September 05, 2004 | Graham

Some more quick observations

“Expectations management” is something that all good campaign managers do, because if electors perceive that a certain outcome is likely that will influence their vote. As a result, all smart political operators try to position as the underdog.

Expectations management

I noted the other day that John Howard had slipped up on his positioning when he said that he was comfortably ahead in his polling in the marginal seats. His sentiments were confirmed in terms of Queensland marginals yesterday by The Australian. Mark Latham sought to capitalise on them on SBS last night. In a replay of my Queensland campaign in 1995, Latham said that Howard expected to win and that he was the under-dog. Full marks for the right ploy, although in Queensland we left it to the last moment to play that card because it could be countered if it was played earlier.
Watch your letter boxes for last minute pamphletts saying that John Howard expects to win.

More parallels with Queensland 1995

In the Queensland state election in 1995 one of the decisive turning points was a Labor lie. The Labor campaign asserted that the Liberals wanted to privatise the public hospitals, and relied on a small issue to do with outsourcing some services at the Nambour Hospital. My advice to Joan Sheldon who was Liberal Leader, Treasurer, and also close to the Nambour Hospital issue, was to let it go because it wasn’t “on message”. But Joan pursued it, insulted to be misrepresented.
She was right, and eventually we had the Courier Mail on side, and she was able to use the issue to derail Labor Treasurer, Keith de Lacy, in a face to face debate.
John Howard is also right to go after the Labor campaign branding him a liar. Some commentators repeat a variation of my advice to Sheldon – “answering it only draws attention to the issue”. That might be right, but if it is an issue that the other side will run with anyway, then there isn’t much downside in rebutting it.
I’ve now surveyed around 20 people at various dinner parties, or other evening gatherings, and I’ve found only one person who is concerned that Howard may have misrepresented the Children Overboard situation. I haven’t chosen these subjects because I think they are Liberal voters, so their response tends to underline the proposition that people accept that politicians will lie. If you can prove that your opponent is falsely accusing you of lying on a matter, that is prima facie proof to the public that he or she is a hypocrite, which I think is the greater sin in Australian politics.


Discussing the “dinner party test” leads to my suspicion that the Liberal Party might win the rapidly gentrifying electorate of Brisbane. One of my subjects was a constituent. He generally votes Labor, but told me very clearly that he was going to vote for Ingrid Tall, the Liberal, because Arch Bevis, the Labor incumbent, is an industrial relations dinosaur who hasn’t been seen in the electorate for years.
This progressive, who is also a man of letters, was relatively unworried about the “Children Overboard” issue, and while he didn’t like Howard didn’t see this as a reason to reward Arch. One to watch on election night.


Expectations management by the Liberal Party in Wentworth appears to be off the rails. They are talking up the prospects of a Labor victory and appealing to voters to keep the seat Liberal. There is no chance of Labor winning unless they have an outstanding candidate.
The greatest risk to the government is if King can end up in front of the Labor candidate, or if he can end up in front of Turnbull, in which case he will get enough preferences to win. The chances of Labor coming behind King is remote. Last election King, as the sole Liberal, won 52.08% of the total first preference vote and Labor won 29.52%. For Labor to come behind King he would need to pick up more than 50% of Liberal first preferences from last election, or a significant proportion of their voters would need to vote for King or the Green and not give their preferences to Labor.
So Turnbull needs to concentrate on keeping in front of King. He won’t do this by promising just to be a Liberal member because most voters will expect that King, even if he is an independent, will really be an independent Liberal. Turnbull has to prove that he will represent his constituents the best, which means targetting King on the question of performance at the same time as he plays the underdog. If he does that, and leaves the Labor candidate alone, he should win.

The Leaders Debate

Mark Latham is saying that John Howard is trying to dodge a “one on one” debate. Bad move Mark. You sound like you want to rough him up, which of course you do, but that raises all sorts of doubts amongst voters about your temper for government.
What you should be saying is that he is trying to dodge a “one on one” debate because he knows that the journalists won’t ask the tough questions on health and education. There’s a clear benefit to voters in those issues, and they perceive you as better to deliver in those areas than the government. And instead of daring him to get into the ring, if you say it needs to be done that way because journalists are so hopeless, no-one, apart from journalists, will disagree with that proposition. You won’t be a pugilist, you’ll be the voters’ champion.

Posted by Graham at 11:19 pm | Comments Off on Some more quick observations |
Filed under: Australian Politics

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