Although yesterday’s Newspoll result is unprecedented in its magnitude, the run of recent polls is still broadly reminiscent of the early part of 2001 (see comparative graphs here).

Labor supporters don’t like to remember 2001, but that’s actually a good sign for them: even if Rudd maintains a similar trajectory to Beazley he should win comfortably, since he’s starting from a higher base (remember Beazley came close), and even a second Tampa is unlikely to have the same impact as the first.

The big difference from 2001 is in the expectations. Six years ago, the expectation that Labor would win was almost universal. Now that’s not the case; the last Morgan poll shows only 50% expecting a Labor victory, as against 36% for the Coalition. Last year, those numbers went as high as 70-20 the other way, with nothing in the polls that was remotely as clear as recent results.

Part of this is Labor pessimism: having seen Howard pull rabbits out of the hat before, they have trouble ridding themselves of the conviction that he will do it again. Gradually, however, that pessimism seems to be abating.

More interesting is the fact that Coalition supporters still seem so disbelieving of the polls. This strikes me as a disturbing sign of polarisation, and a little-noticed counterpart to the “Howard-haters”.

The Howard-haters get plenty of publicity. Gerard Henderson regularly points to them as trapped in their own groupthink – a self-contained world where many of them would meet a Coalition voter, and where they are mystified that not everyone thinks the same way. One may disagree about the excessiveness or unreasonableness of Howard-hating, but it’s hard to dispute its insularity.

What’s not so often noticed is that committed Howard supporters have become just as insular. Of course, they are aware of the existence of opposition to their views, but they put it down to a conspiracy of the dreaded elites.

Having little actual knowledge of the working class, the Howard-lovers are eager consumers of the “Howard battlers” myth – they assume that “real” Australia is behind them, and ignore any evidence to the contrary.

Unreflective Howard-loving this year could be one of the Coalition’s biggest dangers. All long-standing regimes surround themselves with mythology, but problems come when their supporters are unable to distinguish myths from reality.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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