If Australia’s election worm has its way, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd will be re-elected in a landslide victory later in 2010.
Rudd on Tuesday won the first of three televised debates, say political analysts, kick starting what will likely be a drawn-out eight-month campaign ahead of elections tipped for November.
Conservative opposition leader Tony Abbott had the killer lines, but it was the PM’s bookish, technocrat style which struck a chord with voters watching the debate.
Two commercial television networks which broadcast the debate used a controversial opinion “worm”, a moving line that dips and rises into negative or positive territory according to so-called “wormologist” viewer reactions as each politican spoke.
Almost everytime Rudd opened his mouth, the worm soared upwards, before diving to earth the moment camera’s switched to the otherwise telegenic Abbott.
It seemed pugnacious Abbott’s straight-talking style could make no dent against Rudd, whose popularity in major opinion surveys has been sliding dramatically in recent months, although he remains on course for victory.
“I’m at a terrible disavantage in this debate because I’m not capable of waffling for two minutes the way the prime minister is,” quipped Abbott to live audience laughter.
Dip, on both networks.
Most political analysts had opined ahead of the debate that taking part in a debate was a brave move for Rudd, who has been accused of lacking courage to push forcefully for many of the key reform promises that spearheaded his victory two years ago.
“Some Labor hardheads firmly believe Rudd may have made a strategic mistake,” said senior journalist Lenore Taylor in the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper.
But by the end of the debate, and with the worm attempting to crawl off the charts into positive territory, Rudd’s decision looks like a masterstroke that could restore momentum on health, climate, tax and education reform.
“Verdict: Rudd the winner. Abbott probably won the debate but was too punchy and negative,” wrote columnist Mark Kenny in the Adelaide Advertiser newspaper.
At one stage it seemed political attack and “negativity” was the problem for Abbott, with viewers punishing anything aggressive. But even Rudd’s rare aggressive forays and straying from his favoured facts seemed to go in his direction. “Okay, finished with the worm. It’s clearly in love with Rudd,” said political radio network journalist Latika Bourke.
The lesson of the worm seems that surveys aside, Rudd’s stellar popularity may still be as strong as ever.