As we leave Budget week behind us for another year, two polls – by Newspoll and Nielsen - came out to see if there was any budget bounce. Actually there is no such thing as a budget bounce, and probably the only person left around who believes in it is Peter Costello who is still waiting for the bounce from the 2007 Budget to arrive.
The polls – regardless of whether or not there was a budget – were pretty dire for the ALP. Newspoll had the ALP at 46 to the LNP 54, the Nielsen was worse – 44-56.
The big news was though the disapproval ratings of the PM – in Newspoll her approval rating went up 6 points and her disapproval rating went down 4 – giving her a net satisfaction rating of minus 21! Abbott meanwhile was sitting on a relatively fun net satisfaction rating of minus 13.
Geez people hate the leaders at the moment.
The budget was also given a run by Newspoll, and not surprisingly it didn't go down well. The ALP rather intriguingly thought the best way to deal with Budget week was to start it by talking about asylum seekers (never the ALPs biggest seller) and to end it by talking about Tony Abbott. In between we had the idiocy from the media of $150,000 non-rich people whining about it not being fair they don’t get welfare, and Gerry Harvey saying he could install set-top boxes for less than the Govt says it will cost – although I’ve yet to hear if Harvey has responded to Stephen Conroy’s call for Harvey to put in a tender if he thinks he can do it for less.
On the issue of set-top boxes, Tony Abbott is taking the rather interesting approach of criticising it at every opportunity but not saying whether or not he will vote against the measure. Take this on AM this morning:
TONY ABBOTT: Well, the trouble with the budget is that it was tough on families but it wasn't tough on waste and that is the problem. I mean, this is a government which never seems to learn. I mean the set top box issue, I mean why should the Government be paying $350 to do something which the private sector will do for $168? Why should the Government be sending people into pensioners' homes to do a bad job at a high price?
ALEXANDRA KIRK: Well on that issue will you oppose that measure?
TONY ABBOTT: Well, again what I've said Alex on all of the various budget items is that our position will be clear when they come into the Parliament but we are not going to run a, you know, will you do this and will and will you do that just to suit the convenience of the Labor Party.
Huh? He cites it as a prime example of waste, and yet won’t say if he will block it? Talk about boldness of leadership!
Perhaps his lack of clarity on this issue is because he realises that his argument that the private sector doing something more efficiently than a Government tender is the exact opposite of his reasoning for why he is against an ETS and is in favour of “direct action”….
So given all that it’s not surprising that the Budget did not perform well – only 37 per cent in Newspoll said they thought it was good for the economy, compared to 32 per cent who thought it would be bad (not a terrible result, but not great historically). The thing with such polls however is while it might be nice to say it’s all the fault of Gerry Harvey, or Wayne Swan’s poor salesmanship, a look at the same question on budgets going back to 2006 shows that people’s thoughts on whether or not a budget is good for the economy is very strongly linked to whether or not they think it was good for themselves personally.
The correlation between the two is pretty strong.
If we look at the opposite view – ie whether the economy has been bad for you personally and bad for the economy we see much the same thing:
They are pretty well lock step together except for 2008 where people thought the budget was not as bad for the economy as it was bad for themselves (32% to 23%) and again this year where 41% thought it bad for themselves, but only 32% thought it bad for the economy.
And so we really shouldn’t get too caught up in one-off polls – people not surprisingly have a tendency to see themselves as the centre of the economy, and fair enough – you’d have to be pretty bloody altruistic, for example, to think losing your own job is good for the economy – though you may be more inclined to think that getting money is bad for the economy (but you’ll take it anyway).
But, yes, the polls were bad for Julia Gillard – killing-zone bad in fact, were it not for the fact that there is not going to be a change of leadership because any change of leadership would mean the end of the minority Government and a slaughtering at the polls. The ALP know the polls are bad, Laura Tingle in her column on Friday wrote:
…. the two important things to know about Julia Gillard's government this week are that it has boxed clever enough in framing a budget to offer no obvious grounds for a parliamentary defeat, and that everyone from MPs to senior cabinet ministers are working on the pragmatic assumption that they will lose the next election, whenever it is called.
So the polls are bad, but because of the minority Government, polls are actually less relevant than they have been for a very long time – at least since Rudd took over from Beazley. Sure backbenchers will be nervous (though show me any Government backbencher in any Government who isn’t nervous and I’ll show you one without a pulse), but life goes on – and that means at least two more budgets yet before the next election, and lots of policy – Carbon Tax and Mining Tax among them – to go.
Gillard is trying to run this line in her speech today at the Australian Agenda UBS Lunch in Sydney, she ended on this note:
As we move into the conversation stage of today, I do want to conclude by reinforcing the need to reform conversations. As Prime Minister, I lead a Government committed to reform and we, day after day, work as consultatively as we can to put together those reforms. Ultimately we will lead, and we have done, by the budget, having collected views across the business community and beyond as to how the budget should be shaped.
But reform leadership requires not just the Government to be out there as a proponent of the reform conversation. It requires all elements of our community to be in the reform conversation. We are a nation, I believe, with not a day to waste, not a day to waste in some of the more frivolous conversations that beset our national life. We need to make sure we are having a deep reform conversation about the changes our nation needs now, as we move into this history-making period of economic growth.
So, my challenge to you, to the nation more generally, is to be in that reform conversation. There are inevitably many issues that are intriguing in the moment, but we’ve got to look beyond those issues that are intriguing in the moment and work through those things that are truly momentous together.
Hmm “look beyond those issues which are intriguing at the moment”? Good luck with that – especially on a day that Newspoll and Nielsen came out.
In his Quarterly Essay, George Megalogenis wrote of the polls:
“Newspaper opinion polls – Newspoll, ACNielsen, Galaxy – have becomes the cheapest form of content for a political reporter.
The Australian no longer just publishes a report of the fortnightly poll and an accompanying analysis. The results are cross-referenced in all sorts of stories. Every other media organisation covers Newspoll as well…
We have poll driven columnists tut-tutting at poll-driven politicians. Polls create a false sense of precision in what is an imperfect science
So was he on the money?
Well this morning Julia Gillard gave a doorstop press conference where she talked about the $3 billion skills package that was announced in the Budget – it was a key plank of the Budget, and central to Gillard’s outlook on economic policy. Let’s check in and see what questions were asked:
PM: I’m very happy to take any questions.
There’s her first mistake
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, have you been satisfied with the way the Government is selling the Budget?
OK. Not sure what the journalist expects her to say – maybe she thinks Gillard will say “No, Swan has been lousy”. Wasted question there.
JOURNALIST: But do you think that message has penetrated? I mean, is it getting a fair go, in terms of reception?
The reception? You mean the media coverage of it – unless you think most people receive the budget by actually watching it?
JOURNALIST: Are you frustrated with the Government seemingly just can’t take a trick in terms various initiatives, like the Budget, like the Malaysian (inaudible)? Are you getting frustrated with the reception of all these?
So you want the PM to talk about the media coverage? Look at moi! Please tell us off!
JOURNALIST: And yet day after day they’re seemingly being rejected. At least, that’s how the headlines would have it, and that’s how today’s poll results would have it as well.
Ah the headlines. Ah the polls. More “talk about we the media.” I would criticise this question, except, well as you can see it is not actually a question. So I think we should just take it as a statement.
JOURNALIST: Based on that poll result, though, can you claw this back in terms of your own popularity as Prime Minister? (inaudible) past the point of no return?
The poll! Please PM, talk about the poll – we the media pay a lot of money for those polls, we need to drag out the story as long as we can. We need your answers to focus on the polls so we can say you are focussed on the polls.
JOURNALIST: What does this say about your personal approval rating dropping today? Is that a reflection on the work you’ve done on the Budget?
I’m not sure if you heard – there was a poll out today. Buy the way, you know how many people in the real world it affected? Yep. That’d be zero. $3 billion in training, however, that might affect real people – or it might not. It would be nice if a journalist tried to pry open the policy and see what lies within. It may be awful, it may be great. Patricia Karvelas for The Oz is writing a lot about Work for the dole, why not read her article and come up with some questions?. The Budget was announced almost week ago so you think they’d have a few questions on it…
Question of the day
JOURNALIST: Do you think you need to change tack in how you communicate that to the people, and to stop them, you know, the Coalition, gaining momentum in the polls?
Remember this key fact if you want to get ahead in political journalism – polls are the important thing in life – they put bread on the table (well on the table of media organisations at any rate).
JOURNALIST: Well, aren’t the polls a representation that you’re not getting the job done, if you’re losing favour with them?
The polls are life. All around their margins is the gulf.
Let’s remind ourselves of something else Megalogenis wrote: “Newspoll has created a self-fulfilling cycle of anticipation, interpretation, rejection and impatience for the next instalment”. Now sure, politicians seem to live poll to poll, but don’t for a moment think journalists just follow like sheep – we see here the lazy desire of journalists to just ask about polls so they can then write about polls.
JOURNALIST: (inaudible) a number of Labor backbenchers who are feeling uneasy about how Labor is faring in the polls. Are you feeling under threat?
Ahh the backbenchers – guess this question explains this story. The backbenchers of course are all off the record. I guess it is only in the national interest to know just that there are worried backbenchers, and not to know which ones are undermining Gillard by talking out of school with journos?
JOURNALIST: Why do you think people are so unhappy with things as they are at the moment? (inaudible) good things about the Budget?
The frustration for these poor hacks must be rising here – there have been 10 questions about how the Government is travelling in the polls and she refuses to be obsessed about the polls. Time to change tack.
JOURNALIST: Two significant wage claims are being decided upon today. What does that mean for the costs of government and business if they do go that way?
Hurrah! Finally we get to a question on an issue affecting real people.
Fair Work Australia were to hand down a decision in which about 200,000 community and disability workers employed by the non-government sector are asking for a 25 per cent pay increase (yeah non-Govt community and disabled workers – not exactly a group synonymous with well to do. In fact doing it bloody tough would be most people's thought’s I’d wager).
The big issue they were arguing was that because the workforce was 87 per cent women they were being paid less because they were women.
Fair Work Australia found that they were right:
SAMANTHA DONOVAN: Fair Work Australia has found that the work of about 200,000 people like Jaina Devlin is undervalued. Eight-seven per cent of them are women. And the tribunal found that their gender is largely the reason they've been underpaid.
The question now is how much of a pay rise will fix the undervaluation.
It was good that one journalist thought it worth asking about.
JOURNALIST: Do you think there’ll be uncertainty surrounding Australia’s borders and your move with Malaysia may be having an effect on how people are feeling at the moment?
OK, asking about the Malaysian asylum seeker deal good – but for God’s sake not how people feel about it. How about ask her about the Malaysian asylum seeker deal, because geez if you can’t think of a question that may have the PM jumping around uneasily on that, you might as well give up being a journalist right now. Like – how for example will she be able to guarantee that the asylum seekers sent to Malaysia won’t be abused? Sure the UNHCR is involved, but what will the Government do to ensure the Malaysian Govt isn’t just treating them with lip service?
No? I guess time to move on to the big issue of the day
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, yesterday a Brisbane man died in a new craze called planking. What’s your message to people who are thinking of taking part in these kind of planks?
OK, here is how the PM answered this:
PM: Well, I guess there’s a difference between a harmless bit of fun done somewhere that’s done really safe and taking a risk with your life. This is a really tragic thing - there’d be a family that’s just devastated today – a really tragic thing. So, my message would be everybody likes a bit of fun, but focus has to be on keeping yourself safe first.
She gave a brief response – didn't overegg it. Acknowledged that a family is grieving and said a fairly standard message about playing safe.
Here’s how it got reported:
Julia Gillard joins warnings against the craze of 'planking'
Oz PM Calls For End To Planking After Death
Planking death prompts Australian prime minister's call for safety
PM appeals against dangerous planking craze
And two of those were from UK news websites!
Ah well enough of this, let’s get down to why we’re all here:
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister (inaudible) reports over the weekend, may you be attending your own wedding (inaudible)