Which poll to believe about the budget? Fairfax’s Ipsos poll, showing a remarkable turnaround for the Coalition to 50-50? Or The Australian’s Newspoll, which showed the government’s two-party preferred position worsening, to 53-47 in Labor’s favour?

How about neither?

It’s funny how political history tends to get re-written with perfect hindsight. The 2014 budget is now accepted as a colossal political mistake, not merely by commentators but by the government itself. But in the immediate aftermath of that budget, that wasn’t clear at all. News Corp outlets were applauding it as a monumental achievement. Tony Abbott and his supporters were quietly backgrounding journalists that the PM himself had played a dominant role in shaping the budget, so that Joe Hockey didn’t get all the credit.

It took a couple of weeks for the political story behind the 2014 budget to start unravelling, and the real problems started when the new Senate arrived in July and promptly began opposing most of the government’s high-profile cuts.

Americans increasingly complain of the “hot take” in media commentary and analysis — the instant reaction to a major policy announcement or political move, predicated almost entirely on who has won and who has lost from what has been announced. It’s an increasing problem in our political coverage: the urge for immediate judgment, to get in first to declare winners and losers, when not merely does policy need time to play out, but so does politics, despite 24/7, three-cycles-in-a-day media.

The one thing we know about the reaction to the budget is that no one, not even the government’s most bitter critics, think it’s as bad as last year’s. Whether it becomes the springboard for an Abbott revival — well, that will take much more than a hot take to determine.

Peter Fray

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