How bad is politics, right? Even Barack Obama can’t make people believe he stands on principle.

The New York Times carries a poll today that shows the vast majority of voters — 67% of survey respondents — believe Obama embraced gay marriage “mostly for political reasons”. Fewer than a quarter of those polled said he waved the rainbow flag “because he thinks it is right”. As the paper writes:

“The results reinforce the concerns of White House aides and Democratic strategists who worried that the sequence of events leading up to the announcement last week made it look calculated rather than principled.”

That was largely Joe Biden’s fault after he jumped the gun and backed gay marriage days earlier. But it also speaks of a cancerous cynicism among punters. Even when they’re telling the truth, nobody believes they’re telling the truth.

That ship sailed for Julia Gillard long ago. And the government knows it. There’s nothing very principled about Labor’s agenda, aside from a fatalistic stubbornness on the carbon tax. Only cold, hard cash.

And here’s the bad news: it works. As The Australian reports today:

“Labor’s targeted cash handouts to lower-income earners have earned the Gillard government a small political reprieve, with its primary vote lifting to 30 per cent for the first time in two months.”

Three Newspoll points = $4.9 billion in family payments over four years. That’s (small) change people really do believe in.