Tuesday, October 12, 2004

All dressed up and nowhere to go (electoraly) 

Labor had all the good policies and all the poll- and focus groups-tested strategies:

"Labor made a handover of power between [Prime Minister] John Howard and [Treasurer] Peter Costello a focus of its campaign after internal polling showed it was the fourth-biggest reason for people to switch their vote.

"Labor polling obtained by The Australian shows the thought of a leadership handover to the Treasurer made 40 per cent of swinging voters less likely to vote for the Coalition and 31 per cent much less likely.

"Ten days before the campaign began, extensive polling of Mr Costello's standing found he had a positive rating of only 37 per cent and a negative rating of 50 per cent...Labor was heartened that its strategy was working when Mr Costello's ratings deteriorated during the final two weeks of the campaign."
But that wasn't all: "The Labor research found 64 per cent of voters in marginal seats were aware of [its education] policy within three days of its release and two-thirds of those aware of it had a positive view. The research showed 44 per cent thought their own child's school would be better off and 9 per cent thought it would be worse off. It its understood the schools policy was rated among the top three or four vote-switchers."

By the way, in case you're curious, Labor lost the election.

To fill in non-Australian readers, Labor tried to make an issue of the fact that John Howard, now 65 year old, did not explicitly commit himself to serving the full three year term as Prime Minister and would probably sometime in the near future step down in favour of his deputy, Treasurer Peter Costello. So Labor ran a campaign to the effect that if you vote for Howard, you will get Costello. What Labor failed to realise was that many (swinging voters in particular) were more concern that if they vote for Latham, they will get Latham.

So what happened? Labor seemed to have the fourth and the third top vote switching issues, and while the story doesn't say what number one and two were, methinks the Liberal Party had their fingers on these particular two. As the article says, "Labor's campaign was swamped by the Coalition's message that interest rates would always be higher under a Labor government."

As the old slogan goes, "it's the economy stupid." It's not always right - sometimes there are more important issues, as when your country is under attack, but as the Prime Minister argued, good economy - and good economic management - matter, because without them nothing else is possible. Arguably, what the Labor Party failed to understand was that while Mark Latham has managed to energise the demoralised Labor Party base with his freshness, drive and combativeness (shades of Howard Dean?), he did not have a similar effect on the soft swinging voters who remained apprehensive about his erratic behaviour and lack of experience. The "swingers", being the least ideological of the voters, tend to base their voting decisions on the direct and immediate impact policies and candidates will have on their hip pockets. In this context, Latham was just too risky - he was the biggest switch.


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