The latest Newspoll data shows both major parties dead level in the two-party preferred stakes, and as Parliament resumed yesterday, Liberal MPs were front and centre of the media circuit, giving their two cents on what this poll really meant. (Spoiler: not much, if you’re down.)

The poll is an anomaly, with Fairfax-Ipsos and Essential showing the Coalition still had Labor at 52-48 on two-party preferred, but that didn’t stop the questions coming.

Considering Malcolm Turnbull used poor Newspolls as an excuse to oust Abbott last year, claiming that the Coalition “lost 30 Newspolls in a row” and that “it is clear that the people have made up their mind about Mr Abbott”, it was an awkward day for the Coalition.

Education Minister Simon Birmingham: 

Birmingham told Sky News he thought the government was being “cautious and meticulous” with the task of economic reform.

“People should be confident … that we have a clear direction and that we’re working toward the budget … and the election due in the second half of this year … Polls go up and down.”

Assistant Treasurer Kelly O’Dwyer

O’Dwyer went the “what do I know about polls” route on Sky: “I’m not an expert on polls. I don’t claim to be,” O’Dwyer said. “My job is simply to get on with what I have been tasked to do … Most of my colleagues are focused on doing their jobs as well.” 

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton played it casual, telling ABC Radio on Monday morning that yes, “the government’s got a lot of work to do today”, but that it was normal for polls to tighten in the lead-up to an election.

“There are many reasons why people should vote for the Coalition, but ultimately what’s of most interest to us is not polls, it’s how we can help families improve their lives, help their kids get a better education, make sure that people can live in a safe society, and that’s part of what we’ll be saying at the next election.” 

Employment Minister Michaelia Cash

Cash appeared on Radio National yesterday morning and followed Dutton’s lead by claiming the polling data was normal and that the polls always narrowed in an election year.

“This is not unexpected,” she told ABC Radio, promising listeners that voting for the Coalition would ensure that policy was produced in a “methodical and meticulous manner”.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann

Cormann appeared on 7.30 last night and, unsurprisingly, joined in on the casual rhetoric surrounding the polls while reminding viewers that the party is, well, “focused”.

“I let commentators assess and comment on our performance. Our focus is on doing the best job for the Australian people every day and that’s what we will continue to do every day between now and election day,” he told the program.

Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull

In his press conference announcing Senate voting reform, Turnbull refused to give polling data much air time.

“It’s kind of you to invite me to comment on myself,” he joked, before inviting the press to “form [their] own conclusions”.

***

All of these reactions sound familiar? The discourse surrounding “getting on with the job” seem like something you’ve heard before? This is not the first government (and it won’t be the last) to declare unfavourable polls to be not worth the paper on which they’re written.

Wayne Swan, June 2011

In a Newspoll released in June 2011, the data showed the Coalition holding a commanding two-party lead of 55 to 45.

Swan said governments always struggled in the opinion polls when they introduced important changes.

“It’s never been any different in Australia when governments put in place very significant reforms,” he told ABC Radio. “It’s occurred in the past. We don’t get obsessed with opinion polls from week to week or fortnight to fortnight.”

Julia Gillard, June 2013

Gillard wanted very much for Australians to know how focused she was on “getting on with the job”, after a Newspoll showed Labor’s primary vote had fallen to 29%.

“The focus for me this week is on our schools reforms which are in the Senate,” Gillard said, in her first comments in several days on the leadership question. “I’m getting on with the job — the things that really matter.”

Kevin Rudd, August 2013

Rudd told the media during the 2013 election campaign he was “a fighter”, after Newspoll showed satisfaction with Rudd as PM fell to 35%.

Speaking on Channel Seven’s Sunrise program, Rudd dismissed the polls, instead focusing on the things for which he was campaigning: “You know what they are? I’m passionate about jobs … I’m passionate about hospitals … So this is a fight worth having. And if you’ve looked at my political career in the past, it hasn’t always been easy and I’ve been written off many, many times before,” he said.

Tony Abbott, August 2015

Abbott had his fair share of rough Newspolls last year, including in August, when a Newspoll showed Labor had a higher primary vote than the government.

Abbott dismissed the polls, saying that he believed the Canning byelection on September 19 would provide a “real” test of the government’s popularity, unlike “other indicators” such as opinion polls.

“I’m very confident that we have … a really outstanding candidate and we’ve got a good story to tell,” the prime minister said. But someone was paying attention to the polls — Malcolm Turnbull rolled his former boss before the Canning byelection was held.

Peter Fray

Fetch your first 12 weeks for $12

Here at Crikey, we saw a mighty surge in subscribers throughout 2020. Your support has been nothing short of amazing — we couldn’t have got through this year like no other without you, our readers.

If you haven’t joined us yet, fetch your first 12 weeks for $12 and start 2021 with the journalism you need to navigate whatever lies ahead.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW