Phoney war dispatches: endless wait edition

• The past fortnight has seen much talk emerge from the Coalition camp of encouraging internal polling in sensitive seats. Tony Barrass of The Australian today reports that a Crosby-Textor poll conducted a fortnight ago had the Liberals on track to retain their 10 seats in Western Australia while also gaining another of the remaining five, Cowan. On Saturday, The Australian reported a “jump in the party’s support in the crucial seat of Bass”. This was apparently putting Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull under pressure to approve Gunns’ proposed Tamar pulp mill, regardless of the damage this would cause to his own position in Wentworth. The “senior Liberal source” behind the story reckoned that Turnbull’s seat was “not in trouble”.

• And yet, on the other hand, we also have reports the Liberals have begged Jackie Kelly, Warren Entsch, Kay Elson, Geoff Prosser, Trish Draper and Barry Wakelin to abandon their plans to retire, to improve the party’s chances of retaining their seats of Lindsay, Leichhardt, Forde, Forrest, Makin and Grey. Remarkably, Phillip Coorey of the Sydney Morning Herald reported yesterday that Liberal polling showed Grey, held by a margin of 13.8 per cent, would be lost unless Wakelin stayed on. It was further reported he had briefly agreed to do so before changing his mind again, with his nominated successor Rowan Ramsey urged to smooth the path by stepping aside.

• On the other side of the fence, Paige Taylor of The Australian talks of Labor polling which shows it set to double its margin in Brand, the outer southern Perth seat being vacated by former leader Kim Beazley.

• Labor MP Gavan O’Connor, who lost preselection in his seat of Corio to ACTU assistant secretary Richard Marles, raised eyebrows by declining to farewell parliament during last week’s presumed valedictory speech. Mark Davis of the Sydney Morning Herald speaks of “a frisson of anxiety in Kevin Rudd’s office” at the thought of O’Connor standing against Marles as an independent.

• A huge round of applause for Luke Miller and his revamped Cassandra Senate election calculator, which allows us to set quotas and input our own preference tickets. This means it can be used to play out any hypothetical scenario not only for both half and full Senate elections, but also for all mainland state upper houses.

• I abandoned the practice of fisking newspaper commentary on opinion polls early in the history of this site, because it seemed too much like shooting fish in a barrel. Give thanks that Possum Comitatus harbours no such qualms.

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.

382 comments on “Phoney war dispatches: endless wait edition”

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  1. “Am I missing something?”

    Well the polling that shows a 8-9% swing to the ALP in NSW. If this held up on election day, I find it very unlikely Lindsay would stay with the Libs. It could be the freak seat that holds, but it’s not likely.

  2. #244
    Bobby Horry Says:
    September 25th, 2007 at 9:31 pm

    I don’t see this seat going to Labor. Interesting to see the Liberal ads and ute out in force, but can’t see many Labor ads at all in key places. Am I missing something?

    I live in this electorate as well and my feeling is that Labor will win this seat.If you take in the Labor areas of St Marys that have been added to this electorate I would put this as almost a certain ALP gain.Mr Rudd is well liked and WorkChoices is hated with a passion.I would be very surprised if the govt held this seat.The Lib candidate was beaten solidly at the last state election,and Penrith swung TO the ALP at that election,so I can’t see her (Lib) doing any better federally.

  3. Re “soft voters” – there doesn’t seem to be any generally accepted definition of what this means. Here’s some options – 1. Voters who really haven’t decided who they will vote for. 2. Voters who have a preference but might cfhange (waiting for the campaign perhaps?). 3. Swinging voters – those who have a history of changing their vote from election to election. 4. Gary Morgan’s definition (!!??)

    Now while each of these groups might be considered “soft” they are quite different in how they behave re voting (and in terms of how they will respond to the overtures of political parties).

    I guess my point is that talking about “soft” voters as an homogeneous group is too simplistic.

  4. Yeah Possum, what I was saying earlier without the whoa time series stuff you do. How many wonderful ways there are to enjoy the neo cons decline into the political background.

  5. Possum, I would think that by now, Christopher Pearson would have been made well aware of your post and had a quick read.

    I bet it made those red veins in his face bulge out a bit.

    How the man can put forward such unadulterated rubbish in the guise of journalism is absolutely beyond my comprehension.

    You may have initiated a further outbreak of the MSM/Blogger wars again.

    I hope so, because the first engagement was enthralling, to say the least.

    I don’t think Tim Dunlop will be game to run with it this time though. Pity.

  6. Julie, here’s a puzzle for you. I have stayed at Mr Costello’s address.
    Mrs Costello didn’t tell Mr Costello. I was even at the Costello’s address for Xmas but Mr Costello didn’t find out. How’s that possible?
    Will answer shortly.

  7. One of the (many) problems with the Australian media is its unhealthy obsession with politics, and its assumption that the populace want to read / watch / listen to reams of political commentary. This places enormous burdens on political journalists. Every day they have to come up with thousands of words of commentary on every tiny transient political epiphenomenon, and make it all sound terribly important and exciting. That’s why the papers all love polls, because they give them sonmething to write about. We are also suffering from a serious blurring between the role of the journalist and the role of the political commentator. This is particularly egregious in the Murdoch press, but it happening everywhere. In my opinion journalists ought not to be in the business of commentary at all. People like Paul Kelly and Michelle Grattan should either report the news, or comment on it, but they should not be able to do both. So now we have far too much political commentary, and we also have politics being reported by people who are being paid to insert their opinions into what they write. This is bad enough in media outlets where management has some integrity (which I think is broadly true of the Fairfax papers), but even worse when management is actively working to get a particular party elected (as is obviously the case with Murdoch). How any journalist with any professional self-respect can work for The Australian after its total prostitution to the Liberal party this year is beyond me.

  8. @ 234 The inestimable Mr Green made an oblique reference. Please, for the love of sanity, don’t be curious about it.

    Really, trust me. There are some things you’re better off not knowing.

    Antony, perhaps the plain sailing is in the vein of sailing over Niagara Falls in a barrel? The vessel is upright and not taking on too much water, it seems to be picking up a little momentum…

  9. sondeo

    You took the words out of my mouth. I dont live in Lindsay but know of the R@W campaign there and how succesful it has been. These community campaigns have been going for two and a half years. Penrith was the only state seat to swing to Labor in March.

  10. Dennis Atkins seems to think that Kevin Rudd is influencing the polls.

    But, I don’t know how that claim can be made when counter claims are made that Howard is reacting to the polling figures.

    I have seen other commentators claim that Howard doesn’t take much notice of the polls and isn’t substantially influenced by them.

    I don’t think the truth resides in any of these theories.

    {THE psychology of opinion polls can be as powerful as the reality of the numbers.

    That’s why Kevin Rudd’s team has used deliberate tactics all year to try to drive opinion one way or another just before major polls are conducted.
    They have spiked their positive, Rudd-rich television ads in the few days before the pollsters from Galaxy, Newspoll and Nielsen have gone into the field, launched negative attacks on the government or rolled out voter-friendly proposals.}
    http://www.news.com.au/couriermail/story/0,23739,22468474-27197,00.html

  11. Scorpio, that story is seriously lame. Why bother having polls at all if you’re going to try so desperately to discredit them?

    Also, if Rudd can manage to influence people to say they’ll vote one way in polls, what’s to say he can’t influence them at the ballot box?

    It makes no sense.

  12. Possum, I agree wholeheartedly with your comments.

    As a matter of fact, I have it up on another tab at this moment.

    It’s good to have a read on other sites while waiting for posts to come up.

    The trick is not to stay too long on one site as sometimes there is a virtual flood of comments and you can get behind very quickly.

  13. KT & sondeo 251 and 252. Cheers thanks for the insights. I obviously am missing something! Hopefully the outdoor advertising from Labor will ramp up soon in Lindsay.

  14. On Adams point about journos, one of the major problems of poll reporting is that the journos tend to overcook the article.As the fine purveyors of polling intricacies here well know, a one or two point movement from poll to poll is irrelevant. The problem for the last few months has been that more focus has been given to the irrelevant poll by poll movements at the expense of the real story of polling consistency.

    (Ignoring blatant silliness like “Howard Checks Rudds March” for instance)

    The absence of movement has been the real story, and it really doesnt take that much effort to dress it up into something that would fulfill the role of attracting eyeballs, while still describing the important results in a way that reflects basic reality.

  15. Q. What’s the difference between George Bush and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?

    A. One is a super-scary totalitarian religious fundamentalist nutjob and the other…has a really nasty beard*.

  16. Antony, was trying to help out with a metaphor of the sort you were looking for and came up with zip. I’ll have another look tomorrow, but keep having the idea/image of the “Undertoad”in my head.

  17. [Scorpio, that story is seriously lame. Why bother having polls at all if you’re going to try so desperately to discredit them?]

    Atkins is just picking up on Glenn Milne’s conspiracy theory. He mentioned it a couple of times in some articles a couple of months ago, but he hasn’t mentioned it since.

  18. CTEP.

    That has been the “high” standard of journalistic endeavour that we have been subject all year now.

    I think the point at where it really started to go down hill was when the expected Rudd honeymoon period when Rudd took over the leadership didn’t start to phase down as expected within about 3 months.

    The shrillness of it seems to follow the peaks and troughs of the polls somewhat, although the troughs are not really troughs but an occasional return to the status quo.

  19. Actually, I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if Labor has been timing their good news with polling weekends. Consistent good polling creates its own momentum, so it makes sense to try and get some good press in time for the regular polls. The Liberals have done the same in the past – that’s what serious political parties do.

    But it’s a bit of a stretch to then say that that’s the whole story behind Labor’s extraordinary poll leads – WorkChoices and Howard’s longevity are the two main issues and they both play entirely to Labor.

  20. I am followinrg this election campaign very closely even though I live in Hunan province, China. The Aussie consulate is 400 klicks away in Guanzhou and it would defently be worth the trip to vote the Rodent out, also my girlfriend lives down that way too 🙂

    Back in the old country I used to live in the electorate of Hasluck. From my observations Stuart Henry is a goner. He occasionally sent out junk mail about crime and graffiti (States Jurastriction) but did bugger all else. Having met the Labor candidate Sharon Jackson (I think thats her name) she is a shoe-in, she has passion where the Liberal clone, Henry, has nothing.

    The one thing I would really like to see tho is the member for Canning, Don Randall, being booted out at the upcomming poll. All he ever does is slander the Labor side of politics but bugger all else, nothing but a wannabe Howard head kicker and a paid up member of the conger line of suckholes.

  21. Dennis Atkins has to be kidding isn’t he? With about 2 polls coming out every week, it means Rudd will always have to have himself in the media and have positive ads for him. Rudd is just playing Howard at his own game, but Howard doesn’t have to spend his own party’s money at the moment, Rudd does.

    Rudd was able to make the most of his ‘honeymoon’ period. He could of just sat there and did nothing and set up a firewall approach and maybe pick a few low hanging fruits to get the ALP ready for the 2010/11 election. Rudd and his team went on the offense and did the ‘listening tour’ and came up with the ‘education revolution’ as a way to set the mood that the ALP is about the future not just the next election.

    The government has itself to blame if they’re doing badly in the polls. They hoped and wished for a bounce from the budget, and went that didn’t happen they shot themselves in the foot.

    Atkins can bitch and complain as much as he likes, but finally the ALP has found someone as clever as Howard. Rudd has been able to play Howard at his own game, and has been able to do that for 9 months to keep a 55%+ TPP.

  22. John (260) great suggestion. It really does open up a lot of possibilities. How about the coalition is heading for the Symplegades – the crashing rocks that Jason and the Argonauts mate it through with a bit of damage to the back of the boat. Of course, all other boats trying the passage had been smashed to a pulp…

    On Matt Price, I have to disagree with most posters here. I think he still does a good (and amusing) job, and thought his article on Hawke was generally positive. At worst, though, he does seem to have a personal dislike for Rudd which comes through from time to time.

  23. Re journalism and polls – There tends to be an unhealthy relationship between the pollsters and the media. The media are paying for the polls – which means they are buying editorial content. The pollsters love the publicity they get from their published polls – that’s why most of them charge the media discounted rates for their polls. However, what this does is place an obligation the journalists to make a story from the poll results (whatever they are) and also puts pressure on ther pollsters to over-interpret and justify their poll results – witness recent comments from Newspoll and Galaxy.

  24. Adam for once i agree with you regarding the media.
    What is a disgrace is that such a hierachy dictates what journalists must say, that they cannot be objective.
    Also the fact the in Adelaide, and Brisbane they only have one newspaper and that being a murdoch paper.
    Moreover the media has become solely a marketing tool for business and for events such as Grand Final etc…
    Additionally it markets its programs and events and does so through its current affairs and talk shows and it may do so without anyone knowing.
    Its fascination with celebrities tries to ensure we become fascinated so that our minds cannot concentrate on “issues” and instead on trivia..
    Channel Nine also tries to mirror its concentration on celebs to ensure people also purchase its magazines which it owns…
    Digressing slightly the medias pursuit of inconsequential is like the coalition with its scare tactics.. interest rates, unions, can’t be trusted with the economy… means to divert the publics’ attention from the policy issues that concern them….

  25. Possum, I think the problem with some journos is that they have become participants in the political process rather than reporters of it. It is obvious that some of them have insider information on strategy and thanks to your analysis, especially of the Cosby/Textor research it shoud be fairly obvious who are the insiders. The Milne and Pearson lunacy can be seen in the context of your “win expectation” analysis coming out of the CT polling research. (That is if I have read you correctly). We may scoff at there ability to turn poo into diamonds for the coalition but they are just following the line fed to them by their political masters. They know what they are doing.

  26. 285 Will

    I was going to say much the same thing. I tuned in to be confronted with the member for Mayo yet again. God almighty, is he paying the ABC appearance money or something??

    TV now off, all hopes of watching an interesting interview are dashed.

  27. I think Adam is broadly right on the Australian media’s obsession with politics. Having lived in both countries, I suspect the Canberra Press Gallery is far more obsessive than its Westminster equivalent. What partisan implications can be drawn from this I’m not entirely sure, though, although as an overlay on pre-existing partisanship, it can be quite distorting. In the Hawke years, when Cabinet and caucus were much leakier than now, Michelle G. could quite happily spend an entire week writing about rumoured dissent in the Government over something like Telstra, and we’d be none the wiser by Friday – when absolutely nothing at all had happened. The Age should have moved her out of Canberra long ago, and put her on the sports desk. (Andrew J: it’s still not too late.) The focus on the minutiae just puts people off public engagement in general, and opens the door to demagogues and the Great Simplicities.

    I don’t in any way under-estimate the poison of partisanship. Shanahan is a classic example. Milne too (example: his non-story on the supposed gay slur, where he called for Labor to distance itself from a campaign that he himself said was none of its doing) although his worst journalistic sin in my book is his apparent willingness to act as an advertising hoarding for whichever factional plotter is feeding him the juiciest stories. But I do tend to agree with former Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer, who said that in general the main bias of the press is not necessarily partisan (we’ll except Murdoch here, though) was one in favor of conflict. Newspapers running stories based on events created by the newspapers themselves (ie opinion polls) are no longer in the business of reporting news, but are rather creating copy to keep readers ‘interested’ and to fill the gaps between the ads. But I think it’s all too late

  28. Matt Price likes to be seen as having a clue, much like Glenn Milne trying to be important… Trieing hard to be the Laurie Oakes of Politics but both do not have any idea.

    Digress.. now its the Liberals going around suggesting Labor is being smug… what tactic next…

  29. Possum at 10.16. Yep, there are real reasons to explain the polling if lazy/rusted on/ so called journos actually looked at why people have turned away from this gov’t in droves. The interesting thing is the why. My hypothysis is that they have a symbiotic relationship, too close and dependant. Their psychopathology matches theirs, or the rocks in their heads matches the holes in theirs.

  30. On what Hugo said about Workchoices and longevity, as a bit of fun we can have a look at how that plays out by regressing the government primary vote against a time variable and a workchoices dummy variable.

    The first graph shows just a simple linear longevity variable and a workchoices variable where the black line is the modeled government primary vote, the red the actual government primary vote (to be both read from the right hand side) and the blue line (to be read from the left hand side) the unexplained variation.

    I’ll do this in two parts as well….

  31. Didn’t hear that Will… Turnbull last night and now Downer tonight…. he should get a regular spot or maybe he has.. Wednesday night Costello, Thursday Ruddock and Friday… Abbott…
    So much for an independent ABC…

  32. #234 Antony, any chance of a reference (straight-faced thanks very much) to the `sleigh-ride`on election-night coverage?

    You know you want to.

  33. Scorpio #286

    When I first moved to west oz I lived in the electorate of Swan. After the 96 electon Don was my local member. All we got from him was slander about the Labor side of politics and nothing else. He lost the 98 election and is best remembered for dragging up dirt about Gareth Evens and Cheryl Kernot. I think the margin he holds in Canning is not a true reflection of his performance as a MP. I think Canning will be an interesting seat to watch come election night, I think It might come back to the fold.

    RIP Jane Gerrick.

  34. #244, Bobby, during the 2004 campaign, a small group of us (not aligned with any party) leafleted thousands of homes in the Lindsay electorate on the “truth about interest rates”. I also told David Bradbury then that he was not very visible. At least this time I’ve received a pamphlet from him and nothing from the Libs.

  35. I quite like Matt Price! He has a flip style but he often calls it right. He was the only one I remember not getting bowled over by the last Budget and saying it wouldn’t have much impact. He was also pretty dismissive of the new Howard-Costello team. Who’s good? Shaun Carney’s OK, Jason Koutsoukis is all over the place (although got better). Grattan is still good but lost the authority of the past. Peter Hartcher can be way off reading what is going on. Mr Shanahan does tell you what the governemnt is thinking which can be useful. Paul Kelly is stuck in 1987.

  36. In my view the observations by Sol are self serving by the pollsters. If you ave a situation where people dont make up there mind until late and the do so on a progressive basis you need continual polls to monitor what is happening.

    If on the other hand the vast bulk of people ave already made up their minds then the need for further polling largely evaporates.

    Nevertheless I have some sympathy for Sol as I expect if you ask people whether they are rusted on or still making up their minds many will say they will not finally decide until the end. They wish to retain the option to change if something happens that affects them. In reality though teir mind has been made up months ago.

  37. I think it should be mandatory for the 7.30 Report to have Paul Keating on at least one night a week.

    I can’t believe that with all the attention Bob Hawke is generating in WA at the moment, that they can’t get him on for an interview.

    Bob is informative, entertaining and well liked across the spectrum and would be far better value than the overused and boring Downer.

    Enough, I say, off with him.

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