September 12, 2004 | Graham

The real experts – what the people say.

Now I know what I’m talking about. Between surveys I feel like a complete fraud. Journalists ask me what I think is happening, and I tell them, qualified with the observation that I am only speculating because I am only one vote. Now I know much more about what is happening, because I have asked 945 voters. (If you want the details, click here to download an RTF document with percentages and explanations. If it asks for passwords, click cancel, it will still give you the document.) What they are telling me is that the contest is between a generally distrusted John Howard, and an unknown Mark Latham, and it appears to be being fought out with pitches to three distinct audiences.
Those who are voting Liberal appear to be optimistic about the direction of the country, largely as a result of economic circumstance, for which they give the credit to Howard. Labor voters by contrast are more interested in services and feel that the country is heading in the wrong direction because they see service delivery in the country as having deteriorated. Greens and Democrats voters are much more concerned with abstracts, like social equity, and foreign affairs, as in the FTA and War in Iraq. They feel that Australia has become a meaner and narrower society than it used to be.
Even many Coalition voters believe that John Howard lies, but they are outcome focussed, and are not changing their vote because of it, as they see Howard delivering prosperity. Non-Coalition voters also believe that Howard lies, but appear to be split in terms of whether he is to blame for what they see as the morally diminished state of society. Both leaders also carry baggage in terms of their teams. Many voters are antagonistic to Simon Crean and other Labor frontbenchers, while Peter Costello and Tony Abbott are frequently mentioned as problems for Howard. Interestingly, concern about the Liberal Party succession appears to be highest amongst Coalition, rather than Labor, voters.
Voters are also concerned about Latham for two major reasons. One is that he is too conservative, or really a closet Liberal, the other that he is ideological and will be too radical. Running through it all is concerns about character – that he is not substantial enough, unstable, aggressive and open to manipulation by his minders.
Coalition voters are more tolerant of Latham than non-Coalition voters are of Howard. This works against Howard. Electors vote against, rather than for, people, so as the “least worst” alternative, Latham should have an advantage. However it can cut the other way because the source of the tolerance may well be that voters have yet to form a strong enough impression of Latham. In particular Greens voters are undecided about Latham – about half of our survey. Despite this, 80% of voters appear to have made up their mind, meaning that the campaigns may change very little about the outcome.
In summary, this election appears to be a contest between a man no-one likes, but many respect, and another no-one knows. The question that needs to be answered is whether voters think that things are travelling so well, that they can afford to take the risk, or that badly that they need to take the risk. While we will be trying to answer that question over the next four weeks, three distinct groups of voters will be attempting to answer it themselves in their different ways. In this context it will be interesting to see whether the Jakarta bombing is seen to make things more risky, thus making a change from certainty (Howard) to uncertainty (Latham) unattractive, or whether it is seen as proof that John Howard involving us in Iraq has increased our risk profile, making Latham appear as more of a low risk option.
In summary our research shows:
1. Coalition supporters tend to believe that the country is heading in the right direction. This is because of the economy.
2. Labor supporters tend to believe the country is heading in the wrong direction. This is because of services.
3. Greens and Democrat voters tend to believe the country is heading in the wrong direction. This is because they see it as being less moral than it used to be because of social inequity and involvement in the War in Iraq via the US alliance. They are also concerned about the FTA.
4. Most voters (78% across the sample) appear to have made up their mind.
5. The move from Labor to the Greens observed in earlier elections is maintaining itself with 29% of Greens voters classing themselves as traditional Labor voters.
6. 83% of Liberal voters approve of John Howard, while 57% of them disapprove of Latham with 34% neutral.
7. 70% of Labor voters approve of Latham, while 96% disapprove of Howard.
8. Most important issues in determining votes (using a balanced sample) were the economy (19% overall, but 42% amongst Liberal voters); Truth (10% overall, but 22% amongst Labor voters, and only 6% with Greens); Health (9% overall, but 17% amongst Labor voters, 6% Greens and 4% Liberal); Foreign Affairs (6% overall, but 22% amongst Greens, 8% amongst Labor voters and only 2% with Liberals); Equity (6% overall, but 17% amongst Greens, 8% amongst Labor and 0% Liberal); Education (4% overall, 10% Labor, 6% Greens and 0% Liberal).
9. Largest hesitation about Howard was his succession (10%), but registering most strongly with his supporters (Liberal 20%, National 8% and Other 8%). US alliance was next at a total 5%, but higher than this amongst Greens voters (11%) and Liberal voters (6%).Greens also thought Howard very divisive (11%) even though across the sample only 1% agreed.
10. Latham’s largest hesitation was his lack of experience – 11% across the sample – but a concern shared almost equally by Labor and Liberal respondents – 14% and 13% respectively. 9% were worried about his character, mostly Liberals (12%) and National (17%). 5% of Labor voters were worried about his character, but no Greens. Latham’s aggression was also noted as an issue by 9%, with both Labor and Liberal supporters being higher than this on 9% and 8.5% respectively. 17% of Nationals were concerned about this. A total of 20% combined thought Latham was either too close to the Liberals or too conservative, with 17% of Greens nominating these issues, compared to 20% of Labor voters.
11. Quotable quotes about Howard:
· His distant relationship with the truth as part of a cynical political cunning leaves me feeling very uneasy.
· He puts the private sector and corporate interests ahead of social concerns but denies it.
· His supporting cast: the evil twins Ruddock and Alston (I know Alston is gone, but his influence lingers) the fundamentalist Tony Abbott the smirking Costello and those tough, apparently heartless large women.
· I consider him to be untrustworthy and manipulative.
· Are you for real with this tiny space? It started with Stan Howard and ended with Al Grahib . In short, lies and insincerity, nepotism (see the spam), “mateism”, and, yuk, toadyism. Do I have to spell that out?
12. Quotable quotes about Latham:
· I don’t believe he has changed from his bullying days. He is simply spouting what his his spin doctors and the media of the left tell him.
· From what I have seen he is not the diplomat that a prime minister needs to be – talk now and fix up your mistakes later… Also, he has that union way of always being right.. Remember the payrol tax policy… i’m sorry it is not a new tax it is a new levy….. does not give me much confidence.
· while i admire his control of his so called outbursts i worry that someone who is such a spontaneous personality when kept bottled up and under tight control may go pear shaped and with a bang that will resound for a very long time
· I sense that, like Howard, he is not a very nice person. Whether he is a ruthless and scheming liar like Howard remains unknown. You never know how they drive until they get behind the wheel.
· not sure of his strength of character
· He’s so far to the right that he can often be confused with the Coalition.

Posted by Graham at 10:12 pm | Comments (2) |
Filed under: Australian Politics


  1. too much about nothing much

    I missed the headline event on Channel Nine apart from the last few questions on education and the summing up

    Comment by Public Opinion — September 13, 2004 @ 1:28 pm

  2. I think you summed up my attitude very well in one line “The question that needs to be answered is whether voters think that things are travelling so well, that they can afford to take the risk, or that badly that they need to take the risk.”
    I think things are travelling so well that we can afford to take a risk, with the weird proviso that the reason we are travelling well is largely because of the economic rationalism of Keating. If Keating was the labor leader I’d definitely vote for him. He was the REAL economic “right wing”.

    Comment by Patrick — September 13, 2004 @ 6:53 pm

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