Monday, 13 December 2004

Blackmailers In the Ranks - a Government with a Senate majority

The conventional wisdom has it that the Howard Government will have an open slather with legislation when the Liberal and National Parties gain control of the Senate on 1 July 2005. In truth the situation will not be so simple.
What will happen next year is that blackmailers outside the Coalition will be replaced with blackmailers within it. The power to decide will pass from Democrats, Greens and Independents to any backbench Senator on the Government side disenchanted with the role being a rubber stamp for his or her colleagues fortunate enough to have been tapped on the shoulder by John Howard or John Anderson to become Ministers.
The significance of this shift in power form the third forces to backbench Government Senators has been missed by the political commentators because so few of them were around in the days when Reg Wright, the Liberal Senator from Tasmania, was the bete noir of Prime Minister Robert Menzies. Senator Wright, sometimes with his Queensland colleague Senator Ian Wood, regularly forced his side of politics to reconsider issues under the threat that he would vote against legislation if they did not. In a Senate career of 28 years he eventually voted against his own side on more than 150 occasions. Eventually John Gorton as Prime Minister realised that the only way to remove the irritant was to promote Reg into the Ministry where he served as an insignificant Minister for Works before returning to his role as a Prime Ministerial irritant during the early years of Malcolm Fraser’s rule.
Next year the most likely government rebels are National Party Senators who realise that there are those in the grass roots of their Party who believe that there would be greater influence in not participating in a Coalition Government at all. An occasional bit of muscle flexing would help appease those elements.
Not that the revolts have to be on the floor of the Senate. Senators with an objection to a piece of Government legislation can achieve their aims by making their views known behind closed doors.

Wednesday, 8 December 2004

Eight out of Nine Ain’t Bad - the Labor brand

There are nine governments in Australia – those of six states, two territories and the federal one. In Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia, Western Australia, the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory, Labor rules. For a political brand, eight ninths of the market can’t be bad.
Yet since losing the ninth election to John Howard’s Liberal-National coalition, the newspapers and the airwaves have been full of discussions about the need for Labor to undergo radical change. It is like the thinking of that head of Coca Cola who decided that the formula of the most successful soft drink in the world needed to be changed because it had lost a few percentage points of market share. Utter nonsense.
There is nothing fundamentally wrong with the Labor Party brand. In so far as there is a problem federally it is because the federal party leaders, unlike their state counterparts, have forgotten who they should be trying to sell their product to. In recent years they have been more interested in minor segments than the mass market. It really is as simple as that.
Changing the chief salesman without changing the target of his or her message will achieve little. But there is some evidence about the kind of person who would be the most effective at getting the message across. A person who voters are familiar with has a much better chance of success than some one who is relatively unknown.
The following table shows the age and length of political service of Australian Prime Ministers at the time of their first victory to become Prime Minister or as Prime Minister. Non election winners are excluded and Bob Hawke’s length of prior political experience is shown as 10 years not three because once he became a President of the ACTU in 1971 he was as much a political figure as any member of the House of Representatives.

Australia's Winning Prime Ministers

Year of First VictoryPrime MinisterAgeYears in Politics
1901Sir Edmund Barton5222
1903Alfred Deakin4824
1910Andrew Fisher4717
1913Joseph Cook5222
1917William Morris Hughes5423
1925Stanley Melbourne Bruce417
1929James Scullin5319
1931Joseph Lyons5122
1940John Curtin5511
1946Ben Chifley6117
1949Robert Menzies5420
1966Harold Holt5831
1969John Gorton5819
1972Gough Whitlam5619
1975Malcolm Fraser4519
1983Robert Hawke5310
1993Paul Keating4924
1996John Howard5622

Labour Contenders

Mark Latham4310
Kim Beazley5624
Kevin Rudd476
Stephen Smith4911
Wayne Swan5011
The only exception on that list to the rule that experience counts is Stanley Melbourne Bruce who won his first election as Prime Minister at the age of 41 after being in Parliament only seven years. But Bruce was a decorated hero of Gallipoli who had been Prime Minister for two and a half years before leading his party to victory in 1925. Mark Latham this year was trying to become the second youngest man to become Prime Minister at an election after being in Parliament only a decade without becoming any kind of household name apart from publicity about leaving his first wife and thumping a taxi driver.
It will take another three House of Representative terms for Mark Latham to reach the average age and length of political service of those winning Prime Ministers. Kevin Rudd is even more of a political babe in the woods and while Stephen Smith and Wayne Swan will reach the magic age before the next election they are well short of the time in Parliament that most previous winners have taken to make their mark on the public.

The conclusion that it was a mistake not to return to Kim Beazley before the last election is hard to avoid.

Thursday, 4 November 2004

Another Triumph for the Glug Election Indicator

The Glug Election Indicator performed creditably in picking the United States election result. It had George W. Bush a 56.6% chance of remaining President which translates in to a prediction of a 50.3% national vote for Bush. That was lower than the 51.1% shown by the current actual figures but substantially closer than the 49.4%prediction of Messrs Zogby and co.
If you are wondering how a 56.6% chance of winning becomes a predicted vote of 50.3%, we assume a normal distribution with a standard deviation of 1.5 percentage points. That is the standard deviation which the University of Iowa found applied to its Iowa Electronic Markets on political elections. (See So Who is the Underdog) in our Election Diary archive.
The Glug indicator, incidentally, predicted that the Liberal-National Coalition in Australia was a 77.8% chance of winning. That assumed a two party preferred vote of 51.2%. The final figure was 52.7%.

Another Crushing Defeat for Journalists and the Opinion Poll Industry .

There have been three predictions of cliff hanger election results by political journalists and opinion pollsters in English speaking democracies this year. And three clear cut wins by incumbent governments have made the pollsters and the other pundits look less reliable than astrologers.
Consider this wonderful document posted on the web site of Zogby International – the much quoted American polling guru.
Released: November 02, 2004

Our Call
Zogby International's 2004 Predictions
(as of Nov. 2, 2004 5:00pm EST)

2004 Presidential Election

Electoral Votes





Too close to callNevada (5)
Too close to callColorado (5)
Zogby International Finds: Bush at 49.4%, Kerry at 49.1%
The nationwide telephone poll of 955 likely voters was conducted (November 1-2, 2004). The MOE is +/- 3.2
(as of Nov. 2, 2004 5:00pm EST)
901 Broad Street, Utica, New York 13501 USA
1600 K Street, Suite 600, Washington,DC, 20006 USA NY phone 315.624.0200
Toll Free in the U.S. and Canada 1-877-GO-2-POLL | fax 315.624.0210
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Contact our web manager with any comments regarding this web site.

Copyright by Zogby International.
How about that for a fearless prediction! No wonder the British journalist Christopher Hitchens commented on the ABC’s Lateline last night that after Bush’s clear win "above all else people will laugh when they hear the word Zogby." In my opinion we should laugh at every pollster in every country and positively heckle any journalist stupid enough to quote one.
Zogby’s prediction of a 49.4% vote for Bush and 49.1% for Kerry was well wide of the mark. At the time of writing this comment, the New York Times website showed the primary vote as 51.1% for Bush and 48.0% for Kerry. In terms of electoral college votes the Times had it 249 to Bush and 242 for Kerry with 47 undecided with the paper’s lead story saying that "President Bush today seemed headed toward winning enough Electoral College votes to assure his re-election."
Heading indeed! That very cautious approach smacks of a paper that had been taking notice of Zogby and wanted to preserve the fiction of the cliff hanger (and thus their own credibility) for as long as possible. Only the ardent supporters of a party dominated by trial lawyers like the Democrats, who are itching to show their cleverness with a series of court challenges, would be hesitating about declaring George Dubya the clear victor.
I far prefer the honesty of the Toronto Star which had a headline after the Canadian Government was comfortably returned back in June that should be indelibly imprinted on the mind of anyone with the slightest interest in elections:
Results Confound Pollsters
Numbers Meant Little in the End
Were People Lying to Them?
The Canadian equivalents of Zogby had predicted that the election would be neck and neck with the governing Liberals on 32% and the opposition Tories on 31%. The Liberals ended up with 37% of the vote and a comfortable victory. Hence those headlines.
In between the Canadian and United States elections was our own poll where the government of John Howard increased its vote in the face of the pollsters predicting a decline.
In the face of these three disastrous results for the pollsters I can but repeat the advice I gave in the first entry in my Australian election diary back on 1st July 2004: "we should studiously ignore the opinion polls."

Monday, 11 October 2004

2004 Federal Election Diary - Look for Fundamental Change

11th October, 2004  - Richard Farmer 
With the wonders of hindsight I can see what an excellent job the Coalition did on the Greens. I should have factored the attacks on radical Green policies into my calculations. Because of them the vote for minor parties went down and down with it went Labor’s chances.
The Greens did not even manage to pick up the votes of those who this time deserted the Australian Democrats. Greens and Democrats combined in 2001 totalled 10.4% of the House of Representatives vote. That figure this time was down to 8.1%. The only significant newcomer to the minor party ranks was Family First and their preferences helped replace the losses that the Government side lost from the collapse of One Nation.
John Howard now has the opportunity to really put his stamp on the future of Australia. For his first three terms his agenda was hampered by a hostile Senate. From 1 July next year when the Senators elected on Saturday take office the Liberal-National Parties could even have a majority in their own right. Even without such an absolute majority, the support of a Family First Senator will enable them to get far more of their agenda adopted than has been possible over the last eight years. Not since the days of Malcolm Fraser has a Government actually been able to govern unhindered by blackmailing minorities.
John Howard will enjoy that power. Peter Costello will have a while to wait yet before settling in to the top job.

2004 Federal Election Diary - Farewell to the Diary – Where to From Here?

11th October, 2004  - Richard Farmer 
As we consign the election diary to Glug’s archives some brief comments by Simon Longstaff of the St James Ethics Centre - (comments chosen because they incorporate my own views) - on what we can expect over the next few months might be appropriate. Mr Longstaff was writing after an election several years ago about the idea of "truth in politics".
Does the concept involve an oxymoron? Or, should we give politicians the benefit of the doubt and take them at their word? And if politicians are not to be believed, then what (if anything) does this say about the health of our democracy?
I suspect that very few people enjoy telling a deliberate lie. Yet, if history is anything to go by, a reasonable part of what is promised during the campaign will turn out to be impractical (or unpolitic) to deliver. Whoever wins, we might reasonably expect to count the usual list of broken election promises in a few years’ time. This is one reason why politicians may strenuously seek to avoid making too many specific commitments. Another is that, like most of us, they would prefer not to be locked into positions that limit their freedom once safely ensconced on the ‘treasury benches’.
I also suspect that very few people enjoy being called a liar. So we might look for evasion and equivocation. Indeed, anything to avoid giving an uncompromisingly straight answer that could be used to identify a contradiction at a later date. So, we can expect plenty of ambiguity and a volume of ‘weasel words’. In these conditions, it will be just as important to take note of what is not said as it will be to attend to the exact language being used to express proposed policy.
I suppose that comments such as these capture certain popular views about the political process. However, is this nothing more than pandering to ill-informed prejudice? Perhaps we could consider the views of one of the master craftsmen of contemporary ‘political-speak’.
Richard Farmer has helped to fashion some of the most effective political speeches delivered during the last couple of decades. This is what he had to say about truth in politics when asked to consider the question a few years ago: "Politics is rarely about telling the truth. Normally it is about telling people things that they want to hear. The skilful politician monitors public opinion, determines what people believe, packages their best lines and sells them back to them. It will always be thus as the primary concern of a politician is winning".
An initial response to Farmer’s account of what happens in practice could be an increase in cynicism about the political process in Australia. This is not a result that I would welcome. While much in favour of healthy scepticism, I believe that the acid of public cynicism, corroding the foundations of our society, is already too potent. Besides, if we take Farmer seriously, who should be the object of our cynicism; the politicians or ourselves?
The core of Farmer’s observation is that politicians tell people "the things they want to hear". This raises the intriguing possibility that the electorate does not really want to hear the truth. Instead, we may long to be told that there are easy answers to life’s difficult questions; to be reassured that the world is less complex than we fear and that our overweening expectations can be met. If this is so, then it is a recipe for perpetual disillusionment.

Saturday, 9 October 2004

2004 Federal Election Diary What to Watch For

9th October, 2004  - Richard Farmer 
The best guide early guide as we sit at home tonight watching the television coverage of the election count will be the proportion of the vote gained by the minor parties and independent candidates. If their total vote is only 15% as the major polls predict this morning then John Howard will be staying on as Prime Minister. If the pollsters have underestimated the third party support by five percentage points or more as they have in past elections then the result will be a cliff hanger.
On the face of it the two major pollsters tell vastly different stories. In the Age and the Sydney Morning Herald AC Neilsen predicts a two party preferred vote for the Coalition Government of 54% to Labor’s 46%. Such a vote would see Howard returned with a huge majority. Newspoll in The Australian has it 50:50. Actual voting anything like that would make a hung Parliament a real prospect. On first preferences AC Neilsen has the vote for other than the Coalition and Labor at 14%. The Newspoll figure is 16%.
Our Glug election Indicator, based on odds at the betting exchange Betfair, has the Government a 77.8% chance of being returned with Labor at 22.2%. That looks a fair assessment to me. Probably a Liberal-National victory but no real surprise if the underdog effect, of which I have written a lot in recent weeks, enabled Labor to snatch victory.

Friday, 8 October 2004

2004 Federal Election Diary Memories of Jeff Kennett

8th October, 2004  - Richard Farmer 
If you are really hoping for a Labor victory tomorrow then give yourself heart by reading the very first entry in this election diary on 1st July, 2004.
It tells the story of this year’s Canadian election. Or think back to the Victorian State election when Jeff Kennett ended up being beaten by the then relatively unknown Steve Bracks. On both of those occasions the pollsters were very, very wrong.

2004 Federal Election Diary John Howard Courts Family First

6th October, 2004  - Richard Farmer 
John Howard has his own secret weapon in the second preferences game. The Family First Party, which has come from nowhere to having candidates in more than 100 electorates, will be directing preferences to the Liberal and National Parties.
The Prime Minister me with Family First officials this morning and told the press that there was "a broad commonality" of interests between his Coalition and the newcomers. "They are an organisation concerned about the role of the family as I am", he said. Mr Howard’s interest in Family First makes me think that they will be the surprise package in Saturday’s poll. Look for them to poll well.

Thursday, 7 October 2004

2004 Federal Election Diary A Call from the PM

7th October, 2004  - Richard Farmer 
You know you live in a marginal electorate when you get a call from the Prime Minister soliciting your vote. Well I live in Eden Monaro which has been won by the Party which forms the government at every election since a major boundary reshuffle in 1972. And when the phone rang this morning it was John Howard on the line.
After a short pause to allow the recorded message to click in to action, John told me why I should be voting for the Liberal candidate Gary Nairn. And all I could think about was how much this kind of campaigning must be costing. The betting odds and the polls might be saying that the Government is a shoo-in to win on Saturday but no expense is being spared to ensure that is the case. This week I have had a letter from the PM’s mate Senator Bill Heffernan, one from Mr Nairn, an interest rate calculator courtesy of the Liberal Party and an important message about how to vote from the same man who made the phone call. Add it all up and the cost of reaching me this week would leave no change out of $5 or $6. Multiply that by the 80,000 enrolled voters and that’s $500,000 for the week without counting the full page ad in the Eden Magnet and the barrage of television spots. Not a thing in the mail box from the Labor Party. Perhaps they have decided that there’s no point spending money in a timber town after Mark Latham came out so strongly against logging in old growth forests.
From glug

Tuesday, 5 October 2004

2004 Election diary Pauline Dances On

5th October, 2004 - Richard Farmer
The major television appearance of the campaign will be on the 7 network at 7.30 this evening. Pauline Hanson stars in Dancing With the Stars. Her legs are certainly better than Howard’s and Latham’s.

2004 Federal Election Diary The Polling Trap of the Third Party Vote

5th October, 2004  - Richard Farmer 
It was Rod Cameron, the distinguished grey haired fellow who keeps bobbing up with words of wisdom on ABC television programs analysing the election, who alerted me to the problem that opinion pollsters have with minor parties. Right back to the days when Roy Morgan was running what was then called the Morgan Gallup Poll in the 1950s and 60s the actual result for the minor parties was higher than the polls predicted.
The DLP was the problem party in those days and the first of Australia’s professional pollsters eventually learned to make an adjustment before he his published figures. Rod learned the lesson when he was interpreting his ANOP results for the Labor Party when he was their pollster but the major pollsters these days do not appear to do so. In the last couple of elections the vote for minor parties has been four or five percentage points higher than Newspoll, for example, has predicted.
The point of this comment is that there is plenty of scope for the pollsters, who are predicting a Coalition victory, to be wrong come Saturday. If an extra five percentage points came equally off the predicted Liberal and Labor votes then Labor would pick up between one percentage point and 1.5 percentage points on a two party preferred basis depending on whether it gained 60% or 70% of the minor party preferences. It is this kind of arithmetic that was behind Mark Latham’s decision to pitch for Green second preferences by committing a future Labor Government to ending logging in old growth forests.

Saturday, 2 October 2004

2004 Federal Election Diary Labor’s Fatal Mistake?

2nd October, 2004  - Richard Farmer 
The researcher Hugh Mackay has a fine record as an interpreter of the mood of the Australian people so it is reassuring when his view coincides with your own. I wrote a few days ago (see Delaying the Announcements) that it was a mistake for Labor to have released its policies such a short time before polling day. In today’s Sydney Morning Herald Mr Mackay has advanced the same argument.
"That Latham has left it all so late would not be such a problem if he himself were a better-known and better-understood leader" he writes. "But voters need one or the other if they are going to hand the reins to an Opposition: either the leader must be a known quantity or all the key policies - not just one - must be so compelling as to compensate for the unfamiliarity of the leader. This time around, Labor is offering neither."
You can read the views of Hugh Mackay in full at the smh
Not that I am yet prepared to take the question mark off the above headline and declare that the Coalition will win the election. A week, as they say, is a long time in politics and Prime Minister John Howard is not acting like a man who believes he is a shoo-in. His spending spree is evidence that his own advisers are telling him that he is no certainty.
And then there is that question of the underdog factor where, if the people think you are going to win easily, some of them change their mind at the last minute and give the other bloke a vote.

Election diary 2004 No Longer the Underdog

2nd October, 2004 - Richard Farmer
So John Howard is prepared to shake off the under dog tag he has worn since the start of this election campaign. On Channel Nine’s Sunday program this morning when asked about his chances he said: "I think we will make it but it will be pretty close." Not only was there some confidence in those words but in his manner as well. The Prime Minister looked relaxed and every bit like a winner. Not a trace of tension or irritability during what was a very polished performance. He obviously believes, as he said, that the people will put their trust in him "because I have delivered."

Election diary 2004 - Tough and Wily Meets Inexperience

2nd October, 2004 - Richard Farmer
Latham on Howard – a tough and wily opponent.
Howard on Latham – inexperienced.
Four Corners showed the campaign in a nutshell tonight when the two leaders were asked to make a comment about the other. There we had it in less than a minute. The politician we know versus the politician we don’t know. The old dog who didn’t miss the opportunity to attack his opponent’s weakness. The new boy who chose to show a little grudging admiration. All-in-all an interesting look at the campaign by Four Corners although I preferred the more light hearted approach of yesterday’s Sunday program.

Friday, 1 October 2004

2004 Federal Election Diary Russian Aid for Latham

1 October, 2004  - Richard Farmer 
The Coalition has had the United States Government as its cheer leader during this campaign with President Bush going out of his way to sing John Howard’s praises. Now the Russians have come to Mark Latham’s aid.
By agreeing overnight to sign the Kyoto Protocol, the Russian Government presented the Labor Leader with the opportunity to centre another day’s campaigning on an issue that is favourable to him. I bet Mr Latham cannot believe his luck as he goes about comparing his Green credentials with those of a Prime Minister who has refused to join most of the world community in committing to policies designed to prevent global warming.
Interpret This If You Can
AC Neilsen’s last poll had the Liberal-National Coalition eight points in front. Newspoll has Labor four points in front. According to Morgan it is a dead heat. I’ll stick with the Glug election Indicator which is based on the odds at Betfair. It shows that over the last few days Labor’s chances of victory have increased from 30.7% to 33.3%.

Thursday, 30 September 2004

2004 Federal Election Diary Voting for Peter Costello

30th September, 2004  - Richard Farmer 
Play to your own strengths and your opponent's weaknesses. Mark Latham was doing just that today. The only time he deviated from his script extolling the virtues of his party's Medicare proposals was to raise again the question of the Prime Minister's future. Mr Latham told a radio interviewer that he was a 43 year old in the prime of his life who was in Parliament for the long haul.
"I'm giving the Australian people the guarantee (that) Mr Howard won't, that I'll serve a full term," he said. "I'm there for the long haul fight against terrorism, to build up our health and education systems. He's cutting and running into retirement. The biggest risk, the biggest choke, the biggest wobble you get in this campaign is the prospect of Peter Costello smirking his way into the Lodge, because that's what they're setting up on the other side of politics."
All the research I saw during my times associated with running Labor Party election campaigns was that the prospect of a leader standing down for some one else in his party was a distinct negative and I am sure that is the case this time. If voters think that a vote for John Howard is actually a vote for Peter Costello rather than John Howard then they are far more likely to vote for Mark Latham instead. Expect many more references to a vote for Howard actually being a vote for Costello as the campaign enters its last week.
Anyone who thought I was wrong in writing (18 August, 2004 - Lie Detectors Would Decimate the Ranks) that the lies of politicians will not be an issue in this campaign should get hold of a copy of the Australian Readers Digest. That venerable journal did a survey of the attitude of its readers to telling untruths and virtually no one could say they were honest in a whole range of situations. Let me repeat. Porkies and people just go together.

Sunday, 26 September 2004

2004 Federal Election Diary One Gravy Train is Coming to an End

26th September, 2004  - Richard Farmer 
Today’s Liberal policy launch marks the end of one political gravy train. From now on Liberal members of the last House of Representatives lose their taxpayer-funded travel and accommodation costs until they are re-elected. The train for Labor MPs does not stop until Wednesday when Mark Latham gives us his version.

From Glug

2004 Federal Election Diary My Billions are Different to Your Billions

26th September, 2004  - Richard Farmer 
When John Howard announces what the Sydney Tele describes as "$6bn for families" he tells us there is no danger of interest rates being forced up. Yet my weekend footy viewing was continually interrupted by Liberal Party advertisements warning of the danger that Labor spending would force those very same interest rates up. How is a sensible voter to react to that?
Forget about reading political stories in the newspapers for the next 14 days and use the mute button on the television during commercial breaks. The best you can do on 9 October is make a choice on the basis of a gut feel about which team will best run the country rather than some serious analysis of respective policies. For the policies mean nothing and that judgment is not based on a belief that all politicians are liars but on the certainty that the Party that wins a majority in the House of Representatives will not actually be in charge. Which bits of the winning program end up becoming law will depend on a Senate where neither Liberal nor Labor will have a majority. Some combination of Democrats, Greens and goodness knows will be making the actual decisions.
This system of government by the minorities provides a wonderful excuse for the major parties. All they have to do is frame the legislation containing their promises in a way they know will be unacceptable to those whose Senate votes they need and they can claim that they tried their very best. Not a broken promise but a consequence of upper house obstructionism.

2004 Federal Election Diary An Insight in to the Minds of Voters

26th September, 2004  - Richard Farmer 
Lord Beaverbrook knew how to run a campaign. Keep the message simple and repeat it over and over again. He told the editors of his Daily Express that it was only when they were totally sick and embarrassed about a slogan that it was beginning to get through to the readers. So it is with Mark Latham’s "Ease the Squeeze". The political journalists began wincing after hearing it three or four times but out there in the audience of voters the evidence is that they have hardly heard it at all. In a focus group of swinging voters in the seat of Parramatta organised by the Sydney Morning Herald the campaign catchcry - "ease the squeeze" - was brought up by only one of the 24 voters. The others gave no sign of recognition.
The difficulty of getting a message through to ordinary people was the most striking finiding of this attempt by AC Neilsen to duplicate for the SMH the kind of research that is the foundation of campaigning for the two major parties. Consider this extract from the report on the focus group:
These voters, uncommitted to either Labor or the Liberals, in general had a poor grasp of the policy offerings of the two parties. Quite often, when the facilitator in the focus groups asked voters what they knew about the two parties' promises in a particular policy area - health, for example, or the environment - there was a long and awkward silence. The answer, usually, was nothing at all. Sometimes the correct policy was attributed to the wrong party.
AC Neilsen’s John Stirton summarised thus: "Uncommitted voters are characterised by a low level of awareness - they don't know much and they rely very heavily on impressions and feelings."
Summarising their impressions and feelings about the leaders, Stirton said: "They think Mark Latham is an unknown quantity - a few people used the word erratic - but they also think he's interested in the issues they're interested in, health and education. He's the right guy, but he's a risk. John Howard, on the other hand, has a mix of positives and negatives. But the word track record came up quite a few times. He's the safer option, at least among these voters."

Wednesday, 23 June 2004

Latham's Second Preference Strategy

Steam rolling Peter Garrett in to the endorsement for a safe seat has certainly improved Mark Latham's chances of becoming Prime Minister and it is not because more people are likely to vote one for Labor. Winning Federal elections these days is not just about maximising the vote of your own party. It's those second preferences that count and, with the Greens likely to be the largest third party, getting their 2's next to a Labor name will be all important.
Back in 1975 was the last time that a government secured a majority of votes in its own right and before that it was only Robert Menzies in 1949 and 1951 who gained more than 50%. At the other 19 elections since 1949, votes for minor parties and independents were the determining factors.
The importance of those second preferences has increased dramatically as the combined Labor and Liberal/National share of the vote has declined from the high 90% of the early 1950ies to the less than 81% gained in 2001. For two federal elections in a row, one in five Australians has chosen to vote in House of Representative elections for minor parties and independents.
This tendency to spurn the ALP and LNP shows no signs of diminishing. Pauline Hansen's One Nation Party may have come and gone but the opinion polls still show a similar total minor party figure as they did before the 2001 election. Newspoll has minor parties averaging around 15% support in the last three months and past experience shows that pollsters underestimate the minor party vote by around five percentage points. In the month before the 2001 Federal poll Newspoll's 15% for others had grown to 19.1 per cent at the actual polling booth. It was a similar story in 1998 with the predicted 15% ending up at 20.4%
The significant thing, of course, is not in the total vote for other than ALP and LNP but in how that large number of preferences is distributed. Here the indications are that Labor is doing substantially better than at the last election. Newspoll now has Labor getting nearly 64% of the preferences compared to the actual 58% gained in 2001. If Kim Beazley had gained that difference of six percentage points in the share of minor party preferences he, not John Howard, would be Prime Minister today.
The recruitment of Peter Garrett with his impeccable environmental reputation shows that Labor has not forgotten how to campaign for second preferences. In 1987 Bob Hawke stole an election win by receiving 62% of the number two votes and it was again over 60% in 1990. In both those elections the Liberal/Nationals were in front on primary votes.
Richard Farmer was a campaign strategist for the Labor Party in elections from 1977 to 1990. He has no current affiliation with the Party.