A Newspoll in this morning’s Australian (can’t see a link, but it should be on the Newspoll website soon) explored whether voters see the federal structure as a way of distributing power not just between the States and the Commonwealth, but also between Liberal and Labor. At first glance, a plurality see benefit in such a division of power. 42% of respondents thought that overall it would be bad for Australia if Labor controlled both levels of government, while 37% said it would be good.
But a breakdown of such opinion according to party support suggests that this result has less to do with preferring a separation of partisan power than with concern about one’s own party. For example, 76% of Coalition supporters think that having Labor in power at both levels would be bad for Australia, compared to 22% of Labor voters. On the other hand, 60% of Labor supporters think that it would be good for Australia if Labor controlled both levels of government, compared to 9% of Coalition voters (That many? Perhaps they think that it would end blame shifting and encourage cooperation.)
This is unlikely to be just Labor voters, with their faith in the state, lacking concern with a division of power. We can see this from a question in the 2004 Australian Election Survey about a semi-analagous situation, the same party controlling both the Senate and the House of Representatives. With knowledge of the Senate outcome (the survey was conducted after the election) 56% of Coalition voters thought that it was better for the same party to control both houses, compared to 12% of Labor voters.
A second Newspoll question explored whether the possibility of Labor controlling both houses could affect the respondent’s vote. Similar proportions of Coalition (41%) and Labor (44%) voters said it was very or fairly important, though presumably largely for opposite reasons. Some people do vote differently at state and federal elections. In the 2004 AES, 14% of people who had voted Liberal at the previous state election voted for some other party at the federal election, along with 27% of Labor voters. But it seems more likely that this was mainly the result of different assessments of the elections at hand, and not a specific desire to see different parties in office in the State and the Commonwealth. But there are likely to be some voters open to the idea that a federal Labor victory would concentrate too much power, and the Coalition will no doubt try to emphasise the dangers.