It will take a lot more than a controversial opinion poll to bump Bill Shorten off his campaign against big company tax cuts. The Labor leader is clinging to his strategy as if his leadership depends on it. And it probably does.
He was defiant on the campaign trail in Tasmania: “Listen, I don’t need a poll to tell me a dumb idea when I see one.” The Newspoll in fact purported to show that a majority of voters didn’t think the idea was dumb at all.
This finding doesn’t square with what voters are telling the Labor leader as he stumps around the country. He is confident they are buying his framing of the debate as $80 billion for the big banks and multi-national corporations versus education, health and pensioners.
Mr Shorten says people come up to him and say “you politicians look after us, that’s what we put you there to do”.
Polling analyst Andrew Catsaras is not the only one who finds the claim that a “vast majority” of voters support company tax cuts “misleading” and “outright wrong”.
Mr Catsaras says the pollster asked, “When should company tax cuts be introduced?” It was a timing question, not one asking people if they supported the tax cuts or not.
Another, William Bowe, says the question is “one of the most poorly framed polling questions I’ve ever seen”.
One political strategist thinks the Liberals are fooling themselves if they believe the poll. He cannot see how the big business tax cuts are attractive in the two lower-socio economic electorates of Braddon in Tasmania or Longman in Queensland.
Indeed, a ReachTel poll for The Australia Institute found 77 per cent of voters in Longman wanted the company tax rate to remain where it is or be raised.
That was the sort of finding that spooked Pauline Hanson to renege on her deal with the government to support the cuts. Though on Monday she took the latest poll at face value and suggested she may change her mind for the fifth time if enough people “ring her office”.
Of course, the acid test of all of this will be the five byelections on July 28.
Both sides are busy massaging expectations. Malcolm Turnbull says history is against him winning any from the Labor opposition. Bill Shorten is playing down Labor’s chances of holding Longman as it’s “a traditional Liberal seat” that was won only on the back of One Nation preferences.
Playing a slightly different game is Labor’s Anthony Albanese. He says Labor should hold all its seats. It sounds like he’s deliberately setting the bar high for the leader.
If ‘Albo’ is chuffed by the Newspoll finding him the preferred Labor leader ahead of Mr Shorten and Tanya Plibersek, he’s doing his best to hide it.
“I’m a team player and we have only one priority and that’s to get rid of this rotten government,” he says.
The fact is “uncommitted” on 28 per cent drew more support than Mr Albanese and the two others named. You could throw a handkerchief over the lot. This explains why many in the Labor caucus are not convinced a bloody change of leader would pay certain winning dividends.
The reality there is no outstanding alternative plays in Mr Shorten’s favour. And for many in caucus the destructive Rudd-Gillard-Rudd years are seared into their brains.
Labor would have to return catastrophic results at the end of July to change this thinking.
Besides, the government’s weak recovery stalled in the Newspoll. The Liberals went backwards by a point. Mr Catsaras says they cannot win an election with a primary vote of 38 per cent.
Mr Turnbull is confident he can bridge the gap and win a general election. Not all in his party room are convinced. They will be looking to the real votes in the byelections as a guide to their thinking.
On that score the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader are in the same boat.
Paul Bongiorno AM is a veteran of the Canberra Press Gallery, with 40 years’ experience covering Australian politics.