[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.