Pieces and bits: episode two

• It now emerges that respondents to the weekend’s Galaxy poll of voting intention in Bennelong were also asked if their vote would be influenced by the prospect of the Prime Minister departing mid-term should he retain the seat. This is highly significant in light of Malcolm Mackerras‘s conviction that voters will tip him out partly to avoid a “quick, unnecessary and costly by-election”. The poll found 84 per cent of respondents said they would not be influenced by such concerns, which can be read one of two ways: voters are overwhelmingly unconcerned, or a small but decisive minority does in fact consider it a vote-switcher. The SBS Insight program, which commissioned the poll in conjunction with the Daily Telegraph, will tonight be devoted to a forum discussion from a hand-picked sample of Bennelong voters, to screen at 7.30pm.

Simon Jackman offers a very illuminating pendulum in which the seats from each state are listed in a different column. The lower part of the table marks Labor’s strongest historical result in each state post-1949. Interesting to relate that if Labor matches its best performance in every state, the Coalition will still win almost as many seats as Labor has at present.

• Inform your speculation on the Senate election with this handy results calculator, brought to you by occasional Poll Bludger commenter Dembo. It is set for the 2004 preference tickets at present, but I am advised that these will soon be made adjustable.

Author: William Bowe

William Bowe is a Perth-based election analyst and occasional teacher of political science. His blog, The Poll Bludger, has existed in one form or another since 2004, and is one of the most heavily trafficked websites on Australian politics.

171 comments on “Pieces and bits: episode two”

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  1. Hoots is right. Even the Liberal voters finished Insight feeling that Howard hadn’t satisfied them. I do think it may have had something to do with the dynamics of a long-distance interview.

    But when Howard’s response to criticism of WorkChoices is simply to point to the backdown of the fairness test, it’s not very convincing. If your best argument for a policy is that you backed down from it, it’s hardly an advocation from the policy.

    I can see that a lot of people may feel that, if the economy turns down, the Coalition can be best trusted to handle it. But Labor has a very good response that it can trot out. Rudd can say that re-elected the coalition will mean that it will be easier to sack workers, or cut their pay, during a recession, and that the government will do the bidding of business in this regard. From what I saw on Insight, the electorate may well buy this line.

    With the stock market struggling, rents astronomical, food expensive, interest rates threatening to rise again, uncertainty over house prices, etc, it won’t take much for voters to worry that a recession, or slow down,is on the way. They may not (and probably should not) blame the Government for this. but their task as voters will be to decide which party can best deal with it, and keep their lives as comfortable aand secure as possible. That will be an intriguing decision.

  2. I agree with your assesment of Howard, he is starting to behave like a loser, he isn’t talking about policy.

    No he isn’t, and I think the unrest amongst the Liberal voters on the show might have stemmed from Howard’s evasiveness. Whenever someone is being evasive, whatever the reason, it gives off the impression that they’re hiding something. Whether they are or they aren’t is irrelevant.

    I don’t think he helped his cause one bit by appearing on the show. He definitely looks old and tired of the whole thing and really should have retired last year, instead of trashing his legacy, as he’s doing.

  3. Isn’t it funny how Howard had agreed ONLY to a separate interview? It’s like he fears being in a live debate because he knows he’d lose more voters.

  4. [I don’t think he helped his cause one bit by appearing on the show. He definitely looks old and tired of the whole thing and really should have retired last year, instead of trashing his legacy, as he’s doing.]

    McKew mentioned in passing that the government hasn’t invested enough during these prosperous times. That is the line she needs to run, she needs to say that the economy is a means, not an end, and that everyone must benefit from prosperity.

  5. One way of looking at this situation is as a different manifestation of the age issue. Much has been written about John Howard’s age being an issue at this election, but every attempt at measuring it that I have seen says that voters dont consider it an issue.

    Rather what is happening is that we are seeing as we did tonight, people not being at ease with John Howard, but not being able to be explicit about it. In my view he has lost touch, he is not able to connect with people, his antennae are not working as well – this is what happens when you get older.

    There are different ways of dealing with this. You can pretend you are the same as you were before and essentially look backwards – the comments that he focusses on what he has done- or you can celebrate the fact that you are gaining more experience and assume the position of having the wisdom of age – that of course would require a change in demeanour rising above the cut and thrust and dare I say it the wedge.

    A fundamental tenet of good communications is homgeneity or a consistency of the obvious with the underlying. Without that you reinforce perceptions of trickiness. Howard is pretending not to be old. The Australian electorate would not be so impolite as to say he was, but they will find any other description to arrive at the same conclusion.

  6. I think one of the issues Liberal supporters were trying to articulate is that WorkChoices was a negative and that they were a little worried what else might come – that nagging doubt.

    This is something else Labor should play one. Trust, deceit, Secret Plans, Sceeret Agendas, especially WorkChoices 2 and non-core promises.

    There is another important point that needs to be made to the voter that we all forget in regard to fear of change.

    The government does not run or keep the country going – there is a huge, smooth running Commonwealth public service that has kept the country going for 100 years. No matter who is in government everything will continue on the same regardless, even if all pollys died tommorrow we wouldnt know the differnce.

    The main economic difference between parties is what they spend money on – and like Rudd keeps saying – spend on things that aid the economy.

  7. Re comment 46.

    Good points Hoots. The discomfort of the two self-identified “Liberal voters” was quite stark.

    The Chinese lady who said she “could not put her finger on exactly why” she was unimpressed with the PM, but clearly expressed dissatisfaction to the point of changing her vote, is, in my view, pretty symptomatic of the Government’s problems at this point in the cycle.

    The stock Howard answers “I reject that….I’m not going to be a commentator (and the rest, as summarised by Hoots) aren’t going to bring people like that back into the fold. The problem is Howard himself. They no longer trust him. And his glib one-liners aren’t helping to restore that trust.

    I’m not surprised the odds are shortening on Maxine.

  8. NutsinK, I agree. It’s both impolite and politically incorrect* to admit to prejudice about age. Much easier to roll it into more rationally justifiable concerns about ‘been in too long’, ‘need fresh ideas’, ‘good record but out of steam’.

    (* Political incorrectness is alive and well, but in ways that bias to conservative viewpoints. So criticising the Queen, the military or the elderly is right out. Left wing political correctness is, if not dead, confined to a few bars, uni courses, blogs, and the now defunct Glasshouse show).

  9. Howard was also wedged by the format of the Insight program tonight, and by the two front battle he faces – national campaign on the one hand and marginal seat on the other. Howard and his advisors really have a dilemna – he has so much to lose by not looking “Prime Ministerial.”

    He knows he can’t control the forum-type format of a show like Insight, and so he, and his advisors, made the logical choice of not appearing in the middle of the fray. They probably also couldn’t afford to give Maxine open slather, so they insisted on a pre-recorded interview that they could partially control – a Prime Ministerial background, etc.

    There were two problems with this – Firstly, Howard was unimpressive, evasive, and seemed to be a diminished figure as he got increasingly impatient with the questioning, and responded in the ways that have become frankly, old and tired Therefore the aim of the interview (for Howard) was undermined.

    Secondly, Howard was confronted by the problem that his biographer Peter van Onselen identified: competing with the need to fight the election on the national stage – a stage that requires the Prime Ministerial stature – as well as facing the strong challenge of the very impressive Maxine McKew at the local level.

    At the electoral level, Howard needs to be more down-to-earth, of the people. He needs to appear to be listening. Appearing in pre-record on a show of this format cut across this, and Howard sufferred for it.

    In contrast, Maxine was there, and the format gave the appearance that she was listening to her constituents, she was with them.

    It’s a dilemna for Howard, this two-front battle, and it’s the only wedge that is really biting in the campaign so far.

  10. This segment annoyed me for a number of reasons. First of all, John Howard was evasive in every facet of the word. He had to have a pre-recorded interview because he obviously could not handle the pressure of a live more confrontational one (then people label him a “great leader”), and even seemed almost arrogant as he evaded questions and so on.

    What also annoyed me was that the hard-core Liberal voter had a case whereby somebody was adversely affected by WorkChoices yet continues to vote for the Liberals despite the hardship her son’s partner is enduring.

    Also, I’m sick of the “Liberal = Experience” line. Prior to 1996, they had no experience either. It’s an inane comment.

    I’m also annoyed because in 2004, Insight also ran a debate before the election and the general mood was one of negativity against the government, and what happened that Saturday? The Libs won more seats and the Senate! So whilst this inspires some optimism, I’m still a little weary in general.

    What I did like however was Maxine McKew. I’ve never been particularly fond of politicians in general but this lady is a very composed professional, intelligent and likable (yeah, I swallowed a thesaurus) woman and I’d really truly like to see her in Parliament! She deserves to be there!

    That being said though, I really have no idea how Bennelong will fair in the end. It’s a matter of Epping verses Ryde. It’s unpredictable in my opinion, so I can only look forward to the election to find out!

  11. The other two attendees I found fascinating were the older Dutch-looking (and sounding) Gent who identified himself as a swinging voter and the Indian chap (self-identified, I think as a Liberal supporter).

    The Dutchman was all over the place. Wanted stability and continuity, but also (apparently) change. Like Evan at comment 48 (no, not me, a different Evan), I found the logic of his proposal to vote Liberal “if it looked like a Labor landslide” a little hard to follow. Perhaps he was trying to aticulate a desire for a change of Government, but for not too much in the way of policy changes that would affect the value of his business, house or the Guilders he has in the bank.

    Perhaps he was just a contrary Dutchman. Who knows?

    The Indian chap was a hoot. The only person in the audience with a kind word to say about Workchoices.

    Even the rusted-on Liberal matron had problems with this (since her son’s girlfriend, a waitress, had apparently been dudded under the new system). Probably a small businessman with an eye to his wages overheads, or perhaps one of those IT types on a fantastic AWA. Or maybe he is just comfortable the idea of a cast system with a lowly-paid underclass of untouchable wage slaves. Again, who knows.

  12. [What also annoyed me was that the hard-core Liberal voter had a case whereby somebody was adversely affected by WorkChoices yet continues to vote for the Liberals despite the hardship her son’s partner is enduring]

    To me this meant she was a quintessential conservative voter. She supports conservative ideology, but isn’t even capable of changing her vote. I think the fact the P.M. is in the seat is what is keeping her vote, her head says she shouldn’t vote Liberal this time, but her heart still wants to.

    My guess is she will vote for McKew when Howard retires.

  13. I note Downer said “keep unemployment low, keep interest rates under control”. They’ve given up promising to keep interest rates at record lows, and even ‘low’.

  14. I have written some letters to the editor pointing out that the next ‘Howard’ government will not have Howard or Costello. I hope enough people point this out.

  15. Codger 36
    And here I was listen to the Bonzo Dog Band and I read your line – straight outa song (if only) – the most interesting of posts…

  16. If nothing else, Maxine McKew showed just what an asset she would be to a Parliament that desperately needs an infusion of talent.

  17. Last week was moderately good for the ALP but the same cannot be this week.

    First the stunning gains in the Neilson put the

    Then Costello’s word being traduced by venal journalists and the cats being belled so comprehensively by ‘lexie Downer.

    And on the soon to be shut down Soccer Broadcating Service John Howard captivating the audience from afar with a dazzling preformance.

    Bring on the election I say.

  18. Not sure if anyone else has mentioned this but Howard is at a disadvantage against Maxine as he cannot come out and debate her live in public. The custom is that a PM only debates his opposite number who is the Leader of the Opposition. PMs usually have reasonably safe seats so there is no precedent for a PM debating someone like Maxine on TV. She’s not even in the Parliament. Howard will not want to set a precedent and in the process make her seem more significant than would otherwise be the case. It must be worrying him that while he’s playing the grand statesman, she’s knocking on every door in the electorate and he can’t take her on head to head.

  19. “sorry a correction…one Bennelong voter did say she had never liked Howard. She was the one who said she was definitely voting Liberal, but seemed to change her mind by the end of the show.”

    Several posters have pounced on this. Perhaps if you’d been listening closely you would have heard her admit towards the end of the program
    that she’s actually a long-time Labor voter! An ALP plant who slipped out of character, perhaps?

    Anyway, I think the upshot of the whole discussion was that the Libs are trusted over Labor where the economy’s concerned, and that will decide the election. Indeed, further evidence of our booming economy was released today in the form of JB Hi Fi’s profit results: for 2006-07 it was about $40 million, a jump of about 55%. According to their CEO, sales were up across the board, with consumers cashed up, brimming with confidence and not at all fazed by the interest rate rises. So why in the world would they elect a rabble who will jeopardise their prosperity? Of course they won’t.

    And Alexander Downer was very good on Lateline, calmly dealing with Jones’ imbecilic questions about the Liberal leadership and again stressing the theme of experience. We’ll be hearing a lot more of that between now and the election.

  20. Well Steven, one thing I agree with you on is that we’ll be hearing a lot more about the Liberal Leadership between now and the election.

    Costello (with his false denials) and Iron Bar (with his “misdirected” fax) have already started pushing it back into the limelight for Jones to trot out for the rest of us. I see it’s also got a run in the Fairfax press.

    The Libs have certainly demonstrated that they have plenty of “experience” in rasing their leadership disputes publicly on a regular basis over the last few years.

    So who’s the imbecile? Costello for continually raising it or Jones for asking questions once it’s been pushed into the spotlight by Cossie and his cronies (yet again)?

    I know, I know, you wish it would all just go away.

  21. The libs are stuffed. Costello is an out and out liar as shown conclusively by Michael Brissendon, and Howard has had his day. So, no leadership, no positive PM candidate and Rudd keeps on showing that he really is just the same as John, but younger and better supported by his team.
    It’s a no brainer I reckon.
    The interseting thing might be the left voters who see Rudd as just too much the same – and decide that a few Greens in the senate might change the picture for Australia.

  22. Getting right back to basics……

    I am not a Sydney native, but I thought that even on its current boundaries (Gladesville, Ryde, Epping), Bennelong was relatively affluent and Lib-leaning. What is it about the seat that makes it so marginal?

  23. Re #84:Marcus:

    Like the electorate Lindsay in the west of Sydney,Bennelong has had a large Labor pocket(Ermington)added to it after a redistribution.The margin has been getting smaller and smaller over the years.Labors choice of candidate of Ms McKew is an inspired one.It also has a high ethnic mix.A lot of Korean/Chinese/Indian.These people are not rusted on to either side.

  24. Marcus,

    Also all those suburbs return Labor in the NSW parliament. When you drive through, it is typical middle class, not as rich as North Sydney and Bradfield.

  25. A comment on the age issue. People will NOT tell pollsters “I won’t vote for Howard because he’s too old,” but many will nevertheless feel that way. It’s like asking people whether they like blacks or Jews – many will lie rather than look non-PC. In any case, the issue is not whether 68 is too old in an absolute sense to be PM – ask Churchill, Gladstone, Adenauer, all had their finest hours in their 70s – but whether Howard specifically is past it. It’s evident to many that he has become grumpy, querulous, annoyed at criticism. No doubt he has come to believe his own lines and resents having his record and integrity questioned, and it shows. This is not so much a function of his age as of his political longevity.

  26. #84 probably the fact that it`s the PM`s seat. Otherwise it would probably be a marginal/reasonably safe Labor seat. Of the 20 seats with the highest percentage of people from NESB, this remains the only one not held by Labor.

  27. “It’s evident to many that he has become grumpy, querulous, annoyed at criticism.”

    Adam you’ve just described Rudd’s glass jaw…

  28. Dream on , Glen. Rudd exudes confidence and good humour – his problem is to avoid looking smug. I agree that he can get snappy under pressure, as he did during the Brian Burke episode, but he hasn’t been under any pressure recently. Anyway, this election is only 25% about Rudd, it’s 75% about Howard. If the voters want to put a government out, they are willing to take a punt on the opposition leader.

  29. Poor old Pete, the eternal bridesmaid. He just hasn’t got the guts to challenge. Looks like Maxine made a good impression on Insight last night, and has got much better odds now.

  30. I think you’re right Adam. Some people function conspicuously well even in to their eighties and nineties. Shimon Peres is looking better and better.
    John Howard possibly looks and behaves older than his years. He is always so grumpy, never smiles or, at the best, a twisted smile. It’s quite off-putting. He’s probably terrified of losing the election. His whole world has been built on being someone very very important. Hence his attempts to have the APEC photos brought forward so he can be photographed alongside George Bush for reflected glory. The rest of the leaders will have none of that however.
    He would best serve his legacy, and his ego, by standing aside a day or two after APEC and magnanimously handing the leadership over to Peter Costello.
    Imagine when your whole life has been geared to being PM and then having it torn away at the end as well as losing one’s seat. Too much to bear. He must want to go out a winner.
    John Howard is all about John Howard. He would even allow the Coalition to lose to protect his own legacy.
    If he were to step down as Wilson Tuckey has asked and then the Coalition loses he would say “there told you so, you couldn’t win without me”.

  31. I also think that for his entire political career up until now Howard well understood that he was more conservative than the electorate as a whole, and understood how to lead people to the right. Now, after 11 years in office and seeing off three Opposition leaders with ease, he has started to forget this and believes that he really does speak for the people.

  32. As far as Costello goes, he obviously hasn’t done himself any favours, but if the ALP do win the election then his judgement will seem to have been correct (although his behaviour and decision making not so well).

    Does anyone have a sense of how the numbers for the wingnuts vs the moderates stack up in the Libs safer seats?

  33. “Does anyone have a sense of how the numbers for the wingnuts vs the moderates stack up in the Libs safer seats?”

    not just safe seats martin everywhere there is blood and guts oh and a bit of good old “get square” plus of course now the full glare of the underbelly of the Liberal party and its low hanging dags

    also of note some are already buying camels in preparation for the lonely trek in the wilderness until they overcome their heart of darkness ethos-
    many a long tortured night of the soul i suspect as the masterclass realise there rein(pun intended) is over

    “may you live in interesting times”

  34. Costello: no guts, no ticker! “Cry Baby” – very apt description!
    Of course he won’t move before the election. It might even give Pete private satisfaction to watch Howard take the Coalition to election defeat. All Rudd has to do is keep his head down, and let Swan do the mud slinging.

  35. I cant believe Labor supporters think Wayne Swan would do a better job with the economy???

    Swan isnt a good mudslinger because he looks so smug and cocky when he does it…nobody is better than Tony Abbot at mud slinging…

    Even just because ‘Deputy Dawg’ didnt have the ticker doesnt mean he wouldnt be a good PM…its just more than likely Malcolm Turnbull or Krudd will be PM before him.

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