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.