Facebook Google Menu Linkedin lock Pinterest Search Twitter



Nov 12, 2010

How the mighty fell

One of the more astonishing things about the federal election result is how the ALP managed to destroy such an enormous amount of public goodwill over such

User login status :


One of the more astonishing things about the federal election result is how the ALP managed to destroy such an enormous amount of public goodwill over such a relatively small time frame. To really highlight the drama of it all, it’s worth looking at a couple of charts. Firstly, let’s take every two party preferred poll result between January 2008 and the 2010 election, and let’s also add a distribution curve of those results to the left hand axis. Secondly, we’ll look at the polling trend over the period with its uncertainty band (the all pollster, pooled sample trend plus the estimated margin of error band around the trend line). Click to expand:

alp1 alp2

What we see is a term clearly split into two distinct episodes – the period up to mid-September 2009, and the final week of September through to the election. The former represented a political juggernaut, the latter was something between a complete fiasco and utter disaster.

Something worth looking at is the way the satisfaction dynamics of the leadership of the two parties played out over the first term. What we usually see with these things is that there’s a relationship between a party’s vote and it’s leader’s satisfaction ratings – but where the relationship is much, much stronger for the party in government than for the party in opposition. Labor’s first term was no exception – it was particularly orthodox in this respect. We can see that by running a simple scatter plot and regression line of the two party preferred vote for each side of politics against their leader’s respective satisfaction rating scores from Newspoll. Click to expand:


The Labor chart is much tighter and the regression line much steeper than the Coalition’s, showing us that the dynamics between the perception of the PM and the public support for their party is much more intimate that that of the Opposition.

So it’s worth charting the PM satisfaction with our ALP two party trend estimates. The two party preferred is on the left hand axis, the PM satisfaction on the right. Click to expand


What was interesting with this dynamic is how the vote estimates often turned a polling cycle or two before we witnessed any comparable change in the satisfaction ratings of the PM. Yet there were two noticeable occasions where that didn’t hold, and there was a shared commonality between these two events. The first was when the Godwin Grech saga occurred, where the PM satisfaction rating started increasing a polling cycle or two before the vote estimates  started increasing. The other was in the election campaign, where Gillard’s satisfaction rating started falling a few days before the vote decline was picked up by all the pollsters.

Looking back over the period, the two occurrences where we witnessed changes in PM satisfaction leading the change in the vote estimates was when the leadership of the nation was called into question by the voters – the Grech saga with its allegations of corruption and the campaign with its allegations of PM incompetency .

On both of these occasions but no other, the vote followed the direction of the initial change in reaction to the satisfaction perceptions of the PM.

The moral of the story here is that a party’s fortunes and that of its leader are intimately linked – especially for government. That’s sort of stating the obvious. But when the leadership of the country is called into question by the voters (as opposed to being called into question by the Opposition, which is simply a daily occurrence) , it’s up to the leader of the country to, well, lead the solution to the political problem.

When the Grech affair happened, Rudd effectively stood up and said to the public  “This is about my leadership – this is bullshit” and he went for the jugular. The results spoke for themself. He destroyed Malcolm Turnbull and was unassailable until he couldn’t get his governance shit together.

In the campaign, Gillard stood up and said “This is about my leadership, and I have nothing really to say about it” and we see the results of that in an election outcome that gave us a weak government, leading a hung parliament, with no demonstrated ability to control the agenda.

And it will remain that way until Gillard stands up and leads – because this is still all about her.  Her satisfaction ratings are split right down the middle, 20% of the country is undecided about her, 17% of the country can’t decide whether Gillard or Abbott would make a better Prime Minister. The Coalition throws simplistic political grenades, driving national politics into the sludge of lowest common denominator populism with complete immunity.

And there Gillard stands doing nothing – with the Labor Party left wondering how it all went so wrong.

Until she stands up and says “This is about my leadership – this is bullshit” and goes for the jugular – as Rudd, Howard, Keating and Hawke all did before her, this will be a government that regardless of what it achieves in any policy sense, will be running flat out to get exactly, politically, nowhere.

In other news, the new Pollytrend measures are underway – currently sitting on a two party preferred of 51/49 to the Coalition. We’ll have to wait for a few more before we start to chart them – a single dot isn’t exactly the most exciting thing in the world to look at.

They’ll be a little different this term – with only one trend line rather than two, representing all the phone polls plus Essential Report, which proved itself to be as accurate as the broader phone polling industry during the last election.

Possum Comitatus — Editor of Pollytics

Possum Comitatus

Editor of Pollytics

Political Commentator and Blogger

Get a free trial to post comments
More from Possum Comitatus


We recommend

From around the web

Powered by Taboola


Leave a comment

43 thoughts on “How the mighty fell

  1. JamesK

    In reply to ronin8317’s reply, please read the High Court ruling as you clearly haven’t.

    Which is laughably hypocritical of you…….isn’t it?

    You, apparently are stupid enough to bare faced gainsay a Shadow Minister and a Minister of the Crown who were hardly likely to have told porkies to the Australian people when hundreds of lefty lawyers are waiting to pounce on any inaccurate statement and make a meal of it.

    Paragraph 70 of the judgement:

    “But here, the effect of the Minister’s announcement [Minister Evans July 2008] was that, instead of removing offshore entry persons from Australia to a declared country under the powers given under s 198A, consideration would be given to exercising the powers given by ss 46A and 195A in every case in which an offshore entry person claimed that Australia owed that person protection obligations. The outcome of that consideration in any individual case would depend upon the result of the processes established by the Department in response to the ministerial announcement. But in order that Australia not breach the international obligations it had undertaken in the Refugees Convention and Refugees Protocol, consideration would be given, in every case, to the exercise of the only statutory powers available when the Pacific Strategy was no longer to be pursued: the powers given by ss 46A and 195A.

    Repeat: “consideration would be given, in every case, to the exercise of the only statutory powers available when the Pacific Strategy was no longer to be pursued”

    I know you’re given to lying ronin8317 but why compound it by repeating the dross when you’re called out on it?

  2. ronin8317

    Look at the chart : the upswing follows the ‘Ute-gate’ affair in 2009. Then downturn occur when Tony Abbott took over, then we have interest rate increases plus the media start doing boat stories. The boats have been coming before, but Daily Telegraph and ABC turned rabid after the leadership change. It is not a coincidence. After Copenhagen support for a CPRS took a dive, but the real trouble occur when Rudd abandoned it. It turned the Fairfax journalist rabid as well. The most damaging stories for the ALP are all published by Age/SMH, who are the ‘left wing’ newspaper.

    In reply to JamesK, please read the High Court ruling. The asylum seekers have a right to appeal in an Australian Court, and they cannot be arbitrarily locked up. Unless you can setup an Australian court in East Timer/Nauru, they must be in Australia to comply with the ruling.

    I have mentioned the idea before. The most effective deterrent is to somehow make a deal with East Timor, and grant all the asylum seeker a citizens of East Timor. The East Timor government will be paid for the trouble, and they can then join the ‘queue’ to come to Australia through the proper process. That means nobody will be forced to go back to a country where they’ll be killed, nobody has to be locked up in a cell, and it’s much cheaper to house them in East Timor compared to Australia.

    The ALP must get the ‘boat people stories’ off the pages of Daily Telegraph. People arriving on boat is an exciting story. People waiting in a queue does not. ALP needs to retain the votes of the social conservative worker so they won’t vote Liberal.

  3. ronin8317

    An election campaign is a very complicated piece of storytelling. Kevin Rudd being rolled overwhelms everything else, so Gillard’s election campaign should be against Kevin Rudd instead of Tony Abbott. Which means repealing the Mining Tax, balance the budget, stop the waste and stopping the boat people. It’s the Liberal election campaign except for IR and the CPRS. Climate change is a ‘wedge issue’ dividing the Liberals. Just before parliament the election, Gillard should forced the Liberal to vote against the CPRS ‘on the record’ again with the promise of double dissolution if it fails to pass. The Liberals will implode.

    There are many instance of political pettiness which worked against the ALP. Take the funding of school buildings for example. If the ALP let the local member decide on what to build for schools in their district, the Liberal cannot claim the project as a ‘waste of money’. The only change is the name on a plague which nobody reads. Being nice to the opposition back bench is a great way to hurt the opposition leadership.

    The ALP have to remove the refugee as a ‘wedge’ issue before the next election. After the recent High Court decision, both East Timor and Nauru are no longer viable options. The Gillard government should change the migration act and create a new court for determination of refugee status. Next, locate the court overseas. Any refugee coming into Australian water must be moved to the overseas location for processing, as there are no refugees court in Australia!! It’s a variation on the ‘Pacific Solution’, except that it’s legal.

    Processing the refugees offshore doesn’t make a difference to the refugee. However, it makes a huge difference to the public.

  4. Socrates

    Obviously people will debate this either way, depending on whether they are for/against the Rudd spill. However I think there are a few facts worth noting:
    – there is a substantial fall in Rudd’s approval in two periods, end September 2009 and Mar 2010
    – Gilard’s popularity dropped during the election campaign, after an initial bounce

    I think there are two messages in this. First, it was not only the ETS decision for Rudd: the decline in September 2009 preceded the Oceanic Viking saga and Copenhagen. It happened just as unemployment stats were turnign aroudn for the batter too. So what went wrong for Labor/Rudd then? The drop off after the ETS decision is self-evident.

    Second, for those who are still desperately trying to defend the Labor election campaign, this graph also shows that Labor went backwards during the campaign itself. It was a failed campaign; the data says it. Saying that things might have been worse without it is like saying that the Titanic might have sunk evne faster if it had kep goign straight ahead. It lost votes.

    Poss it would be great to have a larger scale version of the ALP PM approval chart with the timing of key decisions and the leadership change included as reference points.

    Final suggestion Poss: why don’t you do a table of the comparative economic performance of OECD economies in the past three years, and their subsequent election result. Given that Labor ran the best economy in the OECD in this time, unless every other government did even worse than this (they couldn’t have, or none would have been re-elected!) then it shows just how badly Labor did on selling their message. Saying that there were distractions does not change the fact that Labor focused on those distractions, and stopped telling people that there was nothing to worry about (thanks to its efforts).

  5. fredex

    Here comes a speculation as to one of the factors that I suspect has played a part in the scenario of the dramatic decline of the Rudd ALP, and therefore the Gillard ALP that followed, post latish last year.

    The ABC.

    ABCTV and ABC Radio National.

    It would be interesting to check out the demographics, regional and voter support of those two media services.

    Particularly Radio National and its regional subsidiaries.

    Now this is speculation and based to some extent on personal experience/anecdote.

    I live in rural SA.
    Most people near me have a choice of 2-3 local radio stations, one of which is ABC, and maybe they can receive a metro station of choice depending on weather and locality.
    Digital radio may have made a difference recently, I wouldn’t know, we can’t receive such at all even with all the necessary tech.

    So I’m speculating/theorising that a fair chunk of regional Oz gets a fair chunk of its news from what has been traditionally a trusted and respected source as ABC Radio.
    Even the stereotypical rednecks of rural Oz like the ABC.
    Even if they don’t agree they listen.

    And for the past few years it, RN, has been dreadful.
    Latish last year it became the accepted norm that the BER and the Insulation programme and the stimulus in general were, in the words of the ABC news writers, a ‘debacle’.
    Interviewers regularly phrased questions to guests framed in that assumption.

    Similarly there was almost daily beatups of ‘boat people’.
    Still is.

    I suspect that the ALP ‘honeymoon’ was destroyed, in these areas, with their rural demographic, at least partly by the bias of the ABC local and National which is far more significantly a source of information [or disinformation] for such people than Murdoch, Fox [oops I mean Sky] and Channel 9.

    Particularly when the other background noise consistes mainly of Rural Press.

    Just a theory, it would be of interest to find out the relationship of the decreased regional vote of the ALP and the reach and demographics of regional ABC.
    I suspect its a factor that has been overlooked by urban pundits.
    But here in rural SA [and I travel north east and south of Adelaide] the role of the ABC could be a focal point.

  6. Thomas Paine

    [Dumping the ETS was bad politics, bad economics, and bad public policy. ]

    Indeed and makes you wonder why Swan and Gillard were so adamant to have Rudd and Wong drop it. You have to wonder what is driving gillard on this. The unions in bed with the mining industry telling their girl to neuter this thing, and she succeeded. And then we have the mining indutry through the boys in the union percipitating the change of PM. Again using ‘their’ girl gillard.

    Gillard has no principles. I recall Rudd saying he would not accept what was just another Pacific solution where gillard was happy to go Howardesqu in policy and dogwhistle tactics.

    The problem gillard has is she has no driving vision of how she sees Australia. Previous PMs had this. Gillard wanted to be PM for its own sake, no vission and no right wing path she wouldn’t traverse in the fight for votes.

    All in all she is a dimensionless weathervain.

    What is going to happen is Labor will be so on the nose mid next year that the indpendents will be concerned about being too closely associated with them and they will change their tune on a leadership change.

    There will be a leadership challenge mid next year. You can be sure all the wannabees will have their name in the hat, all the right wing spoilers there to keep gillard safe…but Labor has no leadership material left. Lots of good ministers, but that doens’t do it. The burnt through one for no reason except gillards greed.

    In the end Labor will get what they deserve.

Leave a comment