“I think a budget surplus is important to myself and my country but I approve of the budget being in deficit”

We constantly hear talk from both sides of politics about the need for the budget to return to surplus for various economic reasons yet at the same time we know the public demands the government enact all kinds of policies to look after pretty much every community issue under the sun. The two major reforms people want right now seem to revolve around the National Disability Insurance Scheme and the reforms in relation to education funding recommended by David Gonski’s review.

So there becomes a conflict between the government getting the budget back to surplus and community demands on what they want the government to do for them and given the way things are experienced at the present moment in relation to the economy, this tends to create massive amounts of uncertainty for people.

This is one of the reasons why both sides of the national debate are now focusing on aspirational promises in relation to what they’ll do if they win the next federal election rather than real ones because on one level or another, they both believe it’s in both their political interests as well as the national interest to tighten the nation’s fiscal belt.

In December 2012, Treasurer Wayne Swan decided to back down on a promise to deliver the budget back to surplus by 2013.

This week, Essential Media has conducted a poll asking respondents various questions about the budget surplus.

Firstly we will start with how important the surplus is to people in terms of the well-being of the country and their well-being personally.

Q. Thinking about the Federal Government budget, how important do you believe it is for the budget to be in surplus…?

Total important

Total
not important

Very important

Quite Important

Not very important

Not
at all important

Don’t know

Total important – 2 Oct
12

…for the country as a whole

69%

26%

28%

41%

22%

4%

5%

68%

…for you personally

54%

39%

20%

34%

29%

10%

7%

46%

As we can see, the majority of respondents judge the surplus as a concept to be important for both the country and themselves personally.

The next question in the poll was a slightly different one because it asked about the approval of the decision not to return the budget to surplus.

Q. Do you approve or disapprove of the Government’s decision not to return the budget to surplus this financial year?

Total

Vote Labor

Vote Lib/Nat

Vote Greens

Total approve

42%

64%

29%

55%

Total disapprove

37%

12%

57%

25%

Strongly approve

9%

18%

5%

8%

Approve

33%

46%

24%

47%

Disapprove

27%

11%

39%

22%

Strongly disapprove

10%

1%

18%

3%

Don’t know

21%

23%

14%

20%

What’s going on here? On the one hand, a majority of respondents think the surplus is important for both the nation and themselves personally, yet at the same time a majority approve of the government’s decision not to return the budget to surplus this financial year.

Last but not least we have a question about a future Coalition government lead by Tony Abbott in relation to this issue.

Q. Do you think that if Tony Abbott and Coalition win the next election, they will deliver a budget surplus in their first year of Government?

Total

Vote Labor

Vote Lib/Nat

Vote Greens

Probably will deliver a surplus

19%

10%

31%

14%

Probably won’t deliver a surplus

60%

74%

52%

66%

Don’t know

20%

16%

18%

20%

Huh?

So the respondents to this poll consider a budget surplus important for the nation and themselves, yet they approve of the government’s decision to abandon the surplus and they mostly believe a Coalition government under Tony Abbott’s leadership probably won’t deliver a surplus in it’s first year in office.

Maybe the respondents to this poll understand what’s going on in the economy in relation to the various long term revenue raising problems the government is experiencing and will continue to experience in the future. In my opinion something about this seems a little irrational in relation to where things stand at the moment politically

Here’s something even more startling. Newspoll published a poll this week that showed which parties respondents trust to handle issues. According to this poll, on the issue of “handling the economy” the Coalition were more trusted than Labor by a margin of nearly 2 to 1.

If we believe the results from the Essential Media poll that show respondents approve of the ALP government’s decision to not return the budget to surplus as well as the view that a potential Coalition government lead by Tony Abbott in it’s first year probably won’t deliver a surplus either, why are the Coalition so far ahead of the ALP on the issue of who’s the better party to handle the economy when they are constantly raising the surplus promise issue in the national conversation?

I think the reason has to do with identity on both a national scale and a personal scale. The reason the surplus is important is not because of it’s pragmatic use to the economy, but because of the emotions it represents to people in relation to how they see Australia. These include emotions such as peace of mind, safety, security, freedom as well as values such as responsibility, hard work, self reliance and so on.

Whenever the Coalition talk about the government’s failure or broken promise to bring the budget back to surplus, that’s merely code. What they’re really saying is this government creates emotional feelings of distrust, insecurity and of course uncertainty (the big theme through this term of parliament). Whenever the ALP try to counter this message by talking about the facts they’re missing the heart of how people feel about the budget surplus which is the identity the Coalition have created in voters minds and souls around it.

Many ALP people wonder why the Coalition repeatedly hammer them when it comes to views on which party is best to handle the economy even when the ALP have saved the country from recession during the global financial crisis, have allowed the economy to experience remarkable levels growth, low levels of unemployment compared to other countries around the world and lower interest rates than they were at any stage during the Howard government. I think identity goes a long way to explaining the reason for it. First the conservatives start with the budget surplus and once it’s firmly ingrained in people’s souls, they go for everything else.

“No budget surplus and a carbon tax!”

“No budget surplus means higher costs of living!”

“No budget surplus means higher interest rates!”

“No budget surplus means national pride!”

It doesn’t matter to the conservatives whether it’s true or not. All they’re concerned with is framing Labor negatively on the economy and establishing an identity people can relate to which is favourable to their views of the world.

It’s all well and good to talk about the facts but if you aren’t engaging people at a deeper level of their being, all they hear is noise and they tune out.

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