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.