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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


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.


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43 thoughts on “How the mighty fell

  1. CarlC

    Honestly I think Gillard and the Labour party have done some real good stuff and their work with the NBN and GFC are really up there. What they don’t do is sell there message well enough and they let the opposition for want of a better word to dictate terms and Labour responds with knee jerk reactions. The hysteria about refugees is a prime example. Like others have said on here, promote the vision – the NBN will support the development of generations for example.

  2. CarlC

    Question: Did Labour dump Rudd because they were sure he was going to lose them so many seats in the populated states that they were a monty to lose the election?

  3. Astrobleme

    JamesK has problems with logic and persistently calls people liars, methinks he has nothing to offer.

  4. don

    Thanks very much for the uncertainty band, Poss. Much appreciated.

  5. Sausage Maker

    You can make the same argument for the Coalition destroying a bigger margin from 2004 to 2007. The electorate has become very volatile with the media amplifying negative narratives and mistakes to unseen levels. To a certain degree what Jon Stewart has been saying about American media is applicable to Australian media. The hyperbole and exaggeration of issues if just too commonplace now. Voters become hysterical about the federal government’s racking of debt of 6% of GDP and less than 20% of the actual budget. You’d think by the way talk back radio hacks like Ray Hadley talk about you’d think Australia is in the same boat as Ireland and Greece.

  6. hughb

    [I don’t seem to have made my point clear enough. Poss’ graph showed a clear slide in Rudd’s polls started prior to the ETS decision and prior to the boats issue being blown up in the media. My point is: what ELSE happened in September 2009? Labor need ot think about that.]

    The ALP’s poll figures had been sliding prior to Utegate but were then boosted when it became clear what a grubby little fabrication and beatup that was. However, if my memory serves, Utegate had largely blown over as a media issue by the middle of September.

    Was the downturn maybe not a response to events in September but simply a return to a trend that had been established several months earlier?

  7. quantize

    ronin8317, logic will get you nowhere with that clown..as he says himself

    ‘Misdirected frustration.’


  8. ronin8317

    To JamesK : I am not a lawyer, so I may be wrong. When the High Court rule that what occur does not comply with Article 16 of the Refugees Protocol. Below is an excerpt.

    Article 16
    access to courts
    1. A refugee shall have free access to the courts of law on the territory of all
    Contracting States.
    2. A refugee shall enjoy in the Contracting State in which he has his habitual
    residence the same treatment as a national in matters pertaining to access
    to the Courts, including legal assistance and exemption from cautio judicatum

    So if the immigration department decides that a person should not get a visa, they must be allowed to appeal the decision like an Australian citizen. I guess you can remove the right for Australian citizens to challenge the government in court as a solution.

  9. JamesK

    Er…. true….. ott.

    Misdirected frustration.

    My apologies to calyp and ronin.

  10. Possum Comitatus

    James, any chance we can tune down the aggro a little bit?

  11. 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?

  12. 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.

  13. jenauthor

    [What we need is Gillard to come out and STAND FOR SOMETHING POSITIVE! ]

    I don;t know where everyone else is, but I hear positive messages coming from the govt all the time (and that includes when Rudd was PM) — it is just that “STOP THE BOATS” “STOP THE BATTS” “STOP THE WASTE” is the thing that gets the run.

    Every show that has talk back guests (SKY ABC24 etc.) has coalition sympathetic guests at a rate of 3 to one — so the govt is reduced to trying to jump up and down above the crowd to get the good messages across. Since the govt stopped all the govt advertising, regular press conferences seems to be the only outlet.

    All that said — if JG’s performance in QT today is any indication, APEC and G20 has given her leadership credentials a strong boost in confidence.

  14. Socrates


    I don’t seem to have made my point clear enough. Poss’ graph showed a clear slide in Rudd’s polls started prior to the ETS decision and prior to the boats issue being blown up in the media. My point is: what ELSE happened in September 2009? Labor need ot think about that.

    I have always thought the whole refugee issue was actually trivial, and just badly handled in the media by a Labor Party anxious to look more right wing than Bob Katter, under the delusional belief that it was what most voters wanted. The polls showed that view was false. Rather than pander to these views, Rudd and Gillard should have been calling them for what they were: stupid paranoid views of right wing bigots. Answer with a positive: “I’m not a biggot”. All Labor have done is give the Greens seats, and sold out their own progressive credentials. Gough must cry at night.

  15. JamesK


    Why do you write:
    “After the recent High Court decision, both East Timor and Nauru are no longer viable options”?

    That categorically is not true. Both Scott Morrison and Chris Bowen have made that point.

    Did you just make that shit up and hope the majority don’t notice so that your point of view has the semblance of rationality?

    A policy of processing off-shore with no certainty of placement in Australia most definitely does make a huge difference to people willing to invest the $10,000 – $20,000 asking price of the people smugglers.

    Don’t talk nonsense.

  16. 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.

  17. Socrates

    That is my view too JP, but for those who choose to ignore that conclusion, there are still other lessons here as well.

  18. JP

    Socrates, while agreeing that the Labor campaign was awful, I think that the kicker was the leadership change.

    How the hell could Gillard run on Labor’s (impressive, as you say) record in the immediate aftermath of ditching the leader whose watch it happened on? You can’t simultaneously claim that Rudd navigated the GFC better than anyone in the world, and also that he had to go.

    I never liked Rudd, and would have preferred Gillard to replace Beazley, but as you say Labor did a superlative job of managing the GFC, and the factionally-driven shabbiness of the way they treated Rudd turned a lot of people off, especially in parochial Queensland.

  19. 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).

  20. Pollster

    [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.]

    Is that a reflection of Labor or more to do with a reflection of Government versus Opposition. Of course which ever party of in Government would be subjected to greater assessment then opposition. I think you will find that the same for any government/party that has incumbency. Governments are not voted into office they are voted out of office.

  21. JamesK

    Whaddya mean calyp?

    I just pointed out the agenda of the Coalition as expressed clearly and repetitively.

    It merely makes your your claim silly is all.

    Don’t blame me for pointing out what has been publicly enunciated repetitively just because you dislike it. i understand why you don’t like it. It’s sensible.

    Besides….I’m passionately passionless.

  22. calyptorhynchus

    James K

    “End the waste , Repay the debt, Stop the new taxes and Stop the boats”

    That sentence just marks you out as a complete idiot.

    But you are full of passionate intensity, I grant you that.

  23. jord953

    The main reason why the big swing against the ALP did so much damage was because the ALP had 83 out of 150 seats in their first term, hence, even a 2% swing to the Coalition made the ALP lose its majority. Compare that with the Coalition’s first term in government in 1996, where they ended up with a whopping 94 out of 148 seats and the ALP just 49 out of 148 seats. This meant that going into the 1998 election, the Coalition had a solid seat buffer. Even a 5% swing to the ALP and the Coalition would have survived easily, hence, if the ALP won perhaps about 85 to 88 seats in 2007 instead of 83 seats, they would have been returned in 2010 with their majority still intact.

  24. 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.

  25. heathadams

    Sorry, just how is Gillard planning to achieve a world class education system? As a teacher, I’m not remotely convinced she can achieve any better than what we’re already doing with any of her intiatives – either during her time as Education minister or now as PM.

  26. Rod Hagen

    [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.]

    Rubbish. Gillard has a very clear view of Australia from what I can see. In many ways it is similar to Hawke’s, minus some of the ego.

    She truly wants us to have a world class education system and excellent infrastructure again. As well as dealing with the other nasty legacies he left us, she also wants to reduce the divisiveness that the Howard years engendered by emphasising debate and discussion rather than playing things out through confrontation and knee jerk one liners with the devil take the hindmost.

    It is not a “short term, quick fix” sort of approach, but if she holds her nerve it will stand us in good stead.

  27. Chokyi Nyingpo

    Actually, DR i would prefer if ALL of them came out and stood for something positive!

  28. JamesK

    calyptorhynchus, the Coalition doesn’t stand for nothing. it stands for something(s), namely:

    End the waste , Repay the debt, Stop the new taxes and Stop the boats.

    Or sumsuch.

    I have another of the ever self-important W.B. for ‘ya:

    “All empty souls tend toward extreme opinions”

    He’s right.

    Well… left but right……

  29. David Richards

    What we need is Gillard to come out and STAND FOR SOMETHING POSITIVE! Rediscover the ALP’s egalitarian and social justice heart – do something about housing, public housing or some means of making rents and house prices more affordable.

  30. To Speak of Pebbles

    The Cult of Rudd should be advised that the drop certainly happened before the leadership change. Had Rudd not backed down on everything in early 2010, Labor would not have been in its position in June. Not saying things were better under Gillard, but we can’t pretend everything was golden until mean old wabor toppled St. Kevin.

    Some proactive leadership and being on the front foot should turn Labor’s fortunes around. Being worried not to offend anyone in the next three years will give us a Coalition government.

  31. calyptorhynchus

    We certainly seem to be in an extraordinary situation. Both the Government and Opposition seem to stand for nothing and to be doing nothing except scoring own goals with regularity.

    I’m reminded of Yeats:

    “The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity…”

  32. 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.

  33. Quota Quokka

    How much of it has to do with the GFC? I do not think you could claim the vote moved to the Greens. It didn’t.

  34. JamesK

    My tuppence worth:

    The tax hike on cigs had bipartisan support.

    It was suggested by Turnbull in his response to the budget speech.

    I don’t think dumping the ETS per se was bad politics.

    It was the incongruity of that with his jump the shark rhetoric on climate change pre Copenhagen which made Bob Brown seem ….well…… brown in contrast.

    Good article by Graham Richardson largely in agreement with Poss in today’s Oz

  35. harrybelbarry

    That 1 DOT on a chart could be made to look like falling trend by Bolt and then passed on to Hockey.

  36. JamesH

    I seem to recall some discussion that the tax hike on cigs had a large effect. It does look like there was a bit of a freefall in the polls in april/may 2010.

  37. Possum Comitatus

    No particular reason – they all show the same thing

  38. Andos

    So the metric here is Newspoll’s “are you satisfied with the PM’s performance”. Any reason you didn’t use net satisfaction (i.e. satisfied – dissatisfied)?

  39. ronin8317

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

    If the mining tax was set at the same rate as the Petroleum Resource tax instead of the ‘40%’, Kevin Rudd would still be Prime Minister today.

    In contrast to the Liberal under John Howard, the ALP party machine never liked Kevin Rudd. In response, Rudd did his utmost to claim as much power as possible, and have a genuine distrust of anyone who is not within his inner circle. The ‘fake’ budget meeting with Lindsay Tanner is an example. No leader is able to make sound decisions when he is in terror of being stabbed in the back.

    I have no idea what went wrong with the ALP’s media machine, but even a layman like myself could have done a better job. Let’s take the issue with insulation fire as an example. The Government could have defused the whole issue by pointing to a report saying how much money is SAVED from better insulation. Yes, it’s cynical, however the general population is told they’re saving money from electricity bill, they will forgive a few deaths along the way.

    Of course, that report could also shows insulation was a total waste of money and it didn’t save any energy use. Then it’s a real scandal.

  40. Possum Comitatus

    Thanks Andos – it was just me being a goose. I built that chart from a Better PM vs TPP vote template I had and…er… forgot to change the legend 😮

  41. Andos

    Scott: On the last chart, the legend tells us the red line is Better Prime Minister, but the body text and axis label say PM satisfaction.

    I’m familiar with the preferred Prime Minister measure, and the satisfied/dissatisfied measure… which have you used here? It’s kind of ambiguous.

  42. Tweets that mention How the mighty fell – Pollytics -- Topsy.com

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