Scott Steel at Pollytics blog does lots of good work crunching the pollsters’ numbers, and there is another interesting post today on the relationship between PM and Opposition Leader satisfaction and support for their respective parties. It’s worth reading in full, but the key findings include:
* the PM’s satisfaction rating has a much stronger relationship to the PM’s vote than does the Leader of the Oppositions satisfaction rating to their primary vote;
* PM satisfaction historically explains just over 50% of the variation of the Opposition’s primary vote – as the PM gains higher levels of satisfaction, the Oppositions primary vote starts dropping;
* the satisfaction rating of the Opposition [leader] has a pretty weak relationship to the government primary vote, explaining only 8% of the variation in the last 23 years worth of data.
On polling history,
Turnbull – like nearly all Opposition Leaders before him – is effectively a slave to the Prime Ministers own personal standing with the electorate.
This analysis seems right to me. But I am not at all sure that his conclusion about Turnbull’s leadership is the right one:
To be in with a chance of winning the election, Turnbull needs to bring Rudd’s net satisfaction level down into the negatives, about minus 10 – which, as it so happens, is about where Turnbull’s current net satisfaction rating sits.
But while doing that, he also needs to improve his own satisfaction level while reducing his dissatisfaction level. Can he achieve that through the constant negative harping that’s become a hallmark of his leadership so far?
All it’s achieved so far is to drive his own approvals into the ground without affecting Rudd’s approvals at all – it’s time for Turnbull to try something different. If he doesn’t, he will likely go down in history as the man that took the conservatives to their largest ever defeat.
Unlike Scott, I think there is strategy in this ‘constant negative harping’. Oppositions cannot do more than a modest amount to shift the political cycle, which at the current time very strongly favours Rudd. But they can position themselves to take advantage of that shift when it happens, by identifying its likely major causes and persistently criticising the government’s stance so that it is very clear who is to blame when things do go wrong. Plausible alternative policies reinforce the contrast with the government and establish Oppositions as credible alternatives.
I’m not suggesting that the Turnbull Opposition has such an alternative strategy fully in place. But I think there is an assessment in the Opposition that despite Rudd’s current popularity the government is in fact engaging in high-risk policymaking, and that this is the most obvious opening for the Opposition over the medium term. Labor could be seen as recession saviours, but there are several areas (only in year 2) that could turn very sour over the next 5 years:
* massive deficits that will financially cripple the Rudd government for the rest of its term and damage the economy
* an ETS that will exacerbate an already dire employment situation
* a national broadband system that will be an over-priced white elephant
* a workplace relations system that will drive up unemployment and increase union misbehaviour
* an ‘education revolution’ that will consume billions of dollars for little return
I’m not saying all these things will happen, but they are the risks embedded in current policy.
Simply agreeing with what the government is doing will get the Opposition minimal current credit with the electorate in the short term at the price of a clear long-term message about the Liberal alternative. There is a difference between what Liberal state oppositions have done, which is just ‘constant negative harping’ without a real theme or sense of an alternative, and a strategy which goes against the current mood to establish a message that could resonate at a later time.