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Turnbull held aloft by projection and likeability

Malcolm Turnbull’s popularity seems a lot like Kevin Rudd’s on the basis of our polling. So will it disappear just as quickly and catastrophically for his own party?

Voters saw in Rudd what they wanted to see, and he was more acceptable than the conservative, much older Howard, but as soon as he started making decisions, or didn’t, voters started to peel off.

Rudd’s initial appeal was to be a sort of John Howard-lite, a self-declared “fiscal conservative” who wouldn’t do much more than change the optics of government. Some voters bought that and voted for him, and others thought they saw straight through it, and voted for him as well, expecting him to change in government.

A similar dynamic characterises responses to Malcolm Turnbull.

The table below shows how fluid the vote is between the major parties

 

Voting intention now

Vote last election

ALP

Minor

Grn

LP

Total

ALP

71.28%

2.70%

8.45%

17.57%

100.00%

Bob Katter's Australia

0.00%

66.67%

0.00%

33.33%

100.00%

CD*

16.67%

66.67%

0.00%

16.67%

100.00%

AD*

0.00%

100.00%

0.00%

0.00%

100.00%

DLP*

0.00%

100.00%

0.00%

0.00%

100.00%

FF*

11.11%

66.67%

0.00%

22.22%

100.00%

Grn

28.44%

2.75%

58.72%

10.09%

100.00%

Ind*

27.27%

27.27%

9.09%

36.36%

100.00%

LP

3.44%

11.88%

1.25%

83.44%

100.00%

National*

0.00%

40.00%

0.00%

60.00%

100.00%

Other*

33.33%

33.33%

16.67%

16.67%

100.00%

Palmer's United*

33.33%

0.00%

0.00%

66.67%

100.00%

Grand Total

33.04%

10.68%

12.05%

44.22%

100.00%

*Small sample, not statistically relevant

Source: AIP qualitative poll

The movement to the LP has been driven not just by Labor deserters, but by Greens as well. 18% of last time Labor voters say they will vote Liberal now, as do 10% of Greens voters. In fact, when you eliminate those from the table who voted LP or NP last election, you find that across the board there has been a 17% swing to the LP amongst the 58% that didn’t vote NP or LNP.

As an aside, the right wing voter, whilst many regard Turnbull as possibly “the best Labor Prime Minister we’ve had”, seems to have locked in behind him for lack of anywhere else to go.

When you look at the reasoning of those swingers you find that there are two major reasons for voting for Turnbull. One is a belief that he will change the Liberal Party to be a party more in line with the voter’s views of life. The other is that Malcolm Turnbull is more likeable than Bill Shorten, and certainly more likeable than Tony Abbott. He brings a calm and civility to the political debate that has been missing.

Turnbull is the political equivalent of the Rorschach blot. But the reality is that he can’t be all things to all men. In the coalition he doesn’t personally have the numbers. If National Party members had voted in the leadership ballot as well as Liberals, then Turnbull would not be leader now.

So dreams of some voters that he is going to change the coalition policy on climate change or taxation to be more Green Left are just that – dreams (assuming that Turnbull would actually agree with these voters, which is an untestable proposition).

Labor’s attack is targeting this reality. Current polling by Newspoll suggests that it is actually on the cusp of succeeding, but will it?

It all depends on what grounds the next election are held.

While the economy is generally a central concern for coalition voters more than Labor and Greens voters, this election it seems to be shared across the board. However, looking more closely at the responses, the economic concerns on the left are with “fairness”. While the concerns on the right are with keeping costs within our budget.

It seems to be common ground that the government can’t just keep spending money it doesn’t have. The solution from the left is to tax someone who is said to be unfairly not paying their fair share. The solution from the right is to pull spending back in line with taxation income.

Turnbull doesn’t appear to have developed a counter to this fairness argument. And if he doesn’t, then an election fought on the economy could tip him out.

He appears to be aware of this and if the expected double dissolution election is called the trigger will most likely be to do with trade union misbehaviour.

That would be all well and good, and the Trade Union Royal Commission appears to give lots of ammunition, except that it is not an issue that motivates any of the people that have swung to the Liberals, and in fact it is only an issue with the rusted-on Coalition supporter.

Which brings us to Labor’s weakness – Bill Shorten. After Tony Abbott it would appear that Bill Shorten is the most disliked politician in Australia today, and his trajectory from the Beaconsfield mine disaster onwards has been down.

As a Greens voter says “He comes across as not having any strong convictions or wishes a ’wishy-washy’ type of person - does not believe in or want to ’fight’ for anything... He came across better at the mine disaster when he came across as a ’real’ person”.

Shorten appears to have a trust deficit, and if you had to choose between him and Malcolm Turnbull for the last seat at your dinner party, Malcolm would be the easy choice.

So, while Newspoll puts them neck and neck, I think Turnbull is still the favourite to win. He brings a centrist feel to the government, making it hard for Labor to paint him as “extreme”.

And a lack of activity was actually a hallmark of post-war, pre 1975 Liberal governments. Menzies was accused of doing nothing, but always had a foreign affairs, or communist scare campaign, to pull out of his drawer when an election was looming. And middle Australia was always more socially comfortable with him than his opponents.

Labor’s policies on negative gearing and capital gains give Turnbull the basis for a scare campaign. Not only are these bad policies, but all of us have a stake in the housing market as owners or occupiers.

Labor’s stated aim is to drive house prices lower, which won’t please home owners, while the evidence is that abolishing negative gearing for all but new housing, and giving Australia the second highest capital gains tax regime in the world, will drive rents up as well.

There isn’t a winner in sight, which means that, using Labor’s criteria of “fairness” being no one is worse off, this is an unfair policy.

When it suited Menzies he would also steal policies from his opponents, who were very good at putting them out on the table for him.

It could be the case that Turnbull has taken us back to an earlier paradigm of politics where government is actually won in the centre, rather than being a tussle for the working class conservative vote out on the edges.

A paradigm where the Liberal Party is actually the party of pragmatism, rather than of ideology, and where an opposition anxious to prove it has policies leaves itself open to fierce attack on what it would do in office, taking the focus off what the government has done in office.

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Comments   

 
0 #11 Australian Institute for ProgressGraham Young 2016-04-11 07:26
Hi Rosemary, I make no apology for calling abolition of negative gearing and a proposed increase in CGT as bad policies. That the Grattan Institute disagrees with me doesn't make me wrong, them right, and me somehow biased. It could just as easily be the opposite. Grattan's work in these areas is not good, and while I haven't directly critiqued it I have looked at the ALP proposals at aip.asn.au/2016/02/negative-gearing-policy-channels-mining-tax-debacle/, aip.asn.au/2016/03/alp-would-make-australia-the-second-most-expensive-oecd-country-for-capital-gains-tax/aip.asn.au/2016/03/alp-would-make-australia-the-second-most-expensive-oecd-country-for-capital-gains-tax/, aip.asn.au/2016/03/shorten-in-policy-disarray-on-housing-affordability-and-negative-gearing/ and aip.asn.au/2016/04/kohlers-mistakes-underline-why-negative-gearing-is-threatened/