The Tony Abbott factor: what western Sydney voters really think about the PM

Incompetent, an international embarrassment and a fool: these are just a selection of the words chosen by western Sydney voters to describe how they feel about Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

Focus groups conducted exclusively for Fairfax Media last week reveal the depth of dissatisfaction with Mr Abbott among a key bloc of NSW voters just a fortnight before they go to the ballot box in the March 28 state election.

In none of the four seven-person focus groups did anyone say anything positive about the Prime Minister.

All of the participants were selected because they had switched their vote from Labor to Liberal at the 2011 NSW election which saw the ALP thrown out of government with a historic 16.5 per cent swing.

Four years later, one of the key considerations for this month’s NSW election is whether Mr Abbott’s unpopularity will affect the way they cast their vote at state level.

The most recent Fairfax/Ipos federal poll showed Mr Abbott’s personal approval at just 32 per cent and his disapproval rating at 62 per cent.

Some of the possible reasons for this were drawn out in interviews with western Sydney residents conducted by research firm Visibility for Fairfax Media.

Focus groups are used by political parties throughout the campaign to gauge voter sentiment and shape their messaging.  Visibility’s main researcher, Tony Mitchelmore, has 25 years experiencein this field and has worked for numerous blue-chip companies including the Minerals Council, to provide insights into their image and messaging. He has also done focus groups for the Labor Party during elections.

In the groups, Mr Abbott was described as “just very incompetent and an embarrassment internationally” by one participant.

Another said Mr Abbott was “an embarrassment. He is an absolute embarrassment. Every time he opens his mouth he just says the wrong thing.”

Some participants viewed Mr Abbott as unreliable and untrustworthy.

“He doesn’t present well,” said one participant. “He doesn’t give you … no matter what he’s talking about, you don’t feel confident.”

One woman declared: “He could be talking about the weather and you’d still think, oh… I don’t know.”

The latest Fairfax/Ipsos NSW poll revealed close to one in 10 voters who supported the Coalition at the 2011 state election intend to change their vote on March 28 due to the performance of the Abbott government.

The NSW ALP is seeking to exploit Mr Abbott’s unpopularity by highlighting his friendship with Mr Baird.

But the focus group participants saw NSW Premier Mike Baird very differently to Mr Abbott.

“Tony is ridiculously arrogant where Mike Baird is a little bit more up front,” one man told the group.

Another participant said whereas Mr Abbott was “a little bit stiff” Mr Baird was quite the opposite.

“Mike Baird, when he’s talking on camera it’s like he’s talking to you,” he said. “On the same level.”

One woman noted: “I saw Mike Baird as more professional but I see Tony Abbott as a bit of a fool.”

Mr Abbott’s lack of appearances during the Queensland election campaign became an issue for then Premier Campbell Newman whose Liberal National Party lost power in a shock result in February.

But Mr Baird – whose approval rating is at 60 per cent – has said he would welcome Mr Abbott joining him on the campaign trail. Last wee

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