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."