The Strengthening of Australian Opinion on Prime Ministers
Posted by Possum Comitatus on August 4, 2008
Wandering through my polling database on the weekend, something really interesting struck me – since the mid 1980’s (when Newspoll first started polling), the electorates’ satisfaction with the Prime Minister of the day has been steadily growing. If we plot every Newspoll as a point, run a Loess regression through it to get a smoothed line of best fit as well as run a linear regression on the Newspoll point data to get a linear trend, we end up with the following fairly self-explanatory chart.
There are 512 Newspoll surveys in that chart, which is a sizeable chunk of info by any yardstick. The increasing trend of the public being satisfied with the PM of the day is pretty clear.
Yet, not only are we becoming more satisfied with our PM, we are also giving the PM of the day higher Preferred Prime Minister ratings over time as well.
The shaded areas in that chart represent the 9 months to each of the elections from 1993, which is worth adding in as it shows just how much trouble Howard was in during the lead up to the 1998, 2001 and 2007 elections. The Howard era also throws up an interesting pattern in the Preferred PM ratings where he generally enjoyed high ratings for 2 years after each election, crashing in the 12 months leading up to the next election before clawing his ratings back to being just above the red line trend immediately before election day.
From the data alone, it was almost as if the Australian public wanted to get rid of him but couldn’t quite bring themselves to do it – that is, until 2007 when Howard’s PPM rating clustered solidly way below the red trend line, like it had been threatening to do in so many elections before but where the public had always blinked.
Another interesting little trend that reinforces the strengthening of Australian opinion on Prime Ministers is the proportion of Newspoll respondents that are uncommitted on the Preferred PM question.
Not only are we becoming more satisfied with the actions of our PM of the day over time, not only do we increasingly prefer the incumbent as Prime Minister as time goes by, but we are also, as a political community, becoming increasingly certain of our opinion over which leader would be the best PM.
The big question I suppose is why?
Is it the more presidential style of media relations that’s been happening in our political system, where the Prime Minister becomes a much more highly visible “point man” over the politics of the day for the government and gets a large exposure in the media as a consequence?
Is it a result of the government using more focus group and quantitative political research to better target voters over meta-issues like image and leaders personality traits, effectively managing the soft issues better and better consolidating their popularity as a result?
Is it something to do with the increasing power of incumbency?
Or is it just that we’re all becoming more opinionated? It’s the intertubes watz doin it I tellz ya!
I’d be interested in your thoughts over this as I was quite surprised to see those trends crystalise out so strongly.
Another thing to consider with this, especially in light of the Opposition leadership circus at the moment – will this strengthening of public opinion over the PM make it harder for Oppositions to break through in the future (or even now)? Will the Opposition increasingly need popular and likeable leaders to simply be able to bring the political contest up to the government if this 22 year trend continues?