Just how crazy is the Rudd challenge?

The Labor Party’s capacity to talk itself into a crisis is quite amazing. Here they are, tracking reasonably well in the polls, and what do they decide to do? Yes, have a leadership spill. Though there have been rumblings of discontent over low satisfaction ratings for Kim Beazley, the trigger seems to have been a Newspoll (not on their site yet) published in The Australian on Tuesday which found 52% support for a Kevin Rudd/Julia Gillard team, compared to 27% for the current Kim Beazley/Jenny Macklin team.

But political parties should be very careful of polls like this. There is a very loose relationship between leadership polls and the vote. Howard was behind Keating as preferred PM just prior to Keating’s landslide loss. And there is no guarantee that a new leader will deliver support.

Back at Catallaxy, I noted that a Morgan Poll around the time of the last Labor leadership change suggested that Labor’s suport would improve by 9.5%, when in fact there was no change. And if we look at the table in The Australian, Rudd has barely improved his standing in the electorate since the Latham changeover – up 4 percentage points to 28%, 1 ahead of Gillard and 4 ahead of Beazley. The masses aren’t exactly calling for Rudd to take over.

Perhaps this is because they don’t yet know him very well. But there is no guarantee that they will approve of him more when they do. He’s brighter than Beazley – this is a man who confuses Michael Oakeshott rather than Karl Rove with someone else – but he is less likeable. As a fellow nerd, I have tried hard to like Rudd, but the most positive feeling I can muster is respect for his intellect – and even that has taken a battering with his recent weak arguments on ‘market fundamentalism’ etc. He’s going to remind everyone of that annoying smartarse in school who was first to answer all the teacher’s questions.

Whoever wins, I reckon John Howard has an early Xmas present. Rudd wouldn’t challenge if he didn’t think he had a reasonable chance, so even if Beazley hangs on we’ll all know that even much his own party doesn’t think he is fit to be PM. If Rudd wins, the ALP will have as leader a man without the common touch.