The opening score card

Christopher Sheil claims today’s Newspoll result means that things are “sweet as a nut” for the ALP at this stage of the campaign. He explains his spin this way:

[Y]ou don’t want to be way ahead at this stage. Given probabilities and margins of error, a big lead increases the risk of a declining trend, which can be self-proving – most particularly at the start.

So apparently it’s better to be behind on primary votes (as the latest Newspoll survey shows) than in front! Hmmm. If that explanation makes you feel better Chris, it’s alright with me. But it’s fairly audacious to then accuse the Oz of “spin” for suggesting:

JOHN Howard’s base vote has lifted in the first weekend of the election campaign, despite damning disclosures about the children overboard affair. …

Polling appears to bear out the Prime Minister’s view that the public is “fed up” with the children overboard affair and is not marking down his Government, or him, over the latest revelations.

That oz quote strikes me as a fair interpretation of Newspoll. If the ALP’s “Howard is a lying turd” theme was biting with the punters, you wouldn’t expect to see Labor’s primary vote falling by two percentage points or the Coalition rising by four, during the very fortnight when the Scrafton saga was playing itself out. It looks a little like Graham Young’s dinner party survey (see my previous election post) was pretty accurate: most voters do have a “so what, all politicians lie” reaction. Sadly from my viewpoint, Howard’s personal lack of integrity and social divisiveness may well be “elite” issues that don’t resonate with most swinging voters. RWDB pessimism is very premature (although it gives me no pleasure to say so). This election is still very much in the balance and far too close to even contemplate calling.

Update – Labor’s just-announced “integrity” policy is very impressive on its face, dealing with just about everything I would want to see to restore accountability and transparency to the political process. It may conceivably be a “elite” issue, but it shouldn’t be. These reforms are critically important to democratic governance, and anyone who actually cares about liberty and democracy (whatever their normal political allegiance) should be demanding that Howard matches them.

Update 2 – I see Laurie Oakes is running a leak from some disgruntled Liberal Party nonentity claiming that George Brandis referred to Howard as a “lying rodent”. I doubt that it means much of itself, but along with Costello’s umpteenth leadership-challenge denial yesterday it helps create an impression of a squabbling, disunited government. A couple more such stories and that impression might begin to penetrate the general public’s consciousness.

However, I don’t think yesterday’s flurry over Mark Latham’s alleged embarrassing gaffe over Labor’s policy of a hypothecated levy to fund workers’ redundancy entitlements will amount to much. On its legal definition, Howard is correct that any such levy is a “tax”. The High Court’s classic definition of “tax” (in Matthews -v- The Chicory Marketing Board (Victoria)) is that it’s “a compulsory exaction of money by a public authority for public purposes, enforceable by law, and is not a payment for services rendered”. Clearly Latham’s redundancy levy falls under that definition. But in everyday political usage specific purpose levies have come to be seen as something different from ordinary taxes. Hence the Medicare Levy, and the levy imposed by the Howard government to fund Ansett workers’ redundancy entitlements. In those circumstances you wouldn’t expect Howard’s line to have an adverse electoral impact. In fact I suspect most people will regard Labor’s plan to ensure that workers aren’t dudded by defaulting employers as a distinct electoral plus. If I was Latham I’d be highlighting the contrast with Howard’s laissez-faire indifference.

Nevertheless, I suppose Howard’s point-scoring on the Labor levy might still feed into a hoped-for demonstration of Latham’s uncertainty, inexperience and unsteadiness under pressure. Trouble is, the body language over the first couple of days of campaigning suggests it’s Howard who is uncertain and unsteady under pressure. But a couple more good news stories for the Coalition might yet see Howard regaining his confident public demeanour. Campaign day 3 and honours fairly even, I reckon.

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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cs
cs
2022 years ago

Thanks Ken, but I guess I should try to clarify: (1) I’m only referring to the 2pp (I don’t like being behind on the primary, but also think it’s likely to be wrong); (2) sure, the polls are likely to have some relation to the reality out there, but they also have margins of error and complete stuff-ups; and so when coming into an election, the primary concern is not what an individual poll says but always the way in which it may lead or otherwise play into opinion, come the real poll in a few weeks time – here, it’s the trend that matters, not the size of the lead; (3) sure, as I said, the polls have some relation to the reality of opinion out there, but it’s problematic, and the extent to which you can go the next leg and actually tie a causal link to any given event etc (such as Scrafton) is a make up your own story job, imo. If it’s at the low boundary of the 3 point error margin, for example, it could be 55/45 out there, which would give you an entirely different take on Scrafton’s impact. Who knows? Which is my point – it’s the trend, and the way the numbers set you are for a trend interpretation, that matters, I think. 53/48 – yep, that’ll do me: ‘sweet as a nut’.

cs
cs
2022 years ago

errr … 52/48

Homer Paxton
Homer Paxton
2022 years ago

the Newspoll primary result is puzzling as no-one can put forward a reason why it has happened.
If the howard liar line wasn’t working then why did he not let the Reps go forward?

I tend to think morgan maybe closer to the mark but will hasten to say no-one really knows.

I think for the first time in his life CS may be on the money in terms of the poll.

If the ALP is not going to win in a lanslide then the cureent numbers are okay.

Remember too Howard is not a great campaigner so for the Libs to win howard needs to do something he hasn’t done in 4 elections increase the Libs vote in a campaign.

What ever you Ken please don’t say you think the ALP can win.

Stan
Stan
2022 years ago

I think the preferred Prime Minister numbers would have to be troubling for Latham. I can’t see Howard ending up on the street while the punters still prefer him over the other guy (by 20 points).

Homer Paxton
Homer Paxton
2022 years ago

Stan
on that logic Keating would still be PM

Dave Ricardo
Dave Ricardo
2022 years ago

Ken, 60% of respondents to today’s SMH internet poll think the Children Overboard issue is very important. Only 4% think it’s not important at all.

What more proof do you need that it is a big issue that will hurt Howard?

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Dave

You know as well as I do that self-selected Internet surveys prove nothing at all. That’s especially so with a publication like the SMH online, whose readership might reasonably be assumed to be well to the left of centre. I imagine if you asked Margo’s Web Diary readers what they thought of Tony Kevin’s SIEV X theories, you’d get 90% responding that it’s all gospel proven fact, just as if you took a survey of Tech Central Station readers they’d all tell you that global warming is a myth and cigarette smoking is really good for you.

I still hope that the “Howard is a lying turd” message is having a cumulative impact and penetrating the public consciousness to some extent, but I doubt that it’s anywhere near as strong as some have assumed (and I had hoped). It certainly isn’t going to be decisive by itself. This election is not analogous to 1996, where all Howard had to do was keep his head down so voters kept concentrating on how much they hated Keating’s guts. That sort of visceral reaction isn’t detectable in this polling (or previous results), so Latham will still have to win the campaign itself to win the election. Unless he does so decisively, the polls may well swing back the other way as election day approaches and disengaged swingers actually begin to focus on their decision, simply because the economy is strong, and Howard is still seen as better on defence and security issues. I certainly hope that assessment is wrong, but it’s the way it looks to me right now. I venture to suggest that the number of disengaged swingers participating in the SMH’s online poll about “children overboard” was approximately zero.

Dave Ricardo
Dave Ricardo
2022 years ago

Ken, heh, heh, I knew you’d bite.

I actually agree with you, though Howard does look curiously nervous.

Stan
Stan
2022 years ago

That’s true Homer. Still, I put it to you that somewhere between the two numbers lies the voters actual intentions. It makes more sense than the other direction.

Mark Upcher
Mark Upcher
2022 years ago

The Mark Latham tax/levy gaffe seemed a particularly trivial issue in itself. But it will still cast a seed of doubt in peoples’ minds over Latham’s reliability and competence. I suspect that the Coalition will be looking for a succession of these types of trivial issues to progressively undermine confidence in Latham.

I think Howard choosing to have such a long campaign period is based on a judgement that this will maximise the opportunity for Latham or one of his colleagues to put their foot in it.

And how long can labour hide the Shadow Treasurer during the campaign? If I was the Coalition, I would get Costello to challenge Crean to a debate.

Dave Ricardo
Dave Ricardo
2022 years ago

Crean is the Shadow Treasurer but McMullan is the election Shadow Treasurer.

And if Labor wins, I would wager a small amount that he will become the actual Treasurer.

Mark U
Mark U
2022 years ago

David,

Are you saying that if Costello challenged Crean to a debate then McMullan would turn up? How good would that look? Opposition Leader can’t even get his team sorted out properly.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

If Crean really had the interests of the ALP at heart, he’d develop a strategic illness that required him to step down from the Shadow Treasurer post effective immediately. If he doesn’t, there’s nothing surer than that Costello will challenge him to debate and Howard will keep rubbing in the ALP’s failure to produce him. It wouldn’t be terminal of itself but, as I suggested above, Latham needs to win the campaign decisively to win on election day, and a running negative distraction as he keeps having to hide Simon will be distinctly unhelpful. Someone should really have quietly told Simon to piss off well before now. I’m sure he’s a lovely bloke and all, but he’s electoral poison.

Dave Ricardo
Dave Ricardo
2022 years ago

Agree, Ken. Crean should remember that long standing engagement to go trecking in Antarctica.

Jozef
2022 years ago

We are so vain that we even care for the opinion of those we don’t care for.
– Marie Ebner von Eschenbach, writer (1830-1916)

Self selected opinions for the next 39 days will be flying left, right, and center.

Speaking of centre, lets consider putting our hip pockets were our futile opinions are …(smile)

Centrebet https://secure.centrebet.com/ Comrade Gerard Daffy (his real surname) is expecting many Irish (parish) priest to revise the odds. Currently John Howard’s Coalition is the early $1.77 favourite, while Mark Latham’s Labor is the $2.40 underdog .

Bet early and often!

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Jozef

I only bet in bottles of red wine, and I almost always lose (which is fortunate for my liver).

Shaun
Shaun
2022 years ago

Coupla points…

The Incumbent PM nearly always has a higher preferred PM rating and with the strong talk of Howards retirement and Costello taking over this issue is either neutralised or a Labor plus.

and…

Crean is not the electoral death as shadow treasurer that people assume. When Beazleys Shadow Treasurer he took on Costello at the National Press Club and won – The picture of Crean with two thumbs up and Costello slinking away was front page.

Rex
Rex
2022 years ago

Are you saying that if Costello challenged Crean to a debate then McMullan would turn up?

Not likely. the ALP won’t push for a debate in my view but of they must then Crean will be there.

Furthermore, it won’t matter a toss, because no-one likes Costello, and no-one like Crean, so guess what?? No Audience!!

observa
observa
2022 years ago

Howard might take up the offer of a second debate by suggesting that the Treasurer and Shadow Treasurer debate each other. Now what could be fairer than that Ray? Your quite right, the people deserve to know what, how and for whom before they vote for a team.

“though Howard does look curiously nervous.” I reckon Ken would too if the staffroom was abuzz with speculation as to how the student body would vote, in order for him to keep his job every 3 years, especially with a lean and hungry competitor lurking about the place.

Shaun
Shaun
2022 years ago

Crean and Costello have already accepted the challenge to debate about 5 weeks ago.

The traditional thing is to have one at the National Press Club with about 2 weeks to go, if memory serves.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Latham just answered Kerry O’Brien by saying that crean would be Treasurer in a Labor government, and that he would debate Costello “when he (Costello) steps up to the plate”. I can only assume that Latham subscribes to Rex’s theory that the punters dislike both Costello and Crean so much that no-one (except us political groupies) will watch their debate anyway. I guess Rex is probably correct. Exposing Crean in a set piece debate doesn’t matter. The trick will be to keep him off network news and nightly current affairs programs. That shouldn’t be too difficult.

Dave Ricardo
Dave Ricardo
2022 years ago

When the message on Day 1 is Trust, you’d have to say the Brandis thing is off message. Not to mention Worth, who has breathed new life into the whole reffos/kids overboard thing, just when Howard was trying to focus attention on other stuff.

Damaging to the Coalition? Probably not, but it has turned Latham’s levy gaffe into fish and chips wrapping, instead of having it snowball into big, fat, doubts about Latham’s ability to manage the economy.

Not a bad result.

David Tiley
2022 years ago

McMullen is a Nice Man and Very Very Smart. Cutthrough and intimidatory cojones? No.

So, use the McMullen brain and the Crean pheromones, and whack the breastplate of opportunism on the party and off we go…