Today's poll sees the Labor Government once again nudging the record low primary vote of 26%. Get away from the statistics for a moment, and remember that these numbers represent people: put four adult Australians around a table, and three of them would vote for someone else before they'd vote Labor. If you're the one ALP voter at your table, you might want to talk about something other than politics; something less controversial, like the existence of God or life on other planets...
The truly frightening numbers are those involving our leaders. Sixty percent disapprove of the job the Prime Minister is doing. 57% disapprove of the job Tony Abbott is doing as Opposition Leader. Approval numbers are at 36% and 39% respectively.
And that's not the worst of it for Gillard and Abbott. Both current leaders are far less popular than their predecessors. Gillard trails Kevin Rudd by 30 percentage points, and Abbott trails Malcolm Turnbull by 27. Those numbers aren't really as dangerous they look though; both party's leadership issues flatten out considerably when opposition party voters are excluded.
The one big move in the poll is Tony Abbott's personal approval dropping five points. As I write this, Mr Abbott is spinning for all he's worth, at a press call located at a garbage dump - bring your own imagery. Journalist and author George Megalogenis has tweeted:
John Howard was poll-driven. But he never fell for trap of responding to, let alone spinning each survey. @TonyAbbottMHR is no John Howard.
Mr Abbott is nothing if not reactionary, and Ms Gillard tends to bite every time he attacks. That makes him an effective, if unpopular, Opposition Leader, but not an effective Party Leader or Prime Minister. A Liberal leadership spill would be unlikely though; with such a solid Primary and 2PP vote, there's no imperative for a leadership change.
Ms Gillard and Mr Abbott have one thing in common though: they both had rocky starts to their leadership: Gillard was crucified for her assassination of Kevin Rudd, and Tony Abbott beat Turnbull in a spill, by a margin of just one vote.
To break out the sweeping generalisations from today's poll, here are a few headlines:
3 in 4 voters won't vote for a Labor candidate
3 in 5 voters don't approve of the job the Prime Minister is doing
3 in 5 voters don't approve of the job the Opposition Leader is doing
Kevin Rudd is almost twice as popular as Julia Gillard
Malcolm Turnbull is approaching twice as popular as Tony Abbott
So it still looks as though the Coalition will form the next government with a swing of around 7%, but it's not something they should be proud of. They're not liked or respected; they're still just "less awful than Labor". What a mandate that would be: "just be better than the last lot".
This poll included a specific question to gauge reaction to the Coalition's relentless attacks on Labor over the Craig Thomson Fiasco. For all our bleating that the voters are sick of their parliament being a swirling cesspool of negativity, 53% responded that the Coalition attacks were either 'reasonable' or 'hadn't gone far enough'. Only 31% thought the Coalition had been excessive in their pursuit of Mr Thomson.
Careful now, this is confusing: 57% disapprove of the job Tony Abbott is doing, his personal approval has dropped by 5%, yet 53% approved of his handling of Craig Thomson's demise. What does this mean? Do we want more nasty, personal, even brutal offensives in our political arena? Or is it more a case that Craig Thomson looks as guilty as sin and is therefore a fair target? Perhaps it's the third option - a reflection of primary voting intention?
It's hard to read what's happening in the minds of voters right now, other than a strong "please don't make me vote for either of those two" sentiment. Having said that, what are the options? The Greens picked a smidgen under their new leader Christine Milne, but they aren't a major party, and hardly an option for conservative voters.
While the structure of this parliament has highlighted the roles of the Independents, they may have endangered their own existence. Sadly, these independents who are free to vote as their beliefs dictate, for the benefit of their electorates, may not be re-elected. Rob Oakeshott is still mocked for his seventeen minute speech announcing his allegiance with Labor, allowing Ms Gillard to form a Government. Seventeen minutes can be a long time, but it's a shame we remember the length of the speech and not the substance.
It's almost inconceivable that Bob Katter's party could have an influence outside of Queensland, where despite both singing and dancing, it made little impact on election. Even today, Bob Katter is talking up his party performance in the Queensland election. The KAP won only two seats, but polled around 15% of the vote in some key seats. Unfortunately, 15% doesn't get you a ticket to the show.
So it appears that we don't like our current government, and we don't like the alternative government. Factoring in the unions and Greens on the left and the Mining interests and Christian Lobby on the right, it's hard to have confidence in how much leading the Leaders are doing. They appear to be following their masters, although not exclusively. We don't like the negative way politics is conducted, but it was acceptable to at least half the sample to watch Tony Abbott - of whom they disapprove - tear Craig Thomson into soggy little sound bites.
We have less than eighteen months at the outside until the next Federal election must be held. Something is wrong, and we need to fix it.