The PM’s backers are hailing the latest Newspoll, which registers a significant gain in his personal approval ratings. But here’s a sobering fact: Turnbull remains four points less popular than Donald Trump and, on the latest numbers, his principle-free Liberals would still lose
Losing poll #32 has come for this Team Turnbull Coalition government. The budget that did next to nothing to cut spending and which has only the palest of insipid hints of the big time Trump-style tax cuts has not delivered Mr. Turnbull that winning Newspoll he so desperately craves to halt the 32-and-counting tally. In fact Monday morning’s Australian, by far the country’s best source of news but nevertheless an overt supporter of Turnbull’s leadership, did all that was possible to paint a still-losing 49-51 Newspoll as good news for the Prime Minister, leading off its reporting of the losing poll with the headline ‘PM soars’. Yes, really.
But it wasn’t referring to the key two-party preferred outcome. That remained unchanged from the fortnight previous.
No, it was referring to Turnbull’s improved results in terms of approval/satisfaction as preferred PM, and these are massively flawed measures. Half the Labor Party’s supporters might well prefer Turnbull as PM, given he’s the most left-wing Liberal leader ever, but that doesn’t mean such Laborites will vote for the Coalition. Indeed, the two-party-preferred tells us they will not. All this poll item measures is appeal to many voters who won’t vote for you anyway, a bit like when a Liberal leader gets an easy ride from the ABC. You know it’s because he’s as left-wing as a Liberal can be and the ABC likes to encourage that sentiment wherever it is found, even in the party it won’t be supporting come election time.
As for the approval rating, Turnbull’s went from 31% to 39%. Is that really worth crowing about? I ask because the authoritative PEW survey in the US now has President Donald Trump at 43% approval, four points above Turnbull’s equivalent score. Now I don’t recall our national paper of record crowing about that. But then the Oz is seemingly much more comfortable with the Davos Man-type, ie., Turnbull, than with an arch disruptor like Trump.
For what it’s worth, though, notice that when you have a figure who bends over backwards, a la Malcolm, trying to shrink the political space with his opponents (by moving the party left, left, and further left), and when you swear off going to the wall to fight over really (not pretending to, but really) cutting spending, or paring back the world’s biggest immigration rate per capita, or fighting the stupid and impoverishing renewables and energy policies, you find yourself at 39 percent approval. And that’s it. Here is what hoisting the white flag on conservative principles gets you.
Trump, by contrast, actually fights on every front. He leaves the Paris Accord. He calls out the mainstream media for being wholly in the pocket of the progressive left (which it patently is, with a recent US survey showing Trump garnering over 90 percent negative coverage); he moves the US embassy to Jerusalem; he pulls out of the Iran deal. All these and more were his election promises, which he honoured in the full knowledge they would infuriate the usual suspects. Trump goes ahead anyway. He fights for his policies. And he is four points better off than Turnbull.
So that measure is meaningless and only the two-party preferred one matters. Or, if a leader’s approval does matter, what we learn is you are better off living by your core right-of-centre principles (which I realise are not Turnbull’s principles). If you fight for your beliefs, at least those on your own side of politics will approve of you. And they are the ones who count in the end.
Then there is the fact the Newspoll result is significantly out of whack with the Ipsos poll for Fairfax, out at the same time. Ipsos has the two-party-preferred ballooning Labor’s way to 54-46. That’s election massacre territory. In other words the gap widened in Shorten’s favour, the “unpopular” Shorten, says Ipsos. Why the big difference between Newspoll and Ipsos? I can’t say. I know that Newspoll not that long ago changed the way it calculates the likely flow of One Nation preferences, due to the Queensland election, and this can be taken as favouring a better Coalition result. But there were some pretty unique circumstances in the Sunshine State, so I am not so sure about this change or the numbers it is producing. Plus, I doubt this new methodology takes into account the former Liberal voters who deserted the party over Turnbull’s treachery and coup.
Speaking for myself and given the present leadership and policies, I will preference everyone above the Liberals (except the Greens), so in that negative sense I’ll be voting Labor. At least that’s my intention unless and until Turnbull is removed. Yes, Shorten is awful, appalling, untrustworthy and as many other unsettling things you might care to mention. But in the long-term Turnbull is moving the Libs too far left. It’s take your medicine now or later, as far as I am concerned.
Plus, if the Liberals get rid of Malcolm, they might actually win. With him at the helm, I can’t see it, however much the Oz puffs him up.
James Allan is Garrick Professor of Law at the University of Queensland and the author of Democracy in Decline