Search results for "trust in media"
Feb 29, 2012
Essential Research

One more promise to break

As Labor attempts to re-unite after its very public family spat there is one more piece of dirty linen that needs to be aired – the self-imposed strait-jacket that is the government’s pledge to bring the budget into surplus by 2012.

Listening to both the victor and the vanquished shift the focus to, ermm, moving forward after yesterday’s spill, there was a list of good works that the government insisted it will pursue with renewed vigour: at the top of the list disability reform, education funding, health reform.

Labor does have a strong set of progressive policy positions ready to roll – the Productivity Commission report into a National Disability Insurance Scheme will revolutionise the delivery of services to society’s most vulnerable; the Gonski review sets out a radical reshaping of schools funding that will shift resources to the public system, the Productivity Commission has also produced a major report into improving services of aging Australians.

All of these are potentially great Labor reforms that speak to Labor values; they will all set up key sectors for the decades to come and they will all benefit big slices of the electorate.

But they also come with significant price tags – NDIS $6 billion per year; Gonski $5 billion, with $%1.5 billion from he feds) and the less-known Aged Care reforms a further $6 billion.

With Labor tied to a 2010 election promise, reinforced last year, to bring the Budget back to surplus – regardless of external economic conditions – by 2012-13, all these initiatives are likely to be left in the starting blocks. Worthy reports gathering dust.

Walking away from the surplus would clearly be a big call for the Government – it would play out in the tabloids as another lie; and as the PM has learnt to her chagrin despite their low level of trust in politicians, the punters will pounce on a lie.

But in insisting it will deliver a budget surplus, no matter how wafer-thin, the Gillard Government is sucking up to the wrong crowd.

Give voters a choice between concrete improvements in key policy issues and delivering a surplus to the books and you get a very clear answer, as this week’s Essential Report shows.

Q. The Gonski report recommends a $5 billion increase in education funding with $1.5 billion of this additional funding coming from the Federal Government and the rest from the State Governments. If the Federal Government provides this additional funding it may mean they will not be able to return the budget to surplus next year.

Do you think it is more important to provide this additional funding for schools or more important to return a budget surplus?




Vote Labor

Vote Lib/Nat

Vote Greens

More important to provide additional funding to schools





More important to return a budget surplus





Don’t know





This is not just a matter of flaky lefties walking away from self-imposed fiscal confines; indeed Coalition voters are nearly as keen as Labor voters for funds to be released to institute the Gonski reforms.

These findings back more general questions on the budget deficit we asked last November where 69 per cent of respondents favoured delaying a return to surplus if it meant cutting services or raising taxes.

‘Returning the Budget to Surplus’ has become one of those bumper sticker policies that hamstring governments. Like ‘Turning Back the Boats’ it is not only impossible to deliver, it creates a series of knock-on effects that compound the problem.

Worse for Labor, it keeps the economic debate in the abstract frame, the natural territory for conservative governments, rather than placing the economy in its proper context – the forum for improving the lives of ordinary people.

Could they win the argument? Australia’s current debt to GDP ratio is under 10 per cent – many developed OECD nations have levels ten times that rate;  so actually explaining why Australia has set itself this target at a time of falling revenues could shift the conversation.

Indeed, not even Tony Abbott is tying himself to a 2012-13 surplus, so while he would cry ‘liar, liar’ he would not do so from a position of fiscal purity.

Of course, walking away from the surplus guarantee would inflict more pain on a government whose leader already suffers credibility deficit issues. But it might just be that delivering the goods on reform in education, disability and aged care is a better way to establish credibility with the electorate than delivering a wafer-thin surplus as a sop to the business pundits and tabloid press.

After all the hurt and tears for leadership status quo, surely a shift that opened the way for the next wave of social reforms for the young, the aged and the disabled would be a porky worth wearing.


Feb 10, 2012
Essential Research

Trends: The Fingerhut effect

EMC Director Peter Lewis on framing the economic debate

Home Ground Advantage

Long-time American pollster Vic Fingerhut has been advising progressive politicians since the 1960s and he has a reassuring message  – it’s OK to stand up for what you believe in – and it might even win you elections.

That such a message should be a revelation is a sad indication of where left of centre politics has gone in Australia – but it may also be reassuring that in this we are not alone.

Over more than three decades Fingerhut, who has been advising EMC since the 2007 federal election campaign – has been researching campaigns for unions and progressive parties in the USA, Canada, Britain and Germany – polling people on their perceptions of issues and the differences between major parties

And what he has discovered is a sort of immutable truth – there are some issues that belong to the Right and others that belong to the Left and it’s not about policy either. It’s about language and the way you frame an issue.

As a general rule where the issue is about managing the economy or handling terrorism or keeping taxes low, Republicans and conservatives have a marked advantage, with more than two thirds of voters perceiving they are superior on the issue.

But bring people into the equation, particularly working people, and the numbers swing around. By merely adding the words ‘for working people’ to the question ‘who is better at managing the economy?’, Democrats pick up 30 percentage points.

Likewise change the proposition ‘keeping taxes down’ to ‘fighting for fairer taxes for working people’ and the issue goes from being a negative for the left to a positive.

It’s early days, but the trends seem to translate into Australian politics as well. And if they do they add a new dimension to the ‘accepted wisdom’ that Labor needs to be stronger on the economy.

As Fingerhut observes, merely going out and engaging in an economic argument – even when you have better arguments than your conservative opponents – does nothing more than shift the debate onto their turf.

In other words, becoming a daily commentator on the current account deficit, employment figures and interest rates might get media, but if you do not draw the connection between economic indicators and people’s lives you are not advancing your cause.

At the moment the Labor Government is stuck in the least advantageous  ‘economic management’ frame – by signing up to a budget surplus they have taken a conscious decision to fight on the Opposition’s turf.

A better place to be would be on the jobs front – not just the decade-low unemployment figures – but a narrative that actually translates government activity to job creation.

While conservative commentators hate it – support for industries like manufacturing are big vote-winners, when linked to a coherent government plan to support industries in the long-term as the impact of a rising Australian dollar sheets home.

Better still focus industrial relations – a key indicator of the way an economy operates for, in Vic’s words, regular working people – and the innate recognition that given the chance, the Liberals would bring back some form of WorkChoices.

So let’s put Vic’s theory to the test.

On the simple question who is better at managing the economy? Labor is getting smashed – although there are large number of uncommitted, proof that the Liberals are under-performing on their home turf.

Q. Which party do you trust most to manage the Australian economy, Labor or the Liberals?




No difference

Don’t know

+17% Liberal





But give the question the Vic treatment – admittedly around the performance of the Treasurers – and Labor enjoys a 19 per cent point turnaround.

Q. Who would you trust most to manage economy in the interests of workers and families




No difference

Don’t know

+2% Labor






This sort of analysis is we in the trade call ‘framing’, talking about your policies and political brand in the most advantageous way; reinforcing what people think about you, not trying to make them change their minds.

As you can see bringing working people into the economic frame is no magic bullet, especially for this government, but it does shift nearly one in five voters, which when you are in the fight for your very survival is nothing to be taken lightly.

Apr 12, 2011
Essential Research

Green-baiting and the art of product differentiation

First published on The Drum: 12/04/2011

The Prime Minister has been dedicating a significant slice of stump time in recent weeks to explaining the differences between the ALP and the Greens, how one emerges from real-world struggles and the other is a group of out-of-touch extremists.

A similar debate has been being waged within the Greens following their underwhelming NSW state election performance, where a local candidate’s intervention in the Middle East peace provided the platform to portray the party as a collective of bat-faced ideologues.

But as the debate about the Greens’ orientation gains pertinence as they move to assume the balance of power in the Senate a more basic fact is being missed: Labor voters and Green voters agree on just about everything.

A review of findings to Essential Research questions over the past few months finds that on nearly every big debate the similarities between Greens voters and Labor voters far outweigh their differences.


Oct 14, 2010
Essential Research

It’s not too late to change the basis of voter choice

EMC’s consulting pollster Vic Fingerhut has penned this memo to Democrats in the lead-up to Congressional elections. His words of wisdom ring true here too.

Despite the feel good messages from the Democratic campaign committees, if messaging frames and context of voter choice on election day remain as they are today, we are heading for disaster.

Two weeks ago, I sent you a memo underlining the fact that while our opponents have a simple and clear frame for the short-term issues in the current election, we have had none.

And despite the millions spent on our side…nothing has changed.


Oct 5, 2010
Essential Research

The Bride (and Bridesmaid) stripped bare

First Published on The Drum 05/10/2010

New paradigms notwithstanding, the first week of the 43rd Parliament of Australia has confirmed a continuation of the gladiatorial contests that have characterised Australia’s model of presidential politics.

And that means a confronting truth for both Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott: the public’s perceptions of their personal strengths and weakness are central to the success of their respective political projects.

There was a time when character research was a dark art, the province of party focus groups, only dusted of at election time when attacks would be constructed around a candidate’s lack of ticker (read weight) or stubbornness (read age). The modern opinion polling means today it’s all out in the open.


Aug 11, 2010
Essential Research

The Punch: Remembering ‘Abbott’s dad’: top 10 Howard era memories

First Published on The Punch 10/8/2010

Goldfish have a neat survival mechanism to prevent them ever getting bored – by the time they have swum around the bowl they have forgotten the previous lap. It makes them a lot like voters at election time.

This is why we are grateful when our failed candidates enter the fray to remind us of why we voted against them. And while Mark Latham has rightly been drawing attention, like onlookers to a car crash, another leader took centre stage over the weekend to take us back to meaner and trickier times.

As he moved in to give Tony Abbott a man-hug at the Liberal launch, John Howard reminded us of many of Australia’s most forgettable moments. Given that Abbott is running on a “re-elect the Howard Government” ticket it is worth dwelling on our former Prime Minister’s Ten Most Notable Contributions to the Nation.

Downward Envy – John Howard trained Australians to look down the chain when we were feeling low – welfare cheats, single mums, dole bludgers, these were the people making life hard for decent Australians. As profit levels soared and CEO wages sky-rocketed, we tut-tutted the Paxtons. (more…)

Aug 3, 2010
Essential Research

The Punch: Gillard dumps focus groups, focus groups will like that

Originally published on The Punch 3/08/2010

Our Prime Minister has joined the bandwagon complaining that this is a focus group- driven election – but isn¹t this the way of the Wiki? After all, books have been written about how the wisdom of the masses provide a more compelling truth than the voice of authority.


Jul 20, 2010
Essential Research

The Punch: Even with a strong economy, jobs are a top concern

First published on The Punch 20/7/2010

With the major parties flexing their muscles on border protection, the Australian public has sent Canberra a message that it is the protection of Australian jobs that is the real security issue for them.

In what looms as the sleeper issue for the 2010 election campaign, a quarter of all voters placed “Australian jobs and the protection of local industries” as key election issue, behind only economic management and health.

As the latest Essential Report shows that economic protectionism towers over headline-grabbing issues like climate change, asylum seekers, housing affordability, industrial laws and population growth as a priority election issue.

Q. Which are the three most important issues in deciding how you would vote at a Federal election?

Essential Report

Essential Report

What is striking about the high rating for protecting Australian industries is that it comes at a time of relatively low unemployment and a period where there has been little or no media attention on Australian jobs being sent offshore.

Instead the issue is emerging from the grass roots, the thousands of Australians in manufacturing industries – and a growing number of workers in white-collar industries like the banking sector – who see their jobs under threat from lower wage economies.

And while our leaders can crow about “turning back the boats”, 25 years of economic deregulation makes it very hard to turn back the corporate people smugglers.

It is an issue where the Liberal Party, with its knee jerk support for big business, pledges to cut government spending and reductions to the size of the public sector is struggling to gain any traction.  While it leads on issues like managing the economy and asylum seekers, when it comes to Australian jobs, people trust the ALP to the tune of 42 per cent to 28 per cent. (more…)


Sign up for updates

Receive the Essential Report in your inbox.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.