To whom does the mud stick?

Did any of the Brian Burke mud stick to Kevin Rudd? This morning’s polls suggest that the voters don’t entirely buy Rudd’s version of events. According to the SMH, reporting this morning’s ACNielsen poll:

53 per cent thinking he had been “partly truthful” in explaining himself, and 10 per cent feeling he had been “completely untruthful”. Twenty-four per cent thought he had been “completely truthful”. …

But the poll found 83 per cent of voters said their view of Mr Rudd was unaffected by the Burke affair.

Rudd’s approval rating was up 2 percentage points on the last ACNielsen poll a month ago, while his disapproval rating was up 4 percentage points. So perhaps the attack helped sway more of the previously uncommitted toward a negative view of the Opposition Leader. But did it hurt the PM even more? His approval rating was down 3 percentage points, and his disapproval rating up 5 percentage points. There is precedent for the mud sticking more to the person throwing it than the target. As I argued last November, NSW Opposition Leader Peter Debnam’s unsubstantiated attacks on Bob Debus pretty clearly backfired on Debnam.

The trouble with the attack on Rudd was that it was the kind of manufactured scandal on which the press gallery thrives, but which must leave the punters scratching or even shaking their heads. There was no allegation of any real wrong-doing, just guilt by association. It looked like we were seeing a panicked government as much as an Opposition Leader with poor judgment. The whole thing collapsed into farce with Ian Campbell’s resignation and the tenuous (in the extreme) connections made between his successor David Johnston and Burke, via his shares in companies which had dealings with Burke.

This is not to say that mud-slinging never works. But unless the evidence is good, there is a real chance that it will harm the slinger as much or more than the target.