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Essential Report

Feb 17, 2009

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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.

3%.

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.

UPDATE:

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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