May 18, 2004 | Graham

Was there a bounce to steal?

The thing that I hate most about Newspoll is when you know that they know but they’re not telling. This morning’s Newspoll results are interesting, but what they leave out is even more interesting.
They appear to show that if an election were held tomorrow Labor would be heading for a decisive victory – 54% of the two-party preferred vote is close to Malcolm Fraser’s 1977 victory – which would be extraordinary given that we live in boom economic times, and these normally favour governments. However, Australia wide surveys of 1,145 people can hide a lot of regional wrinkles. Swings are never even. While you can’t lose with that sort of a margin, you can miss out on a lot of seats if your swings are concentrated in seats you already own.
Newspoll could have given us some tools for guessing at how the budget may have affected key marginals, but they didn’t. While they could tell us that young people and people earning over $52,000 p.a. were most enthusiastic about the budget, they didn’t tell us how inclined or otherwise they were to vote Labor or Liberal.
If we knew that we would not only be able to start mapping what seats might be more favourable to the government (for my Western Sydney theory see here) but whether their approval of the package had actually changed or maintained their vote pattern.
There is an assumption in The Australian’s Newspoll analysis that Budgets actually change votes. I am not sure that this is the case. People most frequently vote for emotional reasons which they then rationalize on the basis of performance or policy; or “What’s in it for me?” If we could have compared the voting trends of those in favour and those against particular measures, we might have been able to see whether that is true in this case. They might also have shown us a graph correlating party votes and previous budgets. Without this information, the newspaper’s claim that Latham has stolen Howard’s bounce, might amount to nothing.
One other source of annoyance is the Newspoll question asking “Would Labor have done a better job?” Wrong question. It should rather be “Could Labor have done as good a job?” Latham doesn’t need to top the government in this area, just equal them, because so many other things are running in his favour.
We will be conducting qualitative research this evening and tomorrow into what small groups of voters think of the budget. One of the issues that I will be keen to explore is the emotional side of the budget. Do voters feel that they are being bribed? If so, does this affect their vote? Do voters feel that the budget really reflects the government’s attitudes, or is it just about getting re-elected?
For quite some time I have criticized the Liberal Party for being unable to take good policy (or indeed any policy) and turn it into a story that motivates people. It may be that this budget does a good job with the facts and figures, but that there is a dissonance between what they say and what people see the party standing for. For example, the benefits to families need to be seen as an affirmation of the party’s support for the family and the need to change the tax system to favour families. It may be that Latham’s concentration on issues like bed-time reading, and his tableau before his speech-in-reply demonstrating his pneumococcal inoculation policy, establish him as more family- friendly than the government.
Presumably Glen Milne, on the basis of his column yesterday, would claim that the “bounce” is evidence of the success of Latham’s policy of “triangulation”. Beware fancy new-fangled names, they often don’t mean much more than marketing puff. The term is borrowed from Dick Morris, US celebrity campaign advisor to Bill Clinton who uses it to describe Clinton’s successful Third Way strategy. The idea is that you use a new paradigm to define yourself and that this neutralizes your opponents because they don’t know how to react. Problem is, in the Australian context this is not a new paradigm.
Bob Hawke and Paul Keating were the templates for much Third Way thinking. Here was a government that showed tough love – empathetic yet fiscally frugal. The challenge for Latham is that that template worked so well on the basis of the Bob and Paul bad cop/good cop routine. Latham needs to combine both in himself.

Posted by Graham at 1:03 pm | Comments (1) |
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1 Comment

  1. a political celebration

    1200 of the faithful came to celebrate John Howard’s 30 years in political life. Does Howard dream of emulating Robert

    Comment by Public Opinion — May 22, 2004 @ 7:09 pm

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