September 23, 2005 | Graham

ANU and QUT reveal the real reason Labor lost in 2004

Mark Latham thought that Labor lost in 2001 because of the small target strategy, and in 2004 because of…well, whatever…it was it wasn’t his fault, or not much of it anyway. Research by ANU and QUT reported in The Australian this morning provides a better idea. It also partly explains why Labor seems so strong in the states and so weak federally.

When asked how to rate the US as a threat to Australian security, 21.9 per cent of ALP candidates said it was a “very likely” or “fairly likely” threat, placing it above China, Vietnam or Malaysia.
Of Coalition candidates only, 1.4 per cent rated the US as a fairly likely threat, placing it second from the bottom of threats, just above New Zealand, with a 100 per cent rating as no threat…
Australia’s fight against terrorism has gone too far or much too far according to 44.2 per cent of Labor candidates, compared with only 2.5 per cent of Coalition candidates…

As long as I can remember, Labor has always done poorly on the foreign affairs front. In fact, its one period of long federal government occurred at a time when foreign affairs was least important to Australians.
When you have anywhere up to 44 percent of your candidates thinking these sorts of things, it is not going to produce the right context for your leader to take a strong position on foreign affairs, which is why it is difficult for Labor to win an election based on them. No matter how tough Labor leaders sound, the public knows that Labor is soft.
Bill Clinton popularised the “triangulation” campaigning technique, which Latham sought to emulate, but he didn’t rely on it entirely. Above his desk was the sign – “It’s the economy, stupid!” On this count, “stupid” is what the ALP candidates were.

While 91.3 per cent of Coalition candidates nominated a stable economy as Australia’s prime concern, only 38.6 per cent of ALP candidates chose this option, with 48.2 per cent nominating Mr Latham’s aim of a less impersonal society.

So, they couldn’t get the most important issue in the campaign right, and they thought the second most important issue wasn’t important at all. What hope did they have?
As it turns out, hope is at a state level, where you don’t make foreign policy and you don’t really shape economies, and being touchy feely alone can get you elected.

Posted by Graham at 9:59 am | Comments (3) |
Filed under: Australian Politics


  1. I’d be interested in knowing exactly how the questions were framed in this case. Labor takes an approach that goes beyond the mere economic, which is why I’m not surprised that ALP candidates purportedly nominated other areas of public policy as more important than the economic aspect.
    The current Federal Liberal approach is to basically administer the economy and offer precious little else in terms of policy, which might work while voters remain focused on their hip-pocket and the economy is strong, but is not guaranteed to work in perpetuity.

    Comment by Guy — September 26, 2005 @ 8:57 am

  2. Trackback:

    Comment by Andrew Leigh — September 27, 2005 @ 9:20 am

  3. I think this is largely right. I once tried to understand voter’s perceptions about the importance of levels of government. From memory Liberals went national and Labour went State. Yet Labour is more centralist (at leats it used to be!). One would think they would advocate more States for the Federation.
    It is also interesting that even the Premiers all fell into line pretty easily on the terrorism nonsense.

    Comment by Brian Austen — September 28, 2005 @ 10:01 am

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