The view from Billinudgel

Bury the lead
Newspoll delivers an unwanted result for the Murdoch media

Prime Minister Scott Morrison (Image © Lukas Coch / AAP) and Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese (Image via Twitter)

It was a result that sports commentators would have described as against the run of play. The usually reliable Newspoll last week delivered a bombshell as unexpected as it was unwelcome to its Murdochratic media proprietors.

The script was supposed to deliver yet another win for Scott Morrison’s invincible government. The blockbusting budget had been unveiled to gasps of astonishment and applause, at least to the writers and readers of The Australian. The headlines were ready to go: another crushing blow to Anthony Albanese and his quasi-socialist insurgents.

Actually, it wasn’t all that crushing. The Labor leader’s disapproval rate rose by three points, but his approval rate remained static. And Morrison failed to pick up any of the slack, with his own figures unchanged.

The government did gain 1 per cent on the two-party preferred vote. But that is well within the poll’s margin of error and, at 52-48 with many months to go before an election, is hardly significant.

The budget itself, while favourably received in some quarters, could not be called spectacularly successful. Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s previous effort in 2019 actually got a better reception, and Joe Hockey’s offering in 2015 (the year after his 2014 disaster) eclipsed both of them.

The punters loved the tax cuts; well, they would, wouldn’t they. But around a fifth of Australians thought they would be worse off, and nearly twice that number thought it would make no difference to their personal situation. And while a small number of people trust the government to manage some sort of recovery from the pandemic-induced recession, the verdict was far from overwhelming.

So hold the champagne – no, send it back to the wine shop, because here’s the terrible news: Albanese picked up a point over Morrison as the preferred prime minister. Morrison is still a long way ahead – no need to panic. And, given the other numbers, this can easily be dismissed as a rogue result or just statistical static.

But obviously the News Ghouls did not like it, and so they buried the unwanted figure – the only real news in the entire poll – well back in the nether reaches of the inside pages.

Perhaps they are right, and the real mood of the country is still very much summed up by the phrase “a plague on both your houses”. Other surveys, both national and international, have discerned a sense of deep and ongoing disillusionment from voters, a despair at the lack of any long-term strategy, let alone a genuine vision, from political leaders.

There is a search for saviours: the voters willingly forgive New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern for her lack of economic cut-through as long as she can still inspire them with her innate sincerity and decency. There is no one in the Australian parliament in the same race as Ardern.

But the fact that our own prime minster could lose ground, however marginally, as the nation’s chosen leader, just when he thought he was on a roll, must be deeply discouraging for him. It is more than counterintuitive; for our miracle worker’s altar boys at The Australian it is against the natural order of things, almost sacrilegious.

They will be poring over their bibles at Newspoll, desperate to find a more appealing text, a revised version that will reflect the true meaning of their gospel. In the meantime, the rest of us will just have to get used to yet another quirky outcome in this year of the unprecedented.

Mungo MacCallum

Mungo MacCallum is a political journalist and commentator. His books include Run Johnny Run, Poll Dancing, and Punch and Judy. Visit his blog, The View from Billinudgel.

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