Certainly those at The Australian newspaper do. After all, they own Newspoll, and say they understand it better than anyone. But there’s more – they value it as a heavy political weapon with which they flail this nation’s Prime Minister even when the poll shows only a modest decline in his popularity or his party’s polling, or even if his opponent has gained some ground, or even if the poll figures haven’t changed – then he is not making headway.
Does anyone else care? Yes, political journalists, and not just those at News Limited, find excitement at any hint of an adverse movement. It gives them an eagerly seized opportunity to critically analyse the meaning of the movements and the reasons behind them. For this it seems they require little knowledge of statistics as evidenced by some of their innumerate and illogical conclusions. Fortunately we have competent statisticians such as Possum on Pollytics who can put us straight. Apart from their statistical analysis though, it’s their notion of what the stats mean that gives them free rein to put whatever interpretation on them they wish – in Alice in Wonderland style, ‘stats can mean whatever they want them to mean’. Dennis Shanahan, The Australian’s commentator-in-chief on Newspoll, has a well earned a reputation for that.
Of course, as far as News Limited is concerned, no other poll can hold a candle to Newspoll. Although their outlets will publish Nielsen poll results and its other favoured pollsters – Galaxy and Westpoll – so long as the results are adverse to the Government, it is rare for any News Limited outlet to mention Morgan polls, which have been around for much longer than the others, and the newer poll, Essential Media. They get a guernsey only when their results are bad for Kevin Rudd and the Government.
But Newspoll is now being used in another way – as an anti-Rudd warhead to prospectively strike at him. Take a look at what Peter van Onselen had to say in The Australian on June 14 in Rudd has a week to shape up: “Next week opens with another Newspoll and its findings - Labor's primary vote as well as the Prime Minister's personal ratings - will determine whether passive concern about Rudd's performance turns into active lobbying for Gillard to take over. So far, the powerbrokers are unmoved, but they will closely watch Newspoll before re-evaluating their positions.” He concludes confidently: “Although Rudd does have options to remain master of his own destiny, he must face up to the disempowering reality that his survival until the next election is largely out of his hands. Rudd's future is beholden to the decision his deputy makes, and the way the polls fall. That is a far cry from the all-conquering hero who beat Australia's second-longest-serving prime minister less than three years ago.” Note the phrase ‘the way the polls fall’. Don’t be taken in though, Vex News puts paid to van Onselen’s predictive brilliance in Peter van Onselen: political scientist or quack. Read it for a sobering laugh.
Dennis Shanahan makes this comment on June 12 in The Australian in Change in the air as Labor thinks defeat: “Rudd is not the only Labor MP contemplating a first-term loss. The polling universally has Labor's primary vote in the 30s and desperately relying on an unrealistically high Greens vote of 16 per cent to deliver enough second preferences to ward off defeat. There is ample polling to suggest Labor could lose enough marginal seats in Queensland alone to lose the election.” and “Another Labor MP summed up the Newspoll surveys in nine Labor-held marginal seats in the resources states of Western Australia, Queensland and South Australia, showing a 26 per cent shift in the way people were likely to vote at the next election: ‘Those numbers give Rudd about a month as leader…before he's replaced’."
In both these instances Newspoll is quite extravagantly being given stature it cannot deserve.
The problem Labor has is that News Limited, and indeed journalists generally, have elevated opinion polls, and particularly Newspoll, to the status of reliable predictors of political outcomes, despite the fact that their predictive consistency is questionable. So they dwell breathlessly on each new Newspoll and immediately make judgements about what it means for the Government. All other factors, such as past accomplishments, current policy initiatives and plans for the nation, have been relegated to insignificance against the power of Newspoll.
So what should we, who have no vested interest in Newspoll, react when it arrives? How much credence should we give it? How much predictive power should we attribute to it? In my opinion, we should ignore it. It's just another opinion poll. That is easier said than done, as we know those who have a vested interest in it will ascribe great significance to it.
What should we expect it to say? Given the Nielsen poll of last week where Labor was well behind, and the modest leads Labor has in the latest Morgan and Essential Media polls, can we expect the next Newspoll to be significantly different? No. So let’s not get exercised if it looks much like the current run of polls. Don’t be put off by the van Onselen assertion that the next Newspoll will have profound implications for Rudd’s future. Knowing that there is unlikely to be any great improvement in Rudd’s or Labor’s ratings by next week, he is setting the scene for another article – ‘Rudd makes no headway’ ‘Labor bogged down with record low primary vote’, or ‘Rudd continues to slide’; certainly not ‘Rudd rebounds’. We can see it coming Peter and know you will use it to polish your guru status. Remember though that you’ll have plenty of competition for top guru position from Dennis Shanahan, Glenn Milne, Andrew Bolt and a bevy of like-minded writers.
It is plain as a pikestaff that there is in progress a slow but unremitting political assassination of this nation’s leader by large sections of the media – the Murdoch media, the Murdoch influenced ABC, by some independent journalists, and by a horde of venomous anti-Rudd bloggers who inhabit sites such as those run by Andrew Bolt, Piers Akerman, Glenn Milne and the like. Even moderate journalists attract the same vitriol to their own sites. The level of antagonism, hatred and malevolence is frightening. They are determined that Rudd must be defeated, and Labor defeated with him and exiled to the opposition benches for a decade. One has only to look at the daily media to see this in abundance. On Gutter Trash, reb asks: Is The Australian running The Country? and cites some evidence that it thinks it is or believes it ought to be.
For a man who has enjoyed record levels of popularity ever since he became Opposition Leader, why has there been this dramatic turn around? Most observers attribute this largely to Rudd’s deferral of the ETS until the end of the current Kyoto agreement that expires at the end of 2012. Others believe his suspension of processing of Afghan and Sri Lankan refugees has been a factor. Those are plausible explanations for the loss of support of a group of Labor voters who hold those actions as reprehensible and who have fled to the Greens. In a May 10 piece: The folly of putting a politician on a pedestal I suggested that high, sometimes unrealistic expectations have been placed on our leader and that when circumstances result in these expectations not being fulfilled, understandably there is bitter disappointment. But this doesn’t explain the extreme venom, hatred and ridicule that is being heaped on Rudd’s head. Disappointment, even disillusionment is understandable, not hatred and loathing. I believe there is an entirely different reason for this.
Those who exhibit these unpleasant attributes will quote as justification for their position what they see as Labor’s many failings – insulation and BER problems plus a long list of misdemeanours that they have collected as boilerplate to trot out on every occasion. But there’s more to it than that. Misdemeanours, even incompetence, do not warrant hatred and loathing. These wholly unworthy attitudes do not result from mistakes no matter how grievous they are painted to be.
I believe they result from Kevin Rudd’s refusal to comply with the media’s narrative that a leader, while entitled to a brief honeymoon, is definitely not entitled to a prolonged one, one that goes on at near stratospheric levels for almost three years. Repeated predictions from the likes of Dennis Shanahan, Glenn Milne, Piers Akerman and Andrew Bolt that the Rudd honeymoon was over, or almost over, or about soon to be over came to nothing for three long years. Rudd orbited high above them, defying their predictions and showing scant respect for their judgements, for them as journalists, and for their media outlets. He incurred their intense wrath for showing them to be repeatedly wrong, and for showing well-earned disdain for them, their editors and their papers. There are few situations that evoke as much anger, even loathing, as being shown to be wrong again and again, and being treated with contempt in the process. Now that the honeymoon has at long last come to an end, revenge is what they want. They want to rub the nose of this loathsome Rudd in the dirt and keep doing so until they smother him politically or until their desire for retribution is satiated, whichever is sooner. They show no sign of relenting. They are going in for the kill – they must, for should Rudd rise phoenix-like once more, should he defy their predictions of and desire for his political annihilation, that would be a supreme affront to them. It would heighten their anger and frustration and intensify their loathing. Life would be intolerable. So it is a fight to the death. Someone has to lose. Fearful it may be them, they are determined it will be Rudd and Labor.
To return to “Who cares about the next Newspoll?”, we know who does, who desperately want it to be poor for Rudd and Labor, who want it to confirm the narrative they are creating of a decaying, incompetent, useless, do nothing Government with a hopeless leader that must be removed for the sake of the country; but most of all they want at long last to enjoy the retaliation and the vengeance they have for so long waited.
Let’s not be sucked into the vortex they are creating. Let’s not expect much from the next Newspoll, and let’s anticipate a continuation of trenchant criticism and prophesies of doom and gloom for Rudd and Labor from the usual suspects.
But let’s rise above the clamour and look to the future when the RSPT is settled, the election campaign is under way, the Government’s achievements and plans are there for all to see, Tony Abbott’s policies are on display and his extreme views exposed, and well prepared ads are appearing to inform the electorate. To use expressions journalists so enjoy, let’s wait for that ‘circuit breaker’ which will change the ambience, give some ‘clear air’, provide some ‘oxygen’ and set a path for the re-election of the Rudd Government that has still much to accomplish in reforming and rejuvenating our nation that was let down during the Howard years when the reforms in health, education, industrial relations, infrastructure and tax that were needed for the growth and prosperity of our country, were ignored.
What do you think?