In New South Wales you do not need a new opinion poll showing a bad result for newspapers to be full of stories about leadership challenges. Speculation predicting changes at the top features almost daily anyhow but events like the bi-monthly Newspoll at least provides a variation on the excuse for telling the readers once again that the Premier is on the way out.
So it is today with The Australian this morning recording the two party preferred vote during July and August at 46% for Labor and 54% for the Liberal-National Coalition. Those figures are round about where they have been for almost the last year. The highest figure recorded by the Coalition was 59% for the November-December Newspoll surveys with the year’s lowest Coalition reading of 54% coming in March-April.
Poll figures as low as Labor’s naturally cause great agitation among Party MPs who realise that their political career will soon be at an end unless something dramatic happens. This agitation is of a kind that encourages them to at least listen to every plot suggesting that there is a better leadership alternative. Some hope will always seem better than no hope but the problem within the NSW Government is to find someone who provides any hope. There is certainly no standout alternative to Premier Nathan Rees and the problems are not just problems of leadership in any case. A combination of a long time in office and a State affected worse than others by the economic downturn would make winning the next election a severe test for the most appealing of leaders if there was one.
Far more remarkable than the low standing of Nathan Rees is that even in these best of conditions for an Opposition Leader the Liberal Party alternative for Premier Barry O’Farrell only has a one point lead — 33 per cent to 32 per cent — when the pollsters ask which man would make the better leader of the State. That a third of voters either don’t know or don’t care is a remarkably high figure.
So too is the primary vote figure being recorded by Greens and other minor parties and independents. In this latest Newspoll the Greens are on 14 per cent and the others on 13 per cent and during the last year this combined non-major-party vote has reached as high as 31%! This really is an electoral climate where the people are disenchanted not just with Labor but the whole system of government.
Circumstances like these can lead to some quite maverick results. When the third party votes total around 30%, getting people to indicate a preference when that is not compulsory becomes extremely important. Working on a preference strategy is the most important job that officials of both major parties have between now and the election in March 2011. This race is not over yet.