Possums Pollytics

Politics, elections and piffle plinking

Posts Tagged ‘Howard’

Political Advice By The Column Inch

Posted by Possum Comitatus on April 1, 2008

crikeylogo.jpg This was me earlier today in Crikey.

In a headline that rivals “Strange Man on Public Transport!” for its sheer obviousness, Opposition is a Tough Business. With new governments come new oppositions which generally struggle to cope with the large decrease in relevance associated with the opposition benches. But after eighteen weeks, most Federal oppositions have at least developed some veneer of political strategy, some understanding of the job required in opposition which the polling starts to reflect. The day to day demand of having a 5 second grab on the great suite of topics that make up the news cycle starts getting complimented with more strategic approaches to the long term business of opposition.

What seems to separate the current opposition from their forebears is that the political strategy in its entirety appears to have been outsourced by the column inch to a set of News Limited journos that give Hawker Britton a run for their money in terms of pure spin. We’ve had the carers payment “crisis” which was little more than journalistic speculation gone feral, we’ve had the Aurukun/Macklin nonsense, we’ve currently got the Australia/Japan relationship “crisis” where the list goes on and on and on. The problem is that these stories sit somewhere between manufactured outrage and mocumentraries on the quality spectrum, allowing the government to easily adapt to whatever crisis they’re apparently facing this week by throwing some small bone to kill the story – an early budget clarification on the one hand, organise a quick Japan meet and greet on the other.

While it’s to be expected that oppositions follow the news cycle, and its to be expected that this type of sensationalist tabloid journalism that drives eyeballs to advertisers will make up a large part of that news cycle, regardless of the size of the paper the stories are printed on – the problem for the opposition is that it’s mostly vacuous fluff that that the public either sees through, doesn’t care about, or worse – they do believe it was an issue and then watch as that nice man Mr Rudd far from caving in to pressure, simply does what’s right and ends up looking in touch with the voters.

If we create a rolling two pollster average using Newspoll and Morgan and compare the first eighteen weeks of the Rudd and Howard governments, something stands out:

2governmentstpp.jpg

By this time in the term of the Howard government, the Beazley opposition had started to move on from the easy pickings of the news cycle and began to compliment that by applying greater strategic pressure about the new government’s policy program, which resulted in Howard’s polling honeymoon being slowly eroded. Yet the current opposition with its scatter gun style and lazy strategic approach is, if anything, falling further behind the ALP as time goes on.

If we want to place it in an even starker context, we can compare the vote gap that existed between the government and opposition of the day in 1996 and 2008 – again using this rolling two pollster average.

votegaps.jpg

Whether this is the result of Rudd being a better political manager than Howard, Beazley being a better opposition leader than Nelson, the nature of political circumstance at the time or some mix of any and all of these things – what is inescapable is that Nelson is failing and that’s not good for the quality of governance.

What might be worth a shot is for the opposition to spend a little more time focusing on real policy issues that the public actually gives a hoot about and a little less time following the droning choir of News Ltd spruikers that are taking tabloid politics to whole new shallows of gravitas.

Unless of course the Libs really like turning the previously unheard of 20 point vote gap into a regular theme of federal politics. They should look north and see how that’s played out in Qld to disabuse themselves of any notion that such a thing would be impossible.

—————-

In other news – Steve Dickson, one of the 8 State Parliamentary members of the Qld Liberal party has threatened to quit over the proposed party merger not being taken to the vote in the party membership. The good news is that such a move would break the 4 all deadlock over the regular Lib leadership tussles, avoiding the need for future coin tossing to solve this most difficult of issues.

Still on Qld matters, Lawrence Springborg has threatened to take his pineapple and go home if the Libs and the Nats continue to refuse to take his proposed new party seriously. Meanwhile Mal Brough has decided to storm the barricades of the Liberal organisation in QLD and put a sword to the evil forces of Count Santo Santoro and his dark army of mediocrity.

Not to be out done in the loony-tunes stakes, NSW Liberal State MP Ray Williams has been accused of getting all hairy chested and challenging a branch president (as well as anyone said president could muster for help) to an old fashioned round of fisticuffs. And just in case you thought that this outbreak of the sillyseason was limited to State politics, the NSW Libs at the local council level have started recruiting One Nation hacks to help them run their local government campaign in the Baulkham Hills area.

Meanwhile, away from Tory central and over at the comrades in Victoria, Andrew Landeryou has uncovered some nuttery going on in Higgins at the local ALP branch level that pretty much explains why most people couldn’t be buggered to join political parties.

And finally, Andrew Bolt plays an April fools day prank on his readership, demonstrating via the comments section what most of us have known about his particular audience for a long time.

On something completely different – this is why they made Youtube.


Ooops – sorry. That was just Nightwatchman threatening to get “in and out of everyday Australians”. If you’re heading to a servo or shopping center over the next week or two, try not to get violated.

This is why they made Youtube!

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Posted in Crikey, Polling | Tagged: , , , , , , | 15 Comments »

Roosting Chickens and Murray Plans.

Posted by Possum Comitatus on March 27, 2008

This exciting new broad agenda replaces words with actions” says the COAG communiqué. Yes, well – they all say that. What gives it a bit more giggle power here is that it’s specifically referring to the red tape reduction strategies associated with the business deregulation program.

If you listen carefully, you can here the Big Kev chants of “I’m excited!” emanating from living rooms and workplaces around the country.

Yet the red tape reduction strategy is far from being a broad new agenda. It’s simply a continuation of a previous ongoing COAG program – in this case going all the way back to the Banks Report, where the only thing new about it is the dozen extra pieces of regulation that have been added to the 27 already in the program. Oh – and the packaging, that’s new! It now says the ALP leading the way in Commonwealth/State relations rather than the Coalition.

When you read across the entire COAG document, most of the heralded achievements are either like the regulation reform program in that they are simply a continuation of existing programs – especially the Murray plan, or they are really low hanging political fruit that makes a loud media bang, and which merely kicks the real detail work down the track for later.

It’s a clever piece of politics that must be making the Coalition choke – the Murray Plan particularly.

This $10 billion back of the envelope Murray plan, which many of us might remember passed the “common sense pub test” – apparently the benchmark standard of good governance in those dying days of the last regime – was not only Howard and Turnbull’s creation, but it warped into a political weapon that has now ironically exploded in the face of its creators.

The Murray plan was mostly politically driven to begin with – it gave the Coalition something to present to the electorate as an example of how they were still a government capable of solving problems and taking on new challenges. The expedience of its creation spoke volumes about its true purpose.

But after the plan kind of flopped in terms of winning back public support, it conveniently segued into the new political strategy that the Liberals developed of attacking the Labor States. This new strategy that popped up mid 2007 was essentially an exercise in trying to diminish the Labor brand and get to Rudd via the backdoor, since brand Rudd was proving to be impenetrable to piffle like Brian Burke, stripper gate and the other fluff the Coalition and their stooges threw at him.

We knew this strategy was in place because we saw it in the notorious Oztrack33 Crosby Textor document and at the time you couldn’t find a Coalition politician that wasn’t dragging the theme of failing Labor State governments into their media appearances.

By June 2006 the Murray plan looked like it was a done deal among all the players, with even Victoria reaching in-principle agreement after dialogue between Turnbull and Bracks. The Coalition could have sown up the agreement then and there if they really wanted to – all it would have taken is for Howard to cave in on some of the States fringe demands with a bit of money. But that would hardly fit with the Libs new political strategy at the time. It would be hard for Howard to demonise the incompetence of the State Labor governments on the one hand, while basking in the inevitable media praise of reaching an agreement with those same incompetent States over the Murray on the other hand. Likewise it would have been a silly mixed political message for Howard to be warning the public that Rudd couldn’t stand up to the State governments, while simultaneously caving in to those same State governments himself to get the Murray plan finalised. It all looks a bit silly to bag the States and attack the Labor brand if the States start delivering the goods.

Strangely, as the Coalition political campaign against Labor State governments ramped up through July, the negotiations over the Murray started breaking down – but not for anything the States had necessarily done, but because the Howard government started reneging on parts of the original in-principle agreement. NSW got hammered by Howard changing the responsibility of residual liability issues, Victoria became more convinced that what was agreed to in-principle was no longer going to be delivered. It was also in July that Howard started getting bellicose in the media with threats to use the Commonwealths constitutional powers to seize control over the basin (although just how the mechanics of that was supposed to work was conveniently left out).

What initially started out as a $10 billion Coalition policy designed with helping the government look relevant with fresh ideas, quickly descended into a $10 billion Howard bluff that became a political weapon in the fight against Labor. Howard hoped that essentially giving the finger to the Murray would help him get the electorate to give the finger to Rudd.

Looking back, it was really quite disgraceful what happened and was typical of the way Howard has always played his politics.

Fast forward to yesterday – and now we have this Coalition conceived plan of fixing the Murray again becoming a political weapon, yet this time it’s Labor’s to wield. The Murray plan is being described as a Labor achievement, that Howard stood in the way of making it happen, that Rudds leadership delivered the goods and that it is the perfect example of the new cooperative Federalism that Rudd stands for and which Howard despised and could not deliver.

Not only are the Labor governments claiming credit for many things at COAG that were already well in the pipeline and mostly of the Coalitions doing like regulation reform, not only are Labor claiming success on issues like health and education which are really little more than low hanging fruit that was easy to achieve and took virtually nothing to do so, but they are now claiming success for delivering the policy of the Murray plan – a plan which was originally conceived for political purposes by the Coalition but which later changed into a weapon of political strategy for the re-election of the Liberal party.

The Coalition, but Turnbull in particular must be choking over this since the Murray plan could have been delivered by Howard and Turnbull last year if Howard had not decided to play silly buggers with it instead. Now the Labor party get to bask in all the credit and glory for the plan, they’ll get to write the history of the policy and will no doubt thoroughly enjoy belting the Coalition around the head with it.

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Posted in general politics, spin, strategy | Tagged: , , | 36 Comments »

Facing up to Howards legacy

Posted by Possum Comitatus on November 26, 2007

It’s a tough choice for the top job of the Chief Eater of the shit sandwich, and that’s exactly what being the first Opposition leader of a routed government is all about.

For the next 3 years, as every misdemeanour or gross political felony that the previous government committed is thrown back in their face, when every dirty little policy secret or suppressed statistic is released into a hungry news cycle, the next leader has to sit there and go “Mmmmm Hmmm – tastes like chicken“.

It doesn’t matter what opposition leaders say for the first term – no one listens to them anyway. The only reason people know that opposition leaders exist in their first stint out of government is because they just happen to be the poor Shmo’s that become the target of a new government’s political retribution.

Now honestly – who can see Malcolm Turnbull sitting there sucking that up?

Brand Turnbull would be forever tainted if he gets the job now – it is truly surprising that he wants it at all, and Turnbull hasn’t exactly demonstrated the deft hand of political nuance lately. But so saying, I wouldn’t be the first possum to grossly underestimate the power of Mal Turbull’s ego. He might not have been around to participate in the events of the past that will inevitably produce grief for the future for the Coalition, but when the details of those events re-emerge as ammunition for a Rudd government’s partisan avengement, odium sticks – vicariously if need be.

However, the role of the next leader of the Liberal Party will not only be to chow down on that foul smelling sanger, but to stop the party from turning into a perpetually unelectable, sectarian rabble – leading by example, holding back the ideologically narrow forces of the religious right, opening up the party as the broad church it once was and maintaining at least some semblance of modernity and moderation. In this requirement, Turnbull is more suited than any other contender.

On the other hand we have the Tony Abbott – a man well practiced in dining on the odd faecal focaccia of late. He could not only take whatever the ALP serves up, but ask for more without blinking – the quirks of a Jesuit background rising to the fore. Yet Abbott is almost uniquely unsuitable for not only confronting, but overcoming the forces of ultra-conservatism that threaten the long term electoral viability of the Coalition. In many respects, his actions and history are part of the very problem.

The Liberal Party faces a tough choice for the top job, for the two main contenders each have only half of what the party requires in its next leader. If they choose Abbott, they at least have the option of electing The Google Assassin Andrew Robb as deputy and letting him undertake the role of the internal policeman; he knows the party inside out and knows where the bodies are buried – but no deputy leader can be the public face of a Rudd government’s sustained opprobrium that will have evidence to spare.

That is the leader’s privilege and the leaders alone. If they choose Malcolm Turnbull and he is not up to that job, will the Liberals destroy their best long term candidate to lead them out of the wilderness, simply as a result of expediency and a powerful lack of alternatives?

The other great problem with the leadership of the Liberal Party can be summed up with some tacky West Wing wisdom; “A leader without followers is just a man taking a walk“. If Abbott or Turnbull capture the leadership, will anyone actually follow them?

The consequences of Howards reign over the Liberal Party are only now starting to be revealed as the protective shield of government has been stripped away, exposing a cancerous organisation bereft of direction, devoid of true leadership, and completely incapable of withstanding the rigours of opposition and political life without the levers of power to protect them.

This is Howards true legacy, the legacy for which he will be remembered for a very long time.

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Posted in leadership | Tagged: , , , , | 167 Comments »

Why it’s all about John

Posted by Possum Comitatus on November 6, 2007

crikey1.jpg

This was me in Crikey yesterday.

Since February, the Coalition political strategy has played out on the ground as an attempt to focus attention on Rudd. Whether this has been more by accident than design is probably worth pondering as well, but for all the “look at Kevin” programs, not a great lot has been achieved.

From Rudd dining with Brian Burke , his childhood memories, his links to those union blokes that keep turning out the lights, right through to actual policy programs like education, environment and infrastructure initiatives (that we now know, courtesy of the infamous Crosby Textor Oztrack 33, actually worked in the Labor’s favour by highlighting issues that the ALP had position dominance on) – the strategy that actually played out on the ground was one of focusing attention on Rudd.

Yet for all those attempts at focus shifting, and for all electoral diversional therapy involved, the key measures that matter continue to be intimately linked to the performance of John Howard himself.

The Coalition two party preferred result continues to be intimately linked to Howard’s satisfaction rating since the 2004 election.

pmsattppcoal1.jpg

A few quick regression equations and a granger causality test on the relationship between these two series suggests that it is the change in PM satisfaction levels that leads to changes in the Coalition two party preferred vote, rather than the two series moving together as a result of third party influences.

The punditry may say that Howard is still extremely popular considering his satisfaction ratings, but with his satisfaction ratings being so intimately linked to the Coalitions TPP vote, that line of thinking quickly becomes a bit a grand non-sequitur in the general scheme of things. His satisfaction only needs to fall small amounts to have a serious impact on the Coalition vote.

The other key measure intimately linked to Howard’s performance is the ALP primary vote via the PM dissatisfaction rating, as we hinted at last week.

pmdissatalpprim1.jpg

Again, after a few quick regression equations and a granger causality test on the relationship between these two series, it is the change in PM dissatisfaction levels that leads to changes in Labor’s primary vote, rather than the two series moving together as a result of third party influences.

What is also interesting to note here is the gap that has recently opened up between these two measures, suggesting the possibility that Rudd is starting to gain support as a result of what the ALP is actually doing, rather than simply relying on dissatisfaction with Howard to deliver them electoral support.

So while all the policy noise and political advertising fills the political brainspace of the nation, when it comes right down to it, this election is still all about John Howard.

The big danger however is that hint in the last chart that suggests that Labor might finally be gaining support on the basis of their own merit. If that relationship starts to consolidate, there will be very little that Howard can do to turn his electoral fortunes around. When you are staring down the barrel of electoral annihilation, that is probably the last thing he wants to hear.

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Posted in Crikey, Leading Indicators, Polling, Voting behaviour | Tagged: , , , | 4 Comments »

Bring Out Your Dead

Posted by Possum Comitatus on November 1, 2007

Today we have the quarterly Newspoll you have when you aren’t having a quarterly Newspoll – a sample of 3413 voters taken over the last fortnight, broken down into States, city type and demographics.

The State breakdowns have an MoE of around 4%, the age breakdown around 3% and the capital city vs non-capital city 2 and a bit %.

So let’s take the longer view first, looking at the behaviour of the States since the lead up to the last election, and where the entry for the 4th Quarter of 2007 is todays Newspoll results.

octstatesgp1.jpg

octstatesop1.jpg

Since the last quarterly breakdown we’ve seen Victoria come back to the fold a bit for the Coalition, Qld moving solidly to the ALP and WA moving a tad to the ALP. But considering the MoE on these things, it looks like we have 4 states bunched up around an ALP primary of near 40 50 (bloody hell, how’d I do that), and WA down around the very low 40s.

The Coalition though is stuck down around the high 30’s and low 40s everywhere except WA. No election is going to be won with those low primaries.

Next up we’ll look at the demographics over time:

octdemsgp1.jpgoctdemsop1.jpg

Slight movement to the both parties on the primary vote here is the name of the game, with the 18-34 demographic being the biggest mover, with a 4 point jump to the ALP. Maybe noise, maybe not.

Now for the swings.

First up, primary vote swings by State:

octgpswingsstate1.jpgoctopswingsstate1.jpg

Qld – Yikes!

Not that NSW or SA are particularly pleasant for the Coalition either. I reckon the Qld number is a bit too big and the Vic number a bit too small considering what I’m hearing on the ground in both places.

On the demographic front we have:

octswingsdemgov1.jpgoctopswingsdem1.jpg

There’s two big movements here of interest. Firstly the 6 point decrease in the minor party vote that’s gone to the ALP in the 35-49 age group. The other is the 8 point decrease in the minor party vote in the non-capital cities that has flowed to the ALP primary. If that holds, that would have to be a lot of the hippy green and rural/regional independent vote moving across, net, to the ALP.

And finally the big one – the TPP swing by State:

octtppswingsalp1.jpg

If this were repeated on election night, it would lead to around a 42 seat gain to the ALP and 102 ALP members in Parliament.

Qld alone would, should these state swings be uniform, deliver the ALP government with 17 seats falling up here. NSW is next on 14, then SA on 5, WA on 2, Tassie on 2, NT on 1 and Vic on 1.

Elsewhere the exceptional Mr Meganomics has a great article on some Newspoll data in terms of actual numbers of people over HERE

UPDATE:

You can see the results of this in terms of which seats would go by visiting Antony Greens spiffy election calculator, with the results pre-linked in HERE

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Posted in Polling, Voting behaviour | Tagged: , , , , | 81 Comments »

Why Rates Matter

Posted by Possum Comitatus on October 26, 2007

crikey1.jpg

Me in Crikey yesterday HERE

And below:

Yesterdays post “Rates of Gloom” was actually a more in-depth spin-off of this post, so for those of you struggling to follow the stats, this should make everything a lot clearer.

In Rates of Gloom we just modelled the relationship we see below, but also accounted for the effect of leadership changes (the leadership dummy variables) and the honeymoon period that both leadership changes and interest rate rises enjoy (through the time trend variable). Just as the leadership changes of Latham and Rudd increased the ALP vote before it declined from that peak slowly over time as the honeymoon ended, so to with an interest rate rise. After a rate rise, the ALP vote moves up, but then slowly over time it pulls back slightly. There are more complicated ways to model that type of behaviour, but the time trend variable did the job adequately.

So if you read this post first and keep the above in your thought orbit, for those of you not big on the stats side of things it should make Rates of Gloom a bit easier to follow.

———————————————————–

With interest rates and widespread navel gazing about the political consequences taking up the media-space, today instead of picking the verbal lint from our bellybuttons over the issue, how about we go to some spiffy little charts that sum up perfectly the millions of words that will be written over the next month.

First up, let’s run the RBA cash rate against the PM dissatisfaction rating over the period 1999-2007, using Newspoll monthly averages for the latter:

ratevpmdissat1.jpg

Now how is that for a snazzy little leading indicator!

Next up we’ll run the cash rate against the Opposition primary vote over the same period using Newspoll monthly averages:

ratevalpprim1.jpg

 

One word sums that up – Ouch.

Now for the relationship between the Opposition primary vote and the PM dissatisfaction rating:

pmdisatvalpprim1.jpg

And that sums up the debate – three graphs are worth a million words.

The only question becomes whether interest rate increases lift the Opposition primary vote directly, whether it increases the Opposition primary vote via PM Dissatisfaction or whether it works via both channels?

As far as the Coalition is concerned however, it’s probably a moot point.

UPDATE:

I was just informed of a pretty spiffy site:

Soapbox is a unique Australian political archive of
federal elections, bringing together key historical documents and
audio-visual material, and making them available to students, researchers,
journalists and the general public.”

It’s a cracker of a site if you are into historical election material. Very, very, very much worth a visit:

http://soapbox.unimelb.edu.au/

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Posted in Crikey, Leading Indicators, Voting behaviour | Tagged: , , , , | 65 Comments »

Rates of Gloom

Posted by Possum Comitatus on October 25, 2007

It’s equation time!

So how important is the cash rate on the Oppositions primary vote?

We’ve modelled this before over here in terms of the effect a rate change has on the primary votes of major parties and how long it takes for that effect to flow through, but today we’ll take a different approach entirely.

What we’ll do today is make a simple model that can explain the effect (if any) the cash rate level has on the ALP primary vote by taking into account the ALP leadership and any linear time trends that may be floating around in the mix.

So to start with we’ll be using the period from 1999 through to the present, and the basic model we’ll be looking at is:

gloomeq1.jpg

Where:

ALP = the ALP primary vote at time t (where t is the month).
Cash Rate = the RBA cash rate at time t.
Time = a time variable that has a value of 1 in January 1999, 2 in February 1999 etc right through to its current value of 106 in October 2007.
DummyRudd = dummy variable which has a value of 1 for the periods of the Rudd leadership and zero for all other times.
DummyLatham = dummy variable which has a value of 1 for the periods of the Latham leadership and zero for all other times.

So what we are modelling here is how value of the cash rate explains the level of the Oppositions primary vote, but where we also account for the two leadership periods of Latham and Rudd having an effect, as well as allowing for a linear trend to manifest in the vote.

Once we run the regression model, our results come out as:

cashrateeq1.jpg

Which, for the non-geeks can be visualised as this:

cashratemodelgraph1.jpg

[Note: I’ve ignored the autoregressive nature of the polling series so that the results can be better visualised for the non math-geeks here]

The “Fitted Primary Vote” in the graph is our modelled vote based on the regression equation.

So what to make of it?

For every 1 point increase in the cash rate, the ALP primary vote increases by 3.5 points. So if rates were to rise by 0.25 in November, the ALP primary would be expected to rise by 0.9 points, or around 1 point.

It also suggests that the Rudd leadership (or what has happened during the period of the Rudd leadership) has boosted the ALP primary vote by around 8 points, and that Latham boosted the ALP primary vote by about 2.5 points (which is fair enough considering that Latham took over from the dire polling position Crean had created).

All up, our variables explain about 75% of the movement in the ALP primary vote over the period 1999 through to the present.

If we now run the equation again, but this time using the ALP two party preferred vote, remove the time trend variable and use the period from December 2002 through to today (simply because my TPP figures before that are in a database that I’ve stuffed up and need to rebuild 😉 ) we get:

crequatalptpp1.jpg

This gives us a visualised model of:

crgraphalptpp1.jpg

 

Again, our variables here explain about 75% of the movement in the ALP two-party preferred vote, the cash rate has nearly identical influence on the TPP here as it did to the primary vote in the first equation, Latham again lifted the TPP vote about the same as he lifted the primary, but this time the Rudd leadership has increased the TPP vote only around 3.5%. This is expected as remember the ALP TPP had been growing constantly since the last election, it was their primary vote that got the big boost under Rudd.

So all up, if rates rise by 0.25 points, the ALP can expect their primary vote to increase by about a point, and their two party preferred vote to do likewise.

 

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Posted in Election Forecasting, Voting behaviour | Tagged: , , , , , , | 51 Comments »

Coalition of the Stiffed

Posted by Possum Comitatus on October 25, 2007

crikey1.jpg

Me in Crikey yesterday HERE.

And have a look around the Crikey bunker while you’re there.

—————————————————–

The “It’s Time” factor seems to be on the tips of politically fashionable lips everywhere at the moment, but what is interesting with the whole “It’s Time” thing is the underlying dynamics of it that have been going on over the last 6 years or so.

One of the more well argued theories about the Howard government is that there has been two Howard governments, the one that went from 1996 through to the Ryan by-election of 2001, and the one we’ve had since. The former was the fiscally prudent, measured and relatively cautious government, the latter is the big spending, whatever it takes, wedge first & clean up the mess later government. The Responsible vs. Populist faces of the Howard administration writ large.

There is some compelling evidence of this theory if we look at the three measures of government support in the polls; the government primary vote, Howard’s preferred PM rating, and Howard’s satisfaction rating.

If we chart these three measures against each other starting from the 1996 election through to the present, you can see clearly how the dynamics between these three measures over the two Howard governments changed quite dramatically. For this we are using Newspoll monthly averages.

3measuresgov1.jpg

Between 1996 and just before the 2001 election, the three measures walked in relative lockstep, yet from the 2001 election onward, where Tampa and S11 played havoc with the polling, the story has been dramatically different.

People clearly became more satisfied with the way Howard was doing his job, and his preferred PM ratings increased to a level far higher than was the case over the first 5 years of his government. The primary vote however became relatively disconnected from these qualitative measures. The pursuit of a populist face delivered in the areas where one would expect – the qualitative ratings.

On the Opposition side of the ledger, a completely different dynamic was playing out:

3measuresopp1.jpg

If we take 2003 for instance, it really is quite a feat to have a higher primary vote than a satisfaction rating. The vote during that period probably represented the absolute baseline primary vote level of the ALP, the real deal True Believers if you will.

Yet the problem with being a populist government is that you end up fighting nearly all of your battles on the populist front. If that’s where you shift the PR focus, that’s inevitably where the electoral competition plays out. We witnessed that with the Latham leadership – the reading of books to rugrats and the politician’s superannuation issue. But the problem with populism is that the nature of what is popular and what captures the public’s attention shifts with time. And like most peddlers of fads, unless you keep changing with the times and keep feeding fresh popular initiatives into the system, public attention starts to wane and people start switching off. Worse still is the possibility that the public start seeing the populist initiatives for what they really are. Porkbarrels and scare campaigns only work for so long, they might give you the short term boost, but they also destroy your longer term core credibility if their electoral razzle-dazzle becomes passé or time shows the electoral stunts to be nonsense.

Another problem with the populist approach is that what is popular for some is anathema to others. Think the race dog-whistle and how that plays out in Fairfax compared to North Sydney. Think reconciliation and how that plays out in North Sydney compared to Fairfax. Populist policies have a tendency to give with one demographic hand and take away with the other. But after a long enough period, there’s something to dislike for everyone. People have good memories when it comes to being on the wrong side of a wedge, the losing side of a porkbarrel or the neglected side of a voting demographic. That alone reduces the long term power of the populist approach.

People remember when they’ve been screwed far more than they remember when they’ve been electorally smooched.

That gets us onto how that effect plays out and there’s two little graphs worth having a geek at. The first is the government primary vote charted against a cubic time trend via a regression equation. What the cubic time trend allows us to do is create a line of best fit onto the government primary vote that takes into account its honeymoon period and its 2001-2004 populist revival:

cubic1.jpg

The regression equation that created that line explains around 50% of the movement in the government’s primary vote over the period of 1996 to the present. As we can see, the trailing off since 2004 has become pronounced. It also reflects pretty well the consequences of playing on the populist front for too long. When you combine that with the public impact of hard policy issues like Workchoices (in terms of both experience and perception), being on a hiding to none is hardly a surpise.

The next little graph worth looking at is a quadratic time trend charted against the government primary vote for the period since the 2001 election, where the populist change of the government began.

quadratic1.jpg

Which highlights the key problem that the government is experiencing; the populist approach to government has political blowback as an inevitable consequence.

You might be able to get a short term boost out if it, you may even be able to suck a few years worth of support out of it, but it will always kill you in the end as a “Coalition of the Stiffed” starts building against you.

Having an Opposition Leader that is more popular than a piece of mouldy cheese and doesn’t look like he’ll lead the country to Armageddon just allows the fallout to manifest more brutally than it ordinarily would.

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