Every Newspoll is sacred

Wednesday, 19 September 2007 

Yesterday’s post detecting a bit of a false note in Labor’s exuberance looked unfair given what seemed like delusional triumphalism from the government over what was still a lousy Newspoll. In reality, hard politics was at work. Both leaders were using the poll for all it was worth to manage the weaknesses in their respective parties. Howard made sure the party room got the message that history could repeat (even if it was Keating’s). Abbot used it on behalf of the leadership to settle scores with Turnbull by telling everyone that he didn’t rate. Rudd used it to sensibly rebalance the campaign from the weekend’s premature rally.

None of this meant that the leaders necessarily believed the government was on the way back. The Sydney and Melbourne press have picked up that the Liberal leadership is now becoming more concerned over the survival of the party than the government, and has shifted attention from the marginals to its safer seats. This focus is not only on resources but also on issues like union power and wall-to-wall Labor governments that will appeal to its core supporters. The air-time the Liberal leadership gave to backbench MPs yesterday in the party-room about the issues they wanted to campaign on, was probably more to manage them than anything else. Certainly a focus on housing affordability and the type of issues used by Labor in the marginals, is likely to be a luxury the Liberals now cannot afford.

However, despite the gap between the way political leaders used yesterday’s poll and reality, you could forgive those who brought out the poll actually taking it seriously. The Australian, which published the poll, took the opportunity to see if it could recover influence lost over the last month. Yesterday’s editorial used the poll to step back from its earlier dumping of Howard and try to re-apply some pressure on Labor’s agenda. Its Political Editor also thought it might be helpful to reassert his credibility and the importance of his close contact with the ‘body politic’ (unlike more isolated commentators). Probably the one who got most carried away was the Newspoll CEO, Martin O’Shannessy, who argued it showed Rudd was still defying gravity and had further to fall. Why on earth the head of a polling organisation would want to predict future polling trends is unfathomable given that if they diverge it will either be him or his polling that will be discredited. Given that the poll has moved one point to the government since the last time Mr O’Shannessy predicted the end of Rudd’s honeymoon two months ago, it seems to be the former.

The trouble that those who consider every Newspoll is sacred have with the latest one is this: either the last poll was an outlier (unlikely) or the current one is a blip (impossible) or alternatively, it would have to be explained how we got from one to the other. Since no-one can work out how the shenanigans of the last week translates to a 4% swing to the government, no-one has tried. Except one person, that is. A lone Treasurer thinks maybe it could be due to his semi-promotion to the leadership. Of course it is, Peter.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Wednesday, 19 September 2007.

Filed under Media analysis

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