Do personal political attacks work #2?

A couple of weeks ago I thought that the polls showed some signs that the personal personal attacks, mainly directed at Victorian Opposition Leader Ted Baillieu, weren’t working – and that maybe Australian voters would resist the American trend of mud-slinging campaigns.

While the Victorian ALP was trying to damage Baillieu by talking about his shareholdings and his real estate firm, NSW Opposition Leader Peter Debnam stuck his hand into Bill Heffernan’s septic tank and chucked what he found at NSW Attorney-General Bob Debus.

Early this week, the two Sydney daily newspapers each released state political polls. We can say fairly confidently that this attack did not help Debnam’s cause. In the SMH/ACNielsen poll the two-party preferred was stable on ALP 51%, Coalition 49% since July, but Debnam’s disapproval rating had increased from 33% to 44%. In the Daily Telegraph/Galaxy poll the Liberal and National parties were down 8 percentage points on the two-party preferred since September, to ALP 52%, Coalition 48%. 57% of NSW voters – including a third of Labor voters – say that the ALP does not deserve to win the state election. But with even lower confidence in the Opposition, Labor will be returned.

In Victoria, satisfaction with Ted Baillieu as recorded by Newspoll was stable over the last two weeks of the campaign, up 1% since my last post to 46%. But his dissatisfaction rating was up 2% to 30%. Both results could be statistical noise. A Herald Sun/Galaxy poll directly asked its respondents about whether Labor attacks on Baillieu’s share portfolio made them more or less likely to vote Liberal. The vast majority, 70%, said it made no difference. 18% said it made them less likely to vote Liberal, and 10% more likely – perhaps to punish the ALP for running a dirt campaign?

But, as the politicians are fond of saying, there is only poll that counts, and that’s the one on election day. As universally predicted, Labor won that decisively. Two of the three pollsters – Newspoll and Galaxy – suggest that Labor slightly improved its position during the campaign, and the one that did not, ACNielsen in The Age, seems to have understated the final two-party preferred for the ALP.

As I suggested in my original post, in the absence of significant policy differences between the parties comparative evaluations of the leaders are probably more important than they might be otherwise. As the Debnam experience indicates, attacks without any substance can backfire. But in the Baillieu case, where the attacks were based on drawing unwarranted conclusions from actual facts, they may have had an effect. Labor was certainly arguing for that proposition in the campaign’s final 24 hours. It’s a pity. The dirtier Australian politics gets, the lower the number of good people who will run for Parliament. Given the already low average quality of state MPs on both sides, that can’t be a good outcome.

5 Responses to “Do personal political attacks work #2?

  • 1
    hc
    November 26th, 2006 18:43

    I agree that the attacks on Baillieu (stock holdings, budgie smuggling swimmers etc) were unpleasant and puerile. But they at least made him visible in the public eye. I think rather few Victorians knew much of him.

    The Liberals must now get behind him. Despite the solid defeat he is the best leader the party has had in Victoria since JK.

  • 2
    derrida derider
    November 27th, 2006 09:19

    hc, the stock holding attacks are in a different class from the budgie smuggling ones. There is at least a public policy issue involved, whether or not the attackers are right.

    On the apparent ineffectiveness of dirt campaigns, I think its a classic case of people telling pollsters one thing and behaving quite differently in the privacy of the voting booth. People are – rightly – ashamed to be influenced by such things. But they are.

  • 3
    hc
    November 27th, 2006 15:43

    dd, I think negligible holdings by someone like Baillieu in a stock like BHP-Billiton or Telstra are irrelevant. How could a State Premier take a decision to boost the value of such stocks significantly to his/her advantage?

    The idea that hoilding stock in public companies is something sinister is ludicrous and we should get away from it.

    The budgie-smuggling comments show the stupidity of the press in Victoria. And a strange kind of puritanism.

  • 4
    derrida derider
    November 28th, 2006 09:35

    Harry, I was not saying that the “conflict of interest” attack was justified – as a non-Victorian I don’t know and don’t much care. Just saying that the general issue was at least related to the public interest, unlike the other which was an obvious irrelevance.

  • 5
    Francis Xavier Holden
    November 28th, 2006 14:56

    I don’t think Red Ted was attacked unreasonably. In Victoria with a name like Baillieu you have to be seen to at least make an attempt to put the money behind you and be at arms length, and it wouldnt have been too difficult for him to say he would go blind trust or similar on becoming Premier. No need to do it before. And lets face it anyone with a Real Estate background or interest in a Real Estate agency is a bit vulnerable.

    But he should have known all that years ago.

    I think all that was to be expected and not particularly dirty. The swimmers stuff is just stupid but may have in fact aided his profile, can’t see how it would have hurt him.

    I’d expect Thornley on the other side to come under as much scrutiny if he gets near cabinet even though he’s basically “new” money.

    I don’t think it’s got anywhere near the nonsense I’ve seen on USA television and I don’t think it will. Austalians aren’t to keen on that sort of thing. You’ll notice even on blogs, with a few notable exceptions (or one Landeryou), people don’t go the dirt route.