Another quarter has passed, so it’s probably time we updated our Howard vs. Rudd polling comparisons, where we look at how the various polling metrics lined up for both the Howard and Rudd governments at the same comparable “X month in government” period.

A new addition this time is the primary vote, so we may as well start with that. For the vote estimates we’re using monthly phone poll averages, and we’ll look at both Howard vs. Rudd and Beazley vs. Nelson/Turnbull on the primary votes, and just Howard vs. Rudd on the two party preferred.

The Turnbull Opposition is currently sitting where Beazley Labor was in August 1997 on the primary votes, but what makes the two party preferred so different between the two era’s is not only the slightly higher government primary vote now compared to the Howard era, but also the nature of the minor party vote in the two periods. Back in 1997, One Nation had started wreaking havoc on the conservative side of politics, eating into Howards primary vote but not coming fully back as TPP preferences.

Today however, it is the Green vote eating into Labor’s primary with around three quarters of it flowing back to Labor as preferences. So not only is Rudd in a better position on the primary vote than Howard was, but Rudd also enjoys a much larger share of the minor party preference pie flowing toward him than Howard experienced.

This brings us back to the big truism of the last 30 years in Australian politics – without a large minor party on the right, if Labor gets a higher primary vote than the Coalition, it is virtually impossible for them to lose an election.

Moving on now to the satisfaction ratings and the beauty contest of preferred Prime Minister, we’ll use monthly Newspoll averages here rather than phone poll averages, simply because the pollsters use different questions to get their approval/satisfaction and better/preferred Prime Minister ratings – it’s worth using a consistent wording.

The difference in the satisfaction ratings between Rudd and Howard is stark — a 30 point gap. Back in 97, Howard was copping it from everywhere – from gun laws blowback and Native Title fears in the regions, One Nation bucketing him in the outer burbs and RaRa land with their various conspiracy theories on economics and race, through to Howard copping it in the inner metro seats as a result of his cowardice in confronting Hanson.

By comparison, Rudd is having a bit of a walk in the park, with his only problem being the rather paltry matter of the worst financial crisis the world has seen in 80 years.

The same pattern comes out in the Preferred Prime Minister ratings for both Howard and Rudd, although with Rudd having always been more popular on that measure, usually by a substantial margin.

Turnbull has lifted the Opposition leadership satisfaction back up to Beazley levels, but whereas Beazley was slowly increasing his preferred PM ratings at this comparable period, Turnbull’s are moving in the opposite direction.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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