Who do you trust? Turnbull mimics Howard

If you want to know why the coalition is relatively sanguine about the latest opinion polls, go no further than Jessica Elgood.


Or go back to 2004.

The Ipsos pollster reckons her version of what voters are saying less than three months out from the July 2 election is still good news for Malcolm Turnbull and his government.

And no, it wasn’t the responses to a hypothetical if-an-election-was-held-at-the-weekend question about voting intentions that were subject to over-hyped analysis by the commentariat.

The monthly Ipsos poll, along with Morgan, fell into line with Newspoll and Essential this week when it showed voters evenly split between the coalition and Labor.

More instructive, especially as a pointer to what might happen between now and polling day, was how voters rated the personal attributes of Turnbull and Labor leader Bill Shorten.

The prime minister’s approval ratings have taken a tumble in the seven months since he toppled Tony Abbott for the Liberal leadership.

Yet on the attributes likely to count with voters – leadership, competency, trustworthiness, a firm grasp of economic policy and having a clear vision for Australia’s future – he’s streets ahead of Shorten.

Despite criticism he and his government are ditherers, voters also rated Turnbull superior to Shorten on the ability to make things happen.

Unsurprisingly, Shorten rates higher on social policy and having the confidence of his party.

Elgood makes the point that while the PM has lost some skin in recent times, the numbers for Shorten have hardly moved.

On her poll’s figures, they would need to improve significantly to give him a chance of replacing Turnbull, she reckons.

It’s an observation that won’t shock Shorten or Labor.

“Beyond Turnbull’s popularity they now have nothing,” the opposition leader told his MPs during their regular sitting week meeting on Tuesday.

Whether through misplaced confidence or dangerous complacency, it’s a view also shared by coalition MPs including those at the top.

Turnbull already has rolled out the lines he thinks can win him an election.

A day after the Senate gave him the trigger he wanted for a double-dissolution election, he posed a question aimed squarely at voters: Who do you trust to ensure that Australia continues successfully to transition from an economy fired-up by a mining construction boom to one that is more diverse, more innovative, more productive, more open to the world?

Trust – tick. Competent – tick. Firm grasp of economic policy – tick. Open to ideas – tick. Clear vision for Australia’s future – tick.

On the importance of trust, Turnbull is going back to his time as a minister in the Howard government.

If you think 50-50 is a bad position for a government to be in three months out from an election, it’s worth revisiting 2004.

Back then, and at the same point in the election cycle as now, the coalition trailed Labor 46-54 per cent in the opinion polls, even though more voters than not thought John Howard was doing a good job and they preferred him as PM over Mark Latham.

Howard rolled the dice by calling an election. His opening gambit – who do you trust – set the agenda all the way to polling day.

“Who do you trust to keep the economy strong and protect family living standards?” he asked. “Who do you trust to keep interest rates low?”

The final result was an increased coalition majority with 52.7 per cent of the vote.

A similar result this time around would give the coalition a comfortable win – about 25 seats up on Labor – more than enough to have a joint sitting of both houses approve legislation restoring the Australian Building and Construction Commission and imposing tougher governance rules on trade unions.

Unlike Latham, Shorten is no loose cannon. But, if the Ipsos poll is an indication, voters doubt he’s trustworthy, they query his grasp of economic policy and they don’t see him as a strong leader.

But like Turnbull, they do see him as someone open to ideas, reflecting Labor’s gamble to release policy well ahead of an election.

Unlike 2004 Turnbull has a budget to present – one his Treasurer Scott Morrison insists won’t just be about spending and revenue measures.

“It has to provide the foundation of the economic plan that we want to take to the election,” he told coalition MPs this week.

Awaiting a tick.