it is clear that substantial and meaningful change is urgently indicated not just for Abbott to remain in his position, but for the government to have any prospect of retrieving its standing in the electorate.
To date, all that has been offered is fiddling; it has become clear in the two weeks since the spill attempt that nothing has really changed and, if the Prime Minister has anything to do with it, nothing will.
This is not just about the role of Peta Credlin, but also certain ministers; the whole contingent of advisers who have been a party to creating and perpetuating this mess; the “strategists” and “tacticians” who are clearly nothing of the sort; and elements within the party organisation that have failed to apply any restraint to these people when they should, in the ordinary course of events, be expected to enforce some accountability to the Liberal Party upon them.
Until some or all of these things are addressed, the government’s fortunes will not improve: after all, serving the same thing up day after day to the same people is going to elicit the same response. This is a lesson Labor in government spectacularly failed to heed. Unbelievably, it is a mistake this government appears hellbent on emulating.
And this is why — in the final analysis — I don’t believe these numbers, with the cheery message of recovering Coalition support they herald at first glance, are worth the paper they are printed on. I think last fortnight‘s numbers are rather nearer the mark.
If this is a “bounce” in the government’s electoral prospects, I’d hate to see what their abject disintegration might look like; at the very least, there’s nothing to get excited about when the message is that your party is still on track to be thrown out of office with a bang.
And despite the obvious temptations to the contrary, this is why it would be most unwise for anyone associated with the government to regard these figures as a “recovery:” they are nothing of the sort.