The economy as a depreciating political asset

In late September, Newspoll asked its respondents: ‘John Howard or Kevin Rudd – who do you think is more capable of handling Australia’s economy?’. 48% thought the Prime Minister was more capable, while 33% thought the Opposition Leader.

The ACNielsen poll reported in yesterday’s Fairfax broadsheets used a different question to probe the same issue. They included an option saying ‘it makes very little difference which party is in power, economic performance would be the same’, and it was the most popular choice on 43%, with the Coalition regarded as the better manager by 40% of voters, and Labor by 12%.

That’s consistent with the increasing belief, as seen in the Australian Election Survey, that the government makes ‘not much difference’ to either general or household economic situations (I blogged on this in July; the full AES time series has been published here, but unfortunately in a generally very useful publication the ‘bad effect’ and ‘not much difference’ numbers have been transposed).

Though the Coalition is still well ahead of Labor on this indicator, it is not as strong as Newspoll would suggest. As more people come to believe that the economy is going well on autopilot, and Labor won’t try any Whitlam or Keating crash landings, the more the Coalition loses one of its clear policy strengths and the more likely people are to take a chance on Labor. It’s probably one factor explaining why, despite the best set of economic indicators in a generation, the Coalition faces the kind of wipeout normally reserved for goverments that have presided over serious economic downturns.