By Con George-Kotzabasis
Since the elevation of Kevin Rudd to the leadership of the Labor Party his polls have shot up to the stars and continue to rise unabated into the electoral “stratosphere” of the country. And this is going on beyond the normal honeymoon period most new leaders enjoy with the electorate. Taking also into consideration that the “animal spirits” of the electorate were, and are, not ferociously hostile against the Howard government, one is nonplussed therefore at the rapid and high rise of Rudd’s polls that refuse even to reach a plateau and least of all to fall. It’s the reverse of the simile of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. While Howard has been politically “debauch less” and “sinless” his picture or portrait is becoming aged and uglier as if displaying his political debauchery and sins that his record does not have. On the contrary he and his government have impeccable economic credentials as good managers of the economy and prosperity of the country during their long tenure in office, as all serious commentators acknowledge.
Moreover one would expect that something that goes up must also come down. But the strength of Rudd’s polls is of such magnitude that defies even Newton’s law of gravitation. What explanation can one give to this phenomenon that prevents even the apple of Newton from falling? And is unprecedented in the experience of pollsters and challenges the professional knowledge of the latter to give a plausible answer to this conundrum?
Some pollsters and commentators have offered the explanation that the Industrial Relations legislation and global warming are the two major issues that are throttling the Coalition and the reasons why the electorate has lost its trust of the Howard government. But these two issues were around during the time of Rudd’s predecessor Kim Beazley and did not contribute even a tad of rise to the polls of the latter. Nor was ever registered by any pollsters any noticeable huge ire of the electorate on these issues against the government. Others offer as an explanation the youthfulness and apparent dynamism of Rudd against the aged Howard. While this might have some effect upon some people it’s not of such great substance that would deliver a sledgehammer blow to the foundation of Howard’s leadership as it seems to have done. The peer pollster Sol Lebovitz puts forward a shrewder explanation. He says that often the electorate has a propensity to have one-night-stands with an Opposition party until close to the day of the election. I think this is a more plausible explanation and I would only express this proposition in different terms, i.e., when it comes to the question whether the electorate should take the “slut” to the ballot box and marry her. It’s precisely at this point when voters approach the “aisle” of the ballot box that they will decide whether to jilt or marry the Labor bride.
But I would suggest and risk a bolder explanation to this ceaseless rise of Kevin Rudd’s polls. It’s the perception of the unstoppable momentum of the polls favoring the leader of the Opposition that prevents many of those who are called by the pollsters from expressing their real feelings about the two opposing parties. Most people love going along with the strong current of a stream especially when such an enjoyment seems to be the fashion of the day, and would be discomfited to be seen going against it. Hence individual members of the electorate when they are asked by pollsters which of the two leaders or parties they favor, they chose the ones who have this momentum behind them. And the corollary of this is that this choice continues to reinforce the momentum of the polls that favor Rudd and hence the ceaseless momentum that feeds on itself.
The members of the electorate therefore who provide the statistics for the pollsters are like surfies. Who enjoy riding a high wave of the sea, in this case the “victorious wave” of Kevin Rudd, and get a great frisson, a great thrill, from sliding from the heights of the wave. But until the penultimate slide that will bring them close to the ballot box and to the ebb of the wave. Once the voters enter the secrecy of the ballot box it’s at that moment that they will express, unhindered by the fashionably designed momentum, their “secret longings”. And in my opinion the latter will favor John Howard for his mature solid leadership that will continue to secure, as his long tenure exemplified, the long term interests of Australia, and will reject the uncertain, callow, and risky leadership of Kevin Rudd.