What a public opinion difference one word can make

Between mid-1997, when Newspoll first asked its respondents about whether the ‘stolen children’ should receive an apology, and a Galaxy/GetUp poll in early February 2008 on whether its respondents agreed with the goverment’s decision to say sorry to the ‘stolen generation’, public opinion moved only 5%, from 50% in favour of the apology in June 1997, to 55% over 1-3 February 2008.

Ten days later, on 13 February, Kevin Rudd said sorry in Parliament. Over 15-17 February, Galaxy/GetUp! polled again, with exactly the same question. The proportion in favour had shot up 13% to 68%, with ‘strongly agree’ up 10% and ‘somewhat agree’ up 3%. A Newspoll published in The Australian came to almost exactly the same conclusion, with 69% in favour of the apology.

That’s a pretty remarkable shift I think, though it seems that it was almost entirely Labor voters who changed their minds. Between the 1997 Newspoll and the 2008 Newspoll the proportion of Coalition supporters backing an apology went from 44% to 46%, while the proportion of Labor supporters in favour went from 61% to 85%. This was the problem faced by the hapless Dr Nelson. John Howard had turned this issue into one that was more partisan than it should have been, and far more politically important than it should have been.

But it seems that the Coalition would be on stronger ground resisting compensation. Another Newspoll question asked about that, and found just 30% in favour. 56% of Labor supporters are against compensation. They are sorry, but not that sorry.