Dr No’s on the nose

It’s early days yet but the latest opinion polls suggest opposing the Voice hasn’t done Peter Dutton any favours.

Obviously growing unpopularity can’t be solely due to the Voice policy and it might be just people are getting to know him better – and don’t like what they see.

Whichever, the latest Newspoll has the Government leading the Coalition 56% to 44% two-party preferred, with Labor’s lead increasing one point since the last survey. That’s within the margin of error but the overall situation when you aggregate the various polls is less than encouraging for Dutton.

More importantly Dutton has seen his support fall to its lowest level since he took on the role and his net satisfaction rating has dropped six points to minus 19%.

It might be slight consolation that Anthony Albanese’s satisfaction rating also dropped although he still leads as preferred prime minister 54% to 28%.

In the Guardian Essential Poll on 18 April Dutton recorded a net approval rating of minus eight, with 44% of respondents saying they disapprove of his performance as opposition leader, and 36% in support. Just 7% strongly approved of his performance, with 21% strongly disapproving.

On 19 April the Resolve Strategic poll showed Dutton’s personal approval rating falling from minus 11% to minus 18% the lowest figure since he became Leader.

On the other hand, some polls are showing the Voice support softening although still in majority territory. Dutton might well claim that is an indication that his Voice opposition is having some effect.

But it’s early days yet and the No case still has the major problem – the primary person against Yes is Australia’s most distrusted politician. The Dr No description some are trying to fix on him might bypass those who have never seen James Bond films or read the books, but it probably doesn’t help.

We will have to wait and see whether either side will come up with advertising as good as that depicted in the Oscar-nominated Chilean film, No, about the 1988 plebiscite to end the dictatorial rule of General Augusto Pinochet. Some of the best creatives in Australia are firmly behind Yes as far as Voice is concerned so we will see. Nevertheless, the Chilean campaign has some lessons for Australia.

Unlike the forthcoming Australian campaign, the Chilean No was the choice of the good guys and Yes was the choice of the bad guys. Yes – being a vote for continuing the dictatorship and No for ending it.

The Yes side also had the advantage of having murdered and disappeared tens of thousands of people who if still alive would have voted No. A favourite method was flying prisoners out to sea and pushing them out the door.

The lessons for Australia which can be illustrated by a report by the US National Democrat Institute on a seminar in 2012 in which participants discussed the campaign.

The speakers were Genaro Arriagada, former national director of the No Campaign; former Chilean ambassador to the US and former minister of the presidency of Chile; Sergio Bitar, president of Chile’s Foundation for Democracy, former Chilean senator, cabinet member and president of the Party for Democracy (PPD); and Frank Greer, partner at GMMB who worked on the No campaign.

The NDI said: “Providing a larger context to the events depicted in the film, the panellists discussed the atmosphere in Chile leading up to the referendum, the uncertainty of the outcome and the importance of international support, grassroots organizing and different political factions working together for a common goal”.

“We realized that if we want[ed] to have a country for everybody, it was necessary to have a society which would be a place for everyone,” said Arriagada, speaking of the time after the campaign’s success.

“That means not only our people – this was not a time of revenge  – but also for the people that supported the dictatorship. It was necessary to create a democratic framework in which everybody is under the rule of law, nobody above the law, but at the same time every person deserves respect.”

Bitar said that a critical aspect of the campaign was to create an atmosphere of optimism around the no vote, which would help inspire citizens to voice their opposition for Pinochet’s oppressive regime.

“The main obstacle was fear,” said Bitar. “And you cannot vanquish fear with fear.”

The parallel with Australia is the fear trying to be engendered by Dutton and Co about how it will work and what it might bring.

The NDI said that “Greer stressed the importance of the grassroots organizing that went into the successful ‘no’ campaign, including massive voter registration efforts. He also credited Chilean political parties with putting aside their differences to work for the vote.

Of course, this cooperation was among a proliferation of anti-Pinochet parties, unlike Australia which has fewer political parties and two of the major parties on opposite sides.

But the lessons are still useful – young, enthusiastic campaigners running a major grassroots campaign while the opposite side comprised ageing reactionaries campaigning with the arrogance of those who imagine themselves born to rule and who were unlikely to get out on the streets door-knocking favouring, instead, chats with others in their clubs.

Although if you haven’t seen the film, it should be said that some of the film’s version of the yes campaign was pretty creative even if firmly focussed on the negatives.

Perhaps the most important lesson from the campaign was summed up by Bitar – campaigns need to create an atmosphere of optimism – something Peter Dutton will find difficult (impossible?) to do.