Victoria – left-wing state?

I may be Carlton’s lone classical liberal, but are things much better in the rest of Victoria? An article in this morning’s Sunday Age proclaims Victoria the ‘left-leaning state’.

The article notes that Labor’s vote has been typically strong here for decades, and is holding up here during this latest campaign as it declines elsewhere as the Julia, Kevin, Mark and the leaker soap opera undermines the Labor campaign. As John Roskam observes, the left-wing tilt even influences the right – the Kennett years aside, the Victorian Liberal Party has typically been rather wishy-washy compared to the more robust conservatism found elsewhere.

The Australian Survey of Social Attitudes 2009 asked its respondents to rate themselves on a 0 (left) to 10 (right) scale. It actually finds that Victorians (average rating 5.04) are moderately to the right of people in New South Wales (average rating 4.97), but the more noticeable thing about the figure below is that NSW and Victoria are to the left of the rest of Australia.

Continue reading “Victoria – left-wing state?”

Reasons for voting intentions

This week’s Essential Research survey asked its repondents about the main reason for their voting intention. Unfortunately a lack of consistency between the questions asked undermines comparisons. Nevertheless there are some interesting differences:

* Liberals and Greens voters are both more likely to have negative than positive reasons for their voting intention, but differ a lot in what those reasons are
* Gillard is a bigger plus for Labor voters than Abbott is for Coalition voters
* policies are not a big factor
* the Greens have the lowest proportion of ‘party faithful’, and Labor the highest

Labor voters cheer up

Happiness research always finds that right-wing people are happier than left-wing people. And so it was again in the Australian Survey of Social Attitudes 2009.

Questions: If you were to consider your life in general these days, how happy or unhappy would you say you are, on the whole …
Generally speaking, do you usually think of yourself as Labor, Liberal, National or what?

But as you can see in the figure, Labor identifiers have cheered up compared to the 2007 AuSSA, which was mostly carried out during the last months of the Howard government. The ‘very happy’ happiness gap has halved from a Coalition lead of 12% in 2007 to 6% in 2009. The proportion of very happy Coalition identifiers has dropped by only one percentage point, so the explanation is happier Labor supporters rather than less happy Coalition supporters.

Should I preference the Greens in the seat of Melbourne?

Lindsay Tanner retiring from the seat of Melbourne, where I live, creates a dilemma for me. For the last three federal elections I have given Tanner and therefore the ALP my second preference. In the last election Liberal preferences were distributed, so how Liberal voters like myself see the Green-Labor choice can affect the outcome in Melbourne.

However I preferenced Tanner not because he is Labor but because I respected him. I’ve read a couple of his speeches in which he gives a clearer explanation of why markets are necessary than is typically found on my own side of politics. While there isn’t really much evidence that this government could ever make hard spending decisions about current programs, I am willing to believe that Tanner in the Finance portfolio and Cabinet (or the gang of four) at least typically led to less-bad outcomes.

But now that Tanner is going, should I still preference Labor above the Greens? Continue reading “Should I preference the Greens in the seat of Melbourne?”

Labor’s panicky caucus

The Labor Party’s capacity to talk itself into a crisis is quite amazing. Here they are, tracking reasonably well in the polls, and what do they decide to do? Yes, have a leadership spill.

I actually wrote that on 1 December 2006, the day Rudd challenged Beazley. But I could have written it last night. Labor’s caucus is still traumatised by their long period of opposition and panics when the polls look too close – though as Pollytics blog has pointed out more than once recently Labor is still in front in most surveys of voting intention.

That said, the initial political judgment of the caucus on Rudd was much better than mine. I didn’t think the public would like Rudd, but in fact he had very high ratings for a long period of time. I found it baffling. I can understand why he fell from favour much more easily than how he won so much favour in the first place. High expectations are easily disappointed.

By contrast, I can see why people like Gillard. A sense of humour is a big plus. She’s always calm. She deals with other people well. Though she must have a big ego to do what she does, she keeps it under check. I like her myself at a personal level – though from my political perspective her ministerial record isn’t great. Given my record in predicting how voters will respond to Labor leaders, I will be more cautious this time. But I think aside from her personal qualities Gillard starts with expectations about her government brought down to realistically low levels.

One reason expectations should be low are the caucus attitudes and behaviour that led to today’s leadership spill. A Prime Minister who doesn’t believe her party will back her through hard decisions will not be inclined to make them.

Malcolm Fraser’s Liberal Party membership, 1952-2009

The Liberal Party has a habit of disappointing its former leaders. BA Santamaria used to claim that Robert Menzies voted for the DLP in his later years. John Gorton hated Malcolm Fraser so much that he quit the Liberals and sat as an independent (though he rejoined the party in later life). While I don’t think John Hewson actually quit the party, his denunciations of John Howard were often fierce. And now comes the unsurprising news that Malcolm Fraser has resigned his party membership.

To paraphrase Oscar Wilde’s Lady Bracknell, to lose one leader may be regarded as a misfortune. To lose four looks like carelessness. Maybe my history is deficient, but I don’t think Labor has had a confirmed lost leader since Billy Hughes the best part of a century ago, though Mark Latham was certainly disillusioned with politics in general.

On conventional understandings of the Liberal Party, this is perhaps not too surprising. More than Labor, the Liberal Party has had an ideologically vague base that has allowed its leaders to shape the party in their own image. Continue reading “Malcolm Fraser’s Liberal Party membership, 1952-2009”

Academics in politics

Andrew Leigh has announced that he has won pre-selection for the safe Labor seat of Fraser. He’ll be in the House of Representatives before Christmas.

Of course Andrew is an outstanding candidate, but this is a big loss to Australian social science. He’s always been exceptionally productive, and in his late thirties has a publication record that most academics would be happy to retire with. Perhaps that’s why he is moving on to something new, but it’s hard to imagine that the steady stream of interesting papers and articles was about to hit an intellectual drought.

I can well understand the temptations of politics. While I think a fair assessment is that Australian politicians have done reasonably well by world standards, there is so much that could be done so much better. The kind of empirical social science Andrew has done in his academic career can tell us a lot about what policies are likely to work, and which are likely to fail or achieve too little at too high a cost. Someone with Andrew’s background can provide valuable input into the policy process.

The question is whether someone like Andrew, whose demonstrated major skills are academic research and analysis, can do more good inside or outside of party politics. Continue reading “Academics in politics”

Malcolm Fraser’s liberalism

Malcolm Fraser’s biography is actually called Malcolm Fraser: The Political Memoirs, but according to his biographer (or narrator, as she calls herself) Margaret Simons ‘Enduring Liberal’ was one possible title, perhaps with a question mark. The book makes clear that Fraser has seen himself as following a liberal philosophy through his long political life, though a pragmatic one.

Fraser’s reputation on this is perhaps worse than it should be, because over the last few decades the most contested freedoms have been economic, and his record as an economic liberal isn’t great – though the biography argues persuasively that it is better than many assume.

A chapter on financial deregulation shows that there was a lively internal debate within the government, with Fraser and his office generally pushing for less regulation, while Treasury and the RBA took a more conservative line. By the time Hawke and Keating actually implemented financial deregulation much of the thinking, discussing and planning had already been done. In this sense, Fraser laid the groundwork for what followed. Continue reading “Malcolm Fraser’s liberalism”

What’s happening to Liberal economic credibility?

The part of this morning’s Newspoll that stood out for me wasn’t the down in the usual ups and downs of party support and leadership satisfaction, it was the results of the question on which party the respondent thought would ‘best handle the issue of the economy’.

Labor was five points in front (44/39), the first time it has been in front under Rudd, and indeed the first time it has been in front since March 1990. Admittedly Newspoll didn’t again ask this precise question between 1990 and 2005, but chances are that if they had Labor would not have been in the lead. The ‘recession we had to have’ took hold shortly afterward, and on more precise economic questions on inflation, interest rates and unemployment Labor was behind.

Perhaps this bad result for the Liberals on the economy is a residual Barnaby effect – a finance spokesman vague on the difference between a million and a billion is not exactly confidence inspiring – plus a downward general ‘Liberal performance’ perception that seems to infect all their issue ratings, regardless of whether or not anything relevant to that issue has occurred. Continue reading “What’s happening to Liberal economic credibility?”

Support for ETS slips below 50%

The latest climate change Morgan Poll finds that support for the government’s ETS has fallen below 50% for the first time, and is now at 46%, compared to 50% last November and 55% last August.

This seems to be due to low support (34%) among voters aged 50 or more, as all the other age groups are still at 50% or more.

Though there is no detail on Morgan’s website, a story about the poll in Crikey suggests that the shift is due to the growing partisanship of this issue that I blogged about last month. They don’t give a number for Coalition supporters, but if as Crikey says Labor and Green voters have become more likely to support the ETS, the overall decline must be due to weaker support from Coalition voters.

One curious thing: On the question about whether concerns about global warming are exaggerated the comparisons are all with November poll, omitting any mention of a December poll that asked the same question.

Update: Pollytics has the full results.