Newspoll surprisingly good, but sting in the tail

An interesting split in the media today.  On the one hand the Fairfax media (in particular the AFR that I read on the plane today) continue with the general theme that Gillard is toast and someone else needs to take over.  Various candidates are proposed, and a couple of columnists openly point out that Shorten, Crean and others aren’t up to the job, and therefore Rudd is the only candidate.

In the Australian today the Newspoll is out, and it has a bit of a bounce for Gillard and for Labor.  I’d write this off as coincidence – the last poll was particularly bad, this one was always going to be better.  However, apparently they did the split by geography, and much of the bounce was in Western Sydney.  The flipside is that the Newpoll also purports to show that Rudd could win an election, and Gillard cannot – they specifically asked who people would vote for if Rudd were leader of Labor, and the two-party preferred would have Rudd winning.

I don’t believe that statistic in terms of likely outcome.  It may be true that people would vote for Rudd “if an election were held tomorrow”, but after the grind of an election campaign in which all the nasty things his colleagues said about him were aired, and people were reminded why they disliked the guy last time he was leader, I’d say only a fraction of that support would turn out to be real.  And I think whilst Rudd is liked more than Gillard, changing leader again would depress the overall Labor vote.

All of this leaves the Fairfax media behind the story again – they’re still chasing yesterday’s story that Gillard is toast, when the Newspoll today means she’s not.  It must be heartily annoying for Labor that they dislike the Australian so much (and to be fair, much of their “journalism” is very low quality – but the same can be said of the Fairfax media, it’s just that it’s low-quality that supports Labor) and yet are completely beholden to them for the most respected national poll.  And the stories that come out of that poll are directed by the questions that the Australian’s editorial team choose to have asked.

What does all of this tell me?  Well, I think Gillard will get through this next sitting of parliament, which will see her through to the other side of the budget.  Rudd doesn’t have the numbers, no-one else will push it, and the Newspoll gives her breathing space (notwithstanding the “Rudd could win” result in that poll).  But I do agree with Shanahan in The Australian today who says that it’s messy politics.  Essentially Gillard is buying support day by day because her position is so precarious, but all that is coming at the expense of the medium-term (the election), and even worse, at the expense of the long-term (good governance and the economy).  I think the wheels will come off as we get closer to the election.

Also hiding in the articles was a quote from Penny Wong on the importance of fiscal discipline heading into the budget.  So far Gillard hasn’t gone overly crazy with new promises (beyond the big ticket unfunded Gonski and NDIS schemes), but if they decide that the visit to Western Sydney worked well and want to do the same all over the country, that will add up to lots of small scale pork barrelling in every marginal electorate.  It might work for reclaiming some votes, I’m not sure that in aggregate it’s an election winning strategy.

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