Biggest moments of 2011 #20 PM’s popularity flatlines
Imagine if 77 per cent of your work colleagues or your friends were dissatisfied with you, or cared too little to have an opinion. That’s what happened to Julia Gillard this year. A huge majority of Australians turned their backs on the PM. She hit rock bottom.
According to Newspoll, voter satisfaction with the Prime Minister fell to a record low of 23 per cent in September. You can’t tell us Rudd would have ever sunk that low if he hadn’t been knifed and had somehow won the last election.
Gillard’s disastrous polling came immediately after the High Court struck down the Malaysian Solution, leaving Australia’s immigration policy lost at sea. It also came around the a time of persistent rumbling about Kevin Rudd mounting a leadership challenge against the PM. And that wasn’t all the bad news from the court of public opinion.
The September Newspoll also found Kevin Rudd was a vastly more popular alternative PM than Gillard and that the Coalition’s support was its highest level since the days after September 11, 2001. The only modern day Prime Minister to have sunk lower than Gillard in the public esteem is Paul Keating, who had a 17 per cent satisfaction rating in August 1993.
What happened next
The PM rebounded. But she hardly bounded into the stratosphere. The bounce was more like that of a flat basketball.
Despite some legislative successes and the most recent Newspoll finding she’s now beating Tony Abbott in the preferred PM stakes, Labor is currently down 57-43 in the two party preferred polls.
That’s not just a landslide, it’s a lahar.
What we learned
Sure, Australians rejected the government this year for reasons of policy and policy vacuums. But that’s not the lesson to take away from this.
The real lesson of Gillard’s unpopularity is that Australians hate their leaders being knifed before their time is up. For instance, Bob Hawke had a red hot go for several years. But when he started vacillating over making decisions, Australians didn’t mind Paul Keating taking him out with the trash (for a few years, anyway).
And John Howard won the support of the Australian people several times but people eventually got sick of him. His time was up. And it’s clear now the Liberal Party would’ve been better served if Costello had taken Howard’s job before the 2007 election.
Kevin Rudd’s time wasn’t up. He’d belted Howard in 2007. The Australian people didn’t understand how somebody who’d been granted a clear mandate to govern had been so easily dismissed by his party just because times got a little tough.
It was the break-up few saw coming. Particularly since the 2007 election was so presidential. A battle of the personalities between Kevin 07 and John 96.
Lots of Australians were used to seeing their Labor Premiers rotating in and out of power. Anna Bligh called it “New South Wales disease”. But the office of Prime Minister lives in a higher plane than Premiers in Australian culture. And Australians were disgusted to the see their PM treated like that by faceless men.
Let’s hope this country has built up an immunity to these types of shenanigans into the future.
How The Punch covered it
Gillard was up the creek without a paddle, wrote polticial scientist and retired professor of politics Dean Jaensch. The poll was “catastrophic” for the government, he said.
Amongst the catastrophe was talk of a Labor saviour. Mal Farr looked at the Worst Poll For Labor Ever from the angle of the Rudd leadership rumblings. He warned us that Abbott was stoking the fires of leadership speculation, and said that if you really wanted to know whether Rudd was going to take over, you’d find out in the fortnight after the poll.
Rudd hasn’t challenged. At least not yet. Gillard may have crashed and she’s definitely in the intensive care unit. But she enters the New Year not being on life support like she was in September.
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