Possums Pollytics

Politics, elections and piffle plinking

The impact of leadership on polling metrics

Posted by Possum Comitatus on August 3, 2008

With the Age of Nelson possibly drawing to a close, it might be worth having a look at how the various leaders of the Opposition have changed the Newspoll estimates of the primary vote, satisfaction ratings and preferred Prime Minister ratings throughout their tenure.

What we’ll do is measure what those three metrics were before an Opposition leader took the helm of their party and compare how those three metrics moved under their watch. It’s easier explaining with a chart, so we’ll use the one for The Nightwatchman as an example (they’re all thumbnails) :

When Nelson took the helm of the Liberal Party, the previous leader of the Coalition (Howard) had a primary vote of 42, a satisfaction rating of 51 and a preferred PM rating of 44 just before he was turfed out – this becomes the starting point for Nelson.

If we compare this “starting point” to, say, the infamous Newspoll that turned Nelson into Mr 7%, it had the Coalition on a primary vote of 31 (11 less than Nelsons starting point), a satisfaction rating of 29 (22 less than his starting point) and a PPM rating of 7 (37 less than his starting point) and can be seen on the chart as observation number 4 on the bottom “Newspolls” axis.

This let’s us track over time how the metrics have changed under each leader where positive numbers represent an increase in a given metric compared to the party position at the end of the previous leaders’ tenure; negative numbers represent a decrease in a given metric compared to the party position at the end of the previous leaders’ tenure.

We can do this for every Opposition leader all the way back to Peacock and Hewson (although with these two, Newspoll didn’t have a regular PPM series so we’ve just left the PPM metric out for them). Where it says “Base” in the following charts – that tells us what the value of the metrics were when the Leader came into the leadership, effectively providing us with our base values from which we compare a given leaders Newspoll metrics. The series end at either an election or when the leaders were overthrown, whichever came first.

To start with, we’ll look at Coalition leaders of the Opposition – note that the Howard chart ends at the 1996 election:

And now the ALP leaders (I’ve left Beazley Mk1 out because of the funny things One Nation did to the polling series over the period as well as Beazley being leader for 2 consecutive elections makes his chart a bit redundant):

The interesting thing about these charts is that they show us how each Opposition leader changed the Newspoll metrics compared to when they inherited the leadership and throws a few of their tenures into a bit of context.

Latham for instance is widely seen to have wrecked the joint, but he improved the ALP standing in the polls over his tenure. Similarly, while Crean was considered a disaster, the ALP primary vote didn’t really change at all, but it was his personal qualitative ratings that plunged.

There’s lots of stuff to chew over here – although one thing is pretty certain; which ever person becomes the new leader of the Opposition, their chart will probably look pretty good considering the extreme low point they’ll be starting from.


15 Responses to “The impact of leadership on polling metrics”

  1. Aristotle said

    A change to Costello will resemble the Downer graph. A burst of interest on all three factors, followed by a crash and burn.

    A change to Turnbull, will be more like Howard’s graph, a boost to the PPM and satisfaction ratings, but with little change in vote.

    Overall, a change to Turnbull will leave the Libs in a better shape than changing to Costello. Costello has far too much baggage politically (workchoices etc) and far too many questions over his courage, not a good thing to have if you want to be PM. This is why he will crash and burn. Turnbull, has little baggage politically, and few questions re his courage. he shuld have been their first choice and he is their best choice, by a mile and a half.

  2. Mick said

    With regards to the Downer graph, can someone point to the spot on that chart where the ‘things that batter’ was uttered?

  3. Possum Comitatus said

    Mick, I think it was on the 9th September 1994?

    If so, that would be between observations 8 and 9 in the Downer chart, as observation 8 was the Newspoll for the 2-4 Sept and obs 9 was for the date 16-18 Sept.

  4. Sir Ian Upton said

    It looks like the seconds in Knuckles Nelson’s corner are about to throw the towel in. His fight with Crusher Kev has been bloody and brutal and he looks out on his feet. I think Knuckles Nelson lost the fight in round 7 when he delivered a flurry of lethal uppercuts, most of which landed on his own jaw. Crusher Kev won’t have time to draw breath before he has another opponent. Getting a rub down in the change rooms is Pessimistic Pete, a lumbering man full of self-doubt but determined to have one last shot at the title. Pessimistic Pete, Crusher Kev, Knuckles Nelson…..who needs the Olympics when we’ve got our own form of masterful entertainment?

  5. Howard C said

    You leave out Beazley Mk1, which conveniently means there is not the best comparison to the Nelson opposition leaderhip: taking over from a recently defeated Prime Minister. All of the others took over from other opposition leaders, not prime ministers.

  6. Possum Comitatus said

    Howard C – the One Nation effect threw out of whack nearly every polling metric in the lead up to the 1998 election and it also seriously distorted the base that Beazley would have worked off during the 1998-2001 period as well (since the 1998 election results would have been the base for that period).

    As unfortunate as it is, any charts we use for that particular period with these metrics have very little value when it comes to comparing leadership performances as we’d effectively be comparing apples with oranges.

    So I left them out.

  7. Just Me said

    Comparing Latham with Rudd is interesting. They are the two most similar graphs of them all.

  8. Labor Outsider said

    Latham was a victim of his early success….he is remembered for the decline in his personal (and primary party) support in the second half of his leadership, not the 3pp boost he gave to the ALP over the whole course of his leadership….if he hadn’t performed so well early, things may have turned out differently….you wouldn’t think it today, but up until the last three weeks of the 2004 campaign many ALP people were genuinely optimistic about winning…..Rudd took over from a much higher base than Latham and ultimately retained more support….The really interesting question is how Rudd would have performed if he had taken over from Crean instead…..Perhaps he would have done no better…..

  9. Labor Outsider said

    Btw – they are great graphs possum – well done!!

  10. Possum Comitatus said

    On Latham, I’m increasingly coming to the view that Rudd might not have won if it were not for Latham. Latham lifted the ALP standing and brought them back into the game, almost in a structural sense, an even though he got a pounding in the election result, it was still by far a better result that Crean was leading the ALP into. Beazley came along and essentially did nothing except harvest preferences from the growing Green vote that was holding up the ALP TPP vote and then Rudd came along and improved on what was essentially the Latham base in a slightly larger way than Latham earlier improved upon the Crean base.

    I’ve changed my mind about Latham a fair bit over the last 6 months – finding myself thinking more and more often that he gets a bad rap considering what he actually did to the metrics.

    Ta about the graphs! I decided the other day that it was time to deliberately set about to improve the visuals.

  11. Possum Comitatus said

    Actually, just on that Latham v Crean thing, it wasn’t until I first sat through and watched the Pollercoaster

    …that it really hit me just how important Latham was to dragging the ALP vote up.

  12. Howard C said

    Then there is no real value in the comparison, or the entire post, other than to compare Peacock to Hewson to Downer to Howard to Crean to Latham to Beazley MkII to Rudd. Poor old Nelson just looks ordinary in comparison, largely due to circumstances.

  13. Possum Comitatus said

    Howard C, If you dont think there is any real value in comparing the various Op leaders to Nelson, then don’t do it.

    These charts are about far more than Nelson.

  14. Labor Outsider said

    Howard C and Possum

    Presumably you could at least show Beazley’s charts from March 1996 until sometime in 1997? That would be most relevant for comparing Nelson through his first few months in the job. I’m guessing that Beazley’s performance would be better, but that is probably in part because he replaced a very unpopular leader in Keating…

  15. […] vote out of the levels Crean Labor left it in. Ignore the popular narrative on Mark Latham and just follow the data over here to see what I mean on […]

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