50th-anniversary poll of Kevin Rudd’s Labor

Two things. First: between them, the Australian’s fortnightly Newspoll and the Herald’s monthly ACNielsen polls have apparently come to 50 in number (Alan Ramsey is not a fan). And for most of that period, they’ve shown the same thing: Rudd, or Rudd’s Labor, is more popular than Howard or the Libs. Peter Hartcher came upon a lovely analogy: The Wizard of Oz.

“It is hard to escape the conclusion,” wrote a former Keating adviser, Bill Bowtell, in Quarterly Essay, “that the great necromancer Howard has morphed into the Wizard of Oz, pulling lever after lever behind a tatty curtain, mystified why nothing seems to work as well as it once did.”

He carries it farther, himself,

The Australian electorate, presumably, takes the role of Dorothy, pulling back the curtain to discover that the great and powerful wizard is merely an old man frantically working the levers and switches to generate the magical image that has sustained him for nearly a dozen years.

“You humbug!” the disillusioned girl tells the old man in the 1939 movie classic.

Immediately upon seeing this, I didn’t buy it (even the appearance of lily-gilding sets me off). A second time around, though, and I rather liked it. That John Howard firmly believes sleeves are for keeping tricks up in is not news to a lot of people, but the polls over the last few months have demonstrated that, more and more, Australia has come to know John Howard of old. Tax cuts, terrorist scares (actual, rather than the fear of Steve Liebman being trotted out to embarass himself at us again, which is also Very Real Fear), and the hostile take-over of Indigenous communities up Noth have done nothing at all really for Howard’s polling (and I fully believed the Northern Territory gambit to be Howard’s Big Pull for this election – which it would have been, had his numbers turned around. No snap election for us, though).

This latest poll has Labor 58% : 42% Liberal for two-party preferred, but more relevantly Labor 49% : 39% Liberal in primary voting. I say ‘more relevantly’ because I relied (like, I suspect, Labor) on two-party polling to get my hopes up at the last election. It didn’t work out, though. With 49% of primary voters, however, even with the death of the Australian Democracts Labor is doing very robustly indeed. Of course these are surveys of ‘around’ 1,000 people, usually – the degree to which they are properly representative should be borne in mind. There’s also a big difference between responding to a survey and voting for one’s government. When push comes to fill-in-the-box, people go with their gut. Which is to say, their fear.

Which leads to the second part: just what is it Howard has to offer, or frighten us to death with? Hartcher’s article concludes with what by now must, given the tepid and cynical reaction to the Northern Territory play, be a redundant warning:

Today’s poll does, nonetheless, give us a strong glimpse of the future of how the Government will campaign. Unable to build up its own vote, it will be increasingly driven to drag Rudd’s down. We can expect the Government to continue to campaign positively, with new measures, as it seeks to establish that it still has energy and ideas. But we should expect the emphasis of its efforts to become increasingly negative as it intensifies its attacks on Rudd.

I say ‘must’ probably more to reassure myself, than in certainty. Surely we’re smarter than this, by now? He says, living in the US. Voters really aren’t that clue-in, I know.

Meanwhile, the economic numbers just refuse to fall for Howard, but at least the blame isn’t falling entirely on him, either.

The poll of 1412 voters, taken from Thursday to Saturday, finds 20 per cent of respondents have cut their spending “a lot” and 17 per cent “a little” to cope with rising housing costs.

Of those polled, 27 per cent attribute the housing affordability crisis to buyers wanting better homes than previous generations and driving prices up, an argument the Government has used.

Twenty-two per cent blame speculation by investors and developers, while 21 per cent blame interest rate rises, of which there have been four since the 2004 election. Only 8 per cent agree with the Government’s other argument that slow land releases by the states are making housing unaffordable.

Thank God for the small mercy of people not buying into the garbage about land-releases. Unfortunately blaming home-owners belies a fundamental mis-understanding of incentives (you’re all forgiven for not teaching Economics at a University, also). Had deregulation and the pursuant opening-up of credit taken place in the 1960s instead, we would have seen all of this under the baby boomers, rather than now. It’s much the same as thinking everyone on the road driving faster than you is a lunatic, irrespective of how fast you’re driving at the time. Everyone wants as much space as they can afford.

Andrew Charlton, rounding out economics, has a very good article up in the Sydney Morning Herald (caveat: Kevin Rudd is launching the new boko by Charlton on Monday. So there’s a bias there).

The Liberal and Labor claims deserve thorough scrutiny because what we believe about the foundation of our wealth makes a great deal of difference to how we should pursue our future.

If, as our economic superheroes would have us believe, Australia’s prosperity has been due to the superior performance of our leaders, then our job as citizens is merely to continue to passively re-elect those leaders.

But if our success is a complex combination of long-term policies and global circumstances, then our challenge is to ensure we continue constant public debate with a view to finding the right policies to sustain our position in a changing world.

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