Well that wasn’t supposed to happen.

There we were expecting the new Government’s first bad opinion poll. Watching for Kevin Rudd to “lose some paint” (the cliché du jour). And the voting numbers barely moved at all. 57-43. Same as last time, and the time before that. Meaning that, if a federal election for the House of Representatives were held today, it’d be a bloody slaughter.

Andrew Bolt gets a gold star. I can’t remember anyone else who suggested that the Opposition wouldn’t get a boost from last week, but he said it on Insiders.

Dennis Shanahan’s spin had all the elements of his vintage performances last year, but it lacked the fire of his “Howard set for comeback” masterpieces of Newspoll interpretation in 2007. In fact, there were occasional glimpses of reality in his commentary.

Pleasingly, however, the “preferred Prime Minister” number has returned to its proper status as the key go-to indicator to distract attention from strong Labor voting intention numbers.

For those who came in late, The Australian elevated “preferred Prime Minister” as the key political indicator in 2005-06 when the then-Opposition began consistently outpolling the Howard Government in voting intention. That was all very well, The Australian argued, but “Australia’s most respected poll” showed that John Howard continued to outrate Kim Beazley as preferred Prime Minister, so the voting intention was irrelevant. The Oz stuck with the tactic into the Rudd era, and even briefly engaged in a flame war with bloggers over the issue, with Shanahan attacking “academic PhD aspirants and armchair journalists” for questioning his emphasis.

Unfortunately that argument became a little inconvenient when Rudd began caning Howard as preferred PM. At which point, Shanahan switched to “better economic manager” as the true indicator of electoral fortunes. By that stage, however, even Janet Albrechtsen had abandoned hope and was seen swimming purposefully away from a Government rapidly slipping beneath the waves.

So, for the record, Kevin Rudd has plummeted to a disastrous 66% preferred Prime Minister rating, while Brendan Nelson must be chuffed at reaching 17%. Sadly, despite the return of Emo Man last week, Nelson’s own job satisfaction rating is basically unchanged at 36%.

This is the only rating where Rudd really has taken a hit – he’s fallen from 63 to 56% satisfaction rating. That’s definitely mortal territory, and not far above the critical 50% threshold. This is one of two really interesting numbers in Newspoll.

The other is about who would be better at keeping petrol prices lower. 20% of punters think the Coalition would be better. 20% think Labor would be. But 44% think neither.

We sit in the Press Gallery and obsess over the minutiae of politics. We examine the entrails of the entrails to determine who’s falling, rising or flatlining. We’ve spent weeks dissecting the petrol debate. Meantime, people in the real world get on with their lives. Maybe they’re a lot smarter than we and the major party politicians give them credit for. Well, 44% of them, at least.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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