Possums Pollytics

Politics, elections and piffle plinking

Into the Swing of Things

Posted by Possum Comitatus on June 15, 2007

pvsgov.jpg

The above graph is the swing in the primary vote of the government. What it shows is the difference between the governments primary vote as estimated by Newspoll each month and the governments primary vote at the previous election.

A few things stand out.

Firstly, the dramatic effect that One Nation had on the Coalitions primary vote. The One Nation period in the above shaded area starts in June 1997 with the formation of the party, and ends with the October 1998 election.

The other thing that stands out, as in its utterly impossible to miss, is the slow terminal decline of the Howard governments vote that has been gathering momentum well before Rudd came onto the scene.

From the beginning of 1999, the swings to the government started getting smaller, then the swings turned negative and started going away from the government, then they started snowballing.

This is a slow, but long term acceleration away from the government and something we don’t see very often in Australian politics. But what must really be concerning the Coalition is the momentum behind that acceleration.

It isn’t some temporary shock to the primary vote that peaks rapidly and washes out of the system relatively quickly as can be seen occurring in other periods on that graph. Nor is it the consistent mean swing away from the incumbent that the Hawke/Keating governments experienced up to the 1992 budget if you look beyond the volatility – this is an entirely different phenomenon.

This gets us onto another point.

Every journo, commentator, pundit and their dog wax lyrical about the ALP vote being soft.

Well let me be contrarian and suggest that it isn’t the ALP vote that is soft, it’s the Coalition vote. One Nation clearly demonstrated that the Coalition has got a soft underbelly for some demographics. I’d go as far to say that the Coalition primary vote has never fully recovered from the One Nation raid on its primaries.

Another piece of evidence is that the Coalitions primary vote makes a surge a few months out from the election. That last heave-ho effort to get the waverers back into the Coalition fold (which you can see from the spikes on the election lines for the last two elections) is not an exercise in shoring up the base as the US Republicans do, far from it. Shoring up the base is a gradual process of moral bribery and throwing the odd ideological bone (albeit to much fanfare) to stop the base from deserting or disappearing up their own apathetic fundaments.

What Howard has been doing is wresting back a largish number of people in the lead up to the elections, people that had already deserted him. And we can see how that operates – in 2001, the 60 odd billion of bribery, Tampa, 9/11 and an emphasis on what the ALP would do on national security and refugees.

In 2004, it was another 60 odd billion of bribery and an emphasis on what the ALP will do to your interest rates, and what Latham would do to anyone or anything that came near him.

Both of those campaigns weren’t so much about the Coalition, but about the Coalition talking about the ALP. The Coalition was effectively saying “it’s not about us, it’s about them”. Why? Because “them” had the votes.

If the Coalitions vote weren’t soft, the Coalition would have used the significant media power of incumbency to make the campaign about the Coalition. That’s what governments with strong support do – look no further than Peter Beattie for the handbook on that particular type of behaviour.

But the Coalitions vote isn’t strong, it’s soft. And it’s been soft for a very long time and getting softer.

One problem for Howard is that the number of Coalition voters gone AWOL has continued to increase, meaning the spikes he generally needs to achieve to win elections (such as 2001 and 2004) are becoming larger. The spike required in 2007 is unprecedented.

The other problem is that if he keeps making it all about the ALP and Kevin Rudd, he risks the electorate waking up one morning and agreeing with him that it is all about the Labor Party- and they don’t mind what they see.

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7 Responses to “Into the Swing of Things”

  1. netvegetable said

    how does it compare to the ALP’s primary vote?

  2. […] on from Part One, which looked at the primary vote swing history of all governments going back to December 1985, we […]

  3. lurker said

    Interesting way of looking at things. The striking thing about the graph though, is that notwithstanding the swinging trend away from the govt since 1999, in the last two election campaigns there has been a big swing back to the govt, enough to get them back in. It’s almost as though the electorate doesn’t like Howard much but has a grudging respect for him. Or he is a master of the election campaign, with all that entails. Will it happen again this time?

  4. possumcomitatus said

    That big swing back to the Howard government in the few months before the election is fascinating.Essentially what Howard has done is win elections using the volatility of the electorate, in that the mean swing is moving against him but the volatility of that swing(the way it moves up around that mean trend) is such that Howard grabs just enough of it at the right time to get him over the line – while continuing to face a declining overall move against him by the electorate.

    I agree with you in that I dont think the electorate particularly likes him much either – those lines arent the lines that a popular government would experience.I think it will happen again this time, in that Howard will grab a bit of that volatility – but this time it wont be enough because the longer term trend against him is too great.

    I’m increasingly starting to think that come election day, the final polls will predict the ALP with 51-51.5 and the Coalition with 48.5-49, but the actual election result will be more ALP 53/54 Coalition 46/47.

    I dont think the polls are going to pick up what’s happening in the minor party votes and it doesnt help that the polls preference distribution mechanisms are utter rubbish.

    As long as Rudd maintains net aggregate satisfaction ratings in the 20s and above (which is Opposition satisfaction-dissatisfaction)-(PM satisfaction – dissatisfaction), and doesnt implode – I dont think he can lose.

  5. Steve said

    I saw another psepho site a few weeks ago, forget which one it was, did a regression analysis and found that the Coalition, since the early 80’s benefits an average of 2.6% from the election campaign itself.

    So I am curious to know if this is a voter thing, or if it is just because the Coalition is better at electioneering? The causality would be interesting.

  6. Possum Comitatus said

    Hi Steve – I get similar results as that 2.6% as well if you take the campaign as being not just the official campaign but also include the month before the campaign starts (which is really when the campaign begins in reality – when was the last time an election was called that nobody knew was going to happen?).Most of that 2.6% or so movement actually comes from the undecided voters running back to the government.If you look at the way the minor party and major party primary vote changes during that 8 weeks or so before the election, you see a little bit of movement between them, but the movements are generally smaller than the error margins of the polls making it difficult to say for sure just how many people switch their vote, and to where.But the undecideds definitely shift (they have to really)and they’ve broken and run to the government over the last few elections explaining most of that 2.6%.

    The causality that you mention would be interesting, but unfortunately the Newspoll data that I use isnt rich enough in its information to be able to pull that out.It’s a real pity because I’d like to know the answer to that question too!

  7. Terima Kasih atas Informasinya.. Salam Kenal..

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