Anyone who thought Labor would cruise to victory on the back of Scott Morrison’s unpopularity alone, needed to take a closer look at political history.
Relatively unpopular leaders have won before. In 1993, Paul Keating consistently trailed John Hewson in net approval, but emerged victorious. So too, John Howard against Kim Beazley, in 1998, and Mark Latham, in 2004.
Heading into the campaign, Anthony Albanese held a nine per cent lead over Morrison in Newspoll’s net approval ratings.
But, it is worth noting that Albanese’s lead was significantly lower than that achieved by Opposition leaders who have gone on to become prime minister. On the eve of the 1996 election, Howard enjoyed a 26 per cent lead over Keating. In 2007, Kevin Rudd led Howard by 31 per cent. Even Tony Abbott rated better, eventually reaching a 19 per cent lead over Rudd just before the 2013 election.
Morrison’s popularity has declined significantly since the last election, driven by own goals on bushfires, vaccines, RATs and the treatment of women, among other things. But it is worth noting that his decline stabilised at the start of this election year, as the chaos that accompanied the east coast Omicron outbreak passed.
The people who don’t like the PM really don’t like him. And his raw disapproval rating of 54 per cent is close to the 56 per cent and 58 per cent recorded by Keating and Rudd, respectively, before they lost office.
But, heading into the campaign, Albanese hadn’t yet generated the voter enthusiasm enjoyed by Howard, Rudd and Abbott before their victories from opposition. If Labor is to win, it likely still must earn it.
Daniel Smith is founder of CGM Communications. He is a former senior ALP adviser.