Looking at the Essential Report from yesterday — which was probably the best poll undertaken in the last 12 months by any pollster — the magnitude of how wrong the Coalition not only got the stimulus package, but the broader GFC starts to become apparent.

When Essential asked “How concerned are you that you or some member of your immediate family will lose their job in the next year or so?”, the responses were profound. Approximately two out of three people answered either “somewhat concerned” or “very concerned”. The GFC isn’t viewed by the public as some arbitrary, nebulous concept like the War on Terror was for most, or Climate Change is for many — two out of three people see the GFC as having personal and family consequences being at stake, and that’s simply on the unemployment side of things.

When the question “Do you strongly approve, approve, disapprove or strongly disapprove of the Government/Opposition performance in regard to the global financial crisis?” was asked, for every four people that approve of the way the Coalition has handled the issue, five people disapprove. Yet for every three people that approve of the way the government has handled the GFC, only one person disapproves. The public credibility gap between the government and the opposition is simply enormous.

We can see that further by looking at the results of the question “Who do you trust more to handle the economy during the financial crisis?” The public trust the Government to handle the GFC better than the Coalition by a ratio of over 2:1 — 55% for the government and only 25% for the Coalition. Even in the Liberal Party’s strongest constituency — the over 50’s — Turnbull can still only muster 31%.

To add insult to injury over the Coalition’s handling of the GFC, 51% believe Rudd’s rationale for the stimulus package (reinvigorating the economy and preventing job losses) compared to only 35% that believe Turnbull might have had a point on the expenditure being unnecessary and wasteful.

You can see why.

Most people derive their political news in small bites — the reactions and talking points they see and hear from their pollies on the radio, the five second grabs they see on the nightly news. What they saw from the Coalition they simply didn’t like.

Last week in the debate over the stimulus package, the Coalition were criticising the size of the cash payments, the upgrade of the school system, and the insulation plan where they joked about pink bats. But the public are operating in another universe. The Essential poll suggested that support for the cash payments runs at 66/18, support for the school refurbishment program runs at a massive 84/3 while support for the insulation program is running 46/24 in favour of the government proposal.

Barnaby Joyce, with his usual complete absence of political nous, repeatedly made a song and dance about the schools program, with the mainstream news cycle being littered by snippets and five second grabs of an angry Barnaby telling everyone how pointless it all was. His position is supported by 3% of the population. That’s no typo. Unfortunately he wasn’t alone. The entire Coalition argument suffered that most dangerous of all political ailments — it sounded ignorant to the concerns that people actually have about the GFC.

When Turnbull talked of taking a hit in the polls because his actions were unpopular, he missed the point. The unpopularity didn’t come from simply standing between the public and a bucket of money, it came because people didn’t believe him. As we’ve seen, they believed Rudd’s arguments, they believed in the package, they believed in where the package was targeted and what it was trying to achieve. They believed that the package focused on their real concerns and as a result they trusted Rudd.

What these economic questions that focus on the GFC are suggesting is that the lead on “who’s the best economic manager” in the broad sense isn’t really worth a hill of beans. At the same time the Coalition holds a slight lead on the broad question in Newspoll, they are getting absolutely pounded on any specific question about the economy and their vote is down the toilet.

Labor, on their worst day, on their ‘worst’ issue are still winning the political contest — daylight is second.

If we look at the Newspoll responses for which party is best to handle which issue, the ALP leads on Health, Education, Water Planning, the Environment, Industrial Relations, Climate Change and Welfare & Social issues by margins of between 11 and 32 points. On the only two issues where the Coalition is in front — the Economy and National Security — they lead by the margin or error; one point for the former and three points for the latter. But the value of leading in the former doesn’t seem to be worth much as we’ve seen with the GFC questions and their responses.

If the Coalition wants to become competitive again, they’ve got to look at why they’re either massively behind or within the margin of error on every issue and why they have a solid lead in exactly none.

Peter Fray

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