Category Archives: Psychology

“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

The Time Dynamic – the case for going late

There is a lot of speculation right now about when the next election will be held. Will Prime Minister Kevin Rudd try and take advantage of the ALP’s sudden rise in the opinion polls or will he play mind games with Tony Abbott and go to a “late election?”

I’m firmly of the view that Prime Minister Kevin Rudd should decide to go for a late election.

There are a few reasons for this that go beyond the usually yakety yak yak that you’ll hear from the various commentators in the media.

Firstly Kevin Rudd needs to establish himself in the public’s mind as the Prime Minister. This means using the authority of the office to make decisions in the national interest. If this means recalling the parliament to make a few legislative tweaks in the coming months, so be it. Journalist Katherine Murphy in The Guardian last week went into some detail on this point in what I thought was a very good opinion piece.

Secondly, going late allows the ALP to come up with a campaign ground game for victory. This is not something that can be rushed. There needs to be as much time as possible given for the ALP campaign team to come up with a strategy for winning at least 76 seats, state by state, electorate by electorate.

Thirdly, there have been reports of both a membership and donation surge within the ALP since Kevin Rudd returned to the leadership. There needs to be time for this to be measured in order to allocate campaign resources and get the logistic settings for the election campaign as correct as possible.

Lastly and most importantly is the framing of the national conversation.  What going late ultimately does is allow the ALP and the Prime Minister to gain control of the framing of the national conversation. The more Tony Abbott and the Coalition call for an early election and attack on issues where they feel they are strong and where they think the ALP and Kevin Rudd are vulnerable, the more they look, sound and feel like an opposition and the more the ALP and Kevin Rudd will look, sound and feel like both a government and a Prime Minister who are in control of events.

This week, we have seen the Prime Minister deal with three major issues: Australia’s relationship with Indonesia (border protection and asylum seekers have now been framed by Kevin Rudd as an issue within this issue), reform of the New South Wales branch of the ALP and the deaths related to the Home Insulation Scheme which was rolled out during the economic stimulus in 2008-09.

The Coalition have tried to tear the Prime Minister down on each one of these issues without success. The longer they try and the more they fail, the more desperate and the more stupid they will look.

Around October last year, Coalition pollster Mark Textor wrote an opinion piece for the Australian Financial Review in which he said:

“The most successful leaders in the next few years will be those who slow the political and comment process down enough for voters to catch up. After all, the whole point about politics, commerce and leadership is for people to be participants, not passengers in a car stuck in the slow lane.”

By slowing down the time dynamic, the ALP and the Prime Minister give themselves and the community time to digest the big picture and the important issues that will decide this election. If they go early because they think the rise in the opinion polls is everything and there is no substance to what the Prime Minister is doing because they think electoral politics is all about the popularity of the leader rather than anything that affects people’s day to day lives, they will be handing the massive advantage they have presently to the Coalition.

“If the facts don’t fit a frame, the frame stays and the facts bounce off”

Galaxy Research and Essential Media Communications have thrown up some interesting qualitative results in the last few days in relation to perceptions of the ALP leadership change.

Before I get to that, I want to examine the AC Nielsen poll results from last month in relation to ALP voters responses on the question of preferred ALP leader.

AC Nielsen, preferred ALP leader, ALP voters 16th June: Julia Gillard 52%, Rudd 46%

Over the last three years, this sort of result was replicated month after month and many on the various social media platforms that discuss Australian politics used these sorts of results to suggest that Rudd wasn’t liked by ALP voters and it was all a Liberal Party/media conspiracy to destabilise Julia Gillard’s leadership.

On Sunday, Galaxy Research produced these results that suggest a very different narrative:

Q. “In your opinion did Labor make the right decision by rejecting Julia Gillard and endorsing Kevin Rudd?”

Total: Yes 57%, No 31%

ALP Voters: Yes 75%, No 17%,

Coalition Voters: Yes 50%, No 41%

Even more profound was Galaxy’s results for the actions of Bill Shorten who was one of the “faceless men” in the June 2010 leadership change:

Q, Do you think Bill Shorten did the right thing for the Labor Party by shifting support from Julia Gillard to Kevin Rudd?

Total: Yes 52%, No 30%

ALP Voters: Yes 75%, No 13%

Coalition Voters: Yes 40%, No 44%

Essential Media Communications from yesterday showed similar results however, they have breakdowns that show intensity of response. I find these results very interesting:

Q. Do you approve or disapprove of Kevin Rudd replacing Julia Gillard as leader of the Labor Party?

Total

Vote Labor

Vote Lib/Nat

Vote Greens

Total approve

55%

77%

40%

48%

Total disapprove

31%

13%

49%

37%

Strongly approve

24%

45%

12%

8%

Approve

31%

32%

28%

40%

Disapprove

15%

8%

22%

23%

Strongly disapprove

16%

5%

27%

14%

Don’t know

14%

10%

12%

16%

Of particular note is the strongly approved category in relation to ALP voters. If this leadership change was seen as a cynical manipulation of the political process, the intensities of response would not be so strong.

According to this Essential Media poll, 45% of ALP respondents strongly approved of last weeks events!

We aren’t talking about a mere passive approval of what happened which could easily fall off into neutrality and disapproval over the coming weeks and months. We’re talking about a very large group of ALP voters who are very satisfied with what happened. In order to change the perceptions of these voters, you’ve got to do A HELL OF A LOT of work as they’ve emotionally bought what has happened and are in strong approval of it.

It is also worth comparing the AC Nielsen polling above with the Galaxy Research and Essential Media polling from after the event because how people think they will respond to a potential event and how they will actually respond after that potential event has occurred are not mutually exclusive. Put simply: people are extremely poor judges of predicting how they will respond to potential and future events.

George Lakoff in his book “Don’t Think of an Elephant” has a great quote:

“To be accepted, the facts must fit people’s frames. If the facts don’t fit a frame, the frame stays and the facts bounce off”

If the Coalition attempt to try and play their game of “let’s all feel sorry for Julia because she was knifed by the faceless men and that evil Kevin Rudd” they will be paddling viciously upstream because first they have to deal with the fact that they will be contradicting the three year period they have spent deriding and destroying her leadership (to ordinary people, the events of last week were a consequence of this behaviour from the Coalition) and second they have to deal with the perception battle because people approved of what happened and in ALP voters case, a majority strongly approved of what happened (the emotional component).

The more they yell, shout and scream the sort of lines they have all parroted verbatim over the last three years, the more they will be building Kevin Rudd’s reputation, authority, credibility and approval from the community.

It’s not just the Liberal Party who have to deal with this uncomfortable reality. Author Kerry Anne-Walsh, whose book “The Stalking of Julia Gillard: How the media and Team Rudd contrived to bring down the Prime Minister” goes on sale today also will encounter this framing from people (that is of course if people actually bother to buy and read the book).

How this plays out with the emotional dynamic over the coming weeks and months should be fascinating.

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%.

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.

Demands and requirements of political leadership in this day and age

It is a very common theme among people who follow politics closely to reflect on the mainstream media and it’s relationship to substance in the national political conversation.

You’ll often see the critique that the media cycle has sped up to a ridiculous pace due to a demand for entertainment rather than substance or real issues and this dynamic is making it pretty much impossible to govern effectively.

Former government minister Lindsay Tanner wrote an entire book on this subject and it got a lot of coverage when it was released.

Right now, most of the federal government and their supporters appear to be in a perpetual battle with the media. The theme tends to be that the reason people are turning away from the ALP at the present moment is because the media are too focused on the political game and superficiality rather than issues of substance.

Last week, Prime Minister Gillard gave an interview with ABC Brisbane’s morning radio show where she told the interviewer that she felt misunderstood by the media and they had overreacted to certain political events such as two ministers resigning that played on a lot of these themes.

Yesterday we got this response from the Opposition Leader:

“If I do badly in an interview that’s not the interviewer’s fault, it’s my fault for not being able to argue my case well” – Tony Abbott, March 6th 2013

This is Abbott once again employing the tactic of emotionally baiting the ALP, progressives and their supporters in order to control the frame of the national political conversation.

In this case, the frame is Prime Minister Gillard is irresponsible and shifts the blame to someone else whenever she makes mistakes whereas Abbott takes responsibility for his mistakes and doesn’t attribute blame to anyone but himself. Whether that’s true or not (I believe it’s a falsehood in the extreme) is irrelevant. This is what’s being communicated and the Liberal Party have been exceptionally efficient at deploying this frame whenever possible during this term of parliament.

I have written about this dynamic of Abbott using certain lines to control the frame of the national political conversation a few times here and here. It’s one of his only tactics and he gets away with it far too often, mostly due to the ALP and progressives not understanding what he’s doing.

Having said all that, in this particular case, I happen to agree with Abbott’s point even though I severely doubt he’s being truthful.

The public’s expectations of leadership at a federal level in this day and age have increased to an almost unreasonable level.

For a start, any kind of blame or shifting of responsibility is immediately viewed unfavorably. I believe the reason for this is because the average voter isn’t allowed to do it in their daily lives and if they do, they can expect some sort of punishment. They get up, go to work, do the best they can, try to have a normal family life, pay their taxes, watch things happen without their consent or social license in the national political conversation, not to mention the petty bickering over trivial issues and think to themselves “if I was to do that in my life, I wouldn’t survive! I do my best! I don’t make excuses! I pay their salaries! They better do what I expect of them or face the consequences!”

What is happening in people’s lives is that society is demanding more and more out of them and if they don’t meet those demands they fall behind. The mental apparatus people require to function in this day and age often exceeds most people’s psychological levels of development. This is doubly true of political leadership.

I’ve written about this in relation to certain dynamics in the electorate in far more detail in a previous post located here.

In this day and age, if you’re the government, it is a requirement that you have your game together at an extremely high level otherwise the electorate immediately switches off and looks for an alternative. The judgement is harsh and swift and once it’s formed it takes an incredible amount of work to overcome.

What this means is that in order to be an effective politician in this day and age you need to be a great communicator (extremely rare given everything it entails), you need to have the policies that address people’s demands that are approved of by the electorate and delivered effectively, you need to have mastered basic political skills, you need to be able to persuade your opponents to see the world your way and act accordingly and if you make mistakes, you must admit to making them and take responsibility immediately because any whiff of a cover up or lack of transparency is immediately treated with anger, resentment and contempt.

This also means no blaming the media, no blaming your political opponents, no blaming the public or any other dynamics in the external environment for your problems. It’s all your responsibility!

You’re now required to lead by example and take the public with you. If you don’t, the noise rises to the surface of the national political conversation by default and you get left with the trivial nonsense that we all complain about.

Aren’t those expectations unreasonably difficult? Sure it is. But we aren’t talking about a normal situation here. This is the leadership of the country and public life we’re talking about.

If you don’t have extremely high standards and you aren’t the best, you’re pretty much dead!

Too often I’ve seen critiques, usually from progressives blaming the media, Tony Abbott and everything in the external environment for the government’s political problems. This is a very convenient way of ignoring and avoiding these realities.

Former Secretary of the ACTU and hero to the Labor Party Bill Kelty hit the nail on the head during his address to their national congress last year:

Seems to me we have a mirror image of the 1980s. Hard decisions were made in the ’80s. Real pressures on living standards, high unemployment, but we never, ever lost a sense of hope and trust that government and unions would see it out and there would be a better future. Today we have better economic conditions but that hope and that trust has retreated.

I’ve got be frank. It’s too easy to blame the media, too easier to blame the playthings of politics. And there’s no purpose blaming the opposition for doing, what after all, you’d expect them to do and that’s to beat you.

In a sense I think we make politics just simply too hard.

The truth will normally do.

It would be truly great if more people on all sides of politics woke up and took those words to heart!