Maybe the sky really is falling …

Some of the true believers of the blogosphere are getting nervous about Labor’s prospects of victory at the almost-imminent federal election. Fred Argy here at Troppo attributes his doubts to the evil and biased Murdoch press, while Mark Bahnisch over at LP blames the “me too-ism” and policy timidity of Rudd and hs advisers. Quoting that unimpeachable authority Paul Keating, Mark suggests that David Epstein and other Rudd advisers are:

frightened of their own shadow and wont get out of bed in the morning unless theyve had a focus group report to tell them which side of bed to get out.

This aggregated polling trend graph prepared by Bryan Palmer at Ozpolitics a couple of weeks ago shows part of the reason why those fears are being expressed:

Although Bryan’s more recent (unaggregated) trend graph suggests that “the Coalitions recovery momentum may be slowing”, the one above gives the lie to complacent ALP supporters like Troppo commenter Enemy Combatant, who asserted earlier today that “the marginal seat economic scrabblers have switched off to all things Johnny.” Howard and his advisers in fact probably won’t be all that unhappy with current poll trends. They’re on track to having the 2 party preferred vote up to around 49% by the most likely election date of mid-November.

Howard won the 1998 federal election with a 2PP vote of just 49%, despite the electoral millstone of a newly-minted GST around his neck. He did so courtesy of a very carefully targetted marginal seat strategy, and Howard would no doubt fancy his chances of repeating the exercise successfully in 2007. His stunts with the Mersey Hospital and funding plebiscites against Queensland local government mergers are best understood in that light, as components of a carefully choreographed marginal seats strategy. Even his NT indigenous intervention most certainly involved marginal seat strategic calculations (although it can’t simply be dismissed as such). Howard’s indigenous initiative probably isn’t a vote changer “down south”, but I’d lay money it’s shored up CLP member David Tollner’s vote in the highly marginal federal seat of Solomon.

With Labor needing to win 16 seats to form government, Howard only needs to beat the swing in a few Coalition marginals to get across the line, and in my evaluation the marginal seat strategy he’s currently orchestrating with Crosby Textor’s help is the most ruthless, powerful and carefully targetted ever seen in Australian politics. Contrary to the “smart money” currently being laid with bookies, if I was a betting man I’d be putting money on a Coalition victory at present odds, although I’d be hoping like hell that I’d lose my dough!

As for causes of the current gradual poll trend back to the Coalition, the factors mentioned by Fred and Mark might well be operative to an extent, but they’re very much subsidiary. Labor has been way ahead in the polls through a combination of fears about WorkChoices, a prolonged Rudd honeymoon, and normal mid-term voter flirtation with a plausible alternative (a factor likely to be especially evident with a government that has been in power for a long time). All three factors have begun to lose some of their initial impact as the election draws nearer, and that’s hardly surprising. Australia is still experiencing one of the longest sustained economic booms in our history (although it’s only partly attributable to Howard/Costello’s economic stewardship). With Howard “on message” and avoiding conveying extreme “you’ve never had it so good” messages to the punters, we can certainly expect a very close result. Labor-leaning pundits always add that cautionary note, but I suspect many of them haven’t really been believing it in recent times. They would be wiser if they did. That old truism about oppositions not winning elections, but governments losing them remains as true as ever.

What can Rudd do to combat the adverse trend? Over to Troppo readers …

PS – In the comment thread to Mark B’s post, Kim notes that Peter “Mumble” Brent is doing a similar aggregation exercise to Bryan Palmer for Crikey subscribers (of whom I’m not one). Peter is using more precise data supplied privately to him by two of the “big 4” pollsters, and his current computation apparently has the following results:

In general, my numbers put the contest about two points closer than would a raw averaging of the published two party preferreds.

So ok news for both sides: its a bit closer than is generally believed, but the gap isnt noticeably narrowing.

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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Jc
Jc
14 years ago

Ken:
Your comment is very interesting in the sense that everything I have been reading shows Howard 10 points behind in almost all directions. The last poll, which was reported this week, shows no improvement. I would have thought, like most people they are too far behind and only a labor mistake could take them out. However the rabbit I see coming out of a hat is the possibility of big tax cuts all round, which labor would have a hard time competing against.

Huh! I am surprised that you aren’t as certain as the rest of us. Very interesting.

“What can Rudd do to combat the adverse trend? Over to Troppo readers ”

1.Sack Gillard or make it known she wont have a place in the senior ranks.
Why?

She pisses a lot of people off especially with her dangerous threats of “getting hurt” when some punters were disagreeing with her union backed IR policy.

She also responsible for some real corkers such as telling us that economic growth without fairness is not worth having.

Another real turn off was the ruthless way she approached those two motel owners in Goulburn.

2. Stop talking about such things like investigating food prices at super markets. Most people realize that is stupid policy.

3. Explaining to people that he will do all he can to ensure the prosperity will continue.

4. Explain that a labor government will lead from the centre seeing that the electorate is basically centrist.

You’re right it “is the economy stupid” and people do realize it is a risk changing things now. Most of all he needs to explain that allowing him to take the levers of government won’t change this. He needs to do that forcibly and he needs to distance himself from those that may put that idea at risk.

Rudd isn’t the concern. It’s the Gillard’s in the party who are the risk.

cs
cs
14 years ago

With Labor needing to win 16 seats ..

I understand the ALP can form government with 14 seats.

I agree the race will tighten when the bell rings, Howard can never be underestimated and the final reult is likley to be close. My guess, however, is that the structural shift in Howard’s battler vote because of WorkChoices is immutable. The blue collars are as mad as hell about him zeroing in on their penalty rates, and I can’t see Jack reversing himself on this one – unless he’s prepared to knife his business support. Then again, if it is only business between Jack and victory, anything might be possible …

Liam
Liam
14 years ago

Holy shit.
If you extend that blue line to the election after the next one (past 2010), the Coalition will have well over 110% of the primary vote of the Australian electorate.
Panic, people!

Jc
Jc
14 years ago

“Huh! I am surprised that you arent as certain as the rest of us. Very interesting.”

Sorry if this was misconstrued.

I meant that you’re offering an interesting take.

MarkL
MarkL
14 years ago

Been an awful long time since I was a socialist (I got better rather young) and I am certainly on the conservative side for all I dislike a lot of this government’s domestic polices. But I vote on policy positions and my assessment of who will do best for the country. I’m a swinging, if conservative, voter.

This means I am not rusted on to any party or any government – I voted for Hawke (a canny operator with an excellent economic reform concept) and was glad to see the back of that idiot and opportunity-waster Fraser. I certainly did not vote for Keating – loathesome man of zero ability, brilliant politician and possibly the second-worst PM we have ever had as he was nearly as bad as Menzies.

And to be perfectly frank I think Howard is finished. I have bet beers on this with my two devout practising Marxist acquantances – who are Howard supporters. I do not think he actually deserves to be, his international policies are (IMHO) very good for the country and his government’s economic management is as excellent as his domestic policies are poor, but I still think he is finished.

I think that the electorate is simply bored with him (strike one) and that they think that the boom will continue no matter who is in power (strike two). If those factors are correct, then it is all over bar the shouting, and to hell with what the polls say.

MarkL
Canberra

Ken Lovell
14 years ago

KP I posted similar thoughts the other day at Surfdom, although expressed with less elegance.

The poll figures surely arise from anti-Howard sentiment, not support for a clearly differentiated Labor alternative. You can see that in blog comments, letters to the editor etc. Political comment is overwhelmingly about the flaws in the government; there are few coherent attempts to explain why things will be better under Labor.

Maybe this negativity towards Howard’s mob will be enough to get Labor over the line, but there must be a risk for Rudd that as the election draws near, people will retreat to the devil they know.

Jc
Jc
14 years ago

KenL
If the figures are anti- Howard why did they go up in a striking fashion after Beazer got the size 10 and Rudd had the nod? I think you’re over-doing the anti-Howard thing aren’t you? Just a little. The “rodent” as you like to call him isn’t that hugely unpopular with the masses when its a head to head poll.

Niall
14 years ago

CS is correct. True Believers don’t doubt.

Mark Bahnisch
14 years ago

Good post, Ken.

Just two clarifications to what I was saying:

(1) I’m not saying that I think Crosby/Textor are infallible, nor predicting that the Coalition will win. I do think the significance of the leak of their research was that it was a signal that the Coalition now have an actual strategy after flailing around helplessly and hysterically for the first half of the year. Labor needs to be fleet of foot in its response to this, and not play a game which concentrates solely on defending a lead in the polls, which I’m sure cs would agree has meaning far more for its effect on the mood and the state of play rather than on the outcome per se.

(2) I would bet at the moment either on a very narrow government win or a large ALP win. I still think the latter is more probable, but the chances of the former are firming up.

I’ve developed some of these points at much greater length in an article published in New Matilda today.

http://www.newmatilda.com/home/articledetailmagazine.asp?ArticleID=2432&HomepageID=217

Oh, and I’ve never been a “true believer”, if that means rusted on to Labor. I haven’t been a member of the ALP since 1991, and have voted for the Democrats and the Greens in some elections since then. I was and am a Paul Keating fan, if that’s what it means.

Enemy Combatant
Enemy Combatant
14 years ago

“Although Bryans more recent (unaggregated) trend graph suggests that the Coalitions recovery momentum may be slowing, the one above gives the lie to complacent ALP supporters like Troppo commenter Enemy Combatant, who asserted earlier today that the marginal seat economic scrabblers have switched off to all things Johnny.

Ken, you suggest that poll statistics give the lie to my assertions; yet I don’t feel damned. As you note (Comment No. 4) “The last couple of polls have certainly shown the previous slow trend to the Coalition seemingly stalling….. . No doubt an exercise that takes it forward to 17 August will be published soon, and will show the curve flattening”.
The recent Newspoll will furthur this flattening.

I’ve no doubt that when the election is called and the gloves come off, Crosby Textor will make Ah-Pook The Destroyer seem tame. On the other side, Rudd’s handlers are not entirely gormless, contributing to his being a bona fide contender with current shortish odds with the bookies.

The politics of fear that Howard will inevitably play, must overcome widespread community loathing for Work Choices, rising interest rates, but most of all,for a bloke who wouldn’t go home when the party was over. Rudd has also pulled to a 7% lead in Newspoll on; “Who do you think would make the better PM”. It’s been that way since May, that’s why I think the punters are switched off to Mr. Howard. They’ll cop whatever pork he dishes then toss him out anyway.

Mark Bahnisch
14 years ago

Remember the Oz v. blogosphere wars? The preferred PM indicator is meaningless, for a whole number of reasons. And Paul Kelly as wrong as well when he stated that “voting intention follows economic management”. It’s important not to do a Shanahan in reverse and cherry pick poll figures that look good for the ALP.

The only rigorous study of whether personalities and perceptions and issues shift votes is the AES.

The internal party polling normally gets closer to this question than the published polls. The methodology of the latter on relating popularity and “better on” to voting intention is just rubbish.

Mark Bahnisch
14 years ago

“Paul Kelly is wrong as well…”

Oh, the betting markets are just a plot by economists to make us all think that markets are rational. ;) Tell that to someone with a good business who can’t get credit now because of the sub-prime smash up.

trackback
14 years ago

Scoresgate contextualised…

I have an article in today’s New Matilda which examines the deeper implications of Scoresgate (and I hope to develop the theme announced but not argued in the second paragraph in another piece. But I concentrate on what Scoresgate says about the …

Greensborough Growler
Greensborough Growler
14 years ago

The best graph to look at from Bryan Palemr is the comparison between 1996 and 2007. If you are a Lib be very scared. It is the third graph down.

http://www.ozpolitics.info/blog/2007/08/21/newspoll-55-to-45-in-labors-favor/

pale_ale
pale_ale
14 years ago

“The boom will continue no matter who’s in charge”

If this is truly a common perception then the Liberals are in big trouble, it means the question for these voters has moved away from “who’s the better economic manager” to “who’s better at spending priorities”.

Speding priorities are of course Labors home turf… How big was that surplus again?

Enemy Combatant
Enemy Combatant
14 years ago

Mark, much of what you write in New Matilda makes sense and I take your point on the “better on” methodology re voting intention.

Rove-style swiftboating needs the MSM on a short leash if it is to be effective. Rudd has had a good trot from Murdoch’s press and its subsidiaries since Rudd saw Kim Beazley off. Seems Rupert(a notoriously hands-on proprietor) is not so averse to Rudd, considering his tabloid editorials and some very uncharitable photos of Mister Howard. Despite the drone of Howard’s regular News shills, Front Page shots of Howard, head hung like a beaten favourite, walking under Sydney harbour bridge alongside a headline like: “Sydney Battlers Dessert Howard”, tends to give avid media watchers pause. Can’t recall Howard getting flak like this from Rupert’s media during the past eleven years.
Sure, Crosby Textor will saturate the telly with a Rovian blitz, but until the new trump at the WSJ says otherwise, KO7 is still very much in the hunt because; enough voters in marginal seats sensitive to Work Choices and rate rises read the tabloids to make a difference on election day.

Let me put it this way. If Citizen Rupert feels that he won’t be “warmly welcomed” when he wants a chat with you, then your chances of becoming Prime Minister of say, England or Australia, or President of the United States for that matter, are very slim indeed.

Mark Bahnisch
14 years ago

What I’m concerned about, EC, is while in many ways it makes sense for Labor to save big announcements to the campaign, they then run the risk of disappearing under a barrage of noise generated by various swiftboating interest groups. Big business is really treating this campaign like class warfare. It depends on whether Howard’s negatives are now too entrenched to make a Liberal vote the default option any more, but if they’re not, he may benefit from a noisy and confusing election campaign.

Bush did.

As Jim McDonald pointed out, there’s a big irony in Hockey constantly claiming the ALP and ACTU are importing American campaigning methods.

I’d also point to Medicare Gold and Swan’s argument about the money that wasn’t as prime examples of how an arguably good policy and a fair argument can get turned into big negatives during a campaign.

Enemy Combatant
Enemy Combatant
14 years ago

Yes, Mark, Bush did benefit from Rove’s m.o. and Crosby Textor are running similar tactics here, I just don’t believe they’ll play as potently in Oz as in BushWorld.

Rudd has made the right call, imo, on refusing to deal with the Exclusive Bretheren. It might help him deflect some of the Coalition’s “me too” rhetoric. Costello and Andrews are chorusing from Howard’s hymn sheet on this issue. But it certainly is a clear-cut point of difference at just the right time.
Meanwhile, with Cousins and Turnbull at each other throats as Johnny says what jolly good fellows they both are, one wonders about the futility of eating the rich, when the rich have already started to devour each other.

Hold fast, The Kid’s doing just fine.

mG
mG
14 years ago

I think enemy combatant is close to the truth. In fact, i think its deceptive (though factually accurate) to call the last 2 or 3 months polls a swing back to Howard. Imagine what we would be saying if this 2 or 3 point movement hadn’t happened. We would be incredulous, to the point of questing polls probably.

So it makes more sense to think of the recently narrowing gap as Rudd and Labor coming down from orbit (as Ken notes towards the end, before concluding perplexingly that ‘we can certainly expect a very close result.’) In turn this means (as i think Liam implied) that there is as much sense following those lines to 2010 and beyond as to nov/dec of this year. IFIRC, Bryan at Ozpolitics usually attaches similar advice to those graphs. cs is right, it will no doubt narrow (it has to), but the lifting of Labor’s dead bat should counter the traditional incumbents advantage somewhat. hmmm, enough namedropping?

Mark:

Id also point to Medicare Gold and Swans argument about the money that wasnt as prime examples of how an arguably good policy and a fair argument can get turned into big negatives during a campaign.

I’m not really sure what the Swan thing is but the Medicare Gold example begs the question of whether actual (as in after the election is called) campaign dynamics will be at all similar this time around. Fake (as in now, everlasting) campaign dynamic have been surprisingly different and this seems to have caught Howard on the hop, resulting in a number of wedges/smears blowing up in his face. Why might the same not happen when the election is called? You sort of allow for this point in the para before, but it was more than noisy special interests that did in Medicare Gold, right?

Bring Back CL's blog
Bring Back CL's blog
14 years ago

contrary to Mark’s thinking I di not see any polling viewing medicare gold as a negative or education for that matter indeed quite the opposite and the change to FTB did not even rate.

derrida derider
derrida derider
14 years ago

I still think this is a dead goverment walking. The tory workingmen on whom Howard has depended in the marginals will not forgive Howard for Workchoices, and the more big business talks about it the more they’ll remind people of it (contrary to the assumption by the Libs, most blue collar workers don’t see their boss as a benevolent patriarch who has their interests at heart. In fact many still think a bit of “union thuggery” is exactly what their employer needs).

The only thing that could change this dynamic is if Rudd allows himself to be edged on some non-economic emotive issue – which is exactly what he is sacrificing any residual principles to avoid.

I think stunts like the supermarket thing are exactly what’s called for at his stage. Its an unpleasant truth that the most marginal voter tends to be the least least intelligent and engaged one, so you have to appeal to the thick more than to the smart. Pitch it to things that go down well on “This Day Tonight”.

Fred Argy
Fred Argy
14 years ago

Ken, just for the record, I never described Murdoch as “evil”. And I fully agree with you that other factors are responsible for the tendency (prospect) for Rudd’s lead to narrow – including Howard’s brilliant focus on marginal seats but also his great ability to articulate his views to the people in a simple way in their vernacular and the huge beenfits of incumbency such as access to top departmental advice.

That said, systematic bias by Murdoch papers could be just the last straw to break the Rudd camel’s back. Today we have another example. Reporting on a survey by Deakin University, the front page story is headed Howards IR laws improve work-life balance (22/8/07). This positive theme is highlighted in the main story. The newspaper could have just as easily headed the report on the Deakin study as follows: Howards IR laws add to red tape and confusion by employers and reduce workplace morale.

Both interpretations are correct but highlighting the first makes a big difference to how the casual reader responds to your story.

Sacha
14 years ago

People actually take in stories that appear on Today Tonight and ACA.

MarkM
MarkM
14 years ago

Morgan’s latet poll seems to blow the Coalition is closing the gap theory out of the water.

observa
observa
14 years ago

Howard might be gone, but there’s no doubt he’s still a guru on policy
http://www.news.com.au/story/0,23599,22293659-29277,00.html
What was that you were all saying about funding the Devonport hospital?

Bannerman
14 years ago

I’d be interested to know the details of “someone with a good business who cant get credit now because of the sub-prime smash up.” In my experience and with an ear to the finance game as I do, the only sufferers from the ‘sub-prime smash up’ are lenders of last resort of borrow short & lend long. Business and personal borrowers in this country haven’t been adversely effected in the least. Pepper Home Loans raised some of their rates on new loans by 0.15% last Monday and some of the worlds biggest institutions in the UK and US have taken hits but for Mr & Mrs Citizen and Fred Business it’s as you were.

Jc
Jc
14 years ago

Bannerman

The world is deleveraging. The capaital markets will decide who gets allocated credit. Some fine grade names are still finding it difficult to borrow through the US commenrcial paper market as of last night. Make of it waht you like.