WHAT does it say about a country when nearly 90 per cent of the people’s hopes of their leaders are hugely disappointed on an important matter, yet the leaders’ approval ratings do not budge?
It tells us that the country has such low expectations of its leaders that when they fail spectacularly, the people are not surprised in the least.
This is a picture of a country in a state of despondency about its leadership. And not just with one side of politics but with both.
Because that’s what’s just happened. Australians overwhelmingly wanted the political parties to reach a compromise on asylum seeker policy.
Nine out of 10 wanted the parties to stop squabbling and find agreement, according to today’s Herald Nielsen poll.
So when the Parliament last week spent two days in intense debate on the matter and produced nothing but recriminations, the hopes of the country were dashed.
Yet the latest approval ratings for Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott are essentially unchanged from a month ago. Why? “People think they know what to expect from both leaders, and it’s not much,” says the Herald’s pollster, John Stirton. “Everyone was performing true to form. Look at where the ratings are for these leaders – they are very low.”
Both have negative ratings, meaning that more people disapprove of them than approve.
Yet blame for the failure on asylum seekers is not apportioned equally. Asked which party was most to blame for the current impasse on policy, 58 per cent of voters said Labor. Forty-two per cent blamed the Liberals and a similar proportion, 39 per cent, the Greens. The numbers total more than 100 because respondents had a choice of blaming more than one party.
Meaning? The parliamentary deadlock hurts the government politically more than it hurts the others. This might help explain why it was the government that offered the most flexibility in seeking a compromise.
Curiously, this proportion blaming the Gillard government – six in 10 – comes up again and again across the poll results. Six out of 10 oppose the carbon tax; six out of 10 disapprove of Gillard; and six out of 10 votes would go to the Coalition on a two-party preferred basis in an election held now.
“Obviously there’s some relationship,” says Stirton. “Everything the government does gets 60:40 against.” And this is one reason why the government should not expect the implementation of the carbon tax to be its redemption any time soon.
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