In politics, “perception” is reality and if you can create a perception that distorts or defies reality, you are up and away.
Every politician knows this and they work tirelessly spending enormous, time, effort and dollars to convince voters they are trustworthy or competent enough to support.
At face value Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been enormously successful in creating the impression he is winning the campaign and, with it, close to winning the election.
Even seasoned politics watchers who inhabited the weekend couch on the nation’s most watched political panel program Insiders joined the cheering underlings in the stalls.
Watching the campaign was like watching Charlie Chuckles (Morrison) versus the Grim Reaper (Bill Shorten) was one view.
Politicians know the nightly TV news bulletins are hungry for pictures – the more bizarre will always get a run but that should not be confused with success.
Tony Abbott’s raw onion eating is a good example, but does having a go at sheep shearing prove anything?
Are Australians electing a champion sheep shearer, a skilled sports player or are they electing a leader of a government team that is promising to deliver policies that will serve the nation well?
Mr Shorten says he’s not going to let Mr Morrison run around the country taking his happy pills and getting away without serious scrutiny.
The past three Newspolls show the PM’s satisfaction has plateaued on 45 per cent. His dissatisfaction has climbed three points to 46 per cent.
These results coincide with the election campaign and are mirrored by findings in Labor focus groups, with reactions to Mr Morrison like “immature”, “shrill”, “smug” and “arrogant”.
The emergence of Clive Palmer is literally the joker in the pack, a desperate Mr Morrison has thrown caution to the wind and signed off on the Liberals doing a formal preference deal with the billionaire eccentric.
Mr Palmer – in the view of senior Liberals like WA’s former premier Colin Barnett and the former member of the ultra-marginal Townsville seat of Herbert Ewen Jones – will cause the party more damage than good.
Already Mr Palmer has seriously compromised the Prime Minister, who refuses to condemn the billionaire for not reimbursing taxpayers for the $70 million spent paying his workers’ entitlements.
Nor was Mr Morrison willing to even question whether Mr Palmer’s assurances were real that he has put aside $7 million to pay the workers the rest they are owed.
It seems the media puts a premium on politics as entertainment.
After asking Mr Palmer some tough questions on the Today show, Deb Knight thanked him for enlivening a boring election campaign.
In that interview he claimed his United Australia Party would win the election and govern the country.
If he even half believed it, he would be running for the House of Representatives where prime ministers reside, rather than squibbing Herbert – a seat he boldly proclaimed he would contest up until two weeks ago.
In June Mr Morrison was more dismissive of Mr Palmer, saying Australians would say “the circus doesn’t need another side show”.
But the prime minister is turning his own campaign into a side show spectacle – a point made forcefully by former Liberal leader John Hewson in an opinion piece last week.
Dr Hewson wrote “facing electoral defeat (the Coalition government) is easily characterised as stubborn and prejudiced on key policy issues, a team of (mostly) men of the past lacking a vision or the policies to back it up”.
According to analyst William Bowe, the influence of the Palmer preference flow in the latest Newspoll to see a point improvement for the Coalition two-party preferred, is a problematic guess and not supported in the polling.
The Coalition will be hoping any perception of momentum it has created will be rewarded come May 18.
Paul Bongiorno AM is a veteran of the Canberra Press Gallery, with 40 years’ experience covering Australian politics