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:
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.