Polls, Messaging & Leadership: Why the Coalition is Screwed

Another day, another woeful poll for Malcolm Turnbull and the Federal Coalition. Newspoll has Labor ahead 47-36 on primaries, 58/42 on 2pp with Kevin Rudd’s popularity at 68%. Nielsen has Rudd’s popularity at a record 74%Morgan demonstrates a Coalition wipeout in the Senate. The left wing front pollsters, Essential Research has a 2PP of 63/37 (although I have little faith in their credibility, but still). And so on.

In contrast, the Republican Party polling numbers are soaring: both Rasmussen and NPR polling have a dead tie between Republicans and Democrats in generic congressional ballots. Obama’s net approval rating has plummeted by 20 points.

Why is this? The situations between the Republicans and the Coalition in their present situation are almost identical. Both lost an election after a prolonged period in power to a new leader who promised ‘change’, both opposed stimulus packages, both have been pilloried in the press. Yet the Republicans are succeeding where we are not. Why?

Of course, you could argue Rudd really is the most brilliant politician in the world, and was quite right to take offense when Obama gave the popularity title to President Lula, or alternatively that we’re simply in the midst of a Rudd-bubble that shall ultimately pass. Of course, there’s also that old time classic “the voters are stupid”.

None of these approaches I find particularly helpful, the latter downright damaging. The reason for this is that it shifts the burden of responsibility away from the Coalition to our opponents. It is effectively a way of us trying to blame others, and absolve ourselves of any wrongdoing. Any way forward should be based in honest self-analysis, so that we can recognise exactly what we are doing wrong to allow Rudd to be so popular.

So. Where to begin. Obviously the matter of leadership has received significant media speculation: with Kevin Rudd leading Turnbull as preferred leader by 70% to 17% , replacing him no doubt seems tempting, my thoughts on Mr. Turnbull are well documented. However, such a thing seems unlikely at the moment, for the simple reason that any aspirant would wait until we lose the next election in a landslide, the economy tanks as Julia Gillard’s Job Killing Act comes into full effect in 2010, and then shall ride in as a saviour. A similar point could be made on conviction.  The Australian public are a smart bunch, and can smell when politicians speak without conviction, and this is certainly happening. And it is clear that this isn’t happening, whether it be the delayed and forced opposition to the stimulus, on industrial relations, the environment or anything else.

Such arguments, however, do little to assist in the short term. The real failure there I feel has been the lack of credible, properly prepared messaging. Simply put, we can’t sell ourselves.

Let us be frank – the party sucks. When I compare the tight, disciplined, messaging of the ALP – the poll tested lines, and the concerted effort to use the identical phrases, to the rabble emanating from the Coalition, I really do despair. There is no coherent messaging from the Coalition. There are no zinger lines, no decent soundbites. And we are  really lagging behind because of this – you can see this on any TV interview; we get completely creamed. All of our MP’s are using different lines, none of them focus group tested, none of them researched. As much as I may have disagreements with Frank Luntz, words do matter – it really isn’t what you say, it’s what people hear. The ALP has mastered this. Yet this is a powerful concept it would seem we have not even begun to address. I do not think I’ve watched one head to head where I feel we have come up ahead.

Linked to this is our failure to create an emotional metanarrative. We have made no effort to engage on deeper themes with the voting public, to appeal to them on this emotional level. We have not looked at linking our policies to their core values, core beliefs. We have not fashioned any coherent opposition. I can not remember the last time as an opposition we linked our policies to core values of reliance, individualism, responsibility. Things every Australian can relate to. And we are suffering for it.

Indeed, we have failed to deliver any true alternative. One of the things that struck me speaking to Brian Johnson, Executive Director of the Alliance for Worker Freedom, who spent the last two weeks in Australia, was how we fail to propose alternative whilst in opposition. Whereas the Minority Parties here consistently present alternative legislation – and really are an alternative government in many ways – we tend to seek to oppose, or at best amend – and leave policy to the election. Why? There is nothing stopping us from doing so, why must we hide? Why must we avoid being the alternative government. I mean why can we not present a credible alternative plan now? Let us look at the current global financial downturn. This is a perfect opportunity for us to – we can look progressive, forward thinking, and not the reactionary party of No we now seem to be.

Replacing Turnbull as leader is an easy solution, but is not a panacea. Unless we address such underlying issues, we shall not achieve the electoral success that Australia deserves.

None of what I say should be news to anyone in the Liberal Party. Anyone with even half a brain should recognise this. So why don’t we actually start acting upon it?

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3 Responses to “Polls, Messaging & Leadership: Why the Coalition is Screwed”

  1. Tim Humphries Says:

    Quoting TA:

    “Replacing Turnbull as leader is an easy solution, but is not a panacea. Unless we address such underlying issues, we shall not achieve the electoral success that Australia deserves”.

    The underlying issues are Leadership, Policy and Timing.

    It’s not nessesarily conceeding that replacement of Turnbull is the easy solution-panacea. Its addressing the core Leadership question thats vital.

    We need a leader that can energize our base, roll out a consistent message that isnt mired in “platitudes” and do so in a way that reflects positively on their track record as someone who can/has delivered.

    By putting someone into the opposition leadership that transcends politics you will find its easier to start really challenging our opponents.

    It’s true that Gillard’s new employment laws are Job killing laws, esp in a financial environment of the turbulence we have seen.

    Make no mistake, the Govt will use the GFC as an excuse to get re-elected. It’s not our fault that everything is screwed they will say, its external factors! I’m reminded of what Anna Bligh said throughout the recent Qld election. “You can count on me” she said. We have to be willing to put a leader in that can say that and back it up by action.

    I can’t say this enough, we have to address the issue of leadership. The party has to stick someone in there that has a consistent track record of speaking to the Liberal Party conservative base.

    I personally don’t care what some reports maybe saying about individual state branchs. The moderate-to-hard right base of the Liberal Party is where the action will be to re-take Government. Its a fact.

    As to who that person should be, I’ve made my views and judgement plain on that and won’t back off one bit

  2. motion29 Says:

    Costello for PM – WHOOOO!

  3. RebuildTheLibs.com: Crafting a Way Forward for the Liberal Party « The musings of an Australian classical liberal in Washington DC Says:

    […] take a rocket scientist to work out that the Liberal Party is in trouble.Our poll numbers are abysmal, and we are in Opposition Federally, as well as in every State & Territory bar […]

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