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June 22 JSCEM submissions

Seen this? It's been up for a while, submissions to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters' enquiry into the 2004 election.

Antony Green's there, of course, and so is William (aka Poll Bludger) Bowe. I contributed to the Democratic Audit of Australia submission. Colin Hughes, my thesis co-supervisor and former Electoral Commissioner, has one too.

These enquiries, which occur after every election, are a kind of on-going fine tuning of Australian electoral administration. 

Opinion polls - important?

The main published political opinion polls regularly report three things: voting intention, preferred PM and approval rating. This is their order of importance.

Approval rating no doubt reveals something, but it's not electability. Mark Latham, for example, recorded the highest approval ratings in polling history but took Labor to its second worst result in at least 25 years. 

Imagine you are asked to respond to such a survey question. If you were a diehard supporter of the opposition party, and you thought they were going to win the next election, you'd give the leader a tick. If not, and you'd been reading for months how dreadful the leader is, you might say they were doing a terrible job. Probably about a quarter of the population is a die-in-the-ditch Laborite, and this was always Simon Crean's problem: Labor supporters thought he would never deliver. With Latham it was the opposite: True Believers reckoned he was the one to defeat Howard.

Other respondents might believe that the opposition leader was doing a good job ... such a good job that they should remain opposition leader after the election. They like things the way they are. Approval ratings don't mean much.

On Preferred PM, consider this: John Hewson achieved higher scores than Paul Keating as Preferred PM throughout the 1993 campaign, while John Howard scored below Keating (by a couple of points) during the 1996 one. While not the third hand regurgitation of received wisdom that "approval" is, it's a pretty woolly beast that reveals something about Australians' attitudes to authority but not much about who they're going to vote for.

Generally, though, the incumbent wins preferred PM, even if they're heading for a landslide loss and the voting intention polls point to that loss. Recall 1996 again. And at every change of government at state level in the last decade the premier remained preferred comfortably preferred up to polling day. (In South Australia, where the Premier stayed on as Opposition Leader, he and the new Premier pretty well swapped preferred premier ratings after the election.)

Voting intention is, obviously, the most important, because votes are the darned things that determine elections, but this too needs to be treated with caution. Phoning people up (or visiting them), telling them to imagine there's an election on today - and who would they vote for? - is a highly artificial exercise. The mind isn't focussed, there hasn't been a campaign.

See also this from a few years ago.

June 21 Newspoll in the Oz says 49 to 51

Actually a 4 point narrowing of the gap, but Dennis-coloured glasses give you something else.

And a Latham-era remnant can't help himself.

June 19 NT Labor has big win: 17-18 seats out of 25

And Opposition Leader Denis Burke loses his seat.

Antony doesn't give territory-wide two party preferred on the ABC website, but it might, from those primary numbers, be about 57 to 43 [update: apparently it's about 59 to 41], figures comparable to the first re-elections of Bob Carr in NSW, Peter Beattie in Queensland and Steve Bracks in Victoria (and to the second ones of the first two premiers).

Apparently there is some shock at the one-sided result. But anyone who had been observing Australian state elections for the last several years shouldn't have been surprised, because this sort of thing has been the rule rather than exception. (The closest to an exception was WA Labor's relatively modest win early this year.)

I gather Burke provided a tidy hook for commentators, proposing something similar to Colin Barnett's water project in WA several months ago. Others will carry on about "conviction politicians". I would instead say that this is simply Australians are doing right now, and we can't really fathom the reasons. But I reckon John Howard in the federal sphere has something to do with it, as does about 14 years of economic growth.

Compare and contrast

The CLP probably emerged with 24 percent of Legislative Assembly seats. See how that compares with state counterparts. (Answer: not well.)

June 18 NT election day! I'm with William: Labor to win 17 seats?

It's 2pm on Saturday, I'm just back from a month overseas, apparently Northern Territory goes to polls today. Reading Poll Bludger and Antony Green, noting a recent Newspoll showing Labor a mile ahead, and otherwise in close to total ignorance (but taking into account what's been happening at state/territory level in recent years), I'm going for the ALP picking up a net two to five seats, so emerging with between 15 and 18 seats out of 25. Let's say 17 seats. 

This is the same as Mr Bludger's reckoning (although William does rather equivocate).

As I said, I haven't been following, but it's a fair bet that someone somewhere has gone to the trouble of overlaying the 2004 result on territory boundaries. This is always useless in anticipating a result. For one thing, Labor has quite often won the two party preferred NT federal vote, but has never (not even in 2001) won it at the territory level. We should expect a comfortable Labor 2pp victory tonight, however.

June 2 Northern Territory

A certain poll bludger does the NT election. From memory, Labor won with a low 48 percent of the two party preferred vote in 2001. In line with other recent results, and going as usual with the macro, I'm anticipating an easy win for the incumbent. By definition, as the ALP had never won an election before 2001, an increased majority means taking seats they never have before.

May 29 This that and the other

On the road at moment. Hence little/no activity. 

May 14 Harry half-right

Matt Price in the Oz a while back wrote something along the lines of: there surely exist in this world folks who give a rat's arse what Laurie Ferguson and Rod Sawford think about the Labor leadership .. but no-one's ever come across one. Can we add Harry Quick to those two names? (All three were shocking lemmings of course.)

Yesterday, while complaining about lack of consultation by the Labor leadership, Harry boasted of increasing his own margin at several elections against national trends. Here's the transcript from ABC's PM.

True? Well, at the 2004 election Harry's margin shrunk by half a percent. But that was certainly better than the national swing of 1.8 percent to the Coalition, and not to mention the Tasmanian swing of 3.5 percent. See this page and  that (compiled before counting was completed, but still roughly accurate.) While about a third of Labor HoR candidates across the country got better swings than Harry, he easily out-performed (in swing terms) all five Tassie ones.

And previous polls? In 2001 Harry got a positive swing of 1.4 percent against Tasmania's 0.4 percent in the same direction and a 2% national swing against. That's good as well. But in 1998 he managed just 1.9 percent while Tasmania went to Labor by a whopping 5.7 percent, and the country went by 4.6 percent. 

So, while he's done relatively well at the last two polls, it's a mixed bag. Taking a longer view: since 1996, the ALP has achieved a net swing of 0.9 percent (progress!), Tasmania has swung to Labor by 2.6 percent, and Harry's vote has gone up by almost the state amount - 2.8 percent.

So Harry's half-right.

Unca Alan continues to confuse his own preferences in a Labor opposition leader with those of the electorate. If only Marky Mark was still running the show! He'd be taking the fight up "like Kilkenny Cats", to be sure.

(Others might remember Latham as a serial Howard imitator who went to water at the slightest provocation.)

May 10 Nielsen: 51 to 49

Plus something or other about the Liberal leadership. Table here

Writes Mike Seccombe: "the most worrying number for Labor .. was a six-point fall in Mr Beazey's approval rating ... ", but actually "approval rating" is the least meaningful of the commonly measured troika. (The second is "preferred PM". "Voting intention" is the most important, but also needs to be treated cautiously.)

May 7 UK: Labour wins third term, and M. Howard resigns ..

.. so sparing himself anguish. Voter turnout up a little on 2001 apparently, to the surprise of most.

This, anticipated a few weeks ago, might have already begun.

Recall also this, one half of which got that response. 

Why didn't Crosby's "dog-whistle" take hold in the United Kingdom?

As mentioned here on many occasions, there are things you can do from government and those you can do from opposition. John Howard whistled an anti-Asian immigration tune in 1988 and lost the leadership the following year. Andrew Peacock had a dabble on the Japanese Multi Function Polis in 1990 and was declared, by none other than Paul Kelly, "unfit for the Lodge". 

But when Howard goes way over the top in 2001 ("I don't want people of that type in this country") he is considered a genius.  The difference is he is already PM. Occupants inherit respect, built up by predecessors, and can deplete that capital for the benefit of their own. There's the difference between incumbency and opposition, and one difference between Australia 2001 and UK 2005.

May 3 2005 Three Amigos: you go Brendan

An MP, unless she or he is totally silly (like Lemmings), would approach the leadership of their party with two things in mind: what sort of a Prime Minister a person would make, and how likely they are to win the next election. Presumably the second part predominates.

I think it was Mr Eastwood who said "deserve's got nothing to do with it". Most Liberal members see the PM as electorally indispensible.  Poor Peter. 

Anyway, I still hold to Howard handing over the reins before the next election when he understands he'll lose. It's time to give Peter a go after all, he might say.  Our PM is nothing if not self-serving. But with the belief in caucus that they need another right-wing populist, Mr Costello might find himself passed over.

Do step forward, Dr Brendan Nelson, unequalled political harlot. 

Latest Newspoll: 48 to 52.

April 25 A Parallel Universe

Nice piece on Sir Joh by Brian Costar in The Age which contains the common assertion that if it weren't for "Joh for Canberra", Howard would have become PM in 1987. (This was encouraged on election night by Bill Hayden - "I want to thank the Premier of my home state".) 

We'll never know, of course, but I think it unlikely. Hawke won a 24 seat majority 18 years ago, a 3.4 percent vote margin in uniform terms, so it wasn't particularly close.


April 24 Now don't you worry about that

  • Joh Bjelke-Petersen was sometimes compared with Huey "The Kingfish" Long, a Democrat with fascist tendencies who was Governor of Louisiana 1928-1932, then a Senator with presidential aspirations. He was assassinated in 1935. 

  • The phrase "gerrymander", on the other hand, comes from a Governor Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts over a century earlier.

  • Labor politicians preferred the hard "j" pronunciation of the second letter in "Bjelke" over the "y", because it sounded more grating and foreign. (Not a fact, just an observation.) And from his point of view, of course, Joh (pronounced "Joe") was infinitely more Aussie than "Johannes".

  • Queensland is the only Australian mainland state in which more people live outside the capital than in. This helps explain why the Nationals are the predominate Coalition partner. (Electoral boundary funny business also contributed.) 

  • It might also be said that, again with Tasmania, Qld is the only state without a "Labor heartland", and so when federal Labor goes down big time - eg 1996, 1975  - they lose close to everything in Qld.

  • It is also, of course, the only state with no upper house.

  • Finally, Queensland is a large state with a small state mentality. That's why, if Beazley falls over, the ALP should install a Queenslander.

End of lesson.

April 19 Newspoll in Oz

says 51 to 49 here.

April 16 Some links

1. A reader recently invited me to compile a timetable of upcoming Australian state elections; funnily enough I declined. But the Federal Parliament House library which, in case you didn't know, produces wonderful things, has compiled one [PDF]. I discovered this via a Democratic Audit newsletter.

To be added to the Democratic Audit email list, send email to daa, followed as you might imagine by the 'at' sign, then (Disclosure: I'm peripherally involved)


Mr Morgan says 53 to 47, following Nielsen's 52 to 48 on Tuesday and Newspoll's 51 to 49 last week. 

April 9 Pope John?

A sanctimonious old so-and-so shuffled off this coil last weekend, and the days since, positively Diana-esque, have made the telly all but unwatchable. Our media organs have given us a typical self-feeding cart-before-horse trick: we've made the decision to inflict wall to wall John Paul on the poor public, now let's find a reason why. Why are we devoting so much time to this man?

Could it be because he's the Pope, and he's been there a bloody long time? Heavens no, we need a much more interesting hook, so it turns out he was really one out of the box - the "People's Pope", responsible for the fall of communism, respected across the planet and - wait for it - "really popular with young people". That last one's always a good for old blokes.

Here's the link to Australian politics: John Howard, and his place in the media. He, too, according to more fantasy-prone commentators, is very popular with youngies - it's hip to be square, rebelling against their baby-boomer parents and all that - and "battlers" (ie "the people"), we know, can't get enough of him. 

And there's the confusion between the person and the office, specifically, the dignity and respect bestowed by history and the country on the latter are mistaken for innate qualities of the current occupant.

Campaign managers

In January I expressed envy towards those who run election campaigns. Last week got this email from the WA Labor Secretary. Perhaps Lynton will make contact next month.

April 6 Newspoll preferences!

Someone, somewhere, enjoys my semi-regular Newspoll preference ruminations. 

See the three men, above. The big one in the middle was a lucky lucky fellow on several fronts during his opposition leadership, including Newspoll's decision, for the first time ever, to measure preferences outside an election campaign. They did this from January to October 2004, but their measuring tools weren't much chop, and it seems they regularly overstated the preference flow to Labor. (See various outfits' preference strategies in 2004.)

The man at left - he may look familiar - generally had dreadful luck, including leading the ALP at a time of unprecedented Green support, about three quarters of which was really Labor support under another name and would, under the compulsory numbering of preferences, always come back to the ALP. But until early 2003 Newspoll didn't even bother with preferences (outside an election campaign) and neither did Mr Shanahan's reports. This made Crean look (even) worse than he was.

Newspoll is now back to its 2003 strategy of allocating preferences according to how they flowed en masse at the last election. A Newspoll in the Oz yesterday [no link] had Labor on 41, Coalition on 43 and Greens on 5 - two party preferred 51 to 49. Good headline for man at right.

If we go back to last year, in late August, a Newspoll measuring 40, 43  and 6 came out at 52 to 48 - an even better story for boofy fellow in middle. (If Newspoll had been using today's preference strategy, it would probably have been 51 to 49)

And the unlucky man at left? In late September 2002 he gets 39 to 41 and 7. No mention of preferences, and so the PM remains invincible, specifically, says the report: "the Coalition and John Howard remain in a dominant position". Newspoll's current preference allocation would, applied to those numbers, have also come to 51 to 49. Simon Crean wasn't much of a leader, but he wasn't as bad as they said, and it's likely the apocalyptic Oz reports fed back into measured approval ratings amongst Labor supporters.

The end. That wasn't too painful, was it?

April 4 My defence

A couple of emails last week took me to task. One asserted I'm a flip-flopper on Beazley, backing away from previous suggestions, like this, that with Bomber back, Howard will run a mile from the leadership during this term. The other reckoned I criticise journalists for not accurately predicting election results. My responses:

1. Nosir, haven't backtracked on Kim. Right until election day 2004 I thought he should have been leading the ALP, that we'd now have a Labor government if he had been, but that doesn't mean he's the solution now, and I'm lukewarm on his return. It's different now - three years to go, about a third of caucus seem to really detest him ...

But I still think that, if he's there at the next election, he'll probably win. (If you believe it's silly to say that so far out, I say it's no sillier than assuming, as most seem to, that the Coalition probably will.) The PM will try like mad to hand the can to poor Costello (or whoever). Or if he's smart he'll pre-empt and leave earlier.

Emailer refers to "Beazley, the Labor colossus" - meaning that this is how I see him. Not at all. Most visitors to this site would know I don't believe in phenomenal opposition leaders wresting votes off incumbents. Instead, my templates tend to have opposition leaders in the right place at the right time and not making a mess of it.

2. On the second point - not true, I don't criticise anyone for mis-anticipating election results.  I specifically defended the practice at Crikey several months ago. It's the lack of evident self-reflection that's a worry - between writing one thing (eg before polling day) and another afterwards. One minute Latham is the answer to Labor's problems, the next he's either electoral poison, but no ruminating on what was wrong with the previous analysis, or he's still wonderful but the fault lay elsewhere - forest policy for example. Or it turns out he was too "left wing".

For a variation, see former Labor Senator Stephen Loosely. Before October 9 he thought Latham the bee's knees because he had moved Labor to the middle and reconnected with middle Australia. Afterwards, Latham was still wonderful, so wonderful that he was going to take the party to the middle and reconnect with voters.

April 2 Wacky Mr Morgan says 50.5 to 49.5

April 1 From the vault: Bomber backs Latham

Many a commentator today urges Kim Beazley to position himself smack bang in the Hawke-Keating legacy of economic reform, rather than distance himself as (they say) has been his habit. My memory is the opposite, that the nagging was all in the other direction in those first two terms: Beazley really had to differentiate himself from his predecessors, all that economic stuff - along with other parts of the "big picture" - had alienated the Labor base, he was showing too much loyalty to Keating and had to be prepared to tip the bucket.

I particularly recall the SMH's Mike Seccombe with words to that effect. My database search was fruitless there, but I came up with almost a gem about an impressive young Turk from Sydney's west. Wrote Mike two days after Howard's March 2 1996 win:

"Kim Beazley [the likely stop-gap leader if he held his seat, still being counted and too close to call] ... already is privately suggesting Mr Latham as the next Labor Prime Minister - not Labor leader, because there could be a couple of them to come and go before the ALP gets its hands on the levers of government again.

It is not an insult to Mr Latham but a measure of how devastated Labor is that a man who was not even in the Keating ministry could be touted in such a way."

Almost happened.

March 26 2005 On the UK Tories adopting Tampa 

Lynton Crosby, I've suggested previously, should do well out of the Tory campaign. They'll most likely get a swing which will, as happens with campaign managers, be interpreted as evidence of Lynton's genius. (Bad results are always the parliamentary leader's fault.) In reality the swing probably would have happened anyway.

But will the Tories find this John Howard dog-whistle stuff returning to haunt them? It's one thing to do it and succeed: winners are grinners, Rupert's still on side, all is forgiven, whingers are out of touch with the people, just sour grapes etc. But if the Tories lose after running the "are you thinking what we're thinking?" campaign (and they almost certainly will lose), the court of public opinion will be seen to have repudiated "grubby politics" and there might be some harsh judgement. Crosby can always bugger off back to Australia, where a fawning media still treats him as a hero (routinely crediting him with "four federal Coalition wins" when he only ran two), but poor Michael Howard will remain in England. 

Picture it now: UK Conservative MPs coming out to insist they were always appalled at the tactics, newspapers rounding on the Tories and so on: really, you'd think a Jewish person would have known better. Not pleasant. Let's watch and see.

The charms of Tony Abbott: a guy thing?

Tony Abbott gets great press, and not just from ideological bedfellows. Your more 'liberal' writers, like Matt Price, Jack Waterford (no link, but finds Tony "one of our more likeable politicians")  and Mike Carlton, are very fond of our health minister, invariably painting an almost Reaganesque picture: irrespective of what you think of his politics, he's a good bloke, with a self-deprecating openness and charm. You can't help liking the man. 

But female members of the press gallery don't tend to get into all that. They seem to keep their distance, and two possible reasons spring to mind. 

(1) Unlike their bloke counterparts, they don't easily separate his politics from his person. Carlton, for example, is from the old - line-the beers-along-the-bar - school of journalism. He finds Abbott's politics "odious and immature", but chaps can put these things aside and move onto rugger.

Abbott's big thing is of course abortion, and many female journos may find it difficult to quarantine the odious from the personal.

(2) He might also behave differently in the company of women. Or he may behave the same way but they find it phoney and creepy. 

Don't mind me, just thinking out loud.

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