Putting Shorten’s Improvement in Perspective

Earlier this year, I speculated whether it was only a matter of time before Labor ditched Bill Shorten.

Since then, Turnbull has nosedived in the polls and given Shorten some breathing space – to the point where Andrew Bolt concluded that it’s spared Shorten the axe and Sportsbet now has him at $1.02 to lead Labor to the upcoming election.

Perhaps this was all a Turnbull master stroke to ensure that he faces Shorten and not the far superior Albanese on the campaign trail? If so, then well played (assuming that there is also a plan to make up the lost ground).

As for Shorten, here’s what I wrote about his approval ratings in January 2016:

You know when you kill a bug, but its legs still move after you prod it to check that it’s really dead? That’s Bill. There’s some movement all right, but the bug’s been dead for a while. What we’re seeing here are merely leftover knee-jerking nerves giving a false impression of life. Bill will keep dribbling on, but he’s not going to suddenly become a viable alternative Prime Minister that people will actually vote for – particularly without Abbott’s poor popularity around to handicap him and while the Leftist media is still intent on giving Turnbull the biggest free pass a Liberal leader could ever dream of.

As much fun as Bill must be having with his 26% approval rate (preferred PM 15-63 vs Turnbull), the time for his guff is fast coming to an end. To put things in some perspective, even Tony Abbott managed to putt around with an approval rating in the 30s for almost all of his time as PM. Would Labor’s powers-that-be really take a leader with a 15% preferred PM rating to an election? If so, then wow, good luck with that. Ironically, the last opposition leader to have such a pathetically low rating was replaced by Tony Abbott and now sits in the PM’s chair. So I guess there’s hope for Bill after all. Isn’t politics great?

As for Shorten’s current ratings:

  • his satisfaction rate has now ‘sky-rocketed’ to 32% (with a minus-21 net rating when taking into account his dissatisfaction rating of 53%); and
  • he’s down 27%-48% as preferred PM (with 25% uncommitted).

While this is an undeniable improvement, the deeply unpopular Abbott’s final Newspoll satisfaction ratings before his removal puts it into perspective:

So how does Shorten’s 32% satisfaction rate look now?

Even when looking at net satisfaction ratings (second graph above) and taking into account Abbott’s worst rating ever – when he was really stinking it up with a putrid minus-44 rating in February 2015 – Abbott was still only down 35%-43% as preferred PM (to Shorten):

James J relates in comments that Newspoll in tomorrow’s Australian is a good deal better for the Coalition then its recent polling form, with the Labor lead down from 57-43 a fortnight ago to 53-47. The major parties are tied at 38% of the primary vote with the Greens on 12%. Tony Abbott’s approval ratings have not improved, with approval on 25% and disapproval on 68%. The surprise is the poor ratings for Bill Shorten who is on at 35% approval and 49% disapproval, although he maintains a 43-35 lead over Abbott as preferred prime minister.

How does Shorten’s current 27%-48% preferred PM rating look now?

Of course, none of this has stopped some from trying to anoint Shorten as possible PM material…

In yesterday’s Australian, Peter Van Onselen’s titled his opinion piece ‘PM Plummets to Abbott’s Best’ – a kneejerk article in which he hopelessly cross-pollinates party performance with leader performance. A far less-confused and more appropriate heading (when talking about leadership numbers) would have been ‘Shorten Ascends to Abbott’s Worst’. It may have saved Van Onselen from dishing up this misconceived junk:

Bill Shorten is now an undeniable contender to become prime minister. His personal numbers show he has momentum — both his net satisfaction rating and preferred PM numbers have improved. He trails Turnbull, but the momentum is with him.

Going from the sewer to the gutter is not momentum Peter: it’s a dead cat bounce. Have another look at the red line in the second graph above and tell me about momentum.


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