51-49 Newspoll: Messages For Turnbull, Shorten, Coalition

A THIRD POLL in a week sees Coalition fortunes under new Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull rocket, albeit off a low base; a second narrow lead over Labor from those — enough to win an election, but no more — is accompanied yet again by the collapse of direct “support” for Labor and the disintegration of Bill Shorten’s personal ratings. There is no cause for Coalition complacency here, although there are messages in these numbers across the board.

First things first: I’m aware that opposition “leader” Bill Shorten enjoyed a solo appearance on the ABC’s ghastly #QandA programme last night, but the sleep-deprived stupor that saw me miss the show would nonetheless have almost certainly been induced by Shorten’s dull wit had I been sprightly enough to watch; it’s a little disturbing that confronted with a new Liberal Prime Minister the ABC opted to not only showcase Shorten but did so 140km from Melbourne amid a clutch of marginally held state and federal ALP seats in Ballarat, but perhaps my cynicism that Labor had been provided with a de facto campaign stump for the night can be held over for another week — and “their ABC” given the benefit of the doubt.

That said, a third major poll since the Liberal leadership change — this time, the long-awaited Newspoll in The Australian, showing a 51-49 lead after preferences for the Coalition — has appeared overnight, and whilst we’re not going to get obsessed with polls to the point of picking every one that appears to pieces, this one is significant in that some trends are appearing that warrant comment.

That 51-49 Newspoll mirrors a Galaxy finding late last week, and comes after an automated ReachTel survey produced a 50-50 finding; on a crude aggregation this puts the Coalition position since the leadership switch at 50.7%: and given the Coalition average over the previous 18 months was a ridiculously settled 47%, the findings suggest a move of 3.7% back to the conservatives, cutting the swing to Labor (on 2013 election numbers) to 2.8%.

A 6.5% swing (which is what polls were showing before last week) would, if replicated uniformly at an election, have seen the Coalition lose 29 seats to the ALP, reducing it to 61-63 of the 150 seats in the House of Representatives (depending on what happened in seats like Fairfax and Indi) and electing Bill Shorten very solidly as Prime Minister.

A 2.8% swing, by contrast, would have limited the loss of seats to just 13 (from a starting tally of 90) and produced a small but workable majority for a re-elected Turnbull government.

There are those who believe the early bounce in polling for the Liberal and National Parties is no more than a “sugar hit” that will quickly wear off — and I agree to some extent that without a sustained emphasis on rebuilding its position with voters, that is a likely outcome — but the indications are already clear that the change in the Liberal leadership has indeed offered the circuit breaker its proponents argued it would, although what happens from here is very much a matter for conjecture.

The mostly excellent fist made of his ministerial reshuffle by Turnbull offers the Coalition some prospect that its early gains can be consolidated by a more politically adept frontbench line-up, although that judgement is heavily contingent on a thorough cleanout of the back of house and the injection of some real nous in the areas of (surprise, surprise) political strategy and tactics, media relations, communications, parliamentary management, and a sales and marketing focus that has largely been absent for the past two years.

To be clear, a 51-49 position (or the 50.7% rolling aggregate it feeds into as of today) is not a lay-down misere result, and the real work begins now for Coalition insiders to start to lock down, consolidate and build upon the early promise the switch to Turnbull appears to have generated.

But the real story, for now at least, is that voters appear to be deserting Bill Shorten in droves: and stripped of the huge positive the ALP believes it had turned Tony Abbott into over a period of many years (through character assassination, defamation, and outright lying) it seems improbable they can attempt to turn Turnbull into a similarly reviled ogre figure (although given the intellectual and moral bankruptcy of the Labor Party these days, they will sure as hell try).

Newspoll finds Turnbull preferred as Prime Minister by 55% of its respondents, compared with 21% for Shorten; and just like the result recorded by Galaxy during the week, I suggest this constitutes a return to more “normal” findings for a first-term government confronted by an insidiously vapid opposition “leader:” the idea of Bill Shorten as Prime Minister is inconceivable, or at least it should be — judged solely on his (dubious) merits.

This contention is borne out by continuing dreadful personal approval numbers for Shorten, which sit at just 29%; 54% of Newspoll respondents disapprove of the job he is doing as opposition “leader,” and whilst that’s a mild improvement on the previous Newspoll survey, the fact remains that Shorten is little less unpopular than Tony Abbott was — and that’s without facing the kind of mindless, baseless, senseless, highly personal onslaught that Labor has filled its days directing toward Abbott.

By contrast, Turnbull’s first outing since his rebirth as liberal leader finds 42% of respondents approving his performance, 24% disapproving, and a predictable 34% yet to form a view.

Readers can access The Australian‘s coverage of Newspoll — and its tables — here.

With the benefit of the first few polls now complete it is possible to segment some key messages from these numbers, although I emphasise the political situation is likely to remain fluid — and that whilst Shorten and his party have the most to lose in raw terms, with a consistent if undeserved election-winning position now gone — it is the Coalition that will largely shape the political climate from this point a year out from a scheduled federal election.

The most obvious is that having decisively rejected Labor at the polls two years ago, underlying voter sentiment remains very much open to the idea of Coalition government; whether through ineptitude on Abbott’s part (and, more importantly, the people he surrounded himself with), bloody-mindedness, or a mixture, it is this position the Coalition had spent two years squandering.

It is a point that should not be lost on Labor and on Shorten in particular, who has spent two years mouthing empty platitudes and being relentlessly obstructionist for the sake of it: convinced they could slither into office whilst delivering precisely nothing of any substance, Shorten and his cohorts have been found out; it is inconceivable Turnbull will permit an equivalent to the Credlin regime to fritter away the position of his government, but unless he does, Shorten — and Labor — are set for another term in the wilderness at least.

Pause should be given to any leadership change at the ALP, and whilst I have heard those around Plibersek are spending the parliamentary recess looking for the numbers to roll Shorten, such an enterprise is pointless if it simply replaces him with more of the same: Plibersek might be pretty and (in the absence of any particular substance) be pleasant to listen to, but she is also an unreconstructed socialist and a carping whinger seemingly more content stirring up trouble than with producing anything pertinent for public consumption.

I tend to think Turnbull would make mincemeat of her, although he would be pilloried by “their ABC,” Fairfax, and the other blinkered media outlets of the Left for doing so.

If nothing else, the replacement of an unpopular leader with a well-regarded one — even if Turnbull does face questions of just how “conservative” he may prove in some quarters, like this column — shows that mind-numbing negativity, banality, and stupid populist bullshit impresses nobody if there’s nothing to back it up: and it is this strategy Shorten is going to have to junk urgently if he even wants to make it as far as an election.

The past week has seen a distinctly panicked inflection colour his public utterances; spooked, wrong-footed and skewered, you have to wonder if the Labor “leader” has any real clue at all now he has been found wanting. Yet that isn’t my problem, and I don’t really care what happens to “Billy Bullshit.”

In the end, Turnbull appears — at the outset — to be readying for one hell of a crack at both running an effective government and at re-election, which makes a refreshing change from the way things had been going under the previous regime.

Unless Shorten fixes his act — a tall ask at the best of times — he and his God-forsaken, union-dominated party will go down like a sack of shit whenever they face the voters, and it won’t matter how many de facto community forums “their ABC” engineers on their behalf: free publicity is one thing, but if all it is used for is to deliver vacuous drivel, intended audiences will look somewhere else for a message of genuine substance.