This bright morning brought news of yet another stellar opinion poll in favour of Kevin Rudd, this one purporting to show that the nation’s preferred prime minister has now taken John Howard’s Queensland heartland by storm, lifting the ALP’s stocks by 15 points. Everywhere, the story has been the same for months. The preferred prime minister’s stunning honeymoon period is giving way to a great national bandwagon, as former Liberal voters push each other out of the way to get on board behind Australia’s new political superstar.
The curiosity is that none of this is believed. The pundits sure don’t believe the polls. Denis Shanahan got my gong last week. When Newspoll showed Rudd with record-breaking satisfaction and preferred PM ratings, Shanahan spun this result as one that “put heat on [the Labor] party”, and hung his hat on a three point upward bounce in the government’s primary – ignoring the margin of error, which is three points on an individual Newspoll and 5 points across two polls. Kevin Rudd doesn’t believe the polls, and says voters are just “kicking the tyres”. The government doesn’t believe the polls. Dolly Downer says Rudd is “flouncing around like a celebrity” and the polls are “ephemera”. Peter Costello says “polls will come, the polls will go”. Experts don’t believe the polls. Rod Cameron doesn’t want to say that the polls are silly, but says that “the polls are silly.” Grahame Morris says Cameron is wrong. The polls aren’t silly, they’re “ridiculous”. Michael Costello says the polls, which are nonsense, are due to Kim Beazley anyway.
Thus we have the unusual situation where, no matter how high Kevin Rudd and the ALP soar in the polls, no matter how big the bandwagon that is building up behind them becomes, they appear destined to remain the underdog. In terms of poll positioning, this is a political bliss point. Of course, I don’t believe the polls, no sir-ree, not on your sweet nelly Bubba, not even for a minute. No-one should.
Update (from comments): If you accept the point, which is that being well ahead in polls that are not believed works to the ALPâs advantage, it would follow that John Howardâs logical counter-move would be to send a public wake-up call, to positively reposition himself as behind amid the pundits. Copping a beating in the polls, yet still being regarded as likely to win, means that the government cannot shift the political pressure, leaving the onus on the polls to come back, and in the meantime dying a thousand polling deaths. The LNP is caught in the inverse of the ALPâs bliss point, and the pain is palpable.
So, perhaps the less preferred prime minister might be well advised to say that he now does sense âa mood for changeâ and to warn that âhistoryâ just might move against him, and to send a public message to the effect that everyone should have a very good look at that before they do it. In other words, he should firmly take on the mantle of underdog, and put a stop to the ALP cutting it both ways. A conservative bonus here would be that Howard himself tends to fight better when he is written off. Why won’t he write himself off to regain a stable platform with fighting traction? Lazarus was once his principal stock in trade. Hubris? That Howard seems intent on discounting and denying the rise of Kevin Rudd and the ALP suggests that he may have mixed up legacy shopping with doing whatâs necessary to win the election.
I appreciate that this line of thought takes us well ahead of the curve, so disagree by all means, but I donât want to do questions and answers
Breaking news: Maxine McKew is to contest John Howard for the seat of Bennelong. Following the Andrew Wilkie 2004 campaign, Howard held his seat by 4.2 per cent, which a subsequent redistribution has reduced by a debated amount. As a respected national figure, not least among the media reporting the race, McKew can expect to do better than Wilkie and has a smaller task. Thus, Howard’s seat is “in play”, even ignoring the polling, which we don’t believe.
Watching public figures go into politics is fraught, akin to watching rugby league stars adjusting to the pace of international rugby. Hissy-fits, dummy spits and melt-downs are perennials. McKew seems a good bet. Like Garrett and Turnbull, the money is worth less to her than the opportunity to make a difference, which makes McKew not only less accident prone than the usual star recruit but positively admirable. In being married to Bob Hogg, she is familiar with the game at the top level. In having been a leading political correspondent, she has really only moved from being a chair in the political machinery to being an actor, which is just like moving to the other side of her desk. To go to the far side, perhaps the biggest risk is that Maxine will so convince everyone that Howard is going to lose his own seat that hostile former Liberal voters will feel relieved of their duty to vote Labor. Usefully, Howard-huggers may be relied upon to ensure that such a story never gets up, regardless of opinion polls, which no-one believes, least of all me.