May 20, 2004 | Graham

Analysis of our poll gives clues about “budget bounce”.

An analysis (RTF, 247 KB) of our poll into voter attitudes toward Latham and Howard provides further insight into why Latham is polling so strongly after the budget. Everyone has made up their mind about Howard, and most have made up their mind about Latham. At the moment, they are just waiting for the election.
The research also suggests that we are a country divided into two tribes who use the same words to speak different languages. The defining attribute for each tribe is where you stand on Howard. His brand of politics appears to be what has split the community in a way that it hadn’t last election.
While Liberal voters are very strong in their support of Howard (95% of them approve), Labor voters are equally strong in their dislike (95% disapprove). When you look more closely the Labor disapproval figure is almost entirely collected in the Strongly Disapprove, while the Liberal approval figures are almost evenly split between Strong Approval and just Approval.
Labor voters are not barracking as strongly for Latham as Liberal voters barrack for Howard. Eighty-eight percent of Labor voters approve of Latham, seven percent down on the Liberal approval of Howard. Of these two-thirds are in the Approve rather than Strongly Approve category. Liberal voters are more susceptible to Latham than Labor voters to Howard. Only 69% of Liberals disapprove of Latham versus the 95% of Labor voters who disapprove of Howard. On the hatred index, Latham has an edge.
This is possibly because Liberal voters suspect he might really be one of them, which might help to explain why his Labor supporters are comparatively lukewarm.
Most people have made up their minds about each candidate, but in Howard’s case, only 2% of the entire sample are neutral, while it is 14% for Latham. Latham’s neutral rating is strongest with Greens voters, as well as Liberals. Again, it is likely that the reason that the Greens are neutral is probably the obverse of the reason that the Liberals are. Liberals suspect they like Latham, Greens suspect that they don’t.
There is little comfort to Howard in all of this. Voters generally know what they don’t like and vote against it. If more voters dislike you than the alternative, you are in trouble. Howard is in trouble. The relative softness of the Liberal dislike of Latham makes it more difficult to change that. The faithful are less likely to proselytise, and if I am right that the problems with Latham in many voters minds are because he is seen to be too close to the Liberals, then it is difficult for the Liberals to tap into it without repudiating their own reputation and performance.
One surprising thing is the rise of foreign affairs as an issue. 24% of the total rated it the most important factor and this was reflected in Greens, Labor and National Voters. Liberal voters rated the economy more highly. However, Foreign Affairs means different things to different people, underlining the divisions.
For Liberal voters it is holding the line – “Australian forces overseas”, “border protection’, “defense’, “How are to ensure the safety of Australia while still reaching out to other nations and people who need help”, “the response of Australia to militant fundamentalist Islamists & dealing effectively with the Iraq situation’, and “The issue of maintaining support for Iraq & Afganistan”. There is noblesse oblige, mixed with fear, and comradeship with the troops overseas.
For ALP voters: “Australia’s and Australians reputation in the region and globally”, “bringing the troops out of Iraq”, “Iraq and our lapdog behavior with the US”, “Iraq and the endless lying of the Coalition”. Anti-Americanism, resistance to involvement in Iraq, and concern for good reputation dominate this group.
Ominously for Howard, the One Nation voter who responded on this issue was also against the war as a pacifist – isolationism is one strand in Hansonism – and the other One Nation voter was concerned about Howard’s integrity suggesting he may have become just another politician to this group, which was critical to him last time.
Only Liberal voters saw the economy as the major issue, which suggests that to most, that part of the budget which dealt with economics was a non-event, because that is an issue they are not concerned about. When the budget did deal with health and education and other social issues like payments to parents, then it dealt with issues where they favour Latham, so there was little benefit to Howard. When Latham concentrated on only two issues in his reply – inoculation (a health issue) and “earn or learn” (an education issue) he was talking about the issues that people susceptible to voting for him find important. The budget gave him a platform to assert them over the top of the normal ambient noise levels of politics. This could easily explain his boost in the polls in the course of a week.
It could also be explained by the fact that the Abu Ghraib photos were corroding their way into voters’ minds. On the basis of our polling, I’m not so sure that defence and security is working in the Prime Minister’s favour anymore.

Posted by Graham at 5:22 pm | Comments Off on Analysis of our poll gives clues about “budget bounce”. |
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