There was a lot of mirth on Twitter and other parts of social media this week as Scott Morrison embarked on a mini-campaign tour of marginal seats in Queensland on a big blue bus.
In between the LOLs over doctored images of the bus and its slogans, and the tuts about the PM using taxpayer funds to meet actual voters, there was much scoffing about the moniker ‘ScoMo’ being splashed across the bus’s side.
There was also much pointing to the latest opinion polls, which recorded a big drop in the PM’s approval rating over the past few weeks. This drop, according to the detractors, was proof that Mr Morrison’s self-appointed nickname and ‘daggy dad’ routine had been a dismal failure.
Even that font of political veracity, the disgraced former senator Sam Dastyari, proclaimed this to be so. Mr Dastyari now works for Essential Media, which produces the respected Essential poll and runs campaigns for progressive organisations such as unions and GetUp.
In a tabloid column on Thursday, Mr Dastyari recounted a conversation he had this week with Kaila Murnain, who has his old job as general secretary of NSW Labor.
Noting that he had private opinion polling from a month ago showing the PM had a net approval rating of eleven and that these numbers had since dropped into negative territory, Mr Dastyari reportedly claimed to Ms Murnain “His popularity numbers can’t be this bad.”
“No. The numbers are right,” Ms Murnain reportedly confirmed. “People have just figured him out.”
Now I don’t know about you, but I’m sceptical about two Labor strategists (notably from the Graham Richardson ‘whatever it takes’ school of politics) using a key conservative platform like the Daily Telegraph to proclaim their principal adversary, Scott Morrison, is not cutting through with voters. In fact, if Mr Dastyari told me the sky was blue, I would still go outside to check.
An alternative interpretation of the PM’s drop in approval ratings is that voters are pretty unhappy with the recent political events that Mr Morrison has presided over.
Events such as the Coalition’s lemming-like support of the ‘right to be white’ motion in the Senate, the misguided proposal to move the Australian embassy to Jerusalem, and the faffing around over legal changes to protect students and teachers from religious discrimination.
All against the backdrop of a byelection campaign and poll that only served to remind voters why Mr Morrison is that latest PM, and why this means we still don’t have a climate action policy and there are still kids stranded on Nauru. Any, or all, of these factors could have dragged down the PM’s personal approval ratings, and mostly likely did contribute to the decline.
There’s another reason why we shouldn’t make hasty conclusions about the effectiveness of the PM’s daggy dad routine. If it makes you cringe, then you can safely assume it’s not meant for you.
As Opposition leader Tony Abbott used his appearances on shop floors wearing hi-vis to broadcast the supposed adverse effects of the ‘carbon tax’ on Australian businesses. It was a scattergun approach, spraying the message to as many different voters as possible.
But when he appeared on podiums flanked by Australian flags, Mr Abbott was narrowcasting to a specific segment of voters, namely the ‘patriots’ who were anxious about the need to ‘protect’ Australian life ‘as we know it’.
Scott Morrison’s daggy dag routine is also an exercise in narrowcasting. It’s not aimed at the Twitterati, the QandA watchers or anyone who’s engaged with federal politics. It’s aimed at the disgruntled voters who get their politics from commercial TV, talkback radio and tabloid newspapers.
These voters don’t like or trust politicians, the political system, or other ‘elites’, who they believe have no idea what it’s like to be the ‘average’ voter. Most importantly, these voters feel they’re being ignored and abandoned.
Accordingly, the PM’s faux bloke routine is an attempt to reconnect with those people. He started out with visual cues like the ubiquitous baseball caps and polo shirts, along with the meat pies and beers. This week’s trip to north Queensland was the next step, with the PM meeting voters and putting on his listening face.
One of the more instructive events on the mini-campaign tour this week (for political observers) was Mr Morrison’s participation in a live question and answer session at a pub in the marginal seat of Herbert, which was televised by Sky News.
Almost every questioner from the audience seemed genuinely willing to engage with the PM during the hour-long broadcast. Perhaps more importantly, during the post-event show that was broadcast from the same location, the PM could be seen in the background still mingling with crowd.
One of the mistakes made by the politically engaged, particularly on social media, is to assume they are representative of all Australian voters. Another mistake is to assume they are the only political audience that matters. Neither of these assumptions apply when it comes to the PM’s daggy dad routine.
It’s not you, it’s them, that he’s trying to connect with.