Pessimism resurgent

Two separate pundits in this morning’s SMH remind Labor supporters not to get too carried away by the current positive poll figures. Ross Gittins, back from hols, says:

We turn to the untried opposition only after we’re thoroughly fed up with the government.

(And, more often than not, we toss out governments only after they’ve presided over an economic recession. During the boom that precedes every recession, governments always look good. This implies Mark Latham’s time has yet to come.)

Hugh Mackay (a much less credible commentator IMO) makes a similar observation, and grounds it in his qualitative research:

At the mid-point of this election campaign, it’s hard to see how the result will be close, the polls notwithstanding. No doubt there will be some surprises in closely contested marginal seats, but the overall mood of the electorate, tracked by my qualitative research throughout the year, strongly favours maintenance of the status quo.

“Why rock the boat?” pretty much captures it.

The federal electorate is famously conservative when it comes to throwing out governments. We’ve only done it three times since 1950, and it looks as if two conditions must be met before we take the plunge: a government must appear tired, confused, incompetent, divided or seriously out of touch with the people, and the Opposition leader must be a known quantity.

The Coalition certainly looks tired and confused to me, but not really incompetent or divided or seriously out of touch with the people (unlike Captain Wacky between 1993 and 1996). And Latham certainly is very much an unknown quantity compared with Whitlam, Fraser, Hawke and Howard when they won government.

People who argue against Gittins’ proposition that governments rarely get kicked out during economic boom times frequently point to the fact that Keating lost in precisely those circumstances in 1996. But Keating was the quintessentially out-of-touch leader, off and away in his Zegna suits pursuing grand visions of antique clocks, indigenous reconciliation, republics, establishment of south east Asian free trade zones and other international diplomatic flourishes ad nauseum. And his reputation was terminally tarnished as a result of having won government by fraud in 1993 with his infamous “L-A-W law” tax cuts promise. Howard just isn’t in an analogous position, however much Labor partisans might beat the “liar liar” drum.

I hope it’s not true, but this week’s polls might well be the high water mark of Labor’s support. It’s still a slightly better than even bet that the bulk of the 10% or so of currently undecided voters will opt for the devil they know when they start paying attention in the last week of the campaign. Certainly that’s the way the betting markets are still seeing things, as Bryan Palmer highlights this morning.

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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Homer Paxton
Homer Paxton
2022 years ago

I must tell Paul Keating to read Ross’s column.
I am sure he would support this hypothesis.

Guido
2022 years ago

These sort of ideas are in line with my comments in April of using Force Field Theory as an explanation why Howard is likely to win.

Driving forces could be seen as pushing for change while restraining forces stand in the way of change. A force field diagram is used to analyse these opposing forces and set the stage for making change possible. Change will not occur when either the driving forces or restraining forces are equal, or the restraining forces are stronger than the driving forces. For change to be possible, the driving forces must overcome the restraining forces.

Objectively my view is that the forces for change which would topple Howard are not yet strong enough to do so. So for instance while there may be a driving force for change because of a perception that the Howard’s government is stale and run out of ideas the restraining force is the perception that it is a dependable proven performer and there is no need to risk a change. The aim of the government is to increase the restraining force against change with the strategy of portraying Latham as inexperienced and risky, while diminishing the driving force by portraying Howard as experienced and dependable.

Homer  Paxton
Homer Paxton
2022 years ago

the economy was pretty damn good in 1996 and it didn’t stop Keating deservedly getting smashed.

I would think in many ways the present government reminds me of Keating in 96 tired, out of touch and ideas.

It is the this which is nagging at the electorate’s mind. They want change but are reluctant to change governments.

howard is presently doing a great job of reminding the electorate of just how tied this Government is. We will see if Iron Mark can entice them to change with his vision.

cs
cs
2022 years ago

I think it’s clear enough that a government which causes, or happens to run into, a recession will get kicked out (Whitlam ’75, Fraser ’83, Keating, delayed boot in the bum because of Hewson suicide note called Fightback!, ’96). But the reverse doesn’t hold (Chifley ’49; McMahon ’72).

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Chris

1949 is an awfully long time ago. 1972 is possibly recent enough to be relevant. McMahon was regarded as an embarrassing, incompetent joke of a PM, even by Liberals. Howard isn’t seen in that way at all. The general perception of Howard (whatever the reality) is of firmness and competence. And Whitlam was immeasurably better known when he won government than Latham is now. He had led Labor to within a hair’s breadth of victory in 1969 (Don’s Party), and his policies were very well known and had been widely marketed to the electorate. A huge contrast from the present situation with Latham. Moreover, there was the Vietnam War and conscription. Whatever rusted-on ALP supporters think, the Iraq war is not a negative for Howard in anything like the same way as Vietnam and conscription were for Billy McMahon. In fact, if anything, the 1972 example starkly underlines why it would be a remarkable result for Labor to win now. That isn’t to deny that I’m hoping for that remarkable result, but I refuse to get carried away and believe that it’s anything other than an uphill battle.

Geoff Robinson
2022 years ago

Often when a government is defeated those wise after the event assert that its defeat was inevitable. But if Keating had won in 1996 would any commentator been particularly surprised? Ditto for the NT CLP in 2001, Jeff Kennett in 1999, Wayne Goss in 1995. In all of this cases the final result was within error range of the last polls but commentators ignored these.

Robert
2022 years ago

There’s a vox pop in the Fin Review today, in which the punter says, “The economy’s going pretty well, so it’s not much of an issue for me.” This fits with the post-materialist idea that people turn to “big picture” issues when their immediate needs have been addressed.

The question is whether the Libs can drum up enough fear about Labor’s economic credentials to put the economy back in the picture. I don’t think they’ve managed so far, but then again the L-plate Latham ads have only just begun. We’ll see.

James Hamilton
James Hamilton
2022 years ago

I think the only scare campaign with any chance of cutting through is the industrial relations thing, because there will be a backwards step there.

Nick
2022 years ago

Personally, I think pessimism is over-rated as a life-style choice.

All it takes is 12 (thousand) idiots in a sprinkling of marginal electorate and there’s your result right there…

Two-party preferred (unless one party has a substantial lead) doesn’t tell you all that much…

Don Wigan
Don Wigan
2022 years ago

Guido’s force field idea is interesting.

Latham’s hospital initiative may be the factor that alters the balance. The public at large and the hospital/medical staff are pretty pissed off with the way public and community hospitals have been run down.

cs
cs
2022 years ago

I agree the starting odds are against it Ken (recently reduced, including a dramatic ALP sharpening at Centrebet). My point is only that for every election cliche there is an equal and opposite cliche. It is folklore that you always get booted out after a recession. Likewise, it is a byword among operatives that you never get rewarded for good times, because that’s supposed to be normal: any party that runs on its record (specialy if it’s an accidental record – you know who I’m talking about) instead of a bid on the future is doomed.

(ps Ross Gittins’ column was v. neat: good fella that Ross!)

PeterF
PeterF
2022 years ago

My expectation of a Labor victory is based on a judgement that the Government will receive very few votes (in 2pp terms) on October 9 that it didn’t win in 2001. The only numerically significant exception to that seems to me, WA voters aggrieved at Beazley’s retirement and failure to win back the leadership (which at most could cost Labor 2 seats).
It also seems likely that Labor will this time win over voters who chose Howard last election. I see this as being a function of the electorate’s more critical assessment of all longer-term Governments. I expect that some voters will feel that they were stampeded by Tampa and the general air of crisis last time, some who turned over the Iraq commitment, and others who see signs of decay in the Government. The King campaign and the John Valder involvement are straws in the wind, which would have been inconceivable in the hothouse atmosphere of 2001. Finally, Latham provides a different flavour to the whole major party contest. Apart from the WA factor, I can’t see him losing votes that Labor won previously, but there is a realistic prospect of his novelty and plausibility moving more than the small numbers of votes required to bring about a change of government.
Most of what has happened during the campaign so far has reinforced my view on this. Examples include the way trivial matters are blowing up (e.g. whether Stewart McArthur influenced Commonwealth Roads to Recovery funds for minor repairs to the dead-end road to his property – very likely he didn’t, yet this has had a run on Channel 9, and the print media). I also note the time both party heavyweights are spending in what would not normally be considered marginal seats. I infer that internal polling is indicating that there are far more seats “at risk”, than a simple reading of the pendulum would suggest.

Cameron Riley
2022 years ago

Australia has a waitocracy, only drovers dog elections have the electorate change the party in government. Since World War II, the parties themselves have been more likely to change Prime Ministers than the electorate.

In my opinion this is due to the great advantages the Westminster system gives the incumbent, in particular choosing the election date, and the PM/ExCab having access to the public purse and legislation in the run up to the election. The Washington system has more trouble for a President to finance and create legislation.

Governments tend to exhaust themselves after eight years in power, they suffer entropy such as corruption, entitlement and nepotism. Consequently the Prime Minister should be term limited to two terms (six years). I also think legislators should be limited to serving 25 years in parliament. That is a generations worth of service. More than enough to have a positive effect.

As to the elections, they should be fixed to every three years. No calling early elections unless the House of Reps, Senate and GG agree with it by 75% majorities. Both those enhancements to the Westminster system would increase the churn rate. It will defeat the “waitocracy” that just hang around until they get a go when a drovers dog election pops up.

The Australian federal system definately needs a good injection of revitalisation.