Spills, egos and audience reactions

|| September 15, 2015

How much do audiences dislike politicians talking about themselves?

Enough to generate sympathy for Kevin Rudd and make him popular again. And that's no easy thing.

We're talking about the latest leadership change in Australian federal politics - the time when politicans, their egos and their dislike for each other dominates news.

These leadership battles increase viewing numbers and newspaper sales. I was in my fourth month as editor of The Courier-Mail in June 2010 when Julia Gillard toppled Kevin Rudd. We sold several thousand extra papers the next day - that doesn't sound like much but selling even a few hundred extra papers in this changing media era is rare.

And the visits to couriermail.com.au increased by the tens of thousands. But, does that mean people were impressed by the story playing out before them?

No.

Compare these figures for Rudd. According to the Essential Poll, Rudd's approval rating in May 2010 - weeks before he was toppled - was 41 per cent against a disapproval rating of 47 per cent. So, a net result of -6.

By July 2013, weeks after he had regained the leadership, Rudd's approval rating was 50 per cent versus 35 per cent disapproval. So, a net positive of 15.

What had he done in that time?

He had become the focal figure for the disenchanted Australians fed up with political egos that they believed were focused more on their lot than the nation's lot. In other words, politicians talking about themselves. Audiences detest that regardless of the winners and losers in these fights. 

They lead their lives with more maturity, cooperation and goodwill than the political pack in Canberra. Most Australians don't particularly enjoy politics - they don't stand around at suburban gatherings talking about political leaders. But they are drawn to the fray when they see a prime minister knifed by their own for the third time in five years. It's hard to ignore when you go to bed with one person as prime minister and wake to find a new leader has taken over.

Malcolm Turnbull will have to deal with that fallout in the coming months after he brought down Tony Abbott. He will have the benefit of a quick bounce in opinion polls but this will be a longer game played before audiences that are more intelligent than most politicians believe.

Turnbull spoke yesterday of Abbott's failure to respect the people's intelligence. Turnbull is intelligent enough to know those audiences are awake to this new disposable culture of leadership. And it doesn't fill them with joy.

- Michael Crutcher