The Nifty Nematode.
Posted by Possum Comitatus on October 22, 2007
There’s not a great lot to say about the debate except that Rudd stuck to his script and did all the things we thought he would; he answered the “why change government” question with leadership and plan for the future phrases, he bridged back to those two issues on nearly every question regardless of the topic, and he managed to do it as a coherent narrative. And Rudd made a lot of the debate about Howard himself as we thought he might. Howard has clearly become identified as a key weakness in the focus groups.
Howard on the other hand started fraying at the edges as time went on. His union attack looked anemic and his economic management argument in terms of focusing on previous achievements without adding anything solid to future directions played into Rudds hands as a clear differentiation between the past and the future -a silly thing to do with your most powerful issue.
At the very end, when Howard tried to co opt the phrase “education revolution” as his own, and then started talking about the 3 R’s as a restoration of standards said it all. It reinforced a lot of the reasons why voters have left Howard.
But the real action of the night was with the worm. There’s a powerful reason why the Liberal party didn’t want the worm anywhere near Howard, and seemed to go out of their way to stop it (although the details of what actually went on there seems to be rather murky – it just might have been the National Press Club spivs chucking a hissyfit… time will tell).
But on the Liberals extreme dislike of the worm, it’s not just that Howard usually performs poorly in these debates and the worm reinforces that perception, that’s the least of Howard’s problem with the nifty nematode. The real problem is that as soon as the camera cuts to him, the worm automatically starts dropping, before he’s really said a word.
You see, John Howard has never been particularly popular. But this reality flies in the face of the carefully constructed image that Howard has projected in the media over the years. How many times have you heard “Howard is still popular with the electorate despite being behind in the polls”, or the “The PMs approval rating suggests that the voters aren’t waiting around with baseball bats” type thing.
The problem with these types of statements is that they are using as evidence, the results from unrelated questions. Satisfaction and approval ratings are about how many people are satisfied with the way the PM is doing his job, not whether the public like him or not.
The worm though – when it starts to drop before Howard has finished speaking a word, it tells it like it is, and has done so every time it makes an appearance.
Too much worm exposure risks the penny dropping – Howard isn’t popular, never really has been and the danger of such a thing is that it could quickly generate its own nasty momentum.
For anyone that doesn’t live in Canberra, or actually walks around in the normal world that doesn’t have a singular focus on politics, this is nothing really new. Even those stronger supporters of Howard might say that he’s done an alright job, but they rarely say Howard himself is anything other than a slippery politician that they don’t much care for. But it’s one thing having most people knowing he’s unpopular – it’s an entirely different thing altogether should people start talking about it too often, particularly through the media.