Essential’s “Best PM” poll


Essential Research has produced a fascinating poll, asking voters who they thought was Australia’s best post-WWII Prime Minister. The poll put the 21st century Prime Ministers well ahead of their predecessors, with 28% saying John Howard and 20% saying Kevin Rudd, followed by Bob Hawke on 12% and Robert Menzies on 11%.

Of course, it’s complete rubbish. For a start, John Howard comes out on top, although 55% voted for a Labor PM. If you used preferences, likely Rudd would come out on top. The difference was that Whitlam, Hawke and Keating all got substantial support, whereas there was practically no support for Holt, Gorton, McMahon or Fraser, so more of the Liberal vote was concentrated with Menzies and Howard.

You have to wonder how many of those surveyed know anything at all about the earlier PMs. Hell, those in the 18-24 age range would have little or no first-hand memory of any PM apart from Howard and Rudd.  You would have to think that most of those picking Howard or Rudd are down-the-line Liberal or Labor voters who don’t know enough about Australian political history to say anything else. But it doesn’t say much. How can anyone under the age of 60 who isn’t a political junkie give an opinion on John Curtin or Ben Chifley’s leadership? It would seem laughable to say that Rudd has been such a brilliant PM when he hasn’t really been in the job long enough to do anything.

It would have been interesting to see a poll which excluded Howard and Rudd. Still, the breakdowns (which you can see here) are fascinating. The 50+ age group (the only ones to have experienced most of the Prime Ministers in the list) give 28% to John Howard, with 19% to Menzies and 11% to Hawke, suggesting that more recent PMs make more of an impression, and also reflecting the more conservative outlook of older Australians.

The 35-49 age group sees Menzies drop off, Howard increase to 34% and Rudd come second on 18%. Rudd pulls ahead amongst the 25-34 age group, followed by Howard and Hawke. The 18-24 age group, who, like myself, would have sketchy memories of Keating and only a proper experience of the last two Prime Ministers, remarkably give 17% to Gough Whitlam, a man who retired from politics seven years before the first of this group was born. A high support for Whitlam amongst Greens voters suggests that those on the left-wing end of the spectrum mainly supported Whitlam.

And in case you were wondering, I would probably vote Whitlam, with honourable mentions to Chifley and Keating. For a full ranking, I’d say:

  1. Whitlam
  2. Keating
  3. Chifley
  4. Curtin
  5. Hawke
  6. Fraser
  7. Rudd
  8. Gorton
  9. Holt
  10. Menzies
  11. Howard
  12. McMahon

Although, to be fair, my first political memory is of Paul Keating defeating Bob Hawke when I was five, so anything before the Howard-Rudd years comes from reading, rather than first-hand experience.

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  1. This sounds like a fun game.

    1. Menzies.
    2. Hawke/Keating tag team.
    3. Howard
    4. Whitlam
    5. Chiefly
    7. Fraser
    8. All of the other post-Menzies Liberal PMs

  2. Way too early to say, but if I were placed in a corner with a gun to my head I would place him below Fraser. Although I think he is doing a great job on many issues however he simply hasn’t been there long enough. He immediately moves up between Whitlam and Chiefly if he wins the next election and perhaps even higher if his leadership during the GFC is deemed to be a success and his educational, infrastructure and health policy programs are executed.

  3. Also, on a side note, if Howard had stepped down in 2006 (pre Rudd), I would have ranked him equal 2nd with Hawke/Keating. His election loss was dismal and embarrassing (and that is coming from a centrist who neither hates nor loves the man).

  4. As far as I’m concerned, for those of us who lean to the left, none of the Labor PMs are perfect. Keating was great on social issues but his economic agenda was a lot more right-wing. Chifley did a lot of good stuff, but the ALP prior to the 1960s was a lot more socially conservative.

    Sure, Whitlam did some bad stuff, including East Timor and the loans scandal, and a bunch of embarassments in his ministries. But he brought in free education, Medibank, and a bunch of social advancements. Not to mention the fact that he defeated the longest-serving conservative government.

  5. Thanks to the High Court though, you can’t do nationalisation or other socialist things in Australia so economic things will always remain pretty right wing

  6. There was a clear right-wing shift between Whitlam and Hawke/Keating/Rudd. HECS, refugee detention, and a bunch of other things. It’s not just about nationalising the banks.

    Although to be fair I’m not particularly a fan of any of them. Whitlam was my favourite in terms of policy, but he’s a man with the world’s biggest ego who frankly governed fairly incompetently and failed to make a lot of his policies stick. But he still stands up better than the others.

  7. The decision on bank nationalisation was saying that the Commonwealth could not own all the banks. From its creation in 1911 until its privatisation (1992-1996) (stupid Keating) the Commonwealth bank was owned by the Commonwealth.

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