Federal Politics

ANALYSIS

Turnbull government poll plunge: voters drift away in disappointment

Don't panic is the reassuring word in Coalition circles in response to plunging support among voters. 'Twas ever thus. Has there ever been a failing leadership team that did not appeal for more time, for greater patience, for yet more suspension of judgment?

Election race gets tighter

The latest poll shows the Government and Labor neck and neck, with Bill Shorten gaining some ground on Malcolm Turnbull as preferred Prime Minister.

It is hardly a surprise that last week's Fairfax-Ipsos poll, which showed the government's lead over Labor narrowing to just four points 52/48, sent fear rippling through the government backbench.

Now that fear has deepened. A very poor week - another one - marked by a directionless performance from Treasurer Scott Morrison and a glaring absence of policy urgency from the not-so-new management team, has only confirmed the trend.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has taken a hit in the polls.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has taken a hit in the polls. 

Labor has taken all the risks in this election year and is reaping the rewards for that courage. Bold policy projections on superannuation, negative gearing-capital gains, education, and tax measures have seen Labor define the terms of debate unusually effectively for an opposition. 

The government appears comparatively clay footed - or hamfisted when it came to the GST retreat - and will look even more so if it insists on withholding all economic policy pronouncements until the budget.

On the plus side, the popular Malcolm Turnbull remains just that. Popular. But his reconfigured government, which began so purposefully almost six months ago, is already drifting. The outlines of the Turnbull government have already lost their sharpness, its focus on the reform task matched by the public's view of it as soft around the edges.

The least flattering assessment is that Turnbull, like Kevin Rudd before him, is captive to his own stratospheric popularity and that he is therefore unwilling to pull levers that might see his own standing fall.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has enjoyed a lift in support.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has enjoyed a lift in support. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

It is a fear rooted in Turnbull's own methodology for advancement, which had alchemised his popularity with voters into a majority in the party room.

Rudd had pulled off a similar trick. The danger with such an approach is that, when the electorate turns away, any protection in the party room goes with it.

Election race tightens

The latest poll shows the Government and Labor neck and neck, with Bill Shorten gaining some ground on Malcolm Turnbull as preferred Prime Minister.

And this is a dangerous time. The government is now failing against Turnbull's own index of success. Remember his words when challenging Tony Abbott: "The one thing that is clear about our current situation is the trajectory," he opined in the Senate courtyard last September. "We have lost 30 Newspolls in a row. It is clear that the people have made up their mind about Mr Abbott's leadership."

In Turnbull's defence, it is anything but clear that "people have made up their minds" regarding the situation applying right now. Not yet anyway.

The government is now failing against Turnbull's own index of success

But Turnbull's other charge, referring to the "trajectory" of the situation, cannot be ignored. 

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