The negative predisposition prism – Prime Minister Gillard’s major problem

The negative predisposition prism is what happens when every decision a leader or a public figure makes is seen as negative or bad regardless of whether people agree or disagree with what that leader or public figure is saying.

I believe Julia Gillard’s major problem isn’t exactly one of the “correct” policies or the “correct” messaging. They are definitely problems but I think they have stemmed from the negative predisposition prism the public has of her at an interpersonal level and this has enveloped her leadership and how she is judged by the community.

First we’ll look at Julia Gillard’s approval ratings. Here’s the question from the Essential Media Communications poll from February 11th 2013:

Q. Do you approve or disapprove of the job Julia Gillard is doing as Prime Minister?

19
Jul

10

20
Dec

14
Mar
11

14 June

12 Sept

12 Dec

12
Mar
12

12
Jun

10 Sept

10
Dec

14
Jan
13

11
Feb

Total approve

52%

43%

41%

34%

28%

34%

32%

32%

35%

37%

41%

36%

Total disapprove

30%

40%

46%

54%

64%

54%

61%

56%

54%

53%

49%

55%

Strongly approve

11%

10%

7%

6%

5%

6%

8%

6%

7%

10%

9%

7%

Approve

41%

33%

34%

28%

23%

28%

24%

26%

28%

27%

32%

29%

Disapprove

17%

24%

22%

29%

28%

25%

29%

22%

27%

25%

23%

25%

Strongly disapprove

13%

16%

24%

25%

36%

29%

32%

34%

27%

28%

26%

30%

Don’t know

18%

17%

13%

13%

8%

11%

7%

12%

11%

11%

10%

9%

As we can see, Julia Gillard had a net approval rating of +22 on July 19th 2010. By the 12th of September 2011, her approval had plummeted to -36. It remained very bad for the next year or so before recovering to -8 on January 14th 2013.

The popular view is the recovery in Gillard’s numbers in the third and fourth quarters last year was due to the widespread coverage and positive reaction from the public to the “misogyny speech” although I suspect it might have something to do with the public’s emotional reaction to certain policies such as the carbon and mining taxes filtering through the system.

In other words: doom was anticipated, but when these policies became active, people didn’t feel the doom that was associated with them.

Last month, according to the Essential Media Communications poll, Gillard’s net approval rating returned to where it’s been for the last two or so years which is around -19.

Pretty much all of the latest publicly available opinion polls show the same thing in relation to Gillard’s approval rating:

Newspoll – 22nd-24th of February 2013: -28

AC Nielsen – 14th-16th of February 2013: -16

Galaxy – 1st-3rd of February 2013: -19

These polls all show similar numbers and overall there is a very solid level of disapproval for Julia Gillard in the electorate.

Next we’ll look at some more Essential Media Communications polling that asked about leader attributes in relation to Julia Gillard from January 14th, 2013:

Q. Which of the following describe your opinion of the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard?

5 Jul 10

4 Oct 10

7 Feb 11

27 Jun 11

2 Apr 12

17 Sept 12

14 Jan 13

Change since 5 Jul 2010

Intelligent

87%

81%

75%

73%

61%

68%

72%

-15%

Hard-working

89%

82%

76%

75%

65%

69%

72%

-17%

A capable leader

72%

59%

52%

42%

38%

43%

50%

-22%

Arrogant

37%

39%

44%

48%

53%

46%

47%

+10%

Out of touch with ordinary people

35%

44%

50%

60%

65%

56%

53%

+18%

Understands the problems facing Australia

68%

55%

52%

44%

41%

43%

47%

-19%

Visionary

48%

38%

30%

26%

25%

31%

29%

-19%

Superficial

51%

52%

54%

46%

46%

From Feb 2011: -5

Good in a crisis

61%

46%

46%

41%

36%

43%

50%

-11%

Narrow-minded

28%

35%

43%

46%

53%

46%

45%

+17%

More honest than most politicians

45%

37%

37%

29%

26%

31%

30%

-15%

Trustworthy

49%

42%

40%

30%

25%

30%

32%

-17%

Intolerant

37%

37%

Since Sept 2012: N/A

Aggressive

42%

46%

Since Sept 2012:+4%

Erratic

43%

40%

Since Sept 2012: -3%

Essential Media Communications usually shows the changes against what these figures showed the previous time they asked the question. I’ve altered it slightly to show the changes from when the 2010 election was announced in July 2010 to get a more long-term picture.

What this shows is that since Julia Gillard announced the previous election in July 2010, her numbers in relation to leadership attributes have fallen on attributes that would be considered positive (intelligent, hard-working, a capable leader, understands the problems facing Australia, visionary, good in a crisis, more honest than most politicians, trustworthy) and risen on attributes that would be considered negative (arrogant, out of touch with ordinary people, narrow-minded).

It’s the change in the number rather than the % of respondents that associate a particular attribute with her leadership that tells the story.

From all of the above, it’s fair to say that the public’s view of Julia Gillard has deteriorated rapidly over the past few years.

So the PM’s unpopular. So what?

Paul Keating was unpopular and won “the unwinnable election” in 1993. John Howard was unpopular and won four elections. Tony Abbott is unpopular as well. Doesn’t this mean Julia Gillard can overcome these numbers?

To answer this question, we have to know whether Julia Gillard has the ability to persuade people to vote for the ALP instead of the Coalition or anyone else who isn’t the ALP.

Firstly we’ll look at Essential Media Communications’s question on whether this government deserves to be re-elected from February 25th, 2013:

Q. As of now, do you think the current Federal Labor Government of Julia Gillard deserves to be re-elected?

Total

Vote Labor

Vote Lib/Nat

Vote Greens

Yes, deserves to be re-elected

26%

66%

4%

31%

No, does not deserve to be re-elected

57%

17%

88%

38%

Don’t know

17%

17%

8%

31%

Look at the response from Liberal and National voters. Only 4% of Liberal and National Party voters believes this government, led by Julia Gillard, deserves to be re-elected and 88% believe they don’t deserve to be re-elected!

By itself, that says a lot.

This week the Prime Minister went on a mini campaign through ALP electorates in Western Sydney. A ReachTEL poll (1st March, 2013) asked voters who live in the area whether the visit was more or less likely to get them to vote for the ALP. Here was the response:

The Prime Minister Julia Gillard is making a special visit to Western Sydney, has this visit made you more or less likely to vote for Labor?

Total Labor Liberal Greens KAP Oth
More likely 14.4% 37.2% 3.0% 17.8% 17.6% 9.3%
Less likely 43.5% 12.8% 60.0% 25.4% 41.2% 44.3%
Vote unchanged 42.1% 50.0% 37.0% 56.8% 41.2% 46.4%

Only 14.4% of the total response said they were more likely to vote ALP from this visit. Of that number on 3% of those voters were identified as Liberal! This is compared to a whopping 85.6% of respondents who were either less likely to vote ALP (43.5%) or not change their vote (42.1%). Of the voters who were identified as Liberal, 60% said they were less likely to vote ALP from the visit and 37% said their vote would be unchanged. Granted this is just Western Sydney, but these kinds of figures are similar albeit slightly less profound across the country.

In terms of persuading voters, last week for the ALP has been yet another case of ‘the backfire effect!’

Next we’ll look at the response to a specific decision Gillard made recently. This is the Galaxy Research poll from February 1st-3rd, 2013 asking how voters viewed the decision to announce the election date well in advance of when it was due in order to provide the public with certainty:

Julia Gillard said that she announced the date of the federal election to end the speculation over when the poll will be held and to provide certainty to the country. Do you believe this explanation?

Total Labor
Coalition
Yes 41% 67% 21%
No 53% 25% 76%
Uncommitted 6% 8% 3%

Again, a very small number of Coalition voters believe Julia Gillard compared to a very large amount who don’t believe Julia Gillard. This is quite telling as it’s related to the word ‘certainty’ which is always a major issue for voters.

If you don’t feel certain about someone it’s very hard to trust them and if you don’t trust someone, it’s very hard to be persuaded by them regardless of the objective facts.

Finally, here’s Galaxy from the 15th – 17th of June 2012 on whether voters feel Labor is better or worse off since Julia Gillard replaced Kevin Rudd as Labor leader:

It’s been two years since Julia Gillard replaced Kevin Rudd as leader of the Labor Party. Overall, would you say that the Labor Government is now better or worse than it was two years ago under Kevin Rudd?

Total Labor Liberal
Better 20% 42% 7%
Worse 64% 39% 83%
Uncommitted 16% 19% 10%

Only 7% of Liberal supporters feel the ALP is better since Julia Gillard replaced Kevin Rudd as Labor leader compared to 83% who feel they’re worse off! … It’s awfully difficult to persuade people to vote for you when the people you’re trying to persuade believe you’re going backwards!

Some would say “of course Liberal voters would say that. They’re gaming the polls!” In my opinion that’s pretty much impossible. Firstly, they’d have to pay as much attention to politics as your average “political tragic.” Then they’d have to believe in the same political/media industrial complex most “tragics” on all sides of politics seem to believe in passionately i.e the media influences public opinion and voting intention. After that, they’d have to think about it for a bit, then they’d have to be deliberately manipulative and so on. Most people simply aren’t involved enough to care about such deception.

The reason I’ve focused on Liberal respondents is because in order to win the next federal election, the ALP needs to persuade voters who are prepared to vote for the Liberal Party to vote for them instead.

What the above shows is that the voters needed to win, for the most part, have stopped listening to Julia Gillard.

It’s very difficult to persuade someone you need to vote for you to vote for you when they’ve stopped listening!

Enough polling!

On December 28th 2012, I attended Proclamation Day (the celebration of the day South Australia was proclaimed as a British Province in 1836) at the Old Gum Tree in Northern Glenelg where the Prime Minister gave a speech about her childhood and growing up in South Australia.

I asked a number of people who attended the barbecue afterwards about what they thought of the Prime Minister attending the event and what they thought of her speech. The word I got from pretty much everyone I asked was “political” and attached to “political” was anything related to her mentioning her childhood and improving living standards.

This is one of the words Julia Gillard’s leadership has been reduced to: “political.” When that word gets associated with a leader, it’s usually the final gong for anyone in public life. It means that anytime you attempt to talk about an issue you’re passionate about, it gets viewed as a cynical attempt to manipulate people rather than anything with any substance.

This is an example of what the negative predisposition prism does and once it’s firmly formed in a majority of people’s brains, it’s very difficult to get rid of it!

Let’s say the Prime Minister talks about the issue of improving education standards and how she believes education is the key to raising people’s well-being and making sure children have a bright and prosperous future. That sounds like a very positive, clear statement of priorities. The public response to this kind of statement tends to be a whole group of questions related to education policy i.e funding the Gonski Review recommendations, why Australia is falling behind global competitors in literacy and numeracy standards etc. Even if Julia Gillard answers these sorts of questions honestly (and in my opinion, she always does), the predisposition to her answers is dissatisfaction. It doesn’t matter whether they agree or disagree. The button in the brain that is pushed is dissatisfaction.

In a previous post, I mentioned how when a hole is opened on a particular policy issue, it spreads to pretty much every other policy issue and forms a system that is insanely difficult to break. For example if you’re perceived to have told a lie on a policy issue like the carbon tax, the belief that trust has been broken spreads into pretty much every other issue like a virus. The exact same thing has happened to beliefs in relation to Julia Gillard’s leadership.

First there was the views in relation to how she became leader. Imagery such as knifing Kevin Rudd made people very suspicious of her motives. Then there was everything that happened during the 2010 election campaign such as “the real Julia” which added to the uncertainty about what she stood for. Then there was the hung parliament result which lead to a range of negative vectors being established in relation to her leadership and the ALP as a party such as illegitimacy, deal making and compromise.

Then there was the announcement of the carbon “tax” which the Coalition spent six months connecting to the words “lie” and “liar.” This played on themes such as social license, the people’s mandate, trust and uncertainty.

Then we had the flip-flopping on asylum seeker policy and the petty arguments about the power of the executive and the power of the judiciary in deciding what is lawful and unlawful in relation to the issue (no one likes a legal argument).

Then we had the perceived instability in the parliamentary numbers in relation to Craig Thomson, Peter Slipper and Andrew Wilkie. It didn’t matter what the issues were unless they were cast in a negative light towards Julia Gillard’s judgement i.e she relied on Craig Thomson’s and Peter Slipper’s “tainted vote” and “she broke a promise” to Andrew Wilkie. The words “a line has been crossed” were used in relation to this in April 2012. All it did was cause even more uncertainty.

Then we had issues in relation to the ALP such as “we are us” at the national conference in 2011.

Australia Day 2012 could have been a point where the Prime Minister was able to change people’s views around her leadership. She acted responsibly in making sure Tony Abbott was protected from the mob of protestors that was unleashed at him (watch Abbott’s flippant reaction at 2.33. It says an awful lot about his character). Instead it became a conspiracy surrounding whether one of her staffers tipped someone off to Abbott’s location.

Then there was Kevin Rudd’s leadership challenge a month or so later. It wasn’t Julia Gillard this time that was doing the damage to herself. It was her supporters with their scorched earth approach to making sure Kevin Rudd was unelectable as Labor leader. All it did was make Kevin Rudd look like the victim of a culture of bullying and played into a number of already firmly established emotionally vectors in relation to how he’s viewed by the public.

Fast forward to today and nothing really has changed and the reason for it is because the public has a negative predisposition towards everything Prime Minister Gillard does or doesn’t do. Everything in that timeline of events I’ve just listed has created a very well established system of negative predisposition in the majority of people’s brains.

Even a moment that is considered positive for Gillard like the “misogyny speech” got responses like “she should have done it sooner!”

She can’t take a trick!

Scott Steel aka Possum Comitatus wrote a very detailed post last year that showed in this particular period of time, public perceptions of leadership have become pretty much everything in relation to how a government performs electorally. To quote him:

Our public perceptions of leadership have become all encompassing of our politics . Change perceptions of that leadership, change the vote – drive perceptions of the PM into the dirt, drive the government’s vote into the dirt with it. Lift the public’s satisfaction with the PM up, the government vote gets dragged up too.

The problem for Julia Gillard is that she’s asking people to trust her when the groundswell of distrust and the public’s negative predisposition prism have already been firmly established in the majority of people’s minds and brains over a very long period of time. Add to that a parliamentary opposition that appears to understand this dynamic, a public that has extremely high expectations, a short attention span due to the demands of modern life and a high degree of uncertainty as well as a media that is intensely focused on scrutiny of pretty much every decision the government makes and you get a situation that is pretty much impossible for Julia Gillard to turn around.

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One thought on “The negative predisposition prism – Prime Minister Gillard’s major problem

  1. Ralph July 9, 2013 at 8:10 am Reply

    I’ve just found your blog and have been reading the old posts. This is absolutely superb stuff you’ve done here. It seems poor ol’ Julia never had a chance. And it all makes so much sense too, for a backyard strategist like myself. You explain obviously complex issues very well. It makes me wonder if ALP types have been keeping tabs on your blog.

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