Posted by Possum Comitatus on September 7, 2007
Thanks to the good people over at Crikey, the internal Liberal polling and analysis that the Murdoch tabloids were banging on about a few months back has been released to all. It’s a pity the journos didn’t seem to understand a word of it when it was delivered into their hot little hands, but now we can have a squiz at “Oz Track 33” the Cosby-Textor document and do what they couldn’t…. like, er…. actually understand it.
This document fills in the missing links to our regular polling analysis. We already know where the swings are happening, but this gives us the ‘why’ – it tells us the demographic composition of the swings and the issues that are driving voter change.
And it’s bleak for the Coalition – so bleak that…. Well, we’ll get to that shortly.
This is going to be a long post that will set out a number of issues and slowly draw the threads together at the end for a startling conclusion, so you might want to go and get yourself a cuppa first.
Crosby Textor uses a pretty standard analysis technique for estimating the why’s and wherefores of voter movements and the issues that drive it (which disappointed me a little, but I digress). It’s pretty much the same methodology that every market research group worth its salt uses on brand warfare and product positioning.
The way it works is that you run varying types of regressions where a persons vote is the dependant variable and various issues are independent variables. This gives you an estimate of how much a given issue influences a persons vote. The higher the value of the coefficient on the issue, the greater that issue influences the vote.
You then spread those issues out into a spectrum (by using either more regressions or qualitative analysis) that tells you which issue each party has more ownership of.
So what you end up with is a 2 dimensional graph with the ALP on the left and the Coalition on the right. The further away horizontally each issue is from the centre, the greater the ownership of that issue is for the party that has it on their side of the graph. The higher the value of the issue on the vertical axis, the more influence that issue has on driving the vote.
So to start with, let’s have a look at how the issues were playing out under the last days of Beazley (just click on the thumbnail – and ignore the little dotted boxes and arrows, – that’s just the Crosby Textor commentary for the Coalition).
The big squares represent issues that have a statistically significant effect on vote movement (high confidence) while the little boxes represent issues that have a marginal statistical effect on vote movement (low confidence).What each party wants is to have as many of the big box issues as they can to be as far in their top corner as possible – for that means they completely own the issue, and it’s a significant vote driver.
Under Beazley, the policy issues owned by the Coalition that had a fair level of significant influence on the vote were Defence & Security, Keeping Prices Down and National Infrastructure.
But it was the non-policy issues that gave the Coalition its vote with Preferred PM, Win Expectations, Deserve to Win, Doing What’s Right, Important Issues and Right Direction being their big significant vote drivers. The intertial effect was playing out.
The ALP in contrast had only Industrial Relations, Being In Touch and Education as significant vote drivers that they owned. Of the 15 high confidence issues, the Coalition had 11 of them as their own, while the ALP had only 4.
The Rudd came along, and this is what happened with these issues:
Which is quite profound. Look at all of those issues moving from being Liberal strengths to ALP strengths – absolutely amazing.
The end result of this movement became this:
Of the 17 issues of significant influence on the vote, Rudd owned 11 of them.
But it was the way that these issues changed in their significance which was also important. Preferred PM became a larger vote driver for Rudd than it was for Howard – reflecting a momentum effect which is continuing to this day. Rudd was also cashing in on Important Issues, Future Plan, Deserve to Win, Win Expectations and Doing What’s Right, again reflecting a positive reaction to not only his leadership, but his approach and political outlook.
Meanwhile the influence of the issues that the Coalition retained ownership of reduced dramatically while simultaneously the strength of their ownership on those issues nearly halved.
The few remaining issues that both favoured the Coalition and which were considered significant vote drivers are what Howard has been talking about ever since, with the addition of the economy (which was only marginally significant in its influence to drive the vote)
But mind you, Howard isn’t talking about these things because it’s some grand strategic plan – far far from it. He’s talking about them simply because that is all he has left to talk about that has a hope in hell of resonating.
If Howard started to speak about issues that are on the ALP side of the graph, because Howard has basically lost the public, all he would be doing is promoting strengths of the ALP, and as a result those issues would be more likely than not to move further into the ALP camp and increase the ALP vote.
This is what happened with the 2007 Budget. The government talked about education and infrastructure and up went the ALP vote, the ALP ownership of education and infrastructure became stronger (and its influence increased) as did the ALP ownership and significance of Important Issues. Meanwhile Preferred PM shot up to a coefficient of 0.45 in importance and remained on the ALP side. (There’s another of these graphs about the budget in the document which show this movement).Likewise at the Federal Council meeting of the Liberal Party, the talk about the environment at the Council only had the effect of increasing the ALPs ownership of environmental issues and their significance, as well as the ALP vote.
The problem Howard had, and I argue has to an even larger extent today, is that he cannot reclaim issues the ALP now holds as any mention of them simply reinforces into peoples minds that the ALP are better than the government on those issues. The public has made up their mind.
So we have a small group of issues Howard has left to talk about as his only means to campaign on in the election.
– Interest Rates
– Defence and Security
– Lower Taxes
– Strong Leadership
– Strong Team.
This is Howards only campaign issue envelope.
Now keep that in your thought orbit, because we’re going off on a tangent before we come back to it.
The last 2 elections were noticeable in terms of voter movement by a large, prolonged, taxpayer funded adversing blitz starting 6 months before the election itself, combined with government initiatives on these advertising issues that had the effect of clawing back government support.
This, not the campaign, was how Howard won the last 2 elections. It was the 2 quarters leading up to the election that gave a large enough boost to the Coalitions primary vote that allowed them to cruise into victory. Any extra vote they received in the campaign itself was nothing but a cherry on top, such as what occurred in the 2004 election.
In 2007, the same three card trick has been played, but its effect was completely different.
The reason its different this time is a consequence of what we were talking about earlier – the issues involved that are being advertised (Workchoices etc) aren’t Howards issues, they’re Rudds. When Howard talks about them, they simply reinforce existing voter views that are detrimental to the Coalitions electoral prospects. That’s been reflected in the polls.
This means that Howard has to win an election, in the campaign itself, with only a very small amount of issues that he can use.
But let’s look at how these issues are playing out today rather than June.
Interest Rates are no longer a big Howard issue in terms of being a vote driver – the interest rate rises have demonstrated this clearly. When rates went up, so did the ALPs vote – as our earlier regression analysis of a few weeks ago suggested they would.
Strong Leadership is getting whittled away by both the Costello leadership speculation and the continued abysmal polling, while Rudd on the other hand is going out of his way to pinch this issue off Howard and shift it into being an ALP strength.
Howard simply cannot win an election when he only has a few issues he can talk about, and where most of those issues in his envelope are competitive and up for grabs. The ALP can try and grab these issues without necessarily reinforcing them for Howard because Rudd has the momentum and the broad issue support to protect him. Howard on the other hand can only work with what he has because to chase most of the ALP issues is to risk pushing them further into the ALP fold, and losing further vote share.
Howard knows this, must know this – I think he clearly knows this.
Which gets us on to the electoral contest that is happening now.
The ALP has increased the number of seats they believe are now winnable for them, and are actively pursuing seats with over a 10% margin. They believe they already have most of the marginals in the bag and are growing in confidence about non-marginal seats across the country.
As a result, the ALP have expanded their seat front to reflect this growing confidence. They are reallocating their resources into new seats that were, only 6 months ago, not on the radar in their wildest dreams. But most importantly, they are cashed up like no other party has ever been cashed up to fight an election. Money is flowing into the coffers of the ALP from both the union movement and private fundraising – and they have barely started to spend it.
The use of taxpayer funded advertising by the government, as we’ve seen, has failed to deliver votes – but that advertising is probably the greatest electoral benefit of incumbency, especially with the current government. The weight for political advertising now has to be taken by the Coalitions own funds in the campaign, rather than taxpayer funds in the lead up to it as the latter has failed to move votes. But the Coalition is finding it difficult to raise campaign funds. Donors are drying up in Qld, NSW, Vic and SA, and the donors that are left are providing less funds than usual, or are providing equal amounts to both the Coalition and the ALP. The stench of electoral death is in the air and the Coalition campaign kitty is reflecting it.
But on the strategic and tactical front, the Coalition are doing the opposite to the ALP – they aren’t expanding seats to attack, they are expanding the number of seats to defend.
Ministerial briefs to support marginal seat campaigning have apparently stopped being made for ALP held seats, the Coalition has expanded the number of seats they now call marginal to 40 (and that’s frankly an understatement) including seats that are held by 10% margins. But most importantly, the Coalition doesn’t have much of a campaign kitty compared to the ALP.
The Coalition is running a firewall strategy, but a firewall strategy that is ten points deep and without having a financial capability to defend a wall of seats that thick.
Firewall strategies fail nearly everywhere they are used by a government to defend incumbency – but they have succeeded when the aim is not win the election, but to simply save the party an enormous defeat.
Clearly there is a firewall strategy in place, but equally clearly, it is just too many points and seats deep for the finances available to run it effectively.
Howard has conceded the election, but he hasn’t told his backbenchers, he hasn’t told his marginal seat holders and the only question left to answer is which seats the Liberal leadership has actually decided to sacrifice and which ones will be properly funded in the firewall.
All this twaddle about the election being a circuit breaker is simply for Coalition internal consumption. The Liberal leadership knows they’ve lost, they’ve conceded the election (which is why they are running a firewall strategy) but they’re in the unenviable position of not being able to tell their own marginal seat holders simply to prevent a riot breaking out and turning a defeat into a political execution.
BTW – a new Morgan is out today: ALP 60/40 on TPP and 49/34.5 on primaries