Flat White

What’s a girl got to do to get elected nowadays?

22 March 2019

1:06 PM

22 March 2019

1:06 PM

I’m wondering what a girl named Gladys has got to do to get elected nowadays.

Winning Sky News debates is one thing, and that may have improved the story that our Australian Institute for Progress polling, taken last week, tells us, but then again it may not have.

Voters these days are increasingly voting early, making the set piece jousts late in the campaign less significant, and there is more to winning elections than winning debates. If you don’t cover-off on a range of strategic and tactical matters, voters may unintentionally vote you out because they don’t understand the potential consequences of their actions, or non-actions.

Last week, on every measure but one, Gladys Berejiklian, and her government, was superior to her opponent Michael Daley, according to a poll of participants in our qualitative focus group.

Respondents weren’t wildly excited about Gladys, but then they aren’t wildly excited about any politicians these days. 39 per cent approves of the job she is doing, and 43 per cent disapproves. Daley can only get to 33 per cent approval with 42 per cent disapproval.

Voters preferred Berejiklian to Daley by 49 per cent to 42 per cent, and 41 per cent thought her government deserved to be returned, versus only 30 per cent who thought the ALP deserved a win. Head to head, 47 per cent wanted the next government to be a Liberal and National Party one versus 40 per cent for Labor.

So, she’s going to win by a reasonable margin?

That’s not what the two-party preferred vote said. Many pollsters calculate their two-party preferred results by allocating second and later preferences as they were cast last election. We think that is unsafe so we ask our respondents how they are going to distribute their preferences in the coming election.

When we do that we get a 52 per cent/48 per cent victory for Labor. How can that be?

It’s a by-product of New South Wales’ optional preferential system and the fracturing of the centre-right vote.

Out of the three minor party blocs, the Greens preferences go 80 per cent Labor, 12 per cent exhaust and are not distributed to either major party, and there is an 8 per cent undecided vote.

For what we are calling the Nationalist bloc (a combination of mostly One Nation, Australian Conservatives and the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers) we have 45 per cent going to the Coalition, 8 per cent ALP, 37 per cent exhausting and 11 per cent undecided.

Others, who tend to be left-leaning independents, are going Labor 49 per cent, Coalition 2 per cent, exhausting 33 per cent and undecided 16 per cent.

Given the ALP has done a preference deal with the Shooters; this could be even bleaker for the Berejiklian crew.

The failure to allocate comes down to the right being grumpy with its own. That is why the vote has fractured. The historic compromise between the big C conservatives, and small L liberals, has broken down over issues like global warming, free speech, gay marriage, euthanasia and abortion.

There is also a touch of envy from voters in the regions who see the inhabitants of the Big Smoke enjoying a lifestyle alien to their own, and unattainable on their income.

Overall there is a sense that the state is doing well economically, and the main battleground between the government and the opposition is priorities for spending revenue, and whether it is being spent competently.

Berejiklian gets marks for moving to fix the state’s infrastructure bottleneck, which is invariably blamed on immigration and frequently blamed on 12 years of Labor inaction. As one respondent says “She does what she says. Hardworking. Genuine.”

But there is a question mark over her execution, with road and rail bills blowing out, projects taking too long to finish, and construction work gumming-up existing infrastructure.

One piece of infrastructure has become talismanic – the promise to knock down and rebuild the ANZ and Allianz stadiums at a cost of $2 billion.

This is infrastructure that does not contribute to anyone’s quality of life, apart from those who go to events at these stadia, which will be only on sporadically, no matter how regularly they attend.

To those outside Sydney, it seems that money is being wasted on the privileged few, when they can identify needs in health and education in their local area that could do with just a fraction of it.

The decisions appear to be a reaction to pressure from Alan Jones. This feeds into the Liberals’ perennial problem with looking like they favour the big end of town, as well as a fair bit of left-wing animosity to Jones.

It was remarkable that a massive 15 per cent of people unprompted nominated Michael Daley’s promise that were he to win Alan Jones would be sacked from the SCG Trust as a big positive for him.

Climate change is an issue in this election, but only for those who have already made up their mind to vote Labor or Greens, which makes me wonder why the Liberals don’t try to differentiate themselves more strongly from Labor on this point.

The cost of electricity and the cost of living, are two issues in this election, and ones where the coalition generally has an edge. A warm-hearted but hard-nosed approach to climate change issues wouldn’t have lost any votes – they’ve gone already – and might have gained a few first preferences from people who are struggling, and could have resulted in higher preference flows from the minor parties.

Both leaders carry institutional baggage from the past. The corruption of the last Labor regime is not far from the surface, combined with a perception it did nothing. For the Liberals there are widely disliked power brokers like Michael Photios and Dominic Perottet, and some of the decisions of the Baird government, like the greyhound racing ban and council amalgamations.

But ultimately voters appear to put their trust more in Berejiklian, the intense, schoolmarmish performer, who has “never gotten stoned at a music festival – was way too serious growing up,” than they do in Daley, the avuncular, ruby-faced frontman for the party that doesn’t follow through, and can’t really be trusted.

This week’s debate certainly plays into that dichotomy.

Yet that may count for nothing. Politics has become gamified. Voters probably care more about who will get voted off Big Brother, than they do about those set to run the country for them. If Berejiklian were just a little bit warmer, more of an entertainer, things might be different.

As it is, she’s going to need all her dour grit and determination election night, if nothing changes.

Graham Young is Executive Director of the Australian Institute for Progress and founder and editor of On Line Opinion.

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