At 53-47 To Labor, Newspoll Very Near The Mark

ANOTHER abysmal Newspoll — with the ALP ahead of the Coalition, this time by an increased 53% to 47% margin — is probably an accurate reflection of the public mood, and carries messages for both sides of Australian politics: people have turned off PM Malcolm Turnbull altogether, whilst Labor remains lumbered with an unelectable and boorish oaf at its helm. Meanwhile, minor parties continue to prosper, which favours the ALP, if only by default.

10 down, 20 to go…

Apologies to readers for the rather abrupt (and unintended) hiatus over the past fortnight; the “something” that I alluded to that popped up last time we discussed a Newspoll has in fact consumed a goodly portion of my time since that point, but with a solution now in hand with which to deal with it, here we are again (although there is something else that will interrupt me during the coming couple of weeks, albeit not quite so thoroughly as this has done).

In any case — as I forecast — the headline comment today, in light of the latest Newspoll published in The Australian, is that Malcolm Turnbull is now fully one-third the way toward replicating the benchmark he used to justify knifing predecessor Tony Abbott through the shoulder blades. Not for the first time, it warrants the observation that only a foolish politician indeed makes public pronouncements on the longevity of political leadership through the prism of opinion polls, and Turnbull only has himself to blame if the sound of sharpening scabbards can be heard emanating from some quarters within his party.

And as I suspected, this poll has shown the last one was, indeed, a rogue result; today’s 53-47 finding in Labor’s favour doesn’t fully restore the ALP’s 55-45 lead from a month ago, but it does move the political conversation back in that direction: and it does broadly cross-validate a finding recorded in the ALP’s favour during the week by Essential Research, which itself saw Labor give up a point to arrive at a 54-46 assessment.

To say the average of these two polls — a 53.5-46.5 lead to Labor, or a swing of 3.9% since the election last July — is pretty much on the money illustrates just how far from favour the Coalition has fallen in less than four years; these findings amount to a 7% swing to Labor after preferences since the thumping win posted by Tony Abbott in September 2013, and would net the ALP an extra 19 seats (for a total of 88) and government in a canter based on the July results if replicated at another election.

What should deeply disturb Coalition “strategists” is the fact that using the Turnbull camp’s yardstick of progress as a benchmark, the past fortnight has been an unmitigated triumph for the Prime Minister, with a reasonable slice of his corporate tax cuts being legislated, along with piecemeal changes to the way the Human Rights Commission is to process complaints made under S18c of the Racial Discrimination Act, and in the afterglow of his warmly received plan to expand the Snowy Mountains Scheme as a downpayment on tackling energy affordability.

A more objective assessment of the period would also note that despite scoring sporadic hits on opposition “leader” Bill Shorten, the government has been seen to lose the debate (for want of a better word) on changes to penalty rates; has proven singularly incapable of enacting structural (and sorely needed) changes to S18c; has had its company tax plan gutted, despite the partial success it booked; and is showing every sign of once again approaching a critical federal budget in five weeks’ time with no tilling of the public soils being undertaken in preparation, and no over-arching theme or narrative to bind its economic message together.

In other words, this Newspoll — like the nine before it — is something the Prime Minister’s Office can scarcely argue comes as much of a shock.

As is so often the case with these polls, today’s Newspoll charts incremental movements: on the question of a primary vote the Coalition is down a point, and the ALP up a point, to sit level-pegging at 36%.

On the question of who the “preferred PM” might be, Turnbull is down two points to 41%, and Shorten up three to 32%: thus maintaining for now the clear but not decisive lead that seems the only “bright” spot in survey findings for Malcolm — such as it is.

And where voter satisfaction with personal performance is concerned, Turnbull’s 30% figure is unchanged this time, but 59% (+2%) disapprove; by contrast — and reflecting the rather damning indictment upon Turnbull that Bill Shorten should be more popular than any other figure in Australian politics — 32% (+3%) approve of the way he is doing his job, whilst 54% (-3%) do not.

There are those (usually associated with the incumbent party and/or leader, whoever it happens to be at any given time) who argue that such modest movements are within the margin of sampling error, and that they are statistically insignificant.

Yet as we have said many times now, the trend against Turnbull — ever since Federal Police raided the home of former minister Mal Brough, after he was unwisely and rashly restored to Cabinet for supporting Malcolm in the leadership ballot against Abbott — has been so large in overall scope, and almost uninterrupted in its duration over the past 16 months, that statistical insignificance went out the window well over a year ago.

The messages from this poll — like most others doing the rounds — are fairly simple, and very clear.

One, it doesn’t really matter what Malcolm Turnbull does: rightly or wrongly, “fairly” or otherwise, the vast majority of Australians don’t like him, are fed up with him, and have stopped listening to what he says and does altogether: it’s a dangerous piece of political real estate to occupy, and the fact a few genuinely praiseworthy achievements haven’t mattered one jot in public opinion sampling is a potent signpost to the fact Turnbull is (as we have said in this column repeatedly) finished.

Two, whilst these results might appear encouraging for Labor, the hard reality is that people hate its “leader” almost as heartily as they’re sick to the stomach with Turnbull: and a change in the ALP leadership (and especially to a Plibersek/Bowen team as leader and deputy) might just be all it takes to lock Labor’s two-party lead in for at least long enough to turn a likely election victory into a certainty.

Three (and this is an old story), until the Coalition finally recruits some smarts in the areas of political strategy and tactics, mass communication and parliamentary management — and backs them with a slate of sober, mainstream conservative policies, not the lefty social whims of its leader and/or panicked pandering to the ruthlessly advancing monster that is the Left — it won’t even matter if the Liberal Party tosses Malcolm overboard. It won’t matter who the replacement is. It won’t matter how long there is until an election, and it won’t matter how “brilliant” the latest mediocre exercise in pea and thimble tricks federal budget is purported to be. Right now, opposition beckons the Coalition almost irresistibly. Like an adolescent determined to be entrusted with a dirty secret at all costs, the Coalition gives every appearance of being willingly drawn further and further toward the cliff.

And just to put the tin hat on it all, the share of the vote identified by Newspoll as belonging to minor parties and “Others” continues to hover near 30%, and whilst some Turnbull figures (who shall remain nameless) like to suggest privately that these are “parked” Coalition votes that will “come home” at election time, most of them didn’t last July — and even more of them won’t next time either, at an election that is now at most less than two years away from being called.

I’d never vote for a party led by a pinko like Tanya Plibersek, and I think Chris Bowen is a charlatan and an intellectual fraud who’d have very little to say if someone didn’t script his lines for him and wind up his power pack every morning so he could deliver them.

But out in Voterland, where people don’t think twice about politics and where visual impressions increasingly count for more nowadays than anything requiring serious thought anyway, this ticket, properly handled, could yield the ALP great electoral dividends, and anyone who thinks Labor lacks the capacity to capitalise on such a vapid but electorally potent ticket should reflect upon how close Bill Shorten went toward becoming Prime Minister nine months ago…and he’s a lying, fork-tongued soothsayer whose past handiwork as a union hack and ministerial saboteur mark him out as someone to be avoided at literally any cost.

I know I sound like a broken record when I say, not for the first time, that this poll screams at the Liberals to knuckle under and get their shit together: if Labor moves on Shorten first, it’ll all be over. It’ll be too late. Perhaps it already is.

And in two weeks’ time, provided Newspoll isn’t delayed, it’ll be a case of “11 down, 19 to go.” Bet tens on it. Malcolm will never win another election. He almost lost the last one. The time to fix things is now. The need is becoming more urgent with every day that passes.

The alternative is Tanya Plibersek as Prime Minister, and for all his faults, that’ll make Malcolm and his social ideas look, improbably enough, positively saintly. But by then of course, it really will be too late for the Liberals to do anything more than count the cost of doing nothing now.