News National Bill Shorten’s popularity is nothing to boast about

Bill Shorten’s popularity is nothing to boast about

Bill shorten Press Club
Bill Shorten: Too clever by half? Photo: AAP
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It was easy to see why the federal Opposition was crowing earlier this week, when the latest Newspoll reported that voter support for the Turnbull Government had crashed to levels not seen since just before Tony Abbott was deposed.

Labor claimed this was because voters were fed up with the “dithering, division and dysfunction” of the Government, and continued to be disappointed with the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull.

What Labor failed to mention was that its own leader, Bill Shorten, was hardly in the voters’ good books either.

It could even be argued that Mr Shorten is holding Labor back.

Mr Turnbull’s net satisfaction rating (the proportion of those that are satisfied with his performance minus those that are not) has plummeted from a net score of 38 when he became PM this time last year to -23 this week.

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The Coalition’s primary vote has tumbled to a record low under Malcolm Turnbull. Photo: Getty

In comparison, the last time Mr Shorten had a positive score was February 2015 and Tony Abbott had faced a “near-death experience” when the Liberal backbench revolted against him.

Mr Shorten’s net score at the time was 2, and since Mr Turnbull has been PM the Opposition leader’s satisfaction rating has moved from -25 to -15.

Clearly that’s an improvement, but it can’t be helping Labor to have a leader that has 10 per cent more voters unhappy with his performance than happy.

This is also shown in the Newspoll.

Support for the Turnbull Government was at an all-time high of 46 per cent at the beginning of February this year, while support for Labor was 34 per cent.

Since then, the Coalition has dropped 8 points to 38, but Labor has managed to claim only 3 per cent of the 8 per cent that have abandoned the Government.

And yet, even though Mr Turnbull has proven to be disappointing for many voters, he continues to lead as preferred prime minister.

Why voters feel this way: poll

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Poll shows Bill Shorten is more in touch with ordinary people but Malcolm Turnbull remains preferred PM. Photo: AAP

The Essential Report regularly canvasses the public’s view of both leaders’ “attributes” or leadership qualities, and the extent to which voters trust the leaders on particular issues.

The poll unsurprisingly rates Malcolm Turnbull as considerably more arrogant and out of touch with ordinary people than Bill Shorten.

Voters also think the PM is marginally more superficial, intolerant and narrow-minded than his counterpart.

But we still rate Mr Turnbull strongly on a host of other leadership qualities, which it would appear are more valued in a prime minister.

We think he is far more intelligent than Mr Shorten, better in a crisis, more honest, more trustworthy and more capable.

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Voters deem Bill Shorten to be more trustworthy compared to Malcolm Turnbull. Photo: AAP

We even think he’s marginally more visionary than the Labor leader, and less erratic and aggressive, even though we think Mr Shorten has a better understanding of the problems facing Australia.

It’s therefore tempting to conclude that Labor did not win the July federal election because voters didn’t think Mr Shorten was up to the job – and they didn’t trust him.

The “trust” attribute is particularly interesting, and one that the Essential poll has probed further.

On a range of contemporary hot topics, Essential’s respondents said they trusted Bill Shorten more than Malcolm Turnbull to handle the issues.

This included supporting manufacturing, protecting the Great Barrier Reef, making housing more affordable, funding public schools and making big corporates pay more tax.

Labor has made many of these issues its own by raising the issue’s profile and then offering a solution that positively sets the Opposition apart from the Government.

The fruits of that effort are evident in Bill Shorten’s perceived superior trustworthiness on addressing them.

There is a list of other issues on which voters trust Malcolm Turnbull and the Coalition more, such as the economy and national security, but Labor managed to make its issues dominate the July federal election campaign more than the Coalition did.

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The Australian public are dissatisfied with both Turnbull and Shorten’s performances. Photo: AAP

And that’s why Labor almost won – even with close to a million votes less than the Coalition.

This result leads to the question of whether Labor could do better with a different leader.

Not necessarily a more popular leader, for unpopular Opposition leaders like Tony Abbott have decisively won elections, but one that is seen to be more, well, like a leader.

Bill Shorten has had since late 2013 to establish his leadership credentials with Australian voters.

And yet the leader of a dithering, divided and dysfunctional government still leads him as preferred PM by 11 percentage points according to Newspoll.

Surely this will be on the minds of Labor’s powerbrokers as the party’s primary vote continues to languish.

Paula Matthewson was media adviser to John Howard in the early 1990s and then worked for almost 25 years in communication, political and industry advocacy roles. She is now a freelance writer and communication strategist. Paula has been tweeting and blogging about politics, the media and social media since 2009 under the pen name @Drag0nista.

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