Today’s Galaxy poll was more of the same old bad news for the government, another week of no rain in a long electoral drought. Because of the way single-member electorate voting systems exaggerate results, a uniform swing would see the Coalition’s 44% of the vote translate into only about a third of the seats in the House of Representatives.
An election victory that big would have systemic consequences. Voters wouldn’t just be changing the government now, they would effectively also be limiting their choices for the next couple of elections at least, since even being optimistic it would take that long for the Coalition to rebuild to the point that it passed the threshold of credibility as an alternative government. And unless parties pass that threshold, even bad or unwanted governments seem secure.
This is already the problem we have at the state level. In a Galaxy Poll last November respondents were asked whether, based on its recent performance, the NSW Labor government deserved to win the next state election. Only a third of voters thought that it did. Yet the same poll showed Labor leading on the 2PP 52-48, roughly what it in fact got at the subsequent state election. The Opposition has never really recovered from its dismal showing at the 1999 state election. At this distance, the Beattie/Bligh government in Queensland looks to be struggling towards mediocrity even less successfully than the Iemma government in NSW, but it too seems secure in power, because the Opposition is not credible.
There are signs in other polls that voters, at least in principle, are concerned about the systemic consequences of their vote. Winning parties in federal election typically get lower votes in the Senate than in the House of Representatives, as some electors opt to try to put a constraint on the government in the upper house. Several polls have found support for the Senate blocking legislation. An ACNielsen poll in February 2005 found more people thought that the Coalition’s Senate majority would be a bad thing than a good thing (47% v. 39%). A Newspoll in April this year found that about one in five Labor voters believed Labor in power at both levels of government would be at least ‘somewhat bad’ for Australia.
The Coalition’s Senate majority in 2004 was a surprise to almost everyone, and perhaps more people who wanted Howard returned would have voted strategically in the Senate had they realised the possible outcome. But this time every poll for many months has pointed to a massive Labor victory with no sign of the continually expected but never arriving correction. The Coalition itself can’t alert voters to the systemic consequences of such a big defeat without looking panicked. But perhaps, as election day draws closer, the pundits will start pointing out that a massive Labor victory in 2007 would effectively decide the 2010 and 2013 elections as well.