One morning, back in April 2008 I was walking to the coffee shop with a couple friends from work to get our regular dosage of caffeine. My friends leant to the ALP side of life, and had been pretty ecstatic some 5 months earlier when Howard had been taken down. As we stood at the stop lights, one of the said apropos of nothing, “Geez I’m sick of Kevin Rudd”. I had to admit that I too was getting sick of his speeches and that I wished he was a bit more “left”, but I said that we knew what he was like when we voted for him – he was always a boring, fairly conservative leader, why should we expect anything else?
My friend didn’t care – she wanted him to be what she wanted him to be (some sort of mixture between Gough, Hawke and Keating) – and she stated and he was doomed to fail because he raised expectations too high (from memory this was around the time of the GroceryChoice and FuelWatch debates). I told her to look at the polls – he was incredibly popular, I said. I admitted I didn’t know why he was, but then I had never understood why Howard had been “popular”.
My friend said once Nelson was gone, Rudd would take a hit, because Turnbull was better. I laughed and said Turnbull wasn't as good as everyone thought he was. My friend, who by this time was quite rightly getting annoyed at my smug superiority on things political and also the long line at the coffee shop, said that she didn’t care what I said because Rudd “shits her to tears”.
I bet those on the left have had a number of such conversations with fellow lefty friends. Rudd has never been loved by the left, but he got rid of Howard, and he was popular and so we put up with him. Many would have preferred Julia, but when they looked at the polls they had to admit that the electorate liked Rudd – for whatever reason. And when he was super popular what could they do but lament that it seemed the electorate liked a right wing Labor leader.
Now his popularity has taken a massive hit, the knives are out and all those on the left who only liked him because he brought them victory (yeah, small thing that), and those on the right who hated him because he wasn’t left-wing enough for them and thus he is phony can be happy at his fate.
Which brings us to today’s polls. Two polls came out today. The one that got all the headlines was the Nielsen poll which had the LNP ahead 53% to 47%. The other poll was the Essential Report which had the ALP up 52% to 48%. In other words the two polls didn’t really agree – but the Nielson one came out in the morning and suggests the Libs will win the election and so naturally that was the one that got all the coverage.
The Nielson Poll however is the one most out of whack with the other polls. Last week’s Newspoll had the ALP up 51-49, the Morgan Poll was 52.5-47.5, and with today's Essential Poll of 52-48, you see are pretty obvious average of the ALP slightly ahead. But nonetheless the Nielson Poll isn’t completely “out there” especially as it showed a few things that all other polls are also showing:
- People don’t like Rudd
- People don’t like Abbott
- Some swinging voters are “parking their votes” with the Greens
Rudd’s dissatisfaction rating was 52%; Abbott’s was 51%. Both Rudd’s and Abbott’s satisfaction ratings were 41%. On Preferred PM, Rudd led 49% to 39% – Rudd’s support going down 4%, Abbott’s going up 1% (ie, nothing statistically), and a 3% increase in “Uncommitted”. So both are on the nose – Abbott always has been, but even two months ago, Rudd was still smelling like roses.
Now we can all sit around and argue why Rudd has got himself into this predicament. And what the hell, let’s do it (even though I already did it back in May). To give some ‘insight’, here’s The Australian finding a “swinging voter” on why he won’t vote for Rudd:
Mr Falzon said blunders by the government over its home insulation rollout, waste in the school rebuilding program and ditching emissions trading had culminated with the RSPT, costing Mr Rudd his vote. "This super tax, what another disaster," he said. "As someone who has superannuation and holds mining shares, just the statements he has been making (about the tax) have already had a negative effect."
Which if true means Rudd has lost the electorate because they believe everything written in The Australian (odd that The Australian was able to find such a voter…).
However, it does go to the whole message – what is the story Rudd is telling? My friend back in April 2008 didn’t like Rudd because he used twenty words instead on two, and because he just wasn’t “Labor” enough. But while he was trying to get the ETS through (regardless of how bad you may think it was) he was doing what people thought a “Labor” PM would do. Dumping it, and more damningly dumping it the way they did had people suddenly thinking the way those on the left of Labor had been thinking for the last three years – except they didn’t have the attachment to Labor. But they don’t like Abbott either… so where to go…? Well Newspoll and Nielsen say they go to the Greens.
And so we rake through the entrails of the polls and try and work out who are those new Greens voters. Who will they eventually go back to? (Because they will – the Greens are not like the Liberal Democrats in the UK, they are a one issue party, and one issue will not get you 16% of the vote – it may get them 10%, remember at the last election they only got 7.7%). Are they dissatisfied lefties? Are they wavering swinging voters who can’t stand Abbott (or don’t trust him), but are sick of Rudd being Rudd?
A bit of both I’d imagine, neither are fantastic for the ALP (you want them to stay “in-house”), but neither will they give Abbott the keys to the Lodge. Yeah oppositions don’t win elections; Governments lose them, but oppositions do need to come up with some wining aspects – if at the end of the day people aren’t sure about Abbott, they’ll opt for the devil they know.
And so talk of Julia taking over will continue. It’s all stupid to be honest. There is absolutely no way the ALP will dump a PM with the polls at worst having them marginally behind. For Julia to seriously be considered, the ALP would need to be down around 44-45% in Newspoll (yeah Nielsen gets coverage, but Newspoll is the one that moves things), and I can’t see that happening while Abbott is leader of the Libs. Also there is no proof yet that Julia would be preferred as PM to Rudd (unlike say Turnbull or Hockey over Abbott).
So what can Rudd do? To be honest, I’m not sure. He performed well in QT last week, but he needs to get rid of what were once quirky little things we kind of liked, but which now we hate: you know, the “can I just say” and “you know something…” and “on the question of…”. Like the traits of ex-lovers, what was once endearing is now annoying.
In reality, the election is a long way off in most people’s minds and the election campaign will be about many, many things, many, many of which are not good for the opposition – education, health, the economy (believe me, the Govt will run very hard on how the GFC has killed other economies, but not Australia – and Abbott is an economics dill so he won’t do well on that score).
But it also comes down to the narrative. The media has one (and remember they don’t like Rudd – he’s “angry”, rude” and worst of all, he doesn’t give them easy copy as does Abbott). What is Rudd’s narrative? Why are we voting for him again? What’s the story?
If I were heading Rudd’s office, apart from sacking anyone who has been advising him for the past 6 months, I’d be getting the story set – and I would make sure it isn’t told in platitudes. And I’d make sure it was proudly told.