Possums Pollytics

Politics, elections and piffle plinking

Running to Stand Still

Posted by Possum Comitatus on September 12, 2007

Lounging around at The Poll Bludger last night, a net entity by the name of Scorpio pointed out a fascinating little quote from Lord Downer that he’d found on the Bolters site (speaking of which, what kind of red cordial binge has the Bolter been on lately?)

It comes from a Sky News transcript of an 11 September interview:

“PRESENTER: So Minister just finally, what’s your message to your colleagues – should they stop the speculation, the consideration of ‘what if John Howard went? Should they now all lock in behind the Prime Minister?

MR DOWNER: Look I don’t think you should be harsh on people thinking about all of our options during a time when they are concerned that our polling is not going as well as, the public polling, is not going as well as they might hope. But on the other hand, I think at the end of the day, they really see John Howard as the best option for the country and the best option for the Liberal Party.”

So Dolly seems to let the cat out of the bag that their own polling is as dismal, if not worse than the current annihilation that Newspoll, Galaxy, Morgan and ACN are all pointing to.

Which gets us back to the Crosby Textor Oz Track 33.

Nothing much seems to have changed between May/June and September in terms of the vote. But what surprised me about the data for June was the low measure of soft voters for each party. At June, CT estimated the soft primary vote of each party as being equal at 5%, with the ALP on a primary of 47% , the Coalition on 35%, the minors on 15% with the undecideds on a lowly 3%.

When this transfers over to 2 party preferred, the figures end up as ALP 58%, Coalition 40% with undecideds on 2%. One third of the undecideds only seemed to be undecided over which minor party to vote for, not where they’ll deliver their second preference.

If those undecideds break 50/50, that’s an 11.74% TPP swing to the ALP, giving them an extra 58 seats on the uniform national pendulum (available on the right under ‘swings for seats’), and delivering them a total of 119 seats in a house of 150. The Victorian seat of Casey would be the last to fall, just ahead of Abbots seat of Warringah with such a uniform swing.

But you know, don’t panic or anything.

So what do they do?

They panic, and in the most destructive way they possibly could – not just undermining their own issue strengths in the process, but launching a full scale assault against them. It’s not as if these guys have a big bag of strengths to begin with mind you, certainly not enough to start destroying them with indulgent little-coups-that-couldn’t.

Recalling the issue analysis in CT, issues were placed on a 2 dimensional graph where the party ownership of the issue is measured on the horizontal axis and the magnitude of the influence of that issue on the vote is measured by the vertical axis. Big squares have highly significant influence (meaning a lot of voters treat it as being influential) and little squares have marginally significant influence (meaning many, but not most voters treat the issue as being influential), lets review the Rudd graph (just click on the image to blow it up).


The Coalition public statements lately, be they interviews, speeches, articles or even policy announcements can nearly all be mapped perfectly to these CT documents. It’s become little more than political finger painting. A sort of politicking-by-numbers of the most transparent kind.

To give an example, “Heading in the right direction” is the latest cliché de jour.

The Right/Wrong direction issue is one of the few that they have strong ownership of. As can be seen in the graph, it’s up around the 43 mark for the Coalition in their positioning. The problem they have though is that it is a low confidence issue of minimal influence on the vote. Their goal is to bang on about it hoping to lift the issue in the public mind, elevate its significance and turn it into a high confidence issue.

Similarly, the “Strong Team” issue has been a popular favourite for Coalition members to wax lyrical about over recent weeks– contrasting their own frontbench with that of the ALPs. As the Coalition already have positioning on the issue, it’s easy for them to repeat it constantly, push it into the public mind and attempt to elevate its influence on the vote. Likewise, “Strong Leadership” has been another.

But over the last few days, the leadership fiasco has been a direct assault on their major attempts to elevate these two issues favourably. This gets us back to the whole “don’t panic” thing. The last 2 days of leadership activity have undermined their last 3 months of issue management, while further bolstering Win Expectations for the ALP and adding to the ALP momentum.

And for what benefit?

None at all.

These guys are running to stand still.

Over the last few months, the issues that the Coalition had good positioning on have been eroded. Interest rate rises would have diminished to some extent their lead on the Interest Rate issue (or at least its significance and positioning), Rudds APEC activity would have pushed the international issues more favourably toward the ALP, and the leadership fiasco would have shunted their Strong Team and Strong Leadership issues.

I’m starting to believe that because the strategy is failing, it will be junked.It will be junked because keeping it will lead to oblivion.

Doing more of the same just means receiving more of the same kinds of polling. The Coalition vote cannot get much lower anyway, the strategy has failed them all the way down to the bottom few percent of their electoral support level.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see a complete strategy reversal.

Look for big tax cuts, a few Workchoices backflips, a billion dollar health system injection and something large on education. The public seems to have shifted and the Coalition was caught with its pants down. Minimising their losses by focusing on their existing strong points is failing dismally through both Rudds actions and a large dose of self inflicted wounds.

A strategy reversal might minimise some of the ALPs leadership on issues like health, education and IR for a small chunk of ex-coalition voters while pushing ALP ownership of the issues for continuing ALP voters out further, while big tax cuts would play to their own strengths and might perhaps lure some of that same ex-coalition voting group back.It might be the best opportunity they have to grab a small chunk of their deserted voter base back to minimise their loss.

Back flips might make them look desperate, but it might also stop them looking pathetic, and it’s probably the only realistic chance they have to stop a complete bloodbath on Election Day. Rolling up into a little ball playing firewall strategies while dumping dirt on their opponents is just asking to be kicked.So if we see over the next few weeks stuff like this emerging, we’ll have a fair idea what it’s about.

That said, the next Newspoll and Galaxy will be interesting.


On something completely out of left field and not related to politics, I was perusing my website logs the other day and was looking through the google search terms that directed traffic to the site when I found this doozy:

“Possum Porn”.

You know, each to their own and everything, but that’s pretty niche 🙂

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29 Responses to “Running to Stand Still”

  1. canberra boy said

    Poss, I think you’re pretty right about the strategic options left to Howard. But I’d go further and say that things are so far gone now that people will view cynically anything that Howard does, even to the point of pocketing a gigantic tax bribe and still voting Labor. Besides, won’t Rudd match anything and everything that Howard does. I’d say there’ll be no income tax promises from Rudd until Howard says something, which will then be matched or bettered.

    While I suspect Howard will now run towards and lose a December election, I’m not entirely sure though that his colleagues, after another couple of disasterous polls, might not still overthrow him in favour of someone other than Costello – someone with a modicum of credibility to announce some policy reversals and a new era. That is Labor’s chief danger.

  2. Rex said

    Regarding “look for more backflips on Work Choices”, I heard a promise of just that – “some more adjustments” – on early morning television (I think it was Joe Hockey but can’t be sure.)

  3. Pritam said

    I can see the logic of your lucid analysis. One minor point: If they see “Heading in the right direction” as one of their strengths they are truly deeply into self-delusion. The question, being ambiguous can only produce ambiguous and confusing information about how THEY are doing.

    From this and from your analysis of the situation arising from the CT info, they can expect a profoundly cynical response to just about anything they care to try now.

    Even for this hyperbolic age Howard’s hubris lunges beyond overstatement.

  4. Julian Watson said

    Looks like you’re right on the money Possum; I read that Peter Costello was going on today about being part of the “Team”…

    The loosing team.

  5. steve said

    I agree that they have few options left apart from tax.

    If they come up with a tax cut “solution” this will in turn represent an inflationary impact and interest rates will rise – clearly dumping on that issue as well as overall economic management. This was certainly the case with the last major tax cuts in the 2005 Budget. Recall the Ken Henry speech about elections delivering poor ecomonic outcomes.

  6. David said

    I heard Costello on the radio earlier today, and he sounded like he’d just eaten a shit sandwich and was pretending he’d enjoyed it.

  7. lurker said

    Do you think it might just have been Downer being a bit tongue-tied in the interview? He might have menat to say

    “our polling, as well as the public polling, is not going as well as they might hope.”

    maybe a few misplaced commas and “as well as” phrases in the wrong spot.

  8. steve said

    I see that Japan’s Abe has just resigned. Who said nothing ever happens at APEC.

    Maybe after the coming Monday’s next damming Poll, a trend with APEC leaders (and hosts) will be underway.

  9. The Doctor said

    I don’t they have really got the tax option – the only thing the Coalition ministers are spinning is ‘experience’. The trouble is a large portion of the voting public have decided they dislike the experience of a Howard/Costello Coalition Government.
    This debacle, that Howard himself started, could push the polls out to 65/35 TPP – considering the way the trolls seem to have disappeared.

  10. Jed said

    “the Coalition was caught with its pants down.”

    ‘segues’ sublimely with “conger line of suckholes”

    ahh……..good things come to those that wait 🙂

  11. canberra boy said

    Even with a slight further movement away from the government in the population as a whole, there is a strong statistical possibility that the next polls from a couple of the majors will show a one or two point ‘improvement’ for the Government. If this happens, watch how the stupid media say this vindicates Howard’s decision to stay, Govt again in the race etc. Watch also as the Coalition backbench believes it is on the way to being saved!

  12. chinda63 said

    The Doctor – one of the most astonishing things I’ve heard over the past couple of days is Howard saying that he kicked all the leadership speculation off himself.

    My instinct is that it is his attempt to “own” the issue, thus making it look like he’s strong and in control of his party. However, the reality of what actually happened flies in the face of that.

    Both Dolly Downer and Mal the Millionaire looked spooked when journos started popping up left, right and centre (pun intended) asking them all sorts of questions about it. It just didn’t have the feel of an issue that was being well managed; if the PM was managing the process (as he indicated he was) he would have been managing everything, ESPECIALLY the involvement of the media. It would have been spun as “PM sounds out his colleagues on whether, in the light of bad opinion polls, he still has their full support.” Speculation would have been hosed down in a second and it might have been a positive for him instead of what has clearly been a negative for both him and the party.

    No, I suspect that this is just another Howard lie. The truth is there was an attempt to tap him on the shoulder and he told them (Downer and Turnbull) to get stuffed. Then tried to spin it after the fact. Talking to people today, I just don’t think it worked.

    And I’m not the only one who thinks Howard is lying about this either.

  13. Monica Lynagh said

    Howard has a central problem he can’t escape. He is now perceived as ‘clever’, for which read liar, dissembler, manipulator, loose with the truth, and any other combination/permutation of same. I don’t think it matters what he does anymore. I think he’s now political poison for sufficient of the population to see him and enough of his supine party gone for some period of time.
    p.s. Possum, geez your analyses have been dead set fascinating. They’ve excited some of my colleagues to the point I’ve had to take their SPSS away from them till they calm down. Also, do you need a contribution a la William’s site to keep rocking?

  14. Evan said

    Now Howard’s announced that if re-elected, he will retire part-way through the term and hand the reins to Tip.

    What has this guy been smoking?

    So far as I can see it’s another own goal and the worst of possible compromises.

    An own goal because he’s asking the public to vote for him when he’s not gonna stay the course and promises to deliver them into the hands of someone even less popular than he is. And a lousy compromise because it immediately blows-away the “strong leadership”, “steady hands” and “heading in the right direction” points.

    Now, call be stupid, but what kind of proposal is this? I can see what Howard gets out of it: Another few blessed months of in Kirribilli, if he escapes the executioner’s axe. But what’s in it for the public?

    He makes no assertion that he needs to hang around for the good of the country, to get this or that vital bit of policy up and running. No. It’s just: “Vote for me so I can be a lame duck, sit around doing bugger-all and then leave sometime next year whenever Janette feels I should retire.”

    Brilliant. That’ll really appeal.

  15. Iain said

    Racism. Howard has used it continually and will pull it out again. This will get dirty and disgusting. He’ll provoke those he can identify as ‘elites’ to come out against him, then ‘stand’ with what he identifies as ‘the ordinary citizen’, ‘the silent majority’, ‘the ordinary decent Christian white battler’.

    ‘Us’ against ‘them’ is Howard’s immutable, disgusting, constantly successful theme. We need to look out for this from him, and from his mouthpieces (Howard being fond of getting others to do some of the dirty work and this time facing the need to keep at least some proportion of Bennelong Asian Australian constituents sufficiently deluded to vote for him).

  16. swio said

    I agree with the thought that Howard sounding out his colleagues may just be a clever lie by. If the cabinet was getting ready to tap him on the shoulder he would have had to come up with something to cover it up.

    Big tax cut or any sort of serious spending initiative will surely blow their economic credibility right out of the water. Without that they may lose even more votes. As bad as things are they could get even worse if they start panicing like that.

    I am pretty sure that the next few polls will be a bit of an improvement for the government. My guess is that the last round were a bit depressed by APEC. And leadership will stop being an issue. Its clear no-one will challenge Howard and he will not stand down. There is no longer any point in government MP’s talking to the media about it.

  17. EconoMan said

    I agree with Lurker at 7. I’m confident the line means “our polling (whoops shouldn’t have said that), I mean the public polling isn’t going as well as we’d like.

    It is very hard to read the second half of the sentence logically if the first half means “our polling is worse than public polling.”

  18. Possum Comitatus said

    Thanks Rex – I’ve found it.They have too:

    I’m already behind the spin cycle!

    Pritam – I’m with you on that one.’Heading in the right direction’ is one of those sponge issues that people give their own meaning to.There isn’t much meaningful value to be extracted out of that which isnt already encapsulated in the other variables.It just lets the fuzzy positives from a grab bag of issues to be captured in the one variable.Using that as a proxy for those other issues that underly the “right/wrong” direction isnt going to work.I bet its confidence level as an issue in the CT documents changes regularly overtime, reflecting the nebulous correlation with anything meaningful.

    Lurker and Eco,
    It might have been Downer being a bit tongue tied – but it just fits in so well with the silly behaviour of the top end of the Libs over the last few days.If their internal polling really was terrible, it would go along way toward explaining what set everything this week off at the highest levels of the party.

    I’m with some others here in the thread – I dont buy the story as its been told so far with Howard sending Downer out to taste the PMs popularity in the cabinet without any real reason – the official story sounds too cute and neat, even if the fallout does make those involved look like fools.It just smells like bullshit.

    Not their SPSS – you cruel heartless lady! 😛

    Thanks for the offer of a contribution – but the wordpress.com blogs have unlimited free bandwidth so I have absolutely no worries.Unlimited bandwidth is the benefit for the cost of not having as much control over what the site can do – I’m limited by the wordpress.com templates.That suits me fine – as a web designer and administrator I make a great ballerina.

  19. disenfranchised Gippslander said

    trying to work out what the Lord Downer actually means is something of a parlour game, like the mediaeval theologians discussing how many angels fit on a pin’s head.
    still,I’m game. what if he meant “the polling about us” rather than “polling by us”, played it back in his mind,saw the ambiguity and made a maladroit correction. It probably comes out better in French!
    Reminds me of the story about the great South African golfer Gary Player. His wife was being interviewed and was asked if she did anything in particular for him on the morning of abig game>”Yes”, she replied, “I always kiss his balls..[pause]..I mean his golf balls”
    Hon’y soit qui mal y pense to get back the to the mediaeval French with which the member for Mayo is so familiar.

  20. EconoMan said

    The number of angels on a pin’s head is 42. And I say again, the common sense re-phrasing of the sentence is “our polling and the public polling is not going as well as we’d like.”

    It just doesn’t make sense if it reads “our polling is not going as well as the public polling is not going as well as we might hope.” If he meant the first part, the bold part makes no sense!

    On the substantive issue of change in strategy, we’ve already seen one. Stop talking about how great they’ve been in the past, and talk about their plans for the future. (Not that Howard could come up with any other than cliches!) If they did Possum, they would/should appeal to their base with purely Liberal policies, such as lower tax, and… do they stand for anything anymore, I can’t think of it. Forget spending on Health, Education to try win over in Labor strength areas.

  21. Possum Comitatus said

    Health and Education are handy policy areas for porking, because they can be targeted directly into seats -we’ve seen that election after election…. along with roads.Tax Reform is a big brush to paint with and I agree with you on that being “all about the base”.

    Health and Education let’s you tickle the seats you need to, maybe extracting the handful of votes they need in some seats at the (to them) acceptable expense of blowing the broader vote out in other seats they’ve given up on as a consequence of playing in Labors pool of strengths.

    The problem comes with the cost of advertising those specific seat based pork barrels.If they dont frame that pork heavily in the seats where its delivered, the benefit extracted wouldn’t necessarily be great – hence the big problem for the Coalition of campaign funding.Running pork in all 40 of their now called marginals is paid for by the taxpayer.Running the intensive, seat by seat advertising for that pork on those 40 marginals to extract a vote out of the pork is where it hits them, and probably where the firewall will come into play.

  22. paradiseenough said

    Note that Pete (does he remind anyone else of Bert in The Muppets?) started out with “First class educational facilities” in his dream for the future/election agenda press conference spiel yesterday. Watch this space.

  23. Scorpio said

    Hi Possum, thanks for the mention.
    I couldn’t believe what I read in that Sky News interview. Reading the whole interview, it is apparent that Downer was somewhat rattled and that was a poorly covered up slip-up.

    I have noticed that virtually all Liberal Front benchers have been similarly rattled in recent days since the last Newspoll. It must have just reinforced that their own recent polling has been abysmal, hence the panic. I don’t doubt for a minute that their internal polling is bad, as my own face to face polling only confirms it.

  24. canberra boy said

    I noticed from your recent comments list that this post has been picked up at #49 in the WordPress ‘top posts’ list – presumably the most-visited posts today on WordPress-hosted blogs. Fame… fortune… I can see the IPO coming!

  25. Possum Comitatus said

    Nearly all the posts here get that, and the blog of the day thingy pops up as well.You just happened to see it before I deleted it – they clog the place up and don’t format well in my offsite comments archive.Dunno why, all the other pings are fine, just the WordPress “botd” one is a pain.

    Have you seen what’s in those top posts lists? The mind boggles!

    Although I do have a strange penchant for chuckling at the I CAN HAZ CHEEZBURGER site.

  26. lurker said

    SPSS stinks. In the stats course I’m doing, it’s the software that must not be named. It’s going to be a long time before I can do any regression as fancy as Possum’s – one reason I find this site so interesting.

    Anyway, it seems to me that Howard has made another “promise” to Costello to hand over next term if he wins to had off any leadership challenge. I wonder whether that’s a firm “commitment” in John and Janette’s eyes?

  27. disenfranchised Gippslander said

    in the header to this thread.
    [On something completely out of left field and not related to politics, I was perusing my website logs the other day and was looking through the google search terms that directed traffic to the site when I found this doozy:

    “Possum Porn”.

    You know, each to their own and everything, but that’s pretty niche]

    could be Dame Ëdna’s audition tapes for Big Brother.

  28. paradiseenough said

    Re possum’s post 21 above: “Health and Education are handy policy areas for porking, because they can be targeted directly into seats…” How about the rodent’s announcement today on Nursing Training…”Selected hospitals will receive infrastructure funding from the Australian Government for educational facilities…Funding will also be available for…training staff at participating hospitals.” (Libs’ website) Wonder where these “selected hossys” are? Two porks for the price of one? You betcha. Very prescient, poss.

  29. Andrew said

    “Possum porn” refers, I think, to some video footage recorded by my son. After noticing sugar gliders visiting a tree in our back yard in Chatswood West he built a box for them, which they duly inhabited. He then installed a “survelliance” camera so we could see what was was happening in the box. We jokingly referred to it as his possum porn camera. Some mildly pornographic footage was recorded at one stage, which may have made its way onto the internet. I recall there was considerable comment.
    I trust this clarifies the issue.

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