It’s days like these when you wonder whether the fine folks over at Newspoll have a full compliment of keys on their keypads. The poll released overnight has the ALP ahead 46 to 36 on primaries and 57 to 43 on two party preferred – a level of political support for the ALP which has been consistent for 12 months, only interrupted by an inconvenient election result.

While this latest voting intention is hardly newsworthy, even to the poor poll junkies among us, it is the Preferred Prime Minister figure that really grabs the attention.

Way back yonder the commentariat was aghast at John Howard becoming Mr 22% in those years before his political triple bypass – a positively respectable result considering what was to follow in the years ahead. We had the Downer Months where Lord Alex delivered us a Preferred Prime Minister rating of 21% before Simon Crean conquered all before him with his outstanding 14% mark achieved in November of 2003.

While records are meant to be broken, this one was obviously meant to be smashed.

Brendan Nelson has stormed into the worse Preferred Prime Minister result in the history of Newspoll with an astonishing 9%. Not 29%, not 19% — there be no typos here, it really says 9%.

So just how bad is 9%, I hear you ask?

Think of every left handed person you know in the country, not of voting age, just in the country. You would, on average, know more left handed people than you would know people that preferred Brendan Nelson to be the Prime Minister. This is not so bad that you could actually list the names of Brendan Nelson supporters on a moderately sized pamphlet – but it’s getting awfully close.

This result really highlights the big problem that the Coalition faces. Its twin support bases of affluent inner metro seats and the less affluent, more socially conservative regional and rural seats have irreconcilable views on a large number of issues, the latest being the apology to the Stolen Generation.

Newspoll conveniently polled on the support levels for the apology and the results speak for themselves – while 69% of the public overall is in favour of the apology, when it comes to Coalition voters, the stats split evenly with 46% of Coalition voters supporting the apology and 50% being against.

With Nelson trying to walk the tight rope between these two camps, he was always going to alienate a chunk of his voting base. His apology wasn’t good enough for some of those 46% of his supporters, but went way too far for some of that 50% block that was against the apology to begin with.

Nelson had better hope that this Preferred Prime Minister rating has a lot of short term feedback caused from the Stolen Generation apology he made on behalf of the Opposition in Parliament, for if it is actually representative in large part of what is playing out on the ground with these twin Coalition support bases – the problem may not be Nelsons alone, but could simply be a sign of things to come for any opposition member that takes on the Leadership position.

It really adds food for thought to the debate over merger proposals between the Nationals and the Liberals. Is it really worth bringing these two irreconcilable groups under one centralised political banner?

If the mergers eventually go ahead, the new party better pray that the two party preferred vote doesn’t start heading the way of the preferred PM rating as a consequence of being unable to unify its twin support bases that have less in common than they do things that divide them.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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