Strategic Futurists; Value Systems Specialists


Polls, damn polls and statistics

Monday 9 July 2012

There's polls, damn polls and statistics Some serious questions are emerging for the Opposition in Australia between now and the lead up to the next Federal Election. Aside from the campaign period, Australia will elect a new form of Government between August and November next year. With apologies to Mark Twain, Benjamin Disraeli and anyone else involved with the 'lies, damn lies...' phrase, I think Polls fall into the same area of challenge. According to a variety of polls, the Federal Labor Government has been on the nose of the Australian public for quite some time.

I think one need look no further than the acquiescence of the then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd when he chose to walk away from 'the greatest moral challenge 
of our age' and backed away from action on Climate Change.  The shift was that he had the momentum of the voters and yet caved into the PR campaign waged 
by a smart and well funded Mining sector. Whether the media campaign was having a true impact or was just a series of 'polls' reflecting other ideas is of moot 
value. It was perhaps the first time in Australia's history that  private companies openly dictated policy for Australia. And it was in ceding control to non elected 
representatives that the ALP were rightly crunched at the subsequent election.  I would hope the same happens regardless of the party in power.

Since then, and despite the leadership change, nothing the current Federal Government has done is gaining sufficient traction in the wider electorate (again, 
according to those 'damn polls').  

Julia Gillard's approval rating is in the sink (more on that in a moment), the Federal ALP preferences for 1st votes have evaporated and States are replacing their long standing Labor Governments with fresh new Liberal and Liberal/National faces.

Given that rather bleak picture of the Federal Labor's current standing, how could anyone suggest that there's some serious questions for the Opposition to deal with?

Well, when your role as a futurist is to help people consider alternative ways of seeing the world, that's what you do. And right now, the polls suggest problems for the Liberal Party and their current leader Tony Abbott. The polls also pose problems for the ALP but theirs are far less complex – they just need to strip back the message to what counts and stop fluffing about, something I don't think they show signs of doing.

But for the Liberal Party, the complexity is far greater and it all comes down to those Polls, Damn Polls and Statistics.

If (according to those damn polls) people are saying they currently prefer the Liberal Party to the ALP by a massive +10% of the primary vote, and if they are saying that they have significant questions of trust for Julia Gillard, why is it that she still leads Tony Abbott as preferred Prime Minister in most polls?

It's a question of significant importance. And whilst Tony's daughters have apparently been conducting daily visits to bookmaker sites to check how the odds for their dad's ascension to the Prime Ministership are going, I wouldn't be putting the house on it just yet.

The question that may need to be asked is not, 'What is the Liberal Party leading by?' in those polls but 'Why, given all the hassles, distrust and drama weighing down on this Government, does Julia Gillard STILL lead Tony Abbott as preferred Prime Minster of Australia?'

Frankly there is no reason why, given what can be perceived as a Government that is failing to sell its message, that is encumbered with having walked away from the greatest moral dilemma, that is being attacked each day in the papers, radio and elsewhere, that Julia Gillard should be anywhere near Tony Abbott as preferred Prime Minister in those damn polls.

Yet she is.

And that is why there are some serious questions emerging for the Liberal party as we wind our way to within twelve months of the next Federal election.

What if the answer to the question as to why Julia Gillard is the preferred PM is BECAUSE of Tony Abbott? What if the one key thing the ALP is praying for is for the Liberal Party to retain its current leader? What would the campaign look like?

And time is running out. The ALP is not going to change its leader – that is set in stone despite those damn polls and 'internal caucus' rumblings. The polls give the Government a clear and undeniable message – lift your primary vote or be obliterated, but only if people ignore the opposition leader.

For the Liberal Party the complexity is greater. Do they believe the polls and believe that the electorate will 'come around' regarding Tony Abbott? Image management has been tried and is being tried and yet there's minimal bounce. Has the electorate determined that Tony Abbott might well be the perfect opposition leader (counter positional, good with pointing out problems in Government action, able to suggest easy fixes are possible) but not able to see him as Prime Minister material?

I understand that this might well be sacrilege to those within the Liberal Party – after all the polls (those polls) show a substantial lead over the incumbent. And because my role is to help people consider alternative forward views, the questions need to be asked. If the powers that be inside the Liberal Party choose to discount them or consider them unworthy of an intervention, that's fine. And they are questions worth considering all the same because the 'what if...' can lead to insights.

Insights such as – could Malcolm Turnbull still be a better fit or is his success as a businessman a millstone? Is Scott Morrison in the frame given his very high standard of performance in the media? Are we ready for a Christopher Pyne holding the reins or does he lack the empathy factor? Is Julie Bishop the ideal counter to the human touch that might be (according to those polls) lacking in the current leader? Has Andrew Robb aligned himself to the right issues?

There's polls, damn polls and statistics. But unless you question what the data is really telling you, you can fall into a trap of your own making. Perhaps I'm seeing too much in the polls and making the straight forward more complex than it needs to be. The huge risk is if the current Government can start making the message stick of whatever it is they are aiming to do. If that happens, momentum will shift quickly and there'll be little to counter it.

But for now, maybe I just need to ask the bookmakers what they think

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