Prime Minister Julia Gillard.After their performances in recent weeks, Australian voters are starting to dislike Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott a bit less, but it hasn’t yet impacted on the party votes, if the Essential poll is any guide.
After she gave Abbott a bit of verbal biffo in the Parliament, accusing him of sexism and misogyny, most of Gillard’s improvement has come, not from women, but men. They lapped it up, with Gillard’s net rating from men moving from minus 29 to minus 14, while for women the improvement was only from minus seven to minus four.
Men seemed to like seeing Gillard take Abbott head-on, because they believe it showed she was tough enough to do the job, but it had no real impact on women.
Abbott’s cringe-inducing response in wheeling out the women in his life didn’t help him much with men, moving his net disapproval three points from minus 19 to minus 16, but for women, it moved him up seven points, from minus 26 to minus 19. Women liked to learn about Tony’s feminine side, but it left the blokes wondering.
There are a lot of minus signs on these scorecards and Gillard is now costing Labor about 3 per cent, compared to Abbott’s drag on the Coalition vote of about 5 per cent.
Relative to each other, their net disapproval ratings are unchanged, which means the vote for Labor and the Coalition is also unchanged, with the Coalition notionally still on 53 per cent after preferences, according to the Essential poll.
But if the next election sees a full slate of Katter Australian Party candidates, then this two party preferred lead for the Coalition in all the polls becomes pretty meaningless, because the two major parties will see their candidates eliminated across a lot of non-urban seats.
Gillard appears to be winning some sort of personal vote from the same blokey, rural blue collar group which swung strongly to Katter candidates in the Queensland state election. Voters like some candidates and party leaders more than others and this is now more important due to the interaction between social media and leader-focused election campaigns.
The highest personal votes for sitting members come after three years – especially in the country – because their constituents have been able to meet them or feel they’ve gotten to know them. I think that’s becoming the case with Julia Gillard. If Barnaby Joyce were leading the Nationals, they might even start voting for the Nationals again. Our profiling of recent elections shows the Nationals have basically lost the plot in the bush. Rural, blue collar men sum up this demographic fairly. They’re older, didn’t finish high school and work in lower paid, manual jobs like picking fruit, plucking chickens, cleaning fish, chopping down trees or filling potholes for the council.
Next to Tony Windsor, the best country blue collar vote gatherer in the House of Representativess at the moment is Bob Katter. But, unlike Tony, Bob has turned his personal vote demographic into a political franchise and he’s now out hunting below the radar for Federal Candidates to sell the message.
The vote for the Katter Australia Party candidates at the recent Queensland State election, was 11.5 percent and it would have been closer to 14 percent if they’d run in all seats. In the NT election, the KAP, ironically, didn’t have enough time to organise candidates. Commentators early on election night relied on a Newspoll exit poll of 100 voters in each of five Darwin seats, to predict that the ALP would retain control of the NT Legislative Assembly. But Newspoll didn’t sample pastoral and remote areas, where the CLP won four seats with anti-Labor swings of up to 35.7 per cent on the 2005 results. As a former NT campaign director for the ALP, I’ve got no doubts Katter candidates could have won these seats if they’d had the infrastructure on the ground, which if you know the NT, is easier said than done.
Just like these exit polls, the mainstream national polls are still not identifying the level of disenchantment with all major parties in rural and remote Australia and the support for renegades like Katter, because they’re typically not putting KAP candidates on their poll questions.
If the party can put candidates in the field, we’re looking at a national vote for KAP of more than 10 per cent. Despite a softening of very hostile attitudes from this demographic, Gillard is still in negative territory and swapping her for a more devout Kevin Rudd would put Labor well in front of the Coalition overnight. The next day would be more problematic.
From the Coalition’s perspective, the combination of Barnaby Joyce leading the Nationals, with Malcolm Turnbull leading the Liberals would be unbeatable. Turnbull would win the urban professional women who don’t like Abbott, while Joyce would win the men who don’t like Gillard.
John Black is the chief executive of Australian Development Strategies and a former Labor Senator.
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