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John Howard 'took a big hit in the polls too' after first budget? Er, no Mr Abbott

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Shorten's poll boost

Bill Shorten opens a lead as preferred Prime Minister as the government is hammered in the opinion polls. Nielsen's John Stirton puts the poll in context.

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Tony Abbott has stumbled in his attempts to sell his budget, asserting wrongly that the Howard government "took a big hit in the polls too" after delivering its first budget in 1996.

Rather than take a hit, the Coalition actually experienced a bounce from what was the best received budget in a decade, despite one in three voters thinking they would be worse off because of the tough measures it included.

Treasurer Joe Hockey and Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Mr Abbott has wrongly claimed that former PM John Howard took a big hit in the polls after delivering a tough first budget in 1996.

Treasurer Joe Hockey and Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Mr Abbott has wrongly claimed that former PM John Howard took a big hit in the polls after delivering a tough first budget in 1996. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

The first post-budget Newspoll in 1996 showed a three percentage point increase in the Coalition's primary vote, to 50; a lift in Howard's approval rating, from 47 to 51; and an increase in his lead over Kim Beazley as preferred prime minister to a score of 53 per cent against Beazley's 24.

The message from Newspoll and the AGB McNair poll published in Fairfax newspapers was that a majority of voters saw the 1996 budget as fair, despite it breaking pre-election commitments. The Age Poll saw the Coalition holding its primary vote and slightly increasing its two-party preferred lead over Labor.

Much of the commentary at the time made the point that Howard's hand in negotiating tough measures through the Senate was strengthened by the movement in the polls. Such was the impact that Howard, who until then had been very cautious about speculating on a second victory, defined the Coalition's task as about "locking in good government".

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The numbers in the polls after the first Abbott budget tell a very different story, with the Fairfax-Nielsen poll showing the Coalition primary vote slumping to 35 per cent (down five); Abbott's approval falling nine points to 34; and Bill Shorten for the first time in front as preferred PM.

The story in Newspoll, published in The Australian, is very similar.

The achievement of Howard and Peter Costello was to sell the same message that Abbott and Joe Hockey have been arguing both before and after the release of their budget – that the state of the books after the removal of a Labor government was so bad that very tough medicine was required.

The difference is that they did not have advance warning of the extent of the problem (it was Costello who introduced the charter of budget honesty and its pre-election fiscal outlook); they broke fewer pre-election promises; and the general consensus was that their budget was hard but fair.

The last two points are critical. While Abbott's daily four-point pre-election mantra including fixing the budget, he explicitly ruled out increasing cost of living pressures by increasing  taxes or introducing new ones.

The toughest judgment of all in the Fairfax-Nielsen poll is that Abbott and Hockey failed to live up to their promise that the pain would be shared evenly, with 63 per cent of voters describing the budget as unfair.

The message from Abbott on Monday is that there will be no retreat from the "careful, thoughtful, measured" response to Labor's "debt and deficit disaster", but the challenge is immense.

No wonder the Prime Minister is adapting a phrase from another former Liberal PM, Malcolm Fraser, and saying: "We never said it was going to be easy."

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379 comments

  • Why is people surprised that Abbott told an other lie?
    That what he does best better even than his bike riding.

    Commenter
    Greven
    Date and time
    May 19, 2014, 1:34PM
    • Working Australia: This is the recession Australia didn't have to have.

      Commenter
      Mike W
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      May 19, 2014, 1:47PM
    • I am missing 'Hacka'. Is he sleeping in?

      Commenter
      Sensible
      Date and time
      May 19, 2014, 1:54PM
    • My friend at work who has been a long term ALP supporter voted for Abbott. I don't think he will be making that mistake again as will a lot of other people. What this has done it has tarnished all the politicians involved. Hopefully people are not silly enough to forget this by the next election, maybe there will be a new Tampa or children overboard to distract everyone and win the LNP another term through some smoke and mirrors. Don't forget get this too soon voters

      Commenter
      HB
      Location
      Berwick
      Date and time
      May 19, 2014, 1:58PM
    • Just another example of what happens when he's let off his tightly controlled scripted leash. Has no idea, and stumbles and wanders off as soon as he's got to think for himself.

      As an aside Mr Abbott, we know you cried Budget Emergency during the election campaign, but your recent weasle words about being on notice because the out years are now in years is not going to work. You clearly, VERY clearly said - no new taxes. No cuts to Health. No changes to Pensions. If you run a world of 3 or 4 word slogans, you cannot then append that with "Terms & Conditions Apply - please see page 405 of the report for more detail".

      A reduction in the growth of the health or education budget is - A CUT.

      Please be honest, and don't play weasle word bingo. Just be honest and truthful, as your religious faith requires you to, as basic human values suggest you would.

      Commenter
      Dismayed
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      May 19, 2014, 1:59PM
    • Just as leaders have adopted the practice of having a 'sign language person' to help the hearing impaired, Tony needs a 'truth interpreter' whenever he talks to the electorate.
      I am up for it. Whenever he says anything, all I would have to do is say the opposite. That way I would be sad when Tony lost his job, as I would lose mine too.

      Commenter
      bg2
      Date and time
      May 19, 2014, 2:05PM
    • Yes he's a very good liar...I've worked that one out...so where do we go from here if there's no Double Disso from the senate?....the bottom ones just slide off into desperate poverty...and the country crashes through lack of circulating money, as while he lies his way through the next two years?

      Commenter
      Nocents
      Date and time
      May 19, 2014, 2:12PM
    • Put this mug out of his misery please. We've had enough of his squirming and lies. Put him on his bike and tell him to keep riding, don't ever come bck.

      Commenter
      GOV
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      May 19, 2014, 2:13PM
    • I don't think was a deliberate lie. I think Mtr Abbott had no idea when he made that comment. He made it up and assumed no-one would check. That's even worse.

      Commenter
      Pollyanna
      Date and time
      May 19, 2014, 2:27PM
    • Let's get this right please. This is just more Tony spin. Tony's four points of slogan magic were 'Stop the boats, scrap the tax, build the roads, and cut the waste.' The budget bottom line was not even mentioned and Tony specifically pointed out there would be no cuts in important areas. He never said fix the budget, he said scrap the carbon tax and cut the waste that is all. How quickly you all forget, I mean how many million times did the guy say it.

      Commenter
      GOV
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      May 19, 2014, 2:28PM

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