Celebrities lift Gillard’s popularity

Justin “Patenity Test” Bieber and Barack Obama

This article first appeared on On-Line Opinion.

” Don’t you love those ads where you see the woman in the bikini next to the 32-piece ratchet set. We look at the girl with the bikini and look at the ratchet set and think ‘All right, if she’s next to the ratchet set and I had that ratchet set, I wonder if that would mean…[pause] I better just buy that ratchet set’ ” – Jerry Seinfeld

When Barack Obama visited Canberra, a schoolboy asked the American President whether he would consider teaming up with Justin Bieber. The affable Obama laughed off the suggestion, telling the Campbell High School student that he wanted Americans to like him not because of his celebrity contacts, but because of his ideas.

The question really should have been directed towards Obama’s red-headed friend, Ms. Julia Gillard.

Gillard coincidently received a handy four per cent push in the Newspoll ratings a few days later. Now a month on, her popularity is continuing its gradual rise up the political charts, with yet another two points added to her tally.

Given that Labor’s popularity has remained mostly stagnant over the same timeframe, it’s safe to say that Brand Gillard is making a comeback. Either that, or the masses have perceived the mining tax as a purely-Labor issue, as something completely independent of Gillard’s portfolio. After all, she’s only the Prime Minister.

Brand Gillard’s first major boost came in October, when the Queen dropped by. Curtsygate might have brought this nation to a standstill, but the photos with the Queen and Quentin Bryce were the real showstoppers. If the front pages of our newspapers were anything to go by, the nation fell in love with the snaps and re-lived the 1960s push for feminism.

Over the following weeks Brand Gillard only got stronger. At the CHOGM and APEC conferences, Gillard shook hands with a plethora of important-looking world leaders. Of course few Australians would have actually recognised the notables exchanging greetings with our woman in red. But that was beside the point; these well-dressed men gave our Julia the respect a PM deserves. From a PR perspective, Gillard was making friends in all the right places.

What made these events particularly special was that Gillard not only met up with these prominent individuals, but also got to take one home. In Obama, Gillard claimed her first “special relationship” and it couldn’t have panned out any better for her. Wherever the US President went, Gillard followed. But this was no stalker meets idol situation; indeed, Obama would occasionally flash Gillard the odd smile, aware that the cameras were still rolling.

One smile = one vote.

Whether Obama did himself any favours is debatable, but one presumes the Australian visit couldn’t have done his chances in next year’s election any harm. America’s politically astute might have perceived Obama’s new friendship as a step towards monitoring and restricting the influence of China. The less informed would have been excited by Obama’s newest celebrity pal. He was hanging around with Prime Minister Kidman, was he not?

Just when we thought Gillard couldn’t have found a bigger name to hang around, along came with the ARIA Awards. It was here that Gillard inducted her “friend” Kylie Minogue into the ARIA Hall of Fame. That the duo had only met eight months ago was irrelevant; those watching the telecast only had one thought running through their mind… “Who doesn’t Gillard know?”

As politically aware observers, it might feel petty reading into Newspoll’s ratings and speculating about the effect of celebrities on Gillard’s popularity. But as much as we hate to admit it, we too have been impressed by Gillard’s new cronies. We might claim to only have an interest in policy debate, but deep inside we know that Gillard is so much cooler now that she’s pal with the “Yes We Can” guy and our nation’s proudest export.

It’s probably some kind of a Freudian complex; ever since we were little we wanted to hang around with the “cool kids”. The more popular our acquaintances were, the greater our credibility. In the schoolyard it was never about how many friends you had, but who you friends were.

In a democracy, it’s about both. And as we speak Gillard is finally gaining ground in both categories. Some might say this slow -but progressive – rise could be attributed to her recent breakthroughs in Parliament, or her leniency on the gay marriage issue. Yet one thinks this could have just as much to do with her address book, and it’s time Obama follows suit.

Indeed, if there’s anything the Big O learnt from his time in Australia, it’s that he needs to pick up the phone, and ring Bieber.

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