The accuracy or otherwise of the assertion by market researcher Rod Cameron on ABC Lateline last night, that attacks on Kevin Rudd have rebounded on the Coalition — and it will soon stop them — will quickly become obvious. According to the man who was such a key contributor to all the Labor victories during the Hawke years, focus groups conducted by his ANOP company have left Australians puzzled. On Lateline Mr Cameron put it this way:

Well, they are looking in bewilderment at this mud-slinging issue. They hate mud-slinging. They hate it with a passion. In election campaigns they don’t like it because it is negative ads, but at least they get the message. Outside of election campaigns, they can’t understand why mud is being slung. They don’t understand what the issue is all about and therefore, it is rebounding on John Howard’s character.

For the last decade of John Howard’s political life, they’ve said, “He’s a ‘cunning’ politician,” and they’ve sort of meant it in a vaguely positive way, at least grudgingly, admiringly. They now use it differently. They now say “cunning politician” to mean sneaky, untrustworthy, wrong priorities, playing the man. The Prime Minister has lost the last two weeks in a significant way and I don’t think it will be much longer before they drop this whole mud-slinging issue entirely.

Mr Cameron is confident that the Liberal Party’s own researchers will be getting the same message and that their report will have Government Ministers scampering back to talk about the economy as soon as possible: “I think much more important is the battle still to come — economic management. Kevin Rudd has just to convince the Australian population he can run the economy and John Howard has yet to challenge him on it. That’s the battleground. I think, hopefully, we’ve got the mud out of the way.”

The research which will determine whether the throwing has in fact stopped will be prepared by the political consulting firm of Crosby/Textor and surely Mark Textor will find the same abhorrence of personal attacks that Rod Cameron referred to. What is not so certain is whether Mr Textor thinks they should stop as he comes from a different school of politics to the man who stopped being on the Labor payroll 15 years ago.

Mark Textor, an ANU trained economist, began as a self taught measurer of public opinion in the Northern Territory for the Country Liberal Party before being introduced to the subtler arts of the pollster in the United States with the help of a Federal Australian Liberal Party which began developing links with the Republican Party after Malcolm Fraser’s loss to Bob Hawke. Mr Textor worked with the research firm started by Ronald Reagan’s opinion pollster Richard B. Wirthlin and naturally was influenced by the emphasis Americans put on the dark arts of character assassination.

Should the Howard Government continue with its attacks on the character of Kevin Rudd despite the findings that voters are turned off by them, we can assume there is a difference of opinion between the two practitioners with winning records. Whereas Rod Cameron clearly thinks that repetition of details of the supposed character flaws of the Labor Leader will continue to be counter-productive, it is quite possible that Mark Textor believes in the end that the mud will stick.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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