Today’s Newspoll, as reported in The Australian, shows NSW Labor’s support at a catastrophic 24%, having hovered around a quarter since the middle of the year.
Certainly they deserve to lose.* But even as a Liberal supporter, I am not at all sure that a Labor wipe-out would be a good thing – and NSW’s own political history shows why.
After a modest defeat and loss of minority government in 1995, in 1999 the NSW Liberals went down to bad defeat, with a swing of 10% and a loss of 13 seats. This combined with factional and other problems severely undermined their credibility as an alternative government.
Effectively, in delivering devastating blows to major political parties voters risk severely constraining their choices at the next election, and quite possibly (as in NSW) another one after that. So even if they are unconvinced of the government’s merits – in 2007 a NSW Galaxy poll found most people did not believe Labor deserved to be returned – they don’t vote them out.
Due in part to the severity of the 1999 Liberal defeat, NSW has endured four more years of a government that was by 2007 already tired and under-performing. If Labor gets anything like the vote the current polls suggest, in 2015 and 2019 NSW voters may again face the dilemma of a government that needs to go but an opposition that does not yet seem ready to arrive.
* Except my friend Sacha Blumen, running against Clover Moore in Sydney. I have never forgiven Clover for her role in bringing down Nick Greiner.