March 16, 2006 | Graham

South Australian losers

The South Australian election has been more about losers than winners, and those will be the Liberals and the Democrats. One of them is likely to go into terminal decline, while the other will be banished from office for quite some time.
Mike Rann was always going to do well this election. Electors normally give governments a second term unless they have made some really huge mistakes and as far as voters are concerned Rann has done a good job. His government’s only weaknesses have been personal. He’s too smooth, too presidential and a little arrogant – all qualities that ironically voters almost demand of politicians at the same time that they disparage them.
Not that voters found these traits too annoying. In fact, they found it hard to dislike either leader. 22% of Liberal voters could contemplate voting for Kerin without hesitation, while 28% of Labor voters could do the same for Rann. However matters were different when it came to approving of the job that both men were doing. 86% of Labor voters approve of Rann, while only 42% of Liberal voters approve of Kerin. Worse for Kerin, 32% of his own voters disapprove of his performance. So while both men were generally liked, the Liberal crowd was not really barracking for its team. In fact, from a polling point of view it looked like most had gone home before even turning up to the game!
This ennui was reflected in the reactions to the campaign launches. Party officials and media put big efforts into campaign launches, but would they bother if they knew voters would react with: “To be honest they kinda flew under the radar,” or “They weren’t talking loud enough.” Just like the rest of the campaign.
Voters had to be reminded about issues, and then it was really only the ones that caused negative reactions that gained their attention.
The Liberals’ policy announcements were defensive, aimed at their natural constituents. $90 million in payroll tax cuts and extra spending on private schools are not of concern to most voters. They also had problems when voters focused on public service job cuts. There’s no perceived financial crisis so voters can’t see cuts being justified and they see tax cuts and job cuts as neutralizing each other: “There you go… Less pay-roll tax AND less service.”
Labor got good marks for its expenditure on hospitals, and reversing the privatization of Modbury. Its education policies were less well-received.
Voters didn’t like the campaign turning personal, which it did with the Labor advertising. And they found many of the claims to be trivial. The general response was “So what if the Liberals won’t keep all of their campaign promises – who does?” This could have rebounded on the ALP but didn’t because the Liberals have so desperately failed to make the grade they don’t even look like they want to win. Despite the “buy you a beer” nice-guy image of their leader they will be lucky if voters don’t take it out on them this Saturday.
One of the few “hot spots” was concern about Family First. Even though our polling picked up less than 1% Family First votes there is a wide-spread belief that they will do well in the Legislative Council and could even control it. This could have boosted the Democrats’ vote. If they had taken a leaf from their 1998 federal campaign where they cast themselves as the anti-One Nation party and presented as the perfect secular foil to FF, they might have given significant numbers of voters reason to vote for them. As it is I suspect that they will be submerged in the noise generated by high profile independents like Nick Xenophon, unless they have been really canny and lucky with their preference deals.
So Rann is sailing towards a comfortable election win and control of the lower house with voters planning to put a chaperone on him in the Upper House. This should set him up well for the next parliament. While voters like Kerin, he’s the only Liberal that they do, with his party being one of his largest negatives. A changing of the Liberal guard will really take all the Lower House brakes off Labor.
A version of this article will be published in the Independent Weekly this weekend.

Posted by Graham at 4:26 pm | Comments (3) |
Filed under: Australian Politics



    Comment by Kim — March 18, 2006 @ 2:31 pm

  2. Why no comment about the Greens in the analysis? The Greens certainly got a mention during the online focus group discussion – see transcript.
    The Greens had lower house candidates in every electorate for the first time in a State election and polled positively – well above The Democrats consistently and also above Family First significantly. The media silence re the Greens is almost deafening. Have journalists been directed not to report Greens activities and progress? If so,why? Are the Greens the real threat to the major parties? Are the Greens deliberately being made ‘invisible’ by lack of media coverage. Even the Election night coverage had Family First and ‘other'(without the Greens being differentiated or acknowledged)on the summary charts.
    Would The Greens’ contribution to public knowledge and debate shed light on the real agenda re: uranium mining, nuclear waste dumping and increased armed forces related activities in SA? The Labor Party and the Liberals (State and Federal) would obviously prefer to be able to spin the ’employment opportunities’ angle without scrutiny re implications e.g. impact on other sectors (e.g. established manufacturing), the environment or the interests of indigenous communinities. This is something that I would really like to follow through with on an ongoing basis.

    Comment by Meryl — March 21, 2006 @ 10:04 am

  3. Mel, there’s no conspiracy, at least not amongst journalists. I didn’t mention the Greens because I couldn’t think of anything interesting enough to warrant it. They obviously weren’t going to cause any potential boil-overs in lower house seats, and might or might not win an upper house seat.
    By contrast, lots of people were fascinated by Family First and wanted to know whether they would get up. The major parties were trying to talk down Xenophon. And the Dems slo mo train wreck, and whether they can reverse it, is of national interest.
    If I had been writing about Tasmania I would have talked about the Greens a lot.

    Comment by Graham Young — March 21, 2006 @ 12:53 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.