28/10/2015 - 13:46

Liberals fear fair-weather friends

28/10/2015 - 13:46


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Labor and Greens voters are so glad Tony Abbott’s gone they are indicating their support for Malcolm Turnbull. But will this support transfer to the ballot box?

CROSSOVER: Malcolm Turnbull is popular with Labor and Greens voters, but will the honeymoon last?

Labor and Greens voters are so glad Tony Abbott’s gone they are indicating their support for Malcolm Turnbull. But will this support transfer to the ballot box?

The findings of Australia’s two leading media-sponsored opinion polls – Newspoll and Fairfax-Ipsos –released last month showed a marked turnaround in national mood.

Although the results of the Fairfax-Ipsos poll were far more encouraging for the coalition, and therefore discouraging for Labor, the earlier-released Newspoll also indicated the same mood shift was under way.

Firstly, let’s consider Newspoll’s findings from October 12.

It put new Liberal leader Malcolm Turnbull ahead of Labor’s Bill Shorten as preferred prime minister by 57 per cent to 19 per cent.

The leadership switch from Tony Abbott was backed by 62 per cent of Australians.

When focusing on primary voting intentions, Newspoll found the coalition’s support had fallen by one point, to 43 per cent.

Labor’s standing, on the other hand, was unchanged at a four-month low of 35 per cent.

The overall two-party-preferred outcome – after considering preference distribution according to last election’s allocations – showed the coalition and Labor-Greens alliance at 50-50.

The really good news for Mr Turnbull was that he’d performed far better than Mr Abbott.

Crucial here, however, was a strange but little-highlighted feature within Newspoll’s findings.

According to The Australian, Newspoll’s sponsor: “Labor and Greens voters were dramatically in favour of the leadership change, with 71 per cent support among ALP supporters and 82 per cent of Greens backing the switch.”

Clearly, Mr Turnbull is a hit, a star, among those within the Labor-Greens alliance; and notably, he faced heckling and laughter from his own side when recently addressing a NSW Liberal Council meeting.

That’s unusual, since the normal response of political opponents is to hold the other side’s leader in disdain, as happened to John Howard and Mr Abbott, while party members, at worst, remain silent.

The key elements of the Fairfax-Ipsos poll were even more favourable for the coalition and Mr Turnbull, with several commentators comparing him to Kevin Rudd, who’d also attained big numbers in the popularity stakes.

The Fairfax-Ipsos October poll, the first taken since Mr Turnbull ousted Mr Abbott, showed the coalition ahead of Labor 53 per cent to 47 per cent on a two-party preferred basis, whereas in a stunning turnaround, August’s Fairfax-Ipsos poll showed the coalition trailing Labor, 54 per cent to 46 per cent.

In the prime ministerial leadership stakes Mr Turnbull came in well ahead of Mr Shorten (67 per cent to 21 per cent); also a reversal on the situation in August when Mr Shorten was ahead of the then Liberal leader, Mr Abbott, by 45 per cent to 39 per cent.

What does all this mean?

Firstly, it’s clear Mr Turnbull has lifted the Liberals out of a polling hole, one Mr Abbott had dug for himself and the coalition quite soon after his September 2013 victory, and compounded with the unpopular May 2014 budget

Although it’s true that one swallow does not a summer make, the future for the coalition, at long last, looks brighter.

So much so that if results of this magnitude are still being registered soon after New Year’s Day 2016, a March election, rather than one in September, is likely so as to crush Labor and thwart the emerging Australian Liberty Alliance many Liberal MPs fear.

But something coalition numbers men will undoubtedly be carefully calibrating is just how much of Mr Turnbull’s support stems from the strong backing he’s attracted from leftist-oriented voters so clearly identified by Newspoll.

It’s important to remember that Mr Turnbull is what’s described in the political trade as a ‘social progressive’.

He’s not, and never has been, a right-of-centre Liberal, but rather someone with longstanding inclinations similar to those of Gough Whitlam and, more recently, even Mr Rudd.

That’s why 71 per cent and 82 per cent of Labor and Greens voters surveyed, respectively, are so taken by him.

It’s also why many in Liberal ranks are so suspicious of him.

And it’s why the Nationals ensured he signed a binding agreement with them not to embrace a number of his socially progressive inclinations.

A danger arising from this strange state of affairs is that, even though the polling suggests a large, leftist-oriented Labor-Greens block views Mr Turnbull as ideologically one of them, is it reasonable to expect such individuals to vote for right-of-centre candidates?

It’s important to drive this point well and truly home.

Labor and Greens backers are undoubtedly delighted that Mr Turnbull ousted Mr Abbott, whom they despised due to his social conservative status.

But surely it’s a considerable stretch to expect this type of voter to support Liberal-Nationals candidates on election day.

True, the majority in the Liberal party room who voted for him to again be leader have stymied Mr Shorten.

But how much of this Labor-Greens voter support for Mr Turnbull withers away on election day, when they’re staring at ballot papers and see Australian Labor Party and Greens candidates’ names before them?

That’s the question.


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