During this week past we saw Newspoll: The Killing Machine
in lethal action. Ironically, it was her own party members who took the ammunition from Newspoll
, aimed it at Julia Gillard’s heart, and killed her politically. Although polls are no more than a snapshot of public opinion, they have again become the determiner of the fate of a political leader. They are killing machines.
Politicians are obsessed with polls, place blind faith in their capacity to predict election results although they have no predictive value three months from an election, and have once more used them to make decisions about who is best equipped to lead them to victory. Writing in The Hoopla
, Gabrielle Chan
says: “It was the polls that fed the Rudd monster – the same polls that slew the beast in the beginning.
How have we got to where we are? As this is a multilayered issue, let’s peel back the layers and take a look at what’s underneath. For a long while now, Newspoll, and indeed most of the other polls of voting preference and personal approval, have carried importance they do not deserve.
Pollster Peter Lewis of Essential Vision
tells us: "A poll never predicts the future. Anyone who says they know what the future holds is deluded".
Aggregated polls that show trends are more useful though.
The polls have been adverse for Labor and Julia Gillard for a long while; they did not arrive out of a clear blue sky. They began falling when the Rudd saboteurs, bridling at the memory of Rudd’s abrupt and savage removal because of falling polls three years ago, began undermining the newly appointed leader, Julia Gillard. They derailed her 2010 election campaign at its very outset when they leaked damning information to Laurie Oakes who confronted her with it at the end of a National Press Club speech. The polls that began promisingly for her and Labor immediately after she became PM fell, and continued to fall. This result was a hung parliament and a minority government.
Because through most of the life of the Gillard Government the polls have been persistently unfavourable for her and Labor, their importance has been unreasonably amplified. Despite the doubts professional pollsters have expressed about the validity and reliability of opinion polls, media commentators have used them over and again to predict electoral disaster for Labor – a ‘wipeout’ that would reduce Labor to a ‘rump’. Politicians believed them.
Labor has been dismayed and depressed for many months. Convinced that the commentators were right, Labor parliamentarians have agonized for a long while about what to do. The Rudd saboteurs became more and more determined to strike when the time was right to reinstate their man, whom they believed would give Labor a better chance.
As more and more Labor politicians became convinced that they must act to counter this existential threat, they reached a conclusion that the action needed was a change of leader, because no matter what else they had tried, the polls remained poor. Their apprehension got the better of them last Wednesday. Precipitated by a mysterious petition circulating among members, they used poor polling to insist on a Caucus meeting and thereby to remove their leader, Julia Gillard, believing the alternative, Kevin Rudd, would lift their rating.
The validity of that decision seemed to be borne out almost immediately by a Morgan Poll
taken the evening of the change of leader. Gary Morgan documents it thus: Big swing to the ALP after Rudd returned as leader tonight. ALP 49.5% (up 5%) cf. L-NP 50.5% (down 5%) – but will it be enough?
This special snap poll on Federal voting intention was conducted on the evening of June 26, 2013 via SMS interviewing after the result of the ALP leadership ballot was announced at 8 pm, among an Australia-wide cross-section of 2,530 Australian electors aged 18+, where of all electors surveyed a low 0.5% did not name a party.
A national ReachTEL poll
last Thursday, and a subsequent poll of selected seats in Sydney and Melbourne, and this morning’s Galaxy Poll
showed a similar boost to the Labor vote.
Commenting on ABC 24
about the Morgan Poll
, John Stirton, Research Director of Nielsen Polls
, when asked whether polls were dictating who should be leader of our nation, answered that regrettably that seemed to be the case. They did so three years ago in the case of Kevin Rudd, and last week it was Julia Gillard. Stirton expressed the hope that this will not be the case in future. Even pollsters admit that this is a misuse of polls. He estimated that Labor could improve by up to ten points in primary votes with the change to Kevin Rudd, but questioned how long this would last. He felt that it might taper off near the election date, no matter when this was. So here’s the rub: no matter how many warnings professional pollsters have given about the danger of using polls for decision making because of their lack of predictive power, media commentators have ignored the warnings and have used them to make predictions day after day, month after month. Politicians have lapped up what they have said and have used their predictions to make some of the most drastic decisions imaginable, such as changing leaders. It amazes me that seasoned politicians have allowed themselves to be captured so profoundly by the polls and their media spruikers. Then again, they may have been aware that they have been swept along by all the hype that polls spawn, but were fearful that as bad polls create more bad polls and generate a bandwagon effect, a self-perpetuating prophesy, voters might have become convinced that Labor had no hope and that they ought to back what the polls are indicating is the hot favourite, the Coalition.
But there’s more to this multilayered issue. Why have the polls, which have precipitated this crisis, been so consistently poor for Labor and Julia Gillard? The answer hides beneath another layer. Let’s peel it back.
As soon as Julia Gillard became Prime Minister, a concerted campaign began to demonize her. Built on what Opposition Leader Tony Abbott labeled a ‘lie’, and a ‘broken promise’ when she introduced a price on carbon despite her ‘no carbon tax’ pledge, shock jock Alan Jones coined ‘Ju-liar’, said she should be put in a hessian bag and dumped at sea, and arranged ‘carbon tax rallies’ that featured ‘Ditch the Witch’ and ‘Bob Brown’s Bitch’ banners in front of which Tony Abbott stood with two female colleagues. This was just the start of the demonization. The Fourth Estate took up the theme and inflamed it day after day, month after month, year after year. The Murdoch media was particularly venomous, intent on using the demonization of the PM to derail her Government and the Labor Party. I will not tire you with more details; you know them well. This was the genesis of PM Gillard’s unpopularity and the poor showing of Labor in the polls. If the media continually berates a leader, criticizes virtually everything she does, paints over and again a picture of her as an incompetent liar, in classic Goebbels fashion the people eventually believe it. When that picture is reinforced by Tony Abbott at every Question Time, at every parliamentary doorstop, at every visit to a factory or a shopping mall, when he repeatedly damages her credibility by insisting her Government is illegitimate, it become the given truth for most of the populace.
Given that after years of demonizing our first female PM, who has been categorized as a lying, incompetent witch, one warranting hate and loathing, it ought not be surprising that her standing in the community is poor, that her disapproval is so much higher than her approval ratings. A Salem witch trial of Julia Gillard has been going on for ages in the minds of many voters, and they have judged her guilty. Listen to the vox pops! Tony Abbott and his Fourth Estate sycophants have been spectacularly successful in prosecuting the trial of this ‘Canberra witch’.
There is another media issue, the old chestnut of Julia Gillard being unable ‘cut through’, to get her message across, to let people know what she ‘stands for’. Pundits ask why she is not ‘resonating with the community’. It is incredible to me that over and again media personalities repeat these accusations when it is the media itself that is largely responsible for this state of affairs.
If there are parallel events, one about a major reform the Government has legislated, and the other about a trivial issue, it is the trivial that wins out every time. The media castigates her for being a poor communicator, of failing to tell the people the good things her Government is doing, and then steadfastly refuses to give these things any prominence. It is her glasses, or her hair, or her jackets, or her tripping over, or her photo in Women’s Weekly
that gets on the front page, while details of vital reforms, or the great economic state of our nation, are relegated to page seven. Yet the media has the temerity to criticize her inability to ‘cut through’. What hypocrisy! Or perhaps it is simply blindness to its own role. Maybe though it is deliberate media disingenuousness.
I can hear some of you saying: here he is blaming the media again. You are right. I am blaming the media because they are manifestly blameworthy. Only someone blind to what is going on could conclude otherwise. But this is not to say that PM Gillard and her Government are blameless. Moves have been made that have not turned out well; judgments have not been universally correct; ideas have not always been brilliant. That ought not surprise us given the complexity of governing in a minority parliament. Yet it is one in which around six hundred pieces of legislation have been passed with 87% bipartisan support, leaving just 13% in dispute; where major reforms have been enacted in education, health and disability, communications, infrastructure, water, defence, industrial relations and paid maternity leave, and important advances have been made in international relations, all with the oversight of PM Gillard. Yet she is portrayed as an incompetent Canberra witch.
There is another aspect – the gender issue. I do not intend to labour this here. It is well documented in the writings of Anne Summers
, author of The Misogyny Factor
, and writers on The Hoopla
such as Gabrielle Chan
. There is no doubt that being a female has made political life much harder for Julia Gillard. It seems that many men in this country cannot abide a female PM; they are unable to adjust to a female being in charge, when it has always been a male. It’s a man’s world after all!
So it is in the deepest recesses of this multi-layered issue that the core cause of the poor polling lives and festers – a virulent and persistent media onslaught against our first female PM the like of which we have not seen before, which has led to a level of demonization and deprecation once reserved for the Salem witches. To recap, beginning from the core of the issue, the layers are: denigration and demonization of PM Gillard, leading to the creation of a damaging image of her in the minds of the electorate, leading to poor polling, leading to a media prediction that electoral disaster lies ahead with Julia Gillard as PM, leading to this prediction being embraced by Labor parliamentarians, leading to the radical action of removing Australia’s first female PM and replacing her with what the polls say is an electorally popular male.
This is the rationale behind the move to replace her, but the modus operandi of the Rudd saboteurs has been both destructive and despicable. For Labor members to deliberately and surreptitiously undermine a Labor Government and its leader over a three year period, and to sometimes publically ridicule her, is unforgivable disloyalty. I’m thinking of the smirking Joel Fitzgibbon, and the blustering Kim Carr and Doug Cameron. And then to follow this with attempt after attempt to dislodge PM Gillard, at first abortive, and finally successful, is contemptible. It is distressing that this level of treachery has been rewarded. I deplore these actions and hope I will never see such subversion, disloyalty and destructiveness again.
Those of us who have supported Julia Gillard so fervently are appalled at the way she has been treated, and lament her fate. We have lost an outstanding politician, and a strong and steadfast female warrior. We commiserate her untimely exit from public life and hope she will reappear in another influential role that will engage her outstanding talent and her strength of character. We shall miss her bubbling personality, her strength, her courage, her resoluteness, her devotion, her graciousness, her capacity to get things done against the odds and bring about much needed traditional Labor reforms, and her determination to stand up for women’s rights.
Let’s return now to the subject of this piece: Who will Newspoll kill off next? If polls have destroyed two Federal leaderships in the last three years, is that where the destruction will stop? Who else might Newspoll kill?
This piece postulates that other Federal leaders are vulnerable. What if the polls reverse after Rudd’s installation, and Labor stocks rise or even surpass that of the Coalition? With time running down to the election, how will Coalition members feel about their leader, Tony Abbott? Will they continue to believe that he can deliver them victory? What happens as his popularity slips and falls below that of Rudd as preferred prime minister? He has been unpopular with the voters for three years now with his unpopularity exceeding his popularity, although lately his popularity had picked up a little. But what if that now worsens? There are other leaders in the wings, most notably Malcolm Turnbull, who consistently has been more popular than Abbott, and recently preferred by twice as many voters as Abbott. When would Coalition members, like their Labor counterparts, feel they ought to ditch Abbott for Turnbull? It would be a big reversal of their loyalty to Abbott, but if such reversal can occur in Labor circles, why not in the Coalition?
The recent poll results will already be creating uncertainty and doubt in Coalition minds. Minders will be reviewing Abbott’s messages, perhaps asking whether the three word slogans will do during the election campaign. Abbott will be re-groomed, given some new words he can repeat from memory, words that are memorable, although meaningless because of their lack of specificity. Minders will fret about how Abbott will manage in a vigorous debate with Rudd on serious policy issues, a debate Rudd has already invited on economic issues. Rudd has panache that Abbott lacks, as well as policy smarts, which Abbott doesn’t enjoy. Because Abbott has avoided solid policy work, preferring mantras that he repeats like a Buddhist monk, policy debates promise to be a big problem for him and the Coalition. Close observers have recognized for ages his policy paucity as a major vulnerability; now it threatens to be exposed for all to see, for voters to see his vacuity. How long would it take for the electorate to have their eyes opened, and their approval of him plummet?
As last week came to an end, while Kevin Rudd was in full flight at a media conference on Friday, answering dozens of questions from a rowdy bunch of journalists, Coalition minders were scrambling to prepare a response to the emergence of another Rudd Prime Ministership. Tony Abbott, Julie Bishop and Warren Truss were sent out to recite disparaging statements about Rudd, all intended for the airwaves. They sounded pathetic. How much impact such negative stuff will have, especially when Rudd is now enjoying positive acceptance from much of the electorate, is debatable. I can see a wave of panic spreading across the Coalition camp as they realize that they are now in for a close contest at the election and a challenging combatant to cope with beforehand. I can see Tony Abbott and his minders wondering how to deal with a resurgent Kevin Rudd, how to counter his newly-won popularity, how to respond to his exuberant rhetoric, and with a deep feeling of apprehension, how to match him in a policy debate.
I can imagine the sinking feeling that will oppress their souls as they look at each new poll, and most of all, the giant killer Newspoll, to see how they are faring.
I can see the Honourable Leader of her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, Anthony John Abbott, with his hands eagerly outstretched to grasp the coveted keys to The Lodge, fearfully wondering if he will see his long-held dream evaporate, wondering if HE will be the one that Newspoll will kill off next.
What do you think? If you wish to ‘Disseminate this post’, it will be sent to the following parliamentarians: Tony Abbott, Eric Abetz, Anthony Albanese, Julie Bishop, Chris Bowen, Doug Cameron, Kim Carr, Bob Carr, Simon Crean, Craig Emerson, Joel Fitzgibbon, Julia Gillard, Joe Hockey, Barnaby Joyce, Robert McClelland, Christine Milne, Robert Oakeshott, Christopher Pyne, Kevin Rudd, Bill Shorten, Wayne Swan, Warren Truss, Malcolm Turnbull, Andrew Wilkie, Tony Windsor, Penny Wong and Nick Xenophon.