READING Australian newspapers, watching TV, listening to the radio or browsing news sites online, the message is the same. Elections are decided by voters’ feelings about the leaders of the big parties. “Preferred prime minister” is the poll result to watch; voters’ liking for a leader will surely shape their votes.
But the evidence from political science research gives a different picture. There, policy issues and old-fashioned party identification exert much greater influence than voters’ feelings about individual leaders. This isn’t to say that leaders are irrelevant. If the jury is still out on whether Australia now has a “presidential” system, no one doubts that leadership is much more personalised than in the past, driven by a wider culture of celebrity fed by the news media, women’s magazines, reality-TV shows and the adoring treatment of sportspeople…
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