Saturday, June 30, 2018

Worst Opposition Leader Of The Last 45 Years: Round 2

Last month I started a new multi-month Not-A-Poll series to give readers a chance to vote for the Worst Opposition Leader of the Last 45 YearsThe groundrules are here.  I split the contenders into two groups - those who never or had not yet become Prime Minister, and those who at some stage had been Prime Minister (whether before or after they were Opposition Leader.)

The results of Round 1 are in.

Firstly in Group 1 we now go to a cage match between Mark Latham and Alexander Downer. These two always dominated the voting.  At some stages, Brendan Nelson was also above the thresholds for making it into the runoff but he finished up four votes short of the 8% primary vote threshold and nine votes shy of the electability threshold.

There was notably little support for John Hewson, who did lose the "unloseable election" but is nowadays seen as an influential leader from the days of old when knights were bold (and it's pretty hard to argue he was worse than Downer anyway). I was a little surprised that Kim Beazley got almost as many votes as Simon Crean, since both Beazley's election performances are often seen as pretty decent in the circumstances, though he can be blamed for the discredited "small target" strategy that made his party a passenger as the polls went up and down and up again in 2001.

Of the top two, what can we say?  Latham's performance here may have much to do with his much-reviled post-career performance, but that's not to say there's no objective case for him.  On his watch Labor lost seats at the 2014 election, a very rare event for a first-term Labor leader.  Latham certainly bore some of the blame for this, not only for incidents like the infamous handshake with John Howard, but also for policy flops on his watch like the Tasmanian forests and Medicare Gold, and a complete inability to counter scare campaigns against him.  The view that Latham wasted an overwhelmingly winning polling position is a bit of a myth caused by Newspoll briefly using respondent preferences, but seldom has an Opposition's position gone so pearshape so quickly in the final weeks of a term.

As for Downer, on my Newspoll records page you can see how quickly he went from recording to some of the best poll figures in polling history to recording some of the worst.  Tasked with the simple joy of replacing John Hewson who had been a dead leader walking for over a year, and up against a Keating Government still reviled for its 1993 promise-breaking Budget, Downer should have been in clover all the way to the Lodge.  However, he stuffed it up with such a string of gaffes that he was gone as soon as Andrew Peacock's disappearance from the scene had made a return to John Howard palatable.  His "Things That Batter" line about domestic violence has gone down as one of the all-time political clangers, but it was his booting of John Hewson from the front bench for daring to say something sensible about gay law reform that, in polling approval terms, signalled the beginning of the end.  Downer's leadership is now remembered by many Australians for nothing but fishnet stockings, but the stockings actually came the year after Downer resigned.

Facing the winner, or should that be loser, of Group 1 in the Grand Final next month will be Tony Abbott.  Abbott didn't win this one by quite as much as Worst Prime Minister but always had a massive lead in Group 2.  This did, predictably, decrease from the 60+% score in the original voting, but never looked like quite falling below 50%.  The earlier incarnation of John Howard ran second for most of the survey but was passed by Malcolm Turnbull in the final days, though the two Howard incarnations combined still received more votes than Turnbull did.  There was very little support for Malcolm Fraser as the worst despite his role in the Dismissal.

It's a bit refreshing that Bob Hawke (whose Opposition leadership consisted entirely of an election campaign that he won) scored zero votes here.  I was tempted to leave him out but just thought I would keep him in to see if anyone really wasn't paying attention.

It's also notable that Group 2 was widely not voted-in by voters who voted in Group 1.  It received only 261 votes compared to 377 for the former.  Perhaps some people didn't bother voting because it was such a no-contest, but there might also be a feeling that since all of these made it to the Lodge at some stage, none of them were all that bad.

The Group 1 playoff is underway in the sidebar until 7 pm July 31.


  1. Is this a vote on their policies or political performance?? People who honestly voted for Abbott as worst opposition leader on the basis of his poor political tactics, should be kept well away from any decision making role that requires them to set aside their own personal bias.
    This survey is a very interesting social experiment.

  2. It's a vote on whatever concept of "worst" people think is most relevant. The only perhaps forlorn hope I express is that the voting is based on each Opposition Leader's career as such, and not the rest of their political or their post-political career.

  3. Jeez Kevin, I think people have lost interest. Latham led Abbott by 156 to 115 in the first round, with 106 votes for the also-rans, but so far only 109 have bothered to vote in the second round. Even with the latest news about Abbott's pro-coal stirring and Latham's robocall recording for Pauline. Or maybe it's because of that - people think they're both so disgusting that they can't choose between them? (And yes I know you've said you hope we'll vote on their performances as LotO not their current behavior, but current behaviour reflects character traits that they've always had. Two disgusting, somewhat crazy, human beings!)

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  5. The number of votes is influenced by various things including the vagaries of the social media reach of my initial promo tweet and also the level of site visits relating to other content. I hoped to have some new articles up last week but the rest of my life interfered.

  6. And of course I meant Latham led Downer by 156 to 115, while Abbott led the other poll by 140 to nothing much. Caffeine and/or blood sugar was too low!

  7. Well didn't a little opportunistic red rooting change our perspective of Latham...