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The Forum > Article Comments > Best not to follow the leader polls > Comments

Best not to follow the leader polls : Comments

By Peter Van Onselen and Wayne Errington, published 27/5/2005

Peter van Onselen and Wayn Errington argue prime minister or premier polls historically have been a poor form guide for Australian elections.

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So far as a politicianís popularity goes, the devil is now in the detail. Should they be photographed with business leaders, school children, or workers at the work site? Should there be more indoor shots, outdoor shoots, close ups, or long distance shots? When do they make the obligatory trip to the maternity ward, at the start of the election campaign, or towards the end. Do they kiss the baby, or just shake hands with the mother?

All these are now very important political decisions. But speaking of their actual policies, I took the time to look through the policies of the main political parties during the last federal election, and the results were somewhat variable. One party had so few policies they could be printed out on a single A4 page. Another party had so many photographs contained within each policy, it took forever to download (and obviously only the hardy would bother to read all their policies). Another party had policies that appeared more like brainwashing than policies, with the same key words repeated repeatedly throughout the policy. Some parties released all their policies at the start of the campaign, other parties released their policies at strategically decided times.

And of course no one really knew who they were voting for anyway, because of the backroom preference vote deals made between each party.

Perhaps we should be carrying out polls on which is the best political spin doctor, rather than on who is the best politician (and who cares about those pesky policies anyway).
Posted by Timkins, Friday, 27 May 2005 1:07:53 PM
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I'd generally agree with the article, as I also think too much attention is paid to the beauty contest on preferred leader.

However, there does come a point where the unelectability of a party leader becomes a problem. Most opinion polls ask four questions, Vote, Preferred Leader, opinion of Leader, Opinion of Opposition Leader.

If you check Kerry Chikarovski's Leader opinion poll, you will find she had a stubborn disapproval rating of over 50%. It wasn't an undecided rating, or a don't know, it was a very high disapproval.

Brogden never rated much higher as approved Premier, but he never had such a solid disapproval rating while opposition leader. He generally had a higher approval than disapproval rating, and had a large pool of don't knows to work on. Chikarovski never had that luxury.

I think the late Leadership change the Liberals regret in NSW was before the 1999 election when Peter Collins was dumped. His problem was always the don't know factor rather than disapproval. Kerry Chikarovski had her leadership thrown into the fire of an election campaign when voters quickly formed an opinion of her. I think Collins would have lost anyway, but he would have stood the media pressure better than the much less experienced Chikarovski.

I personally think that latent sexism in the electorate always played a part in Chikarovki's polls, and I doubt there was much she could ever have done to turn them around. But if she had taken over the leadership after the election, she would have had a longer period to establish herself as an alternative Premier. In the end, she was never able to recover from stumbles in her first campaign, when so many voters seemed to make up their mind the was not a good leader.

If you check opinion polls from 2003, you will find the final move against Simon Crean also came when his disapproval rating started to pass 50%. As a general rule I'd say if over half the electorate disapprove of you as opposition leader, you are in a great deal of trouble.
Posted by Antony Green, Thursday, 2 June 2005 5:27:48 PM
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