There's something in politics called a BBQ test. When voters are picking a candidate to lead the country - be it in America, Australia, Brazil or anywhere else where it's culturally appropriate to cook meat in an outdoor environment – the majority of voters have to be happy to have the candidate over to their house to share a Heineken and a meat tray. It was JFK and his camera-friendly demeanour during the first-ever televised presidential debate in 1960 that forever cemented the value of the likeability factor in an election. The folksy George Bush benefited from the BBQ test, Clinton definitely did, Mitt Romney flunked it when he announced he'd strapped his dog to the top of his car to get to Canada, Tony Blair grinned and aced it for a while, Bob Hawke was as BBQ-savvy as an electorate could hope for and Rudd willed himself to be accepted with his awkward (but fair) shake of the sauce bottle.
It's clear that we have to like - not just approve of - whoever we're voting for. The problem is that we also hope to like them after we've voted for them.
Which brings us – as a nation of voters who got what they asked for - to Tony Abbott. There were those who predicted Abbott would be a more moderate prime minister than his detractors expected. People sat in pubs, at family dinner tables and in office break rooms and suggested that many of the conservative, sexist and environmentally dubious and outdated opinions he championed in opposition would be toned down in government. Surely, they said. He'll have to, won't he? Not yet three months after the nation said yes to a Liberal Party leadership with Abbott at the helm, it seems likely that many who at one point liked or trusted Tony Abbott have found reason to reconsider their optimism.
But perhaps Prime Minister Abbott is more on trend than we give him credit for?
In a report released by the World Economic Forum highlighting the main trends affecting Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) nations, experts in business, academia, government and non-profit organisations nominated falling levels of trust in national governments as one of the top 10 concerns. Gallup data shows that between 2007 and 2012 the 34 member nations together experienced a drop in trust from 45 to 40 per cent. There were those who have gained trust among the 34 member nations of the OECD, including Switzerland, Slovakia, Sweden and New Zealand, but we weren't one of them. Gallup data collected in Australia showed that confidence dropped 11 points here in the same time frame, falling from 42 per cent in 2007 to 31 per cent in 2012.
It's important to note that this nosedive in confidence took hold before Tony Abbott defeated Rudd. One can only imagine what a similar poll would say at the end of Abbott's first year of leadership.
While empathy is generally understood to be a key ingredient in likeability (it's the quality that psychopaths learn to replicate in order to try and fit in), the Liberal government's clandestine approach to asylum seeker policy demonstrates a far greater deficit of this quality than the nation can stand. Scott Morrison's refusal to share basic information about individual cases of asylum seekers and operational security matters in general reveals the bleakest truth about the sentiments informing their political decisions. The compassion that's necessary to govern this nation successfully is something the Abbott government lacks and seemingly doesn't want to learn.
Not surprisingly, the first Fairfax-Nielsen poll to assess the mood of the nation since the election has shown that Bill Shorten's team in opposition is now more popular than Abbott's by 52 to 48 per cent. It's the first time since Kevin Rudd's ascendancy in 2007 that an opposition leader has enjoyed such popularity so soon after an election.
Tony Abbott now faces one of the greatest challenges of his political career. Try and give us a reason to trust you.
Emma Young is a freelance writer.