EDITORIAL:

Voters recognise charisma and authenticity in political leaders when they see it.

Which is why Jacinda Ardern has managed to embarrass Australia's finest by being voted the West Island's "most trusted" politician.

In the 2019 Political Believability Index, research company Millward Brown polled 1400 Australians, to rate 12 politicians. They were assessed on relevance, integrity, shared values, commitment, affinity and follow-through.

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In a country which has had six different leaders in 12 years and may soon have a seventh, it's unsurprising that Australians have a somewhat jaded view of their own representatives.

Australians are not alone in being able to spot what they like and being disappointed with the selection available. Voters generally want leaders who can be themselves in public and say what they mean. There's an impatience with nuance.

What is interesting about the believability poll is that the most admired politicians are women and there's a clear gap between what voters would prefer and what they receive.

Ardern was well out in front with 77 out of 100.

The top Australian was Labor Senator Penny Wong with 53, followed by retiring former Coalition foreign minister Julie Bishop with 52, and Labor's deputy leader Tanya Plibersek with 50.

The top male was Labor politician Anthony Albanese on 46. The actual main party leaders, Coalition Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Labor leader Bill Shorten, scored 43 and 42.

With the election this Saturday, only a few percentage points separate the Coalition and Labor on a two-party basis. A hung parliament is possible.

The greater the gap a popular leader can inspire can be the difference between an election arm-wrestle and an easy victory.

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Not every leader has a winning mix of competence and likeability. But Wong and Bishop have at least been able to project strength and conviction, and Plibersek thoughtful empathy.

Yet all three have played second fiddle to what the believability poll suggests are lesser men. Bishop served as deputy Liberal leader behind three former prime ministers including Tony Abbott, who received a rating of 36.

Australia has at least had a female leader of the country — a line the US has yet to cross. Much commentary in the US on the 2020 presidential election has focused recently on why quality female Democratic candidates are not doing better.

A survey on democracy in Australia last year showed only 40.5 per cent of respondents felt satisfied with how it was working. Just 31 per cent trusted the government and more than 60 per cent said the integrity of politicians was very low.

Michele Levine, CEO of research firm Roy Morgan, said the public had experienced an "explosion of distrust" in Australia's major institutions, including political parties, and "trust and distrust" would end up deciding the election.

Judging by the scores of Morrison and Shorten in the believability index, it will be close.