I continue to be quite surprised at the levels of panic about the Labor party’s current polling predicament, and some of the reactions.
The government’s response to the Nielsen poll yesterday was to point out that Tony Abbott stands a realistic chance of becoming PM. As Richard Farmer rightly observes, the key here is in the win expectations in the polls, which are dropping for Labor. If public perceptions do shift to a belief that the Coalition can or will win, the focus on Tony Abbott will be intense. This is one of the sole factors – the likelihood of a flaky alternative leader coming to office – which saved Labor in a difficult Queensland election.
Tony Abbott is one of the least plausible Coalition leaders to present to the electorate as an alternative PM.
But, as Guy Beres points out, the overwhelming negativism of federal politics is in itself a problem for the ALP. I’m sure that the noise and thrust and counter-thrust of the current RSPT debate is itself driving voters away from both major parties. He’s right that Rudd Labor needs to get on the front foot. I agree that outlining a path back towards an ETS would be a very good start. Labor’s current plight is not just about messaging or communication, but also about policy.
But, if there’s anything in this article by Peter Van Onselen and Matthew Franklin in The Australian about a purported desire among unnamed Labor MPs and strategists to move rightwards, that should be quashed immediately. The only named pundit, aside from Bruce Hawker, is John Black, a former Labor Senator whose electoral predictions have been wrong time and again.
But Hawker’s advice, which has a lot of pull among the ALP’s apparatchiks, is similarly wrong, and misunderstands profoundly the nature of the drift of the vote away from Labor. Whatever youth activists on Q&A may think, it’s not just young voters concerned about climate change shifting, and indeed Labor’s, and Rudd’s ratings are holding up much better in younger voting demographics. This is a piece of conventional wisdom which is flatly wrong, as is the suburban focus group lowest common denominator strategy favoured in Sussex and Peel streets. Anna Bligh’s current plight should be evidence of that.
Indeed, the polling driven nature of the ETS backdown was precisely the problem – an absence of political leadership, and a surrender to political calculation, and the nerves of apparatchiks.
A lot of what’s being written at the moment stems from a fundamental failure to understand both the reasons for The Greens’ surge and the sorts of voters who are shifting.
It’s also absurd to suggest that Rudd is doomed.
Gary Gray should know better:
Asked about Labor’s plunge in polling, Mr Gray said: “It is very, very difficult to get back from these situations. (John) Howard lived in a dream that he could; (Paul) Keating lived in a dream that he could.”
Yes – in their last term in office.
But John Howard and Hawke/Keating Labor were often behind mid-year in election years. It’s correct to point out that Rudd’s ratings, as both PPM and satisfaction, are nowhere near outside the normal range. It’s just that his fall from grace has been so quick and so drastic.
Trevor Cook is correct to suggest that recent electoral history shows Labor’s prospects of winning are not nugatory, and to say that more than one journalist should be aware of that.
Nevertheless, a primary in the mid-30s is dangerous. If it translates into low primaries in marginal seats, no flow of preferences from The Greens will be sufficient to get the ALP over the line in many instances. And Nielsen’s figures on second preferences do demonstrate that a lot of voters crossing to The Greens are not necessarily the same left leaning electors who, in much smaller proportion, voted Green in 2007.
While there is some misunderstanding in the public mind about the operation of preferences, it seems even less clear to some that a second preference vote is not equivalent to a first preference where the party receiving the second or later preference drops below a certain level of primary. In a hypothetical electorate where the Liberals poll 43%, Labor 36% and The Greens 10%, the Libs would be favoured to win, even with a strong preference flow towards Labor. If current polling were replicated on election day, there’d be quite a few of those about.
So Labor needs to rebuild its primary vote, and not just rely on tarnishing Abbott and appealing for Greens preferences. It won’t do that by a move to the right.
Elsewhere: Bernard Keane:
As for Labor, while everyone inside and outside the government is blaming poor communication for much of its current predicament, no messaging, however brilliant, is going to cover the gaping hole where the CPRS used to be. It needs a new, convincing climate change policy, and not just one built on half-baked energy efficiency measures that at best simply fund businesses to save money for themselves and at worst repeat the ludicrously costly per-tonne emissions abatement measures achieved under the Howard government’s many “greenhouse challenge” programs.
This is a view shared by a number of government MPs. Particularly given it has not escaped notice that 2010 is on track to be the hottest recorded year yet. Climate change may yet feature strongly in the election, and not just as the reason why Lindsay Tanner might lose his seat to the Greens.