A Galaxy Poll in November last year found that only 33% of NSW voters thought that, based on its recent performance, the ALP deserved to win the forthcoming NSW election, but that nevertheless on a two-party preferred basis 52% of them planned to vote for it (which turned out to be the final result as well).
A Galaxy Poll reported in last Saturday’s Herald Sun asked the same question about the Howard government. It found 44% of those surveyed believed that the Coalition deserved, on performance, to win the election. Despite a significantly higher performance rating than that of the Iemma government, Galaxy found the Coalition behind on the two-party preferred, with 47% support.
What explains why Iemma can win despite poor performance and Howard is likely to lose despite much better performance?
Another question asks whether the Oppostion, based on its recent performance, deserves to win. Only 19% of NSW voters though that the NSW Opposition’s performance deserved an election victory. Federally, 42% of Galaxy’s respondents think that the ALP deserves to win. An Opposition that passes the threshold of credibility as an alternative government makes a big difference.
NSW voters were forced to act defensively to prevent things getting even worse. When both parties are reasonably competent (or at least seen as reasonably competent) voters can afford to try something new. What we seem to be observing now is not so much a rejection of the Howard government’s performance as a preference for a fresher alternative.
This can be seen in several polls. In the Newspoll PM/Opposition Leader satisfaction series (pdf), Rudd hasn’t greatly dented Howard’s satisfaction rating. Compared to when Rudd took over as Labor leader, Howard’s satisfaction is slightly lower this week but was slightly higher last week. What’s changed is satisfaction with the Opposition Leader, more than doubling from 28% to 63%, which has led to Rudd having a 13 percentage point lead on the better PM question.
The ACNielsen poll last week found 61% agreement with the proposition that ‘Australia needs new leadership’ and another ACNielsen survey earlier this month found Rudd 10 percentage points ahead on a ‘better vision for Australia’ question.
Unfortunately for the Coalition, there is very little that can be done about this no-particular-reason mood for change among swinging voters, the kind of mood that sees Rudd’s leaders debate worm head upwards before he has said anything at all. Hammering away on the initial threshold issues, such as Labor’s economic competence and its union-dominated front bench, is probably the best strategy in the circumstances, but unlikely to be enough. The only cure for Ruddmania is likely to be a Rudd government, as inflated expectations fail to be met.