Essential Report

Feb 17, 2009

What if you were a political party and no one believed you?

Looking at the Essential Report from yesterday – whic

Possum Comitatus — Editor of Pollytics

Possum Comitatus

Editor of Pollytics

Looking at the Essential Report from yesterday – which was probably the best poll undertaken in the last 12 months by any pollster ( and which you’ll probably need to read to get the rest of this post, or read the actual poll document here)- the magnitude of how wrong the Coalition not only got the stimulus package, but the broader GFC starts to become apparent.

The chief concern of the public over the GFC appears to be employment. When Essential asked the question in January “Thinking about the current global financial crisis, which of the following are you most concerned about”, unemployment came in equal first with falling superannuation and investment values at 32%. But the concern of increasing unemployment is growing over time – up from 23% in October, while superannuation and investment is static. Unemployment has the issue momentum behind it and if the unemployment rate starts rising in the official Labour Force figures, it will continue to gain momentum.

When people are probed on employment issues, as Essential did this week by asking the question “How concerned are you that you or some member of your immediate family will lose their job in the next year or so?” – what comes out is some fairly shocking numbers. That’s a very cleverly crafted question because it brings the GFC issue back to a personal level. Once respondents with no employees in the immediate family are removed, 2 out of 3 people answered either very concerned or somewhat concerned.

The GFC isn’t viewed by the public as some arbitrary, nebulous concept like the war on terror was for most, or climate change is for many – 2 out of 3 people see the GFC as having personal and family consequences being at stake, and that’s simply on the unemployment side of things.

This is what looks to be killing the Coalition. When the question “Do you strongly approve, approve, disapprove or strongly disapprove of the Government/Opposition performance in regard to the global financial crisis?” is asked, for every 4 people that approve of the way the Coalition has handled the issue, 5 people disapprove.

Yet for every 3 people that approve of the way the government has handled the GFC, only one person disapproves. The credibility gap between the government and the opposition is simply enormous.

We can see that further by looking at the results of the question “Who do you trust more to handle the economy during the financial crisis?” The public trust the Government to handle the GFC better than the Coalition by a ratio of over 2:1 – 55% for the government and only 25% for the Coalition. Even in the Liberal Party’s strongest constituency – the over 50’s – Turnbull can still only muster 31%.

When only 31% of your strongest voting block trust you to handle the biggest issue of the day – and one where you are historically superior at – you know you’re in a world of deep doo doo.

To further reinforce how poorly the Coalition have handled the GFC, 51% believe Rudd’s rationale for the stimulus package compared to only 35% that believe Turnbull might have had a point on the expenditure being unnecessary and wasteful.

You can see why.

The answer to that question for most people comes from their consumption of small bites of news – the reactions and talking points they see and hear from their pollies on the radio, the 5 second grabs and clichés they see on the nightly news. What they saw from the Coalition they didn’t like.

Last week in the shenanigans over the stimulus package in Parliament, the Coalition were criticising the size of the cash payments, the upgrade of the school system, and the insulation plan where they joked about pink bats.

But the public are operating in another universe. Support for the cash payments runs at 66/18, support for the school refurbishment program runs at a massive 84/3 while a weeks worth of focusing on pink bats by the Coalition as major criticism still had public support running 46/24 in favour of the government proposal.

Barnaby Joyce, with his usual complete absence of political nous, repeatedly made a song and dance about the schools program, with the mainstream news cycle being littered by snippets and 5 second grabs of Barnaby telling everyone how horrible it was.

His position is supported by 3% of the population.


And he wasn’t alone. The entire Coalition argument came across as being removed from reality, as out of touch, as being ignorant of the concerns that people actually have about the GFC.

Which gets us on to the other problem.

When Turnbull talked of taking a hit in the polls because his actions were unpopular, he missed the point. The unpopularity didn’t come from simply standing between the public and a bucket of money, it came because people didn’t believe him. As we’ve seen, they believed Rudd’s arguments, they believed in the package, they believed in where the package was targeted and what it was trying to achieve. They believed that the package focused on their real concerns and as a result they trusted Rudd.

Even though the Coalition was banging on about jobs, usually criticising the proposed package and the pre-Christmas package as not having an effect on the employment front – the public wasn’t buying it. The public wasn’t believing it. The public didn’t trust them nor trust what they were saying was true.

The last Essential Report that looked at the relative importance of issues had the economy on 68% as most important. 83% of Newspoll respondents rated the economy as “very important”.

Labor, on their worst day, on their ‘worst’ issue are still winning the political contest – daylight is second.

What these economic questions that focus on the GFC should tell us is that the lead on “who’s the best economic manager” in the broad sense isn’t really worth a hill of beans. It’s a small bit of context and vibe, but not much more. At the same time the Coalition hold a slight lead on the broad question in Newspoll, they are getting absolutely pounded on any specific question about the economy and their vote is down the toilet.

If we look at the Newspoll responses for which party is best to handle which issue, the ALP leads on Health, Education, Water Planning, the Environment, Industrial Relations, Climate Change and Welfare & Social issues by margins of between 11 and 32 points.

On the only two issues where the Coalition is in front – the Economy and National Security – the Coalition leads by the margin or error; 1 point for the former and 3 points for the latter. But the value of leading in the former doesn’t seem to be worth much as we’ve seen with the GFC questions and their responses.

If the Coalition wants to become competitive again, they’ve got to look at why they’re either massively behind or within the margin of error on every issue and why they have a solid lead in exactly none.


Terry McCrann is wandering into an area where he couldn’t find his arse with a map:

Although we are all ‘deficitists’ now – indeed Swan can’t stop saying the word now, after spending his first 12 months as treasurer whiting it out of every dictionary he could get his hands on – the voting public remains deeply sceptical.

On the one hand we have empirical evidence that the government enjoys large levels of support for their GFC package from not only this Essential Report, but from the previous Newspoll on the stimulus package – support where the theme “deeply sceptical” is nowhere to be seen in either poll, nor can it be seen in any increase in Rudd’s undecided levels on the satisfaction ratings in *any* poll.

On the other hand we have a bloke making stuff up to suit his public pash with Peter Costello.

Just because you plucked it out of the nearest orifice Tezza doesnt make it true.

We regularly hear the phrase “evidence based policy“. I wouldnt mind seeing a bit more “evidence based commentary“.

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25 thoughts on “What if you were a political party and no one believed you?

  1. Andrew Norton » Blog Archive » The long-term politics of budget deficits

    […] Pollytics blog is convinced that this is a disaster for the Coalition. Maybe. But less that twelve months ago the […]

  2. Cuppa

    [Opposition doesn’t need to control the media cycle for the simple reason “they can’t”.]

    I’m not so sure. They seem to heavily influence what stories, appearances, happen on the ABC.

    Then, of course, there’s a virtually limitless cheersquad at the Murdoch stable.

    Between the public and private media lakes, they seem to have their oar/s deeply in the water (rowing round in circles though they are.)

  3. David Richards

    yes – MT would have been better advised to realise that the Rudd package would get passed in some form or other.. and sat down to fine tune it rather than refuse to countenance it at all and flog his lemon in its stead.

  4. Possum

    That’s a good point archibald. Playing polemics to the base without incumbency to bribe the other cohorts they need for a majority will lead them exactly nowhere.

    They’ve got to flick the switch from dramaverse to gravitas. Opposition doesn’t need to control the media cycle for the simple reason “they can’t”.

    A bit of a quantity/quality trade off would do them the world of good.

  5. Possum

    Pica – this is a good chart to identify seats in terms of income.

    Income vs. Education as a scatter plot.

  6. Possum

    That’s an interesting exchange Gary.

    The shorter version seems to be:

    “Sure I might talk shit – that’s my job”

  7. Gary Bruce

    Well, I’m surprised again. Terry McCrann has responded. I’m not sure I accept his argument but at least he has stated his case and for that he has my respect.

    “Hi Gary.
    In essence your objection is that I didn’t add the words: “in my opinion’’.
    The point I’ve been trying to get across to you is that the whole page is “in my opinion’’.
    I obviously don’t know how old you are, but I’ve been writing my column for over 30 years. All that time, I’ve been gathering information, and then passing it on in a mix of reporting, analysing, commenting, explaining and so on.
    You can read it or not read it, agree with it or disagree with it. Believe it or ignore it. You pays your money and you makes your choice.
    In any event nothing turns on my claim. So they’re not “deeply sceptical’? And….?
    It’s like me writing that people prefer oysters to avocadoes. And you say it’s the opposite and you have a poll to prove it. Again, and….? I’ve sent the price of oysters rocketing and people are being ripped off?

  8. archibald

    If you listen to the Libs, their literal message is addressed only to those they would have utter contempt for. Gun-for-hire lawyers can, with no damage to their reputation, get up in court and state baldly that while their client was found in the bank vault with a large sack of cash slung over his shoulder and a stocking mask over his face, he was most certainly not robbing the bank – he had merely lost his way going to a fancy dress party.

    This obvious falsehood is put forward in the hope that it will advance the interests of the lawyer’s client. It has two audiences – those that understand that it is bullshit but approve of the intention behind it and then there is the audience that would actually give it credence. Now, only an idiot would believe the literal truth and smart lawyers have nothing but contempt for such idiots.

    Since 93, Costello has barely uttered any economic commentry which doesn’t fit this model. His statements about matters economic are mostly partisan nonsense that he doesn’t for one second believe himself. They are rhetorical missiles directed at his opponents and as such are applauded by partisans on his side but insofar as anyone actually believes that what he is saying is literally true … those people would only be worthy of his contempt.

    This approach is doomed to fail if Abraham Lincoln is anything to go by. Sooner or later, you have a Richard Nixon/Ronald Zeigler style “credibility gap”. I wonder if a spinner for the Libs will eventually come out with a statement that “All previous statements are inoperative”. Nope – probably not. They will just change leaders again – rinse and repeat. If they change to Costello, God help them.

    Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised that the Libs have gone this same way under Turnbull (another gun for hire) – particularly with Turnbull’s approach to the GFC. I thought he seemed credible with his criticisms of the hasty management of the bank guarantee last year but his determination to attack the government while talking bi-partisanship and damage the country’s interests in the process by blocking the stimulus package seems complete folly.

  9. Pica

    Cuppa @ 6, and DR @ 7,

    You got me thinking, Turnbull and Hockey represent what must be 2 of the most affluent (effluent?) electorates in Aus? (can you help with some figures Poss?) So the LIBs primary spokespeople on the GFC are from 2 of the richest electorates in the country, full of those sort of people who got us into this mess in the first place (according to and anti- extreme capitalist view). The Fed LAB crew haven’t really pushed this line the way that they have in Vic with ‘Toorak Ted’ (and they can’t really with Rudd’s wealth), but this must be feeding into the view that the last people we would trust to get us out of this mess are the likes of Hockey and Turnbull. A hard row to hoe for the LIBs it appears.

  10. Spam Box

    Good on you Gary. If he replies can you let us know

  11. fredex

    Thumbs up smiley.

  12. Gary Bruce

    Thanks Fred. I just shot this off. I’m done after this though.

    Thankyou for taking the time to reply. I appreciate that.
    I’ll make the following my last comment on this issue.
    The polls I supplied show that people are happy with the government’s approach. Turnbull has ensured everyone is aware that we have a large deficit happening. So if they were as “deeply sceptical” with deficits as you say they are these poll figures would be very different.
    At least I’m basing my argument on some evidence and not just making it up as I go along which you have now admitted doing. To be honest I’ve always thought of you as a well respected informed financial commentator. A lot of people take notice of what you say. Surely you have an obligation when making such comments to at least be able to back them up with some evidence. You owe that much to your loyal readers.”

  13. fredex

    That piss attempt at a weak excuse offered by McCann for misleading the public, and he’s not the only journo type to have used it, really pisses me off.

    It does not begin to justify assertions that have little or no relationship to reality.

    In the privileged role of power and influence that such ‘commentators’ enjoy they have a public and moral duty to ensure their comments are factually based, evidence based, ethically sound and logically presented and not, as Poss says, pulled out of their arses from personal bias and ‘excused’ with an arrogant, ignorant and irrelevant ‘sound bite’.

    BTW – good try Gary.

  14. Gary Bruce

    Well, I was wrong. I’ll give Terry McCrann one thing he does reply.
    This is what he said.

    None of those polls asked specifically whether deficits are good and are painless. Far from asking when we actually have them.
    Of course it’s my contention. I am a commentator, I’m not purporting to report.

  15. Thomas Paine

    The disturbing realisation is that during more than a decade of being the Government the LNP must not have known anything about anything and, they seem to have not learned anything. With all that on the job training you would think they would be guns on all the portfolios, stuffed full of experience. But they can’t lay a feather on the new government on anything, in fact they same seem as though they don’t know much about anything.

  16. David Richards

    Some of these journos should give up scribbling for a litter tray liner and go into writing novels, as they already have experience writing fiction (or is that fantasy?).

  17. Gary Bruce

    I shot off an e-mail to Terry McCrann which said – “I was wondering if you could supply the evidence for this conclusion of yours.
    “Although we are all ‘deficitists’ now – indeed Swan can’t stop saying the word now, after spending his first 12 months as treasurer whiting it out of every dictionary he could get his hands on – the voting public remains deeply sceptical.”
    Can you supply one poll that backs up this statement? I can supply a number that don’t and these are reputable polling companies.”
    His answer? “Please do cheers”
    So I just did and once again asked him for his evidence. I’m not expecting a reply this time.

  18. Cuppa


    For odds I usually refer to who tabulate results from a number of bookmakers. Here are a couple of relevant links.

    Australian Federal Election – 2010-2011

    Liberal Party Leader to Next Election

  19. David Richards

    yep – and they have a Merchant Banker (in both senses) as their leader.

    Wonder what the odds are on the Libs these days?

  20. Cuppa

    I wonder how much of the Liberals’ tanking in economic credibility has to do with the GFC itself.

    Think about it. This disaster originated in US banks, infecting Wall Street, and rippling out around the planet.

    It wasn’t “unionists” or ordinary working people that caused this. So it was not of a Labor or left-leaning cause. It was bankers, “financiers”, greedy capitalists etc – the type of personage identified with the Miserable Liberals and their ideology.

    So if the Liberals are perceived as being in bed with the originators of the crisis – is it any wonder they can be seen to have no answers?

    In other words, They’re part of the problem; they’ve disqualified themselves from being part of the solution.

  21. Kit

    I don’t think we should underestimate the USA here. Prior to the George W. Bush implosion the very same incompetent Liberals’ could do little wrong – they haven’t changed but the world has.

    First, now the Republicans have proven they are just as capable (if not more so) as the (tax and spend) progressives of getting into an economic quagmire. With the USA up the Kahuna in deficit.

    And secondly, speaking of Hawaii, news of the Obama stimulus package is all over the news – filtering into the consciousness in tandem with the Barnaby’s negativity. Obama has great support in this country and despite the technical differences, if he says stimulus is what is needed, then good luck to Turnbull trying to counter that

  22. David Richards

    The Party that cried wolf?
    The death throes which are currently occuring within the Liberal Party are morbidly fascinating. Like an horrific accident or a sadly disfigured person at which or at whom you know you shouldn’t be staring, but find yourself compelled so to do.

    What do they do when Hockey gets overexcited, bursts a blood vessel, and carks it in the middle of QT? Or when the polls keep heading southwards? More rearranging the furniture? If all you’ve got are milk crates covered in hessian sacks – no amount of rarrranging is going to get you into Home Beautiful, especially with a smelly hobo like Wilson Tuckey vomiting all over the place.

  23. DrMick

    I think a large part of the reason no one believes them is becasue they have a proven track record of being bullshit artists.They lied (or at the very least were very economical with the truth) about the children overboard affair, they failed to apply even minimal due diligence over WMDs or David Hicks or AWB, they insisted for five years interest rates would be higher under Labor, they promised industrial turmoil if labor was re-elected. They promised no one would be worse off under Workchoices, then lied about that lie too.

    Even morons don’t like being treated like morons. A good start might be to not treat the public like morons and be honest.

  24. Gusface

    When you create
    1. an evergrowing underclass
    2. the elevation of personal greed over the community being enriched
    3. the marginilising of the defenceless to promote the bully mentality
    4. the near economic serfdom that was and is worstchoices

    I suppose the electorate is going to step away from such a toxic party.

  25. Greensborough Growler


    The easy answer is that they are a rabble of self aggrandising wannabees with the collective political IQ of a pumpkin.

    The reality is they are not that bright!

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