Over the last few days Tony Abbott’s polling numbers have generally improved a little, and over the few days preceding the last few days he made a string of embarrassing gaffes. A clever person would say that when a person answers an opinion poll a whole matrix of factors go into their reasoning for answering it the way they do and that in most cases, pointing to one specific event as the catalyst for the poll movement is just plain dumb.
Another type of person however would draw some much less sensible conclusions, like for example, that Tony Abbott is only pretending to make errors on the campaign trail because he knows these ostensible gaffes make him more endearing to a dumb and chauvinistic portion of the electorate that supposedly accounts for something in the vicinity of 98% .
This kind of thinking might make for a great plot in an Aaron Sorkin drama but in the real world the notion that the Abbott campaign isn’t frenetically trying to minimize his propensity for the gaffe is ridiculous. In Australia we’ve already had the blokey bloke candidate who spoke his mind and was a bit of a character, he was called Latham and he received the worst result of any opposition leader since 1977. Which is why over the last three years Abbott and his minders have reined in his excesses and drastically reduced the amount of media scrutiny to which he will subject himself. In an election campaign however with the scrutiny intensified the frequency of these whoops-a-daisy moments are increasing.
The problem with the Latham/Abbott modus operandi isn’t that the things they say cause particular offence. As the silly people correctly note, there are probably almost as many swinging voters who found the sexist slips of the tongue to be endearing. The problem is however is that when they blunder about in such a fashion they exude a lack of discipline and professionalism, they undermine their own ability to assure voters that they won’t be disastrous. I’m sure it’s true of voters that they would like if the Prime Minister was someone with whom they could grab a beer, but they also get that it’s a serious job and don’t want the Prime Minister of Australia to have a Prince Philip moment during a crucial negotiation with the Chinese Premier.
From time to time we get politicians doing the whole accidentally on purpose routine, the Mayor of London Boris Johnson is loved for his affected bumbling but beneath the veneer Boris is extremely sharp, when the discussion takes on a more sombre note he switches into gear. This isn’t Abbott, you don’t refuse to do longform interviews for eight months if all your ostensible gaffes are actually strategically planned. Unlike Johnson Abbott oftentimes appears to be genuinely unsure of himself when discussing complex matters of foreign policy or economics. Whatever his talent and I’m sure they’re considerable, he is no master manipulator of the media. He might win on September 7 or he might not but his numbers won’t be higher because of his gaffes, on the contrary they will be lower for his apparent lack of discipline.