It doesn’t matter if the election is three years or three days away, we’re constantly reminded who the most popular party is, who’s got the preferences, and who’s the preferred prime minister. It never seems to be the actual prime minister or the opposition leader, which is curious.
Every time I see one of these polls, I’m reminded of how I constantly check my phone for messages from my girlfriend. There never is any, because I don’t have one. Political polling is that pointless.
Where do these numbers come from? A surprisingly small number of people, often barely over a thousand. The polls claim a margin of error of only a few per cent, but in Australia we’re talking about complex issues and over 20 million people. I fondly remember a ‘Yes Prime Minister’ sketch that exposed political polling for the farce that it is (see above).
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It looks like the statute of limitations on “the knifing of Rudd” might have expired. For years one of the things often cited by voters not keen on Julia Gillard was that they didn’t like the way she got the job.
The coup against Kevin Rudd back in 2010 was so swift, so bloody, so brutal, it’s taken the electorate quite some time to recover. But it looks like that recovery might be on the upswing.
It’s been three weeks since the last Newspoll and in that three weeks two things have dominated the political debate - the “gender wars”, which climaxed with Gillard’s world-famous attack on Tony Abbott, and Maxine McKew’s book.
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Back in 2001, on the Nine Network’s now defunct Sunday program, Tony Abbott invented a new word. Roonism. The then Industrial Relations Minister was complaining about the relentless negativity of the Labor opposition under Kim Beazley.
“One of the real problems we have at the moment is roonism,” Abbott said. “As in ‘We’ll all be rooned’ said Hanrahan.” This was a reference to an Australian bush poem in which pessimistic farmers constantly predict disaster no matter how good conditions are.
Roonism, Abbott explained, “is a kind of a mutant sibling of the tall poppy syndrome, and it’s poisoning our public life at the moment and it risks doing damage to the economy. “And of course, the chief economic ghoul literally praying for bad news is Kim Beazley. The champagne corks pop in Kim Beazley’s office every time someone gets into trouble.”
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There is a senior ALP official who, when reading Labor polling showing the party continues to be battered by voters, goes to a special place for comfort.
That special place is the research section dealing with Opposition Leader Tony Abbott. “I can read it again and again,” says the official, only half joking.
Tony Abbott is leading the Coalition towards one of its biggest victories ever over Labor but he has a 60 per cent dissatisfaction rating, according to today’s Newspoll. It’s the same dissatisfaction rating as Julia Gillard, the Prime Minister who can’t even implement a solid, timely policy on temporary skilled migration to assist a $9.5 billion mining project without turning the Government into a political Keystone Cops skit.
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British comedian John Cleese calls them “beer fairies”. It’s a euphemism for Australian men who drink beer, and that’s apparently the worst thing around when it comes to the dating world.
Sounds ridiculous. But that’s the big take home message from a NewsPoll survey which found Australian women prefer men who are adventurous with their choice of beverage. In other words, men who don’t drink beer are considered better potential partners than those that do.
Ouch. Forget about bad breath, an annoying laugh or narcissistic behaviour, it’s men that order beer who are the real scourge on the dating world? Well I don’t buy that for a second.
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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.
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They are reluctant to discuss it but Labor insiders see reasons for hope - however slight. One reason, surprisingly enough, is the polls. Obviously, they still show the Government facing a shellacking yet they also suggest that Labor’s poll dive may have bottomed out.
When its primary vote dipped below 30 per cent a few months back, it raised two very uncomfortable questions. Just how low could it go? And at what point would Julia Gillard’s leadership become untenable?
The answer to the first question may now be in - barring a double dip that is.
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We’ve seen a lot of political oddity courtesy of this Labor crew – a first-term PM knifed and crying in the courtyard of Parliament House, his successor vowing to reveal “the real Julia” while never deviating from her robotic spin, and stunning and historic depths plumbed in the polls.
But last weekend, amid the circus that is Gillard’s embattled and high court rejected “Malaysia solution”, another surreal political moment occurred.
A bizarre cross between hostage negotiation, desperate plea and slap in the face – yes, I’m referring to Peter Beattie’s “Dear Kevin” letter.
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Julia Gillard is engaged in the most prized foreign assignment for an Australian Prime Minister - the lavish hospitality of an American president in Washington.
But at home opinion polls are sending the much less hospitable message that Ms Gillard is Prime Minister in name only, that voters want her out of the job.
By any measure, an election right now would see Liberal Leader Tony Abbott replace her. Labor has hit a record low in its primary result in polling.
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This morning’s Newspoll gives to Julia Gillard with the one hand and then quickly smacks her in the back of the head with the other.
The fact that the flood levy has popular support (55-41) can’t be anything but good news for the Government at a time when it will dominate the politics of the next week.
But then the bad news for Gillard: a two point fall in Labor’s primary vote down to a meagre 32 per cent. The Coalition’s has risen by 3 points since the last poll in December to 44, and now has a two party preferred lead of 52-48 and would almost certainly win an election if it were held tomorrow.
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Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott last night called on divine intervention, in the form of the approval of a room full of Australia’s Christian leaders, brought together by the Australian Christian Lobby.
The devout Catholic and the slightly more pick-and-choose a church PM were both keen to display their credentials.
Rudd even managed to link the handling of the GFC to the wellbeing of parishes around the country, saying: “Imagine what would be happening in each of your parishes, in each of your church communities, if such a large slice of people, frankly, weren’t able to work and weren’t able to properly cater for their families.”
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Well Kevin Rudd might be at war with the miners, but yesterday he was finally able to announce a major deal - with Telstra. The PM, who’s been clutching at small pieces of good news lately was pretty happy to demonstrate: “what can be yielded through a process of negotiation.”
Announcing the agreement for Telstra to shift large chunks of its operation onto the National Broadband Network was a rare moment of respite for Rudd, who this morning woke to more Newspoll pain. According to the latest survey, Tony Abbott has narrowed the gap in the preferred PM stakes.
And judging by the very clever new Minerals Council ad I saw on Masterchef last night, clearly the “process of negotiation” with the miners hasn’t progressed much.
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In the current mineral-fuelled political debate, there is a certain irony that a Government known for its steely discipline and strict issues management could get its key lines so confused.
On Thursday evening, it finally delivered up a universal Paid Parental Leave scheme. After an extended labour, it was a big moment for a Government that has acquired a reputation for being all bump and no baby.
Plus, it was that rarest of political events, an election promise not only met but acclaimed across the community. Employer organisations more often aligned with the Coalition, welcomed the scheme’s successful passage - albeit with a few minor qualifications.
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Every now and again Newspoll, like any other, throws up an anomalous result, which evens out in the next survey. But even if today’s numbers are just half right Kevin Rudd must have a very bad case of indigestion from that hotdog he scoffed at the Labour Day march in Brisbane yesterday.
The news for the PM is very bad. As Dennis Shanahan writes: “The Prime Minister’s personal satisfaction rating has dropped the most in the shortest time in the 20-year history of Newspoll ... the two-party preferred support for Labor has dropped to 49 per cent while the Coalition’s has risen from 46 per cent 51 per cent.”
Small Business Minister Craig Emerson was putting a brave face on things this morning, saying the results were thanks to the Government’s recent “tough decisions” such as the massive tax hike on cigarettes.
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I am wiping the egg off my face this morning. Last week I happily wrote off Newspoll’s recent findings of a drop in support for Rudd as a blip and then along comes this week’s Essential Report showing there is, indeed, something going on.
The fall we have picked up may not be as spectacular as Newspoll’s but we are beginning to see movement away from Labor, especially among older Australians.
A four-point fall in two party preferred vote is beyond margin for error and could mean one of three things: (i) Newspoll was right all along (albeit a little over-cooked); (ii) Newspoll was wrong but the world has caught up with their error; or (iii) we have a blip to match Newspoll’s.
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Seventy-two channels, and still nothing on, wise-cracked the US entertainer, Bob Hope back in the 1970s.
Decades later, in this era of multi-media platforms, some people might lament that Hope didn’t know the half of it. The big challenge now, with all the information coming in, is to grade it - to pick the significant, from the loud but unimportant.
In politics, this challenge has always been there but having more information on what voters think may have made the job harder, not easier. Scandals are dissected, polls and focus group research consumed and interpreted, trends identified, and conclusions reached.
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Let’s accept the Federal Opposition’s interpretation of this week’s polling figures at face value; as a consequence of his “softness” on the issue of the alleged armada of boats laden with asylum-seekers arriving on our watery doorstep day by day, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and his government are falling rapidly out of favour with the Australian public.
And for the sake of the argument, let’s also accept the statistical and methodological reliability – which we can do with considerable confidence – of The Australian newspaper’s latest set of Newspoll numbers.
So, accepting all of that, what does it all add up to? And what does it say about our collective set of national values?
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