Labor is deluding itself if it believes the government’s improvement in the polls following the ascension of Malcolm Turnbull is merely a “sugar hit”.
More likely, it is the restoration of something approximating political normality after a long period in the wilderness. Abbott was a heavy weight on the Coalition’s vote in a way that Bill Shorten is not on Labor’s, dragging it so low that Labor looked on course to achieve the unusual feat of easily defeating a first-term government.
With that weight removed, it’s now a far more even contest — 50-50 in today’s Essential Report, 51-49 to the Coalition in Newspoll. No need for despair in Labor ranks yet, but when the polls have settled they may spell bad news for Bill Shorten, who compares very unfavourably to the Prime Minister in today’s polls.
An intriguing question is what effect Turnbull’s elevation will have on the Greens vote. The Greens, under a more moderate leader, looked set to reap the benefits of voter disillusionment with Abbott and Shorten. Turnbull now has a chance to reverse that, and it is significant that in Essential today Greens voters strongly favour Turnbull over Shorten as preferred PM — something that would never have happened under Tony Abbott.
Turnbull’s moderate social and environmental views may attract Greens voters, but he is hamstrung from implementing them by the reactionary rump of his own party and the Nationals. However, an economic agenda stressing innovation, agility and a knowledge economy could well win over at least part of this cohort — if not on primary vote then at least on preferences.