Why is our PM so popular?

Another Newspoll today, the Essential Research Report yesterday, Morgan last Friday and ACNielsen last Monday, all give the same message – the Rudd Government is very popular and the PM enjoys high approval and high preferred PM ratings.  Today’s Newspoll has the 2PP back at the February levels of 58/42.  Satisfaction with Kevin Rudd is 68% and dissatisfaction 21%, a positive gap of 47 percentage points.  He is the preferred PM by 67 to 18, a 49 point gap.  All these are the best figures for this year and close to the best ever.  Essential Research, which uses a methodology different from the others, has 2PP at the improbable level of 63/37 two weeks in a row.  Morgan has the figure at 61/39.and ACNielsen at 58/42 with PPM at 69/24 and Rudd satisfaction/dissatisfaction at 74/22.  All these are remarkably consistent, albeit with a few quite stratospheric 2PP levels.  Possum’s Pollytrack aggregate figures are around 60/40, and Pollytrend is steadily edging up in Labor’s favour.  [more]

Even the most sceptical, even the most rabid Government opponents, cannot deny the figures and the trend.  So they take refuge in the touching belief that the people polled are sleepwalking, blind to the gross incompetence of the Government and the fatal flaws in its leader.  They await the great awakening when the scales will fall from the people’s eyes, when they will realize what an awful mistake they have made, and restore the Coalition to its rightful place at the seat of power.

Now we all know that such high ratings cannot continue indefinitely, if they did until election day the Coalition would be reduced to just a handful of seats.  That won’t happen.  We know that, especially in the midst of an economic crisis, governments have to take unpopular decisions that will alienate some of the voters, and are bound to make moves that will upset others. In the upcoming budget, it is likely that some middle class welfare will be pared back and the tax benefits that benefit the wealthy curtailed.  Taking benefits away upsets people.  There is likely to be union unrest as union power is restricted by the new IR legislation, and businessmen may react adversely.  The ABCC is still a bone of union contention.  The introduction of the CPRS during these times of financial distress will infuriate many.  As unemployment rises, with some out of work for long periods, anger will be fermented and it will be the Government that will inevitably be the target of that anger.  Decisions about foreign investment, especially China’s bid for mineral resources, will upset some.  Today’s Newspoll shows that by almost two to one voters oppose such investment.  So the Government and Rudd himself may need the high base of support they now enjoy as a counter to the erosion of support that seems inevitable over time.

Commentators continue to express amazement that the Government’s popularity has remained so high for so long.  Why is this so?

At the most simplistic level, those polled seem to regard Rudd as a decent fellow, one who can mix with all sectors of society and still associate easily with international leaders.  Despite journalistic jibes about his manner of speaking during interviews, he seems to be able to connect comfortably with the man in the street, who seem to believe in him. As one journalist put it, the working man at the bar with sweaty armpits finds Rudd congenial, even if he doesn’t always cotton on to what he’s saying.  We’ve seen him on Channel Seven’s Sunrise, other once-off Channel Seven programmes, Channel Ten’s Rove Live, on ABC TV’s Q&A, and at community forums such the recent one in Casey the day after his return from the G20 where he discussed mortgage stress and unemployment and seemed in no hurry to leave.  People relate easily to him.  They see him as ‘a regular guy’.  Even his slip-ups tend to be overlooked as simply the mistakes of an ordinary man.  Perversely they seem to endear him to much of the public.

Next, I suspect the public admire his work ethic, even those who would not want to work that way.  They see him as someone with a big programme of things he wants to do, and the energy and determination to do them quickly. 

The frenetic programme of Government activity too must appeal to those who like to see things getting done.  There were 350 items posted on the ALP website during March, mostly media statements that announce Government initiatives; that’s over ten per day.  Take a look at ‘Government Watch Mar’ on The Political Sword for the full list.  Check out a few.  The ‘all talk, no action’, ‘all spin no substance’ mantras seem to have died a natural death, mantras hard to sustain in the face of such feverish activity.  Even today the Government announced its massive new broadband proposal.

The people also seem to have the view that Rudd is doing his best to protect us from the GFC.  To date they do not blame him for it; to the contrary they see his Government actively countering its effects.  They see him as doing a good job – the polls speak that in volumes.

Some admire his international activity and the influence he seems to have.  His recent performance in the US and the intensity of his advocacy in London for the G20 goals, have attracted wide support, even from those not usually willing to give praise.

In summary, people like Rudd, relate to him easily, appreciate his hard work and what he is trying to do for the country, and his impressive international influence despite Australia being a middle-order nation.

Yet all this popularity has been sustained in the face of Coalition attacks at every turn, and unrelenting assaults by some sections of the media that try to cut him down to size.  The Coalition has decided that attacking or demeaning every Government move, every Rudd announcement, is the best tactic.  Nothing the Government does is ever right.  It bungles at every turn; it makes the wrong decisions repeatedly; it exhibits unspeakable incompetence as it simply doesn’t understand.  All this is asserted with blatant arrogance.  And when the opportunity presents, the Coalition joins the chorus of media condemnation over personal matters, such as the recent RAAF meal episode.  Clearly a large majority of those polled don’t believe the Coalition rhetoric.  Why do they persist with it?

The media assault is of a different nature.  They have preferred to play the man more than the ball.  So we’ve had the ‘Burke affair’, the ‘Scores episode’, the ‘Liu association’, the ‘s-itstorm episode on TV’, the ‘hostie abuse’ scandal, and now some story about bikies at the Lodge, as well as the scandalous way he overworks his poor long-suffering staff, a Glenn Milne exclusive.  All publicized ad nauseam, all repeated over and again, all picked up by Akerman and Bolt and intensified by their vitriolic bloggers.  Yet Rudd survives and even seems to prosper on this fare.  As a blogger on The Poll Bludger put it on seeing the Morgan 61/39 2PP “The voters must really care a lot about SASgate, Liugate, shitstormgate, hostiegate and Lodge-gategate.”  Why do the media persist?  I suppose journalists, determined to get Rudd, feel that sooner or later enough of the ‘dark’ side of Rudd will build up to reinforce the Jekyll and Hyde campaign that’s being run.  The ‘tall poppy’ syndrome is likely the genesis of this campaign.  Rudd seems to some in the media to be too intelligent, too smart, too far ahead of the pack, too earnest, too frenetic, and above all else too popular.  He obviously needs bringing down a peg or two, and any journalist who achieves this gets the ‘gotcha’ prize.

What do you think makes Kevin Rudd and his Government so popular?  What do you think makes Malcolm Turnbull and his Coalition so unpopular?.  More of the latter later this week.


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7/04/2009Ad Astra, you've covered most of the bases I would have suggested for his popularity: ie his hard-working nature, easy-going likeability with all levels of society, the respect he commands internationally etc. I also have a theory that he scores well because he's NOT HOWARD. Think of it this way. For 11.5 years, every night when Aussies turned on the TV news there was the bushy-eyebrowed little rodent peering out at them, speaking in his adenoidal voice. No matter his initial and enduring levels of popularity with some sections, years and years of Howard-in-your-face inevitably wore thin. He overstayed his welcome, his tedious ever-presence became an irritation, he couldn't and didn't know when or how to leave gracefully. Now, when Aussies watch the news, it's a fresh face peering earnestly out at them. A not-unattractive face, who speaks plainly enough that people can grasp what he's saying without too much effort. Even if at times they don't get the full gist of what he's on about, he looks and sounds sincere, so that will be enough for many people. I call this the "Rudd Relief". He is the hot loaf fresh from the bakery compared to the mouldy old bread that's been thrown out for the chooks to eat. Obviously what goes up must come down, and one day, he too will be perceived as stale and growing green spots. I think he will have the sense, when that time comes, to do what Howard never could or would do. That is, get out with his dignity intact, handing over to the NEXT fresh Labor face to lead the country. This won't be for a few years yet though. For what it's worth, I think he's doing a bloody good job under most trying circumstances. A global financial crisis and hostile spiteful media have caused barely a stumble. In fact they seem to strenghten his resolve and dignity. He's a decent man doing his best. I'm very happy with his performance.


8/04/2009I can't explain it either but I agree with Bushfire Bill that his opponents and their tactics are part of it. And, as Rx says, 'He's a decent man doing his best'. Rudd is also received very well overseas and Australians feel he has restored our self respect so that we can again be proud to call ourselves Australians. While his critics slam him over his boring oratory skills, ordinary voting Australians see him as speaking openly and truthfully in plain understandable language. After Howard, they find it refreshing that they don't have to sort out the carefully chosen words that are used to gild the lily and cover the real meaning behind the rhetoric.


8/04/2009KEVIN RUDD; The national broadband network is 21st century nation building infrastructure. MALCOLM TURNBULL; " who's going to pay for it?" NICK MINCHIN; (lateline..tuesday 7/4/09) It just a telephone company". Not much more to be said really

Sir Ian Crisp

8/04/2009I think there are several reasons for Mr Rude’s popularity. Historically, very low home loan interest rates are most welcome by people battling with a mortgage. It’s interesting to note that the derisible group once known as McMansion dwellers are now important to the ALP. Another reason would be the cash flowing into bank accounts around the nation. When you throw money at people it seems only natural that you’ll surf a wave of popularity. I think he’ll surf that wave for a reasonable period. The global financial crisis also offers Mr Rude a readymade excuse to jettison some of his election promises. What was feasible in opposition is now financially unachievable in the short-term. Mr Keating must be green with envy and sorry he opened his maw and lampooned Fraser for excuse making.


8/04/2009Ad Astra, I agree with a lot of what you have said and BB's comment of course are on the mark as well. But there are two things to note her: the first is the PPM figures and the other is satisfaction. On the PPM figure, this has as much to do with the opposition as it does with Rudd. For the life of me I can't understand why anyone would prefer Turnbull over Rudd at the moment. He offers nothing other than the fact he leads the Opposition, accordingly, I chalk the 33% of people who don't like Rudd down to the rusted ons - these are people who would never in a million years admit to preferring a Labor politician to a Liberal one. I reckon 70% is probably the cap for a Labor PM on PPM if he is performing well and not pissing off his own supporters too much by not delivering to their ultra high standards. Rudd is pretty much at this point already. The second is the actual satisfaction figure. Again, there are probably very few rusted ons that would admit that a Labor PM is doing an OK job. That there is only 21% who are willing to say that outright that he isn't doing a good job is an impressive figure indeed (Note PS below - this is based on a worst case scenario where everyone who says Rudd is doing an unsatisfactory job is a Lib/Nat voter). The question you ask AA is why is this so? I suspect the answer to the question lies simply in the fact that he is seen to be doing something and that the something (by and large) is the right thing to do (or at least it doesn't suck). Most people are pragmatic, unless they have really been screwed over by a particular policy, they will weigh up the overall picture they get from the Government. That picture at the moment is one that is acting to minimise the harm to Australia from things that happened outside Australia - so far, these things seem to be working or at least working a lot better than in other countries. Based on this very rough vibe view of things, it's not really that surprising that Rudd is seen as doing a good job. The issues like the air hostess thing and the Fitzgibbon saga came at the wrong time to dampen any support the Government would get. Using my vibe meter, pictures of Rudd over at the G20 trying to address the global problem so we don't cop it here is always going to carry more weight than the the PM getting angry at an Air Force air hostess in January for not bringing him his proper meal or a couple of undeclared free flights to China 5 years ago that are no different to the countless declared flights to China that dozens of Coalition MP take every year. Honestly, I think us political tragics analyse things too much sometime (this post being a case in point) - when it all boils down, the bulk of the swinging voters will cast the view on their satisfaction with the PM based on the big picture things,not the petty political point scoring crap that get's Milne, and co all worked up. PS, while typing this I thought I would check Newspoll data to see if they did a breakdown of voting PPM and satisfaction figures relative to voting preference. There doesn't seem to be any so I've Asked Poss the question - hopefully he can come up with the goods)


8/04/2009Beautifully explained Ad Astra Rx is right - the difference in that natural smile and easy laugh of Rudd's is such a refreshing change from John Howard. It is quite uplifting. And we need not feel embarrassed watching him among other H0Ss - he never looks awkward. Pity that the Libs can't see that we don't like their continual deningration. Then again it means Kev will be leading us for a lot longer.

Ad astra reply

8/04/2009BB you’ve given me lots of ammunition for the ‘Why is Malcolm Turnbull so unpopular’ piece. Thanks. Rx, I didn’t think of that – Kevin Rudd is appreciated because he’s not John Howard. How right you are. janice, I can’t explain this carping about Rudd’s ‘boring’ speech. I don’t find him boring at all. I can understand everything he says. I recollect how impressed I was with his lucid explanations way back when he was Shadow Foreign Minister. It shows though how aspersions cast around, such as Tony Abbott’s ‘toxic bore’ accusation, can stick. Macca, the Liberals have already painted themselves into a corner over the NBN, and its only 24 hours old. Outmanoeuvred from the outset they will dig themselves deeper and deeper only to find that Barnaby Joyce and his Nationals will not go along with them. Already Turnbull is wavering. Sir Ian, you seem to attribute most of Rudd’s popularity to happenstance. I guess he’s just lucky, and he’s been lucky for over two years now, ever since he came became ALP leader. I hope this extraordinary luck continues. As they say, you make your own luck, Dave55, I agree that in the PPM stakes one is the reciprocal of the other, but in satisfaction/dissatisfaction it is possible for both PM and Opposition leader to have high ratings. We saw that with Beasley/Howard. That Turnbull continues to decline and is now in negative territory points to a poor prognosis. If there was a viable alternative there would be baying for his blood. BH, you’re right. So long as the Coalition continue with its carping opposition to everything it will drive more and more towards Rudd and his Government , which at least is seen as doing something positive.


8/04/2009AA I agree totally - I was only focussing on Rudd's satisfaction ratings. The reason Turnbull's are dropping is different to the Rudd popularity issue and possibly not even related. As you point out, it is possible for both leaders to have pretty good satisfaction ratings (although not usually at Rudd's level). Turnbull has turned into one of the politicians that just annoys me every time he talks - I want to listen to him because I want him to snap out of his political opportunism but he always disappoints and I end up switching off. Someone like Minchin on the other hand I can actually listen to; even though his politics are a little too extreme for my liking, at least he stays true to himself. Turnbull is all over the shop and I honestly don't know what he stands for any more (if in fact I ever did). I suspect many other people find him hard to follow as well and this has to be part of the reason for his high dissatisfaction ratings. It would be interesting to know how many Lib supporters are satisfied with the job he is doing.

Bushfire Bill

10/04/2009The Libs seem to think there's a latent antagonism to Labor that is waiting to burst out of people, if only the right trigger point can be found. They've rounded up all the usual suspects, from dodgy friendships, social ineptness, Rudd's an egghead, his wife's fat, she's rich, Rudd's a hypocrite, Swan's not a real political performer (as in he's not Peter Costello), they upset the ruling class whether they be business or the military, they're rude and crass, everything they do is wrong, more than wrong, actually disastrous and we're doomed as long as we continue on with them in government. In short, it's Chris Uhlmann's famous "House Of Card's" theory. Chip away at the ones on the bottom and the whole thing will suddenly come tumbling down. The whole Lib approach is to short cut policy and diligence on the way back to power by re-achieving government with a conjurer's trick, a clever move that will see the scales fall instantly from the public's eyes, revealing the Rudd government for what it really is: a bunch of amateurs who fart in front of the Queen. So we get the Hostie story, the toxic bore description, Heiner, the continual gotchas and, shock horror, endless recantations that Rudd is not Howard and never can be. To this the people say, "Amen". Was it just last Sunday on Insiders that the panel agreed, nodding heads all around, that Hostiegate would run and run? It would be the story that would finally open the public's eyes to the real Rudd. Have we heard [i]one word[/i] about it since then in any major news outlet? The other day Pies Akerman took the lot - all the disproved and discredited "scandals" of Rudd's tenure, right back to Opposition and his Childhood Fairy story etc. etc. - and nevertheless put them together in a string of cockeyed logic that somehow proved that while none of them were true, they [i]pointed to a pattern[/i]. He was hoping that some of the mud from the past would stick and in the public's mind doubt would be sown. Instead Rudd's popularity, polled on that very weekend when the public was supposed at last to awake to the Jekyll and Hyde monster they'd been duped into electing, shot through the roof. There is no substitute to doing the work and winning the public's respect back by solid policy work. Conjurer's tricks won't work. It's not a spin cycle that will magically transform the ugly duckling Opposition into statesmen again. The Rudd government is one of the most popular and competent in history and the public is clearly very happy with their choice.

Ad astra reply

10/04/2009As usual BB, your comments are spot-on. Good material for what I'm preparing now "Why is Malcolm Turnbull so unpopular?"
I have two politicians and add 17 clowns and 14 chimpanzees; how many clowns are there?