A tale of two Oppositions

A Galaxy Poll in November last year found that only 33% of NSW voters thought that, based on its recent performance, the ALP deserved to win the forthcoming NSW election, but that nevertheless on a two-party preferred basis 52% of them planned to vote for it (which turned out to be the final result as well).

A Galaxy Poll reported in last Saturday’s Herald Sun asked the same question about the Howard government. It found 44% of those surveyed believed that the Coalition deserved, on performance, to win the election. Despite a significantly higher performance rating than that of the Iemma government, Galaxy found the Coalition behind on the two-party preferred, with 47% support.

What explains why Iemma can win despite poor performance and Howard is likely to lose despite much better performance?

Another question asks whether the Oppostion, based on its recent performance, deserves to win. Only 19% of NSW voters though that the NSW Opposition’s performance deserved an election victory. Federally, 42% of Galaxy’s respondents think that the ALP deserves to win. An Opposition that passes the threshold of credibility as an alternative government makes a big difference.

NSW voters were forced to act defensively to prevent things getting even worse. When both parties are reasonably competent (or at least seen as reasonably competent) voters can afford to try something new. What we seem to be observing now is not so much a rejection of the Howard government’s performance as a preference for a fresher alternative.

This can be seen in several polls. In the Newspoll PM/Opposition Leader satisfaction series (pdf), Rudd hasn’t greatly dented Howard’s satisfaction rating. Compared to when Rudd took over as Labor leader, Howard’s satisfaction is slightly lower this week but was slightly higher last week. What’s changed is satisfaction with the Opposition Leader, more than doubling from 28% to 63%, which has led to Rudd having a 13 percentage point lead on the better PM question.

The ACNielsen poll last week found 61% agreement with the proposition that ‘Australia needs new leadership’ and another ACNielsen survey earlier this month found Rudd 10 percentage points ahead on a ‘better vision for Australia’ question.

Unfortunately for the Coalition, there is very little that can be done about this no-particular-reason mood for change among swinging voters, the kind of mood that sees Rudd’s leaders debate worm head upwards before he has said anything at all. Hammering away on the initial threshold issues, such as Labor’s economic competence and its union-dominated front bench, is probably the best strategy in the circumstances, but unlikely to be enough. The only cure for Ruddmania is likely to be a Rudd government, as inflated expectations fail to be met.

22 thoughts on “A tale of two Oppositions

  1. Two reasons that may help explain the situation.

    First, the NSW opposition is hopeless and was portrayed that way by the media. They did more damage to themselves than the ALP did. Were they to get a credible team the result might be very different.

    Secondly, Iemma was a new face whereas Howard is the same one that people have been seeing since 1975. Swinging voters may want to see some change.

    One thing about the ‘irrational exuberance’ of Ruddmania is that it might evaporate quickly with one or two big gaffes, which are always a possibility. The gaffes may not have to be too big due to the disaster of Latham’s loss and the resultant size of the swing required.

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  2. What people want is the best government available.

    Howard is looking shaky in addressing the challenges of the future, Rudd less so; hence the perception that a vote for Rudd is a vote for effective government.

    Iemma runs a poor government and Debnam did not convincingly offer a better one, hence Iemma kept government by default. O’Farrell has the capacity to convincingly offer effective government, but thanks to fixed terms there won’t be the opportunity to prove this for three-and-a-half years.

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  3. I guess that Carr did what Howard failed to do. Acknowledge that sound democracies need new leadership once in a while (let’s say after 8 years or so). This together with the lack of opposition in NSW and the ‘fresh’ opposition at the federal level explains a whole lot.

    And of course, the fact that the Rudd opposition is only slightly left of center (and promises a conservative budgetary policy) makes a vote for a leadership change far less risky and worth a try.

    Finally, it shows that democracy – or at least voting – is far from a rational calculative decision, at least for many people.

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  4. “The only cure for Ruddmania is likely to be a Rudd government, as inflated expectations fail to be met.”

    You’ve just said, correctly, that Labour is seen as a credible but unexciting alternative – hardly “Ruddmania”. How likely is it, then, that anyone’s expectations of it are inflated?

    As I’ve said elsewhere, I really think the coalition’s been too conservative for its own electoral good. Certainly its belligerence in the culture wars has never played well. What has saved it in past terms has been a hostile Senate (which often prevented it acting out its ideological drathers) and the superb political skills of the PM.

    But this term they’ve been able to enact follies like Workchoices and Howard is, frankly, past it.

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  5. DD – You’re right, I haven’t shown that anyone’s expectations are inflated. I haven’t seen any polling that goes to this point.

    But in three years a comparison of Rudd’s statements with his policy reality will look even messier than Howard’s 2004 interest rate statements look now. The ‘education revolution’, for example, is business-as-usual tinkering that won’t even begin to tackle the massive organisational, curriculum and workforce quality issues facing the education system, and especially public education. Everyday costs won’t go down, no matter how many reviews and inquiries Rudd holds, and if he is serious about greenhouse emissions they will in fact go up significantly. Any major improvement in the public health system would cause a shift back to it from the private health system, exacerbating the rapidly increasing demand that has meant that the system is still overwhelmed despite massive spending increases over the last decade (on the bright side for Rudd, the extra nurses and doctors now being trained will start flowing into the system during his term).

    If we have the credible Opposition I hope we will, there will be plenty for them to work with.

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  6. “If we have the credible Opposition I hope we will”

    The way the polls are going, the leader of the Opposition may end up being Bronwyn Bishop, with Wilson Tuckey as her deputy, so don’t hold your breath.

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  7. Spiros

    Outta curiosity. Why do most of you lefties see politics as a footy match. What exactly are the “unmet needs” that require more money?

    And no, I am not voting this time round, as most times , so my question is an honest one.

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  8. In a really bad result – Costello and Turnbull both defeated – I will take a punt on Abbott as leader and Julie Bishop as Deputy.

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  9. JC, huh? I didn’t say anything about “unmet needs”. It could mean a lot of things, like more soldiers and policemen to protect us from the Islamic threat or more judges to protect our private property rights from the State.

    That sorta stuff.

    Andrew, Abbott might lose his seat too. Unlikely, but not impossible in the current climate. Wouldn’t that be cool?

    But even if he keeps his seat, he won’t become leader. The Liberals will look to Mal Brough (assuming he keeps his seat) or Brendan Nelson.

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  10. Spiros

    I’m trying to figure out why you seem to have this almost unnatural desire to see your team win. Is it a cathartic moment in time for you?

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  11. You know spiros, you really are a [civility censorship – AN]. You come onto a site and try taunt people. You’re obviously a huge “tifoso” for your “soccer team”: well and good, but there are people on the other side that don’t need to be told how great your side is and how many seats your team is going to win and their’s lose on every thread as some sort of macho thing. You do it here and doing it at harry’s site too. Get a life.

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  12. Sorry Andrew:

    It’s tiring having to read macho chest pounding on every single thread that “mine is bigger than yours”. it kinda feels a littlel creepy.

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  13. “You’ve just said, correctly, that Labour is seen as a credible but unexciting alternative – hardly “Ruddmania”.”

    Well there kind of is. No great issue there as the people want change at the top and the coalition wasn’t prepared to offer that. Tough titties John

    “How likely is it, then, that anyone’s expectations of it are inflated?”

    Very much so. People still rate the coaltion as good economic managers and this still comes out being one of the most important factors in the polls. However both parties score high enough for here it not to effect the current trend to Lab.

    However. this is dangerous time to anyone, Lab or lib to be taking over the big job. You could actually be buying the economy at the top. Throw in a good slowdown and jobless creep up and you have a real issue on your hands. Throw in a few policy mistakes (even by the RBA) and the we begin to see dead bodies on the street in the mortgage belt and the sky turns grey.

    Rudd will win this election, but the marginal support is soft especially if people begin to recall the good times.

    You always want to be buying low and selling high in trading. Politics ain’t that much different.

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  14. JC has it. Rudd may be getting a poisoned chalice.

    The Liberals just need to keep it together in opposition and not have really bad leaders like Crean or Latham. They should be able to do this. Both Costello and Turnbull, Turnbull especially, very impressive.

    There is another explanation for the first question Andrew asked, and that is that the reason the Liberals are losing is because Liberal ideology is further away from general consensus that Labor ideology is.

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  15. Pedro – Interestingly, there is research suggesting that the views of Labor candidates are further away from those of Labor voters and the general population than than it the case for Liberal candidates.

    However, arguably the issue cycle has been against the Liberals for some time and the 2004 victory was a flukish counter-cyclical outcome.

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  16. The situations is not too dissimilar to the case where Tony Blair one his first term. Tories have overstayed in power for too long (even though they changed leader) by the previous election, but Labor was still feared and was narrowly defeated. This time round Blair presented a more credible alternative and trashed Tories in a landslide that kept them going for 10 years and counting. Unfortunately Rudd is no Tony Blair, but he is certainly presenting a plausible, although not exciting, alternative.

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  17. Andrew, thanks for posting that link. That paper is very interesting.

    It makes you wonder if a One Nation like party would have a real go at getting a substantial vote in Australia.

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