March 13, 2006 | Graham

Memo to Rann – accentuate the positive!

The ALP election campaign has misfired badly. It is tending to lower the standing of Premier Rann, leaves Rob Kerin almost unscathed and is guaranteeing a good vote for independents and minor parties in the Legislative Council. At the same time the Liberals have yet to put a proposition that voters will really buy.
According to our latest focus group and questionnaire responses voters are tending more and more to see Mike Rann as shallow and not much more than a moving media opportunity. This has been reinforced by their negative ads. These ads aren’t working because voters see Kerin as competent, trustworthy, engaged, but failing to meet their minimum expectations of what an opposition leader, let alone premier, should be. He’s not bad, he’s just not good enough. Beating up on Kerin is a bit like mugging a Red Shield collector because they’re looking over your fence.
Voters also want to know why Rann can’t just run on his positives. Which leads to another weakness in the Labor campaign – voters want to know what Rann will do in the future, not just what he has done in the past. South Australians are starting to worry that the state is only surfing along on John Howard’s wake, and when he cuts his engine they are going to sink.
While they warm to the projects that South Australia is winning, they fear these are just one-offs. That is probably why infrastructure comes up as a strong voter concern, because it is the framework for sustainable growth. In this context, the Liberals promise to fix the Victor Harbour Road brings support, while Labor is ridiculed for wanting to invest in trams.
With many of the promises there is doubt that either of the political parties mean what they say, or can deliver on them. While voters like Rann’s Global Warming policies they don’t see them as having much impact “2050? Well, I suppose there’s no need to rush.” Or they lampoon them – “…wind generators on the roofs of got departments what a hoot”.
They’re much more receptive to the Liberals’ plans to use south-east forests as a tourist resource and for some logging. At the same time the Liberals appear to have blundered with their latest education policy to give more money to private schools. Even amongst conservative voters there is strong support for the public school system and a feeling that Labor has let these schools down.
Having the odd policy that voters support isn’t enough and the Liberal campaign hasn’t provided any reason to vote for Kerin. Most voters can’t remember it, but some vaguely think that it has been more positive than Labor’s. The result of this is to strengthen the vote for Independents like Nick Xenophon and minor parties like Family First in the upper house – their “value proposition” is that they can keep the government accountable. This is further strengthened by a suspicion that the referendum on changes to the upper house is designed to strengthen the hand of Rann. Voters do not like the authoritarian, presidential style of Rann, but they also do not like the idea of minority government. With two houses of parliament you can make a government accountable, and avoid a minority government, by ensuring a hostile upper house.
So the message from the research still is that achieving a result that makes Rann accountable is what is important to SA voters. The Liberals are so stretched for funds that they haven’t started their television ads yet. When they do, will they be on message, or on their way to a resounding defeat?
A version of this article ran in the Independent Weekly yesterday. To see our transcripts and analysis click here.

Posted by Graham at 6:50 am | Comments Off on Memo to Rann – accentuate the positive! |
Filed under: Australian Politics

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