Category Archives: Communication

Direction, Markers and Symbolism

Two weeks since the Coalition formed government under Tony Abbott’s leadership, it is very clear to me that they’re about to run rings around their political opponents (at least in the short term while the ALP remains leaderless). In this post I’ll attempt to go over how they’re going to do this.

People are very uncertain about the direction of their lives and the direction of the nation. What this means for the government is they need to provide firm and achievable markers for people in order to communicate what they’re doing in a way they can both digest and understand.

The previous government failed miserably in this respect. There was the marker of a budget surplus but it wasn’t achievable due to the volatility in the global economy which the Coalition exploited at every opportunity with great effect.

Some examples of markers the new government have established are very familiar: “stop the boats”, “end the waste”, “repay the deficit”, “abolish the carbon tax”, “abolish the mining tax”, “restore trust”, “cut red and green tape” etc.

In terms of the way policy and outcomes are viewed within the Canberra bureaucracy, this stuff is vague, overly simplistic, unspecific and potentially dangerous but to voters who have short attention spans due to the complexity and demands of their day to day lives, this is very clear and understandable because it’s emphasising actions and values rather than numbers and data which people generally find meaningless.

“You have uncertainty everywhere, we’re making things certain” is the Coalition’s message in a nutshell. Whether they can deliver what they promise remains to be seen.

The direction is in the overarching message, the markers are in the sub messages which relate to particular issues e.g the economy, climate change, asylum seekers, infrastructure and so on.

As someone who identifies with the progressive, moderate, socially democratic “side” of the political spectrum, I’m constantly frustrated when I see “my side” attacking the Coalition on things they’ve already inoculated themselves against.

Last week, Tony Abbott announced his cabinet of twenty which included only one woman in the group: Julie Bishop. The outrage was predictable as it plays into the “left’s” preexisting line that Tony Abbott’s a blue tie wearing misogynist etc. This attack has been used for the last three years with literally zero success but it keeps getting used regardless.

All this sort of attack does is reinforce the view that Abbott’s opponents are desperate, spiteful and insecure while positioning him as a centrist. What’s worse is there’s no actual issue being addressed. It’s just name calling for name callings sake. Abbott has made a successful political career as a parasite for this sort of combat since his days at university.

The far more powerful point that “if 95% of people at the top are male, it’s not a meritocratic system” and that this should be judged as a systemic failure of the Coalition’s ideology and values tends to get lost in this noise.

The dots aren’t being joined for people in a way they can understand and digest.

It’s the same thing with these sorts of T-Shirts.

Abbott hater t-shirt

People might not like Abbott, however the professional people advising him clearly understand this point and have adjusted accordingly. These sorts of attacks say more about the attackers and their political views than they say about Abbott.

What is most clear to me about the new government is priority will be placed on the way things are done over policy detail. The best example of this so far has been the decision by Scott Morrison to stop reporting the numbers of boats that arriving in Australian waters. There are two important points that need to be made in relation to this announcement:

1. The proxy issue of boats was never about the boats in and of themselves. It was about the symbolism of bombardment in people’s lives which hooked into issues like the economy, education, transport, infrastructure and so on. The symbolism of a boat arriving to the “right” was an amplifier of this bombardment. By not reporting the numbers of boats, the government is addressing what people want emotionally: stability. Whether this is a good or bad thing, again remains to be seen.

2.  The point many have raised i.e “imagine the outrage from Abbott if Labor did it” misses the key point that Abbott was in control of the outrage in opposition and this announcement was deliberate meaning the government is now in control of the outrage on the issue once again. Abbott successfully played with fire in opposition on multiple issues however in government this approach might come back to bite him.

It will be interesting to see how the new ALP leader (Anthony Albanese or Bill Shorten) responds to these markers and symbols. I think they’re both on the ball but we shall see.

And all this time, I’ve been smoking not so harmless tobacco!!!

While the so called “political class” keeps talking about issues that have either been neutralised in terms of their negative electoral impact or up for speculation, the government is shifting the agenda to something people actually care about in their lives: health.

The way the government has gone about doing this is by increasing the tobacco excise by 60% ($5.3 Billion) over the next four years.

If we look at Essential Media Communications polling from  July 23 2013, we can see how important voters consider health as an election issue.

Q.  Which are the three most important issues in deciding how you would vote at a Federal election?

 

Total

23 Jul 13

Total

17 Jun 13

11 Feb 13

19 Nov 12

30 Jul 12

5 Dec 11

6 June 11

25 Jan 10

Management of the economy

45%

47%

62%

66%

64%

62%

61%

63%

Ensuring a quality education for all children

25%

25%

29%

35%

26%

22%

26%

23%

Ensuring the quality of Australia’s health system

42%

45%

52%

57%

47%

47%

49%

48%

Protecting the environment

12%

13%

14%

14%

11%

13%

15%

16%

A fair industrial relations system

10%

10%

12%

8%

12%

11%

8%

na

Political leadership

21%

22%

14%

15%

25%

18%

17%

23%

Addressing climate change

11%

11%

9%

9%

9%

10%

15%

16%

Controlling interest rates

13%

11%

9%

11%

9%

11%

13%

15%

Australian jobs and protection of local industries

39%

34%

40%

32%

41%

36%

32%

33%

Ensuring a quality water supply

3%

5%

4%

5%

3%

4%

5%

12%

Housing affordability

17%

14%

11%

14%

13%

13%

16%

14%

Ensuring a fair taxation system

20%

19%

21%

17%

18%

16%

17%

14%

Security and the war on terrorism

8%

8%

6%

5%

5%

4%

8%

9%

Treatment of asylum seekers

14%

11%

6%

6%

10%

8%

5%

na

Managing population growth

9%

11%

9%

7%

8%

8%

12%

na

Ensuring the quality of Australia’s health system is rated second as an important election issue behind management of the economy. This isn’t new information. What is a bit newer is the next bit.

Next, from the same poll, we’ll look at which party is better trusted to handle these election issues.

Q.  Which party would you trust most to handle the following issues?

 

Labor

Liberal

Greens

Don’t know

Difference 23 Jul 13

Difference 17 Jun 13

Management of the economy

29%

44%

3%

25%

-15

-18

Ensuring a quality education for all children

40%

31%

4%

25%

+9

+1

Ensuring the quality of Australia’s health system

34%

33%

7%

27%

+1

-5

Protecting the environment

19%

21%

39%

21%

+18

+10

A fair industrial relations system

41%

30%

4%

24%

+11

+3

Political leadership

28%

35%

5%

31%

-7

-19

Addressing climate change

20%

23%

30%

27%

+7

Controlling interest rates

26%

40%

2%

32%

-14

-17

Australian jobs and protection of local industries

34%

35%

4%

26%

-1

-7

Ensuring a quality water supply

19%

26%

22%

32%

-7

-14

Housing affordability

26%

28%

6%

39%

-2

-12

Ensuring a fair taxation system

31%

33%

5%

31%

-2

-11

Security and the war on terrorism

23%

38%

4%

36%

-15

-18

Treatment of asylum seekers

22%

33%

13%

31%

-11

-22

Managing population growth

20%

33%

8%

39%

-13

-19

Only a 1% difference between the parties in terms of who’s better at managing the health system!

The rule of thumb is that the Coalition are always stronger on issues such as the economy and national security and the ALP are always stronger on issues such as education and health. For the ALP to be only narrowly in front in terms of the perceptions gap on the issue of health is something that would be major cause for alarm.

So the government now is trying to address their problem on perceptions of the health issue by raising the tobacco excise. Smoking kills people. Lets raise a tax on cigarettes to reduce consumption and death. This is a pretty obvious point. What’s interesting though is the coordinated way the ALP have gone about addressing the issue.

Firstly there was a press conference yesterday in which the Prime Minister said

“Around 30 per cent of cancer is caused by tobacco consumption and it’s estimated this will kill 15,000 Australians each year, that is far too many and it’s also really expensive for the country to deal with. We need to get serious on this major driver of cancer in Australia. There is a limit to the number of taxpayer dollars available to health”

So that’s out there. Then comes the next bit which was released last night in the form of an advertisement (when I typed in Tony Abbott on youtube, this was the first result that came up).

So now it’s become a personal issue for Tony Abbott that he has to deal with. How does he respond to this claim. Will he deny the claims made in the advertisement or will he attack the government for engaging in “negative politics.” If he denies the claims, he accepts tobacco donations (bad). If he attacks the government for engaging in “negative politics” he accepts tobacco donations, is engaging in “negative politics” and giving the ALP a soundbite to use in election material by getting caught in the word game Rudd has established (triple bad).

The immediate response from the Coalition was to point out that Rudd as a backbencher took hospitality whilst on the backbench from a foundation that provides equipment to the smoking industry in Germany. It sounds so tame by the Coalition’s standards. So tit for tat. So boring. So easy to address by someone with their act together.

Already, we have the Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey attempting to make this an economic issue and not a health issue.

Note the use of the words “it’s not a health measure.” When you negate the frame, you evoke the frame.

It should be fascinating to see how this plays out over the coming weeks and months. The ALP have not been this organised in their attacks on the Coalition for years. If the ALP can regain their strength on the issue of health, that will be more positive ammunition for the ALP to use during the election campaign.

It’s early to make this judgement, but finally the ALP seem to have their act together!

“Negative Politics”

In the first week of Rudd’s leadership we had the words “diplomatic conflict” used in relation to the Coalition’s asylum seeker policy which sent conservatives into both a frenzy of “Kermit arms” hysteria and political mistakes.

Yesterday, the ALP released their first advertisement for the upcoming election campaign. For those who haven’t seen it yet, here it is:

This advertisement has thrown a couple of new verbal grenades into the national debate. The first was “negative politics” and the second was “raise the standards.”

Cynics and the “political insider” crowd might deride this sort of communication as “spin” however this ignores the fact that Rudd is directly addressing a serious issue for people in relation to politics in this country: the public’s disgust at the negativity used from both sides of politics and the perceived decline in the standard of the national conversation.

They’re powerful lines on their own but in the combination they have been used in this advertisement, they’re deadly!

Firstly, Rudd is qualifying himself for people in order to establish a high standard of performance as Prime Minister. In other words, he wants to do the best job he can possibly do.

He’s not mucking around.

It’s very important to make this clear before we go into anything else because it’s the key to how this sort of communication works. If it was simply about countering the “evil menace” Tony Abbott and the Liberal Party, the whole thing falls apart.

As a leader, he is defining the criteria for people to make their own assessment on his performance. This is the base for everything that follows.

Secondly any attack directed at Rudd based on the content of this advertisement by the Coalition has already been framed as “negative politics.” Any move they make has the hue of negative politics to it before they even decide to move a muscle.

Lastly any type of “negative politics” used by the Coalition is by definition not “raising the standard” of public debate (what people desperately want right now) and therefore adding to Rudd’s credibility and the ALP’s election campaign material.

On top of all that, Tony Abbott has already been narrowed and defined to the words “negative” and “no” over a three year period, so for him to break free of this word prism he has placed himself in, he’ll have to be acting inconsistent with his public persona which would make the communications material coming from the Coalition even more of a complete mess than it is already.

To be continued

Sugar do, do, do, do, do, do, oh honey, honey, do, do, do, do, do, do

Over the last five days we’ve had four polls from Morgan, ReachTEL, Galaxy Research and Newspoll which all show similar voting intention results:

Morgan (SMS) 26th June 2013: ALP 38%, Coalition 41%

ReachTEL 27th June 2013: ALP 38.3%, Coalition 45.1%

Galaxy Research 27th-28th June 2013: ALP 38%, Coalition 44%

Newspoll 28th-30th June 2013: ALP 35%, Coalition 43%

In a previous post, I wrote that the structural primary votes of the major parties in Australia are ALP 38%, Coalition 43%.

So far, the parties appear to have reverted to their structural base positions. This is very encouraging news for the ALP and disturbing news for the Coalition who have spent the last three years establishing a very well detailed, sophisticated and effective campaign strategy only to find a sudden change of battlefield and their canned lines having no real significance to people’s lives anymore.

In another previous post, I suggested that the ALP needed to win seats in Queensland in order to win the next election. Early reports suggest that the ALP is seeing a massive turnaround in the state.

Here are some examples over the last year of what Kevin Rudd has been doing in Queensland:

In recent days there have been reports that the ALP is seeing a massive recovery in it’s position in Queensland. Given that Kevin Rudd has been campaigning heavily for over a year against the very unpopular actions of the Newman LNP state government, I wouldn’t be surprised if this local campaign begins to take on a national significance. There’s very little that Tony Abbott or the Coalition can do to compete with this type of personal, sophisticated, localised, relevant and timely campaigning.

There’s also been a few conservative mouth pieces and associates (when this guy starts freaking out, you know they’re in trouble) in recent days attempting to spin the recent rise in the ALP’s position as merely a “sugar hit” that will dissipate in the coming weeks and months as people see how much of a brutal tyrant Kevin Rudd is towards his colleagues, how the ALP are disrespecting “the people’s mandate” by not calling an early election as well as the tired old lines like “tax, tax, tax, debt, debt, debt” and so on.

The only “sugar hit” I’m hearing right now is this one

Perceptions of Diplomatic Conflict

Kevin Rudd’s return to the Prime Ministership allows us to explore some of the more nuanced aspects of political communication.

On his second day in the job, he has got many on the conservative “side” of politics up in arms over two simple words in relation to the issue of Foreign Affairs: “Diplomatic conflict.” Here is the full quote from his press conference yesterday

“I am concerned about Mr Abbott’s policy where he says he can “turn the boats back to Indonesia.” I really wonder whether he’s  trying to risk some sort of conflict with Indonesia. That’s not a good thing. It’s a really bad thing”

He continued

“What I’m talking about is diplomatic conflict. But I’m always wary about where diplomatic conflicts go.

What happens on day one when field marshal Tony puts out the order to the captain of the Australian Naval frigate X to turn back a bunch of boats and you’ve got naval frigate from the Indonesian navy on the other side of the equation.”

It has been repeatedly said that one of Rudd’s major weaknesses is the issue of Asylum Seekers. “Stopping the boats” after all has been one of the key lines Tony Abbott has used to frame the national conversation on the Coalition’s terms over the past three years.

I’m no expert on Foreign Affairs, so I’ll leave that to others. For this post, all I’m interested in is the issue positioning.

Rudd has taken the word “conflict” and associated it with “Abbott” on the issue of Foreign Affairs, which is Rudd’s perceived strength. So, if Abbott decides to raise the issue of “towing back the boats to Indonesia”, which you’d expect given how much capital he’s put into it over the last three years, he now has to deal with the idea that he’s playing right into Rudd’s hands on an issue he has no control over while handing all of the control of the issue framing back to the ALP.

That’s part one. Part two is far more subtle.

Here are some headlines from today’s newspapers:

“Kevin Rudd risks row with Indonesia” – The Australian

“Kevin Rudd broke every rule in the book” – The Australian

“New PM warns of refugee war with Jakarta” – The Daily Telegraph

“PM says Abbott turn-back-boats policy risks conflict” – Australian Financial Review

“Turning back boats poses risk of spat, warns Rudd” – Sydney Morning Herald

The interpretation of Rudd’s words by the newspapers or how the newspapers are trying to spin it to suit their editorial positions is irrelevant. All that matters here is the framing and more importantly, who is in control of the framing.

If the Coalition attempts to suggest Rudd, a person of significant foreign policy expertise and experience, is risking a row with Indonesia, they’ll be paddling upstream as Rudd will slam them from his carefully worded position and they will have to defend their policy or escalate the conflict on an issue which is his strength.

If they start trying to defend their policy towards asylum seekers, Rudd has won. If they viciously attack Rudd (which they have), they merely confirm that their position is one of “diplomatic conflict” through their actions making Rudd’s position all the more credible with people.

This is just one example of how the ALP suddenly has regained control of the emotional dynamic over the last couple of days. There is likely to be many more examples over the coming weeks and months.

I sense the Coalition has begun to realise they are losing control over the national conversation as evidenced by their need to hold an emergency war room meeting in Canberra yesterday, Former Prime Minister John Howard joining Tony Abbott on the campaign trail and this hysterical outburst from Senator Michaelia Cash in the senate yesterday.

This is just the beginning!

Winning the psychological game

“The purpose of wedge politics is to define and limit the political space within which Labor must operate” – Andrew Norton

Paul Keating has often said that in federal politics a general rule of thumb is the ALP have a structural primary vote of 38% and the Coalition have a structural primary vote of 43%. The “structural vote” is the amount of the electorate that can be relied upon to support either of the political parties at an election.

If the ALP consistently goes above a 38% primary vote and the Coalition goes below a 43% primary vote in the national polling, you can say the ALP are winning the “middle ground”. If the Coalition’s primary vote consistently goes above 43% and the ALP’s primary vote goes below 38%, you can say that the ALP are losing their “base” vote.

Right now, the federal ALP’s primary vote is consistently below 38% (well below 38%) which we can take to mean that they are losing their base vote.

With that in mind, what I’m going to address in this post is the subject of winning.

Winning federally to the ALP is anything over a 40% primary vote. You could make the excuse that the ALP could win federally with a primary vote of 38% or 39% backed up with preferences from the Greens and other minor parties but any victory from that position is always a very narrow one. The ALP have only won two federal elections on a primary vote below 40%: 1990 and 2010 and both were won by the skin of their teeth.

A 40% primary vote for the federal ALP goes a long way to securing victory.

That’s the simple part. The hard part for the ALP (for some anyway) is what winning entails.

If your structural vote is 38% and you need a primary vote of over 40% to secure victory, you need to face a few realities.

Firstly, it’s very difficult for the ALP to win with a defensive, passive, risk avoidance strategy. In the current situation of the hung parliament, that is especially true.

Politics is meant to be a contest of ideas. What the ALP have done over the past three years or so has been to abandon the ideas contest in favour of talking about processes. For example, the carbon price has never been explained or spelled out in terms of addressing dangerous climate change: the greatest moral challenge of our time, transitioning the economy into the modern world or making the future safe and secure for our children and their children. Far from it!

All we’ve had is the mechanics and the process of the policy: the price will be $23 per tonne, it will be imposed on the 500 biggest polluting businesses, households will be compensated in order to deal with the rise in electricity prices etc etc etc. This is not the language of victory!

There isn’t even any talk about how an issue like climate change invalidates half of the Liberal Party’s ideology of “let her rip” free market fundamentalism and what that should mean to people in relation to what they value in their lives. It’s just been boring lines that mean nothing to nobody.

Put simply, the ALP have failed to engage the Coalition ideologically, let alone define the Coalition’s positions on issues or limit the political space in which the Coalition operate within.

Take compulsory superannuation. The idea that the ALP have created a $1.5 Trillion financial services industry in Australia is something that would emotionally trigger many people inclined to support the Liberal Party. “Wealth creation” and “saving money” are ideas that attract many people to support the Liberal Party yet it was the ALP who created and built the industry in Australia from the ground up and it was the Liberal Party who opposed it every step of the way.

What’s more, an issue like compulsory superannuation goes straight to the psychological jugular in relation to why the Coalition exist politically. Do the Coalition oppose the idea of every person in Australia being responsible for their own retirement or do they support the idea of having an extremely large cohort of elderly people depending on the government pension after they retire from the workforce? Do the Coalition oppose the idea of every person in Australia being a financial capitalist? On this policy, the conventional framing on the economy has the potential to be completely reversed but the opportunity always seems to be missed by the ALP as they’re simply not in that head-space.

Consider the mechanics of the Coalition’s Paid Parental Leave scheme. Tony Abbott has known since the time he became leader of the Liberal Party that one of the big personal issues running against him has always been that women don’t approve of him and he tried to neutralise it by offering a ridiculously generous parental leave scheme.

When pressed on the issue in April last year on the John Laws radio program, he conceded the word game by calling it a tax, yet the ALP didn’t capitalise on the key point: the ideology, not the policy. This is a policy Abbott talks about that offends people in the business community and yet the ALP can’t score points on it because they are too timid or simply uninterested in targeting that sort of constituency. “They aren’t “Labour rusted ons” so why bother” tends to be the misguided rationale. In this particular case it’s not the word “tax” in and of itself that was the issue but the emotional values and the associations behind the use of the word (not the word, but “the use of the word”).

It’s the same deal with the Coalition’s Direct Action policy. Professor Ross Garnaut gifted the ALP a line in February 2010 in relation to it being akin to “Soviet Union style resource allocation” yet the ALP only figured it out last month: 3 years after the fact! … 3 years too late!

The ALP don’t seem to grasp the potential for dividing the Coalition at an ideological level. It’s just processes all the way down to them.

There is no understanding of the values or the emotional triggers underlying the policies and how to influence them so that they make a significant difference in the ALP’s favour.

The Coalition by contrast appear to “get it” (at the present moment). They aren’t afraid to go after the ALP’s working class constituency because they understand the misery it’s causing the ALP psychologically and how that translates into the rest of the national conversation. They know that if they get the ALP trying to salvage their structural vote (38%), that translates into people on the far left splintering off to the Greens and the Coalition being able to claim more of the middle ground (anything above 43%) for themselves.

What the ALP need to do instead of thinking in terms of merely “winning the next election,” is focus on destroying the Coalition’s ideology forever. That sort of mindset has a few implications. For a start it means thinking on a huge scale and being big picture focused. It also means being secure about issues like industrial relations. What the ALP failed to do after 2007 was destroy the Coalition on the issue once and for all. Instead what they’ve done is attempt to create a contest where one didn’t need to exist in order to appeal to a rapidly declining constituency.

Another implication is that the ALP would need to create a foundation and a narrative that transcends and includes the Coalition’s ideology, in effect making them a redundant political force. This is true right now, but the ALP never spell it out both because they don’t seem to know how, or worse, they deliberately would prefer not to do it for internal organisational reasons.

Instead of going on about things like “Labor values” and such and such is a “Labor policy” they need to talk in terms of the country and spelling out the big picture in a persuasive way so that the community can digest it.

I could go on a very long tangent but I’ll try to land the plane.

Winning the psychological game from the progressive “side” of politics requires having your act together psychologically. That means organisation, energy, belief and thinking on a very big scale. The real reason why people vote for the ALP is to get the big things done and to make the economic and societal transitions necessary for the country to preserve and prosper from the future.

Australian’s have very high expectations in relation to how their governments perform and when those expectations aren’t met, it is often greeted with mass disapproval. The way to overcome it is with repeated psychological victories and playing in order to win rather than accepting noble defeat.

You can’t exceed the people’s expectations or win by adopting the Charlie Sheen approach to victory: mindlessly posting updates on twitter with hashtags that reflect various psychotic states of delusion …

While the thinking and the actions of the federal ALP remain small, internal and process driven and generally treating politics like a football game or a crude television show such as The West Wing (just the thought of that show makes me want to vomit), you can expect their primary vote to remain well below 38%.

Why the ALP should return to the Hawke and Keating period of electoral governance

Recently, there has been a lot of talk about the ALP returning to the Hawke and Keating method of electoral governance in relation to solving the ALP’s problems of the present day.

On one side, there are people like Simon Crean, Bill Kelty and to a lesser extent Mark Latham who want to return to that mode of electoral governance and on the side there are people like Bob Carr who say that the ALP shouldn’t get nostalgic about the period. There are also people like Ken Henry who say that the Hawke and Keating period had as heated a political atmosphere over policy issues as the one that dominates politics in the current day.

As a member of Generation Y (an age group that never really experienced the Hawke and Keating government), I understand first hand why the ALP must embrace the Hawke and Keating mode of electoral governance.

When I went through my schooling years, John Howard was Prime Minister for pretty much the entire time. The only memories I have of political events centered around his Prime Ministership (the only other political figure I remember clearly when I went to Primary School was Pauline Hanson). When I finished my Bachelor Degree in late 2008, Kevin Rudd had been the Prime Minister for less than one year.

Politics to my generation before 2008 WAS John Howard. No one else. You might have heard a little bit about Kim Beazely or Simon Crean or Mark Latham, but they never won elections. Howard was the Prime Minister and he was the one who was making the decisions.

With that in mind, lets look at what the electorate in the present day considers the most important election issues. This is from the Essential Media Communications poll from February 11th 2013 (there were a lot of issues listed, however for the purposes of space, I’ve narrowed it down to the top three. If you want to see the full table, click on the link below).

Q. Which are the three most important issues in deciding how you would vote at a Federal election?

25 Jan 10

6 June 11

5 Dec 11

30 July 12

19 Nov 12

11 Feb 13

Management of the economy

63%

61%

62%

64%

65%

62%

Ensuring a quality education for all children

23%

26%

22%

26%

35%

29%

Ensuring the quality of Australia’s health system

48%

49%

47%

47%

57%

52%

As the table above shows economic management is clearly judged as the most important issue in deciding people’s vote at a federal election with ensuring the quality of Australia’s health system number two and a distant third is ensuring a quality education for all children.

Here’s how the party’s compare on each of these issues at the present moment.

Q. Which party would you trust most to handle the following issues?

Labor

Liberal

Greens

Don’t know

Difference
11 Feb
13

Management of the economy

31%

46%

3%

21%

-15%

Ensuring a quality education for all children

37%

35%

6%

22%

+2%

Ensuring the quality of Australia’s health system

33%

36%

6%

25%

-3%

As we can see, there’s not much difference between Labor and the Liberal Party on issues like education and health (which is not normal as usually Labor would be dominating the Liberal Party on these issues), but on the economy, there’s a major gap between the two major party’s with the Liberals leading Labor by 15%.

The Australian economy right now is the envy of the world given everything that has happened since the Global Financial Crisis in 2008 and 2009, yet the ALP hasn’t benefited politically from it.

What the Liberal Party have done over the last five years or so is frame Howard and Costello as the ones who gave Australia the strong position from which to deal with the Global Financial Crisis and the ALP as wasting the surpluses they accumulated over 11 years in government and plunging the nation into debt and deficit.

“Budget surpluses” = good economic management. “Debt and deficit” = bad economic management. That’s all the Liberal Party have done: word association.

So when most people my age hear this sort of message, they feel extremely insecure about the ALP’s economic credentials because all they remember is Howard and Costello being “good” with the economy. The facts don’t matter, all that matters is what gets triggered in the brain.

So when someone like me in 2008, when I didn’t know anything about politics, thinks about the ALP government and the economy, they had been emotionally primed over an 11 year period to feel insecure about the ALP’s ability to handle worldwide economic meltdown. They might have trusted the ALP more than the Liberal Party on issues like health and education, but they’re not as powerful issues as an issue like the economy (as the tables above demonstrate).

The simple fact of the matter is during that 11 year period, there was no real authoritative challenge to Howard and Costello on the economy. It might have been mentioned here or there, but they were never wrestled to the ground and taken apart.

With all of that in mind, when someone my age, in 2008 sees a clip like the one below, it’s an extreme breath of fresh air because it puts Howard and the Liberal Party into perspective on economic issues.

People my age have no idea that Howard was Treasurer between 1977 and 1983 let alone presided over a recession during that period. It doesn’t matter if the facts Keating states in the clip above are accurate or not (they mostly are accurate), the fact is that this was a genuine contest and the ALP were landing real blows against the Liberal Party on the issue of economic management.

The reason Tony Abbott is able to get away with a lot of the rhetoric about returning to the “golden years” of economic management under the Howard government is because there isn’t anyone in the federal ALP leadership challenging or taking apart his and the Liberal Party’s legacy from the middle.

My age group has no idea what the Hawke or Keating government did to Australia in the 13 years they were in government. They have no idea how they fundamentally changed Australia and set up the conditions for over 20 years of economic growth without a recession (my generation hasn’t directly experienced a recession, which is something to keep in mind) and how Howard and Costello sat on their hands for their period in government and did bugger all except implement a Goods and Services Tax (GST) and WorkChoices.

All they know is the Howard years were apparently good years for the economy and the ALP apparently don’t know what they’re doing.

It’s for this reason the current ALP government needs to rediscover the way Hawke and Keating communicated their strong economic credentials to the electorate because quite frankly my age group … (no let me rephrase that) … the entire Australian community doesn’t seem to have a clue!

Values rhetoric: what the “class warfare” name calling is really about

The big talking points from the last few weeks in relation to federal politics have been around the apparent split in the ALP over compulsory superannuation and whether taxing the top two percent of income earners constitutes “class warfare.”

In a previous post, I made it clear that I’m not a policy person. I honestly don’t know whether what the government plans to do in relation to compulsory superannuation is good, not good or somewhere in between.

My understanding is that compulsory superannuation was a policy enacted by the ALP in the 1980’s and 1990’s to turn every member of the workforce into a capitalist and make every working person responsible for their own destiny by making it possible for them to pay for their own retirement rather than relying solely on the pension in their old age.

It had both micro and a macro objectives. The micro objectives revolved around making sure everyone maintained a decent standard of living by providing them with an annuity income to sustain themselves for the rest of their lives after they retired from the workforce (most of this objective got lost during the Howard period of government) and the macro objectives related to issues like the demographics of Australia in the 21st century, making sure wages growth and inflation were under control, building the financial services industry and giving the union movement a renewed purpose in the information age.

This policy has created a $1.5 trillion industry in Australia and is one of the most important economic reforms of any government (ALP or Coalition) in the country’s history.

The actual policy is not the issue I want to address in this post as what I’ve written above is pretty much all that I know in relation to it.

What is very interesting to observe is people who are experts on policy feeling extremely depressed about the national political conversation devolving to petty name calling and accusations of “class warfare” when what the current ALP government is doing in a policy sense is no different to what the Hawke and Keating government did when they were in power.

For example: the current ALP government has tripled the tax-free threshold under its carbon pricing policy, yet this gets derided as “class warfare” and socialism when it’s taking one million people out of the tax system!

How is taking one million people out of the tax system “class warfare?”

The reason it gets lumped in this sort of category and all of that other “bad stuff” the political “right” often accuses the political “left” of doing to the economy has zero to do with the actual policies the government is implementing. The reason it happens is mostly because of the values rhetoric coming from the ALP and more specifically the constituency they’re targeting in their communications!

The mere act of writing that last paragraph probably puts me at risk of being strangled by people dealing with extremely complex policy issues as it trivialises what they do for a living and the many years they’ve spent mastering such knowledge in order to provide value to the community, but it’s the truth!

When Paul Keating talks about compulsory superannuation, you’ll hear him talk in terms of financial capitalism, why it’s strange that the Coalition are opposed to universal compulsory retirement savings when such a policy would be the dream of pretty much every conservative political party around the world.

While doing this, Keating will often tell the personal story of how Reagan economic adviser Martin Feldstein told him that the Republicans would have kissed the Democrats if they had gotten the union movement to agree to the entire workforce saving 1% of their income for retirement let alone 9% with an agreement to get it to 15% and how strange the Coalition were to back-flip on their 1996 election promise to take the super guarantee charge to 15% of employees incomes when it was already agreed to by the union movement and they would have been the beneficiaries of any political benefits resulting from the change.

When saying these sorts of things, Keating isn’t only targeting what you’d consider the average ALP “base” voter. He’s targeting a much larger audience and aligning the ALP’s values to what they value.

When the current government talks about superannuation, all they talk about is making sure that everyone gets a “fair go” and it being an important “Labor” reform. The values rhetoric, the communication style and who the messages are targeted at are entirely different.

Another example is industrial relations. When the Keating government talked about enterprise bargaining, the emphasis of the message was on moving away from the old centralised wage fixing system and towards a system that was focused on productivity while making sure no one got left behind (which is why the “no disadvantage test” was a key part of the policy and one of the big differences between it and WorkChoices).

At the time, this was considered extremely radical. Keating will often describe the process of implementing the policy as similar to “putting the union movement in a headlock and pulling out their rotten teeth with an old pair of pliers.”

When the current government introduced the Fair Work Act, the policy wasn’t that much different to the Keating enterprise bargaining system, yet the policy is derided as a return to the old union biased centralised wage fixing system and all the bad things that were associated with it (wages breakouts, high inflation, declining productivity etc, etc, etc) without any evidence or data.

Maybe this is because the business community and certain sections of the media are angry that the government got rid of WorkChoices and want to punish the ALP out of spite.

I take a different view.

The reason there is now a call from within the ALP for a return to the Hawke/Keating method of governance has nothing to do with the policies of the current government. It’s entirely due to the values rhetoric, communication and tone coming from the current ALP leadership team and their supporters, how it’s unsustainable and how it’s contributed significantly to the ALP government’s significant decline in support.

The reason the Fair Work Act gets derided so much by certain sections of the media and the business community is not because of the policy itself. That was evident in the QANTAS dispute in November 2011. The reason it gets derided so much is because certain people in the ALP want to pretend that the policy IS centralised wage fixing in order to play to a certain constituency that they are extremely insecure about holding as their positions and power rely on their patronage and belief in the status quo.

In short: the ALP’s messaging isn’t targeting the entire Australian community. They are only focusing their messaging towards the ALP base and the union movement.

The battle right now that is going on between people like Simon Crean, Martin Ferguson and others on one side and Julia Gillard, Wayne Swan and others on the other side is not one over policy.

The current policy “debate” the ALP are engaged in publicly is merely a sideshow for the real issue which revolves around the party’s long-term electoral strategy. Whenever the Hawke/Keating model is invoked by anyone, it’s really a call to end the ALP’s relentless obsession with targeting their communication to the base and their supporters and start focusing on what resonates with the rest of Australia as well as a reduction of union influence both on and within the party.

Had Hawke or Keating been accused of class warfare, they would have laughed at it because their messaging and values rhetoric was immune to such accusations and whoever was making them would simply look ridiculous. The reason the current government gets bogged down by it is because their messaging and values rhetoric is targeted squarely at “the base.” There is no persuasion mechanism to get people who aren’t voting for the ALP to vote for the ALP.

You’ll often hear Wayne Swan talk about the “fair go” while attacking billionaires such as Clive Palmer, Gina Rinehart and Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest. When the ALP are labelled divisive, this is an example of what’s causing it.

What the ALP should be doing is demonstrating how without their governance and economic stewardship during the events of the global financial crisis, their investments in infrastructure, the productive workforce and the Australian community these people wouldn’t be billionaires.

I think they should be showing how the ALP made these people rich through their actions while framing prosperity and economic aspiration as a concept that can only be achieved by an active, pragmatic government rather than deriding these people as “not one of the base” and taking every opportunity to attack them for that fact.

This week’s poll from Essential Media Communications (2nd April 2013) asked respondents to rate both the ALP and the Liberal Party in relation to what attributes they associated with them. One of the most telling results was on the “divided” attribute.

Here’s the ALP’s results:

  6 July 09 14 Mar 10 27 April 11 28 May 12 2 April 13 Change since Jul 09
Divided 30% 36% 66% 73% 82% +52%

As we can see, the divided attribute has gone up 52% since July 2009. Over the last few weeks, it’s become very evident that the divide is far more than a mere personality contest over the leadership of the party. There is a real divide over policy in the ALP that has manifested itself the public debate and they have been unable to resolve it over the past three years.

Here’s the Liberal Party’s results:

  6 July 09 14 Mar 10 27 April 11 28 May 12 2 April 13 Change since Jul 09
Divided 74% 66% 49% 37% 32% +42%

This table shows that the Liberals divided attribute has fallen from 42% from 74% in July 2009 to 32% now.

I think the reason for the sharp rise in the divided attribute rating for the ALP and the sharp fall in the rating for the Liberal Party is because of values rhetoric. The ALP has forgotten where the splits are in the Liberal Party’s ideology and allowed them to unite as a party against anything the ALP propose, implement or stand for.

One of the reasons the Hawke and Keating government were able to win five elections was because they knew how to take large chunks of the Liberal Party’s philosophy and values (open markets, competition, productivity, achievement, excellence, entrepreneurial spirit) and then re-frame them on progressive, socially democratic terms.

The current ALP government seems to have forgotten how to do that. Policy positions on issues and values rhetoric are not the same thing! Tony Abbott understands this which explains why he has made such a big deal out of campaigning around blue collar, manufacturing, unionised areas and making it clear he won’t reintroduce radical free market policies such as WorkChoices.

While the ALP primary vote remains below 38%, expect the values rhetoric battles within the ALP such as the present one over “taxing” compulsory superannuation contributions to continue.

Remember to tune in for next week’s episode of “ALP Values Rhetoric Debates on public display” featuring an all time favourite of many: asylum seeker policy! … “<inaudible>”

Defining what you aren’t by defining what you are

Last night, Channel 9’s 60 Minutes program did an interview with Tony Abbott.

During the interview he used phrases like “we’re in a better space” and “I’ve certainly said some things which I wouldn’t say now” while linking it to certain things that families value such as “cohesion.”

Whether Abbott believes any of this is irrelevant to his purposes for giving the interview.

Whenever Abbott talks about himself now, it is always about defining what Prime Minister Gillard is and represents on his terms.

Here are some examples:

  • “We’re in a good space” = “Gillard’s in a bad space.”
  • “I’ve certainly said some things which I wouldn’t say now” = “Gillard’s said some things in the past she hasn’t admitted”
  • “Because like everyone who’s had a long time in public life – in particular – I’ve changed and I’d like to think that I’ve grown” = “Gillard isn’t like everyone who’s had a long time in public life – she hasn’t changed and she hasn’t grown”

And so on!

Whether it reflects the truth or not is none of Abbott’s concern. All he and the professional people who manage him behind the scenes care about is getting these points across by any means necessary. This is the Coalition’s new way of attacking Gillard: define what you aren’t by defining what you are!

They don’t even bother mentioning Gillard anymore because they’ve spent the last two years or so building the system of negative judgement in the public’s mind which is aimed directly towards any decisions she makes and every word she says. Since the beginning of the year, they seem to be confident that they’ve successfully deployed that system and they can focus on other things.

The big trigger point from the interview was that he had “softened” his views on issues like women’s rights and marriage equality partly due to the influence of his lesbian sister.

He has spent around 35 years of his political career creating an image for himself as a “right wing warrior” with nicknames like “Captain Catholic” and “Howard’s Headkicker” while writing books with titles like “How To Win a Constitutional War” and “Battlelines” only now to contradict it all by saying that deep down he’s really always been a bleeding heart lefty feminist who believes in social justice!

Whether he can convince the electorate that he’s changed is irrelevant as that’s not the purpose of this sort of interview. This is just another example of Abbott controlling the frame of the issues in the national conversation. This time, he’s doing it as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. He doesn’t care about how he’s viewed, so long as he’s controlling the framing of all the communication.

Support something progressives support, get attacked by progressives because it’s “Tony being a fraud!” I have gone over this before in relation to Abbott’s chief of staff receiving IVF treatments. It’s all reliant on progressives attacking him over it.

He has no problems with mentioning marriage equality because his position is very firm and softening it can only make him look slightly reasonable. More to the point, Abbott knows that any such conversation on the issue ultimately will get targeted at Prime Minister Gillard and will continue to attract the negative predisposition prism that has enveloped her leadership.

It’s the same deal with everything else that comes out of his mouth.

The rest of the interview was simply noise that had no relevance to people except for Channel 9 to flog some advertising.

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.